As I evolve, truth evolves. As truth evolves, I evolve.
Many years ago when I was Muslim I spent my days praying at least five times a day. While the daily prayer requirement was five I often felt inspired to do more. I loved waking up early before early morning prayer (fajr). Sometimes that meant I was up between 3 and 4 am depending on the time of the year. I would do extra prayers before the formal prayer time. I’d stay longer to do extra prayers after my prayers were complete. The cycles of standing and bowing, placing my forehead on the floor was both meditative and soothing. While many outside of my faith were confused or even disgusted by the idea of putting one’s forehead on the ground, there was an intimacy that was created with the connection of forehead and Earth that is unexplainable. I cherished these moments of turning within.
One summer while on retreat with one of my favorite teachers in the woods of Upstate New York I found myself constantly wanting to simply sit in silence after formal prayer was over. I longed to connect with the Divine and simply that. I remember one afternoon sitting in the room of the retreat center where we prayed. As I sat on the floor kneeling following my mid-day prayers I paused for what felt like eons in silence. Suddenly an image of light came into my mind and surrounded my entire being. I never wanted to leave this light as it warmed my body. At the same time, sun started shining through the window in the corner of the room, a yellow glow piercing through the trees, warming my face. I longed for this silent suspension of eternity in this single moment. It like what I had been seeking all along.
Sometime that same summer I got my hands on a book full of stories of female mystics in Islam. I remember gleefully opening the Amazon package when it came in the mail. I was hungry for feminine examples of the longing that was deep inside of me. I was particularly interested in one woman who was considered a saint by many, Rabiyya al-Adawiyya. She is considered by many to be the Rumi before Rumi AND she was a woman. I gotta be honest, she is pretty bad ass. There are magical stories of lanterns hovering above her to give her light in the dark as she prayed. And there was a fierceness to her devotion that I’ve yet to see replicated. Talk about some serious poweress. Her poetry was moving and one poem stuck with me: “If I Adore You”
If I adore You out of fear of Hell,
Burn me in Hell!
If I adore you out of desire for Paradise,
Lock me out of Paradise.
But if I adore you for Yourself alone,
Do not deny to me Your eternal beauty.
When I read these words something inside of me clicked. Was I doing my prayers for fear of Hell, or desire of Paradise? Or was I truly seeking Unity?
This was an interesting series of questions because over time I had developed an unsettling feeling in my formal prayers. I kept wishing the end would come sooner so I could sit in silence. I felt a desire to stop asking the Divine for anything and to simply bask in the presence. I deeply wanted to listen rather than tell.
Fast forward a couple months when I’m introduced to meditation. During a class with one of my favorite Muslim scholars he floated one side suggestion that remained a cloud floating around in my mind for days. “If you want to master your mind, you have to find a Buddhist meditation teacher.” He shared about his experience meditating in caves with monks. I was curious. Having zero connection to the Buddhist community or any idea what Buddhism taught, I reached out to a friend who I knew might have answers. As it turns out her favorite meditation teacher was coming to DC to give a workshop so I rearranged my schedule to go.
This meeting and moment warrants an entirely different post, but what I can say is this, I started meditating...religiously. Meditation was changing me, mainly because I had the epiphany that I was doing meditation all along after my daily prayers. As the desire to meditate grew and the desire to do formal prayers waned I started feeling extremely conflicted. I had a strong sense that I was meant to leave my formal prayers and focus on meditation, but this seemed wrong. Everything I had been taught until that time was that the daily prayers I completed were required. Non-negotiable. As I felt the weight of blasphemous judgement and religious doctrine there too was a quiet sense of clarity that was inviting me in a new direction. I faced a fork in the road. Would I trust my entirely independent feeling and experience or the knowledge and practice shared by millions of people over thousands of years? It felt like David and Goliath.
What I Knew was that my meditation experiences were providing me with profound, unspeakable, moments. I felt closer to the Divine than I ever had felt before. I felt a profound sense of clarity about my life, my purpose, and my path. And yet, ancient truth repeated through timeless mouths lingered.
Our Truths only exist in the present. Never guided by fear, the quiet voice of Truth beckons us to a new invitation as the nature of Its face is constantly changing and evolving just like we are.
I have had fateful meetings with Truth emerging brand new countless times on my path. The day I let go of my formal prayers. The day I started wearing my hijab. The day I stopped wearing my hijab. The day I started practicing yoga. The day I stopped practicing headstand. The day I started practicing energy healing. The day I stopped pursuing a career in international development. The day I got married. The day I got divorced.
Honoring our unique Truth is one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences of life. Despite discomfort created by the haze of old truths hanging on, societal and cultural pressures, or other people’s ideas, we are asked to follow our clarity all of the time. This exists beyond rules, statements, and frameworks.
These days I’m dedicated to following what feels true to me all the time. This is not always an easy practice. Even just today I sent a heartfelt message to someone that was calling out in my bones to be said and after pushing send I felt doubt try to creep in. I’m committed to staying connected to a place of openness/nothingness/emptiness. What this means for me is that I am ready to empty the treasure chest of my beliefs when the Universe invites me into something new to be True.
If I experience discomfort from a truth emerging, I ask whether it is because a new truth is in fact emerging or because it does not ring true to me? I also ask myself to honor my experience over others ideologies. Even when they are made with the most beauty and love. I can only follow what feels absolutely true to me. And any Truth I acknowledge for myself I know is never born from fear.
Truth is constantly becoming me. The question is, am I allowing it? Am I living in it by being willing to put my very own truths that I’ve collected over time on the line for new Truth invitations into my evolution?
For this week’s Joy Tip I want to invite you to explore where the friction of Truth is in your life.
Consider, the following questions:
Where is truth emerging that you are fighting?
What new clarity is coming through that your mind is denying?
What familial, peer, societal pressures are holding you in conflict with the evolution of your soul you are invited to dance in?
What expansion are you ready for?
You could journal them, chat about them over a cup of tea with a friend, meditate, draw. Let your spontaneous reflection guide you simply with the curiosity to uncover what's there.
Let’s be clear about something. If someone follows formal prayers and believes that to be true to them, than that...is their Truth. The problem becomes when we follow something that is no longer our unique Truth. This is when we block ourselves from thriving. From evolving into becoming who the Universe is inviting us to be. From expanding into a more whole version of ourselves. Knowing this means that we must be comfortable with the experience that everyone’s truths will likely be different for each other. There is a reason for this as each of these unique truths are uniquely meant to guide that person on their personal path.
In the end it reminds me of the Buddhist parable of the man with the raft. To cross a raging river he built a raft out of different materials. Upon making it to the other side he thought that the raft had served him well and strapped it on his back to carry on land. While sharing this parable with a group of monks the Buddha asked what the monks thought of the man’s decision. They replied that it wouldn’t be sensible. Then the Buddha asked what the monks thought if the man left the raft on the side of the shore having seen that the raft served him and is no longer of use. The monks agreed this was a proper attitude. Then the Buddha concluded: “So it is with my teachings, which are like a raft, and are for crossing over with — not for seizing hold of.”
What raft are you carrying now that you’re ashore? When will you put it down?
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