My Moroccan Interfaith “Aha” Moment

By: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief 

Morocco, Hijab, Interfaith

At the beginning of this month I really knew nothing about modesty. As I wrote in my post about preparing for my trip to Morocco, I wasn’t all that sure about modesty and religion, or modesty’s relationship to hijabs and other coverings. I also had absolutely no idea how modesty might relate to my own spiritual journey.

However, since wearing a head covering in Morocco, since reading our own Nermine Mohamed’s post about hijabs, and since encountering The Hijab Project by the amazing Amara Majeed, I feel like I have a much better understanding of modesty.

My experiences in Tangier, Morocco were enlightening and important. I saw women and men  with their own version of modest clothing. Some women covered their heads, others didn’t. Some men, mainly students of the Koranic schools, covered their heads too. Some people wore traditional djellabas, others wore modern interpretations, still others wore jeans and t-shirts.

Although Morocco is a Muslim nation, there was a Spanish Catholic Mission in Tangier as well. When I saw several nuns walking in the Petit Soco in the center of Tangier, for the first time, I saw their habits as a form of hijab. Now this may seem like an obvious connection, but despite my years of interfaith work, I had seen head coverings as something primarily associated with the Muslim and Jewish faiths. This was for me a mix between an “aha” moment, and a startling realization of my own ignorance.

Although I had no judgement on head coverings prior to this moment, afterword I felt a deep spiritual connection with my head coverings. I felt suddenly perfectly at home with my head covered as a Christian in a Muslim country. I also saw the deep and abiding connection between what are referred to as the “Abrahamic religions” meaning Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Baha’i. These religions share a common bond, and to some extent a common practice of head covering.

For me this is why travel, and the sharing of spiritual journeys from around the world, is so important. No matter how different our spiritual journeys look from the outside, when we see people not religion, when we share experiences and not ideologies, we can find striking similarities, and fonts of wisdom we would have missed otherwise.

Advertisements

Modesty, Meaning, and Me

By: Jenni Taylor, Author in Chief

I would not say modesty is my strong point. In fact, I spent the better part of an afternoon creating non-modest memes of myself.

jenni

Then I sent said memes to friends so they could share in my wit and glory… modesty… about that…

I spent quite a bit of energy and time fighting against the idea of modesty while growing up. In a religious sense, modesty, specifically clothing modesty, was seen as a virtuous trait for women- and women only. My beautiful, confident, feminist warrior princess side of me had a difficult time with this message, and proceeded to throw the baby out with the bath water.

But then our writing intern, Nermine, wrote a beautiful piece including her definition of modesty, and it is the exact definition I’ve been looking for all these years. So here I am, aware of my faults, but slowly beginning to come around again.

So, modesty, it’s time you and I had a talk. I recognize that what some may see as confidence in me is sometimes insecurity (not all the time! But yes, okay, sometimes). I recognize my need for bluster and bravado, and that you, dear modesty, may be a better option. I’ve seen you before, you know. That quiet confidence, complete security in oneself. You and I have had some good moments but have never become fast friends.

Modesty, you are directly linked to security, and security is linked to self-love and acceptance. I know when my spirit is in its happy place, fully loved and accepted by the universe, you will come quietly and build your nest in my heart. I want to be a wise old woman someday, and I need you there with me.

So, here I am. Deflate my pufferfish-like ego, and help me to get back to the truth. And the truth is, I still look pretty good even when I am deflated.

Silence is Golden

We are excited to feature a guest post today from Abd Al-Rahman Wally, who is an Engineering student in Egypt. His post invites us all to see the wisdom we can gain by seeking silence in ourselves and our lives.

ما ندمت علي سكوتي يوما و لكن ندمت علي كلامي مرارآ

This is a very common saying here in Egypt, which apparently originated from Roman writer Publilius Syrus’s quote : “I often regret that I have spoken, but never that I have been silent”. Despite its popularity I honestly doubt that anybody actually uses it. Silence has been mistakenly understood as a sign of weakness or ignorance, but I think it’s quite the contrary. Silence has always been a sign of wisdom, and many ancient civilizations have praised silence.

