THRESHOLD SOCIETY NEWSLETTER ~ JAN 2023
Beginning 15 January 2023
Shaikh Kabir Helminski invites us to a 12-month interactive online exploration into the meaning and possibility of our human existence through the universal insights of Rumi.
The 13th-century poet and mystic Rumi has become one of the most popular spiritual voices of our time—known and loved by people of many faiths and worldviews for his rich metaphors, images, poems, and stories. Using his upcoming book, The Mysterion: Rumi & The Secret of Becoming Fully Human,
Kabir Helminski, one of the foremost translators and writers of Sufi texts, offers a program to deepen our appreciation of Rumi’s teachings by illuminating both the practical psychological dimension behind them, as well as the universal spiritual truths they offer about what it means to be human.
UK Retreat 2023 - Save the Date
The UK annual retreat for 2023 will be changing venue to Broughton Sanctuary in North Yorkshire. The dates are August 18-20/21. Registrations will be opened in May and will close mid-July. We hope to share more details soon.
Join us for a monthly 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.
Turkish Edition of Living Presence
The Turkish language edition of Living Presence by Kabir Helminski is now available through Sufi Kitap as Ilahi Huzurda, translated by Ozlem Ezer.
İnsanın Öz Benliğini keşfi ile, kişiliğinin ve zihninin gelişimi arasında bir fark var mıdır? Öz Benlik için insan kendi doğasının derununa inerken, kişilik ve zihin eğitimi için dış dünyaya açılır. Bugün insanlık manevi tatmin arayışı içerisinde türlü egzotik akımların çeşit çeşit faaliyetlerine şahit oluyor. O kadar ki bir hafta sonuna ayrılan çalıştaylar ve seminerle katılımcılara bilgelik ve iyilik sunma girişimleri bile oluyor. Kişisel gelişim adı altında yanlış bir tarzda eğitilmiş benliği ve egoyu şişiren seminerler, konuşmalar, programlar ve yayınların sayılamayacak kadar çok! Halbuki, manevi erginliğe ermenin amacı kişisel gelişim değildir. Asıl mesele insanlara beklentisiz ve karşılıksız bir şekilde hizmet etmektir. Bu yolda yol arkadaşlığının birbiri üzerinde olumlu tesirleri olur. Bu tesirleri hem bireysel hem de topluca artıracak yollardan biri bilinçli zikre iştiraktir. Ses, nefes ve bedensel hareketlerin eşlik ettiği ritmik ve eşzamanlı hareketler gönlün ve aklın kapasitesini açan ve artıran bir özelliğe sahiptir. Manevi yolculuğa tek başına çıkmak ve yoldaştan mahrumiyet problemli bir haldir. Kişiyi kibirli bir tavra bile itebilir.
Purified attention is the light the soul casts on existence.
~ Shaikh Kabir Helminski
We welcome your reflections on this theme.
Reflections on the December theme: Be conscious and thankful in this moment.
~ Ajoy Datta [London, UK]
When I read December’s theme, gratitude was the first thought that entered my mind. As I sat down to reflect and write about this, I knew I ought to be more grateful. As Shaikh Kabir says, gratitude is foundational to happiness, contentment and other qualities that enrich our lives. And science has finally discovered how practising gratitude and ‘taking in the good’ can have positive physiological and psychological effects.
However, I noticed myself weighed down with anxiety. I felt depleted in managing a fragmented team to deliver a difficult task for a demanding client and irritated at not receiving sufficient support. I was disappointed in not getting a better mark for an academic dissertation. I experienced panic and resentment that my elderly mother had fallen ill, again, with a sense that I was the only person she could rely on for help. Against this backdrop, I struggled to remember and honour all that I had to celebrate.
After years of self-reflection, I know much of this stemmed from my wounded self, the part of me that was broken, fragmented and hurt—a self that was moulded during a difficult childhood, which left me unable to adequately tolerate frustration.
But this isn’t all about me…
Our brains are drawn to problems. Our bodies keep us safe by keeping us on the alert for pathology. As a result, we tend to catastrophise and focus on dysfunction. Moreover, the way we all live our lives suggests a focus on ambition, status and generally striving for something better—better relationships, working lives, communities and nations. Being content with what we have and who we are can feel weird.
