On Friday, a lesson hit home for me in secrets, but on Wednesday, the teaching began. The secrets kept being repeated by the shuyukh in different classes, even when they weren’t in contact with one another. But my first teacher was my husband…my knight in shining armor that rescued me on Wednesday. But let’s allow for a little fast forward into the future, as well as some flashback mode to tell the story…it’ll flow better ;).
Shaykh Yahya Rhodus said in his class on dawah, “The sunnah is to take the best from everything, like the bee, who picks and selects the pollen then synthesizes it to output something even better.” He also said, “There’s positive tension in diversity–you have people who incline towards strictness, some incline towards leniency–they are both a part of the sunnah. Diversity makes us stronger. Diversity is a mercy.
Five times a day we take a test in our prayer–a test in our hypocrisy, a test in priorities, a test in the meanings we say and repeat, but do we really mean them? Give yourself a break–no one can continually wrestle–you have to rest and enjoy some pleasures of the world in order to move on in the spiritual path. The most serious people, the most scrutinous are also the most easygoing and smiling–they have balance.”
Anse Tamara said as much on another day: “There is no zuhd (asceticism) if asceticism makes you bitter. Buying yourself a candle that makes you feel better is much better than buying a turkey dinner that you feel sorry and bitter about. That’s huzn. You have to find joy.” And that the best thing we can give is time.
The secret here is that I had a little breakdown on Wednesday after trying to do too much. I spent my entire Ramadan working for the retreat…my Eid…and everyday and night until Wednesday midday on this retreat. The most sleep I’d get in a night was usually four hours, if that. I was doing my original post of babysitting children, while also having to answer to millions of texts and walkie talkie messages about the schedules and locations of the shuyukh, as well as questions and complaints from attendees. I was getting a little too much input, and not enough output. It pushed me over the edge. And I cried like a baby with the babies.
Enter Prince Charming. Nah. The King of Charming. He didn’t even come on a horse, though there were plenty of those nearby since we were in the mountains. He came in a golf cart. And raced up the stairs to the dance studio where we held babysitting to embrace me and relieve me of my duties. MashAllah!
Yep, my husband came to my rescue. He came to give me joy. He kicked me out of babysitting because he could see it was killing me to attempt to do everything for people. He gave me a new assignment to do what I love…what I enJOY. Learning…and then writing about it. And it is because of him that you benefit here on this blog and the blogs of others. Otherwise, I’d have nothing to report except what a crazy robot-turned-cannon I had become.
Ah, Khidma. It’s a beautiful thing. Just as Humble Mom at Noor Jahan said–who was also a key member of our volunteer team at the retreat taking on more jobs that you can imagine–the more you give, the more you receive. Parents of the children started to babysit along with my wonderful team of babysitters. The wives of the shuyukh started to babysit and teach more in the youth programs…and their children weren’t even in babysitting…to give the entire original team of babysitters and teachers a break. My mom-in-law and eldest sister-in-law served in babysitting and totally revitalized it. My youngest sister-in-law took over the lead in babysitting and gave her all, and received confirmation of her intention to study to be a teacher. MashAllah, she shined like a star. I never saw her shine brighter than in that room when “1-2-3 all eyes were on her.” Four sisters took over caring for our one-year-old Safiyya when we were needed elsewhere–carrying her, watching her on the baby monitor during naptimes, and changing her diaper :). A note here: Safiyya doesn’t just let anyone hold her–she picked these four women herself! On the same note, out of her own will, Noora attached herself either to family or Umm Ruqayyah, Shaykh Jihad Brown’s wife, to enjoy the retreat more and let her parents work. A dear sister from our local community, Sr. Mary of the Nur Center, started making rounds of the girls’ cabins at the retreat site along with Humble Mom to make sure that everyone was safe and well taken care of, especially at night when I was well knocked out catching up on sleep from months past. My schedules hardly mattered anymore except for the shuyukh and the youth programs. Everyone picked up the pieces of the puzzle and made them fit, and everything ran smoothly. They mended the cloth that my husband and I originally wove and made it even stronger. These sisters I mentioned are just a few of so many beautiful people that did more than they were asked to do. There were brothers, too…driving, chauffeuring, teaching the youth, and taking over my role of being a computer zombie (though since they were a little more refreshed than I, they didn’t look like zombies). Everyone did a little more than they originally signed up to do. And in return, I got a little balance. A little diversity. A little mercy. A little joy.