No one, including me, can deny the mysterious aura that surrounds a silent person, but I could not find a trace of this kind of people in modern life, at least around me. I could only find them in novels and history books and when found them there, I was taken by them. I found that these people are often the most respectable and successful. These guys are the ones who come up with the greatest ideas, because silence gives them the time to process things correctly.

So I decided to become more silent. I decided to suspend my eagerness to react immediately towards different situations and instead to wait silently and have patience even in the simplest situations.

When I chose to be silent, I gave myself the opportunity to see life differently, to watch how people act and react with each other during different situations, to notice human interactions.

Now that I am more silent people treat me differently, and I struggle less during conversations. People now tend to ask me about my opinion and invite me to participate. Because after I listened, understood and processed, my opinions now make more sense and carry more weight. When I’m in a group and begin to talk, everybody just stops talking and listens to me, because I’m the silent one, everybody wants to hear from me.

I have also found that when I became silent I actually narrowed the area of mistakes in my communications. As a Muslim, Islam strongly emphasizes the importance of a word, and how people should weigh their words before spilling them. As prophet Mohammed says: “A word can mean the difference between heaven and hell”.

In addition to that, I really started to enjoy life more. In transportation, even with my friends, when I cut the chit-chat and listened to them talking, I discovered more and more about my friends, good things that made me understand them better and more deeply.

I can never forget the one day trip to Fayed, Ismailia. I asked all my friends to just stop chatting for 5 minutes, and just lie there on the grass. Feel the breeze and listen to the whispers of the air running to us across the Suez Canal. 5 minutes passed, another 5, and for 30 minutes we sat there smiling and relaxing.

If you are living in a big noisy city and have ever been to the wild, hiking, camping or whatever, the very first thing that you may have noticed is the silence, the beauteous silence. I find that silence in nature is always connected with beauty, peacefulness and serenity. It is that silence that I try to parallel in my daily life.

The Desire to Know Myself

We’re pleased to share a guest post from Sherif El Herraoui, who describes himself as a bipolar Orthopedic surgeon/Osteopath in training, and a Writer/Storyteller in a love/hate relationship with Cairo and everything else. In his post, Sherif shares with us his unwavering desire to discover himself and unearth those buried layers of the soul.

In early 2014, I was going through what I called an existential crisis, although some said it was merely a grounding problem. Regardless of terminologies, I felt completely lost and even got diagnosed with clinical depression. Instead of being medicated, I decided to start writing – after a four year hiatus – and joined a creative writing workshop. I thought being amongst other fellow writers who think alike would help me feel balanced and welcomed. And they truly have helped me beyond my imagination.

In one of our meetings, the discussion shifted to the realm of dreams: keeping a dream diary, receiving messages from the subconscious, and a whole lot of other dream-related issues that had never crossed my mind. I had never remembered my dreams or even realized it was possible for me. I knew some people who could, but thought it was just a gift I didn’t have. Nonetheless, I accepted the challenge of my fellow writers to write down and send over my first written dream by our next meeting.

I got a tiny notebook and a pencil to start a dream diary and laid them on my bedside table. With the help of Google, I found some articles about techniques to remember my dreams. I even got a white noise app and a before bed meditation app on my phone to help me set the mood and everything else I stumbled upon in my search. And by the end of the week, I remembered my first dream after waking up and wrote it down.

The whole process was a thrill to me during that difficult time of my life, so I just kept recording my dreams and substituted the little notebook with another app that shows me dream patterns after a while; patterns of dominant colors, recurring themes and emotions and people appearing in my dreams. Comparing my dream diary to my journal has led me to the discovery of a whole different dimension of myself I had not met before: my subconscious.

