Summer Solstice

My love for and interest in all things related to Waldorf began many years ago before my children started school but in terms of practical implementation and adopting it as a way of life we are still fairly new to Steiner education. This means we are new to developing a seasonal yearly rhythm. As we are Muslims our rhythm needs to not just take into account Muslim festivals but to filter existing festivals as usually incorporated  into a Waldorf year through the lens of an uncompromisingly monotheistic faith. There are many Muslims who send their children to Steiner schools and many Muslims who homeschool in a Steiner inspired way. Our adaptation of the festivals will differ from family to family, we are all different. For me, this whole area is a work in progress.

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Midsummer Fairy in the apricot tree

Over the last few days I found myself brimming with a creative yet anxious energy. Because my hands are often full (with a baby) and because I have formed habits (since becoming a mother ) to deal with my creative energy in a cerebral rather than handcrafting way, I started to write. It didn’t help much, I felt very pressured and scattered, not grounded at all. It then occurred to me that it was Midsummer Eve! It was Summer Solstice! The Summer energies were at their peak. Could it be that this was what I was feeling?

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A Waldorf daily and yearly rhythm are based around cycles of breathing in and breathing out. In Sufism we call this contraction/qabd and expansion/bast.

The whole of reality breathes in and out. 

In ancient times human beings were innately connected to the cycles of the Earth and the expanding universe. In the contemporary world however we are totally out of touch. We cannot even see the stars anymore because of pollution. Electricity has extended the day well into the night, we no longer follow the cycles of the moon or sun. Disconnected from the natural/created world we are also disconnected from Source/Creator.

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When we bring our attention back to the natural world we increase in reverence for the Divine Reality that we Muslims call Allah/God. 

This is why I think the Waldorf calendar with it’s recognition of festivals we consider ‘pagan’ has relevance for us as Muslims and it doesn’t need to be something that gets our monotheistic knickers in a twist because ‘actions are according to intentions.’

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Islam has always been a faith that pays attention to the cycles of the natural world. The Muslim calendar is a lunar calendar, our festivals are heralded by the sighting of the moon, we pray according to the position of the sun. So it seems like a natural extension of this to pay attention to the cycles of the seasons, to the longest and shortest day, to the tides. Giving attention to something is not the same thing as worshipping it as an individual entity. On the contrary paying attention to rhythm and cycles is a way of honouring the interconnectivity of everything. What Islam does is simply bring this multiplicity and interconnectivity back to a Single Source.

Since we are just starting our journey towards a full Waldorf rhythm I hadn’t organised anything for the Solstice so what we ended up doing was a kind of on the spot happening.
We gathered together some things orange and yellow, we made chalk drawings, we took Midsummer Fairy to a lovely spot in the apricot tree, we ate some oranges while basking in the sun and we felt ourselves radiating with the Summer energy. We recited a surah/verse that begins

‘Allah there is no God but He, the Living, the Self-Subsisting, Eternal’

We also recited the following poem.

‘The radiant beauty of the world
Compels my inmost soul to free
God-given powers of my nature
That they may soar into the cosmos,
To take wing from myself
In cosmic light and cosmic warmth.’

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Afterwards, satisfied and relaxed, I started to ponder about the significance of nature orientated action. Our interaction with the cycles through a simple acknowledgement and commemoration gave me a feeling of balance. But this is a conversation for another day.

We women we know how to birth

Lili runs into the garden again and the way she moves transforms what I see. She is one with the wind and the late afternoon sun. She picks up a stick and she is calling ‘Wafa’, she looks for our cat. The sun is hot. Tomato plants wither against their stakes, tonight when it cools we will stand on the grass together and fill the garden beds with water.
The fruit trees tower over her as if already fully grown, she searches for her cat and the garden is a jungle. The fences are tall and this is her own private world. She moves with confidence.

I sit inside and I watch her and my womb is contracting. The pressure is down low, it feels deep in the earth. It tightens, tightens and I feel ready. But there are weeks to go, these are just the first signals, this deepness in me is communicating Beyond the confines of my skin and when the time is ripe the baby will come.

The house which just a few days ago was so neatly organised and clean has erupted into disarray, there are dirty dishes and piles of washing and I only dress if I really have to. My stomach is round and my breasts are low. My movements are slow and laboured. The pain in my lower back suddenly rings sharp and renders my legs useless. But all this is familiar now, I don’t resist it anymore.

I am resting. Waiting.

