Post Camp – Piano Zikr 1

Post Camp – Piano Zikr 1

Sufi Camp. Here’s what it is in my experience: You pack up all your baggage, everything you’re struggling with, you wrestle it into your car and drive it across the country so you can keep working on it … in the presence of your beloveds, with their encouragement and energetic support. You do a bunch of practices that clear out your cells and rearrange your molecules into new prismatic patterns. You start to sense things shifting on one of the subtler levels, even though you know it may be weeks before you really understand what’s changed. You get a lot of good advice and a lot of good hugs, and hopefully you, too, pour your little dipper  of love into the cauldron for others to drink and be nourished. You come out the other side scrubbed fresh, and you turn around blinking, not quite sure where you are. But something inside you feels more at peace.

Well, that’s how it works for me anyway.

This time, my post-camp feelings came out in the form of a zikr, which I am calling Piano Zikr 1. You can hear it, if interested, below. I hope you’ll enjoy. 💗


How Was Ozark Sufi Camp, You Ask?

You know, it’s funny:
All I have to do is go to the place
Where oaks cluster in thickly,
Shaking their rattles over my head
Like shaman trees;
Where sunlight sparkles on the surface of the lake,
And the water is a warm and welcome baptism,
Even as the wind carries the chill of fall;

Where the energetic imprint
Of thousands of prayers spoken, sung, breathed,
Danced, cooked into meals,
Stacked into piles of kindling
And braided into the long hair of grandchildren
Never quite fades, even through
The slow months between reunions;

Where our hundreds and thousands of prayers
Rise up in a swirling vortex,
Touch the outer atmosphere,
Kiss God’s cheek lightly
And fall down again on us,
A mist of blessings
Cooling the furnaces in the deepest
Pits of our being
Where crumbled, heavy, black ore is forged
Into useful steel;


All I have to do is go to the place
Where leaves are turning, seasons, planets, galaxies,
People and their hearts are all turning together
In one majestic, timeless spiral,

All I have to do is go there
With my cargo of problems that feel
So real and big and stuck
Tied tightly in this skin bag
That I carry everywhere

And throw myself
On the bosom of friendship

And throw my skin bag
On the wooden floor

And throw my heart
Into the boiling pot

And some alchemy happens
Something is cooked away
Something new appears in its place

Something that was raw
Is covered with love
And begins to heal

Something that was confused
Finds a stairway before it
And a whispered instruction:

Just climb
One step
At a time
And you will
Find the way
Opening before you.

Just go there.


What Is Possible

In the silence of night,
God asked me: What is it that you want?
An encounter with you, I said.
Said God – But here I am,
And yet you don’t fall down,
You hear without hearing, see without seeing me.
I said, Then what I want is a vision
For my life.
Said God, But you have a vision
And lack only to follow it
For your every happiness to fly to you.
Perhaps, said I, what I need is a healing.
God said to me, You are already healed and whole.
I asked God then, What is possible?
And God said, You may finally receive the blow
That shatters you irrevocably
Into such wide-scattered pieces
You can never be closed again.


Fish Heart

A bit of silliness perhaps, but sincere silliness:

Fish Heart

Oh Beloved, cast your line!
My heart is ready for your hook
to pierce the living red flesh
and spill through that ragged hole
my hot pain, into the cooling water
unknowably vast.

When you have caught me,
draw the line taut –
my heart struggles against what it wants
but yearns to be pulled hard
until, breaking the surface stillness
and flying through the wild open air,
this little silver fish
falls, flapping and panting
into your hand.

Everything is recycled.

Ukulele Contemplation

I belong to a group that meets monthly to study teachings and practices given by Hazrat Inayat Khan and other Sufi masters.  The circle gathers in a comfortable room in a center for Vedic studies that’s housed in a big, one-hundred-year-old Victorian house in Denver.  As the days get longer, our evening classes begin while sunlight still pours through old-fashioned stained glass windows, the sort that decorate the entryways and living rooms of the former homes of the barons of industry.

 This month we began to explore the topic of Contemplation.  For myself, I am truly just dipping my toe in this ocean of wisdom from which teachings and practices come.  But as the woman who guides this class shared a series of quotes describing the way that some Sufis understand the nature of Contemplation, some of the words resonated with me, and a string of lights went on in my brain as it associated these suggestions with other areas of life that have had my attention lately.  For example, she read:

 Contemplation is about relating to something, moving from outside to inside.  The highest form of contemplation is relating to the divine.  Contemplation engages the heart and the sense of meaningfulness.  Love always focuses us.  No one has trouble being concentrated on the Beloved.  Seeing with the eyes of the soul is a good doorway into contemplation.  If the beholding is experienced fresh, if there is an unveiled encounter with the object, then it is a portal into a deeper connection and meaning.  We long to live our lives not just on the surface.  The process of contemplation is the way in to the center.  (The attribution of this passage is “From Ischtar and Gayan.”)

