Sufi dhikr workshop

February 28, 2009 at 5:07 pm (Christianity, Islam, moral issues, personal, religious experiences, religious practices)

I attended this workshop this morning. It was basically a participatory introduction to Sufi dhikr (remembrance of God through chanting/singing) with some talking about love, peace, compassion and kindness in-between. It was led by this beautiful lady with a gorgeous voice, and a couple of others.

I went in to the room, which was bright, peaceful and bathed in sunlight, and sat on a bench by the wall. There was a circle of chairs put out but no-one was sitting there yet. They did a soundcheck, and the moment I heard the drum beat and the “la ilaha ila allah” sung to a lovely melody, my spine tingled and I felt overcome with emotion. I thought, oh boy, I’m in for a rollercoaster ride.

The workshop got underway and I found it fairly easy to forget about everyone around me. But I didn’t find the dhikr as moving as I expected to. Maybe I’d unconsciously clamped the lid on the emotions after the soundcheck caught me off guard. (I can’t let my heart get involved in this!) What I did find, is that it was incredibly like being in church. A total flashback. It didn’t make any difference that the words were Arabic. The words used were mostly phrases I was familiar with: “allahu” (the name of God); “la ilaha ila allah” (there is only one God); “astaghfirullah ya allah” (God forgive me). I didn’t really get into it, if anything it just picked up where I left off in confusion from church. I thought that I don’t really know God. Not anymore.

The lady leading the workshop had such a warmth about her. She exuded peace. I’d love to be like that, I thought. Much of what she spoke about had to do with being true to our fundamental nature, which is peaceful and compassionate, even though layers of conditioning and emotional baggage have encouraged us to be other than that. It made me think of FutureGirl’s latest post. This turning-the-other-cheek thing is really, really challenging. If understood the wrong way, perhaps with too much enthusiasm, it can turn you into a doormat. That’s sort of what happened to me and it’s still really difficult for me to take this message on board. I don’t understand how to love yourself AND your neighbour. I went from unbounded loving of others to bitter self-protection because I couldn’t get that balance.

I think part of what attracted me to Islam was that dignity and self-respect are so paramount; I would never have to pour myself away for another. I know it doesn’t necessarily work like that in practice, but I’ve always been far more interested in ideals than the messy details of implementation. (Scientist, not engineer.) I’ve searched for perfection, for a utopia, for something I can fearlessly throw my whole self into in the knowledge that it is sound and will not let me down. I thought I’d found it. I’ve been proved wrong, and gone looking for it all over again. And now I’ve come full circle and heard the same message I lost faith in.

I guess I’m forced to admit that maybe there is no blueprint for life. Maybe there is no way to plan the whole trip in advance. Maybe it can and should be much more muddy. Pain is often a sign that something is wrong, and only a fool would refuse to learn lessons from it. But that doesn’t mean having to throw the baby out with the bath water. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

I still believe in the fundamental goodness of people, and I still want to rekindle the goodness in me. I want to live boldly and love without fear. I do. But I know how weak I am. It hasn’t taken much to break me, and like what frequently happens with the PhD (and everything else), I am just too afraid to get back on that horse. I don’t want to be hurt, and I don’t like setting myself up for failure. Survival-mode living just seems so much safer.

All in all the workshop was a positive and interesting experience. It has provoked thought and the desire to know God – i.e. the desire for peace within myself, for that pilot flame of goodness to grow and consume me again.

I’ve booked another one, an all-day one on “the Aramaic Jesus and the Sufis”. It sounds so interesting and so tailored to my interests in particular. I’m sure you’ll hear about that in due course.

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