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Sufi Conference 2008,

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So this afternoon I'd like to take you on a little journey with me. I'd like to share a little of a recent journey in my life on the Sufi path. And as today, I've been anticipating this talk I have found myself quite emotional. So, please forgive me. I don't know quite hot this will unfold. But there's some very deep experiences I would like to share with you. And I ask you to listen with your hearts. I think you probably all know how to do this. So if you can just relax as I will also hope to do. And journey with me. So this time in my life began a few years ago. I was placed in a situation I had not anticipated. And I was to lead a retreat with a colleague who was flying out from California to join me. But it was September 15th, 2001. And as you might recall no one was flying anywhere. So I was here at this retreat with about 25 people really quite unprepared. As I'd anticipated my colleague. And also quite unprepared because everyone was in such a state of shock. And the first evening of the retreat I went to my room and I prayed and prayed and prayed. I said, "Well, I really don't know what to do here. "You know God, you've put me here. You're going to have to help. And that night I had a dream of a Sheikh, a very vivid and very intimate meeting. And I was given something in my body, actually given something. And I knew it was very important and but I didn't want to quite live what I had... I mean I led the retreat. But I knew that the dream was larger than the retreat. And that the experience was speaking to something if I was willing to step forward into that. I knew who the sheikh was. I had heard of him. And I didn't think it had anything to do with me. Maybe it had to do with my husband who was working with him. Maybe it had to do with other people. But not me. But as things unfolded in the next six months, I was invited to accompany my husband, I was invited myself, I was invited to travel to Morrocco where the sheikh lives and to attend a gathering, a celebration, And for many months I said I wasn't going to go. But I finally agreed, that yes I would go. And as we're coming in to the city of Fez, something happened in my heart. And I was thrown into a very deep state. I would call it now maybe bewilderment. I mean what it felt like I was in tears inside. I didn't want to show those tears. I just tried to keep them to myself. But I was quite overcome. This state last actually for several days. We were taken to the house of our host in Fez. And something in me just cried and cried and cried for days. Quite inarticulate. Now this is a woman whose husband was involved in the Sufi tradition for more than 30 years at this point. Someone who thought perhaps she knew something. Or had some understanding of what the path is about. It was quite shocking really. Quite shocking. Fortunately our host is also a guide, is also a representative of our sheikh. And he's working with me during this time. So I have a little bit of understanding. Not much. (laughing) Basically, he says to me "Just rest. Just rest." Everyone else in our party he's giving all these assignments to. (laughing) "Do this. More of this. More of this. More Zikhr. More this. More that. To me he just says "Just rest." And of course I think oh, that means there's something wrong with me. (laughing) I don't deserve to get all these assignments. I'm just, you know, so. These are all just the stories that take place in one's mind. The talk. So this is a very special celebration that takes place in many parts still of the Islamic world. And it's the celebration of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. And we are going to the center, the main center of this sheikh, for this event. And as we arrive, the other women we are traveling with and I go in one direction. And the men go in another direction. And the three of us have never been here before. And we are given very brief instructions. Very brief. (laughing) Just "Don't talk. Do your zikhr." That is what we were told. And we walk into a gathering of thousands and thousands of women. All here for one purpose. So we're all sitting very, very closely together in this large room. And I don't understand any of the words. Nothing is done in English. It's all done in Arabic. But I hear the music. I hear the singing. And something in my heart is so happy. The beauty and the devotion I see in these women is something I've never experienced before. And there's groups of young women. It was explained to me somewhere along the way that these young women from the different cities and villages have been learning these traditional songs. And they get together every week and learn these songs that are all songs of celebration of the Prophet Muhammad. The love and devotion for this prophet and for the message that he brought is so evident in their voices. And so they've learned