The Oracle of Remembering

 

“The intuitive life is one in which we feel continually connected to the divine source. It is a life in which we are at one with our true nature as it is in each moment, and a life in which we are in love with ourselves in the deepest possible way. It is a life in which we feel intimate with ourselves, and the divine, and therefore invite the most profound intimacy into our lives”
-Jennifer Posada, ‘The Oracle Within’

 

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I am in Delphi, Greece, home of the ancient oracle of Delphi. It is said the God Zeus released two eagles from opposite ends of the earth, and they met here, in Delphi. The ancients considered this sacred place the center of the world, the place where heaven and earth meet. Where spirit meets matter. It was a place of worship of the earth goddess, Ge, or Gaia. In time it also became a place of prophecy, where the Pythia, the Delphic Oracles, would fall into ecstatic trances, pronouncing prophecies.

My journey here was to film for Redvolution:Dare to Disturb the Universe. One of the characters in the film is Jennifer Posada, a modern day Oracle, and author of the book, “The Oracle Within.” The interview we did with Jennifer, with co-director Sera Beak asking the questions, was one of the more powerful interview experiences of my life – and I have spoken to many extraordinary people. We did two interviews, one in which she spoke as an Oracle, allowing the divine feminine to speak through her, and a second where she spoke as Jennifer Posada. A tremendous ecstatic energy filled the room on the evening when she spoke as an Oracle. I could feel a moving presence, which was beyond words, which often moved me to tears. If you do get to see Redvolution one day, you will get a taste of the beauty of this interview.

She spoke of the era we’re in as the time of the Great Remembering, a time when we are called to return to our connection to each other, the planet and the divine. She spoke of the importance of learning to love ourselves, a key to unlocking our greatest powers. This is a realization that Jennifer has had all her life. As a child, she used to write little notes that said, “You love you.” This is not the self centered love of the ego, but the true love of the Self, of seeing and knowing and loving the divine spark within, which in turn allows you to truly love the divinity in others.

According to Jennifer, if we choose, we can all access the Oracle within. We can nurture the ability to deeply listen, to hear the deepest truths the universe is offering us.  

In ‘The Oracle Within’ Jennifer writes, “We do not heal, we remember the healed state.  We do not grow, we remember a different possibility.  We do not change, we remember a new future.  It is all already within us as potentiality, whether past or future, we are simply being called back or forward to our organic nature and remembering its essence.  That nature is the palate of our lives and of our souls, from which masterpieces can be created. Especially once we realize that the brush is in our hands and the colors infinite”. 

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I have had my own inner voice for many years.  It first came to me when I was still a teenager, a guide that emerged out of a spiritual crisis, and has stayed with me ever since. It has become a dependable source of guidance, my inner muse, my connection to the source, a voice which speaks to me whenever I call Him in.  It is the voice of my authentic self. I call my inner voice Raven, the higher self to my personality self, which sometimes goes by the name Crow. Today He is more and more a continual presence. The spaces of forgetting who I truly am dissolving with divine time.

In Delphi, after most of my filming was done, I spent a day in the sanctuary of the Castilian Spring, meditating and listening in to the power of the place, Remembering.   In particular, I wanted to hear from the earth goddess Gaia, the first to be worshipped here.

For decades, I have been very very aware of the state of crisis this planet is in. Much of my work as a spiritual activist is based around helping to heal the planet, the healing of a divided humanity, and the healing of our divided psyches. A return to wholeness. To holiness. At first the alarm bells we were ringing went largely unheeded. We were a tiny minority who could see what was coming. Today, despite the greater depths of the planetary crisis we are facing, I actually feel much more hopeful – because we are also experiencing an equally greater, widespread awakening of consciousness.

That afternoon in the flower filled sacred glade, entranced by the bubbling spring, I placed a statue of the earth goddess Gaia (which I had just bought in the town of Delphi at a shop owned by the lovely Constanine, a friend of Jennifers) in a little nook in the sanctuary wall, closed my eyes, and invited Her to speak. Much of what I heard and experienced that day was for me personally, alone, but some of it was also meant to be shared, for those who are open to these words. Just who was speaking that day? Was it really Gaia, or it was it just me? Or were there even more voices coming through – the wisdom of Raven, the wisdom of Her, and, in the spirit of inter-being, the wisdom of You.

This is some of what I heard….

