Al Ahad- The One

Allah encompasses the 99 Names, The Beautiful Attributes, we do not. Allah does not need our busy-ness. We desire and think we need to be busy in order to feel accomplished, successful, competent, loved, etc and so on. We are wasting Allah’s time if we are constantly doing without checking in with our hearts to see if that is what we need to be doing. Sometimes we just need to be doing nothing. Why is that such a waste? If I am doing nothing but in my heart I know I should be exercising to stay healthy then yes, I am wasting time. But if I exercised everyday and this day I am taking it off in order to assimilate the benefit of movement with it’s opposite, rest, then it is not a waste. Each day, each moment we have the capacity to check in and ask; What do I need to do right now? Is this pleasing to Allah or my nafs? Inshallah (God willing) we choose Allah. 🙂

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Al Wakil-The Trustee

Unveiling the heart from fear
What deters the sufi from attaining closeness to Allah? The ego. The ego presents with veils over the heart in a variety of manners for each person. One veil is that of fear. The dictionary definition of fear is “a distressing negative sensation induced by a perceived threat”. As sufis we are trying to get close to Allah by purifying our ego/nafs. If our nafs are entrenched with the perception of being threatened, how can we love Allah? This business of loving ourselves and being ruled by our fears is an unnecessary use of time. The human spirit is like a tender pod about to open to the essence of Allah. We can not fully taste this essence through our mind, our emotions, our thoughts, or our status. It’s not that we give up having, or doing, or feeling, it’s that we give up our attachments to them. This giving up of attachments is possible, and the ways in which we do so are limitless.

I would like to share how fear can inhibit one’s spiritual growth toward the Creator and how to shed the attachment of fear on the heart. In order to share this we must understand what fear is. First of all, fear is a construct of the mind. As I once read on a bumper sticker, ‘you don’t always have to believe what you think.’ A thought is just that; a thought. It’s what we do with this thought that makes it appear real. Fear begins in the brain. The area called the amygdala is the place where emotion is derived, the hippocampus triggers the memory of such fear or emotion from a past experience, and the hypothalamus delivers chemicals such as cortisol that triggers fight or flight–which can manifest negatively as a panic attack or instigate physical action in order to survive (i.e. moving out of the way of an oncoming bus). This cascade of effects is based on the memory of that emotion; that emotion of FEAR. So when we are riddled with emotional upset and we are given the advise that it’s all in your head – this is not far from the truth. It starts in the brain and becomes very physical and seemingly real. Yet, if it begins with a thought, couldn’t it be retrained? Responses to emotions such as fear can be heightened due to past traumatic experiences, genetics, or damage to this part of the brain. I believe that emotionally charged responses can be altered not only by changing the thoughts per se but by creating a space for mental hygeine. This hygiene is not just counseling alone, but includes deep practices routed in the connection to the Divine. For the route of all fear is just that: a disconnection to the Divine.
To see that fear is the state of being disconnected to the Divine, it must be truly realized that we are apart of a Whole. This Universe manifests all the elements of the Divine, it’s up to us to see them. We can witness the beautiful aspects of Allah in people; in our spouses/partners, kids, neighbors, friends and even the guy who pumps our gas. When we work on cleansing the heart/purifying the ego we need room to see and experience Truth/God/Divine/Allah in everything, in every moment. This requires and open mind, something that is not fully attainable when charged with fear. It’s when our heart is not polished of the ego’s tricky ways, and we are busy with ourselves; regretting, pondering what we’ve said or done in the past, worrying about our kids, our folks, or the state of the world that keeps us in this place of detachment to Divine and rooted in fear.

In order to shed this attachment of fear, or to stop it before it begins this cascade into a mental, chemical and physical abyss there are spiritual prescriptions to follow,  actions to take, and new ways of thinking to adopt. In the practice of Sufism, we begin with Biat and La ilaha Illallah. Biat is the taking of the hand of a Shaykh, and spiritually his Shaykh’s, all the way back to the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh). This link to the tariqa’s sisla (sufi school’s lineage) is important because all guidance comes through this lineage from Allah to the living Shaykh/a. He/she never works alone. In taking his/her hand we are making a promise, a promise to Allah that everything we will do is for His sake. The Shaykh/Shaykha promises to take us to Allah and we promise to do the work in order to go to Allah. This is done with the understanding that the Shaykh/Shaykha represents the Prophet and acts as a spiritual parent always pointing to Allah and never to him/herself. We in turn, must learn the adab or manners of being in the presence of our Shaykh/Shaykha as they are our door to Allah. Adab alone has much benefit for the sufi’s ascension toward Divine, but that’s a discussion for another time.