Sometimes I let myself be drawn out from this powerful energy, this other worldliness of late pregnancy. I am called into fear and into planning.

they will want to induce me, what am I going to do? Is there the possibility of refusing? What is safe?

The energy doesn’t want to emerge into cold sterile lights and the smell of disinfectant, the energy wants to stay home in this house that sees few people. This house with its fences and its garden and its layers of homeness. The energy is building and I want to abide with it. The energy fills a bath in the living room, it makes the lights low, it moves into the deep, it sways in the places where pain is not pain. And I am the energy and the energy is me.

I remember, last time, in early labour I climbed into the shower. Just to check it was true, if it was the real thing. And as the water ran and the steam rose it seemed as if I crossed over into the back of time. Water, steam, rhythm and sweet beautiful contractions. I could have stayed there forever.

Lili moves in the garden and I move in preparation.

I don’t want to surrender to my body being tricked. I long for the waves that flow from the deep, not a drip, not a synthetic mimicry.

I wonder why I am feeling these signals so early….
I have a glimmer of hope that maybe I got my dates wrong, maybe this baby is not too big, maybe I will go into labour naturally on my own before they set me a time on the calendar and call me in.

I am feeling the language of Maryam when she laboured by the date palm, alone.
I also hear their voices. I am too old….my BMI, the fluid, macrosomia, diabetes.

HIGH RISK!

But the deep tells me to move into the dark and these weeks now I am dimming the lights.

Now Lili comes inside and makes herself a cocoon in her blanket. She is talking to herself softly, she is several characters at once.
What’s the day today? one. two. three

Outside the foliage is enraptured, leaves like skin when touch calls it to ecstasy. I want to go into the garden and birth with the trees.

Lili is feeding her cat, she sings to her as she pulls the lid off the can. Wafa curls around her legs with love and affection.

I suspect I will be taken by the fingers and led through the lights and the lines. Step by step through the concepts of safety.
I should be grateful. grateful.

But there is a whole chorus; plants, bugs, bee’s and birds, a cat and a small child at one with the wind, they tell me not to forget what my body knows and what the back of time taught me,
we women we know how to birth.

Something beautiful and whole

It’s already Friday and most of my plans for the week fell through. I have been feeling really nauseous, I guess it is a just recurring morning sickness but strange to experience so far along. And next week I enter my third trimester so I shouldn’t be surprised to be feeling so tired again, now comes the homeward slog. I love so many things about being pregnant but I don’t have easy pregnancies. This week I have been grappling with all those now familiar to me feelings regarding being sick and needing the help of those around me and how difficult it is for me (being hyper-independent) to experience that kind of need. I always fight it and resist and make things harder for myself than they need to be.

I put a lot of effort into meal planning and then was unable to follow through every day, we ended up eating take away. That being said, I have been substituting hemp seeds for burghul and couscous in salads and I’m really happy with the result.

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The best thing about this week is that our garden bed has been weeded and filled up with soil and is now ready for planting. Plus we have another in the process of being built. All three of my homeschoolers have either gardening or botany components of their learning to be done so this is going to work well for us.

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As a perfectionist and an idealist I struggle when things threaten to taint the bubble of beauty that I have built for myself. I build and then my relentless intellect finds ways to tear it all apart. It’s just a little idiosyncrasy that I have slowly come to tolerate in myself, I am endlessly hard on myself and on the things I choose to be close to, always striving after some kind of unreachable ideal. There is a great irony between my spiritual sense of knowing truth and beauty lies beyond all frameworks and conceptions and the constant striving I find myself performing in order to capture and compartmentalise. It’s an endless tension and a futile one because the very nature of the thing I seek is beyond all forms, it is not in the nature of form to be perfect.

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It is also a tension between my creative/spiritual self and my rational/analytical intellect. Waldorf attracts me because it speaks to the first aspect in me yet I cannot help dissecting it with my mind. I have learned to live with Islam despite my mind shredding things continually, learned to recognise what it contains of truth and to leave the dogma to those who need it so it is foolish to be dogmatic in my interpretation of Steiner education. After all my children are not in a school, they are not at risk of being indoctrinated into some reductive cult vision and I doubt really that this is the reality of most of the schools anyway.

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I am a product of a generational cynicism raised to distrust religion, to hate dogma and to be suspicious of all spiritual leaders and yet as a young person I never realised the strong dogma’s of my secular humanism and now middle aged I have learned that there are spiritual truths that require leadership and directive to move towards.

