SUFI SEMINAR IN THE DR - 2004
A RICH BLENDING OF TRADITIONS
By Bob Gerber
The May 2004 seminar in the Dominican Republic was a rich blending of the Gurdjieff/Bennett and Mevlevi traditions. The day began at 6:00a or 7:00a with the first Zikr practice of the day. This started with warming up by walking around stretching and then developed into vocalized zikrs with movements and turning.
In the second hour of the day there was a Bennett style “quiet work” morning exercise lead by José. After that came breakfast. At the end of the meal period José and I introduced the Theme for the day and the practice to be done at the half-hourly stops. After breakfast there were usually two movements classes each for half of the group while the other half took care of clean up, lunch preparation and other practical work. This was followed by the second zikr class which was usually comments, discussion and sobet. Jalaluddin saw that this was the most appropriate thing to have a break from the physical activity that filled so much of the rest of the day. This was followed by an extended lunch period.
After Lunch José and I listened to observations and questions and provide answers and discourse on the related topics. In this period many ideas from the Gurdjieff tradition were shared. This was followed by another movements class for everyone. Then there was a tea time although in the DR that is primarily a coffee break. After that the schedule was open for people to take care of their own tasks and clean up in time for the formal evening Zikr at 7:00p. The evening Zikr lasted an hour to an hour and a half and was followed by dinner. Clean up after dinner was the last official part of the schedule.
In the foundation of the seminar were the themes and the actions of opening the heart, relaxing the body and work on oneself. Another defining element was the juxtaposition of working with the language of gesture in the movements and the Zikrs.
Work with the movements is an aspiration toward precision in complicated sequences of gestures. When this is achieved the movements and their meaning are able to enter the participants. The gestures that Jalaluddin shared in the Zikr immediately evoke and express rich feeling through their appropriateness, sincerity and simplicity. Working intensively with the two practices was like moving from two ends of a spectrum toward a common middle. This created a rich field of experience which was a unique opportunity to experience and learn about the language of gesture.
The addition of themes and observation work to the movements and Zikr rounded out a context that enabled and encouraged conscious work. Which is to say work that is shared and balanced between the head, the heart and the body.
Zikr began with “Astaghfirullah” and a significant portion of the whole time was spent repeating that invocation to polishing our hearts. In The Meaning of Astaghfirullah and Using it to Get Closer to Allah, Ibrahim Hakim says:
I understand the phrase to be about God’s mercy cleaning us inwardly in the same way that ablutions are used to cleanse us outwardly.
One of the most impressive elements of the experience was the example provided by Jalaluddin and José in how they worked together and how they related to the participants. José had organized the event and Jalaluddin is inherently the Sheikh. Both of them have decades of experience, but neither of them saw themselves as special. There were no attitudes or issues of self-importance, status or control. This was true between the two of them and also between them and the participants. And, when I worked with them on the themes and observations, it was the same between the three of us. This was one of the most powerful teachings in the event. It set a very important example for those who attended and was a palpable demonstration of the humility appropriate to position we all have as aspirants to spiritual meaning.
There are others out there who are smarter, more charismatic, full of good advice and impressive presentations but they all too often come with a chip on their shoulder. They need special treatment and they require that their “uniqueness” be recognized. As teachers this often undermines the good that they bring. This event was free of that in a way that made it open for grace and help.