THRESHOLD SOCIETY NEWSLETTER ~ JUL 2022
The Ecstasy of Recognition, Day of Arafat
Eid Mubarak dear friends! We look back to these reflections from some years ago by Shaikh Kabir on connecting to the day of Arafat (July 8th) – even if we are not there physically.
On the day of Arafat some millions of pilgrims gather on Mount Arafat outside Mecca. It is a reminder of the Day of Reckoning—or the Day of Recognition, as we sometimes call it. It is a very cosmic moment.
Imagine yourself standing with millions of other human beings at Arafat, stripped down to bare essentials, wearing a simple sheet of white cloth, all distinctions of wealth, position, and national identity erased. All you have is the sum of your life’s thoughts, feelings, and deeds, the net result of your relationships, your loves and hates—all these things that have shaped your soul, what you are. The people on Hajj are experiencing that today. We all will experience it one day, on the day of conscious recognition.
We are reminded that true spirituality, true surrender, is about awakening to what is real and true. The Day of Judgment should not be something that we fear, but a reminder of the preciousness of this life on earth as an opportunity to penetrate the veils and come to the deepest reality.
When we come to that deepest reality, we will discover the pure ecstasy of being, the ecstasy of infinite compassion and love, the ecstasy of infinite intelligence and beauty. True spirituality is nothing less than this. It is amazing, even confounding, that some representatives of religion espouse a religion of fear, a religion of difficulties, and in some cases a religion of tyranny. Some people even fear the spiritual path, imagining that it is all about sacrificing what we love, what we enjoy, what is precious to us. But this is only the perspective of the false self that needs the support of false pleasures, attachments, and defenses, and fears losing whatever threatens its imaginary security and comfort.
If we analyze where the false self gets its satisfactions and its illusory sense of security, we will see how shallow and unreal are the things it depends on. The part of ourselves that is primarily focused on appearances, possessions, and entertainments will never be satisfied nor secure.
At the heart of spiritual experience is the ecstasy of being that we only know when we have been faithfully focused on what is most real. The human heart has the capacity to know this, to experience this, and, in fact, we are created and designed to experience the immense dimensions of divine love and beauty. What we have to sacrifice is our trivial distractions and superficial desires—nothing very important or real. We have a right to our humanness, to certain healthy pleasures and satisfactions—as long as we remember that we are servants, as long as we are conscious of our need for our divine Friend, as long as we are grateful for everything.
What is unreal will fall away in the presence of what is Real. The discipline that is required is the discipline of faithfulness to this truth, of being true to our yearning. That is why it is recommended on this day of Arafat, and every day, to frequently say: God is great (Allahu akbar), thanks be to God (alhamdulillah), and glory be to God who is subtle beyond all knowing (subhanallah).
Refining Meditation, Reconnecting to Our Souls
Gaunts House UK Retreat
September 2-4/5, 2022
With Shaikh Kabir Helminski, Selcuk Gurez & friends
We have all been through a time of isolation, fear, and uncertainty. The time has come to restore our human bonds, to reconnect individually, socially, and spiritually.
Meditation, a state of awareness beyond thought and emotion, is a fundamental practice of our spiritual path. This year's retreat will be a time to practice our meditation skills and deepen our understanding and experience of meditation. Within the serene setting of the Gaunts estate, the reality of soul can more readily be experienced. Supported by the traditional practices of our tradition — movement, music, zhikr, and prayer — layers of conditioning fall away and the natural radiance of each soul shines forth.
All our activities will be mindfully planned for optimum health, including fresh air, spaciousness, outdoor practices, and walks in nature. Join us for a contemporary experience of sacred space, beauty, friendship, and prayer in beautiful countryside with precious community!
Due to a number of considerations, including more streamlined international banking options, the Threshold UK charity has decided to close and reintegrate with Threshold US. Friends in the UK can continue your donations by monthly standing order or occasional offerings by using a new account (details here) if you do not wish to use PayPal. This collects in pounds sterling and you will not incur any currency exchange fees. Please note that gift aid can no longer be claimed for UK donors. Booking for the UK retreat is now through PayPal. See all donation options here.
July 3rd - please note time change to one hour later
Join us for an online meditation and sohbet with Shaikh Kabir and Camille, and special guests from the Threshold community. Held on the 1st Sunday of every month at 12pm Eastern Time (5pm UK).
