Photo Sparks Along a Country Road

December 31, 2013

 

“When you walk across the fields with your mind pure and holy, then from all the stones, and all growing things, and all animals, the sparks of their soul come out and cling to you, and then they are purified and become a holy fire in you.”

Hasidic Saying

I walk daily along a country road that runs parallel to a river after a bend.  I’ve just bought a second hand Pentax K-r camera and since this is the first time I’ve owned a “proper” camera I’d take it on my daily walk.  I’m especially enthralled by the close up macro capacity of this camera which opened another level of looking and seeing in my walk.

So every photo here is taken as I walk along my country road- except the pictures of Buddha, Jesus and Rumi 🙂

I Walk Daily 1

While walking I try to be aware of myself  by focussing on sensations of my feet touching the ground, the flies landing on my skin, the breeze touching my face and bare arms while attending to my breath. I often say hello to the cows and bulls if they’re nearby. I even try my version of cow talk by bellowing out loudly MMMOOOO!! They just look at me, don’t reply and often just run away.

 

I Walk Daily 2

 

It’s my attempt of walking meditation – an extension of Buddha’s suggestion:

I Walk Daily 3

“When walking, the practitioner is aware, ‘I am walking’; when standing, is aware, ‘I am standing’; when sitting, is aware, ‘I am sitting’; when lying down, is aware, ‘I am lying down.’ In whatever position one’s body happens to be, one is aware of the position of the body. When one is going forward or backward, one applies one’s full awareness to one’s going forward or backward. When one looks in front or looks behind, bends down or stands up, one also applies full awareness to what one is doing. One applies full awareness to wearing the robe or carrying the alms bowl. When one eats or drinks, chews or savors the food, one applies full awareness to all this. When passing excrement or urinating, one applies full awareness to this. When one walks, stands, lies down, sleeps or wakes up, speaks or is silent, one shines his awareness on all this.” So said the Buddha.

 

 

I Walk Daily 4

While walking I’m also aware of the chattering monkey mind climbing and swinging on mental vines in my skull. To calm the monkey and to see the chattering thoughts as clouds passing by I recite a mantra.  This mantra is the Trisagion chant I learnt in the Orthodox Church as a child. It is an ancient Christian prayer believed  to be an expansion of the angelic cry recorded in Revelation 4:8 :

The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying:

“Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty,
Who was and is and is to come!”

I Walk Daily 5    Below is the chant in Greek and the translation in English.

Ἅγιος ὁ Θεός, Ἅγιος ἰσχυρός, Ἅγιος ἀθάνατος, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς.

   Agios o Theos, Agios ischyros, Agios athanatos, eleison imas.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.

 

I inwardly chant this in Greek while watching my breath.

I Walk Daily 34

The words of the Trisagion are enhanced by the beautiful tune of the chant. You can hear a version of this chant here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbVBC1zQll4

I Walk Daily 6

I Walk Daily 7

I also love the quote below from Rumi, the great Islamic scholar and mystic, founder of the Whirling Dervishes:

I Walk Daily 8  “I searched for God among the Christians and on the Cross and therein I found Him not.
I went into the ancient temples of idolatry; no trace of Him was there.
I entered the mountain cave of Hira and then went as far as Qandhar but God I found not.
With set purpose I fared to the summit of Mount Caucasus and found there only ‘anqa’s habitation.
Then I directed my search to the Kaaba, the resort of old and young; God was not there even.
Turning to philosophy I inquired about him from ibn Sina but found Him not within his range.
I fared then to the scene of the Prophet’s experience of a great divine manifestation only a “two bow-lengths’ distance from him” but God was not there even in that exalted court.
Finally, I looked into my own heart and there I saw Him; He was nowhere else.”

 

 

If everything is in tune and there descends a silence within which may only last as long as a breath cycle or a few seconds then the words of this Hasidic saying come alive for a nano moment:

“When you walk across the fields with your mind pure and holy, then from all the stones, and all growing things, and all animals, the sparks of their soul come out and cling to you, and then they are purified and become a holy fire in you.”

