Initiation; Practicing toward Ecstasy
choosing the channel, digging the well
This past weekend I was on retreat with the Sufis, with beloved teacher Aqdas. It is amazing how much of a teacher's energy comes through in the context of a retreat that rings with silence. It is astonishing how much silence comes through the Sufi practices, many of which involve the vocal cords, repeating prayers and phrases, embodied with physical movements.
On Sunday evening at the end of the retreat, I stood in the courtyard (the edge of cold now gone from the days here) with Aqdas and two others, and she initiated me into the Sufi order. The two witnesses were the regional representative for the Sufi Order, and the gentleman who has agreed to be my guide.
So, within the cycling beginning-ing of the days of my Gong and life, here is another beginning. That's what "initiation" means. What else does it mean?
Joining the Sufi Order doesn't mean I converted to Islam or joined a cult.
Members of the Sufi Order commit:
- to promoting the message of love, harmony, and beauty
- to recognizing all religions and races as one family
- to holding the spiritual space while being in the world
- to increase the love in our hearts while strengthening our will
I've mentioned before that it's natural for a writer or any artist to be attracted to Sufism. I always was drawn to it, and I was blessed to be raised by spiritual seekers and exposed to many different spiritual paths from my earliest years. Like many people, I fell into Rumi, Hafiz, Saadi and the others and, even in translation, found their words and images bottomlessly delightful.
Oh the abandon! Oh the allure of letting go wisdom and embracing perplexity, of dissolving into transcendent love, of embracing any and every experience as a divine messenger.
But (alas), initiation into the Sufi Order doesn't mean that I've automatically become an ecstatic mystic, spilling rubies from my lips, pouring out yards of silken poetry. Yes, I'd have loved that. There's some embarrassing sophomoric poetry buried in a box somewhere that attests to my wishfulness and Rumi-wannabe...
So no, I haven't stopped all my practices, quit working, or run away to join the circus. There are more objects on my altar now, more prayers, more practices, more attention to those practices.
It seems paradoxical, doesn't it? That taking up an ecstatic, mystical path should involve more discipline?
Actually, Rumi said it himself. Considering the amount of trouble I've had with self-discipline, it's interesting that he said it himself in what has always been one of my favorite of his poems.
In "The Sunrise Ruby," he says,
Be courageous and discipline yourself. Work. Keep digging your well... Submit to a daily practice. Your loyalty to that is a ring on the door. Keep knocking, and the joy inside will eventually open a window and look out to see who is there."
So ecstasy may come. But it will come through practice. And interestingly, I find myself completely without expectations around this. I feel a sincerity of commitment to the practices with really no plan or picture in my mind of what will develop out of performing and cultivating them.
What I do know is that, to mix two "channel" metaphors, I can choose which channel to which to tune my attention/my internal TV set, and that the more I channel the flow of my energy in a certain direction, the more of a groove it creates, and the easier it is to divert the energy into the groove of the channel. When that grooved channel is an unconscious creation, that's a meme.
Thanks to Rumi, I realize that when the grooved channel is conscious, it moves me toward digging a well.