A Precious Jewel Mounted in Gold

“On truths path, wise is mad, insane is wise. In love’s way, self and other are the same. Having drunk the wine, my love, of being one with you, I find the way to Mecca and Bodhgaya are the same.”

Maulana Rumi

Inayati mon amour

There was a time once when the Garden of Truth in the inner depths of my mind was a haphazard mess overrun with weeds of shame and guilt deeply rooted in unfertile earth soiled with fear and doubt. Inherited falsities dressed as truths and limiting beliefs meant that the damage was extensive, leaving me frustrated in knowing how to move forward. I couldn’t ask for help from those closest to me because their gardens were in an even worse state than mine and worst still, they were blind to the chaos. I could only see thorns, where they could only see roses. So for two years, I persevered in quiet solitude to bring order to this botanical chaos, with limited success. Admitting defeat, I summoned the help of those who had walked the same path before me. To my delight, I struck gold at my first attempt. My heart rejoiced in finding a community of fellow Truthseekers, complete strangers who happily borrowed me their tools and shared their expertise.

And so within a short space of time, over two decades of damage was gladly reversed with amazing results. With a healthy foundation of fresh fertile soil, seeds of love and wisdom brought back much-needed vitality and beauty. The warmth of the Sun helped to illuminate the dark shadows. As rows of roses bloomed, soft feathered nightingales arrived singing their songs of love summoning winds carrying spores from unfamiliar lands. And thus my love affair with Tibetan Buddhism began. For four years, I enjoyed the fruits of my labour, happily basking in an illuminated mind as spacious as the blue sky, surrounded by the beauty of other loving souls. Occasionally there were storms but I always had the support of my friends to repair the damage caused by stray thoughts and old patterns.

But then eighteen months ago, a storm that had been brewing from the beginning unleashed its full force. This time the old tools didn’t have the expertise required to repair the repercussions of old wounds that had reopened. And so the garden so lovingly cultivated grew wild again, as I let old weeds resurface. But this time, forgotten longings of my heart also resurfaced, desperately wanting to connect with a mind in panic.  And so in my weariness,  I let my mind accept this olive branch offered by my lonely heart. It longed to connect to other hearts closer to my roots, and to one beating heart in particular, the path of tasawwuf,  otherwise known as Sufism.

After a long fruitless search to find a Sufi teacher and community I connected to, I despairingly conceded that it was unlikely that I would find a community which allowed me the freedom of expression to be my authentic self.

But as I let go and let God, I finally found a community that answered my call. As Murshid Inayat Khan once said, “When the cry of the disciple has reached a certain pitch, the teacher comes to answer it.” Making my way to the Swiss Alps last year to attend a summer retreat, I finally found what I was looking for. For the first time in my life, I felt my inner oriental and occidental divide blissfully melt into wholeness.

Moving back to my old meditation centre last autumn, I felt lonely amongst my Buddhist community who I had considered as my spiritual family. Having tasted the rare wine of spiritual diversity of a more Universal path closer to my heritage, my heart was drunk with a joy that could not be repeated elsewhere. And so the seeds of discontent initiated my next rebirth, as I continue to traverse the path of dying a thousand deaths in this lifetime.

But no rebirth is complete without a dark night of the soul. Each transition in my spiritual change has involved a painfully deep inner cleansing of old beliefs which no longer serve me, to allow space for my inner dimensions to expand and grow. Each challenge has served to stretch my capacity to receive new blessings on the way.

“Destruction, annilation or death might seem a very different change; yet there are a thousand deaths we die in life. A great disappointment, the moment our heart breaks, is worse than death. Often our experiences in life are worse than death, yet we go through them. At the time they seem unbearable, we think we cannot stand it, but yet we live. If after dying a thousand deaths we still live, then there is nothing in the world to be afraid of. ” Hazrat Inayat Khan

And so, stuck in the dark corridor between one door closing and a new one opening, my descent into a prolonged dark night of the soul began. Sitting in the darkness, like a butterfly driven into reverse metamorphosis and forced back into her cocoon, I grieved the loss of an illusory firm ground, as I was plagued with more questions than answers. In the words of the Spanish mystic, St John of The Cross, If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark.”

As the darkness intensified in the last few weeks, I stopped searching for light. Instead, I resigned myself to sitting (impatiently) as my shadow-self grew darker. My higher self, desperate for change, fought tooth and nail with my lower self, who refused to let parts of my old-self dissolve. I was stuck in that in-between phase of Bardo, vacillating between hope and fear. But amidst the confusion, windows of clarity would sometimes open.