 I think I first felt my spirituality through relating to objects, elements, and plants, the non-speaking, (mostly) non-moving energy entities around me.  I felt a special connectedness to materials like the bricks in the wall of a building (especially if they were old), or the water in a lake, soft and vibrating with life against my skin.  In the long walks I took around my town as an adolescent and teenager, I frequently felt the urgent impulse to stop and touch things, to meet and experience them with the flat palms of my hands and all of my fingers stretched out and receptive.  These interactions opened parts of my being that had, at that time, never stirred in my relationships with human beings.  In fact, I recently started to understand this part of my personality as a capacity to actually be in love with the non-human.  (Now that adds another dimension to polyamory!)

As I continued to follow this pull toward the inanimate world, and to relate with objects as beings, the impressions that formed in my mind began to express themselves in poetry.  This remained a strong theme in my writing in that format – the exploration of ways in which we can see ourselves, our ideas, and the divine reflected in both natural and human-made things, and the existence around us of a variety of beings that we don’t typically recognize as alive.  Though it’s been a long time since I regularly wrote poetry, since I have been doing the practice that I wrote about here, I’ve also found this aspect of my creative self reawakened (to my great joy!).  When I saw the National Poetry Writing Month challenge, I had the strong feeling that it would be really good for me (and my mental health) to participate.  I haven’t written every day, but I’ve written poems on a lot of days this month, and the awareness that the part of me that thinks in poetry is waking up, stretching, and reintegrating itself into my life is – well – awesome.

So all this was the background as I heard the passage that I quoted above.  It hit at least two bulls’ eyes in my heart: the place that has always honored relating with things as a pathway (one among many) to understanding life and the Divine; and the place in which poetry has just woken up, famished, after a long hibernation.

As part of this class, we have exercises that we are supposed to do at home during the month between meetings.  The ones from this month were reviews of previously learned concepts around Concentration, and introductory “first steps into the ocean” of this new topic of Contemplation.  They are designed, it seems to me, to prepare us for and open us to the possibilities of explorations to come.  And one of the gates through which we enter this realm is a practice in which we choose an object to contemplate, and, through a combination of breath, concentration, and interest, get to know the object – inquire as to what its nature is, below the surface of its exterior.  The does not mean to think about the materials or parts that make it up – or at least, not only to do that.  Rather, it’s asking what this object is about, what it’s here for, in the world and in our own vicinity.  It’s becoming receptive to messages and teachings which this object may carry to us from Spirit.  For, after all, as the foundational truth of Sufism, la ‘ilaha ‘illa allah, states (in one way of understanding it, anyway – as always, one among many), there is nothing that is not part of Allah; all of existence is part of Allah; there is nothing that exists that is outside of Allah; there is nothing but Allah.

So today I sat down to try this at home.  I hadn’t pre-planned what object I was going to try contemplating.  My eye first fell on a large conch shell that I brought back from the Bahamas, which now sits on my altar.  I thought it would have a richness of impressions to offer!  But then my gaze wandered over to the right of the altar, where I keep my musical instruments.  And I thought, Hey.  I’d really like to get to know the inner essence of my ukulele.  ‘Cause we work together.  And maybe we could work together even better if I was more aware of what it wanted.

I positioned it (okay, I really call it her) on my bed, far enough away that I could see the whole thing without having to move my eyes, close enough that I could see the grain of the wood and my fingerprints on the body from the last time I played her.  I fluffed up the comforter at one end so that she’d be resting on her side at a jaunty angle, and so I could clearly see each of the four tuning pegs.  Then I closed my eyes and watched my breath for a while.  I tried to clear a space in which I could receive whatever awareness she wanted to share with me.  When I opened my eyes, I tried to keep a softness in my vision, allowing for a little blurring of edges, not just of the physical object I was looking at, but of the boundary between ordinary perception and the other, energetic senses.  (I think of Lynn Woodland’s teaching that when we are engaged in spiritual or deep internal inquiry, what comes to us through our imagination is often a communication from our higher self.)  Here are some of the ideas that came to me as I contemplated my ukulele.

