a community of lovers
A few years ago I came across a song by a band from Vermont named Phish. The song was titled “The Moma Dance”. The chorus is a simple repetition of the title “The moma dance, the moma dance, the moma dance …” After listening to it for about fifteen seconds, the words magically transformed in my hearing to “The moment ends, the moment ends, the moment ends …”
I’m sure this was intentional on the part of the band and I was quite struck by the creative ingenuity of the musicians. Indeed, each moment ends in a way that’s like a beautiful dance to make room for the next moment.
In Sufism, the moment is particularly important. Mevlana said that “A dervish is a child of the moment.” If you need a definition of dervish, there it is, plain and simple. However, this is another one of those Sufi sayings that is really a hidden exercise or practice. So what am I supposed to make of this and how do I go about assimilating it into my being? The task seems worth exploring.
As with all work with intention, the preparatory steps are about formulating the intention clearly. Taking a few seconds for these steps helps to keep the attention focused in a more meaningful way.
What do I want to do or experience? In this case, it’s simple. I want to experience what it feels like to be a dervish, or more specifically, “a child of the moment”.
It helps to have either a time set aside, and/or a meaningful duration for any exercise. There’s no point in saying I will do something every moment of every day because the comings and goings of attention alone will ensure that “I” am not there for every moment. A more realistic approach for myself is to set a trigger or reminders. In this case, I will try to experience what it’s like to be a “child of the moment” every time I need to turn a light switch on or off. Having done similar exercises in the past, I also know that there will be times when I just flip the switch automatically and won’t remember my intention. I also know that there will be times when I realize that I forgot. I will also use those times when I realize that I forgot as a trigger.
How am I supposed to go about having this experience? The thing that comes to mind is to dissect the phrase “child of the moment”. It has two components and a relationship. The components are the child and the moment. The relationship is “child of” indicating that the moment is the parent.
I’m not exactly sure what age this child is supposed to be, but fortunately, Jesus (peace and blessings upon him) comes to the rescue. He said “Unless ye be born again ye will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” It sounds like he’s talking about the same thing as Mevlana. So newborn it is. The traits of a newborn can be summarized like this:
The moment, for a functional and practical understanding, is the shortest period of time that I can be aware of. It’s whatever I call “Now”. In conjunction with this, I remembered something very important that a teacher of mine had once conveyed to me. It was that the body lives very much in the moment. A useful way to enter the moment is to become aware of some part of the body, for example the sensation in a hand or foot, the posture, or simply the breath itself. I chose the breath for this exercise.
The relationship, “child of the moment”, makes the moment the parent. The moment is the nourisher, the guardian and the teacher. It also implies, for the child, a certain willingness to listen and respond to whatever the moment brings.
So with all this clarified for myself, I can now summarize that my intention is to experience what it means or feels like to be a child of the moment, whenever I remember or whenever I turn on a light switch, by becoming aware of the breath, then allowing myself to be as close to a newborn child as I can be, while allowing “Now” to nurture, protect and direct me.
Events of the day: The squirrels
My first experience with my intention came as I was formulating the intention. I was outside, still experimenting with fine-tuning and clarifying. I observed my breath and tried to get into “Now”. As I did so I became aware that the moment brings two kinds of components, inner and outer. Inwardly I was able to observe the train of thought that was going through my mind, but what caught my attention was the presence of two squirrels. Being mid-autumn, they were foraging for food. Occasionally in the past I had thrown them a few peanuts. I guess they remembered because they came within a few yards and sat on their haunches with their forepaws held up, looking at me intently. I also observed that I felt concerned for them. Although winters in Canada can get very harsh I did not want to feed them. The reason was entirely selfish. They have an annoying habit, like many animals, of urinating to mark their territory. Back when I was feeding them, they repaid me by peeing on the steps leading up to the house. Still aware of my breath and in the moment, I saw this reaction in myself. It made me realize the importance of the difference between “in the moment” and “of the moment”. If I had to let go of the past, then surely I had to let go of my experience of it as well. When I managed to let go of my memories of cleaning squirrel pee, the moment was asking me to act on the concern that I felt. I went inside and got the bag of peanuts. It took no longer than 20 seconds, but when I returned outside both squirrels were gone, without a sign. I chuckled inwardly because I couldn’t help but wonder if they had been “sent” somehow, to help me clarify an article that I was writing for fellow dervishes. I wondered if angels can come in the shape of bushy tailed rodents too.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses
The second experience came just as I sat down to write this article. There was a ring at the doorbell and two more beings appeared. This time it wasn’t squirrels. It was two ladies from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. To explain my past relationship with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I will take an aside and relate a piece that I heard on a comedy album many years ago.
As the New World was being explored, a group of European explorers encountered a native. One of the explorers stopped his horse and held up something in his hand. He asked the native, “Hey Injun, do you know what this is?” The native respectfully replied “Yes, sir. It’s a cross, a symbol of the quartering of the universe into active and passive principles.” The explorer proclaimed “No, you heathen. It’s gold.”
Like I said, that pretty much sums up my past relationship with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was always unable to find a common ground to communicate on. Anyhow, enough of that. God leads each of us according to his will. It would be foolish to think that I know better.
Back to the experience with the ladies, this time I started the exercise because I remembered. I suspect it was because I was in the presence of someone who arrived in God’s name, so admittedly I need to say a silent thank you to them. I invited them in and we began our conversation.