I reasoned with myself that the deep longing that precedes the inner journey towards God and my own inner Divine Essence, is infamous for its difficulties, and a necessary spiritual station to visit. It’s from the thick impenetrable walls of separation from the Divine, that scores of music, art and poetry were born out of frustration and anguish. The words of Attar come to mind, as the Hoopoe warns his fellow birds of the hardships involved in making the way to the Kingdom of the Majestic Simorgh,

Do not imagine that the Way is short; Vast seas and deserts lie before His court. Consider carefully before you start; The journey asks of you a lion’s heart. The road is long, the sea is deep- one flies first buffeted by joy and then by sigh’s; If you desire this quest, give up your soul and make our sovereigns court your only goal. ‘I am a pilgrim of our sovereigns Way’; Renounce your soul for love; He you pursue will sacrifice His innermost soul for you.  

Conference of The Birds.

It took years of overhauling my subconscious mind with Tibetan practices of deep meditation, self-compassion, and loving kindness to others, in my attempt to attain bodhicitta, an awakened heart, to fully grasp the beauty of Attar’s words. This is the distinction between the Islam I grew up with and the Sufism I fell in love with. The path of the mystics involves intense bouts of inner purification to open up a sincere heart that is powered by patience and perseverance in the face of setbacks.

And so, step by step, my higher-self claimed victory and contracted itself enough to pass through the narrow gate. But would my Buddhist path continue to lead me past the narrow gate or would I have to leave it behind?

I was left alone to contemplate the difficulties of blending two paths. On the days I succeeded, I felt peaceful and secure, but it was always short-lived.  I reflected on the famous story of Maulana Rumi taking his students to a field to watch a farmer digging holes. Searching for water, he had nearly destroyed a field by digging many incomplete holes. Digging only superficially for a few feet, he would abandon the hole when he found no water. And so time and time again, he self-sabotaged an opportunity to access a wellspring of abundance. Instead, he remained stuck, blocked by his frustration and confusion.

Was I like the insane farmer? In the end, I have reasoned that I’m not. As a child, I had a well dug for me, but the water was murky and lacked the vitality of the Divine. And so without even realising it, I had begun to divert sideways from the path dug for me. And in doing so, I dug deeper until I finally hit bedrock, where all the blessings of the Divine had been flowing all along.

 

And so through all my difficulties I have came to the conclusion that following two spiritual paths has given me a multitude of tools to navigate difficult terrains. In the words of Trungpa Rinpoche, both can be brought together to make something beautiful like a jewel mounted in gold. Which in my case, brought me back to the Throne of God, like Ayat-ul Kursi, my most beloved passage of the Qur’an.

It took a long time from me to bridge the proclamation of faith from ‘La ilaha there is no God, to ‘ illa ‘llah‘, but God. God is not an external being out there, God is within me, closer to me than my jugular vein. Having stopped looking outside of myself, I looked within, like the famous saying, ‘I went looking for God and only found myself, I went looking for myself and found God‘. A non-theistic tradition gave me an unadulterated perspective to crack the outer shell of Islam to access the hidden pearl of the Divine. I have finally understood why primordial purity is hidden behind emptiness. We have to empty ourselves of our preconceptions and walk the path of doubt and confusion and embrace the Al-ghayb, the Unseen Power to discover Al-Fitra, our Divine basic goodness.

And now that my feet are firmly rooted on the path towards the Divine centre, I understand, we’re not so different. We all just want to be happy. We’re all like different caravans that are going in the same direction. May we be happy, may we be healthy, may we be loved (for who we are).

 

 

 

 

 

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A Garden Amidst the Flames

O Marvel! a garden amidst the flames.
My heart has become capable of every form:
it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
and a temple for idols and the pilgrim’s Kaa’ba,
and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Quran.
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love’s camels take,
that is my religion and my faith.

Ibn ‘Arabi

There seems to be a giant fire raging across the world, currently spreading its flames in the Western hemisphere brought over from easterly winds. Which seems to tie in with 2017 as the year of the Fire Rooster in the Tibetan and Chinese calendars. The loud rooster is here to wake up humanity from its slumber charging ahead with its fiery energy. Fire can cause destruction and burn everything in its vicinity but it can also illuminate dark shadows and bring warmth. Our early ancestors depended on fire for providing sustenance and protection against the elements. New communities can be created by the warmth generated when wood and stone come together to create sparks and new life.

