I focus on my hands clasped together in front of my lower chest, with one good eye barely open and the other hidden behind a black eye-patch.
I am “whirling.” Circling on a carpeted floor at a Quaker Meeting Hall room going round and round. No dizziness this, my second time out. I project a feeling of Love and “nudge out'” fears of falling and/or appearing awkward and uncoordinated. I am dancing with my “Beloved,” as a dervish man displaying his affection to the Oneness of the Universe, the Glory of the Spirit.
I am a Sufi tonight. A Sufi student. One of the so-called “Lovers,” who listens as my teacher sings verse after verse from poetry translated from Persian into Arabic and now English for the benefit of us American students creating a “Circle.” These are Words of Love by contemporaries and followers of Rumi and others who traversed this same path more than a thousand and one years ago.
Our teacher is Aishah Miller. Her credentials? Practicing Sufism for nearly 10 years as part of the Muslim religion, the Sufi sect that, in this country, permits women to dance, sing and laugh as hardy as any saint ever laughed with the joy in God’s love. Get this. Her maternal grandfather was Jewish, her father Muslim, her mother Catholic, paternal grandmother a staunch Baptist raised in Mt Airy, PA, just outside Philadelphia, and where we meet in our 4-week Sufi Meditation class.
We gather in a small intimate room. A Muslim woman, a Jewish woman, a Baptist woman, and a Buddhist man, or one who is a student of Buddhism. We feel the cold in this nearly 200-year-old Quaker building off of Germantown Avenue. A space heater does little to warm us. I bring two “throws” and share one with Jo Ann, who sits at the end of a couch while a new student, Desiree, sits in a padded chair right next to her cousin, our teacher Aishah.
for Sufi hymn see O Lovers: Never, Never Abandon Love
Jo Ann and I leave the sofa, pull chairs into a tighter circle closer to Aishah and Desiree, approach to within arms-length distance. I shut off off the overhead light as soft light and a soft Sufi chant starts out slowly, “La ilaha ilallah.” (There is no reality, but the reality).
We’re shown how to raise our heads to the right and gently swing across our body as our heads face the heart area at our left side. We repeat the words. Over and Over. Louder and louder, Quicker and quicker. Head moving faster and faster.
My arms get into the “act.” I’m now moving the entire top part of my body, from the chest on up, opening chakra after chakra from the physical exertion that wants to go faster, higher, toward the heavens.
Our voices blend into One. I hear only one voice, one sound of this mystical-like prayer that soars above us. Almost in a frenzy now. Faster, wider body movements, an explosion of pure joy!
And it stops. As calm and peace spreads through my body, into my heart, within my very soul. A place of meditation full with Love, Compassion and the “Beloved.”
But, then we start with another chant, at another pace from slow to fast, stop, and begin a third time. Chanting “Hayy” — meaning “Life” — 33 times, and then “Hu,” defined as the “Eternal Essence.”
I am free. I am warm, despite an earlier chill. I’m ready to DANCE!
We take turns “whirling” on the floor, all but our teacher feeling their way, trying to master the mechanics of turning toward the left — the way of the Universe — planting our left foot on the floor as we “step around” and “into” the flow of the action. It becomes a form of prayer, I “surrender” to the love that is rising, and I obtain balance allowing one full 360 degree turn, and then another and another, going just a bit faster each time, completely unaware of anything but my hands in front of me, and later the floor below, as I extend my right hand above my head and my left toward the ground. I feel no dizziness. Feel nothing out-of-place. Nothing but a “call” to continue the dance.
Until self-consciousness creeps in as I slow down, try to come to a halt like the spectacular one our teacher displayed. I stumble. Catch myself. And then bow to the goddesses with whom I shared this moment, this cozy room, this unconditional love.
That feeling, what I like to call a “Sufi feeling,” is still with me as I remember last night. As I recall the “zikr” or “dhikr,” as the Sufi call the “Divine Remembrance.” I remember. I remember.