I enjoy getting to know my likes and dislikes, destroying the limiting beliefs one after the other, experiencing new aspects of life and accepting the challenges it offers. And it all started by the knowledge that there is more to me than I had already thought and an ongoing desire to observe and raise questions about myself and the world and learn more about it all even if I don’t reach definite answers. Nothing is finite.

This introduction to my subconscious ignited the desire inside of me to learn more about myself and embark on a self-discovery journey which has not yet reached its final destination and may never end, but  my journey has definitely  take me to some very interesting spots and I am enjoying the ride.

The Courage to Start Over

We’re pleased to share a guest post from Aya Nejim who is a young English teacher with zeal to feed young minds and her own passion for knowledge. Aya lives in both Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Cairo, Egypt and currently pursuing her Master’s degree. Aya shares with us how starting over is all about the courage to write and rewrite your own story as you see fit.

Many of us live our lives without asking or thinking about things that make them happy, until something catastrophic happens to derail that happiness. I mean something that blocks the everyday course of action, in which we are usually robots functioning without stopping for a second to think.

Sometimes it is a loss of a friend, or even someone we don’t know; the mere saddening theme of death or loss. The notion that you know something or someone is gone and will never come back. Other times it could be something more trivial like a farewell scene in an airport or train station. It is in such moments that we actually stop for a second and start to ponder, to engage in a profound contemplation about our lives and suddenly all our dreams float to the surface. Right there, we feel as if we are floating through million clashing thoughts just like waves in a roaring ocean.

Well, for me the wakeup call was a very harsh year in which I lost almost everything; my job, my belongings, my income, almost everything, even my dad I was on the verge of losing him. He suffered from a severe heart stroke; I was alone with him in the hospital, watching him suffer while life being sucked out of him. There were moments when he didn’t recognize me or know where we were. I saw my whole life shatter in front of me, while all I could do was stand there in the middle, watching it all fall apart. My dad was my whole life.

There was a time when his heart actually stopped and I had to stand outside and watch while the doctors revive him back. I will never forget that moment in my life, I never felt so vulnerable or weak before. I started to contemplate on what meant the most to me in life and why? My dad is recovered now, but I looked around me and examined the lives of those close to me and realized I didn’t like nor want any of their lives. That was the moment I realized that I deserve better.

I wanted to start over but I was afraid. I fear it because starting over requires change and I have come to realize that I fear change more than death because I don’t know what lies ahead and thus don’t know how to act. Now I know that as much as it is scary to start over, it is also liberating and fruitful. So, I am not going to be afraid anymore to start over. If I won’t be the writer of my own story, who will? I feel I owe it to myself to be happy, to try and explore myself, to look beyond all these years that passed and re-live my life again.

Some of us are fortunate enough to realize in their moments of contemplation that they are on the right track and actually pursuing their dreams or that they are happy and content with the lives they lead. However, for some of us, tragic moments make us ponder about the “why”, the “how” of our lives. They make us wonder “what happened” to all of our dreams and what makes us keep postponing our plans. For a moment, I thought, what if tomorrow was my last day? What would I do? I could not stop thinking and that’s when I overcame my fear and decided to be free, to be alive, to start over.

A Prayer For Awakenings

Dear Vibrant Voice of The Universe,

We want to be awake. We yearn for more than humdrum routines and superficial meaning. We want spirit-filling awakenings

We ask to be filled with deep love and awe-inspiring compassion. We ask that your voice wake us up to the beauty and mystery in our lives that we have overlooked. We ask that your voice show us the suffering people, the ravaged earth, and the wounded souls that we have overlooked as well.

We are seekers of wisdom and love. Please help us be awakened to the wisdom and love we already have, and help us stay on paths that leads to more. Help us stay awake to the needs and glory of ourselves and this world.

Amen.

Want to share your prayers, poems, or thoughts on awakenings? Share them below in the comments section!