The words; La ilaha Illallah; there is no God but Allah is the first zikr a sufi recites. In adopting this phrase, the sufi confirms inwardly that he/she will turn to Allah and away from the ego/nafs. So right from the get go we have a commitment to Allah that means we will do whatever it takes to cleanse our hearts of all that is not Allah. Sufi students are given assignments that are prescriptions for the heart, for what is needed. The Shaykh has walked the path to Allah with guidance and is then given permission from his Shaykh to show others the way. The Shaykh sees the heart of his students better than the student himself.  The Shaykh can see fear for what it is in the student, something that the student may never see on his own objectively. Because, remember the fear itself is triggered from a memory or a thought. The relationship between Shaykh and dervish (student) is one of trust, and in this trust the student understands that the guide will help to illuminate the Truth. What may be revealed is that the student is afraid of letting go of control, afraid of surrendering because once surrendered, what is left? There may also be a fear of becoming close to Allah. The Shaykh’s job is to reveal or reflect what the student needs to learn and also help the student once realizations begin to occur. This is done in a myriad of ways. The Shaykh may use storytelling to open the student’s mind to contemplation. As well as guide and teacher, the Shaykh, is also a spiritual doctor and prescribes accordingly.  These prescriptions are given in the form of personal zikr or repetitions of the names of Allah to jump start the heart and cleanse it of it’s impurities. There is a set zikr that all students recite daily and then the Shaykh/a may alter them according to what each student needs. Someone whose affliction is fear may recieve the zikr or recitation from the Quran–“Wa laa khawfun ‘alayhim wa laa hum yahzanuun: And there shall no fear come upon them and neither shall they grieve.”  Another section of the Quran may be prescribed; the Throne verse: Surah II:255;  The Cow: ayat 255. The assignments work deeply especially when done daily.  In addition to what the Shaykh prescribes to the student he is praying and inculcating (talking to the heart and body of the student) through spiritual means in order to alter the person’s DNA. This is especially useful if the fear affliction is of a genetic nature.

The effects of fear show up in the physical body. Think of what happens when you become fearful; you hold your breath and your muscles tighten, becoming rigid and guarded. This happens in response to a threat, you physically are prepared to battle whatever has frightened you. This is natural if the impending threat is real. When fear is a constant state, this build up of tension and lack of oxygen is detrimental and unhealthy to tissues, organs as well as the energy centers of the body. In addition to the spiritual work that is done to aleviate fear we must recognize and pay attention to what the body needs in order to come back to balance and to help reduce the build up of physical fear. First of all, notice where in the body you hold fear. If you are holding your breath perhaps your abdomen is tense. This may result in stomache upset, GERD, or other afflictions in the organ of the stomache. Gripping in the core of your physical center you are making the abdominal muscles work overtime, thereby the stomache organ becomes overactive. You may notice that you have acid reflux and you pop alot of antacids. It may not be what foods you are eating that create this excess acid but instead what thoughts you are holding onto and therefore not able to digest. An exercise aimed at relieving this type of tension is abdominal breathing. Not only does this relax the muscles but deep breathing exercises regulate the nervous system. Here is a simple, yet effective belly breathing exercise. Lie down on your back and close your eyes. First, notice your breath moving in and out of your lungs. Gradually and gently take an inhalation through your nose and allow your belly to soften and rise. After a full inhale pause for the count of two. Then gradually and very, very slowly exhale through your nose. Allow your abdomen to softly press the air up and out of your lungs. Repeat this breath for 10 repetitions. When completed notice any differences in your body, your breathing and your thoughts. I must say here that if while doing this or any breath exercise you become dizzy or uncomfortable in any way, do not push or exert. Let go of the exercise and breath in a normal pattern for you.

Tension from fear may also manifest as back pain. The number one reason people call out of sick from work is back pain. Again the grip of fear holds onto us. In turn, we hold on for dear life. By doing so, we move throughout our days in a shield of armor. The body is beautifully designed to hold us upright and move fluidly, if we allow it to do so. The spine, bones, and joints move harmoniously in conjunction with the musculature, ligaments and connective tissue. Of course, trauma and age can alter the ability for the spine or other joints to go out of place or wear down, but we needn’t add to the damage by restricting movements with the effects from fear. To help the spine and musculature of the back become strong, yet supple, it is imperetive that we move it through all the possible ways in which the spine can move; flexing it, extending it, twisting it, and moving it from side to side. This can be done with simple yoga movements. Yoga that focuses on joint mobility such as Structural Yoga Therapy or Viniyoga would be the gentlest and most therapeutic for a person who is afflicted by the physical restrictions caused by fear. These styles of yoga are beneficial due to the teachings and how they combine fluidity between movement and breath. It’s not necessarily healthy for a person who is so bound up to jump into a hard-core yoga regime that consists of postures that are held for a length of time in order to stretch the tissue. First, one must pay attention to the full range of motion of the joints and depth and regularity of the breath. By moving the joints and exploring their range of motion over time, there will be a nice balance of release and strength in the muscles and tissues that support them.