My heavy heart was lightened last weekend by the warmth and love demonstrated by the ordinary masses who took to the streets, defying the orders of their leaders. The fight for justice started long ago in the Middle East, and now as we in the West begin our own battle, a new level of empathy has been reached for those fighting unjust laws. Until we experience something for ourselves, we can never truly understand. It’s a sign that the old age tactic of divide and rule no longer works in a world that has become a global village. While our rulers and politicians re-enact old animosities, I have faith that the collective consciousness of humanity has risen high enough to prevent this re-enactment from fully taking form. Laws and decrees cannot force hatred into loving hearts. And the law of karma is more powerful than any world power. The Universe will keep giving us the same lessons until the lesson is learnt. Maybe the chaos we see around us gives us an opportunity to put right the wrongs of the past.

Whether it’s in the guise of religious fundamentalism or secular extreme right-wing politics, a similar vein of patriarchal bias runs through both. While the upheaval and suffering is incredibly difficult to witness, it’s a necessary phase before seeds of change can take root. All negative emotions take root from fear. Taking a leaf out of Jonathan Haidt’s book, the world as it stands can be essentially be divided into two classes of people. The first seek comfort in that which is familiar and are afraid of all that which is different. Such closed individuals are terrified of change while the other category thrive on change. They embrace diversity and actively seek out new experiences. I started life as the former and am currently in the latter category. Life has truly humbled me with all the curve balls it has thrown me, taking me to places I could never have imagined. I feel ashamed when I think of my former self, with my narrow-minded point of view, happy to play the role of victim, always blaming another. I judged others from the standpoint of my own capabilities, strengths and my own personal definition of morality which was fuelled by a fear based and misguided interpretation of my faith.

Fundamentalist Muslims preach that in order to be a good Muslim, I must reject my Western values and outlook to life. Western right-wing politicians find it incomprehensible that my Muslim faith could be compatible with my Western identity. And both are following their Truths, according to their conditioning. Everybody thinks they are right. After a decade of unintended exploration of other faiths and cultures, I am now equally at ease in the immigrant communities I grew up in, and the majority white communities I have lived in, I have learnt to assimilate into both lifestyles. It hasn’t been without its challenges but my life is richer for it. And now I have reached the middle ground where I need both. Neither of the East nor the West, I am an inseparable fusion of the two. Like migrating birds who travel back to warmer climes as the seasons change, I need both to survive. If you clip my wings, I will become half a person. The world needs me just as much as I need it.

In fact, I believe Western Muslims from Eastern heritages hold the key to unifying a divided world. We tread both worlds, it is only natural that we become the bridge between East and West. But in order to act as a bridge, one must have both feet firmly grounded to create a stable foundation in order to sustain the weight it must carry. Walking through the streets of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, I spent most of my time in Pakistan last summer in bookshops, leafing through books filled with Sufi poetry and Urdu ghazals, trying my best to revive my rusty knowledge of the official language of my parents country of origin. Nestling into a corner, I was given milky elachi chai from the chaiwalla ouside together with almond biscuits, as I took my time in choosing as many books as my luggage allowance permitted. Whether it’s in Pakistan’s capital or the streets of Paris and London, bookshops have always been my salvation, whichever country I am in.

Contemplating my forthcoming visit to the US I have had to confront the ever increasing derisiveness of the term ‘Muslim‘. I struggle to fit into any of the stereotypes that the media brandishes. Everybody has their own definition of the term. I take Ibn ‘Arabi’s definition of Muslim as the one best suited to me, as ‘one who submits their will to the will of God’. The 13th century Andalusian mystic, now buried in Damascus, travelled the world in search of knowledge and held the messages of Moses, Jesus and Mohammed in equal reverence. I take comfort from the ancient mystics who unified nations made up of different faiths and cultures. I take the time to remember that Rumi is the most famous Muslim literary figure in the US by virtue of being their most read poet. 

Deep in the Kashmiri hills, near my parents’ ancestral villages, I paid homage to the shrine of a famous Sufi saint and poet Mian Mohammed Baksh, regarded by some as the Rumi of the Indian subcontinent. Equally revered by Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and Christians, his shrine was a salvation and a beacon of hope for everybody before the region was carved into separate nations, dividing them by the very thing that unified them before. Visiting the shrine one afternoon, as the late August heat gave way to a balmy cool breeze, I felt immense love and peace as I walked the white marbled floor reflecting the mid-afternoon sun.

The Sufi mystics with their ageless words of beauty have offered me some motes of their eternal wisdom from beyond the grave, during these dark times. I read the words of Attar, the Persian poet, and reflected on the timelessness of his message 800 years later,

A king is not one of these common fools
Who snatches at a crown and thinks he rules. The true king reigns in mild humility, Unrivalled in his firm fidelity.
An earthly king acts righteously at times”

Immediately the Dalai Lama comes to mind. The embodiment of Avalokitesvara, he exemplifies all that is missing in much of our global leadership, namely compassion, wisdom and love in the face of injustice and ignorance. His diverse following includes Tibetan Muslims who still consider him as their spiritual leader.

In the samsaric wheel that we call life, it seems impossible sometimes to stay centred as the wheel turns up and down. To keep faith and determination in the face of adverse conditions is all in the daily work of a Boddhisattva. The time has come for the monk to step down from his mountain and join the world where he is needed. Sometimes we even need to swallow poison. But if handled correctly, even poison can be transformed into medicine. Like peacocks and their innate ability to eat poisonous plants, insects and animals. In Tibetan culture, the peacock not only survives but thrives on this poisonous diet. It is said that it owes its beauty to eating a particular plant that creates its beautiful plumage, which could prove fatal for other species.

Equally revered in the Islamic world, my favourite story about the peacock hails from Indonesia. As gatekeepers of heaven, the peacock was tricked by the devil into eating him and that is how he entered paradise, thus creating the duality of good and evil.

Maybe the chaos in the world is making room for a different world, a better one in which the duality we see is melted into one. I long to see esoteric interpretations of the worlds major religions becoming the rule and not the exception. Where barriers of exclusivity, homophobia and the curtailing of women’s right are removed and replaced by a perennial world view led by the compassion of Christ consciousness. Where the choice to believe in God is freely given in order to allow a more authentic relationship to the Divine. A world in which my mother doesn’t flinch at the thought of our relatives finding out that I am on the Sufi path. And that the Buddhist teachings have opened the pathways of my mind in order for my heart to open. The greatest journey one undertakes is that from the mind to the heart . When I practice sa’ma, whirling in an anti-clockwise motion with my right hand in the air, I feel the love from the Divine pulsate through me as it filters through my heart before offering it to the world with my left hand . It’s painful to see such a divided world, but like the words from my favourite song, ‘koyla seh heera bahnta hai‘ from a piece of coal a diamond is created.

I leave you with the words of my favourite rebel mystic Shams-i Tabrizi,

If one of the mature ones makes sa’ma in the East, another one begins moving in the West. They are aware of each other’s states.”

Boddhichitta

“My heart is awakened. I am the one who turns to the face of the Friend.

I am the one that becomes a river in order to join the sea.

I have overcome the troops of my ego; I have destroyed its towers and fortresses.

I have cleaned the inside; I am the one who has cleaned the country.

I have faced His excellency, that Man of Love has opened my eyes.

He has shown me my own essence; I am the one called ayet-i kull.”

Yunus Emre, 13C Sufi poet. 

 

 

Divine Will

It’s been a while. Nine months in fact since I posted my last blogpost. As this monumental year draws to an end, only now do I feel ready to share. The numerological significance of 9 is not lost on me. In that time, from a clot of blood, a seed can grow into a an entirely new being. And I’m sure, just like my journey over the last three seasons, it is not without it’s challenges and difficulties. But like a mother meeting her newborn baby quickly forgets her pains of pregnancy and childbirth, I too can now finally look back on my journey with a smile.

Having navigated the tightrope of transition, I have safely made my way back to dryer land. In the process I had to let go of dead weight holding me back, and as a result, I feel happier and the most at peace I have ever felt in my life. This, despite the global catastrophe’s we face, has rekindled the fire of hope in my heart that great changes are on their way. Life is a constant balance between the Absolute and the relative.To be awake in a world that is sleeping is sometimes painful. But I sense that the veil of separation that has divided humanity based on their colour, creed or conviction is about to fall. And while the body of Islam has been beaten to a pulp by extremism and left for dead, her heart remains beating. In fact it has never been stronger. She will have to rely on other beating hearts to revive her tired and abused body.

The illusion of separation is what has kept me in my own personal nightmare. And now that I have woken up I sense that the world is waking up with me. But what sustained me during my journey has been the words of great teachers to support my every step. “Every moment is another footstep on the path. Not clinging to the past, but knowing that we are all restless hearts continuously moving to a future we cannot yet perceive.”

With each difficult transition, I kept these words from my teacher Pir Zia Inayat Khan close to my heart. My biggest transformation during this journey has been from that of exchanging the perilous path of free will for the more harmonious path of Divine will. I know which path I am treading by the sense of harmony in my physical body, which is only a reflection of my inner being. My ego-centric focus has shifted from ‘what can I get out of this?’ to a more collective approach of ‘how can I be of service to others?’

