Becoming free of self
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Dervish Lodge in a Corner Cafe

From time to time opportunities arise to bring friends to Turkey to experience the heartland of our tradition. A trip to Turkey that was planned for 2020, but canceled because of the pandemic, finally happened in May. While waiting for a flight from Istanbul to Dalaman, a conversation developed with a few of us in an airport coffee shop. Gradually and spontaneously friends gathered around as an impromptu sobhet unfolded about the challenges of translating Sufi poetry. To illustrate the layers of rich meaning we find in the greatest poets, I offered this ghazal from Hafiz. I wasn’t aware this was being recorded, but we are happy to be able to share it.

~ Kabir

Rumi - Turning Ecstatic

Canadian filmmaker Tina Petrova shares her extraordinary encounter with Rumi (a true story) as she leads us on a road trip of discovery across America to the shifting sands of the Middle East, seeking out scholars who animate his works in the world today.

Prominently featured are Camille’s beautiful turning, an interview with Kabir, and a clip of Kabir leading Sema in Istanbul’s Galata Mevlevi Hane about twenty years ago.

See more about the film here.

Jul 2nd

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:
Zoom passcode: threshold

Watch last month's meeting below and see all our videos here.

July Theme

In this life every soul has its assigned homework. Do you know yours?

We welcome your reflections on this theme.

Reflections on the June theme: To be self-giving is to be free of self.

~ Jeremy Henzell-Thomas [Wells, UK]

At first sight, one might discern a paradox in ‘To be self-giving is to be free of self’ but any hint of this is resolved if we rephrase the statement as ‘To give of your true Self is to be free of your false egoic self.’ 

The pressing question is how we distinguish between the true Self and the false self, for in attaching self-esteem and self-congratulation even to our supposedly generous acts of giving we can easily fall into one of those hidden traps laid by the ego. How easy, for example, it is to feel a comforting sense of self-worth when we make a donation to charity. For many years I have supported various charities, including a hospice, the monthly support of a needy child in Africa, various environmental causes, and organisations devoted to the care of homeless young people, but I recently took a long hard look at my annual income and expenditure and was chastened to discover that the proportion I give to charitable causes is substantially less than the amount I should pay if I follow the rules of zakat (as I understand them) which, after all, is one of the pillars of Islam. Having just investigated those rules, I discovered that zakat of 2.5% is payable not only on income but also on savings. 

One might be tempted at this point to find comfort in the words of Kahlil Gibran that ‘You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.’  Nevertheless, taking that as an excuse to be stingy would surely be prompted by the ego. 

In view of any shortcomings we attribute to ourselves according to religious injunctions, let us be a little careful that we do not diminish ourselves too severely through the rigorous application of the process of self-examination (muhasabah) by which we can become bogged down in the nafs al-lawwamah, the ‘reproachful self’ which exposes the faults of our nafs al-ammarah (commanding, egoic self). The study of kinesiology, as set out systematically in David Hawkins’ book Power vs. Force, has revealed that deeply embedded shame is the most destructive and debilitating of negative emotions, and we need to ensure that we do not totally demoralise ourselves through self-flagellation. This does not mean, of course, that we should embrace the self-inflation that has become a common feature of self-help advice. Loving oneself at the deepest level of the essential self is surely not the same as narcissism.

It is of particular importance, I believe, not to assume that the ‘self-annihilation’ (dying before you die) favoured in Sufi tradition is to be equated with every level of the self, for Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said that He who knows himself knows his Lord – that is, his True Self, which cannot, of course be annihilated. Reflecting on this hadith in his illuminating ‘Treatise on Being’, Ibn ‘Arabi rejects the misguided belief of ‘most of those who think that they know themselves and know their Lord’ that the Path cannot be traversed except through negation, cessation, effacement, extinction and annihilation.

Two sayings spring to mind: the first, that of the Sufi Mansur al-Hallaj best known for his saying: ‘I am the Truth’ (Ana'l-Ḥaqq), seen variously as either a claim to divinity (for which he was cruelly executed by the religious authorities) or as an expression of his alignment with his essential Self, allowing God to speak through him;  the second, that of a Jewish Rabbi (mentioned in Estelle Frankel’s beautiful book, Sacred Therapy) who regularly acknowledged that he was ‘dust and ashes’, although he also affirmed his capacity to act from the Heart.  The dual ‘identity’ of the Rabbi encapsulates the essence of what it means to be truly human, devoid of the compulsions of the ego yet centred, as Mevlana teaches us in the core of the Heart where ‘God created the eternal light of love.’ 