these songs all year. And then group after group sort of spontaneously, I was told there were 10,000 women there, I could imagine that in a space that would accommodate about 3,000 in America. Voices would rise. A group would start singing in one spot. And then another group would start singing somewhere else. And just the songs went on for hours and hours and hours. So at about four in the morning we left. And we came back to America. And a great desire was being created in my heart. To go back and to actually and to meet this very great sheikh. A great longing to see him. To be in his presence. So I returned the next year, almost 12 months later. This time I'm taken by a friend, from America, who's Moroccan. Who's a man. And once we get to the gathering, I'm alone. I'm by myself. I don't even have other Americans to speak with because the men are elsewhere and I'm just with the women. So this time I have a little more capacity. And I remember, oh, just relax. And I can find where to go. And where to sit. And where to wait. And as I did this of course someone I had met the year before would arrive, would remember me, would take me by the hand, take me to the sheikh's daughter. I mean it was just...and every time I got frightened or contracted (breathes in)... What am I doing here? What do I do now? Then that would all sort of go away. So it was this training that was going on just constantly. To just relax in this sea of beautiful faces. Everyone's wearing their best clothes. And their most beautiful headscarves. So it becomes an ocean of beauty. Of wearing your best to be in the presence of the beloved. And once again. Arrangements were made. And an hour later, he said "Do you have enough money for the train?" He said, "we're taking you...someone else is taking you to the sheikh's home." "And you can come back in a few days. You have my phone number." "You know I have to travel across country." "I'll talk to you in a few days." I'm taken to the sheikh's home and he's not able to see me. He's not seeing anyone. He's not well. This is one of the first times he has not come to the gathering. He's not been well. I sit in his home for about 12 hours. We learn the sheik's not seeing anyone. There were some other people for him to see I was to join. And I'm gathered up by this group of young men who put me on the train and escort me back to my companion. And I come back to America. But this longing to see the sheikh doesn't go away. If anything it just gets worse. And it's a very, very painful condition. I'm finding more and more that I have been placed in this state where it's very, very difficult. Difficult to speak about. It's as though I'm not allowed anything. There must be something really seriously wrong with me. Because I don't belong here and I'm not being allowed...I'll never see the sheikh. I'll never have a living sheikh in this lifetime. I've certainly had a sheikh, but he was not embodied. But I will never have this opportunity. This will never happen for me. And it's because there's something really wrong with me. I mean really deeply wrong. This is the state that I was living in for about two years. And again, I mean, certainly not what I had expected when I signed up many, many years ago for this journey. So I went back again. I had some other reasons to go back to Morrocco the following year. And took care of those reasons. And I'm still asking "Can I see the sheikh?" And I'm told, "Here, do this retreat." So I'm staying at my friend's home and I'm spending the day in silence. And I'm repeating zikhr silently which is what we do in this tradition. La illaha illa la silently. And some other prayers that I do. And the salah. All day long. All day long. Day after day. Maybe I take a little walk in the afternoon. And something in me is getting ground down and ground down. At first it's wonderful. But then something in me starts getting ground down and ground down. And finally on the third night, I just hit such a place of despair. I packed my bag. I reviewed in my mind a million times what I was going to say to my host. "Just take me to the hotel and I will wait there for my plane back to America." "I don't belong here. I don't know what I was thinking. "Why would I ever think that I could meet the sheikh?" "What am I doing here? This is crazy. It's just, I'm sorry." "I've imposed myself on you. You've been so gracious." "But just take me away. So I mean all night I was rehearsing this conversation. Which then I had out loud to my host who is a Sufi. Who took a few breaths and said "What can I do to make your stay more comfortable?" (laughing) "Is there anything I can do?" And that was the day that arrangements were made for me to go see the sheikh. And the first day I'm there, I'm told that I will see the sheikh. And I'm staying in a room...this room has a grill, almost like medieval, this ironwork on the windows. It looks out into a courtyard. We're in the desert. But we're actually in an oasis that's been