But the distinct lack of this kind of leadership and directive in my immediate physical sphere and geographical locality has forced me to always be interpreting with my mind making my mind the site of practise. The gentleness of Waldorf as something reorientating myself into my creative being is something I consider a gift to come across because it is all interconnected, faith, education and family culture, the tone and spirit of the house.

So I am leaning back towards what attracted me towards Waldorf education in the first place, something beautiful and whole. Does it matter if I call it Waldorf or Sufism or Zen? I watched this lovely short video this week and it struck me that this is what Waldorf education is all about really…or at least this is what it is about for me….

H just came in and said ‘Mum, you said fuck today!’ and it’s true, I did. Life moves on.

So after a week of take-away and television we will simply get back on the horse.

Fes – City of the Heart

Twenty years ago when I arrived in Fes, I discovered my visa was running out for Spain and since I had to travel to Germany by land to catch my flight home I disappointedly boarded the next bus to Ceuta the following morning. I spent the night in the Ville Nouvelle, I did not see the old city. I did not see Fes. And it always seemed like unfinished business.

When we stepped off the train in Fes from Casablanca and took a taxi to the ancient medina it was a moment of sheer elation.  After so many years of longing, we were finally there. Fes medina is now filled with luxury riads and I was tempted to choose a middle range one simply because we might never have that opportunity again to sleep in such a resplendent sign of our tradition. We were met at one of the many gates and taken to our destination by a man with a cart, red faced and puffed after what seemed like a sprint through the labyrinth alleys of the medina. The ancient medina is a car free zone, only accessible by foot or donkey.

 

Before you arrive in Fes everyone warns you that you will require a guide. It is impossible to find your way around at first because all the alleyways look the same and it is difficult to find any markers of landscape. I thought we were adventurous enough to try it without a guide but after our first day in which we walked in circles and did not find any of the landmarks we were looking for I decided to be a sensible tourist and do what we were told.

Considering it was only three days since we had left Australia the impact of visiting these places is very difficult to put into words. It was just overwhelmingly beautiful. It seemed fitting that we started with Masjid Moulay Idriss II because he was the founder of the city and the son of Sheikh Moulay Idriss I who is considered the Father of Morocco. It seemed that through greeting him, it was like greeting the whole country and it’s rich history and honouring the beauty that brought me into Islam in the first place. As I was standing in the courtyard I heard a voice cry out ‘Marhaba Hajja!‘ and I turned and realised an old man was talking to me so I in a somewhat startled voice replied ‘shukran/thankyou’ to which he said ‘Yes! Shukran!‘ and went back to sweeping the fountain. Later I discovered that Zeph had taken a photograph of him at some point during our visit.

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We also visited the tanneries briefly and whilst we were there I remembered that Sidi Ali al Jamal was close by as I had read that his zawia was in this area of the old city. I had planned to try and find it myself as it is not well known like the big mosques but since we were close by I asked about it and some old men who worked selling leather items described to my guide how to get there. First we passed by the zawia where his daughter is buried but it was closed so then we found our way to the Zawia of Sidi Ali al Jamal.

It was locked but there was a phone number on the door and my guide rang the number and soon a woman came and opened the door. My camera battery died the moment she opened the door. We entered into a lovely courtyard filled with fruit trees, it was still a family home tended by his descendants.

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I think my expectation got the better of me on this visit, I had longed to visit here for so many years that to be standing there and with a rather stroppy ten year old, just left me not knowing what to do. It was only when we left and I thanked the woman and took her hand that those expectations just dissolved briefly and with tears in our eyes we said goodbye and stepped back outside the courtyard walls. She invited us back for the Thursday night dhikr but I had no idea how we would find our way there alone in the dark as it was quite a long way from where we were staying.

That night I lay on the bed in my room and imagined the dhikr that was occurring and how much I longed to be there. And I thought about how that was such a common theme in my experience, sometimes being so close to these things yet not being able to partake. And I stared up towards the incredibly high ceiling in the room and it felt as if we were sleeping in the very heart of the universe.
Fes felt like the heart of the world and I was so grateful to be there.

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The following day we found our way back to Al Qarawiyyin for the Jama’a prayer. To be able to pray Jama’a beside the courtyard was a wonderful experience. And something we returned to do again when we visited Fes for the second time just before returning to Australia. The second time with my lovely friend M who had come from Belgium for us to be able to meet in Fes!

And still, every Friday now, I transport myself back here in my memory.

