Sufis & Motherhood

Mother of Toddlers yesterday, Mother of Teens today


What an unfolding it is, this long haul of living. In an age of instant gratification and information overload, the domestic realm can seem the greatest trial and simultaneously the most profound balm. But it requires, like all good things, surrender. 

After reconnecting with the Divine Feminine during our Saturday Workshop I decided to take the children to Universal Worship at the Sufi Temple in Newlands in the heart of our Mother City for Mother's Day. As with so much of mothering, best laid plans came to naught as darling daughter flat refused to join me, first by text, then in sulky person. The much repeated "pick your battles" mantra came to mind and I let it slide. 

My son and I entered that lovely icosahedron geodesic dome temple, clueless about what to expect. I visit this lovely temple to practice Zen Meditation and had last been there on the auspicious day that UCT burned. All I knew about Sufism is that it is a mystical branch of Islam that emphasises direct contact with the divine. Something that I whole-heartedly believe in myself. Researching this blog post I discovered that it started as an ascetic reaction against worldliness in Islam during the 7th Century. 

"From their practice of constantly meditating on the words in the Qurʾān (the Islamic holy book) about Doomsday, the ascetics became known as 'those who always weep' and those who considered this world 'a hut of sorrows.'"

Not unlike the lengthy prayers we undertook on the New Kadampa Tradition Retreat I attended a couple of weeks back. Of course the fundamental belief in reincarnation is at the root of this Buddhist understanding of dukkha or suffering. And rather than a Day of Judgment, we are seen to reap the rewards of our endless karma. Still, more same same than different I feel.

From "The Hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land According to Highest Yoga Tantra" NKT

"The introduction of the element of love, which changed asceticism into mysticism, is ascribed to Rābiʿah al-ʿAdawīyah (died 801), a woman from Basra who first formulated the Sufi ideal of a love of Allah (God) that was disinterested, without hope for paradise and without fear of hell."

Ah yes. This explains the ecstatic love poems to the Divine by the Sufi poets. Rumi being one of the loves of my life. And a memory of the whirling dervishes I got to watch in Turkey once upon a time.

Hazrat Inayat Khan is the man who "brought Sufism to the West". He started as an Indian classical musician before founding the Sufi Order in the West. We happened to be there on the centenary celebration of the first Universal Worship held in London on May 7 1921.

This outlines the ceremony which I enjoyed, just enough dramatic ritual to conjure a sense of holiness, and they played my favourite Deva Premal version of the Gayatri Mantra as well as other lovely musical interludes. The officiants are three members of the congregation who volunteer. Very democratic. 

The readings from the Holy Books were beautiful and the way in which the cherag (light bearer) ceremonially handled the books with great reverence moved my bibliophile heart. 

I got permission to photograph the readings for this particular service:

We enjoyed a walking meditation around the temple -- considering gratitude and more problematically, how to spread the Sufi Movement and grow it into the future. Followed by a group repetition of a missionary phrase.

And here's the rub. 

I could see how this kind of inclusive church service must have been totally groundbreaking a century ago. But now it seems quite obvious, at least to anyone who isn't a card carrying member of any particular religion. What's more, the rituals have lost some of their sanctity. It's interesting to witness pujas that have been around for millenia still stirring the soul of devotee and heathen alike. These more modern iterations tend to feel quite hollow and fall out of fashion rather quickly. I do appreciate the practicalities of caring for this lovely building and whatnot. The people were absolutely lovely too and I may well join them again.

We certainly enjoyed the cake and a trio of delightfully kooky attendees who made me feel quite staid by comparison. I love people who are unabashedly themselves, it gives us all permission to fly our freak flags a little higher. 

Afterwards we went to my favourite temple of all -- NATURE. 

My boy and I walked beneath the old trees and even older mountains. We discussed matters of our immortal souls and felt the truth of existence which requires no ceremony, no proselytizing, but rather a refining of our attention. A softening of our hearts. A deep, ongoing surrendering.

In the Newlands Forest Sanctuary

"The key is to find balance within oneself. The condition of life around one depends absolutely on the condition of one’s inner self in order to bring about the necessary balance.

How do we do this?

By keeping a few minutes for a process of meditation, of silence, we can touch that complete balance for a moment, and then, naturally, in our life a balance is maintained. Simply be still, and take a moment to reflect on the beauty of nature.

As we are guided in the Bible: Be still and know that I am God."

– Taken from The Heart of Sufism – Essential Writings of Hazrat Inayat Khan



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