Waking Up

A Good Morning in Thailand

I’m tired of being tired. Not just the physical tired, but the emotional tired that comes with stress, living in another country, work, a busy life, and a multitude of other problems clamoring for my attention at any given moment. I’m tired of rolling out of bed and mechanically getting ready to hit the grind. I want to live my life, not just survive it.

So this week I am waking up saying, this morning is for ME. I will fill my own bucket with sunshine, peace and purpose before I go out and start filling the buckets around me.

I stretch. I put my arms over my head and breath deep enough my belly looks like a balloon. I take a moment to remember how incredible having life is, and how beautiful it is to take one breath, and then another.

I dance, sing, hum, or spend a minute listening to the birds or Spanish ballads. I put at least a moment of music in me because there’s something about having a song in your heart that brings joy.

I read. Right now it’s one or two verses from Ecclesiastes, or a poem by Dylan Thomas, or a moment with something I already know from my Chinese book to give me a little extra confidence. Words bring life, and I choose to put those words on my tongue like nourishing honey.

I soak in the sunshine. If there is no sunshine, I look at the trees and remember that they too are waiting for the sun to come back, and they do so with patience and grace. I try to stand tall like they do, and hope I will be as wise as they are some day.

I eventually get to work, have my breakfast, and drink my coffee. I try to remember to keep all the things from the morning in me, and to take another deep breath when needed.

Habits are hard to form. There will still be days when the thought of getting out of bed is painful in itself, when life seems too stressful to face, when the thought of doing it all again brings dread. But if I can breathe in and sing my blessings even one more time this week than last, I know I’m learning to wake up right.

You Are Not What You Do

photo1

“Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes.” — C.G. Jung

By: Jenni Taylor

I’m what you call goal oriented. I aim for a solid A in my life- not an A plus, mind you (silly overachievers) but I try to be pretty darn good at whatever I’m doing. Sometimes it comes easy, like when I’ve just rocked a class with my skills and spread the knowledge, strutting out of the classroom with some designer shades and a cardigan like the badass I am. Sometimes it’s not so easy, the days when I sit down to write a sentence in Chinese with characters I have practiced thousands of times and then draw a complete blank, staring at an empty page and feeling utterly useless.

I fill my life with goals because I like to feel important. I like to feel acknowledged. I like to feel accomplished. But I remember those days when I was younger, trekking through the woods, the camp days where mirrors didn’t exist and my muscles were tenuous and strong and I touched the bark of trees thinking, I could go my whole life without a name, as long as I am here, as long as I am loved.

It’s becoming surprisingly hard to get back to those moments, those pure moments of childlike faith in unconditional love and the everlasting power of hugging a tree. Opening my heart to the world used to be easy. Now, it takes sincere practice, which is more of a failure than a success these days. I am constantly having to reawaken myself.

I was always told you are not what you do, but it’s a lesson I seem to have to learn over and over again. So here I am, ready to learn yet once again, to let go of the nonsense gripped so tightly in my fists and open myself again to being loved- just for me, little me looking out my window waiting for dreams to come.

I’m not what I do. Are you? Let’s live a life constant reawakening together.

On Being Awake

awake

By: Jenni Taylor

I want to be awake. Those neurons are firing in my brain, and I want to know the intricacy of each. I run and feel my heart pound and never want to forget how each beat is a gift. I breathe in that qi, that breath of life, that beautiful oxygen filling my belly and my back all the way down to my toes and I know my body is more amazing than I will ever be able to understand.

I want to feel amazed. I want to tell my students to draw pink trees or purple trees or green trees if they like but only if they want it to be green and not because they have to. I want to stop for that moment at night when I’m alone on the pavement looking at the sparkling city lights and feel that I am part of something so big and so beautiful and realize it’s not lonely at all, just quiet. It’s the quiet that comes before taking a leap of faith, and I wrap it around my heart like a promise.

I want to live bravely. I want to sing to the Chicago south side soulful church beat I grew up with, and stylize my oohs and ahhs with loud obnoxious ecstasy. I want to bravely learn to love myself on the days when all I see are flaws. I’d rather my heart be two sizes too big with enough room for tears instead of two sizes too small with no room for love.