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Listen carefully
The time has come
To join in the dance
Of stones and stars
Of cells and silence
Of blood and water
Of music and movement
Of justice
Of life

We are here
Together
In this
Dance
The dance
Of interdependence

We are here together
To sing this song
The song
Of independence

Bring these truths
Together
Unity
Diversity
You
Me
Us

And let our many hearts
Beat a rythmn of
Harmony

 

Beauty is the way of this earth
You are of this place
Not seperate

Celebrate
Celebrate!
Not a breath has been wasted
Everything is here before you
For You
For Us
The time is now.
Remember who You are.
It’s never too late to start again.
The time is now.


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If you look inside, you will discover everything you need. Do not let fear block you. Do not be afraid of those who will not understand you-it has always been so, it will always be so. Love them, as you love yourself. This is no time to be shivering in the shadow of limitation, not now. Cast off those false shackles, they are mere mist, vapor, dust, fog, mirage. They will burn away with the morning sun, when you let your true self shine. Layer upon layer, clear away the illusions, let your true heart free. Let your sun rise.

Take your heart, ruby red and stained by your imaginings of shame, and place it in these healing spring waters, and wash it clean-it is in fact unstained, can never be stained, but wash it nonetheless.


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Now feel your roots go deep, deep into the earth, as deep as you can go, into the very core of this planet, until you reach a deep pool of fiery lava-a molten core of passion, of Love, that is bubbling inside this planet, inside your own interior universe, could you but know. Allow this force of fire, of pure unadulterated love, to flow up through your roots, into your being, towards the volcano that is your heart, and let it burst forth, blowing open the gates, letting your love fire burn, bright, bright, brighter still. Let nothing block that love from being released. This world needs you, loves you, loves your love. Don’t let it stay bottled up inside, release it from hiding, and let the healing begin. You are whole, You are healed, you are already perfect, even in your imperfection, especially in your imperfection, your blessed imperfection, you are perfect. It is never too late. Never too late. Never too late to shine.

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When I opened my eyes, I felt I was being watched. High above me on the cliff walls, a family of inquisitive goats stared down upon me, perhaps a visitation of that mischevious troublemaker, Pan, reminding me that’s it’s okay to have a skip in my step, a twinkle in my eyes, that it’s okay to be sexy, to be funny, to be a rebel for love, to have a merry crisis.

 

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The Oracle of Delphi

A Respectful Rebel in an Orthodox Land

Meteora Monastery

Sitting in a cave in Meteora Greece, a few days after Fierce Light has screened at the Thessaloniki Film Festival.  A soft rain has driven me off the purple, yellow white flower speckled mountain trail.   Like Mount Athos, Meteora is a land of towering ancient greek orthodox monasteries. Unlike Athos, women are allowed here, and there is even a convent,  named St. Stefanos.  

Although I am not a Christian (I was raised a Baha’i, used to call myself a sufi buddhist baha’i punk rocker, but now I simply say I’m a divine human, being),  I have a deep sense of respect for all things holy, and the impetus behind the religious calling.  I make a point of trying to cut through the dogma, to the deep devotion that often resonates profoundly in places of worship. I seek the true mystics, the ones who’s hearts are on fire, who have transcended the rigidity of structures to that place beyond concepts where the source of all that is sizzles. 

Mary

 But always, irony abounds-for example, the orthodox religion were the ones who invented the word dogma (not to mention the word Orthodox).  And of course, for them,  the word  has a positive connotation: it means to be faithful, and to follow the precise pathway to God -just so.  Dogma is seen as a divine security blanket that keeps us from falling astray.

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It is ten years since my previous visit to Athos.  At that time I was wide eyed and innocent, in many ways, a naïve pilgrim embarking on a new journey of discovery.  It was far from the beginning of my spiritual search, but the beginning of my  first hand investigation of the worlds holy places, seeking a path, a system, a doorway into divinity, as I circled the planet, visiting everywhere from the Avebury Stone Circle, Lourdes, Athos, Konya, Jerusalem, Bodh Gaya, holy native sites in North America-a wide journey into the heartland of many of the worlds beliefs systems.   In each of these places, I took time to really steep myself in their wisdom, spending time in spiritual retreats inspired by each of the faiths I encountered.

I left that journey with a clear understanding, articulated in Fierce Light:  it is the essence of the worlds religions that matters to me, not the particular form.  Spirituality is beyond form. Way beyond.