But we cannot give from an empty well. And somehow all the tears I have shed in 2016 have filled my well. As my eyes have dried up, I feel ready to be of service to the world again. And to follow my true purpose as a writer. For a year now, I have hidden behind a computer screen, anonymously venting my anguish and frustration at not being able to leave an old identity. I was happy in the knowledge that nobody knew this site existed let alone read it. But you are not a true writer until somebody reads your work. Please excuse me now, as I put my head underneath my duvet and allow my ego to have a rant for having exposed myself so nakedly.

Spiritual Awakenings Fuck Up You Life

Its never easy to say goodbye. Especially for somebody like me who gets easily attached to people places and situations. But I cannot lie to myself anymore. Years of meditation have primed my intuition to shout louder and louder until I am deafened by my weary soul crying out to me to take the right action. For the sake of my sanity I have to give up my role as a health care provider. As a recovering codependent I can safely say my current friendships are my biggest achievement in life. No longer subconsciously attracted to toxic, unhealthy relationships, my healthy reciprocated friendships are my pride and joy.

But my current career carries the remnants of my former identity. For fifteen years I’ve worked hard in carving my identity as a dentist. Crippled by low self esteem and the shame of rejection from a community who never failed to remind me of my wayward father’s latest scandals or my brother’s untimely death, I decided to become an over achiever who invested her entire self worth in chasing the ellusive ´Dr’ title.

Having navigated two healthcare systems and a foreign language, I put my hands up. I can’t do this anymore. Everyday I put on a mask and become an actress, as each day a dozen or so frightened, traumatised souls look to me to help fix their pain.

And with each patient, a part of me dies. My soul is drained and I carry the heavy weight of this burden in my chest long after I leave my surgery. And the loneliness in not being able to share this with my family only makes it worse. I feel ashamed to admit I want to leave a secure stable career, especially as my siblings walk a financial tightrope everyday supporting our mother who survives on state benefits.

I feel ashamed to admit to my hard working minority family whose forefathers came to Europe in the 1960´s humiliated into doing the jobs Western Europeans refused to do, that my professional Dr title does not make me immune to prejudices and stereotypes.

I feel ashamed to admit my finances are a mess because I struggle to work more than a few days a week without depression wearing me down. Coupled with my inability to cheat a rotten healthcare system that cheats both the patients and practitioners combined, my earnings do not match the dollar signs that light up in people’s eyes when I tell them of my chosen profession.

In the two years I gave up my profession, I was the happiest I had ever been. My frozen inner child thawed and came out to play. I got in touch with my creative side and allowed myself to dream. And then I got scared and fear kicked in and I went back to a  personality archetype that no longer fits me. Sometimes we create our own prisons from our limited beliefs and self judgements fuelled by insecurity and the constant need for parental approval.

Watching the news headlines of each new boatload of Syrian refugees washing up on Greek shores always provokes another shame attack. With a safe home and a stable job surely I should feel grateful? But then I ask myself how does not following my true purpose in life contribute to society?

Having been part of spiritual circles for years, I’ve been surrounded by people on the constant search for enligtenment. I was happy just to settle for peace. And yet, having had two spiritual awakenings that struck me unaware, I can assure you that they are not for the faint hearted. Quite frankly spiritual awakenings fuck up your life. Everything you thought was true is no longer the truth. The ability to lie to yourself becomes obsolete and you are forced to say goodbye to situations, places and people. If you don’t do it first, the Universe will find a way to do it for you. I learnt that from the first time. But the good news is that after the storm ends and the dust settles, you realise that even if someone offered you a million dollars you wouldn’t go back to your previous existence. Sometimes you feel like a fool for not having acted earlier. That like Dorothy, all you had to do was click your feet and the nightmare would have been over. Instead we dig in our heels, holding onto dear life to unhappy situations. The ego will go to great lengths to avoid diversions from the safety of familiarity.

A true commitment to spirituality requires the ability to embrace the messiness invoqued by continual expansion and growth. Yes it’s tiring constantly saying goodbye but true friendships stemming from love never die.

Saying yes to life takes courage and strength to let go of what no longer serves us. And heapfuls of self forgiveness for the guilt that comes from the feeling of constantly letting people down. I never imagined a nomadic life for myself. Each time I have had to extricate myself from the last seven cities I have lived in has been painful and drenched in sadness from feeling like a failure that yet again I was unable to stick to a geographical location long enough to place roots.

