Best Friend

puppy
Irresistible, no?

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How Yusuf Islam (aka, Cat Stevens) Came to Islam

yusuf-islam
I just love personal testimonies from those I most love and respect.

Here’s a snip from the full piece:

I realized that everything belongs to God, that
slumber does not overtake Him. He created everything. At
this point I began to lose the pride in me, because
hereto I had thought the reason I was here was because of
my own greatness. But I realized that I did not create
myself, and the whole purpose of my being here was to
submit to the teaching that has been perfected by the
religion we know as Al-Islam. At this point I started
discovering my faith. I felt I was a Muslim. On reading
the Qur’an, I now realized that all the Prophets sent by
God brought the same message. Why then were the Jews and
Christians different? I know now how the Jews did not
accept Jesus as the Messiah and that they had changed His
Word. Even the Christians misunderstand God’s Word and
called Jesus the son of God. Everything made so much
sense. This is the beauty of the Qur’an; it asks you to
reflect and reason, and not to worship the sun or moon
but the One Who has created everything. The Qur’an asks
man to reflect upon the sun and moon and God’s creation
in general. Do you realize how different the sun is from
the moon? They are at varying distances from the earth,
yet appear the same size to us; at times one seems to
overlap the other.

Even when many of the astronauts go to space, they
see the insignificant size of the earth and vastness of
space. They become very religious, because they have seen
the Signs of Allah.

That feeling of coming Home after wandering lost… it comes through with great strength in Yusuf Islam’s story. Very sweet, very real, very kind.

Hmm… Wonder Who What That Is…?

star-trek

From National Geographic we learn:

Unknown “Structures” Tugging at Universe, Study Says

Something may be out there. Way out there.

On the outskirts of creation, unknown, unseen “structures” are tugging on our universe like cosmic magnets, a controversial new study says.

Everything in the known universe is said to be racing toward the massive clumps of matter at more than 2 million miles (3.2 million kilometers) an hour—a movement the researchers have dubbed dark flow.

The presence of the extra-universal matter suggests that our universe is part of something bigger—a multiverse—and that whatever is out there is very different from the universe we know, according to study leader Alexander Kashlinsky, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

The theory could rewrite the laws of physics. Current models say the known, or visible, universe—which extends as far as light could have traveled since the big bang—is essentially the same as the rest of space-time (the three dimensions of space plus time).

Okay, I now have goosebumps….

Dark flow was named in a nod to dark energy and dark matter—two other unexplained astrophysical phenomena.

The newfound flow cannot be explained by, and is not directly related to, the expansion of the universe, though the researchers believe the two types of movement are happening at the same time.

In an attempt to simplify the mind-bending concept, Kashlinsky says to picture yourself floating in the middle of a vast ocean. As far as the eye can see, the ocean is smooth and the same in every direction, just as most astronomers believe the universe is. You would think that beyond the horizon, therefore, nothing is different.

“But then you discover a faint but coherent flow in your ocean,” Kashlinsky said. “You would deduce that the entire cosmos is not exactly like what you can see within your own horizon.”

There must be an out-of-sight mountain river or ravine pushing or pulling the water. Or in the cosmological case, Kashlinsky speculates that “this motion is caused by structures well beyond the current cosmological horizon, which is more than 14 billion light-years away.”

You see, this is the kind of thing that pot heads have speculated upon for decades — while mystics, shamans and saints have known this stuff for thousands of years.

It’s nice to see the science community catching on.

This is the sort of “discovery” that contains potential for a true paradigm shift — if it doesn’t just fade from view.

As if it could fade from view….

Why Meditate?


This past weekend I led meditation and did astrology readings for a Rocky Mountain Contemplative Writers retreat up near Granby, Colorado. This was my fifth or sixth retreat with my friend (Best Man in our wedding, actually), David Hicks, who handles the “writers” portion of the program. David has been incorporating bodywork into the retreats, as well, bringing his favorite massage therapist up the hill for the first day.