A few days later, I find myself wandering through Meteora, where the monasteries perch high atop pinnacles of rock, safe from invaders.  In the past, the only way to enter the monastery was to be hoisted up by rope.   Perhaps too, the devotees feel closer to God, up in the clouds.  

After hours of winding through the awe inspiring moss covered pinnacles, alongside sparkling glades, I climbed the spiralling staircase to one of the monasteries that clings to the rock steeple, impossible stone acrobatics.

Velcrow Meteora

I entered the church, it’s byzantine dome painted with ornate frescos, glittering gold halos and angel wings.  I was greeted by an Orthodox monk dressed from head to toe in black.  I told him I had been to mount athos, an excellent icebreaker in these parts, and asked him to remind me of the greeting: evlogites, which means “bless me!” To which one replies, akirosos (no doubt spelt wrong): I cannot bless but God does, through me.

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He showed me around the church, explaining the significance of the many ikons.   I asked why so many figures are dressed in red, and he explained that red is the god colour, and blue is the colour of the earth, except in the case of Mary – then red is the colour for earth and blue is the colour of God.  Interesting for me, as I am shooting a film called Redvolution: Dare to Disturb the Universe.  It is about the path of  what co-director  Sera Beak calls “red” spirituality – becoming your own spiritual authority, being a spiritual outlaw, truly knowing yourself, your authentic Self.  It is about  embodied spirituality-a passionate, sexy, spirituality that isn’t afraid of ecstasty, that celebrates life, being human, that sees God in all things. 

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Panagea

Meanwhile back in the church…

Transfiguration…metamorphisis….extasis…theosopis…greek words were flying about.  My new monk friend explained that to him extasis -ecstasy-was the stuff of other religions, like the eastern religions, and it was an escape.  Much like our induglence in the “sweets” of life, like women.  Yikes. Clearly the orthodoxy was created by men.  

The orthodox path is about transfiguration, he explained, and metamorphosis-through the correct rituals, prayers, divine love and grace, one clears away ones heart and allows God in.  It is about theosopis, not extasis.  Joining with God not escaping into ecstasy.  

I didn’t argue-I never argue with the faithful – but between you and me, I have to beg to differ.  For me, God is also human, God is also creation, God made all of this amazingness, and I have a hunch She wants nothing more than that we celebrate this magnificence. Her magnificence.  With depth, and divinity, for sure, but celebration nonetheless.  And that  celebration can be joyful, it can be ecstatic, and it can be quiet, it can be sober.  It can be both/and.  God doesn’t fit well into boxes of this not that.  God has a bigger palette than that.  God wants us to go for it, to burn bright, to be fully embodied and fully ecstatic, all at the same time, in waves and particles, particles and waves – both/and.   That’s my two cents, just the tip of my tongues worth.  But I kept it there, on the tip.  It’s not for me to argue with a monk, but to listen respectfully, and take what he has to offer, and leave what doesn’t fit behind, in that holy place.  With respect for his calling, his commitment and his sincere love.

As we were leaving, I told him perhaps one day I would return to Mount Athos-it is a beautiful, holy place.
“Yes”, he said, “but the real holy place is right here”. He tapped my heart, “wherever we are.”

I couldn’t agree more.

“Pray for me” he said, as I stepped outside the monastery gate, into the sunshine. 

Now, as I walk through the stone trails, lined with purple flowers, sun glistening, flocks of birds swooping and gliding, I can feel the presence of divinity everywhere.  It is in the very air. As I walk in the midst of the sublime beauty of creation, it is clear that this is my communion.  And that for me, as a spiritual rebel, I will always be a little, and sometimes a lot, unorthodox.

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A Pilgrims Progress

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Thessaloniki, Greece

Today I introduced Fierce Light at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, here in Greece. I recounted my last visit to this lovely sea side city, back in 1999, when I was shooting Scared Sacred, the film about my journey to the ground zero’s of the world, searching for stories of transformation in the face of crisis. At the time I was facing my own crisis. First my girlfriend at the time decided to leave the project, and return home. Then my video camera was stolen from my car in France. Then the car itself was taken from me. I was left on the street in Italy, with nothing but the shirt on my back – even my coat was gone. I decided to do what any destitute pilgrim in that part of the world would do: I headed for the Monastic Republic of Mount Athos.