And lesson learnt, this time I have promised myself to take action before the Universe intervenes. Traumatic events are usually subterfuge for aligning us to events and situtions better suited and aligned with our higher self. So I’ll save myself the drama and get in there first.

I feel it in my bones the end is coming before a new chapter in my life begins. It’s taken me four years to muster the courage after a plethora of traumatic incidents to finally let go of a decision I made in a Birmingham coffee shop aged 17. Lost and confused, I chose the option which offered me the greatest financial freedom to escape my unhappy home. Now I’m 32 sitting in a Parisien brasserie with my single shot expresso wondering where the universe will lead me. I let go and let God. Goodbye dentistry, hello (fill in the blank).

Standing Still at the CrossRoads of Life

If I were to liken my spirituality to a tree, Islam is my roots, Buddhism is the trunk, and various esoteric practises and philosophies make up the branches.

My first spiritual awakening was intellectual. Bouyed by Epicurus theories and modern psychology I relinquished my fear based faith.

My second is heart based. Its deeper. If the first one was about letting go of fear, the second is about allowing love in. Deep love, that I have never experienced. A love for the Divine, whose prescence I can feel but not touch. Something understood by those who have experienced the same. Its complete trust and surrender, truly in a way I never thought was possible.

It’s a lightness in your tread, knowing you are guided in your path to a greater good. There are no coincidences and no mistakes. Only lessons to be learnt to allow us to recieve the gifts we are so worthy of recieving.

Drunk with love of the Divine, I’m like a lover obssessed. But I cannot touch the object of my love, and I cannot prove His existance. And neither is He out there. He’s in me, running in my veins. It makes up part of my cellular biology vibrating in every molecule of my being. I feel light like air as the heaviness of the last few months lifts its burden from my chest.

The air tastes sweet in my lungs, as I take deep gulpfuls to make up for the restricted sips of anxiety and despair polluting my lungs as I navigated from challenge to challenge not knowing where this journey of the unknown was leading me to. I’m still on that journey only now there are less potholes and jumps in the road. The Road is paved and smooth, there is less noise in my ears as I hear the whispers of the Divine. I just have to close my eyes, connect with my Source and let go for the answer’s to come. And come they do. But I must be patient. Sometimes on the journey of ´no end’ I become impatient. I feel stranded on the crossroads in the cold. I become wrapped in my suffering and forget the answer’s I’m waiting for. And so my delay continues.

Then eventually I remember why I’m here. I settle into the cold. I watch the branches shiver with snow falling like frosting onto the frozen ground by the soft tread of a red bellied Robin, more beautiful in real life than its pictures in seasonal greetings cards. It is in THOSE moments caught unaware, my answer comes. Ironically, I have become attached to my fairytale scene and struggle to move forward on my path. What strange beings we are, us human beings. But I know which direction to take. I sit with this glad tiding, but I am human afterall. Knowing which direction to take is not enough. I wait for Divine timing to tell me when its time to let my anchor go and scurry forward onto the Path of the Unknown. Until then, I will keep warm and enjoy the view from my window.

Following Your Own Unique Path

If we do not strive for inner perfection, we will remain what we are now- talking animals. The world has never been without teachers. Each age has it’s teachers. Jesus, Buddha and Mohamed were some of the great ones, but there are always qtubs, special beings who take care of the world. The perfect man, the complete man, lies within each of us.”

Konya Sheikh Suleyman Loras

Admist the chaos of changing appartments, I pause when I come across a flyer for an exhibition from the year before. Back in the summer of 2014, walking along London’s Southbank in the sweltering heatwave, I was stopped by an exhibition celebrating the seven types of love as described by the ancient Greeks. We’re all familiar with the butterflies in your stomach and a flutter in your heart that comes from ‘eros‘ and ‘ludus‘ , but lesser known forms of love include ; agape– the love of humanitystorge– the love for familypragmalong term love that develops between a long term couplephilautiathe love we give ourselves that comes from a healthy sense of self-respect and philia– the love that develops between people during a shared experience.

Resonating with this high frequency emotion, I thought back to my Kundalini yogini room-mate who whispered a sentence into my ear that changed my life, ” the only way to overcome fear is through love”. I had been struggling with my decision to leave my native UK and follow my heart. I had fallen in love and wanted to go back. After living in six different cities, I had finally found the ‘one’.  The city of lights, Paris. And so with a big dose of courage I took the leap and came back to the city that stole my heart. Only this time I would no longer be a traveller on ´sabbatique’ and instead committed myself to life of ´metro-boulot-dodo’.