I Walk Daily 9

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At the end of the bamboo grove I always eat fruit in season – winter an orange or mandarine – home grown, and in summer  stone fruit – peach, plum or apricot. I relish the taste, feeling the life force zing of fresh fruit as I look across the river to the mountains in the distance. At times a pelican may fly overhead or a hawk dive down to the field. Always there are ducks gliding over the river’s surface.

I Walk Daily 24

After eating the fruit, I take three deep breaths and now aloud, chant the Trisagion followed by the Lord’s Prayer said in the original Greek.

I Walk Daily 35

The only beings who hear me are the flowers and trees nearby, birds nesting, insects buzzing around, lizards near my feet scurrying away and the river and breeze. I ponder on the meaning of this prayer amongst the “lilies of the field”. I wonder why the word translated as “daily”, the Greek word “epiousion” is a huge mystery because the only time it is used in Greek is in this prayer and no one knows what it means! Here we have a set of words memorised by millions and millions with a hidden mystery word – “epiousion”. I like to think that the “bread” the prayer is referring to is the “sparks of the soul of things”.

I Walk Daily 25

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I keep walking trying to be present, trying to be in the moment all the way back home. Once at home I try to re-member the tiny moments of awareness that sparked across my synapses and along the river’s edge.

I Walk Daily 33

 

 

 

 

 


A Mullah Nassr Eddin Quote

March 31, 2012

” I’ll have you hanged,” said a cruel and ignorant king,  who had heard of Nassr Eddin’s powers, “if you don’t  prove that you are a mystic.”

“I see strange things,” said Nassr Eddin at once;  “a golden bird in the sky, demons under the earth.”

“How can you see through solid objects?  How can  you see far into the sky?”

“Fear is all you need.”


Lost in Damascus, Syria….

June 17, 2010

A month after leaving Mount Athos in Greece (May, 2000) I arrived in Damascus, Syria. I left my bag in the hotel and found my way to the Jordan Embassy. I needed a visa to get across the border to Jordan and I arrived five minutes late. The embassy officer was adamant I had to return the next day before 11.00AM. I was frustrated and irritated but I decided rather than give vent to my negativity I’d just walk in any direction to see what happened.

I walked streets with only Arabic signs and scripts.

My travel guide book gave the street names in English only. I walked by houses with concrete veneers and gardens on terraces, vines entwining telephone polls and wires across a lane making an arch of leaves, palm trees swaying in the dry breeze rooted in concrete pavements, lurid red and blue posters of the latest film shows on billboards and walls. I kept walking sensing the Syrian sun on my face and discovering I had no marker, no point of direction back to my hotel.

I was lost in the streets of Damascus.

There were flashes of deja vu, definite sensations and feelings I had been there before – a familiarity on the tip of the tongue. Maybe I was here in a previous life. I was lost in a place that felt like a long forgotten home. My stomach rumbled and I saw a restaurant with vats and tables outside on the street. I went in and found a seat at a table with four other men, one much older sat beside me. He began speaking to me in Arabic. When I replied, “Yunan, English” meaning Greek or English he spoke even louder so that others from tables nearby turned their heads towards us. I repeated, “La (no) Arabic – Yunan (Greek), English” pointing to my mouth. The old man had a short white beard that seemed to brighten when he shook his head. The others around our table stared at me.

I said, “I’m Australian – Australos – English or Greek – Yunan.”

A few tables away a man with a black moustache called out, “You from Australia?”

I said, “Yes”.

“Then why this?” He pointed to his face and drew a circle around it in the air and then pointed at me. Shrugging his shoulders he extended his arms in front of him.

He was saying in hand talk, “How come you look Syrian but claim to be Australian?”

I said, cradling an imaginary baby in my arms, “Baba, Yunanistan,” then I made my fingers walk in the air saying, “Australia.” I went to Australia as a baby from Greece. The others in the restaurant, even the owner were watching this exchange. They smiled and the man who asked the questions said, “Hey, I come and be with you.”

He was in his late thirties, slim with a certain earnestness about him as he walked towards my table. He squeezed between the two men sitting opposite me. By now his presence had made my table invisible again.