I traveled here, to Thessaloniki, where I was blessed enough to be granted a pilgrims pass on short notice – normally it takes six months, but there had been a cancellation, so I was admitted immediately. Then I went to an internet café, sent an email to a millionare I knew, explaining my situation and asking if she would consider supporting Scared Sacred, and then took the bus and boat to Mount Athos, where I went on one of the most powerful 10 day personal retreats of my life, walking from monastery to monastery along the craggy cliffs, following the directives of my inner voice, meditating constantly, and meeting some truly remarkable mystics, as well as confronting the staunch dogma and structures of Orthodoxy, and the patriarchs. Talk about patriarchy, and power over – this was the birthplace of it! But the journey was truly profound and moving.

When I returned, I received an email from the millionare – yes, she would fund the film. And so the journey continued – with an added passenger. A little black kitten named Hara, who I rescued from being abandoned on the street, rejected from Mount Athos because – she was a girl. I ended up traveling through Greece, Turkey, Israel and India with Hara, finally finding her a home with friends in Bhopal.
In honour of my return to this land, over the next few weeks I am going to share excerpts from my journal from both that journey to mount Athos, and the journey I will undertaking in the coming week, to Meteora and Delphi – home of the ancient oracles, where the entranceway reads, “Know Thyself.”

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When we see each other, when we trust each other,
there is no need for ego, no reason for ego,
no possibility for ego.

-Father Archdimandrite Dionysius

Mount Athos, Greece, 1999

The bus winds down a final hillside, arriving at the port town of Ouranopolous. At the far end of a concrete dock an iron freighter awaits. I join the bustling crowd of pilgrims and monks boarding the ship. The monks come in a variety of flavours. Most wear baggy black pants covered in long black cotton dresses, topped out with a decent black coat, or perhaps a well-worn black vest. Headgear is a black hat, tall and rounded, velvet for those well up in the hierarchy, simpler cotton for those in between and sometimes just a black toque for the more independent of the monks. The occasional shaggy character in rough-hewn clothes is most likely one of the hermits, forced from his lair, perhaps for medical reasons.
A sign posted on the dock warns that:

1. Only Those Authorized May Visit Mount Athos.
2. No Women Are Allowed.
3. No Video Cameras Are Allowed.
4. No Religious Items Are To Be Taken Off The Peninsula.
If any of the above laws are not respected, severe penal action will be taken by the legal body of the Monastic Republic of Mount Athos.

Don’t mess with the monks. Legend claims that Mother Mary declared Athos her land, off limits to all other females. There is even an edict barring female animals from the Republic, but that has proven difficult to enforce, wild animals being notoriously disrespectful of laws. There are whispers of ancient scandals in the land, stories of women sneaking in, some disguised as monks, living secretly inside the republic for years.

The captain stands on the wide metal gang plank and inspects our pilgrims’ certificates, full-page parchment, suitable for framing, necessary for travel. Glorious shafts of light cut through the clouds in the direction of Holy Mountain. We pull into Daphne, the one place of free enterprise on the peninsula, a small port town that serves as the nexus point for boats and paths to the monasteries, Sketes and hermitages.

The living arrangements in Athos vary from the large monasteries, in which everyone lives, eats and worships communally, to Sketes, small communities in which each house has their own church. In the houses there are generally several monks and one elder, or sometimes a larger group of monks. Scattered about the peninsula, but particularly at the very tip, are isolated hermits, who live in caves or simple rock huts. The most ascetic of these subsist on a tiny amount of bread and water, sleeping on rough mats on the cold ground, dedicating their lives to prayer, chanting for hours every day.

The gangplank crashes onto the dock and we step into the Byzantine era. It is a crowded soup of monks, all with long beards, hermits with their grizzled faces and walking sticks, dozens of dirty cats meowing sadly, searching for tidbits of food. A group of young monks stand at end of the dock throwing bits of bread to a school of fish. A monk sits on a wall in front of the one restaurant selling hand crocheted black prayer bracelets. The tiny shops are crowded with icons, images of Jesus and Mary, laundry soap, rosaries, and cakes of black incense.

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I lean against an ancient stone wall that lines the ocean, watching the bustle on the one dirt main street of town. A portly older man sits down near me. He seems a little lost.
“Is this where one finds the boats that go to the south?” he asks, in a thick English accent.
“I don’t really know-I’m trying to figure out that myself.”

