During the recent NYC Intensive, I wrote:
I entered the Black Velvet Inner-ness where breaths float as jewels.
Breath is the activator and lens of subtlety. In the realm of subtlety we can dissolve into that which is most infinite and most intimate. For Sufis, the court of love is found inside the subtlety inside the breath. Read more
Posts tagged ‘Practices’
During the recent NYC Intensive, I wrote:
Several of you have asked about my guest teaching at Princeton.
My task was to present a taste of Sufism within the context of Dance and the Sacred. The professor, the illustrious Ze’eva Cohen, had, as preparation, given the students (but not me) a paper discussing the Whirling Dervishes. The over-arcing inquiry for the course that we most zeroed in on was Art vs. Ritual: is the whirling art or ritual or neither or both and why? Ze’eva initiated some discussion, then turned the forum over to me; after a period, she played an excerpt of the Mevlana, then we all went into the studio where I taught beathing and movement and then a 15 minute Whirling period. At then end, I conducted a short concluding discussion during which most everyone was a little zoned out, that being their first whirling.
– My first objective was to stress that Sufi is not a museum, that it is a living tradition, one which they would all be part of after being taught the Whirling by a living Sufi. The practices do not define the lineage. Practices are a pitcher holding the water of the lineage. This pitcher is handed person-to-person.
– I was able to help them experientially distinguish between art as a performance, crafted to carry a message (like Charades) and art ‘being witnessed’ (like seeing the Sufis whirl.) These are blunt examples but the ideas are key.
– I was intent on introducing the concept that whirling and other Sufi movement practices (as well as themes in Islamic art) are not so much symbolic/metaphorical in the western sense of ‘this is like that’ or ‘this is that’, but rather provide a ‘nexus of contemplation’, a phrase spoken by Barbara Brend of the British museum. Contemplation can be intellectual or physical, but the idea – ie whirling – forms an anchor for a blossoming of understanding over time. (I discuss this in my book, Skin of Glass.)
– Aside from this I gave context to Rumi within the history of Sufism and as well as a cursory sense of the relationship between Islamic and Sufism. I then read a few excerpts of Niffari and Rumi to demonstrate the pivotal role of translation in reading Sufi poetry.
Regarding my Facebook comment about the pleasure of teaching smart people:
Smart is a loose term, like love. It could mean many things: A smart person has high test scores; a smart person is who you agree with therefor you think they are smart. A smart person is quick to quip, or thinks deeper thoughts. Etc. What I meant by smart with the Princeton students was that they have enough self-confidence to explore their own ideas and experience. Not only did they think about what I was saying and engage in inquiry with me, but when given an experiential exercise (we did a short witness hand dance in the middle of the lecture portion), they were comfortable reflecting on their physical experience, bringing their bodies into the arena of inquiry. In all of this, no energy was wasted on self-consciousness and defensiveness. We moved forward smoothly.
When you are at the beginning,
Begin at the beginning.
We are never born in the middle of our life; we are all born babies. It is the same with doing our practice or with teaching a class — the beginning of a session is always the beginning. The beginning is not a warm up; it is locating the doorway to Innerness, the direct route to Center for oneself or, when teaching, for the whole group. Like Harry Potter at the train station, the door is never quite in the same spot. Go to the breath, to relaxation, to simplicity. Never imagine you can skip over the start, hoping to have the juice of the middle or the fruit of the end without the dry crust of the beginning. The seed for juice and fruit are planted in the soil of the start.
Every day of practice, begin at the beginning.
“Beginnings are the place where endings are revealed, so that whoever begins with the Beloved ends with the Beloved. Go there, restless to be there until coming to bask in the Presence of the Divine Eternal, on the carpet of intimacy, the place of reciprocal disclosure, confrontation, companionship, discussion, contemplation, and viewing.”
–Ibn ‘Ata’Illah, 14th century Sufi from first Treatise of Kitab al-Hikam
Overwhelmed by spam, I left off posting for longer than usual. But after Angel Bill did a spam-be-gone treatment, I have a fresh clean blog again.
And this brings me to getting to practice. There is usually so much spam in the way. Even when I actually get onto the mat, I let the details of life batter me. I spend quite a while fighting the assault before respite reaches me. This has always been true for the Seeker. Life is busy. Life is full. No Path is free of being overwhelmed by both real and questionable obligations. We all suffer these. But we have to get beyond them.