That very day, when I was relieved of babysitting, my husband mandated that we sit in our first lecture together. We went to the teen program to see Anse Tamara’s discussion on the Fourth Dimension, the world of angels and jinn–and it was awesome! And being with the teens was a great relaxing foot to start on. My detail of Anse Tamara continued onto Thursday (which you will hear about during the next post inshAllah).
On Friday, I learned to meditate with nature with Shaykh Muhammad Mendes. I learned some of the Keys to the Garden. I learned to see each and every creature as an ayah (sign) from The Creator. I learned to let the trees, birds, bees, children, people, and even glasses of water be my teachers. I learned to keep my eyes open. And keep my ears tuned. To awaken my heart. And feel with all my being. I learned in meditation the beauty of silence and stillness, and that we all need silent reflection time for at least an hour as a wird everyday. Shaykh Muhammad said that learning to be in the company of others in silence is important because there will be a time in our existence when we will want to speak, but we can’t. The people we want to speak to won’t hear us because we’ll be in different dimensions, different stages of the cycle of life and death. (<–Boy, I wish he said that to everyone who entered my living space before the retreat when I was on zombie mode! Finishing my retreat work was definitely a matter of life or death in my mind…).
But back to living this retreat, I, alongside other retreat participants, looked at creation with the intention to know Allah. I learned to meditate on the wonder of myself and my own soul, for what creation do I know better than myself? I learned to think of myself as sand…and that one day I will return to being the tiniest particle I can see with my naked eye. I learned that everything in creation reflects the shahada–but we must question ourselves in our own reflections of the kalimah. The real objective is to embody tawhid and reflect tawhid–to experience oneness and integrate and marry the spirit and soul, the ruh and the nafs. Shaykh Muhammad Mendes then told us the story of our true essence. Our first reality is as a spirit, that’s how we all were created, but when we descended to earth, we mixed with other elements that colored and attached us more heavily to the earth. We become more dense and opaque based on our environments. But our spirits, who I am really am and who you really are, never changes…even when our personalities do from time to time. And one of the paths to oneness is to obliterate the soul/nafs/identity/personality/ego–who we think we are, but really aren’t. He then quoted Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller who said, “We are all writing a novel in which we are the superhero. The idea is to take ourselves out of the picture.” Become transparent…like that glass of water…what a beautiful teacher.
I also learned the answer to one of my questions…if I was crazy or not. This year has been pretty strange for me…in fact, I’d call it my strangest. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t written in a while. I just didn’t know what to say…what to share. I’ve dreamed of things, heard things, and seen things I thought I’d never see. I’ve foretold things and known things as they were happening, without reason to know except that Allah willed it. I learned what stage my soul is in inshAllah from Shaykh Muhammad’s class–a place where the soul is inspired, but also tested on how it acts based on the knowledge given. It’s a place where many can fall off and become hypocrites. May Allah protect us all from that! Amin! But no worries, a few days after the retreat, I was able to speak to Shaykh Muhammad and get a prescription for my disorder…or maybe order. It’s the order that Allah gave me to be in this state. And I am thankful and waiting for my shaykh-murabbi to lead me to the next state, but in case that person doesn’t happen to show up anytime soon, there are plenty other shaykh-murabbis I can follow until then. There’s salawat. And there’s the trees. And the grass. And the bees. And the pollen. And my children, my sweet sweet children. And my husband. And my mothers. And my sisters. And my brothers. And then there’s that glass of water. And the real me under all of this personality that reflects The Truth…that we are all receiving direction from Al Hadi, The Guide, Our Rabb, Our Educator. Alhamdulillah. “Whoever recognizes his soul, recognizes his Divine Nurturer.”
On a similar note, in a women’s Q&A session with the male shuyukh on another day, we learned that women must be proactive and not wait for male shuyukh to act on our behalf. We must make our own institutions like the women’s only masjids in China or Nana Asma’u’s jaji yan-taru, a collective sisterhood of female teachers who traveled to teach other women in their own homes. But I must say, we kind of have the beginning of a modern example of those beautiful ancient female-centered structures that have survived to this day in Anse Tamara’s online Ribaat program, a four level academic online program that aims to provide Islamic education to Muslim women by Muslim women. We were told many times that women not only need to be empowered, but given agency. We were told to bring joy to people, to make things easy for people. To extend our hands to people, unless we fear harm or oppression. You can only reach and help out to the extend that you are firm and not harmed.
