THRESHOLD SOCIETY NEWSLETTER ~ FEB 2019
We welcome your reflections on this theme.
The Living Presence Revival
In 2017 a revised edition of Kabir’s Living Presence was published by Penguin Books to commemorate its 25th anniversary. This year three new translations are being published: in French, Portuguese, and Bosnian. German and Arabic translations are also in the works. Notable is the influence that this book is having on leaders in the field of spiritual practice. Dr. Zilka Spahic, a noted author and human rights activist in Sarajevo, who has taught at Harvard and Stanford, has said, “Living Presence is the one book, more than any other, that is needed in Bosnia right now.”
Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, who is now one of the most influential Christian spiritual teachers in the English-speaking world, speaks eloquently about the effect this book has had on herself and her students:
Speaking from the viewing platform of the particular post I hold, as a teacher of the Christian contemplative and mystical traditions, Living Presence was literally the book that knocked my students out of their pious but generally superficial contemplative “lifestyle” orientation and placed them on an authentic mesoteric path.
In mainstream Christian contemplative spirituality, little attention is paid to attention—let alone to identification, embodied awareness, self-observation, and the phenomenology of the heart, which drives the subtle shift in the perceived center of selfhood. Thus, contemplative practice remains basically “external,” with real self-knowledge low and the capacity for sentimentality and self-delusion high.
Living Presence was a total game-changer for my students, opening their eyes to the inner dimension that must keep pace with the outer in order for transformation to press deep into one’s being. The book also equipped these students with powerful (albeit sometimes painful) tools for the journey toward authentic conscious awakening.
I am grateful for Kabir’s clarity, impartiality, and compassion, and for the generous inter spiritual intention of this book, which allows it to be employed fruitfully beyond merely its immediate Sufi context. Seekers on all pathways—or none—will find his work accessible and helpful.
Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, author, retreat leader, and member of the Core Faculty, The Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, NM.
Here is an excerpt from one of the newly added chapters in the revised Living Presence.
Care of the Soul
O head, you are cause within cause within cause.
O body, you are wonder within wonder within wonder.
O heart, you are searching within searching within searching.
O soul, you are joy within joy within joy.
Rumi, Quatrain 1668
If somebody were to ask you, “How is your soul?” what picture comes to mind? What do you think of? Some ethereal substance lodged in your chest? Some vague specter associated with yourself? That part of you that you rarely consider but that is eternal and might not be in very good shape—might, in fact, not be prepared for heaven or whatever comes after this life? Is the soul a thing, or is it yourself, your true identity?
Before we can attempt to answer some of these questions, we would do well to first look at our own experience. Much of the time, what we take to be ourselves is our thinking mind and the emotions that arise from it. We not only think but we think about ourselves, which sometimes leads to quite a muddle. We each have an idea of who we are, and we think within the framework of this idea of ourselves. We also have characteristic behaviors and personality features that we take to be ourselves, as well as a body, which is our most tangible reference point.
But when we speak of soul, we mean something more essential than either our thinking or our body. If we have looked deeply enough inside our own experience, we may know a little more. We may, for instance, have experienced ourselves as simple, unqualified presence—a state behind our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. This is another aspect of our experience.
Whether we believe the soul is destined for eternal Life beyond the body, we can at least agree that each of us has an inner being, and this inner being has something to do with our quality of life. Words such as conscience, contentment, anxiety, regret, and yearning apply to this inner being. It may be that we give more attention to the outer needs of our lives than to the needs of our inner being, making the mistake that the state of our inner being depends more than anything else on our outer material conditions.
There are, however, people who have made their primary focus the work on their inner being, and the impression of such people seems to outlast the impression of conquerors and kings, of the rich and powerful. These explorers and heroes of the inner life have sometimes left records and maps, insights and spiritual practices that relate to the needs and development of the human soul. In addition, there is a certain amount of wisdom carried by the everyday ways we talk about soul.
In Sufism we understand the human being to be composed of three aspects: self, heart, and spirit. Self is the experience of our personal identity, including our thoughts and emotions. Heart is something deeper, experienced through an inner knowing, often with a quality of compassion, conscience, and love. It can ultimately lead to the recognition of the deepest part of ourselves—our inmost consciousness, or Spirit, the reflection of God within us.
If we simply say that soul is our inner being, then the quality of our inner being, or soul, is the result of the relationship between self and our innermost consciousness, Spirit. The self without the presence of spirit is merely ego, the false mask, which is governed by self-centered thoughts and emotions.