created in the desert. And there's rows of bushes and a fountain. I can hear the fountain all day. And of course the birds have all come here because there are trees and shrubbery. And there's nothing around it. It's all desert around it. So it's very, very melodious hearing the birds. And at sunset, I'm told, they raise the curtain and turn out the lights. So that I can see my first glimpse of Hamza Al Qadiri Al Butchishi. He's going to be taking a walk. And so here he comes. And walking by his side, just a half a step behind, are two of his companions. Walking in perfect step with him. So I see his profile. You know, I knew this man was very ill. He was very old. And I'm seeing this vigorous, very large, vigoruos man and really all I see is light. So much light. As he's walking with these two companions. And one of my concerns was of course there was no one at the Zaouia who spoke English. And as I look here I see someone I had met in Washington DC is one of his companions walking with him, is from Oman, who speaks English. And I realize of course I'm going to be completely taken care of. If I need anything I can get a message to him. And three days later, the night before I left, arrangements were made. And this companion who spoke English was waiting for me. And took me in to meet Sidi Hamza. I had so many thoughts about what I should and shouldn't do. What he would and wouldn't do. What was the appropriate way of behaving. How was I going to be. Why would he even want to see me to begin with. All these thoughts had just been sort of churning and churning and churning. And in his presence, everything left. Except his complete welcome. Such a beautiful deep, loving welcome. All of my not being good enough was seen. All of my defects. All of my fears. Were just melted in his presence. Embraced if you will. And we sat there in the courtyard looking out the sun was setting the light was changing, the sun was behind us so we were facing Mecca. The roses. The light changing. The mountains of Algeria in the distance. He's speaking with me. It's being translated. And I feel as though it's difficult...I'll never be able to fully describe the moment. The experience of the moment. But it was as though creation was coming into existence in this moment. In his presence. And at the same time that this incredible power, unbelievable power here, there's such tenderness. There's such present kindness towards this person, nobody. So that was a bit of the journey that I wanted to share with you. But I also wanted to talk about some of the qualities or the characteristics, the attributes that I've experienced in this community around the sheikh. And I'd like to start by reading something attributed to Abdul-Qadir al-Jilani. One of the great Sufis. "My brothers and sisters. I did not arrive at union with Allah by staying awake all night in worship, by staying aware all day in fasting. Or by staying engrossed learning knowledge. Rather, I arrived at union with Allah by generosity and humility. And letting my breast be at peace." Generosity. My husband and I have never experienced the outpouring of generosity that we experience when we go to Morocco and stay with the Sufis there. And when we journey to the zaouias, to the centers. Especially there. Whatever we even think of seems to be presented. Not only to us but to everyone there. Perhaps some of you have experienced this in travels to special parts of the world. Someone will come to you, a woman she had a bracelet on. And she had another bracelet in her purse and she said, "You see these two bracelets? Which one do you think is the most beautiful?" Watch out for that question. So the next thing you know, whichever one you say, I mean, you can't say they're not beautiful, right? She's showing you. And of course then you're given the bracelet. Even children. Even children were giving me gifts. And they weren't like gifts that they went and bought. It was something of their own. A little girl, Fatima, the niece of one of my friends, gave me a beautiful necklace her father had given her. I didn't even, I mean, she just, out of friendship, I didn't want to take it. Her mother said it was ok. But it was really quite, we have no idea of this kind of generosity. I have never experienced. Perhaps you have. This kind of generosity. A hallmark of a Sufi. This generosity. Now we've had retreats in our home. I always remember we had a rather large retreat, about 40 people in our home. And I had it catered. And the big meal was in the middle of the day. It was a lovely meal with fish and lots of food. And it was all laid out. So 40 hungry Sufis, no one would eat. No one would start. I finally had to go to the sheikh who was leading the retreat. And I said, "Please Sidi, you have to come have some food because no one will start. Everyone wants to wait for everyone else to begin." And this is not an exception. This is what we experience every gathering. Every day. Every day in Morocco. In our