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The film Fez – City of Saints is available to watch on Youtube.

The Zawia of Sheikh Muhammad ibn al Habib in Meknes

If a man could grasp the bliss of his secret
he would shed a tear with every breath he breathed.

Sheikh Muhammad ibn al Habib, Diwan

When we arrived in Meknes I had no idea where the Zawia was but after some quick messaging to my friend in Edinburgh we worked out that it was just around the corner. I was so grateful for these instructions because the entrance is not marked and there is no way we would have found it without them.

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We entered through the narrow alleyway and into the main room. After visiting Sidi Ali al Jamal in Fez I was again struck by the simplicity of the Darqawi Zawia’s in comparison with the opulence of some of the more famous Sufi orders. The space was empty except for an old man seated by the foot of Sheikh Muhammad ibn al Habib’s grave. We gave salams and as poor Zeph was still feeling sick we asked if we could use the bathroom. The old man who was both blind and deaf led us to the door and unlocked it for us.
A little later we sat down on a majlis area and Zeph fell asleep.

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The old man started reciting from the Diwan of Sheikh Muhammad ibn al Habib.
This is a very special place.

Later Zeph woke and it was time to pray maghrib. The old man made the call to prayer and a younger man who obviously loved him very much joined him. We prayed with them and then Zeph asked to go home.

I really longed to know who the man was, to know his name. The whole experience had been wonderful. Because I am not connected to any groups where there is an actual physical presence between teacher and student these kinds of events are enormously significant to me. They are impossible to write about and there is no need really other than as a marker of gratitude and a means of recording details for later times when the memories may not be as clear.

Later back in Australia and scrolling through Facebook I suddenly saw a photograph of the old man and I was delighted to find out his name.

From Signs on the Horizons (THE CARETAKER)
I first met Sidi Ali in 1973 and heard this story from his lips. He was living in the zawiya, helping Sidi l’Ayyashi to take care of the premises. When Sidi l’Ayyashi passed away during the 1980s, Sidi Ali became the guardian of the zawiya. Completely illiterate, he has memorized large parts of the Qur’an and the entirety of the Diwan of Mohamed ibn Al Habib in addition to many Prophetic traditions, wisdom sayings and odes from the Sufis. He’s now totally blind and mostly deaf. He carries a card from the Moroccan government certifying that he is officially indigent (miskeen) that entitles him to beg, which he sometimes does when the guests in the zawiya need to be fed and there is no money. He flashes this card with a mischievous laugh. When I saw him in 1981, he told me proudly and with a chuckle, as if he had achieved the impossible, “You know, I got married.”

I don’t have permission to post the photograph but it doesn’t matter because not so long after this I finally purchased a copy of The Meaning of Man and there amongst the photographs he was again.

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Fear

It is the nature of life that our choices will always be frowned upon by someone somewhere, we cannot please everyone, I remind myself of this when I am feeling that squashed and uncomfortable sense of being pushed into explanation and defence.

Now that I am on the cusp of middle age I have little patience for those obsessed by identity, those people who cannot step outside their own perception for long enough to meet you with non judgment. As a previous agnostic conditioned against religious communities I have had to strive really hard to not encounter all religious people as narrow minded and rigid so I know how identity and conditioning works. But it is just sheer laziness and arrogance to remain within these habits. But more importantly it is about fear.

For most of us the ground upon which we walk is our perception which is motivated by concepts of identity. Our perception is framed by our biographical data, how we have been taught to think or how we have forged our own journeys through reaction. The most striking thing about perception is that (unless we are a Buddhist) it is unlikely that we will frame our perception around a ground that is no ground. We purposely create a solid ground of ideals and notions. Very few people are willing to venture beyond this solid ground of identity. Yet our inflexibility causes so many problems. People blame religion for war but it is not religion that is at fault but identity. Similarly much of the power mongering in the world occurs through the attempt of one group to monopolise resources and wealth in order to strengthen its identity at the expense of another. The biggest problem we face in the modern world is one of rigid identity.

As a spiritual practise Sufism teaches me to move beyond identity yet this is juxtaposed against a backdrop of a wider religious community for whom identity is everything. And the more uncertain and hostile the environment becomes the more we cling to what we think we are.

There is no area in which I find the grasp of identity more difficult to avert than the area of dress. Whatever I wear or don’t wear will signify something to someone. And often we engage in a purposeful interplay of signifiers in order to control the way we want to be perceived. We dress the part. Muslim women find themselves in a precarious position in which we cannot back off from our dress having some kind of significance. Men largely have much less to worry about.