The more the self becomes infused with spirit, the more “soulful” it becomes. We use the words presence and remembrance to describe the conscious connection between self and Spirit. The more we live mindfully with presence, the more we remember God, and the more soulful we are, the more we drop the mask.
Care of the soul, then, is always the cultivation of presence and remembrance. Presence includes all the ways we mindfully attend to our lives.
Soul is the child of the union of self and spirit. When this union has matured, the soul acquires substance and structure. That is why it is said in some teachings that we do not automatically have a soul; we must acquire one through our spiritual work.
Ramadan Love Songs
Shaikha Camille’s forthcoming book, Ramadan Love Songs, will be available from Amazon in March 2019:
“Ramadan Love Songs remind us to turn always to the light of Divine Grace with an open heart. Nothing else allows us to see. Nothing else can seek the companionship of the Most High, Who is always present. These poems for Ramadan—and every month of the year—grant us a sublime scent of a fragrance that inundates us with their power and subtlety. Glory be to one who wrote them and to the One she reminds us to remember.”
~ amina wadud, professor emeritus (Visiting Scholar Starr King School for the Ministry, Berkeley, CA. Author of Qur’an and Woman)
Reflection on January’s theme: Awakened Being is attention guided by the Heart in everyday life. ~ Shaikh Kabir Helminski
~ Shabana Dar Baker [London, UK]
Early this morning (October 2016)
I noticed the Sun
rising over our Big Tree
how the skyward movement up
pulled its Rays earthward down
working their way over its woody vastness
crown to roots
those first Beams of the New Day
touch and illumine each leaf
that kiss of Light
touch their fluttering green skins
and awaken the life force in every cell
and the slow stretching of their cell walls
the aroma of that resplendent breakfast
permeating their membranes
entering and flooding
their Heart core
And with that noticing
something in me
Love arrived today… (May 2017)
unusually tired and thoughtful
It lay across the sofa
and listened to the sound of rain
in listening, it rose up
then stampeded with the gushing rivers
running down the conservatory windows
It let me know
that changes were happening
and being noted
that a new ease was simmering
something was being healed
something, I didn’t even know needed healing
that Grace, in its most Subtle of Subtle forms
Love arrived today… (January 2018)
confused, misunderstood, unseen
overshadowed by expectation
diminished by preconceptions
undermined by conditioning
caught in the headlights
it didn’t know where to look
eyes full of hope
reaching out for a foothold
how tender and achingly poignant
is that place
love dares to assert itself
to find its place again
are those leanings
those points of wished for connection
the searching in darkness
the absence of mirrors
Love wants to be known
Love sometimes doesn’t know how to be felt
Love’s expression sometimes
seem to find a place of reception
Love is forever opening us
layer by layer
veil by veil
compartment by tightly shut compartment
so that our faculties of recognition
Some years ago Dede said one of the many things that stuck with me. He said that when we speak of something, not to speak of our beliefs or what we believe to be true, but only to speak of what we know to be true, from our own lived experience. I offer the above poems as moments in my life that felt like tasting a hint of this month’s theme: “Awakened Being is attention guided by the Heart in everyday life.”
It’s such a holistic, elevated, and wonderfully instructive idea to aspire to, as this new year opens. In reflecting upon it, I realise that the segment “in everyday life” is what often stumps me. Because in the refuge of prayer and zhikr, our blessed retreat spaces or any time spent in the presence of our beloved teachers, allows easier access to the possibility of a state of “Awakened Being”. Whereas, “everyday life” often spirals me into its antithesis. In thinking of some of those times, I’m reminded of a poem of Camille Ana’s, which brings me comfort and reassurance, not to mention the big smile that scoops up my sighs like a hug… It begins:
My days are washed
by the needs of my children.
Help me to respond to them
in the right way.
Draw me to You in the Night
that I may carry the thread
into the day
to serve as I am called.
I long to be with You,
to sit, and bask in Your Word,
but the reality is I must pick up
dishes and socks;
amid the chaos of conflicting demands.