Let me ground this discussion, as I always like to do, in personal experience. For many years I have engaged in a practice of silent dhikr, invoking the Divine Names, Allah on the in-breath and Hu on the out-breath. In this practice I have been influenced not only by the Sufi dictum that ‘God is present in His name’ but also by the great affinity I feel with the 'Practice of the Presence of God' as embodied by the 17th century French Christian monk Brother Lawrence who strove to remember God at all times, including the long hours he spent working in the kitchen of his monastery. As we know, the Qur’an (3:191) enjoins us to remember God, standing and sitting and on our sides, and assures us that in the remembrance of God, hearts find rest (13:28). 

In recent years, however, I have begun to ask myself more and more for whom, apart of course from God, I am offering my remembrance. For me alone? It has been dawning on me that the Name of the Beloved is not only to be treasured in my own Heart, but to be offered to the wider world which is in such need of repair and healing in these difficult times. After all, the verse (3:191) calling us to remember God also refers to those who reflect on the signs within creation. So, now, when I practice remembrance, I imagine that as I say Hu on the out-breath I breathe that essence into the world that I know, my family, friends, the society in which I live, and the wider world. There is much discussion amongst activists these days about what we might do to avert environmental catastrophe, global conflict, and other huge problems endemic in an increasingly broken world, but I am convinced that a major paradigm shift will not emerge from activism alone, but needs the selfless giving of the essence of the Name, which in every ‘act’ of remembrance is of course accomplished not by oneself but by Allah alone.

~ Jeremy Henzell-Thomas is an independent researcher, writer, speaker, educational consultant, Associate Editor of the quarterly journal Critical Muslim, and former Visiting Fellow and Research Associate at the Centre of Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge. He was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2021 for services to the Civil Society and the Muslim Community.

Imam Ali’s Letter to Malik Ashtar

Be it known to you, O, Malik, that I am sending you as Governor to a country which in the past has experienced both just and unjust rule. Men will scrutinize your actions with a searching eye, even as you used to scrutinize the actions of those before you, and speak of you even as you did speak of them. The fact is that the public speak well of only those who do good. It is they who furnish the proof of your actions. Hence the richest treasure that you may covet would be the treasure of good deeds. Keep your desires under control and deny yourself that which you have been prohibited from, for, by such abstinence alone, you will be able to distinguish between what is good to them and what is not.

Develop in your heart the feeling of love for your people and let it be the source of kindliness and blessing to them. Do not behave with them like a barbarian, and do not appropriate to yourself that which belongs to them. Remember that the citizens of the state are of two categories. They are either your brethren in religion or your brethren in kind. They are subject to infirmities and liable to commit mistakes. Some indeed do commit mistakes. But forgive them even as you would like God to forgive you. Bear in mind that you are placed over them, even as I am placed over you. And then there is God even above him who has given you the position of a Governor in order that you may look after those under you and to be sufficient unto them. And you will be judged by what you do for them.

Do not set yourself against God, for neither do you possess the strength to shield yourself against His displeasure, nor can you place yourself outside the pale of His mercy and forgiveness. Do not feel sorry over any act of forgiveness, nor rejoice over any punishment that you may mete out to any one. Do not rouse yourself to anger, for no good will come out of it.

Do not say: ” I am your overlord and dictator, and that you should, therefore, bow to my commands”, as that will corrupt your heart, weaken your faith in religion and create disorder in the state. Should you be elated by power, ever feel in your mind the slightest symptoms of pride and arrogance, then look at the power and majesty of the Divine governance of the Universe over which you have absolutely no control. It will restore the sense of balance to your wayward intelligence and give you the sense of calmness and affability. Beware! Never put yourself against the majesty and grandeur of God and never imitate His omnipotence; for God has brought low every rebel of God and every tyrant of man.

Let your mind respect through your actions the rights of God and the rights of man, and likewise, persuade your companions and relations to do likewise. For, otherwise, you will be doing injustice to yourself and injustice to humanity. Thus both man and God will turn unto your enemies. There is no hearing anywhere for one who makes an enemy of God himself. He will be regarded as one at war with God until he feels contrition and seeks forgiveness. Nothing deprives man of divine blessings or excites divine wrath against him more easily than cruelty. Hence it is, that God listens to the voice of the oppressed and waylays the oppressor.

[Continue reading Iman Ali's letter]

The Threshold Society

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.


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 18: Muharram

Aug 18-21: UK Annual Retreat at Broughton Sanctuary, FULLY BOOKED    (K)


Events with Kabir (K) & Camille (C)

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