Being grateful requires enjoying the present moment, which can be scary, as it might mean opening ourselves up to being complacent. We often compare ourselves to others even if doing so might be unfair. Social and other media distort what we think is ‘normal’. What is often hard to see is that there is so much that is okay, for us to be satisfied with and which can help us to learn, evolve and grow.
To be grateful for what we have does not entail denying our future efforts to strive. But doing so is to focus on our outer world. And focusing on our outer world is to place emphasis on factors which are largely beyond our control. Nevertheless, a focus on our outer world can provide us with an opportunity to develop the quality of our inner being, our character, our soul—through the practice of gratitude, which in turn can inform the way we engage with our outer world. And while we can’t be grateful for everything, we can be grateful in every moment—even in the midst of grief and sadness.
Practicing gratitude depends on activating a muscle, which in these times can feel odd to flex deliberately. As I get older and as my aspirations take a hit one by one (!) it’s much easier to conclude that what makes the journey worth it are a few significant but largely invisible things such as companionship, kindness, integrity and love. And the thought of my own death (even if I may be reunited with the beloved), how soon and how unexpectedly it may come and how much I’ll miss about life helps me to celebrate all that I am (and we are) now, and all that I have to lose and one day will.
To practice gratitude is not to deny one’s more difficult or negative thoughts and feelings. As Rumi says in the Guest House, these are best acknowledged and honoured:
Every day, and every moment, a thought comes
like an honoured guest into your heart.
My soul, regard each thought as a person,
for every person’s value is in the thought they hold.
[Mathnawi V: 3676-77, The Rumi Collection, trans. Camille and Kabir Helminski]
Flowing alongside rather than resisting these more negative states is more likely to lead me into something more expansive and fuller, rather like a baby moving through the mother’s birth canal.
This is part of a broader practice of noticing, of being alert to dynamics in both my inner and outer worlds. Brother David Steindl-Rast says the word spirituality comes from spiritus which means life, breath and aliveness. So to be spiritual is to be alive—with all our senses. This means noticing what is good and nourishing in my encounters with others, be they strangers or those close to me, and in what I attend to, and letting that shape my view of the world, which in turn requires being in a state of presence.
So what might all this mean for some of the concerns that continue to weigh me down? Well to start, it helps to remember what Maya Angelou said—that “this is a wonderful day, I’ve never seen this before.”
In my work situation, alongside the difficulty, am I able to acknowledge that everyone is doing their best? Can I do more to understand what moves my colleagues, what inspires them and touches their imaginations? And can I consciously accept that the dynamics affecting our team are beyond my control?
In relation to my mother, can I honour the love and care she has given me unconditionally over the course of my life? Alongside the resentment I have toward caring for my mother, can I invite in joy at serving her needs at a time when she is increasingly vulnerable?
More generally, can I appreciate that I have come to experience many things—some wonderful, some not so, that I have loved and been loved, that I have been given so much and given something in return? Can I find joy at how fortunate I am to be able to (at least to some extent) think, to feel, to be and to will and to have gained some insights and understanding of me and the world I inhabit? Most of all can I express gratitude in merely being ALIVE?
~ Ajoy is a London-based Dervish. He is a researcher, writer, and consultant in the international development sector with an interest in groups and organisations and how they change.
Watch the international celebration of Mevlana Rumi’s union with the Beloved, an online gathering of remembrance. Shaikh Kabir & Camille Helminski lead Mevlevi whirling dervishes in zhikr, music, and poetry on the theme of 'Gratitude for the Journey'. Introduction by Fatimah Ashrif. Ney improvisation by Selcuk Gurez. Farsi by Leila Bhr. Held on Saturday Dec 17th, 2022.
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)
Jan 15: The Mysterion School, more details (K)
Aug 18-21: UK Annual Retreat at Broughton Sanctuary, more details soon (K)
Events with Kabir (K) & Camille (C)
1288 Cherokee Rd Louisville, KY 40204
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