Driving back to the east shore of Maui’s wetlands, I reminisce about my previous adventures through this multi-colored, green jungle landscape with black volcanic rock plunging into the azure-blue ocean. What a surprise that I am the only person to spend the night at Camp Keanae, the YMCA camp that is to hold about 200 spiritual players very soon. The spirit ancestors of the land are kind here and of such a high vibrational energy, that I feel nestled and held as I sleep in the quiet that is so loud that it hums.
The energetic band of dancers, musicians, singers, healers and crazy-fun people are soon to cloak the sacred camp.
A rocking work crew of 60 completely transform the peaceful camp into a party land of magical proportions. The gymnasium becomes a glowing temple with huge tapestries of Buddhas, Saints, colorful plants and foliage taller than me. The temple artists stuffed the basketball hoops with opulent bouquets. The kitchen pantry had to be emptied of every kind of kitchenware to make room for the Sufi’s own kitchen.
Big bulging trucks brought over 60 crates to be unloaded. I got to load the cartons of organic eggs into huge coolers and ice them down. We are talking about hundreds of eggs that were needed to feed the masses for over a week. It would be worth coming to camp just for the divine vegetarian food that is to satisfy our hungry bellies.
It took us two days to decorate, to set up a sweat lodge, and to transform a dorm into a healing center where 14 healers were to offer their healing magic. Tents with tarps had to be set up on the grassy lawn where you could hear the sounds of the ocean surf lapping at the shoreline. Registration was so beautifully handled by the youth scholarship beauties who would serenade us on their ukuleles in between fulfilling their paperwork commitment.
Transformation was sure, steady and swift like we were an army of ants on a successful mission. Such incredible donated services were gifted from so many. The inclement weather caused many of our scheduled participants to be delayed because of roadside landslides and flash flooding. The energy needed to organize this massive spiritual party brought in a high vibration frequency. A well led symphony we became, united with the fervor of inspired action.
Each of the bathroom/shower areas were graced with copious amounts of inspirational signs to encourage us to find joy in our service to each other and the success of the Sufi Camp. There was even a teaching from Mother Teresa, the Saint, who advised us to “love one another.”
The rain drenched morning started with a 30 minute sitting meditation which flowed into the next offering of a dynamic qi gong (a slow moving meditation meant to cultivate energy). Because the power of the recent storms had disabled all electricity, our delicious breakfast had to be prepared by lighting several lantern’s.
Three vegetarian meals a day, with everything so lovingly prepared, delighted our senses throughout the entire camping extravaganza.
The Hindu devotional singing known as kirtan next enlivened the opulent temple that used to be a stale gymnasium. A shrine with offerings graced the many pictures of the attendant’s guru’s and spiritual teachers. Huge bouquets of giant-sized flowers were hung on the basketball nets.
It was time to gather close to the wise woman called Mushida Rabia. The term Murshid or Murshida means Guide. It is used in traditional Sufism to refer to the spiritual figure who directs a Sufi school.
Beautifully dressed in a yellow flowing robe, she gave us instructions on how to receive dharma (sacred teachings). We were taught to hold our wrists to relax our pulse and call for guidance from our inner masters.
“Watch your breath, move into the great harmonic of all life. A delusion of suffering must be changed so we must call upon the wise avatars.”
We began with honoring the ancestors and chanting sacred phrases with hand mudras to open us up to respectfully receive the healing teachings.
Morality was described as being paramount and we were advised to, “seek solutions relentlessly through our spiritual practices which balance us.”
Murshida Rabia asked us, “what do you see in your heart? What is it that you have to do, to show your loved ones your true heart of love?”
I was surprised to find that my answer to all of these questions was, “giving peace”.
The atmosphere of giving was so complete in the Sufi tradition, that there was even a spinning class. At this class we were taught the finer points of turning in circles for long periods of time.
The Drum Circle that afternoon was loud and crazy. It completed with singing traditional African songs of joy. After this rousing romp, which brought huge smiles to everybody’s beaming faces, it was time for one of my all time favorite ancient healing miracles called Zikr.
Ancient spiritual practitioners practiced Zikr in order to expand their aliveness, increase their spiritual attunement and find rest for their hearts. In doing so, they invoked the immediate experience of divine attributes, specifically activating the energies of compassion and mercy and drawing blessings from the angelic realm.