I want to be wise. I want to embody Sophia, the wise woman, every day. I want to grow wrinkles that tell stories and laugh lines that show a life well lived. I want to ask the right questions, even if the right answers are hard to find.

I want so many things. It’s my time to get out of bed and live my life awake.

My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant, total amazement. -Meg Ryan as Patricia in Joe Versus the Volcano

Secular Spirituality: Is That a Thing?

Today’s post comes from Hailey Kaufman, who studies philosophy, biology, and religion at Webster University in St. Louis, MO.  Her post advocates for the possibility of  spiritual awakenings of atheistic communities, and she’s not talking conversion here folks! What Hailey offers us is a great deal of wisdom, and love, and intellect, on spirituality for everyone, regardless of their beliefs. You can find more of Hailey’s work on her Tumblr and her personal blog.

Coming from a community of a non-theistic persuasion, I notice a great deal of hostility toward the word “spiritual.” Most atheists with whom I spend my time never use this term, some making a strong attempt to avoid it. Even Tim Minchin, a fantastically intelligent musical comedian, whom I admire for his gift with words, has claimed he is not spiritual at all.

What bothers me is I can tell that he is. Look at his poem “Storm” in which he revels about the vastness and beauty of the corporeal world:

Isn’t this enough? Just this world? Just this beautiful, complex, wonderfully unfathomable, natural world? How does it so fail to hold our attention that we have to diminish it with the invention of cheap, manmade myths and monsters?…I am a tiny, insignificant, ignorant bit of carbon. I have one life, and it is short, and unimportant, but thanks to recent scientific advances, I get to live twice as long as my great, great, great, great uncleses and auntses. Twice as long to live this life of mine.

The last portion of “Storm” is a spirited piece of writing. Minchin obviously feels a deep connection with something larger than he is. Whether or not his worldview involves “spirits” certainly does not dilute that fact that he feels spirited about his existence.

I want to argue that the spiritual life is something every human deserves. It is a practice, a way of being, that should be pursued regardless of one’s belief in gods or the supernatural.

Writers and speakers like Pierre Hadot and Alain de Botton have argued the need for spiritual guidance and exercises even outside the realm of religion. Hadot writes that according to a  Stoic-Platonic view of therapy, the spiritual exercise can be one of an array of practices. Attention (presence in the current moment), meditation (putting information into context with the big picture), intellectual endeavors (reading, writing, listening, research), and self-improvement activities are all, according to Hadot, ways to embrace one’s own spirituality.

De Botton argues that an atheism that simply rejects supernatural claims and stops there is “too easy.” The rejection should be just the beginning on a path to a more fulfilling, spiritual life. He suggests ways the secular world can “steal” from religious traditions in order to make the secular world more welcoming to spirituality – that is, more welcoming to ideas and exercises that enliven us at our very core.

De Botton holds that secularism should not be synonymous with stolidity. I would go so far as to argue that a fulfilled secular life cannot be without its spiritual moments. Think of the feeling you get when you lie out on a moonless night and survey the Milky Way above you. Think of the last time you felt a sense of awe, a stirring feeling in your gut that you’ve just witnessed something deeply important. Mysterium tremendum: a profound terror of the large and mysterious; mysterium fascinosum: a profound fascination with the large and mysterious.

These are not emotions reserved for the religious, nor should they be, and perhaps we should encourage them more actively in the secular realm. As complexly thinking and feeling animals, we each need a way to become orientated to our inner and outer environments, and that is precisely what spirituality is. A pupil of Epicurus, quoted by Hadot, puts the sense of the spiritual potently:

The walls of the world open out, I see action going on throughout the whole world…Thereupon from all these things a sort of divine delight gets hold upon me and a shuddering, because nature thus by your power has been so manifestly laid open and unveiled in every part.