I taught on my beloved Cape Cod this weekend. Ann Miller spoke beautifully, with an edge in her voice, of just this wall in her Dancemeditation that day, of her fatigue, of dancing that morning and wanting to lie down and sleep for ever, of wanting oblivion. This inspired a period of conversation in the group. Many people recounted a similar impulse. For some, the wall was true fatigue. For others, it was woven with confusions, or lethargy, or escapism.
When I feel the urge for oblivion it is not escape from life’s responsibilities. It is a desire––no, a need, a deep longing, a craving––for unity with the All-Pervasive Subtle. Sufis call this sort of oblivion fana, These days my reaching in practice and in workshops is more urgent. I am impatient with the amount of time and energy I spend on the meaninglessness of spam and all that the metaphor implies. I know quite well what, in my overfull life, I truly value. Spiritual path makes me make choices towards spiritual growth. I recognize that just because a thing is hard, painful, or monotonous it is not necessarily spiritual growth; the latter may be maturing but, for me, it does not usher in the bliss of Surrender. I need my practice for that.
In mysticism, development is marked by surrender. Surrender into the moment is one idea. Surrender to the Unified Subtlety is another idea. Surrender to my movement as I dance is another. So in my practice, I practice surrendering to my body’s motion. She moves and I am with her, listening. I trust her. I trust that, like a guide dog, she knows the quickest way towards the bright scent of Communion. And it is the Communion I seek.
I crave the Divine as I never have before. Bliss and ease. From there my return to a world of details comes with breath and spaciousness, with perspective. Wall Street is up. Wall Street is down. I wash my dishes. I call my mother. I kiss Ric. All the while my heart spins like a tiny top, a speck of stardust, a pure pinpoint.
This beautiful piece is from Anita Teresa:
One of the most poignant moments/practices I experienced at the Winter Movement Monastery was the “healing touch” session, where one person lay down and four others held or gently stroked their extremities.Â Kate Temple West was the receiver of this affection, and I was at her feet.Â To watch the gentle cascade of listening, loving attention flow into her being, with Cliff at her hands, and Jane holding her head, was wondrous.Â Looking up at Jane for one moment, I saw her as a priestess, her eyes reverently closed, Kate’s prone head with closed eyes cupped in the nurturing bowl of Jane’s hands.
I looked over at the sidelong group and witnessed the moving scene of Teresa holding Celeste, her head on her chest, the two of them beginning to quietly weep.Â I didn’t know what words were exchanged or what Celeste was experiencing, but the effect of this loving attention, with Anne’s prone body next to Celeste’s– holding her hands as though they were underwater together, their eyes closed–was perfectly clear.Â It made me wonder about those “miracle healing services” I grew up with in the charismatic church. Perhaps it was simply the fact that someone was being showered with intense loving attention, the laying on of hands (which is so powerful in itself), and surrounded by the intention of healing, that made them instantly well.
As the week went on, I searched for a word to describe the feeling that was growing in me regarding the community we are in.Â It wasn’t respect, exactly, although respect is certainly there.Â But the word reverence came to mind.Â We treat each other with reverence, we are filled with awe at ourselves, at the Self, the Divine.Â Such reverence leads naturally to a heightened ability to nurture, to show kindness, to give and receive Love.Â This made me think back to a speech I heard several years ago at a democracy conference, given by a man who works on prison reform and environmental justice for communities of color.Â He said what this age needs is not another political movement, but a reverence movement.Â I couldn’t agree more.
I feel skin patches peel, gears slick and lock and link, turning counterclockwise, winding back time, reversing my life. When was I barely a shape? My body is mostly motion, a roller coaster from one piece of space to another. Motion peers through curtains of fascia, down halls of skin, pries apart pores, and breathes out to join wind, river, cloud, sea. Read more
I’ve been feeling the spaciousness of retreat inside me since getting home from Movement Monastery. If I keep the practice going, not in an overwhelming way, but in a moderate, easy way, I keep panic at bay. That big wave of never enough time or money or recognition or whatever is bugging me at the moment doesn’t build up and crash on my head.
In the past I have liked setting aside time to practice in a sanctuary environment. It’s more solitary than at retreat, but I can replicate most of the circumstances (music, privacy, resting.) Recently I am enjoying practice ˜in the marketplace”. Simple and unobtrusive practices — breathing with awareness of different aspects of posture or motion is a good one — integrate well into workplace mechanics. The computer becomes a place of daily practice, and walking to the subway, shopping in Whole Foods, or sitting at a social dinner. I may have honed the skill in a vaulted room, bamboo swaying out the window as classical Persian music played, but awareness on breathing and embodiment fit in any room anywhere.