Zoom meeting: https://zoom.us/j/435138208
Zoom passcode: threshold
Watch last month's meeting below and see all our videos here.
Reflect Beauty in the mirror of Action.
~ Shaikh Kabir Helminski
We welcome your reflections on this theme.
Reflection on May theme: Be an objective witness: see Hu everywhere.
~ Michael Cichoracki [Maine, USA]
Auhdu billahi minash shaytanir rajeem.
In recent years I have found greater and greater fascination in nature and that continues on to this day. I attempt to accomplish at least one nature walk each day with my walking stick in one hand and my camera in the other. Over the course of two to three years I have photographed many different elements in nature and a portion of them I upload onto the popular website iNaturalist. On this little section of the earth that I reside, in that short time I have identified more than 400 different species. Sufi stories of Khidr are often evoked along some lush patch of green moss and I recall ayat 2:164 of the Quran that states (highly paraphrased), In creation there are signs for those that use reason.
The photo above of "Bleeding Hearts" although beautiful, is not a "wild" observation, it is "cultivated" or planted by human hands and so is less desirable on the INaturalist site (note the ceramic frog in the photo holding a silver sphere). I asked myself who might enjoy this image as much as I do, and set it aside for consideration. On a following morning I was listening to music while reading and going over my photos, and the song that was playing was an acoustic version of "Layla" (Eric Clapton, Derek and the Dominos). I had heard this song many times over the years and have always liked it, but this time it was different. The song has its roots in the story of Layla and Majnun but most discussions about this song revolve around the more personal story of Eric Clapton's desire for a fellow musician's lover. You can see the parallel if you know the Sufi story in its many versions. Unrequited love, yearning, Layla (night), Majnun (insane fool) and the parallels between human love and desire and divine love and desire.
So the poem I have written attempts to express various seeings, but to tell them all traps the reader into a particular point of view and that is not my intent. The poem and the photo are meant to go together. The imperfect language of the poem is simply a reflection of the flowers, the frog, the song, the Persian story, the vibration (Kun) that each of those are emanating from. I shared the photo and my draft of the poem with a friend who is a published author, poet and very kind woman who has kindly mentored me in my poetic attempts. She responded with her own photo of a Rhodora and a snippet of the similarly titled "The Rhodora" (R.W. Emerson) inside of her own poetic attempt. In the discussion she noted a different capitalization in Emerson's poem, one version capitalizes Beauty and the other Being. Those discussions are in the privacy of friendship and she and I have vastly different interpretations of religion/spirituality, while we still express care for each other. I asked her what she thought the significance of Being capitalized as opposed to beauty in the Emerson poem was. Her response "Being is a holy miracle."
So I have pointed to plenty of signs in the poem, the flower, the song, but in the end whatever will be received will be by the mode of the receiver. I pray that Allah will forgive and correct my mistakes in my poem, my introduction and my life.
Night and the Fool
Ol Toady went a courtin, and serenaded his beloved night
Singing Lay-li, Lay-la, until the dawning of the light
In each alternation of longing and of pain
He carried on in ecstasy and went completely insane
Upon the branch I hang a bleeding broken heart
Time and time again its blood reddens, when we are apart
Separation causes yearning, the world held in his hands.
At night he no longer sees it and restarts as he began
Lay-la, Lay-li, he prays to her, to end the mystery
She does not answer plainly, and extends his misery.
Lay-li, Lay-la, Lay-li, Lay-la
A supplication of his unrelenting hope.
Until he finds a hollow, his grave, dug in the ground.
Will Layla reunite them and end his foolish trope?
In the brightness of night, absence of sound
His heart forever cries, Lay-li, Lay la
Lay-li, Lay-la, can only dry his eyes.
~ Michael Cichoracki lives a simple and semi-hermitic life on an island off of Maine's mid-coast. Raised as a Roman Catholic he maintains a deep admiration of Mary, enjoys carving wood, being in natural settings and writing poetry.
My connection to angels has grown quietly in the background of my life. There have been times during prayer when I’ve felt a sense of an angelic presence over my shoulder, or instances when some natural wonder seemed alive with some supernatural force. But this is an ordinary human experience after all. Some people claim to see angels all the time. Some people claim to be them. Some of them may be right, yet today it often feels like our representations of them drag them down to our mundane level. We sentimentalise them as cuddly Cupids, eroticise them as our romantic fantasies, or project our own existential angst upon them as beings crushed by the burden of eternity. Perhaps the angels, with their fluid nature, are even sometimes willing to be these things for us, but surely such conceptions don’t capture the awesome strangeness of what they truly are.