His name is Martin, and he’s searching for a boat to Dionysius Monastery.

“I’ve come to have a look in on my nephew. He just up and became a monk two years ago. Strangest thing! Didn’t speak a word of Greek either. His mother can’t come to look in on him, of course, and there’s no father, so I’m elected. To tell you the truth, our Claude was always one of life’s misfits. Ended up bumming around Europe, playing music on the streets to get by. Just barely getting by. One by one all the strings on his guitar broke, until there he was, playing with only one string. His earnings got too thin, so he wound up at some kind of a center where they would give him food and he would help around their farm. All he had to do was go to church services. And there he found God. Ended up in England, living with a Nun, and then met this Greek Orthodox chap. I think they recruited him. Numbers are down here in the monasteries and they need fresh blood. Hard to keep the place up and funded if there’s no one staying. And of course, the developers are just waiting to hop right in the second the place is vacated-this would be a prime tourist attraction.”

A boat pulls up to the dock and we are able to determine that it goes to Dionysius. I decide to follow Martin – I can begin my walk South from there. Although I don’t have a reservation, I’m hoping that showing up with a monk’s relative will help. We line up, pay our three hundred drachmas on board, and take a seat inside.

“There’s one of the head boys, I’d say.”
Martin points to an older monk with a neatly trimmed gray beard. Trailing along like ducklings is a retinue of ardent young monks, carrying his bags. They sit down at a bench near us, immediately launching into a basket of bread, apples and cheese, chewing with gusto.
“Are you Catholic?”
“Oh no, I’m just a good old prottey. Protestant. Bit of a heretic really. Still, I respect it all well enough. I like to go to churches and cathedrals when I’m traveling. Like in Spain, at the church of Santiago. Although, I have to say, I had my wallet swiped while we were in there.”
“In the church? Is nothing sacred?’
“Yeah, right in the bloody church. The nerve of that bloke. Makes you wonder about human nature really, that someone would stoop so low. So what brings you here?”
“I’m making a documentary called ScaredSacred. I’m traveling to the Scared and Sacred places of the world.”
“What do you mean by Scared?”
“Places like Hiroshima, Auschwitz, Bhopal, Afghanistan and so on.”
“You know, it’s strange, but I’ve been thinking of going to Auschwitz. Not sure why really.”
“It certainly brings it all home. It makes it real. I went before dawn. As the sun came up an old man appeared, with a single rose, which he placed on the gas oven. The whole concentration camp is maintained as a museum. They encourage people to come, because humans are too good at forgetting. And we need to remember.”
“I think I will go. God, what a project. Tell me, what are you searching for in these places?”
“I want to try to understand how it is that some people are able to go through the darkest days of human history, and find a way through to the other side; perhaps even transform the crisis into a breakthrough. I don’t know if you are feeling this, but I have a sense that there are dark days ahead. Maybe all this millennium anxiety is part of it, but I think even without it, there’s pretty good evidence that this little planet is in for a shake up. Going to these places in a way is like time traveling into a possible future we might all be facing. I want to bring back stories of hope, and strategies for creating hope, for transforming the scared into the sacred.”
“And the Sacred places?”
“I want to experience the faiths of the world first hand and try to understand their core, their essence. Perhaps at their holiest places, this will come through with greater clarity. I believe there is a current which runs through them all, and I want to touch that. I want to know, really know, what the sacred is, and see if I can find it, in both the places of light, and the places of darkness.”
“I’ll say it again, God, what a project. Hey, look at that!”

Looming over us is the spectacular monastery of Simone Petra, a stone fortress clinging to the top of a craggy cliff, a thousand feet above. Construction cranes tower even higher above the monastery. The entire peninsula has received a large influx of cash, and many of the monasteries are undergoing re-constructive surgery. We pull in briefly, just long enough for a handful of monks and pilgrims to scurry off. Further along we pass the low-lying monastery of Gregorious, spread out near the coast. It too is surrounded in scaffolding, workers moving here and there with wheelbarrows. Ten minutes later we arrive at Dionysius. The boat bashes into the concrete dock, the gangplank is lowered, and we disembark behind the important looking monk and his retinue.

“Looks like we’re being blessed with a visit from the top dog,” Martin whispers.

