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Posts tagged ‘whirling’

Spiritual Nostalgia

Outside the march of wide-eyed windows hovered a soft, gray dove of a day. People swathed in loose garb pooled on clumps of blankets. I knew them well. Seekers. Those with a faint curiosity rarely curve into my orbit. Seekers, often not understanding why they have driven or flown exhausting distances, come to struggle with frustrations that have been brewing for months or years. They settle on the pale wood floor which is harder and less reassuring than their comfortable couch at home, a home which may not feel like home anymore because obligations have filled every corner and pushed their souls out onto the back porch. Read more

Sufi Thoughts

A dervish turns in white garb. A beautiful performance, beautiful costume. The tall hat, special leather shoes, a long circular skirt hemmed with rope to pull the fabric into a disc is crafted to be seen. But for most turning hours, dervishes whirl in soft, old clothing, in the shadows, feet bare and hair ragged. It is not the look of it, but the true heart heating… Read more

Mexico Retreat

The retreat in Mexico is complete. I sit under the canopy lunching on greasy, soft pork ribs with Claudio Naranjo and Cynthia Merchant. Sparrows dart in and out of the bougainvillea, calling sharply, insistently, joyfully to one another. We watch them meet and tussle face to face, wings whirring in their mating. They carve little hollows to nest in the rush roof over our heads, then gather fallen feathers to upholster their birthing chambers.

I said, “I have a new life.” My heart felt soft. Read more


The other day I had a call to make, one I dreaded. The person is perfectly kind on the surface but I knew, from past interactions, that afterward I would feel as if I’d donated blood. More than a pint. Much more.  I debated not calling. How to get out of it? Or how to get something out of it?

The aftertaste is what stays with me longest. Read more

Departure Poem

Turning away, turning toward.
Whirl clockwise and you’re on your own.
Turn counterclockwise, against time, and you’re with the Sufis.

Sufis melt fragments into the sky sea,
rain them on a desert garden,
bloom them in the shape of every Other flower, forgetting the birthright fragrance.
Foreheads rest on a warm iron planetary hub
and toes wander near the nearing moon.

Upside down, you think.
Inside out. She said this time and time again.
The wet smoke and dry blood,
sprouts dancing backward into the seed.

When the Earth is oiled with her own feathers
and the sky tumbles here and there,
we can still write still poems
and watch them drift off in our bottle minds.

To the monastery!
To where cleaner lies think themselves,
& where, thinking gone walking,
we get at least one trustworthy breath.
And another.

— D. D. McPherson

Dunya at Princeton Univ

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.

Lecture segment:
– 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.

Rumi for today

Walk to the well
Turn as the earth and the moon turn
Circling what they love

Whatever circles comes from the center


Turning the Year

In the year’s turning, I dance my way back into the many strands of Truth that escape my tight self.
My hair falls free. Truth.
Into my heart comes a gush of clean Truth, a flame, a song, a wind, and I can move (and we can all move) beyond my “I”, my “my”.

All times melt into Present.
This gift, this Present, doesn’t erase other times; she is All Time.
Large. Full. Beyond thought.

This Present is Truth on our whirling Earth. When are we ever not turning?

Mystic Festival in Holland

The Mystic Festival was amazing.

Musicians, whirlers and mystic movers from Iran, Pakistan, Moldavia, Iraq, England, Germany, Holland, Italy, India, France, and — with me — the USA presented (which meant performing or teaching, thus very little talk except the wonderful storyteller) beginning at 10am and finishing with a zhikr late in the evening. The day was punctuated with two beautiful meals.

The festival took place in an enormous hall on 30 or 40 large Persian carpets with brocade cushions for sitting and an absolutely state-of-the-art amplification system (this was heaven for me!) The sensitive instruments and beautiful voices,  both the resonant and intimate speaking voices as well as singing — needed to be amplified for the 200 to 300 hundred people that filled the hall.

The morning was devoted to music including Ustad Mahmud Sabri of the famed Sabri brothers (who arrived predictably late and pushed the whole program into strange timing; not that I really noticed. The day seem to have its own place in time). After lunch, a Gurdjieff movement session was followed by the lovely Sanjana Band (Bombay/ Amsterdam.) By the time I took the stage to introduce Dancemeditation as Sufism, perform, then teach, the hall was packed. The performance felt remote to me; the mood of the room was heavy, though my dancing was freer and lighter than usual. But performance softened us, allowing us to grow accustomed to one another.

Then the class began…Hundreds of people breathed, stretched, shook, danced, the energy building and building until we were all rhythmically swinging our heads up and down in unison and shouting ‘hayy’ ‘hayy’ ‘hayy’.  We leaned into the work, pushed it forward, swallowed it, and burst into flame. No holding back. No judging. Only the joy of shared ecstasy. I danced at the foot of an enormous wave, then it crashed around me and filled me. This meeting of illuminating hearts in a place beyond the ordinary remade me. When we all open out hearts together, offering them freely to one another and to the Eternal Divine, we receive far more than we ever give.

We finished with a long beautiful singing and moving ‘Allah’, something I’ve been reluctant to teach in America during the Bush era. In Holland, now, it was perfect. No fear of Allah there. It felt delicious. The sounds washed through my subtle inner chambers while my fascia slid through the heat of motion. When I looked out, I saw a sea of limbs, faces, hair, swaying, open mouths, closed eyes.

The day continued on with great happiness. I curled up at the edge of the carpets and watched, sometimes closing my eyes and drifting to sleep while music and voices in many languages wove around me. Having that much energy washing through me seemed to tire me in one way and fulfill me completely in another.

To be continued…

Whirling and After

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