Fear also alters balance in the flow of energy throughout the body. Energy channels, much like the network of nerves that help us interpret the outer world through our senses, help to keep the connection between the subtle bodies and organs working smoothly, in an uninterupted fashion. Just as the physical body can become tight, so too can the energy become stuck or move sluggishly.  Fear can immobilize the energy and create feelings of fatigue, pain, sadness, lack of energy, or a sence of being overwhelmed. Massage, accupuncture, cranio-sacral therapy and quiet mindfulness meditations are all ways to manipulate the energy to move freely. When the energy is moving in this way the brain and heart can better communicate.

Another way to free the mind of fear is to be in the world. As sufis, we are of service and always learning. When serving, working together, being tolerant, and being peace, Allah is giving us the opportunity to look at life from another angle, not that of our own, thereby opening our mind to new possibilities. Changing the groove in our record so to speak. In this way, we are retraining thought processes which is a form of mental hygiene; cleansing out old ways and creating new ways of thinking and acting.

To be fear-less, to be surrendered, and to love Allah is to be free of obstructions in the mental, the emotional, the physical, and the spiritual bodies. The veils of the ego once removed, reveal the heart where we take refuge in Allah, to be present in the moment without fear. How that manifests for you is individual, as it is your secret between you and Allah. Swim in this vast ocean and be free from fear.

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Az Zahir-The Manifest

Allah manifests in a variety of ways. Sufis of the Qadiri Rifai Tariqa are taught to learn Allah by being in the world. Allah’s light is everywhere and it just may not be readily recognized if one is busy with their nafs. So, it is our job, as sufis to not obey our nafs but instead to see Allah in everything. One way in which to do this is to travel to areas or neighborhoods that are not familiar to us. Being away from home or our own region may cause us to feel uncomfortable or even judge what we see. However, isn’t this a prime opportunity to look for Al Zahir instead? Perhaps a seemingly sketchy looking neighborhood has a gem of a community center that brings kids in off the street after school or  a specialty shop that is run by a man whose story is inspiring.  But if we stay in our comfort zones and never travel outside of our immediate areas or neighborhood we will never see the manifestations of Allah from other perspectives. Allah presents Himself from so many different angles, let’s  surrender our nafs and begin to experience and learn Allah from another viewpoint!

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Al Islam

Al Islam- The Surrender

“Surrender is in every action. As sufis, we learn to surrender, to accept Allah’s decree with a smile. Eyvallah. It should not make any difference to us, he gives, he takes–it doesn’t matter. It is Allah who will make us be able to surrender but it is us who have to take the first step and ask Allah to make it possible for us to surrender. Allah is love and love comes from Allah and Allah manifests his love through anybody.” Shaykh Taner Ansari, Sufi Symposium 2001.

The 99 names are attributes in which we can find our way to surrender to Allah. To be in a state of surrender as dear Shaykh Taner describes above we need to be observant of Allah’s names. As Shaykh has taught his students, we don’t do anything blindly, we must investigate, learn and be curious. Allah has given us the tools in which to do this. How can each of his names bring us closer to Allah? Closer to surrendering to His will? As Shaykh says, surrender is in every action? How?

Allah the most High says in the Quran i Kerim: “Abraham said, It is He who guides me; He who gives me food and drink; He who cures me when I am ill; He who will make me die and give me life again; and He who will, I hope, forgive my faults on the day of Judgement. The Poets

We can recognize that Allah is Al Hadi (the Guide), Al Razzaq (the Sustainer), Al Shafi (the Healer), Al Muhyi (the Reviver) and Al Ghaffar (the forgiver). With understanding each of His names intimately, we can then surrender to what is proven and understood-not proven only by learned knowledge but by what we perceive, experience and see in each moment, activity, person, animal, etc and so on.

I am sick, I don’t feel well, eyvallah (as Allah wills). Isn’t Allah the Healer? Does that mean that I lie back and wait to be healed. Sometimes rest and time is the way to health. Sometimes in order to be healed we need to take medicine. Where does the medicine come from? Herbalists, doctors, scientists, pharmacists; those who have studied and understand the properties of the cure. And again where does the cure come from? Al Shaffi, the Healer–through the herbalist, doctor, scientist, pharmacist.