I’ve never met an angel face-to-face as far as I am aware. I don’t doubt they can appear to us in unassuming human form, but for me, in their true winged form, they must be elemental, vast, and unsettlingly alien. That Muhammad, peace be upon him, was said to be deeply (and literally) shaken by his encounter with Gabriel is one of the reasons I find accounts of that encounter convincing. Though hadiths speak of Gabriel appearing to Muhammad and his companions in the form of a handsome young man, in his “true” form they say his wings covered the entire horizon. Muhammad’s camel is said to have sunk to its knees when Gabriel came bearing a message. This rings true for me. This is an angel I can relate to.
Rumi describes how Muhammad was barely able to survive that encounter. Yet underneath the terror was an indescribably tender mercy:
The Angel Gabriel unfurled
just a little of the awesome majesty
by which a mountain could be crumbled to dust.
A single royal wing of his covered both east and west.
Muhammad grew senseless in awe.
When Gabriel saw that senselessness,
how in astonishment his senses flew away,
he came and drew him into his arms.
That awe is the portion of strangers,
but this gentle affection comes to embrace a friend.
[Mathnawi IV: 3768–71]
Gabriel is a Hebrew name meaning “God is my strength.” In Arabic it becomes Jibrail and shares the same root as one of the names of God, al-Jabbar, “the Compeller.” The name therefore suggests the power of God that is overwhelming — and merciful.
Excepting perhaps Iblis and his followers (whom some consider fallen angels), neither the Quran nor Rumi allow angels much hint of human frailty. There are limits to their knowledge and awareness, even doubts, but their fundamental state is one of deep insight, love, and divine rapture. The Quran describes them surrounding the throne of authority singing glory and praises to their Lord (39:75), and Rumi elaborates:
Every angel has within itself a tablet, from which, in proportion to its rank, it reads off the conditions of the world and what will come to be. When what it has read and ascertained does come to be, its belief, love, and “intoxication” for the Creator increase and it marvels at God’s majesty and ability to know the unseen. The increase in love and belief, and the unverbalized and unexpressed marvelling, are its glorification.
[Fihi Ma Fihi, Discourse 55]
Rumi appears to agree with most Muslim theologians in insisting that angels have no free will (Discourse 55), yet as we rise from the human to the angelic, free will dissolves into the Divine Will anyway, with no sense of privation. Despite this (or perhaps partly because of it), the human being is potentially more spiritually exalted than the angel within Islam. Rumi points out that Muhammad said, “I have a ‘moment’ with God during which there is no room for either message-bearing prophet or angel close to God to enter with me” (Discourse 3), and for Rumi this extends to the mystics of God too:
The spirit of angels is greater than ours;
it transcends common sense.
Yet the spirit of mystics is greater still.
Don’t be bewildered by this.
[Mathnawi II, 3326–29]
For Rumi and Ibn Arabi, the human being’s potential superiority to the angels is due to our capacity to reflect the full spectrum of Divine Names...
The Threshold Society, rooted within the traditions of Sufism and inspired by the life and work of Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi, is a non-profit educational foundation with the purpose of facilitating the experience of Divine Unity, Love, and Truth in the world. Sufism is a living tradition of human transformation through love and higher consciousness. Our fundamental framework is classical Sufism and the Qur’an as it has been understood over the centuries by the great Sufis. The Society is affiliated with the Mevlevi Order, and offers training programs, seminars and retreats around the world.
Each month we intend to highlight an article about our lineage and its principles. This month we offer: Basics of Practice in the Threshold Society
Basics of Practice in the Threshold Society
This is a simple summary of guidelines for spiritual practice within the Threshold Society.
Basic Mevlevi Zhikr
When someone has been initiated into the Mevlevi Tariqah through the Threshold Society, it is recommended that they commit to performing this basic zhikr daily: Fatiha, 100 estaughfrullah (May God forgive me), 100 la illaha il Allah, 300 Allah, 11 Hu.
The zhikr can be done audibly or silently. And there are various ways to do each: Listen to this talk, On the Mevlevi Zhikr, given at the 2010 London retreat and you will have a sense of how it is done.