First I got some images of the journey of the wood from which the instrument is made.  When my old ukulele broke (it was a very cheap, but very cute, model, with a rainbow and a palm tree painted on the front), I asked my partner’s mother to bring me a uke from Hawaii, where she travels from time to time.  She did bring me one – which, to my amusement, turned out to have been made in China.  No matter, I thought; it had been on the island, it had absorbed something of the vibe, which I could access when I played her.  Now I felt the distance from which the pieces had come, and some trace of the hands of the people who had assembled it; I even got a little notion of the power of the glue that held the parts together. Then I felt the wholeness of the ukulele as an instrument.  I sensed that in her utilitarian design, plain but much sturdier and more resonant than her predecessor, she reflected to me an awareness of the growth and strengthening of my own spirit and my development as a creative person offering words and music to the world.

 I noticed that the shape of her body is like mine: round at the shoulders, round and wide at the hips, with a lot of fretting at the head, and a big hole right over the heart, which is simultaneously the most sensitive, undefended part of both of us, and the only place from which the healing sounds can emerge.

I imagined us just being together, tuning to each others’ pitches.  I tried to hear the music she wanted my to play on her, the pressure of my fingers on her strings that would feel just right to her, and allow her to express what was inside of her.

I got the sense that musical instruments carry an energy of potentiality about them.  At rest, they are still always poised on the cusp of sound.  They are like cords that connect us – the amplifiers – to the divine, say, lead guitarist.  When we take them in our hands, we plug ourselves in to that source, so that the song that is always already being played may flow through us and be heard by others.

But then, she reminded me, we humans are not just amplifiers but also instruments ourselves, not just in our art, but in our whole lives.  So really, my uke and I are more peers than I thought.  Something I read recently on the website of the International Sufi Movement about the heart as an instrument came back to me.  I believe these are the words of Hazrat Inayat Khan, though it’s not stated on the site:

Krishna is pictured in Hindu symbology with a crown of peacock’s feathers, playing the flute. Krishna is the ideal of divine love, the God of love. And the divine love expresses itself by entering into man and filling his whole being. Therefore the flute is the human heart, and a heart which is made hollow will become a flute for the God of love to play upon. When the heart is not empty, in other words, when there is not scope in the heart, there is no place for love. Rumi, the great poet of Persia, explains this idea more clearly. He says the pains and sorrows the soul experiences through life, are like holes made in a reed flute, and it is by making these holes that a player makes the flute out of a reed. This means that the heart of man is first a reed, and the sufferings and pains it goes through make it a flute, which can then be used by God as the instrument for the music that He constantly wishes to produce. But as every reed is not a flute, so every heart is not His instrument. As the reed can be made into a flute, so the human heart can be turned into an instrument, and can be offered to the God of love. It is the human heart which becomes the harp of the angels; it is the human heart which is known as the lute of Orpheus. It was on the model of the heart of man that the first instrument of music was made, and no earthly instrument can produce that music which the heart produces, raising the mortal soul to immortality.

 The instructions for the object contemplation exercise conclude, “We allow the object that we perceive to touch us.  The world is full of meaning when we listen.”  I believe that this is so.  I think that Spirit has many messages for us, and that guidance is ALWAYS there, all around us, in every aspect of our existence – if we are able to read it, hear it, see it, get it.  I believe I’m aware of about one gazillionth part of the continual stream of divine guidance that is beamed directly to my own personal internal satellite dish every microsecond of every day.  But on the other hand, every additional gazillionth that I’m ever able to recognize has an inversely proportional impact on my life: that is, it’s huge.  So the value of contemplation, regularly practiced, is immeasurable.  It puts me into a mindset of wonder, which helps me to make myself, and all the potentialities with which I was born, available for God’s purposes.  In that state of mind, I don’t need to know how the song goes.  Like the ukulele, I just need to be.


Tonight I had a very happy experience: I paid my dues and became a registered, active member of the Leader’s Guild for the Dances of Universal Peace!  😀  😀  😀  I confess that I have officially been in training since January of 2012 (yep pretty much exactly a year ago) when I asked Timothy Dobson to mentor me, but have not felt like I could afford the dues until now.  (My mom gave me the money as a Christmas present.  Thank you, Mom!!!)

I am super, super psyched.  The main reason is that I will be able to access the database of Dance write-ups … at last!  Up until now I have been gathering Dances here and there … sometimes quickly scribbling them down in the afterglow of a Dance evening, then figuring out the chords later; sometimes exchanging PDFs with other lovers of the Dances; sometimes pestering leaders to tell me the movements, or chords, or the rest of the words to Dances that spoke to me so deeply that I couldn’t go on without knowing how to play them and teach them and pass them on.  These methods have given me plenty to work with over the past years, and there are several Dances of the collection gathered in this way that I am still learning.  But I have been dreaming of being able to access the huge accumulated body of work that is the PeaceWorks database of Dances.  I can’t wait to be able to immediately follow up with learning all the Dances that I feel a connection with, and find new ones to suit specific occasions.  As I said: Really Excited!!!

