Muraqabah in quarantine

It occurred to me today that I had never shared the tools of muraqabah that I have gained in my Sufi order. And as a lot of people are thinking of ways to best utilize their time and minds and spirits during the coronavirus social distancing project, I thought this was the best time to share

In the centuries old Sufi tradition, muraqabah is a practice you can do at particular times, and at all times. Muraqabah means to watch over, or to be vigilant, and is a meditation practice. Yes, you can do it at specific times, collectively and individually, but you can also do it at all times, whenever you remember. In my early Sufi days, my shaikh taught me to focus on the dhaat or Essence every 15 minutes or so, and whenever I remembered. Or you could do it at a particular time of the day.

This becomes the central feature of meditation, but it is primarily a preparation: do some chants/devotions to purify your heart and wash the rust away. This is akin to the taking one step toward the Beloved.

When he draws near me by the span of his hand, I draw near him by the length of a cubit. When he draws near me by the length of a cubit, I draw near him by the length of a fathom. When he comes to me walking, I come to him running.”

Simply empty your mind of busy thoughts. Stop trying too hard. Open your heart to Allah/God/the One/the Divine allow yourself to be showered with the faizan/grace.

Faizan is always there. It is us who are not always aware of it, or ready to receive it.

Don’t worry about emptying your mind either. If a gnat flies in and out of your room, let it. If a thought buzzes around you, let it go through without trying to catch it or watch it or follow it.

This isn’t so much about work you do; it’s about loosening the knots in your heart. It’s about not doing all the busy work that blocks you from the perpetually generous Source. I recall sitting down to meditate and wondering if I should do something active – recite Qur’an, or pray, or something else. Don’t lock yourself into guilt, or stuff you should be doing or should have done.

It is better, having prepared your soul, to receive. What you have to offer the Beloved is not better than what the Beloved can grant you. Just receive.

You could do it right now; you could do it whenever you remember; you could sit yourself down in a peaceful spot to focus; you could set a timer to do it every hour for a minute or two.

The benefits are immense. The more regularly you do it, even briefly, the stronger the Attraction. You will feel the pull grow stronger as you practice this regularly.


In the US pandemic, remembering a shrine in Lahore one week ago

We’re back in the US, and the nation is in the throes of coronavirus terror.

For me, this is a moment to look back to a day a week ago, in Lahore. We visited the Darbar of Hazrat Mian Mir one evening, just before maghrib prayers.

Crowds of men, women, and children wandered all over, observing the same proxemics that get me nervous. I kept my teenager in my sight as we wended our way through a busy street.

We made our way through a dusty street, and were told to deposit our excellent European shoes with some guy, in a pile of locally acquired flip-flops. Having done this, we had to walk barefoot a few long, long steps in a dusty, dirty street that saw the traffic of many humans and animals. We entered the daalaan or courtyard of Hz. Mian Mir, expecting it to be as serene and quiet as it was last time we visited. It was not. A troupe of qawwali singers were singing devotional songs.

We walked barefoot across the marble courtyard. The floor was spattered with pigeon droppings. I saw my husband and daughter, true to their American habits, were wearing socks – I kicked myself for not doing so. It was hard for me to concentrate because I was so aware of germs, dust, pigeon droppings.

We prayed the ‘asr prayer in the masjid area. As I stood up, a man genially approached my husband and informed him the women’s area was over there. I snapped at him good-humoredly, because I am older than him, probably, pointing to the supposed women’s area. Every area in the courtyard had men, women, and children. There is no women’s area. He grinned, and left.

We prayed. The chatai, the plastic woven prayer ‘rug’ was dusty.

When we finished, I sat for a muraqaba-e-shaikh, meditating, opening my heart to the faizan of Hz Mian Mir. The dust, dirt, noise, and pigeon droppings fell away.

Today, we sit in our home in Evanston. Not a single coronavirus case has been found here. The schools will close today. There isn’t any hand sanitizer or toilet paper left in the stores. Everybody is losing their shit.

At this time, I remember that moment of serenity, surrounded by people of mostly humble and working classes, with not a single hand sanitizer in sight, in the dusty 17th century courtyard.


Visiting abbu’s grave

I’m visiting Lahore this week, for my nephew’s wedding. After 3 days of hectic festivities, we took a breath. My sister is getting ready to fly out to Australia tonight, so we visited abbu’s grave today.

People wax very philosophical about graves; they say “The departed are actually with you, they are not in the grave.” But visiting a loved one’s grave is a powerful experience.

Abbu’s presence is very strong here in ‘shaheedan da qabristan‘ (“cemetery of martyrs,” because many of those who fell in the 1965 war are buried here).

Abbu used to dote on my nephew (the bridegroom this week). So my sister brought petals from the wedding roses. We scattered them on his grave. I told abbu we missed him, and his beloved grandson’s wedding was beautiful.

Abbu had a hard life, I said. He worked hard all his life so he could give us wonderful and comfortable lives. He gave us so much love. We always knew he was in our court.

I said, we weren’t the best children to you, but thank you, abbu, for everything; we are so grateful for everything.

It was hard to get up from his side. There are fragrant chambeli shrubs all over the cemetery. My kid brought home a chambeli flower from the cemetery and gave it to ammi. We conveyed your salam, she told ammi, and we brought you a flower from there.

Under my breath, I told him sorry that it takes me so long for me to visit him. Sorry that I never gave back as much love as I received.