Zikr is also said to create the habit of remembrance. Habit is the language of the physical body which is like a child who takes comfort in repetition. Zikr allows one to establish in their body a habit that nourishes the heart at a deep level.
Zikr means “remembrance” and is reminiscent of the Persian whirling dervishes who spun in circles to attain enlightenment.
At this party of all parties, was a daily dose of Zikr medicine to my heart and soul. First, a singing sacred phrase was introduced and taught by a call and response format. These beloved phrases often evoked such qualities as tenderness, compassion, surrender, and peace. It required concentration, groundedness and vulnerability to not break the circle’s flow. Great trust was required for the many to become one during this group experience led my Murshida Leilah Be. She would sing with her lilting soprano voice so beautifully, that we were sure we were being led by a human angel.
Murshida Leilah’s outstanding musicians sat in a circle in the center of hundreds of us. They lured us deep into the inner mysteries within. You were led to balance your brain by equally staying in your inner practice, while at the same time synching with the group. Holding hands much of the time, we danced simple Zikr movements that easily evoked trance-like states of mind. At the end, we were so deep into a blissful altered state, I don’t know how we made the hike up to the dining hall to eat.
The harmonies tuned up our consciousnesses to the point that we felt complete Agape love (selfless unconditional love for each other). The many hugs between us were authentic and heart opening. It was common to see someone crying, either from healing a trauma or as the effect of experiencing ecstatic joy.
If you weren’t naturally high by then you could
“Ya Fatah” your way to happiness. “Ya Fatah” is a Sufi mantra which means to open up the way to attract into your life miraculous miracles. 1001 times of Ya Fatah’s gets you out of your head while still grounding you from leaving your body. We faced a terrace of statues and pictures of holy Beings. Just looking at these female and male spiritual masters was enough to blow your mind.
As Jason, the wise leader and camp director of our jubilant tribe would say, “I’ve been doing the “Ya Fatah” practice daily for some time, and I can honestly say that it has changed my life. Coming here to Sufi Camp for so many years, I’ve seen again and again how this type of communal experience can be mind-blowing and can also change peoples lives for the better.”
It works for me, I love feeling happy!
Jason spoke often of his commitment of being kind to others at all times. “Kindness is the action of loving. It’s important to have a consistency of kindness even when its difficult. Though we need to resolve conflict, we can do it with kind words.”
I remember this morning’s ritual to receive master Sufi teachings from Murshida Rabia, who spoke eloquently of “bringing blessings back to where there is sorrow and from where it has existed. We are running into many challenges. Unload your ammunition first and then act. How you do that has to be very creative and HAS to be non-violent. If you are hurting anyone, you are not following in the footstep of the Sufi masters.”
Throughout the day, it was apparent that emotions were running high. Unloading our ammunition of grievances required us to tell the Truth, even if it was deeply painful. There was a time, after a night of heavy rain pouring down from the Heavens, that the energy level was so intense that many, including myself couldn’t stop shaking. It wasn’t painful or frightening, in fact it was just the opposite. It was like being so much in love that nothing could stop your sublime happiness.
At night, remembering todays teachings from the beautiful, silver-haired retired professor Murshida Rabia, I again “bless and thank the earth element for her never ending support.”
Under Murshida Rabia’s guidance, we rose to circle as we honored the four directions with a Native American-based Dance of Universal Peace. We sang with our hands held respectively toward the earth, walking and singing in unison. The following lyrics honored the Mother Earth.
“The earth is our mother, we must take care of her. Her sacred ground we walk upon with every step we take.”
Murshida Rabia’s main teaching today was on the law of reciprocity. This is the mindset of “I will do more giving to others and not expect anything in return. The rules that cannot be broken are respect, consciousness, responsibility, kindness, courtesy, patience and forgiveness.”
Murshida Rabia quoted Master Hazrat Inayat Khan, A master in the Sufi lineage who has left his human body. “How do we practice these laws? We must serve the highest level of reciprocity the best that we can.”
So be it!