And being able to give you these notes is a part of the agency I was given at the retreat by so many who were concerned for the rights of my body and soul. SubhanAllah! And being able to enJOY the retreat and rest was the way I was able to not be harmed.
Then along came Saturday. I began it by playing a game of tug of war with children alongside many volunteers and some of the wives of the shuyukh, my husband, and Shaykh Yahya Rhodus. Then I took it upon myself to do something I’ve never done before to give myself more joy. I went ziplining. I climbed up a wooden rock climbing wall…and I could never do that before. And then I just jumped. And swung. And screamed my heart out.
And I felt better. I also walked around on the grass with naked feet. I felt that I lost my mind–first, I follow the Shafi’i madhab. My feet are ALWAYS covered. Second, I’m allergic to grass. I usually break out in rashes and hives when my skin is exposed to it for too long. But I decided to take a leap of faith as I’ve been learning to do this year. And walking in that cool grass in silence, I felt that I was becoming transparent…that I was shimmering…that maybe I could become invisible and just melt. I honestly felt that some of the dense nature of the dunya was falling off. I wish there was more grass around my hometown–I’ve actually walked around DC’s concrete jungle barefoot. It doesn’t feel the same. Your feet end up black at the end of the day.
Shaykh Muhammad quoted a proverb: “A person who always walks on the earth in shoes, will think the earth feels like leather.” He then added that in the Maliki school, it is recommended to pray on earth rather than a prayer rug or carpet. I’ll add, it is the same in the Shiite school.
On Sunday, I let Umm Fatima, Shaykh Yahya Rhodus’ wife, scan my hand through acupressure points. I told her how hormonally imbalanced I felt, and how stressed the retreat was making me. The scanner told the same. I had the highest number of all the retreat’s attendees, even higher than my husband. And I was given essential oils to smell and rub on myself, and I do feel calmer, though I think I need a dose of mawlid-ing as well. Shaykh Muhammad said in a class, “Everything you need to get high is in the mawlid–all the dopamine is already in you; you don’t need to get high by smoking, sniffing, shooting things.” That was a comment on our society–I’m pretty sure that Shaykh Muhammad wasn’t referencing aromatherapy in that quote, but I must note here that I wasn’t able to make the mawlid out of pure exhaustion that weekend, maybe I enJOYed myself too much ;P and I was still sneaking in work here and there, too).
So Shaykh Muhammad and folks at home, I am sniffing the oils, but I know they aren’t a replacement for the mawlid. They are just going to try to help me be stress-free in order to get there inshAllah….and yes, I’m most necessarily addicted. When the girls have a tantrum, I just have a sniff of DoTerra’s Solace and Elevation, and I feel much better about the whole kicking on the floor dance being done right before me. I might just need to tape these to my nose as tantrums have become quite a frequent occurrence since we’ve left the retreat. I think about throwing my own tantrums from time to time as well from pure nostalgia…
BUT FLASHING BACK!
Those who were at the retreat frequently heard me begging and bribing to drive a golf cart around the retreat site (Note here: I DO NOT have a driver’s license…AND IT IS FOR A GOOD REASON). My longing to drive was becoming near tantrum status. But on the last day, Monday, when everyone left, my husband let me have the keys to the golf cart that I desperately wanted all week to drive. And I got to have my joy ride throughout the retreat site. And I didn’t crash into one thing.
I went to the retreat hesitantly…fearful that I couldn’t carry the weight, and came back yearning and nostalgic…wanting to do more khidma, but of course relieved that my duty had been relieved. We took a five hour ride from our home answering texts and phone calls of fear and questions from the attendees the whole ride through. We left the retreat answering texts and phone calls of gratitude and a job well done. SubhanAllah! And my eldest sister-in-law has determined her volunteer position for next year. She has given herself a title: Assistant to the Assistant to the Retreat Director. 🙂 Want a cup of khidma, anyone?