As I walk through the Parisien street’s  on my way to an interfaith concert in the city’s Left Bank, I see the latin fluctuat nec mergitur, ‘tossed but not sunk’ graffitied on the walls. Reaching the small chapel I take my place in a row of pews as I watch the musicians take to their seats near the alter, with the golden statue of Mary cradling Jesus taking centre stage as a backdrop. Dressed in a flowing creme robe, the sufi singer lets out piercing cries of devotion in her native arabic, marking the end of a minute’s silence held in honour of the 130 lives lost on French soil, breaking seventy years of peace, all in the name of hate and intolerance. Tears roll down my cheek as her voice pierces my heart and the sounds reverberate in the high ceiling of the chapelle Notre Dame de Anges.

As I sit watching the concert with occidental and oriental fakirs singing in unity Al-hubbu dînî, “love is my religion and my faith”, I feel incredibly touched to witness the ability of music to break barriers as a permeable medium that flows into all hearts alike.

Listening to the beat of the daf, a Persian drum, I’m reminded of the Tibetan drum I used to beat in the ten months I lived in a Buddhist retreat centre nestled deep in the french countryside. Days were book ended with morning and evening meditation sessions with chanting of the Tibetan Heart Sutra. It was a far cry from my conservative Pakistani Muslim upbringing in the UK.

There I rediscovered the joy of connecting mind, body and spirit through music and dance. I experienced moments of flow, when heart and mind became synchronised  culminating in a profound sense of peace. It reminded me of of the whirling dervishes dancing their way to enligtenment in Istanbul. In a trance like dance, reaching up to God with one hand and delivering a message to mortals through the other, I was mesmerized by the ease at which their bodies moved with such fluidity and grace.

I realise now, several years later that this was my first spiritual experience with Sufism. It would take another four years before I would reconnect with this more spiritual branch of Islam. In my mid -twenties, lost and confused after one traumatic event too many I came to realise that I had formed my entire identity in pleasing my parents. Shrouded in a blanket of fear, I was so attuned to their expectations that I tried in vain to fufill their every need at the consequence of my own and as a result became disconnected from my true self. I realised the basis of my religious beliefs were also rooted in fear and so as the fear lifted, out exited God. In those four years, I became a reluctant atheist who grieved the loss of God as much as I would in losing a member of my family. With a soft tender heart, I filled the gap left behind with hours of meditation that led to my spiritual awakening. I found solace in the stories of the Prophet Mohamed meditating in the Caves of Hira in Pre-Islamic Arabia, reassuring myself that a small part of me remained connected to my roots. Bouyed by my spiritual revolution I sought the support of an established meditation community as I made the leap from hiniyana, a personal path to that of mahayana, a more community based approach to spirituality. The absence of God in Buddhism gave me space to nuture the values of my faith without the guilt of not following the traditional path.

In time I convinced myself that my life was wholly dependent on me, myself and I. I demoted fate and destiny as beliefs of passive people. I was going to force my own destiny. Reaching an impasse with the Buddhist path at the meditation centre, I eventually grew tired of the solitude of nature and found myself craving a more multi-cultural environment, leading me to discover Paris. Through chance or fate, my first home was in Republique, carved in the rive-droit, one of the cosmopolitan area’s devastated by the attacks of November 13th.

Within time, I felt my atheism soften into agnostism by the city’s majority secular Muslims. No longer averse, I felt drawn to the art and culture of my original faith. Facing the everyday challenges of living in a capital city, I began to yearn for the belief in a Higher power, to whom I could surrender all my fears. I felt impotent in the face of events out of my control. I began to question the helpfulness of believing in a chaotic universe that served no purpose. Life surely served a higher purpose, or did it? Feeling uneasy at the thought of re connecting with my faith, I pushed all thoughts of reconciliation away and put it down to mere sentimentality.

One year in France quickly turned into three. Now living in a neighbouring arrondissement, I still frequent my former home often, as I did on that fateful night. Watching the events of the night quickly escalate I found myself struggling as shock turned into despair. With barely any time to mourn the dead, I found myself, along with France’s five million Muslim inhabitants, sandwiched between the fear of further attacks by extremists on both sides of the spectrum.

They say at times of traumatic events, stripped away of our ego we become closer to our true self, our Source. While I found some comfort in the Buddhist compassion practice of tonglen, my usual meditation practice and spiritual literature failed to calm my volatile emotions. I tried in vain to block out the sounds of the gunshots fired in rue Bichet, still ringing in my ears. Furthermore, the usual humdrum of my adopted city was constantly broken by the incessant sirens of the emergency services in the days proceeding. The line between false fear and real had become blurred.