Each evening was scheduled with a music-filled program of the Dances and Songs of Universal Peace, ecstatic dance, and personal performances from outstanding musicians and singers. It felt like a constant weaving of sacred songs all day and night. As an empath, I did my best to integrate my solitary quiet nature into the group dynamic. It was my daily walk to the ocean or to a sacred waterfall swimming hole that held my psyche together to avoid being overwhelmed. Daily dips in these two bountiful nature spots was the key to my staying sane and healthy.
I felt so alive and youthful, I found myself crawling up on jagged volcanic rocks to jump into the swirling white-foam pool of a rushing waterfall. Nature is the greatest healer!
One of my greatest “hug-fests” was when a youthful mermaid in a polka-dotted bathing suit held me tenderly in her arms. She did this so I could rest after swimming as hard as I could into the current of a rushing waterfall. The force of plunging water into a deeply grooved gorge, carved from years of hard rain, held you in place but only if you swam as hard as you could. If not, the strong tide would swiftly float you down to the next bend which held yet another waterfall.
Ten year old Makela, my fellow whale activist’s daughter, delighted us all by jumping, splashing and giggling as only special little girls can.
Somehow she gently and sweetly talked me into following her into her personally designed, “sacred pools obstacle course”. This required that we dive off a rock, hold our breaths and swim underwater as far as we can, climb the sharp face, dive into the base of a swirling waterfall, drift to the other shore, rest before we climbed that slippery wall to jump with joy off the high cliff.
As we rested we looked up 100 feet to view a road with a simple bridge. “Oh no, I think he’s going to jump! Makea starts to scream, “don’t do it, don’t do it!’ until he does the perfect swam dive into the deepest part of the waterfall pool. Applause easily followed. That was what Sufi Camp was like all day and night.
Jason, our Camp Director, instructed us from the very beginning that the greatest gift we could receive and give to one another was to really listen to each other. He explicitly told us to look directly into each others eyes and practice being present.
Before I knew it, beautiful maidens were in my arms in tears, begging to be loved and held. Handsome talented men treated us women-folk adoringly as if we were walking on air. Common was cheek kissing, back rubbing, smiling, laughing and drawn out hugs. These practices enrich human beings and help them to thrive in community. “Who are you, what is your story, let’s play in the nature wonderland,” were some of the verbal sharings between us.
When I would get overwhelmed, I would often retire back to my tent, which was right next to the ocean with waves crashing into the cliff face below us. If not resting there, I was in the bunkhouse closest to the temple where joyful activities were constant. It seemed as if there was music playing all the time as the partymongers would burst into song or play a rare, exotic instrumental solo that melted your heart.
If I wasn’t roughing it in my bunk, which held 30 co-ed bunk beds, I was rejuvenating in my lavender-sprayed tent. On the second day, someone complained that our bunkhouse started smelling like “cat piss”.
I used aromatherapy to keep my bunk area smelling like a flower garden.
Staying in silence and listening to all the humans squawking like chickens with their heads cut off was like being in a washing machine.
The constant moving of coming and going was non-stop. Clothes and toiletries were strewn everywhere. Tie-dye, sarongs, tapestries of Gods and Goddesses were the main decorations. We remodeled a barren building into a glorious palace. As I walked to the outdoor bathroom showers, I noticed very interesting things such as:
1. A young man dressed like a striped tiger snoring loudly while curled up in a ball.
2. Someone hanging upside down from the upper bunk bed.
3. Personal altars, shrines and memorials bringing your mind to reverence.
4. Giant feathers with nearby hanging outfits that olden Kings and Queens would wear in high fashion.
5. A giant rosary of beads that took up a whole upper bunk. More on that later. Everybody I saw was having a great time and I was not the exception!
The non-stop pounding rain is overwhelming to many of the tribe members. Today’s teachings from Murshida Rabia honor the Great Waters of the planet.
Additionally she outlined the benefits of:
1. Purity of Gods grace.
3. God is beyond the conception of peace.
We meditated on the triangle and how it relates to the harmony of human consciousness. It is a powerful symbol. It has the properties to open up and stabilize our desires.
Following Murshida Rabia’s instructions, hundreds of us visualized together how to breath, to let go and to go with the flow.
In her above exercise we were instructed to let our visualization go and to have a “no strings attached” attitude toward our vision. Murshida Rabia spoke about how to pray to the benevolent spiritual wise ones, “let thy will be done.”
She also included two lessons for the day.
