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Dew Point

This blog is dedicated to sharing my every-day discoveries of how the light and beauty of Islamic spirituality can be part of a modern, well-rounded way of life.

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Psychology

Following Unexpressed Pain Into the Arms of Mercy

More than previous Ramadans, this year the holy month felt like a journey with my Rabb, my inmost self, deeper into the arms of Mercy. Under the gentle guidance of the Sustainer who is closer to me than the beating of my heart, I traveled through time to wounded parts of myself and allowed this body to experience the tragedy of unexpressed pain and emotion.

Grief that had been tucked away, sometimes for decades, came into conscious awareness and flowed in rivers of tears through my eyes and in piercing moans resonating through my vocal cords. I allowed untended parts of me to feel the softness and tenderness of touch, of being held, nurtured, fed and, most of all, loved just as they are. Together with the compassionate attention of my Rabb, I witnessed feelings of pain, neglect and abuse and gave them permission to be expressed and seen.

I feel drawn to share one of these experiences to illustrate how I came during the month of Ramadan to more deeply understand the Quranic words in Surah Al-Araf (The Faculty of Discernment) about the Mercy of Allah overspreading everything (Quran 7.156), wrath included.

During one of the final nights in Ramadan, my Rabb took me on a journey to a memory of when I was no more than three or four. It was the middle of the night and this little me was standing in front of the window in the living room, sobbing uncontrollably. Her pyjamas were wet, as was the floor beneath her. She had peed on herself because she was too scared to go into the bathroom alone. She was convinced there was a monster lurking outside the bathroom window. Her parents had tried to reassure her it was just a tree. By day, even to her it appeared as a tree. But inevitably it was a monster again by nightfall.

 On the night etched in my memory, she awoke to find no one at home to take her to the bathroom. Mom and dad had rushed her sick older sister to the hospital. She was alone with the monster, and terrified.

For years, I’d seen this little girl in my mind’s eye with an expression of horror on her face as though she was separate from me. On this Ramadan night, though, the magnitude of her agony passed through this body. I felt her unmet needs viscerally. And as the feelings unfolded, the realization sunk in of how a series of traumas like this one in my childhood had influenced the perception that I wasn’t worthy of being nurtured and cared for. This core belief manifested in my life in many destructive ways.

Then, in the midst of the tears and grief that gripped my body from all these simultaneous realizations, an image appeared in my mind’s eye. Little Daliah was still there on the living room floor, only now a light emanated from her breast and filled the entire room. I understood this to be the light of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. This light lifted her off the floor and into the arms of Love. She felt fed, loved, nurtured and seen by this Love. The memory dissolved into Unending Beauty; another crevice of my psyche cleared out and transported from darkness into Light. As the room that carried such torment became radiant and empty, a deeper understanding settled into my being of why the Quran refers to Muhammad as a Mercy for all the worlds (Quran 21.107).

Continue reading “Following Unexpressed Pain Into the Arms of Mercy”

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La Illaha illa Allah and Connecting to Our Shadows

We all have psychological blind spots, aspects of our personalities that are hidden from our view. My own tend to boil down to fears that feel too threatening to acknowledge, and so are easier to tuck away. This is why I’m deeply grateful for Sufi practices that bring these distortions into conscious awareness through zikr, the repetition of Divine Attributes.

I often linger on the line in the Mevlevi Wird that offers an antidote for approaching my phobias: “Facing all fears, (say) ‘there is no god, but God.’” These words, La Illaha illa Allah, have been part of my life since I was a child, yet only since moving away from the religious understanding has the immensity of their spiritual significance unfolded for me. In my impression, the six words have been usurped by religious authorities to divide people based on those who worship one supreme lord, and are thus bound for “heaven,” and those facing a more sinister fate because they worship a collection of gods.

This superficial interpretation is dangerous because it keeps our focus outside, leaving us prone to fixating on comparing ourselves to and judging the actions of others. What is more meaningful and ultimately more challenging is to witness our interior world and all the false “gods”— the contradictions, obsessions and preoccupations — that consume our attention.

Welcoming La Illaha illa Allah into my days for a few years has brought to light the crowd of idols within me, and it’s bigger than I care to admit. From the sometimes debilitating desire to be acknowledged and validated, to more subtle idols, like the tendency to speak to myself in a self-deprecating way, the zikr has opened a gateway to my shadow side.

My experience is that zikr works on an incredibly subtle level and is a gradual unfolding, like a germination process for the spiritual heart. At first, it didn’t feel like anything was happening; I had to trust that this seed I was planting in my inner world would eventually blossom.

Continue reading “La Illaha illa Allah and Connecting to Our Shadows”

Sufi Healing and Embracing Pain

Through the tears welling up in my eyes, I looked down at the opening and closing of my hand.

First I wrapped my four right fingers over my thumb and pressed them against the centre of my palm into a fist. I examined it for several seconds, then slowly released the fist until my fingers were outstretched. For a few moments more, I gazed at my open hand, before closing it again.

After several minutes I started to sync the motions with my breath so I inhaled as the fist closed, and exhaled as it opened. With every in breath I silently repeated Ya Qabid (The One Who Constricts), one of the 99 Qualities of Allah, understood as the Divine Reality in the Islamic Sufi tradition. With each out breath, Ya Basit (The One Who Expands Our Hearts), emerged in a whisper from my lips.

Ya Qabid, the Constrictor

I concentrated on this meditation long after the sobbing had ceased, mesmerized by the incredible workings of the human body. Rumi’s poetry frequently references the harmony between expansion and contraction. In a physical sense, it keeps us alive: the rise and fall of our diaphragms brings forth breath and the heart constricts and expands to move blood through our veins.

And yet, when it comes to emotions, how often in life have I clung to joy and sought to prolong it, and deemed pain as “bad” and sought to keep my sojourn in grief and sorrow as brief as possible. In my meditation, a more visceral understanding of the importance of accepting the difficulty and ease of life with equal graciousness settled into my heart.

Rumi alludes to this in the verse Two Wings:

Observe the qualities of expansion and contraction
In the fingers of your hand 
Surely after the closing of your fist comes the opening. 
If the fingers were always closed or always open,
the owner would be crippled.
Your movement is governed by these two qualities:
They are as necessary to you as two wings are to a bird.
(Mathnawi III, 3762-66)*

Working with Divine Names like Ya Qabid and Ya Basit has been transformative for my spiritual practice this year as I engage with some old psychological wounds that had been buried in the depths of my subconscious. In the Sufi tradition, we understand the Names as Qualities of Reality which we can activate in ourselves by consciously holding them and allowing their essence to unfold within us.

Continue reading “Sufi Healing and Embracing Pain”

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