Spiritual music based on the essence of Islam was the only powerful medium to bring me relief from a brain in lockdown. The music touched my soul and as the dopamine flowed, I allowed myself to reconnect to my faith without daring to utter the word ´God’ a word which still makes me nervous.I was amazed then, to find myself singing all the words to Sami Yusuf’s Al-Mu’allim (‘The Teacher’). Every word etched in my heart, I sang with ease the lyrics of a song last heard twelve years previously. I wondered if Sami, the most well known British Muslim musician in the spiritual world, had included his signature anthem during his performance at the now infamous Batacalan in 2011 at an interfaith concert.

History is filled with ancient mystics like Meister Eckhart communicating their love to the Divine. I felt a release from all my fearful thoughts and allowed myself to finally surrender to a benevolent force greater than me. To feel loved and guided in challenging times by pausing and accessing the God within. And most difficult of all, I allowed myself to admit that I’m not strong enough to go through life without the strength of something greater out there. And is it really so bad to trust in something I can’t physically see?

Looking for an anti-dote to the Islamaphobia ravaging the media,  I discovered the sufi term ´muraqabah‘. Quite simply it is the emotional awareness that comes from watching your thoughts without judgement. I smile in recognition of the first lesson I learnt in mindfulness in the Buddhist tradition, “you are not your thoughts“. I momentarily berated myself for not having discovered Sufism earlier. But the truth is, I was filled with too much aversion against Islam to even begin contemplating it’s take on spirituality. The truth is, all the recent Islamaphobia in the media triggered and reminded me of the judgemental and inner critic within me during my brief spell as an atheist. Filled with a tender sadness and gratitude in equal measure that I have made peace with my faith, I understand that spirituality is not a linear process. Making the journey from fear to love takes time and ultimately we cannot force our beliefs. Quite simply the prodigal daughter was not ready for Sufism five years ago.

In truth the time away from my faith allowed me to become autonomous in my thinking as my journey from a fear based religious being to becoming a love focused spiritual one. It has been profound and made me all the more open and tolerant of other peaceful paths of faith and non-faith alike. I worry about the submissive culture of Islam where angry preachers with their soul less extreme exoteric views  influence malleable individuals looking for external validation of their inner rage before looking within first. It is my experience that there is little tolerance by mainstream Islam for those not subscribing to the traditional path, and those who do are often subjected to mockery and shame even by the moderates.

It takes great will and courage to go against the norm’s of society to follow your own path rooted in different traditions. Chogyam Trungpa warned against ´spiritual materialism’ in that we should commit to one path wholly. While I agree its good to have the foundation of one main tradition, I think it would be a shame to shut out a myriad of other teachings for fear of not being committed enough. Surely at the basis of all spirituality and religion is love.

I’m reminded of the histoire du circle, whereby all the world’s traditions are linked together to form a circle in which at the heart lies the divine centre.  As we get closer to the divine within us, the circle contracts dissolving differences and bringing all traditions closer.
I finally understand the concept of no-self, like a moment in time that can never be recaptured, our souls are ever evolving in the face of impermanence. Adhering to labels only leads to suffering when our beliefs will inevitably evolve into muddy waters. I’m a spiritual being having a human experience. No longer passive or forceful,  I’m in the happy place of the ´middle path‘ as a consious co-creator in my life in spiritual partnership with the Universe. And when the frightened part of my personality appears I channel my painful emotions into authentic power,  trusting the universe knows best for me and will guide me in the right direction to fufill my highest potential. I allow my intuition to discern the times when I need to push forward and those times to surrender and let go knowing greater forces are at play. I have hope what with the growing popularity of mindfulness that the age of consiousness is slowly gathering pace in all area’s of society and sifting its way into the mainstream.

Ultimately my voice may not shout as loud as Daesh with their cancerous mutated version of Islam, but its just as valid. Society is ravaged by individuals unable to transmute their inner turmoil, choosing instead to externalise their mutinous emotions. I hope that spiritual individuals from dogmatic cultures reclaim their voice and conquer the avalanche of fear by communicating their message of love, beauty and joy through art and music. I hope by writing this article It encourages others to come out of the shadow ´s. Now more than ever we rely on individuals promoting their messages of peace, creating a chorus of hope, tolerance and openess, regardless of their spiritual path.

Spreading our light of love and peace is the only way to illuminate the dark shadow’s. Slow and steady wins the race.  L’amour est ma religion. Le sourire est ma devise.

November 2015