The endless sweep of stone steps proves tiring for Martin, who has a bad foot. I convince him to let me take one handle of his extremely heavy bag.
“I don’t know why it’s so heavy, it’s really only clothes.”
The Elder sings a mournful hymn as he leads the procession. Behind him a monk chants a sonorous prayer in Greek, echoed by the group. Another runs ahead to videotape. It’s a major visit, to be sure. We pass under a high stone archway into the monastery complex. Above the entranceway, a painting of Mother Mary welcomes us in, gold leaf halo glittering.

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Can Sufi Islam counter the Taleban?

Sufis by Velcrow Ripper

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7896943.stm

By Barbara Plett
BBC News, Lahore

It’s one o’clock in the morning and the night is pounding with
hypnotic rhythms, the air thick with the smoke of incense.

I’m squeezed into a corner of the upper courtyard at the shrine of
Baba Shah Jamal in Lahore, famous for its Thursday night drumming
sessions.

It’s packed with young men, swaying to the music, and working
themselves into a state of ecstasy.

This isn’t how most Westerners imagine Pakistan, which has a
reputation as a hotspot for Islamist extremism.

Now some in the West have begun asking whether Pakistan’s Sufism could
be mobilised to counter militant Islamist ideology and influence.

Lahore would be the place to start: it’s a city rich in Sufi tradition.

At the shrine of Data Ganj Bakhsh Hajveri, musicians and singers from
across the country also gather weekly, to perform qawwali, or Islamic
devotional singing.

Qawwali is seen as a key part of the journey to the divine, what Sufis
call the continual remembrance of God.

“When you listen to other music, you will listen for a short time, but
the qawwali goes straight inside,” says Ali Raza, a fourth generation
Sufi singer.

“Even if you can’t understand the wording, you can feel the magic of
the qawwali, this is spiritual music which directly touches your soul
and mind as well.”

But Sufism is more than music. At a house in an affluent suburb of
Lahore a group of women gathers weekly to practise the Sufi
disciplines of chanting and meditation, meant to clear the mind and
open the heart to God.

One by one the devotees recount how the sessions have helped them deal
with problems and achieve greater peace and happiness. This more
orthodox Sufism isn’t as widespread as the popular variety, but both
are seen as native to South Asia.

‘Love and harmony’

“Islam came to this part of the world through Sufism,” says Ayeda
Naqvi, a teacher of Islamic mysticism who’s taking part in the
chanting.

“It was Sufis who came and spread the religious message of love and
harmony and beauty, there were no swords, it was very different from
the sharp edged Islam of the Middle East.

“And you can’t separate it from our culture, it’s in our music, it’s
in our folklore, it’s in our architecture. We are a Sufi country, and
yet there’s a struggle in Pakistan right now for the soul of Islam.”

That struggle is between Sufism and hard-line Wahhabism, the strict
form of Sunni Islam followed by members of the Taleban and al-Qaeda.

It has gained ground in the tribal north-west, encouraged initially in
the 1980s by the US and Saudi Arabia to help recruit Islamist warriors
to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.

But it’s alien to Pakistan’s Sufi heartland in the Punjab and Sindh
provinces, says Sardar Aseff Ali, a cabinet minister and a Sufi.

“Wahhabism is a tribal form of Islam coming from the desert sands of
Saudi Arabia,” he says. “This may be very attractive to the tribes in
the frontier, but it will never find resonance in the established
societies of Pakistan.”

So could Pakistan’s mystic, non-violent Islam be used as a defence
against extremism?

An American think tank, the Rand Corporation, has advocated this,
suggesting support for Sufism as an “open, intellectual interpretation
of Islam”.

There is ample proof that Sufism remains a living tradition.

In the warren of Lahore’s back streets, a shrine is being built to a
modern saint, Hafiz Iqbal, and his mentor, a mystic called Baba Hassan
Din. They attract followers from all classes and walks of life.

‘Atrocities’

The architect is Kamil Khan Mumtaz. He describes in loving detail his
traditional construction techniques and the spiritual principles they
symbolise.

He shakes his head at stories of lovely old mosques and shrines pulled
down and replaced by structures of concrete and glass at the orders of
austere mullahs, and he’s horrified at atrocities committed in the
name of religion by militant Islamists.

But he doubts that Sufism can be marshalled to resist Wahhabi
radicalism, a phenomenon that he insists has political, not religious,
roots.