This evening I was going through the folder of Dance write-ups and hand-written instructions (sometimes even hand-transcribed musical notation … though it was tedious, I actually had a beautiful time copying from the original Dance booklets at Hakim’s house in Florida … I felt a connection to the old Irish monks) in preparation for leading some singing tomorrow night.  The Sufi Order in Denver just started this new monthly gathering called Heart Song: Sufi Singing and they invited me to contribute.  I felt, and feel, incredibly honored and humbled to be called upon, but also deeply thrilled, because sharing this music is my passion.  I really just couldn’t believe that they would ask me to contribute to the community in this way.  I feel like … I want to do the utmost honor to my teachers by sharing music and leading singing in a way that creates an opportunity for the people participating to really connect with their hearts, to feel a sense of expansion and unity and the joy of praise.  I know those are just some of the things that I get out of this form of music, thanks to the incredible spiritual musicians and song leaders whom I have been very privileged to be around.  Part of me feels like it’s silly for me to think I could ever contribute anything worthwhile, and that my attempting to do so just shows my naivete, or perhaps my upstart-ness … I want to serve with respect for my teachers and with humility toward those I might lead, but of course I question the purity of my attitude.  I’d like to say I know what an idiot I am inside … but sometimes I still surprise myself with new levels of idiocy.  In the midst of this internal muddle about “how to be,” when I have a moment of consciousness I just try to get out of the way and let something come through me.

One of the songs I want to share tomorrow night is from the Dance called “Clouds” by Susan Sheely.  This was one of the first songs I learned to play, back when I did everything on ukulele.  I got to meet this amazing woman this summer, at “The Crestone Experience” Dance Camp.  (She actually led a Dance playing the ukulele!  !  !)  I went up to her and thanked her for composing or bringing through this Dance, and this chant, which have given me so much heart-felt ecstasy.  The best way I can put it is this: The mantra OM MANI PADME HUM is said to be untranslatable, though it uses actual words that gesture toward the concept of a jewel in the lotus heart; it is also said to contain and transmit the whole essence of the teachings of the Buddha.  I feel something similar, though more personal, with this song, with or without the Dance.  It is like the song carries the whole essence of Sufism for me.  It’s like the song is a doorway into another plane of felt knowledge, of understanding beyond mental doubts, beyond explanations.  The words are from a Rumi poem, one of Coleman Barks’ translations.  Each line is repeated twice:

This is how I would die, into the love I have for you,

As pieces of cloud dissolve in sunlight.

La illaha illa’llah, La illaha illa’llah,

Hu Allah Hu, Hu Allah Hu

I looked and looked for a video of this Dance online, but couldn’t find one.  I remember the first or possibly second time I experienced doing this Dance in Columbia with Hakim (going by Hakima then) leading — as I spun out singing “Hu Allah Hu,” I did feel myself dissolving into the light.  As I waltzed with the new acquaintances who would become such close friends, my heart expanded far beyond its previous borders, to include everyone in the room, and the world beyond.  That was one of the moments when I felt released from my usual mental background noise, and fully present with the Divine in myself and in everything and everyone else.  That was when we Danced in the Unity Church hall, which I loved, with its shiny concrete floor and beautiful, dramatic, glittering felt wall hangings.  For me, it was the beginning.

And I remember singing it again with Hakim this fall at Ozark Camp.  We were gathered in the Healing Temple, people sitting all around the room on chairs and bunk beds and floor pillows because it was too cold to sing on the porch.  It was late at night and everybody was finding their own harmonies.  The music filled the room like a golden shimmer; the energy was tangible to a sensitive hand.  My chest opened and my heart soared upward and I thought, This is where it’s at for me.  Everything I need is in this song.

So it’s with great gratitude and honor especially to my beloved teacher and original mentor Hakim, and to all the teachers that I have had, that I go forward on this path, knowing that I have been blessed to sing with and learn from some truly, truly great leaders, with the real gift for drawing out people’s heart songs.  I carry the imprints of these blissful and life-changing experiences within me and I hope that some of the energy of those times may come through what I offer.  I think maybe it’s part of my ministerial calling, to lead and share and join in worship music.  At least at this point in my life, it’s what I love doing most of all.

Okay, I will leave you with this video — it’s not the same as “Clouds” but this chant is another one that early on had the power to transport me out of my ordinary experience and into a more connected state — like maybe the song is the outlet that I plug my cord into … or is it the chord?  Clearly I’ve stayed up past my bedtime writing this, so.  Shakur Allah — the quality of Divine Gratitude — when we give thanks, we experience God within us.  Sweet dreams!

Allahu Akbar

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!


The view from my window