Silent and Audible Zhikr
Jahri. The audible zhikr has more power to focus us when we are extremely distracted. It is also physically energizing.
Khafi. Silent zhikr has even more power and at a deeper level. A simple and fundamental silent zhikr is: breathe out “la illaha,” breathe in “il Allah.”
Working with Names
Appropriate and Inappropriate Names. It is not generally encouraged to experiment on one’s own with the Divine Names. Some of the Names are too powerful or destructive to be used without specific direction and protection. Yet, after several years of exposure to group practice under a teacher’s direction, one gradually becomes familiar with a repertoire of Divine Names that are appropriate.
Pronunciation. Pronunciation of the Names of God requires some exposure to proper Arabic pronunciation. The “h” on the end of Allah is very important, as is the fact that there are two “l’s.” In Arabic there are consonants that we do not have in English, including certain t’s and d’s that are unlike our usual t and d. There are also three different h’s. Likewise there are vowels that are slightly different from our habitual English vowels. `Ali, for instance is pronounced like the word “alley,” not ah-lee.
Adab, or spiritual courtesy, is fundamental to the whole Sufi Path. It is applicable both to our relationships within the Group and the Order, as well as in our relationship with a Shaikh. The principles and details can be studied in: Adab, also found in The Knowing Heart.
Working with Intention
Formulating an Intention. Making an intention and expressing it in a few clear words has a power.
Completion. Acknowledging the completion of an intention develops will and prepares us for further stages of the journey.
Sacred Space and Time
Preparing a Space. It would be best to have a place dedicated to our spiritual practice. Minimally, it should be a place where we can put a small prayer rug, or a simple sheepskin. A sitting pillow, or a meditation bench, will complete the setup.
Consciousness of Time. We should endeavor to have a daily practice at a specific time. At least one half hour of inner practice is recommended. For most people, the morning hours are best. Additionally, there are the five times of prayer, which should be remembered: Fajr, between first light and actual sunrise; zuhr, just after noon; asr, mid-afternoon; maghreb, just after sunset; isha, anytime after complete darkness. Altogether, one hour of spiritual practice per day is recommended as the optimal or normative amount of time for spiritual practice. This might, for instance, include half an hour of contemplative practice or zhikr, as well as half an hour of the ritual prayer. Students who have not yet found value in the ritual prayer are encouraged to find another way to make the hour of practice, but the idea of punctuating the day with periods of remembrance and worship is essential to Sufi practice.
Concentration & Inner Focus
Maintaining Presence. To state something very obvious, but which is nevertheless often forgotten: All the practices we do should be done with care and precision. Every practice, done mindfully, develops the power of Spirit within us. Using prayer beads (99 count) we can learn to be aware with each bead. Typically we may use one bead to mark either one or three repetitions of a Divine Name, or zhikr. If we notice that we have lost count, have been day-dreaming, or absorbed in some inner dialog, we start again at the beginning until we can complete ninety-nine beads. If this proves too difficult at first, reduce the number to thirty-three.
Heart and Third-Eye
The two most important inner locations are the heart and a point between the eyebrows. The heart is the point of maximum balance, the true center. When doing the zhikr of “Allah,” we should keep our attention focused on the heart. When reciting “la illaha il Allah,” with “Allah” the head is directed toward the heart, slightly to the left of the center of the chest. The brow point is a place where light can be concentrated. In meditation we may attempt to “see” through it, or bring light to it. Many kinds of experience are associated with this point: symbolic and imaginal vision, pulsing light, colors, intense white light. These two points are intimately connected and affect each other. In general, the aaah sounds are centered in the heart (love, deep centering), the eeee sounds in the brow point (knowledge, perception), and the uuuu sounds in the throat area (expression).
As we do any spiritual practice we may receive suggestions, indications, inspirations. It is all right to briefly be aware of these and remember them later.
Practices from other orders or traditions
Once someone has made a commitment to a particular Sufi path, they should avoid using any spiritual practices learned from other sources, in order to develop clarity of connection, loyalty, and depth of practice.
1st Sunday of every month: Online Meditation, more details (KC)
Jul 9: Eid al'Adha
Jul 30: Muharram/New Year
Sep 2-4/5: UK Retreat: Refining Meditation, register now (K)
Events with Kabir (K) & Camille (C)
1288 Cherokee Rd Louisville, KY 40204
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