The idea is, I “crack ’em” with meditation and readings, David “scrambles ’em” with individual writing consultations, group writing prompts, communal dinners (everyone has to provide one meal throughout the long weekend) and a concerted effort to establish lasting bonds between retreatants, who must ultimately use their writing as a sort of “poor man’s therapy” to deal with what inevitably comes up during the proceedings. We encourage retreatants to “write the most difficult thing,” so you can imagine the stories having to do with cancer or other physical ailments, sexual abuse, death and random acts of violence. What you may not imagine is the power that comes through this writing. A common feedback we receive is that retreatants never knew they had it it ’em, and that it is such a surprise to realize that “this is how real writing feels.”

After everyone arrives on Thursday evening, settles into their rooms and puts on their night clothes, it’s my job to lead the first meditation session. I have a standard speech stating that, when the idea first came up for us to do these retreats, we thought it would be great to combine a writing retreat with a Theravada meditation retreat model — i.e., establishing Noble Silence from beginning to end, meditating upwards of five or six hours a day, no food after noon… the whole bit. “I figured we’d attract a bunch of meditators who happen to write,” I tell them. “Instead, I’ve come to realize that we’re getting writers who are open to the idea of a little meditation, so long as it doesn’t get in the way of writing.” Laughter and nods all around.

That being the case, I encourage everyone to be as relaxed as possible. They can try sitting in some variation of the lotus position, like me, or they can sit in a chair or couch, they can lay down flat, they can stand, do walking meditation, shift whenever a pain sets in — whatever they need to do in order to keep from dreading meditation. I ask that everyone keep a notebook beside them to capture writing ideas, bits of dialogue or whatever else that may pop up from the silence and seems right for their current work. We’ve gone from lots of meditation to a bare minimum: one hour at seven a.m. (instead of my preference of five a.m.), with a half-hour bell for those who can’t do a full hour; a half-hour at four in the afternoon, and a half-hour before bed. I make myself available for anyone who may want to sit longer or more frequently (never happens, but since I do it on my own, I may as well open it up to everyone), or who have questions regarding the nuts-and-bolts of meditation, or the specifics of what comes up for them during silence.

Finally, I utilize some hypnotherapy induction techniques (progressive relaxation, visualizations and prompts using present-tense “-ing” language) to guide retreatants into their sits, so that they’re not left to battle those initial moments in isolation.

It occurs to me now, a week after the retreat, that I missed an opportunity to go into the question, Why meditate?

I mean, beyond the obvious reasons — relaxation, sitting in silence as a group — what does meditation bring to a writer’s retreat? How does sitting still, bringing focus to the breath and dealing with random thoughts, feelings and insights help the writer write better?

I could probably come up with many, many benefits from meditation for the writer, but one stands out above all others, as far as I’m concerned.

There is a cumulative effect that becomes established after a couple days during these retreats, even with the minimal amount of sitting that we offer. This accumulation has the quality of saturation, or even absorption, as though meditation continues into the time between formal sits. Focus and concentration undergo a subtle shift, so that one becomes focused and concentrated, rather than having to work for it. There is an emotional rawness that develops, as well, such that those “difficult things” we’ve been avoiding as writers bubble up to the surface, as if they’ve just been waiting for the right circumstances in order to express. There is something about sitting in a group according to a firm schedule, entering the silence together and maintaining that space, that deepens our experience of life and brings greater meaning to everything we do, whether it be cooking a meal, walking through the woods or sitting down to work on a story.

By Sunday (which comes too quickly, alas) the environment is rich with emotion and artistic passion, even as friendship bonds have established a level of trust and safety unmatched at your typical writer’s retreat. Meditative saturation has taken hold, and for some of the retreatants this constitutes a “religious experience” they’ve never known — and we hear promises of continued meditation practices all around.

I hope that they follow through. I hope that they consider what happens in a little three-day retreat, and that they extrapolate these effects out over several years of thrice-daily sits. What would happen in their writing lives if they came into such a depth of saturation?

I could tell them, of course, but it’s much better to find out for oneself.