He said, “You from Australia? I know a little English.” I told him about my trip from Greece via Turkey, to Egypt and that I’d be leaving very soon for Jordan.

He asked,

“Where are you going now?”

“The old souq (market). I have lost my way and stopped to eat here.”

“Ah, good. I’m going to a library and the souq is on the way. I will show you where to go.”

There was a certain radiance about him, as if there was a tiny grain of the sun burning in his chest. He nodded, “I understand much better in English than I speak.” Something in the way he said “understand” touched me.

For no apparent reason I said, “One of my wishes while travelling through your land is to meet someone who is wise in the way of the Sufi,” I paused and in the silence I added, “I visited Rumi’s tomb in Konya, Turkey, how I dearly wish to visit Ibn Arabi’s tomb in Syria.”

“You know Ibn Arabi?” he asked surprised, “you know of our saints?”

“Yes, only a very little. I have read about Ibn Arabi in English. What little I know of him has touched my heart. I wish to pay him my respects.”

He said, “Come, let’s go. I want to take you to a special place, a surprise place for you.”

There was this instant trust between us. As we walked under a concrete bridge near a busy intersection he said, “You’re not a tourist just going click, click, click with a camera. You know something of my culture. Islam?”

The way he said “Islam” prompted me to reply, “I’m a Christian and I believe that all religions speak of one truth but in different tongues and styles. I’m searching for truth and anywhere I can find it I value it.”

“I will take you to Ibn Arabi’s tomb.”

“What here in Damascus?”

“Yes, just around the corner. You must not speak. Just copy everything I do. You look Syrian, only your tongue gives you away.”

I wondered why I had to pretend to be Syrian and not speak when we arrived at the saint’s tomb. I figured that it was a very small price to pay – to be silent. We passed some men sitting on wooden boxes playing backgammon on a small table. One of the players smiled at me revealing a toothless mouth. The streets of Damascus are mostly narrow and crooked. Saint Paul lived on Straight Street near where we were. We turned a corner going down a narrow lane and finally arrived at a small door in a stone wall of a mosque. As we entered we  climbed down some narrow stairs that lead to a silver cage enclosing a small tomb. It looked like a big beautiful bird cage on the floor.

Others already there were prostrating on their knees and lifting their torsos up while silently moving their lips to prayer. My friend indicated that I stay beside him and as he went down on his knees I copied his movements. I bowed and touched the floor near Ibn Arabi’s body. I was amazed that I was there in front of his tomb, a tomb that has been there for hundreds of years.

Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi (1165 – 1240) was at the centre of an extraordinary flourishing and cross fertilization of Jewish, Christian and Islamic thought in the Moorish culture of Andalusian Spain. He was a Spanish mystic who had a huge and subtle influence on both East and West. In his early childhood he was recognized and taught by two women saints, Yasmin of Marchena and Fatima of Cordoba. Dante’s “Divine Comedy” was influenced by Ibn Arabi’s work.

As I looked through the cage, the more I saw, the less I knew. Who am I? Why am I here? I smelt a delicate fragrance in the swirls of prayer around me. After about a quarter of an hour we arose and left. While climbing the stairs I took one final look at the small tomb of a great man. I felt my own smallness and my own limitations as a “man”. Somehow, even though his body had lay there for so long I felt something emanating from the space that contained Ibn Arabi’s remains. I wondered whether it was his own emanations that remained there or if the people who came to offer their respects and prayers left “soul stuff” that gradually accreted over the years so that one could feel a palpable presence in this small space. Maybe it was both and was it the same in other sacred places?

Mahmoud told me that it was Ibn Arabi’s special mission to scatter Sufi seeds onto diverse contemporary fields of learning accepted by the people so that they would come to recognise the One Love behind everything.

“Now, let us go to the special place I promised I will show you,” Mahmoud said with a grin.

“I thought Ibn Arabi’s tomb was the special place.”

“Yes, it is special and this other place is special in a different way. I won’t go to the library today, it can wait. I will spend time with you.”

I was curious as to what special place he had in mind. As we walked we mentioned various authors and books to each other and we were amazed that we recognised each other’s references. The theme was the search for truth and the miraculous. I was excited by the prospect of meeting a Damascus local who may have contact with people who understood the inner essence of Islam and who could sense or know the same essence in Christianity.