Surrender isn’t passive it takes a watchful mind, a keen eye and lots of curiousity. Eyvallah. May we all be inspired to question and wonder in hopes to love Allah and surrender and be loved by Allah.

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Ya Shaafi, Ya Salaam, Ya Razzaq, Ya Rahman

Praying for health, peace, sustenance and mercy for Japan and the survivors of the earthquake and tsunami. May Allah keep those remaining protected from the leaking radiation. Allah knows all and may we turn to Him for His guidance and protection through all situations–certain and uncertain. Huuuuuu.

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Al Khabir- The All-Aware

Allah is always present. It is we who deviate from being with Him. If we were aware of His presence with every breath then our expression of  compassion, kindness, love, sensitivity, peace etc and so on would be realized. It would be realized as His and we would not take claim or ownership of that which is a manifestation of Allah. When we claim that we are kind, we are nice, we are taking possession of His attributes.

Who is kind? Who is nice? Allah is, and when we claim them then we are in shirk (claiming we are God). These claims include identifying with our roles as loving wife/husband,mother/father,/daughter/son,  kind neighbor, faithful friend, honest person.  If I say out loud- ‘I can not own being nice, I have faults, I make mistakes’-it may instigate feelings of emptiness at first because, well, you may ask who am I then? Aren’t I saying negative things about myself? No, in my experience, this is admitting that there is a power/energy greater than me  in control. Yes, even in control of me. I am not in control. Allah is in control. Whew, does that feel good to say or what? My job is to be in a loving, relationship with Allah. This relationship occurs when the brain and heart connect and act accordingly in each situation that arises; this may actualize by being nice when the moment calls for it, by speaking the truth to somebody when you really want to just smile and walk away, by loving my child, by telling my mother that I love her but I can’t talk right now. My job is not to be in control of each and every minute detail.

Whatever arises in each moment is an opportunity to make rabita (heart connection) with Allah and see what is necessary to say, do or pray. In this way to be the vessel, the conduit for His compassion, love, kindness, healing nature, understanding, Truth.

It’s said in the Quran “Allah is closer than your jugular vein”.  The heart is actively pumping the blood through our arteries and veins exchanging gases from carbon dioxide to oxygen giving us life force.  See how much Allah loves us! Our bodies are doing His zikr without our even being aware. Our heart beats A-llah, A-llah, A-llah, A-llah, A-llah. Our breath sings Allah Huuuuu, Allah Huuuuu, Allah Huuuu. See how much we can love Allah.

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An Nur- The Light

Reacquainting ourselves with Allah in our lives is like awakening a part of the body that has been paralyzed from movement. This lack of movement is not from damage to the spinal cord that severs connections from the brain to the body but a paralyzation that is caused by fear or ignorance. Ignorance, in the sense that the muscles or joints hadn’t been moved in a healthy way for so long due to conditioning, atrophy and habits that they have forgotten how to move with proper posture and ample strength–muscle amnesia. This muscle amnesia weakens the whole structure. When the muscles of the low back become atrophied because of poor posture while sitting in a chair, the movement in the is area is limited. It actually may not be noticeable for years that there is no mobility there–ignorance. If one day an exercise is introduced in order to bring mobility back to this area, there may be resistance, pain and shock in the muscles at first. But over time if the exercise is done consciously, gently, with patience and humility there will be a sence of fluidity regained throughout the spine. A freedom in fact, a freedom which may have never been recognized or noticed due to muscle amnesia.

In the same way, if we have been conditioned throughout our lives with our own ideas, beliefs, and thoughts without the guidance or presence of Allah then we have lived in a state of amnesia. What are we forgetting?  We are forgetting the intimate relationship with Allah that is at its very essence within each of us. Our nafs (ego) do a fine job of deterring us and creating veils over our heart. Ignorance or fear of the Truth keeps us paralyzed from awakening our heart to its Divine Essence. Our heart needs polishing and cleansing so that we might live in fluidity with Allah in every moment. By taking the hand of a true Shaykh/Shaykha we promise that we will do our part to learn how to love Allah, surrender to Allah’s will, and awaken to this present moment. Each sufi has their own path to Allah with the help of his/her Shaykh or Shaykha. The practices assigned to the sufi can be recognized as exercises given in order to open the connections of the heart so that the wisdom there can be illuminated. This is Allah’s Nur, His Light. The practices can create pain, discomfort and uncertainty to the nafs but Inshallah (God willing), with time, perseverance, patience and humility a sense of freedom will open the seeker to the Light of Allah. Become the vesell for Allah’s Nur.

As my Shaykh says ‘the only right thing to do in Allah’s presence is surrender to His will and not yours.’

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