“The American think tanks should think again,” he says. “What you see
[in Islamic extremism] is a response to what has happened in the
modern world.

“There is a frustration, an anger, a rage against invaders, occupiers.
Muslims ask themselves, what happened?

“We once ruled the world and now we’re enslaved. This is a power
struggle, it is the oppressed who want to become the oppressors, this
has nothing to do with Islam, and least of all to do with Sufism.”

Ayeda Naqvi, on the other hand, believes Sufism could play a political
role to strengthen a tolerant Islamic identity in Pakistan. But she
warns of the dangers of Western support.
“I think if it’s done it has to be done very quietly because a lot of
people here are allergic to the West interfering,” she says.

“So even if it’s something good they’re doing, they need to be
discreet because you don’t want Sufism to be labelled as a movement
which is being pushed by the West to drown out the real puritanical
Islam.”

Back at the Shah Jamal shrine I couldn’t feel further from puritanical
Islam. The frenzied passion around me suggests that Pakistan’s Sufi
shrines won’t be taken over by the Taleban any time soon.

But whether Sufism can be used to actively resist the spread of
extremist Islam, or even whether it should be, is another question.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/south_asia/7896943.stm

Published: 2009/02/24 05:55:03 GMT

The Gift of Acknowledgement

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One of the simplest, most powerful things we can do in our everyday human interactions, is to acknowledge another person. To see them, to give them the gift of empowerment. Costs you nothing, but can be absolutely transformative for that person. It’s the stellar opposite of that old stand by – judgement, criticism, disapproval. A spiritual activist looks for ways to encourage, to cajole the best of another, to add fuel to their spark, to light their fire by truly seeing them, seeing their gifts, seeing what special something they might have to offer the world, and celebrating that.

In her classic book, ‘The Possible Human’ Jean Houston writes, “The greatest human potential is the potential of each one of us to empower and acknowledge the other. To be acknowledged by another, especially during times of confusion, loss, disorientation, disheartenment, is to be given time and place in the sunshine, and is the solar stimulus for transformation. The process of helaing and growth is immensely quickened when the sun of another’s belief is freely given. This gift can be as simple as “Hot dog! Thou art!” Or it can be as total as “I know you. You are God in hiding.” Or it can be a look that goes straight to the soul and charges it with meaning.”

It’s something I do naturally, and take great pleasure in. In fact, I’m so happy whenever I see a chance to add some ecouragement, some honest acknowledgement, to somebody. It immediately raises energy, and you can see people light up so quickly. It’s not about false praise – that is actually counter productive. It’s not about stoking someone’s ego. And it doesn’t respond well to request – it’s actually hard to acknowledge someone when they are hungry for praise, or needy about it. It works best when sincere, spontaneous and heart felt. It means really seeing the people you encounter, stepping outside yourself, and connecting with who they are, what their special light is in this moment. Oftentimes we aren’t even aware of our own positive qualities, or in this society of epic self worth issues, we focus on our negative sides, and deny our own light. So when someone else steps in and says – hey, way to go! It can be immensely healing.

Much like gratitude can be a simple, but incredibly powerful, tool of transformation, so too can giving the gift of acknowledgement. It’s easy, fun, and free!