There are numerous ways I have tried to subvert this enforced significance. By ignoring it and by just doing my own thing and exploring what felt comfortable and interesting and meaningful to me. Yet as a perceptive person who notices all kinds of little visual cues I found ignoring the responses and perceptions of others difficult. Islam as a faith can swallow you whole, it has an incredibly powerful historical tradition which entering from outside without the softening of a cultural conditioning can be completely overwhelming. There are hundreds of rules and an enormous body of dogma which upon exploration uncovers pulses of life where dogma is not just dogma but a lived and powerful system. But discovering which is which is a life work. It can all be too much.

The exploration of the historical tradition can situate us very much inside our heads which defeats the purpose of a spiritual tradition in the first place. It is primarily a system of alchemy and behavioural change. The dogma and identity politics can be a complete distraction from the primary function of the faith, that is the whole point of it all is not being a Muslim in the way that the vast majority of people consider it, as an identity. The point is to know God and God operates in that place of non ground.

The Path to God is littered with the bones of those
who did not remember who they were looking for,
or how great beyond all seeking, concepts,
imaginations and realizations,
He, God Always Is….

Rumi

If we are making ourselves significant through identity we make this ground forbidden to us.

Traditionally speaking the way a Muslim dresses is important but the characteristics at the heart of Muslim dress are modesty and dignity and lack of personal significance.
A headscarf as a function of this modesty and dignity is very much a part of the tradition but the problem that we face today is that a headscarf brings with it notoriety and significance, it makes us stand out. And no matter what our intention is or no matter how we try to treat it we cannot avoid this significance.

When I wore a face veil I became really acquainted with what is beautiful about it, far from the impressions it leaves in the minds of people I was able to sense how it has been worn as part of our historical tradition and what it meant for women in the past. As a cloak of insignificance allowing women to go about their daily affairs blanketed in Rahma (all encompassing compassion), this is how it felt. And these are unpopular ideas and we are made fools for mentioning them but women need to own their own experience. But regardless of any of this it is not something that can be worn without a great fuss, without significance making. And to a lesser extent a headscarf does the same thing.

Many women wear a headscarf specifically as a marker of identity but what does this omnipresent marker of significance mean for those of us who wear one but who want to merge into the unassuming and not be tied to specific interpretations of identity?

For a long time I have resisted my desire to just be done with it because I have worried that I am simply desiring a return to a more uncomplicated identity, a return to an unblemished white privilege and a world in which I didn’t experience any racial vilification. Because I do recognise the reality of veiling in Islamic tradition and I am not turning away from it in meaning, just in practicality. I can’t help but want to turn away from it in terms of lived experience, to turn away from the significance making and the grasp of identity.

In Morocco I felt totally comfortable and insignificant because it is still a norm but more than that in Morocco I didn’t feel alienated from the identity at large. Moroccan Islam is my Islam, outwardly it is an identity that leads to no identity, it is a practise and an utterly beautiful one. But Islam in Australia feels stifling.

Whatever I do will mean something to someone. To take it off even just for a day signifies something to someone somewhere, to keep it on signifies something else. But I have never believed in a spiritual hierarchy of dress, no matter what I have worn. The only time the grasp of such judgmentalism took hold of me was in the months after a near death experience when the reality of no ground was just overwhelming and I wasn’t ready to take step and trust beyond concepts. And this dogmatic character was short-lived thankfully.

This year I really hope to just stop worrying so much about the perceptions of others and to stop making excuses for people who are trapped within the limited thinking of identity and prioritising their feelings over my own. We are all trapped like this to an extent but to attempt to enforce our perceptions over those of another is an act of discourtesy, no matter what it is we are doing. This does not mean that there are not specifics of morality but it is how we approach it that matters.

Whilst I may be lacking in patience for people wrapped up in identity, I am not lacking love and compassion because I know that what motivates them is fear. And their fear is like my fear.

But in Islam taqwa/God conciousness is half fear, half love.

And the challenge is to not let our necessary fear cause us to grasp and make a ground out of non ground.
But to surrender.

Awaken!
don’t become unconscious
in words and treasures
in ceremonies and materials.
Awaken!
don’t become a collector
of signposts and maps
of pointers and rules.
When the door is opened
walk through,
don’t just stand there
staring at the open doorway!
There comes a time
when nothing is meaningful
except surrendering to love.
DO IT…..

Rumi