1. Dealing with our friends.
Consider your friends as equal whatever their position may be. People of this world are like branches of a tree.
Emerson is quoted, “she is my friend in whose presence I may think out loud.”
A friend is someone you hold in trust and reverence. We need patience, forbearance and tolerance to practice this.
Murshida Rabia spoke of the conventions of respect on how to treat a friend. She spoke of the reverence of practicing to treat your friends as your teachers. ”Actions of loving friendship within the Sufi community is the nectar we can all share with the world. We are a community of the universe.”
2. Dealing with our enemies.
A master storyteller, Murshida Rabia mesmerized us with inspirational stories from around the globe.
She counseled us, “many of us are given a task, a challenge in our lifetime…listen to your own inner teachings and ask the question, “who created this?” What is your work? Maybe it hasn’t come to fruition yet…..We are living in times when our hearts have to become huge to encompass everything…. Always thank your judges, they can bring you great discernment.”
On day three of Murshida Rabia’s teachings, she spoke about the fire element.
“Fire must not be mis-used. It is a necessary part of life and necessary in your spiritual practice. Fire lifts the energetic body to fulfill the promise of a sacred trust.
Avoid self-pity and complaint (whining, talking about yourself as inferior, forgetting the necessity of the lesson of the soul).
Her first story is from a Zen Master, Joe Miller, about how to deal with negativity. He told her that he had a big cage up on his roof full of monsters. “I feed them wonderful food but I won’t let them out. I accept my monsters of fear, I own them, but I won’t let them out. I do this because I believe they were given to me for a good reason.
A later note from Murshida Rabia: “..we see the value of the roof symbolically in spiritual evolution…”
Next, we listened attentively while Murshida Rabia quoted the Sufi Master, Hazrat Inayat Khan. “Peace is only possible when ones atmosphere is in a state of peace. Be quiet and breath deeply. This vibratory tranquillity will speak louder than your words.”
Murshida Rabia’s quotes were all great spiritual food for thought.
“The person who can change him or herself has the power to change the world.”
“There is no greater darkness than hate and no greater light than love.”
Most of the wildness is gone as the campers are collectively showing signs of exhaustion. I want to sleep all day long but force myself to take notes of Murshida Rabia’s teachings regarding the air element.
“Avoid putting the burden of expectation on anyone else. What is it that I can do to bring greater giving of the heart? It requires Self-examination, the willingness to take on this type of thinking. The masters always work by example instead of from their words.”
Every act of kindness you do for another is divine. It is for a greater unified existence.
Today’s daily inspirational story was about Nelson Mandela who is known as a Champion of Freedom. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for his involvement in planning armed action for the anti-apartheid cause. After 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela was freed in 1990. He negotiated the end of apartheid in South Africa, bringing peace to a racially divided country and leading the fight for human rights around the world. He made friends with the other inmates and when they all got out of prison, they re-united to become a powerful force to combat apartheid.
The circle songs and dances were wide and various in their tempos. During some dances, we laughed like giggling children. The song of another dance evoked the tenderness of a baby’s lullaby.
Later on that evening at the community Zikr dance, Murshida Leilah Be challenged us to fill in the blanks to the following, “to transform ______ into _______.”
I shouted out, to transform suffering into grace!”
It wasn’t long before others were vocalizing how they desired to transform:
anger into joy
regret into wisdom
guilt into self-love
betrayal into positive change
death into rebirth
and a hundred more shouts from other kindred spirits.
One kind elderly woman leaned over to me and whispered, what can I do to help you with your great suffering?” It was then that I realized that my fellow spiritual seekers were talking about their very personal transformations. I was not. I winked at my whispering friend and whispered oh so quietly back to her, “I was talking about transforming the great suffering of OTHERS, I’m not suffering.”
She nodded her head while grinning before kissing me on my forehead. Another dance began and there was no suffering to be had.
The last day of Sufi camp, Murshida Rabia, Queen of Sufi dharma, teaches us about the path of renunciation which is close to my heart.
“Bring beauty where you go. These teachings come from all over the world and is in every doctrine of every great avatar. This social behavior was to stabilize the community. Great Sufis seek to surrender to not what they need, but rather what is needed for them to do. Renunciation is not, oh my God, what is it that I have to sacrifice and let go of but instead, what is needed of me to do in this moment. Renounce the childish give me, give me, give me. As we know, many wealthy people suffer greatly from hoarding.”