After a while he said, “You know that Christians, Moslems and Jews are cousins? Abraham was our common ancestor, our common source.”

We were at the large courtyard of the Omayyad Mosque. Mahmoud said,”It is interesting that this mosque was built on land that was sacred before Mohammed. It was used as a place of worship 3,000 years ago by the ancient Syrians. Then it was a pagan temple for Jupiter during the Roman era. Then it was… no, wait for the surprise.”

Omayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria

We walked on beautiful geometric patterned tiles. These patterns were repeated on some of the façade and walls. The doors also had hand carved patterns that looked like they were lifted from crystal reflections. I felt as if I walked into a world of lattices, a net of lines, a web of relationships numerical in kind and geometric in shape. I took my shoes off and entered the main door. Inside was a cavernous space, Mahmoud pointed out a section of the wall with mosaic panels made of coloured and gilded glass. He told me that all the walls were decorated like this centuries ago. The prayer hall had a small domed shrine near where we stood.

Lost in Damascus Umayyad Mosque geometric

Omayyed Mosque

Approaching the shrine, Mahmoud said, “This is the surprise. The shrine contains St John the Baptist’s head and maybe his body!” Surrounding the shrine were Moslem people bowing and praying. I asked, ”Why the prayers for St John the Baptist? Why is his tomb here in a mosque?” Mahmoud delighted, said, ”Yes, I knew it would surprise you. This place of worship many centuries ago had divine services for both Christians and Moslems. The Christians worshipped in one half of the space and Moslems worshipped in the other half. Together Christians and Moslems worshipped under this same roof.”

I paid my respects to St John the Baptist, this time crossing myself the Greek Orthodox way. No one took exception to me for doing so and as we left I felt a real connection between our two faiths. Mahmoud explained to me that Jesus was a prophet and Mary his mother was revered in Islam. He told me that St John the Baptist was revered by Moslems as a saint. Mahmoud was right, this place was a special place and that it would surprise me. He invited me to his home which meant that we had to catch one of the many small service taxis (mini buses) that were everywhere on Damascus roads. Road rules didn’t seem to count here as our bus swerved in and out of lanes with no indication and turned corners without slowing down. While our bodies moved this way and that in concert with the bus I was curious as to how Mahmoud would take my experience at Rumi’s tomb in Konya, Turkey.

I said, “While I was visiting Rumi’s tomb I felt that I could only pay my respects as an Orthodox Christian but could only do this in a hidden way. I couldn’t externally pray like the Moslems around because I’m not Moslem and at the same time I couldn’t pray as a Christian outwardly because I did not want to offend those around me. So I held my hands together in front of me and inwardly I imagined my right hand making the shape of a cross. In my faith, the thumb stands for the Father, the index for the Son and the next finger, the Holy Spirit – the Holy Trinity. My ring finger curled into my palm signifies the divine nature of Christ and the little finger is the human nature.” I showed him the tripod of fingertips and my curling fingers. I continued, “So, in a manner of speaking my hand reflects the whole of my faith. I move my right hand with the thumb and my first two fingers joined together. Firstly to my forehead, then to my belly, then to the right of my heart and then to the left of my heart – three times. I did this inwardly while silently chanting a prayer. Outwardly I was standing with my head bowed and hands together but inwardly I was actively praying in the Christian way. Tell me Mahmoud, did I do the right thing for Rumi?”

We jolted forward as the bus swerved around another corner. Mahmoud said, “My friend it is obvious to me that your intentions were pure. You were in pure heart and so whatever you do in such a state is pure. You can do what you will and it would not be wrong because of your state of mind and heart. So, you did the right thing.” He stopped and looked at me eye ball to eye ball.

“By the way,” he said,”did you know that Sufis, the People of the Path are also called esoteric Christians?”

“No,” I said, “What of our cousins the Jews?”

“Rabbi Jesus is also revered by Jews in touch with the hidden stream.” He smiled and gently touched my hand, “You and I are seekers of truth and as such we are not caught in the literal meanings of scripture and sacred texts. It is these literal, fundamental meanings, dogmas that create misunderstanding between our religions and ways of being in the world.”

I couldn’t agree more but this didn’t mean that individual and unique differences that make up a particular set of beliefs were obliterated. No, it seems to me that seeking the essential truth behind the formal, literal truths was a way of freeing one self from narrow mindedness and the razor wire of fundamentalism. And I don’t just mean religious. To name a few – scientific, economic, political, psychological, philosophical, artistic ….in fact, name an activity and it can be done and thought of in a fundamentalist way.

Mahmoud lived in one of the many concrete and cement apartments in down town Damascus, right under the arc traced by missiles from Israel. He was very lucky he told me because he had a ground floor apartment with some earth for plants. A wooden door from the street set in a large wall was the entrance to his home.

He introduced me to his wife and two daughters, his father and mother and his brother as “Stavros from Australia”. His wife Jamil brought some tea in glass tumblers and sat next to me. She said, “Pleased to meet you and welcome. I want to show you a book. I am learning English.” I was touched by the effort she put in saying this to me in English.

We were sitting around a wooden table in the enclosed area behind the wall facing the street. Mahmoud pointed to a fountain and pool, the size of a bathtub on our right . He said,”I and my brother made this fountain.” It was made of cement with inlaid patterns of shells, coral and pebbles. The shape was more like a cumulus cloud than rigid lines of concrete blocks. The water spouted from a bowl in the centre while the spirals, circles, squares and triangles of the fountain’s container looked on with mosaic eyes. I walked over to it and admired the detail of their work.

Meanwhile Mahmoud’s father, mother and brother brought cucumbers, tomatoes, shallots, radishes, cheese, bread and boiled eggs to the table. Soon after, falafals, humous, fried eggplant, cinnamon beans and dips were added to the table. Everybody sat around the table with the young girls at one corner each. We each had a plate on which we placed what we wanted from the dishes before us. Everybody was interested in this stranger from the other side of the planet – Australia. In my shoulder bag I carried postcards of Australia to give to new friends. I pulled some out and passed them around – pictures of kangaroos, koalas, Sydney Opera House, Uluru and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Everybody recognised the kangaroos.

Jamil brought over a book on the English language. She was studying English on her own using this book and some tapes. Her husband Mahmoud helped when he could but he was not fluent in English either. She said,” Please, may I read and you tell me if sounds true? Please?” She read some dialogue between two people. One was asking for directions and the other answered. The only thing missing in her delivery was confidence.

As I sat there with this Syrian family I thought about philoxenia, “Friend of the Stranger” the Greek word for “hospitality” which in the original denotes something sacred and more open than “hospitality”. It is mentioned in Homer’s “The Odyssey” where Odysseus experienced philoxenia often in his travels. My new friends expressed philoxenia in such a way that it brought tears to my eyes. I was a stranger in their midst and they offered me friendship, food and comfort. A bond grew between us that had its strength in our common humanity and the fact that everyone is a stranger away from home. Mahmoud and his brother asked me what hotel I was staying at and then phoned for a taxi to take me there.

While waiting for the taxi Mahmoud said, “I want you to have this.” In his hand were some worry beads. I showed him the worry beads my uncle gave me in Greece. The Greek ones I had were more solid and heavier with round beads. Mahmoud’s were smaller and the beads were like long brown rice grains. We compared them.

He smiled, “Well you now have Syrian worries to keep your Greek ones company!”

Mahmoud and his brother rode with me to my hotel in the taxi. They would not allow me to pay for the fare. They just wanted to make sure that I was taken to the right place.

In Damascus, Syria, I found true philoxenia not xenophobia. Now I had a paper boat from the Holy Mountain and a set of worry beads from the Middle East to take with me back to Australia. I put these in a special bag where I kept other special things like hand made amulets, pellets of rose incense, a smooth stone from Dodona, crystals, a small wooden cross from Jerusalem, a tiny rock from Mt Sinai, a stone from an Aboriginal Elder in Australia and some holy oil from a small monastery of nuns near the birthplace of my father in Greece. The bag, made of an old Turkish rug remnant was wrapped in a scarf from Bethlehem, along with the Chinese “Book of Changes” – the I Ching and tarot cards. These four items were my psychic technology backup, just knowing they were there helped me. The last item to be put into my special bag was the frayed remainder of the Southern Cross flag that flew on Eureka. It was placed on top of the other things soon after we left South Bellona Reef on our way to Nauru.