Oh help me to come to You
in the midst of it all…
[Words from the East by Camille Hamilton Adams Helminski]
Ana’s poem helps me remember that to “serve as one is called” requires doing everything we are tasked to do in the knowledge that it all comes from the Divine and is part of Divine Reality. It is all beaded onto the same thread. And then I look again to the theme and see that the thread, or put another way, an ongoing bridge between the state of “Awakened Being” and “everyday life”, is embedded centrally within it: “Awakened Being is attention guided by the Heart in everyday life”. So it would seem that truly Awakened Being cannot happen in a vacuum or purely reclusively, because “everyday life” looks like a necessary condition, at least for maturation perhaps? And the key to this maturing process is how we manage our attention daily. Often I think to myself, if only my attention wasn’t such a juvenile delinquent. Still wreaking havoc, bunking off, escaping the jurisdiction of the Heart. And in the process, blinding me to seeing things as they truly are. Rendering me ignorant of Love and how it seeks me today, in this moment, and the next, and the one after that…
Thankfully, and somewhat paradoxically, I’ve realised that it is also exactly at those times where I’ve wandered far outside the Heart’s jurisdiction, lost in myriad concerns, enslaved to possible feelings of helplessness and despair or frustration and impatience or most likely exhaustion, that a moment of Divine intervention may occur, Ya Tawwab! And in a split second my vision can alter and become so clear. Although, there may have been days, weeks, months, even years, of sheer resistance veiled as toil or apparent stagnation, lost in the dark with heaviness and constriction, that one moment of clarity, gifted at the most unexpected point in time, is everything, means Everything.
These moments may be few and far between. But in appreciating them with importance and gratitude, the pillars of that unseen bridge become evident and the thread gleams gold. Then even just the fleeting awareness of not being fully awake to other moments becomes a vital stepping stone to awakening, that is real. The awareness that my heart may be absent and instead my nafs is controlling the narrative, becomes an instinctual reminder to turn once more to the One and to keep endeavouring to engage my heart.
~ Shabana began her life in the valley of Kashmir and grew up moving around the landscape of England. She now lives in London with her family, is part of the London Threshold community, and works as a clinical psychologist.
The Mevlevi Wird is now back in print, get your copy here.
Practices of Spiritual Intelligence
San Francisco Annual Retreat, March 8-10 2019
With Kabir & Camille Helminski, and special guests including
Robert Abdul Hayy Darr, internationally respected author, Sufi teacher
and Sufi musicians Amir & Nasreen Etmenazade.
The Mercy Center, Burlingame, California (a few miles from San Francisco Airport).
Join us for these days of spiritual practice, music, poetry, conversation, and friendship.
Spiritual Intelligence is the Queen of Intelligences because it is concerned with the highest truth and therefore is the most comprehensive intelligence. All other forms of intelligence should ideally serve Spiritual Intelligence. Science, art, ethics, economics, and law altogether form a coherent pattern when they are brought under the organizing principle of the highest truth (Haqq).
Abu Hamid Al Ghazali once wrote: “Sufism is the best way to the highest truth.” The discipline of Sufism is a comprehensive spiritual education that involves every aspect of life, for every aspect of life needs to be sacralized in light of the Sacred. The reality of the Divine Presence will eventually suffuse and saturate every aspect of existence.
The Mercy Center requires us to send a list of attendees one month in advance.
Pacific Northwest Sufism and Islamic Spirituality Conference
Oregon, Mar 15-16
Join the Muslim Educational Trust for an uplifting conference that will bring together people of good faith to share the beauty of Sufism, its relationship to Islam, and its importance in today’s world. The two keynote speakers, Shaikh Kabir Helminski and Ustadha Zaynab Ansari, will present their wisdom and knowledge on Sufism and Spirituality in Islam. The keynote speeches will be followed by a panel discussion of local Sufi leaders, small group discussions, dinner, and finally dhikr (remembrance of God). Inclusion, dignity, respect, religious understanding, inspiration, hope and community building are intended outcomes of this conference for all who attend.
Threshold’s collaborative blog channel The Living Tradition on Patheos.com is reaching new audiences and sharing the experiences of our community in a unique and vibrant way.
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Mar 8-10: San Francisco Annual Retreat – Practices of Spiritual Intelligence. More details. (KC)
Mar 15-16: Portland, Oregon. Pacific Northwest Sufism and Islamic Spirituality Conference. More details. (K)
May 5 – June 4: Ramadan & Eid al-Fitr
Aug 11: Eid al-Adha
Aug 23-26: Dorset, UK. Gaunts House Annual UK Retreat. (KC)
Oct 18-20: Kendal, UK. Rumi’s Circle/RAY Sacred Roots Retreat with Beth Hin and friends (more details soon).
Events with Sh. Kabir and Sh. Camille marked (KC)
Remembering Suleyman Dede & Feriste Nene
Aykut Akalin paid a visit to beloved Suleyman Dede and his wife, Feriste Nene, last month in honour of Dede’s Urs.
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