Her next story illustrates her candid point.
A Franciscan Nun, an Iroquois turtle-clan Auntie (respected elder), once a year brought into her home all the local children and told them they could take one thing. One child wouldn’t take anything and when she asked him why, he replied, “I don’t want your house to be empty.”
The kind Auntie lovingly replied, “it isn’t empty, you are here.”
Per Murshida Rabia, this teaches us that we are precious jewels.
She continued with many thoughts such as, “don’t hang onto things…Move into selfless service….Bless and receive all things with gratitude….Everyone, and every circumstance of your life is your on-going teacher…A great moral philosophy is that everything in the universe will affect you.”
Following this verbal transmission was another important story about Master Hazrat Inayat Khan. This beloved Sufi Master, met a dervish in Delhi, India when he was a young boy. This Indian dervish greeted him as a Murshid (spiritual teacher). He felt special until he followed the dervish and watched him address everyone as Murshid. It was Master Hazrat Inayat Khan’s first teaching of renunciation.
Murshida Rabia’s eloquent teachings ended with, “if you go anywhere, leave it better than you found it, without expecting karmic gifts in return…Live the sacred practices until you breathe your last breath.”
Later on in the evening, we continued on with the theme of renunciation by having a community funeral.
It all started with a homemade casket box that we could hand-decorate for our loved ones that have departed. We could also write a note and put it in the simple box-like casket. We were told that when the container was full, all that love will be ceremoniously cremated and burned. I was strongly drawn to draw on the death box for my deceased brother, Shawn. I magic-marker painted a multi-colored heart with his name right on top of the community casket.
Bodhi Be, who is founder of the Doorway into Light, recognizing death as a sacred and spiritual journey, led us into a meditation allowing us all to grieve. Each person could speak of, and be heard, of their greatest fear or sorrow. Tears for the great suffering of our community was my natural response. The personal letter to place in the slot on top of the box casket was next.
I feel like you have already been reborn and a baby again. It feels to me like you hold this gentle pureness of one who was rebirthed into fortunate circumstances. I know that you know that I wish it be so.
May your happiness be my happiness.
May your new life be even better than the best you could have ever imaged.
May you always be in touch with great peace forever.
If we meet in the flesh again, may it be a reunion of great joy, love and happiness.
I believe it will all be so. So be it!
On the last day of Sufi camp, Murshida Rabia’s
teachings focused on universal worship.
It started with the darling little girl, Makela, painting a happy face on my belly.
Lighting the candles for many spiritual traditions was respectfully done to honor the various traditions of the Goddess, Hindu, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Huna, Jewish, Christian, Islam, the Sufi Path and the known or unknown philosophies where the light of truth was held up to dispel the darkness of ignorance and suffering.
On the last day we reviewed how to be in harmony using the symbols of:
1. the circle for unity.
2. the triangle for transformation.
3. the square for stabilization.
4. the rectangle for concentration.
Murshida Rabia spoke of the art of tai chi- how to get out of the way so that there is nothing to hit you. Always go to the simplest way- the mastery of breath.
The last night, many stayed up all night for the last hurrah. My hurrah was to lay in bed and listen gleefully to the goodbye parties happenings. Sleep may not be an option tonight.
The Great Master Hazrat Inayat Kahn is quoted, “the one who always looks out for the opportunity to do good is blessed amongst all people.”
It was time to take down Sufi camp with all hands on deck. It was a combination of being a relief, a rejoicing and a physical goodbye. Everywhere you look, all was being taken down and packed into moving vehicles, soon to depart. There was lots of tears from those still left at camp. I could feel the underlying fear of some going back to their lives that don’t have the perfection of love, harmony and beauty at home that permeated this sacred gathering. My heart goes out to them. Living alone for so long and living a hermit-like existence has gifted me with the power to easily flow back into solitude and quiet.
By night-fall, I am alone in the dorm. I can still see, hear and feel the echoes of the past week and all of its high-intense glory. It’s finally quiet and subdued enough to notice the night calls of the two animal guardians who have been on this spiritual path with us, the frogs and the geckos.