Yesterday began the first snowstorm of the year (that I’ve been in town for) here in the mountains. We knew it was coming – we knew when it started coming down, around four p.m., where we live, even though down in the city it was still just gray and rainy. My car, though functional (and cute), is not the most winter-adept. The “smart” thing to do, I thought, would probably have been to hurry home right after I was done teaching, while the sun was still out – while, hopefully, it was still just light flurries that weren’t piling up as mounds of slush or freezing into sheets of ice. But it was also the last day of my guitar 1-A class and our music-school recital — a big deal for me in terms of personal accomplishment and heart-goal follow-through, though nothing any musician would be impressed by. I thought about skipping it for about two seconds but knew I would be really sad if I did – so that meant facing worse weather on the mountain roads going home. Oh well. I am a little squeamish still, since my ice accident last winter when I totaled my beloved red pickup truck by crashing it into a tree. But I’m not a person who ultimately says no to things just because they’re scary. (Or, for that matter, just because they’re stupid.)
I was with my partner, who, in his extreme sweetness, actually came to my recital. Afterwards, we discussed which route we were going to take home. We were in separate cars, so we decided to caravan – I would follow him so that his ridiculously bright headlights wouldn’t blind me (but WOULD help me to see where I was going, as MY lights are ridiculously DIM). We decided to take the winding canyon road instead of the main freeway. He felt it would be easier because it is less steep. Personally, I find that road quite scary to drive on in the snow – with all its twists and turns and cliffs with no guard-rails – it is hard for me to keep from imagining my light little car sliding off the road and going down, down, down. I imagine that there are patches of black ice everywhere, that no matter how cautiously I drive, Nature can still screw me if that is what is meant to be. So I started out this drive biting my nails, or I would have if I were a nail-biter. Mentally, that’s what I was doing. Biting my mental nails.
I said a little prayer asking the angels to assist me in getting home safely. Then I took some deep breaths. And I noticed my breathing becoming more rhythmic. I have been reading Hazrat Inayat Khan’s writings about the rhythmic breath. He says the breath is not just air moving in and out, but a current that flows from the (supposedly) “external” world, through our bodies, and down into our deepest levels of being – it’s a mystical current – not made of air, but a stream of energy. And in touching our souls before flowing out of the body again, it actually flows through the Divine Source, which is what our souls are always in contact with, and emanating from. I will be honest – I do not really grasp this concept. I only even sort of get the idea of what he is talking about. But so many messages have brought the rhythm and depth of breath to my attention lately that I am convinced it’s something I need to be paying attention to. And sometimes I find that resting my attention to something that I want to understand, without probing or puzzling over it, but asking it to unfold its meanings – invites little bubbles of sudden comprehension to rise up silently and unexpectedly from those soul depths, that connection to Source, to which I was just referring.
So one practice is to place a mantra or wazifa (in Sufi terms) on the breath, which both helps to draw one’s mindful attention to the breathing itself, and also helps to cultivate or draw out the qualities expressed by that wazifa. And the phrase that came into my mind was Allahu Akbar. Usually translated as “God is Great” (or God is the Greatest), this saying has also been said to refer to God as the quality of strength (and, I have heard some say, specifically the incredible strength that is peace). Not one I usually use, but I thought, Okay, this is what came to me. I began inwardly chanting Allahu Akbar on every inbreath and outbreath – not saying the words aloud but saying them in my mind, speaking them to my inner self. And I did immediately notice myself becoming much calmer. My posture relaxed and straightened – no longer hunching tensely over the steering wheel, now I sat up with chest expanded, shoulders back, eyes clear and focused on the taillights ahead of me. Though I did encounter deep piles of slush and whited-out surfaces, I felt if I just held steady and followed those red taillights, I would be just fine. It was the regal quality of Jupiter flowing through me as I thought these words over and over, continuing to bring my attention back to the phrase when it wandered (to things like – the hundred-foot drop-off to my right). I released myself to the strength of God to carry me home. I felt the column of gold light I’ve been cultivating in meditation enter through the crown of my head, flow down through my spine and firmly anchor me to the earth even as I moved along the road. I allowed myself to trust in the strength of the Divine and let myself be carried in arms of ultimate strength.
The drive took something like forty minutes, and after a while I began to struggle to keep my focus on the wazifa. My mind wanted to daydream, especially as it began to feel more relaxed and confident. I did not think that would be a good idea. I tried to keep returning to the phrase; I tried changing where I placed it on the breath. I noticed my breathing was not as deep and peaceful as it had been at first. It was hard for me to maintain that sweet, surrendered state for the whole drive. Like in sitting meditation – sometimes it can be hard work to just direct the attention to one word, one concept, one stimulus, and keep herding it away from distraction, which, in this case, I thought would be detrimental to my safety. I felt as though I had been holding on to an invisible cord that was pulling me up the mountain more gently, lovingly, and securely than I could do for myself. I did not want to break that cord by breaking my concentration on the Divine strength that held the other end.
But as I finally turned off the canyon highway onto the county road to my place (the road on which my previous accident had occurred), and as I watched the heavy snowflakes swirling wildly through the sky in front of me, as I saw the snow already piled on the branches of pine trees, and as I felt the drafts of cold wind though the leaky places in my car, one of those bubbles came up from below. Allahu Akbar – the Greatness of God – wasn’t the feeling of confidence and support that I had clung to all during my drive up the mountain. Or it was, but that was only a tiny part of it. The Strength of God was visible all around me in the snowstorm itself! How powerful it was – making people afraid, and altering all the terrain; but its mightiness was part of the great wheel that moves the earth through its right cycles and seasons, and all of us with it. It came to me that relying on the Divine to support me through frightening natural events, like holding my grandfather’s hand, was one thing, but a whole other way of looking at Allahu Akbar is this: the Divine Quality of Strength is inherent in all things, because all things are emanations of the Divine. If I look honestly and without fear at the snowstorm, I can see Divine Strength evidenced there in a form that is awe-inspiring and beautiful. I can connect with that essence of strength as I see it in the storm.
I suddenly recognize that I am actually part of that snowstorm. It is happening all around me and I am not just in the midst of it but part of it – like I am part of my environment, not just being impacted by it. The quality of Divine Strength is in me just as it is in the storm – we are not separate. Why should I be afraid? The storm and I are part of the same being.
The moment of clarity quickly faded after I got home safely and was reabsorbed into the general distractions of life. But I hope I will remember in the future to look at those things around me which frighten me, which I perceive as outside of me, threatening me – and remember that we are one in essence, and there is no need to not be at peace.
Enjoy your day, whether it is snowy or sunny!