gatherings here. This is the Adab. This is the attitude. Generosity. Humility. This is from Ibn 'Ata Allah. His commentary. He's a 12th century, another one of the great Sufis. This is a commentary on the signs of success on the spiritual path written by Abu Madyan. "Then Abu Madyan says that the Sufis are exalted by giving preference to others. It is their nature. They never cease to give preference to others without their deserving it. Giving preference to others without their deserving it. So certainly a part of my...the inner work that I had to go through, that I hinted at a little bit. Spoke directly to. Is that sense of not deserving. And what is given is given anyway. Despite that. It's not my effort. It's not my, it's not that I did something right. Maybe I did something wrong. Maybe I'm i more need than someone else for this love and generosity. I don't know. But it's not that I deserved. But to give the opportunity for someone else to express their generosity. So this is an example of the Adab. There's another quality that I was unaware of in my own experience of Sufism. And it speaks to a limitation in myself but perhaps a limitation in what has been known here in this country about Sufism. And that has to do with a kind of inner striving. A kind of inner effort. And I could only speak about it when I found the absence of it. In myself. And the best way I can describe it in simple terms is an inner relaxation. An inner condition of helplessness. An inner condition of reliance on something other than my own effort. And again. We are looking at a woman who has been very accomplished in traditional ways in American life. Successful businesswoman. Well educated. A family. Homeowner. Many, many things that we take for granted. That you have to work very hard for. You know and you set your intention and you work hard and you, well I somehow had also applied this same attitude of "This is what I want. This is what I'm going to get." And I had taken this into the spiritual path. And it had really kept me from a realization that's much greater than anything I could have imagined. The experience of life. Much greater. So when Jalani says, "And letting my breast be at peace," I understand that to be a state of inner rest. Of inner allowing. And with all of these things, that's 24/7. It's certainly the aspiration. Not just when I go to Morocco. So before I talk a little about my life, I wanted to answer the question and I'm still answering that for myself. It's the 'So what? So what?" you know? So we told this great story, so what? It could have been an imagination story, but what does it mean? I like to play, I like to share something of our tradition. We have a group practice that we do that I felt would be not appropriate for us to do in this gathering. It would just be very difficult. It's all in Arabic and unless you know a little bit, it's hard to do. So we do this recitation, a zikhr recitation and then there is singing, Sama. And I want to read a little bit about this Sama and then we'll listen to a little bit of it. Here's some of the things that are said about the Sama. By the way these words and melodies are very, very, very old. Very old. They go back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad and before. And they're still being carried forward. And then some are inspirations that are news, so there's both. The Sama is a means for remembrance and can produce a state of spiritual nostalgia. Sama softens hardened hearts. Awakens souls from sleep and ignites a desire for the spiritual world. It's said that we have all heard this music in paradise. And that it can help enter into the state of love and peace promised by the divine message. These are songs of devotion. Always of devotion. Usually, as far as I know, songs in praise and in asking for blessings for the Prophet Muhammad. This is an injunction in the Koran. You know pray for peace and blessings upon the Prophet Muhammad. And the one I'm going to read is a translation of the one we are going to listen to. The first part is speaking 'The beloved is the Prophet Muhammad." And the second part is speaking directly to him. "In this Spring when the beloved was born Allah's generosity for the whole universe has reached its apogee. And through him Allah has guided us to the straight path through the trustworthy one, Taha. Welcome. Welcome, oh you the rescuer of the unworthy ones. You were sent to us as a protection and a shield. Oh you, the last of the messengers. Yes, indeed, on you Allah prayed all the time and on every moment and on all your family and companions. (singing)

Video Details

Duration: 35 minutes and 53 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Views: 1,057
Posted by: oneness on Dec 31, 2009

Zakira Beasley tells the unique story of her journey to her sheikh, Hamza Al Qadiri Al Butchishi of Morocco, and shares a taste of the group practice of the Qadiri Butchishi order.

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