Compassion on Two Legs

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Spring, 2000

I’m at a protest camp in Thailand, on the Mun River. My Filipino friend Cray and I are having a beer with a couple of hard nosed activists from the anti-fascist squatter scenes of Berlin. Cray let it slip that he is an unapologetic Roman Catholic, like many Filipinos, and it turns out the squatter guy was raised a Roman Catholic as well.
“And it was hell,” he snaps.
His voice steadily grows louder as he explains that the Roman Catholics had backed the Nazi’s and blessed the weapons that killed the Jews and how can there be a God that did this?
“There is no God,” he concludes, almost shouting, “there is nothing when you die, only the worms that eat your flesh and that’s a good thing, at least your body goes somewhere useful.”
Cray decides it’s time to go to bathroom to try and throw up, a result of the half-dozen beers he has consumed, no doubt in combination with the conversation. The squatters girlfriend has gone quiet; she’s probably witnessed these scenes before. Her opinionated boyfriend turns on me, as I have accidentally revealed that I practice Buddhist meditation and support non-violent action.
“How can you can change this fucked up world without the use of violence? How can you watch your friends get beat up by the police? Are you just going to sit there, and let it happen? What would a Buddhist say to that? I was in El Salvador, I saw what was happening to the people, what the death squads were doing. What would a Buddhist do?”
“Non-violence doesn’t mean passivity. Look at Gandhi. He was active.”
“What did Gandhi accomplished?”
“A lot.”
“He didn’t accomplished anything. It was the people.”
“Of course it was the people. But he was an inspiration.”
“You think you are going to beat these bastards through non-violence?”
“You think these isolated, regional, guerilla wars are going to be able to take on the root causes of what is going on? It’s not some local thing. What’s behind it is much bigger. It’s multi-nationals. It’s the global corporate industrial military elite. How can we fight that with guerilla warfare?”
“What we need is a global guerilla warfare.”
“That happens. There’s terrorism. Do you think it really solves the problem?”
“Do you think non-violence is going to solve the problem?”
“If you play the same game, you can easily start to repeat the same mistakes. Look at the Khemer Rouge.”
“Oh don’t give me that. That was extremism, that was something else. ”
“So what armed revolution succeeded, what didn’t get twisted? Cuba maybe, some aspects of it. Maybe the Zapatistas, we can only hope. But they mostly use wooden guns. They haven’t fired a shot since 1995.”
“We’ve got to strike back. We’ve got to resist! We can’t just let them win. You think non-violence would have worked against the Nazi’s?”
“Everyone always says that. In fact, the few times it was used against the Nazi’s, it actually worked. It worked better than any of the other attempts at resistance from the inside.”
“What are you talking about?”
“First off, we need to define some terms, alright? Non-violence does not mean passivity. That’s a common confusion. Much of the response to the rise of the Nazi’s was either passive or violent. The few times non-violent action, and action is the key word here, was tried, it was very successful. Have you heard about what happened at Rosenstrasse?”
“No.”
“It was in 1943, and the Nazi’s did a huge round up of the last remaining Jews, most of whom hadn’t been captured yet because they had ‘Aryan kin’- they were married to non-Jewish wives. They were caught by surprise, and easily rounded up and brought to a detention center. Immediately, what was left of the ‘Jewish Radio’, the underground phone network, went buzzing. The next morning, as if planned, thousands of women, the wives and sometimes the mothers of the captured men, appeared outside the detention center, which was only a few blocks from Gestapo headquarters. The numbers swelled to six thousand, demanding the release of their loved ones. The men inside took courage from this show of support, and started shouting and banging on their cells. It became a hugely embarrassing spectacle for the Nazis. They could have put a stop to it with a single spray of machine gun fire, but they didn’t. There was a full investigation into this incident done a while back, and they discovered the Fuhrer himself was paralyzed-he didn’t know what to do. In the end, the men were all released. What’s more, almost all of them were able to escape Nazi Germany, and survive the holocaust. So, one of the few times non-violent resistance was tried against the Nazis, it worked.”
“Okay, maybe I don’t know about that. Okay, maybe it worked sometimes, but how can we fight a whole military industrial complex without hitting them as hard as they hit us?”
“I agree, we need to hit them hard. I never said we need to roll over and play dead. I think we can hit them hard, without hitting them. But you know what I think is going to happen, sooner than we imagine, is that the whole planet is going to go up in smoke and we’ll have no choice but to wake up.”
“Yeah that’s what I think too. The whole fucking shit is going to collapse.”
He orders another one of those big black ‘Tiger’ beers and lights a cigarette. Cray stumbles back from trying unsuccessfully to throw up.
“It’s these Roman Catholics, the religions, brainwashing the people, justifying the destruction, blessing it with their hypocrisy.”
“Hang on, hang on. You never even mentioned Roman Catholics until Cray came back.”
“All religions! All of them!”
“Alright, it’s probably true that many religions have lost their original intent. Like with many Buddhists, many Christians. But if you go back to the original teachings there’s always truth. Buddha didn’t teach Buddhism, that came later. Christ didn’t teach Christianity. They taught compassion, that was one of the fundamental teachings.”
“Compassion. Yes, that’s what we need,” he finally agrees.

I once asked a Zen master Junpo Roshi, what he thinks the definition of spirituality is.  He said, “Embodied Compassion.”    To him, that is the core of it all.   What are we here on this planet to do?  Embody compassion.  Who are we?  Compassion on two legs.

Excerpted from my journals during the shooting of my feature documentary, Scared Sacred: