Tag Archives: Muslim

What We Don’t Know

I am currently studying Islam and the Quran through an online course with Harvard University because I was aware of my ignorance when it came to the religion and belief system that over a billion people ascribe to today. I suspected that what I had been exposed to through media and the opinions of others wasn’t entirely accurate or fact-based, and as someone who believes that all talk of God should be talk of peace, I wanted to investigate.

It turns out I was right. Islam, from my very little time exposed to it, seems to be about compassion and mercy. Aligned with the Judeo-Christian history of revelations compiled into book form, Islam is also very aligned with the Yoga teachings which ask us to place God above all else. Not what CNN would have us believe, apparently.

The first question we were asked in this course is how do we know what we know about Islam and Muslims? A seemingly innocuous question, at least until I really started thinking about it. Which led to asking myself how I know most of what I think I know.

We talk shit a lot of the time. We babble on about topics that we are not properly informed about, and yet we keep on talking.

This week’s classes will bring all of this together by asking students the following questions:

How do you know what you know? About what’s right for you? About what’s right for others? About what’s right and wrong? About what you’re meant to be doing with your time? About how you’re meant to love? About who you’re meant to love? About how you receive love? About money? About sex? About rest? About stress? About health issues?

What is your source of information? Is it Google? Is it your parents or guardians who brought you up? Is it the media? Is it what you overheard from others? Is it through the news wire? And is it viable? Is it a source that speaks from fact or from assumption? Is it based in truth or in fear?

Now let’s look at what you know even though you don’t know how you know it. About the difference between right and wrong. About how to treat others, regardless of their skin color or the language they speak or the god they pray to or who they feel compelled to love. About what your life is meant to represent. About what the lives of others are meant to represent.

1) Know that ideology, on any subject, is dangerous without applying that ideology face to face with the people it involves. One can have a million opinions, but those opinions can also be transformed in a second by seeing the faces and walking in the shoes of those they involve.

2) Trust that if it makes you uncomfortable or invokes fear, you need to know more about it. That sensation or emotion of fear is a messenger begging you to look a little deeper. If we all made the effort to dig a little deeper we would find commonality. Every time.

3) If you’re gonna talk, speak fact. Opinion is already saturating our culture. Opinion is killing us. From the mind-numbing chatter of all the talking heads employed by news media conglomerates to endlessly babble stupidity into our personal spaces to the cowards who sit behind the safety of their black mirrors, puffed-up with their false sense of self-importance, spewing hate and judgement through social media on 140 characters or less. Opinion is harming us. What you put out into the world, whether it be through your word (spoken or written) or your actions, has the potential to heal or to harm. Unfortunately, the default when mindlessness is part of the equation, is harm. We harm easier than we heal. Changing that vibration into one of healing can only happen by speaking fact, not emotionally charged opinion. More importantly, we must be able to say, “I don’t know” when we really don’t have enough information to responsibly contribute to the narrative. Even more importantly? Know when not to speak. Silence, in the proper contexts, is golden. It’s grace, it’s power, it’s action disguised as inaction.

We have got to start taking more responsibility for what we project into the world. If it feeds hate, judgement, separation or fear, then we have to acknowledge that and do the work that is ours to do, a teaching that is rooted in the Bhagavad Gita. If it feeds healing and love, then we are living in alignment with why we are here and what we are meant to do with our time.

We are not here to judge or hate or blame or fear. And why does it take disasters that shake us to the core to wake up to that realization? Because we are asleep. We are encouraged to stay docile and meek because that’s how we can be herded in whatever directions governments and corporations want to us to move in.

Let’s wake up a bit more today. Let’s set an intention to continue waking up a bit more every day. Set that intention every day, and every evening, before sleeping, identify how you’ve become more awake in the day that is ending.

This is up to us. No one is going to do this work for us. For you. For me. So let’s do it. It can only lead to good.

Ritually Rich

IstanbulI’m writing this post lying in bed in my hotel room in Istanbul. I’m up later than I have been on any other night, as our retreat here has come to an end and most of the students have left on their return journeys home. As is typically the case, I’ve been very reflective as this experience winds down, and despite staying here for another few days, my reality in Istanbul as I have become accustomed to it is changing. The community we created over the past week was a very special one, insular and bonding, what with the coming together of and unifying like-minded people, as these retreats always end up doing. We ended up practicing yoga, obviously, and we did more sightseeing and touring than I previously thought possible in 7 days, but what proved to me most refreshing about this voyage to Turkey was the immediate connection we all felt to its people.

This city is older than almost any other I’ve ever traveled to, but unlike what I witnessed in Rome or Athens, there is a basic undercurrent of faith amongst its inhabitants who live their religion and faith in every step taken and with every gesture made. That faith doesn’t just manifest in the clothes worn here or the hauntingly seductive call to prayer booming from the minarets five times daily. The faith these people live their lives infused with is visible in how they touch each other, how they go out of their way for perfect strangers, how they have a smile waiting to break at the first opportunity, how they meet as a community to discuss spiritual matters before witnessing their devout enter the room to begin whirling in place with the intention of foresaking their egos and connecting with the oneness of existence. None of us were expecting to be consistently treated with kindness and generosity of spirit by every single person we came into contact with. None of us were expecting to be charmed by the warmth of the people here, in fact, I can honestly say that I expected to be treated curtly and dismissively as a western tourist here. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

After thousands of years, this city still emanates energy…an energy that runs deep in the streets, one that resounds through speakers and is visible in the eyes of the most heavily veiled women. What we were blessed to see this week was a people rich with rituals, rituals that take precedent over all else. Regardless of what any of us may think of the Muslim world, one thing I know I’m taking away with me from this city is that everything I’ve ever assumed about Muslims was wrong. There is a deep and ancient humility demonstrated by people here, a true Bhakti, or devotion, to a higher energy that is recognized as the source of all that is. These are a DEEPLY spiritual people, and after being here for only one week, I can say that I have a deep respect and affinity to them. Now before some of you jump at the chance to get all Western on me, let me say that I am aware that Istanbul is very progressive for a Muslim city, but nonetheless, the beauty I and the other 17 people that were here on retreat with me saw was unexpected and incredibly moving.

What I feel meant the most to us a yoga group was the fact that we came here to bring our ritual to a city already ritually rich. We weren’t expecting it to be so, but as the universe typically does, we were shown how little we know. We brought our faith in yoga and its powers to change, uplift and inspire to a city where faith is as common as kebab restaurants and traffic jams. We ended up not only meeting like-minded spirits in meeting each other as retreat participants, but we ended up realizing that we share more with this side of the world than we ever thought possible. This city has shown me just how deeply my own faith runs, and by doing so, it has touched me on a soul level, a heart level, as no other city ever has.

I will come back home in just under one week, more aware and sensitized to those whose culture differs greatly from the one I’m more familiar with. I will come home having attained greater depths of beauty and humanity, all because I was shown just how little I know, but how much I believe. As demonstrated to me by the whirling dervishes I was blessed to witness this evening as they expressed their devotion, I will not bow down to the city of Istanbul in reverence, but rather, I will leave with one hand uplifted to receive the blessings of the higher power that led me here, and I will place my other hand palm down to pass on those blessings to you all.

With only love, Bxx.