My Spiritual Kit Bag with psychic technological backups, to be used in case of emergency sailing to Nauru!

A  few days later I visited Palmyra, about 100 miles east of Damascus, near the border of Iraq. Palmyra has the best preserved Roman ruins in the world. The stone buildings all have a rose tint and you feel like you are entering a Roman city with rose tinted sunglasses on.

Here’s a picture or two of what I saw. Another time, another story.

Palmyra, Syria. That little taxi takes you everywhere.


The Devil’s Secret

October 16, 2009

 

The following quote comes from ” The Conference of the Birds”   a beautiful Sufi Persian Book of Poems written in 1177 by  Farid ud – Din Attar.

During the 1970’s it was adapted into a play by Peter Brook and  Jean-Claude Carriere which Brook took on a tour through parts of wild Africa and performed in the streets and later to Western audiences in New York, Paris and in Sydney. I was lucky at the time because I was living in Sydney and saw it. The play communicated at a very subliminal level in that it didn’t really matter if you understood rationally what the actors were saying because the “meaning” was transmitted almost viscerally through the movements and the sounds that emanated from the stage.

The devil’s secret:

       God said to Moses once:  “Go out and find                        

       The secret truth that haunts the devil’s mind,”

       When Moses met the devil that same day

       He asked for his advice and heard him say:

       “Remember this, repeat it constantly,

       Don’t speak of ‘me’, or you will be like me.”

       If life still holds you by a single hair,

       The end of  all your toil will be despair;

       No matter how you prosper, there will rise

       Before your face a hundred smirking “I”s.

                              The Conference of the Birds 

Conference_of_the_birds

“Manteq at-Ṭayr” (“Conference of the Birds”)


Where is He? – Jelaluddin Rumi

May 4, 2009

 I tried to find Him on the Christian cross, but He was not there; I went to the Temple of the Hindus and to the old pagodas but I could not find a trace of Him anywhere.

I searched on the mountains and in the valleys but neither in the heights nor  in the depths was I able to find Him. I went to the Kaaba in Mecca, but He was  not there either.

I questioned the scholars and philosophers but He was beyond their understanding.

I then looked into my heart and it was there where He dwelled that I saw Him : He was nowhere else to be found.

Jelaluddin Rumi

I took a picture of his tomb in Konya, Turkey. Click here to see it.

Some other quotes by Rumi:

This quote below we used on the homepage of the HopeCaravan website, which is no longer active. However, the yahoo group still is on the net though it is no longer active.

“Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
A hundred times.
Come, yet again, come, come.”

Other quotes which have touched me include:

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”

“Only from the heart can you touch the sky.”

“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”

“You were born with wings. Why prefer to crawl through life?”

RumiRumi


On Sufism – author unknown…..

February 10, 2009

I don’t know where I got the short article from, maybe someone sent it to me with no author’s name on it. It doesn’t really matter, except I don’t want you to think that I wrote it. The Sufi poet the author quotes is, I consider, to be one of the wisest men who ever lived. When I was in Damascus, Syria, I met a local who took me to his tomb. I had to pretend that I was a Moslem to enter the holy place but that wasn’t difficult because of my “Middle Eastern” appearance. My guide just told me not to open my mouth and speak because my English or Greek would give me away. I crouched to enter the small entrance to Ibn Arabi’s tomb and when I came close I felt compelled to fall on my knees and bend my head in respect to him. The tomb, in 2000 was in a silver gilded cage (since then the tomb is within a glass cage) and I felt that this was so incongruous given the free spirit that made Ibn Arabi…well, Ibn Arabi (July 28, 1165 – November 10, 1240).

 Anyway, enjoy the following article as it outlines the Sufi experience for our times …… 

sufi-article-ibn-arabi1

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