I kept observing my breath, trying to experience the moment, and trying my best to let go of all my past associations and experiences with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They asked all the usual questions — do I think that God approves of war, do I know that only 144,000 people will enter heaven, and so on.
What struck me as strangely coincidental with my exercise is that they were absolutely convinced that we were living in the “end-time” as they called it. Here I was, just trying to grab onto a single moment, watching moment after moment end, while they were talking about the same thing, but different. It left me in quite a surreal state in which I wondered if the apocalyptic notion of end-time was somehow an ongoing process. The moment ends.
More importantly though, I noticed that I was more or less able to let go of my past associations and in doing so, I no longer saw two Jehovah’s witnesses standing in front of me. They transformed into two middle aged ladies, very much afraid of the future, trying their best to do God’s work but imprisoned in a rigid literal understanding that was likely not even their own doing. I so much wanted to help them, to let them know that God is compassionate and merciful, but there was no opening that they presented through which I could enter. I felt sad when they left and angry at those who would put two ladies into such a state.
The most significant experience I had during the day came all on its own. I remembered that I wanted to carry out my intention, and began to do so. Just as I was becoming aware of the moment and the thoughts and feelings that were passing through me, I received a phone call from my mother. Often when she calls, I feel that I’m being imposed upon, but this time I found myself in a more open state as a result of my intention.
She mentioned that she had bought some blouses that she wanted to return. She uses a walker and to make a long story short, doesn’t fit into the change rooms at the clothing store. That, coupled with the fact that she has arthritis quite badly, means that her shopping strategy is to pick out what she wants, buy it, take it home and try it on, and return it if the fit is poor. It works because the town we live in is small and the staff in all the women’s clothing stores already know that this is how she shops. They have told her that they are quite okay with it. For me though, it usually means at least two and a half to three hours composed of driving, waiting in front of women’s clothing stores and getting her back home only to know that the process will likely repeat in the next day or two. The repetition is the result of her being in a retirement home, where they have fed her a balanced nutritious diet that over the last year has caused her to lose about 40 pounds. She is her appropriate weight now. However her entire wardrobe is obsolete and needs to be changed.
Fortunately for me, at this point of the day I noticed that the exercise was having an effect that was somewhat lasting. Even when I forgot the exercise, the state that I experienced persisted for quite some time into the future. I had also condensed observing my breath, letting go of the past, ignoring the voice in my head and being attentive to the moment into just “Being there in readiness”. This time when my mother called, that was the state I was in, and I was able to actually hear what she was saying.
My mother asked the usual question — can I take her to exchange her clothes — very apologetically because she knew I had been struggling with her demands. This time however I noticed the apology and felt sad that I had brought her to this state where she felt the need to apologize to me. The same anger that I had felt towards the leaders of the Jehovah’s Witness ladies was now directed at myself. As I was observing my breath and being attentive to the needs of the moment, I no longer saw my mother as “Mother”, but as an elderly lady with significant mobility issues who simply wanted to spend the last few years of her life dressed well, with grace and dignity. To do so, she needed help from her son.
Since part of my intention was to let go of the past, I found that I had to let go of my prior relationship with Mom and well as my judgement of myself that resulted from my prior experiences. The moment was new and functionally speaking, I had no past.
I found myself being very attentive, so much so that I actually noticed it. I agreed that it would be good to exchange clothes that didn’t fit properly or that were uncomfortable. So shopping we went. During our excursion the exercise had now developed a momentum of its own. I felt no resentment sitting in front of the clothing stores in the mall. It was no longer a time-waster, but something that needed to be done because the moment asked for it. I also noticed that the change in me caused a change in my mother. She did get some different clothes, but this time she surprisingly went into the change room and tried them on. As I was accommodating her needs, I saw that she was doing her best to accommodate mine. All in all the trip still lasted the average duration but the weight that I normally experienced afterwards was gone. I took her home and when I left for my own place, I knew within myself that something profound had happened. I believe I “met” Mevlana. After all, it was his exercise.
I write about these experiences because I hope that they help. However I must caution that they are meant to be tried for yourself. It does no good to hear someone else’s account if you can’t verify its accuracy for yourself. My friend Kabir once told me about a teacher named Kentucky Bob, who had condensed spirituality down to “Decide what you want to do and do it in an uplifting and cheerful manner”. Kabir himself has often counseled to “Radiate positive thought and blessing”.
These are profoundly wise suggestions that can be done by anyone. I have elaborated on them by going through the process and then jotting it down, but it is important to understand that it’s necessary to go through the process for yourself.
That being said, I must remark that I think today’s exercise was one of the most significant I’ve ever done. I’ve tried variations of it in the past, but today it all clicked, from the squirrel-angels to the composition of this article. Everything flowed smoothly. The only difference today was that I had to be very clear about the intention since I had to write about it. That is clearly, an important step, and I wish to thank those of you who have read this for helping me in my work. Insha’Allah we will meet in person someday and share a sohbet where we can both enjoy each other’s company and learn from each other’s experiences.
And as those two accomplished American philosophers, Bill S. Preston Esquire and Ted “Theodore” Logan said, “Be excellent to each other … and … Party on Dudes.” (from the movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure).