Dance Me Free, …Spiritually

Dear Mom,

I ended up going to Khane yesterday. The funny thing is that I wasn’t planning to go, but guess what? The dance studio I really like to go to is only a few steps away from downtown Khane, literally.

I arrived at the studio earlier than I thought I would, and I had about half an hour before my class. So I walked into Khane just after first Du’a had started. And I sat downstairs, near the door, so I could make a quick getaway.

I know that sounds bad. It’s not that I wanted to get out of there, or that I didn’t enjoy any of it. But I have to take baby steps in getting into going there regularly, so I don’t overwhelm myself. And I didn’t want to be late for dance class.

This is the second time I have done this- gone into Khane before class.  I go in dressed very casually, but it works just fine at Drake. I like that non-pretentiousness about the Khane in downtown.  It’s a nice feeling too, to not put any pressure on myself to have to sit upstairs in the prayer hall. I just sit on the chairs downstairs, and end up sitting next to interesting people who either have little babies, or are unable to get up the stairs as easily, or maybe, like me, they like to sit away from the rest of the crowd.

Yesterday, there was a man who sat next to me with the cutest little girl. She was clinging on to him with her tiny little hands, and her little feet were all warm and cosy, covered up in the most adorable pink slippers/socks.  I just kept thinking about how you would have loved to play with her. Little kids always made your face light up.  And kids seemed to like you too.

There was also this older man sitting closer to the door. When he came in, he took off this thick woolen toque with a kind of native print on it. And under the toque, he had a very bald, shiny head.

I also noticed younger girls come in- in their teens and twenties. And some of them wore beautiful beige or black heels, while others were in comfy runners. Some had perfectly streaked hair- gold and deep browns and reds highlighting their heads.  While others had nose rings or jeans on. I loved the variety of people and outfits that walked through. There was no set way of what you should look like or how dressy or not you had to be. The feeling was just come as you are.  And that’s what I did.

You would have been proud of me, Mom. I didn’t cry once during the Du’as this time. I did think of you every moment I was in there, more than I already do each day.  And that is a lot, trust me. But I tried to just soak in the details of what was around me, just be in the moment, rather than getting down on myself for not concentrating or not sticking it out until the end. Oh yeah, I kind of left in mid tasbih, I guess you could call it? See, I don’t even know the terms. I think it might have been Chandraat yesterday, because everything was more delayed and more involved than a usual khane day. And I could have sworn they said something about Chandraat majilis in one of the announcements, but again, I could totally be wrong. I haven’t been keeping up on what is happening on which day.

I felt badly for leaving before it was done, but I was glad I went at all. And I think that is what I am going to keep in mind- the small steps I take to just surround myself with a little bit of that spiritual peace amidst the surroundings of the faith I grew up in.  It did take dance to get me there. And you, I’m sure.  But if it wasn’t for my dance class being so close, and being at such an optimum time for me to get to khane quickly beforehand, I would probably not have been there.

It seemed silly for me NOT to go, the way the universe planned it like this. Dance Me Free. That’s the name of my blog. Dance is even bringing me spiritual freedom, bringing me close to our place of prayer, giving me more incentive to sit with “my peeople” -haha!-  (too funny, because anyone who knows me knows that “my people” are not restricted by any race, religion, colour or culture. I am so fascinated by diversity and multiculturalism. But, you get what I mean, I think) and connect with your strong beliefs. To connect with you.

Who knew that Dance would bring me more spirituality not just from its healing and its powerful movement of energy, but also bringing me back to my childhood place of prayer.

Although I was a little late for class, I am sure that something about the peace and prayers that I spent in during that half an hour at Khane, somehow got me more connected and at peace in my dance class, in my dancing, definitely in my body, and in the moment.

I told the owners of the dance studio that you, my mother, probably is thanking them for choosing that location for a studio. For helping me to find my way back “home” in some sense.

Thank you, Mom. You were and always will be my home. So really, I am just always trying to find my way back to you and your spirit.  I will try to still be open to allowing Khane to be one of the avenues that will get me there.

Love, Tas

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The Sufi Way

Dear Mom,

I haven’t made it to Khane much at all like I thought I would. I find it hard to get through even one Du’a (prayer) without just being in a bucket of tears. There are smells and words and sounds and textures- even holding a tasbih in my hand- that are so you. They remind me of you. And this should be a good thing. But they also remind me that you are not here to be the barer of them. And that weighs too heavy on my heart. So instead of solace, sometime being in our place of prayer makes me so overly emotional.

Don’t get me wrong. I think I have written this before, but what our faith and the culture you brought us in has taught me is invaluable. I feel so grateful to know that I could go to any country in the world, and if I walk into a Khane, I will be welcomed and be made a part of a community because of this commonality – a belief system- that we share or at least grew up in.

The problem is that I have so many questions. I have so many misunderstandings or “un-understandings” about the words and rituals and protocols we just follow. But I feel like I am following them blindly because I don’t have a good sense of what they mean or stand for. I do want to learn better. I want to learn not just for myself, but to teach others, especially my nieces, your granddaughters. I know they have questions too, and I want to help them find the answers, but also encourage them to find their own answers, and make their own choices. Faith should not be forced on anyone. It’s very meaning- belief- is about what we feel inside. And I want to feel a closer tie to this faith you so lovingly made a part of our lives. I want to do this also to feel a closer connection to you.

And sure, I haven’t been practising our usual Ismaili ways for years, in terms of customs or going to khane. But I think in my heart and the way I live and the way I treat people shows that I have those values in me.

And I found another way to delve deeper into Islam, through something that resonates more with me- Sufism.  Remember when I came back from that Sufism school that one day? I went to it somewhere on Lonsdale. And I told you about it that night or the next day. And you were so excited. I was excited too. But it was a little overwhelming for. But that and of course all those poems by Rumi, and my fascination with mysticism has just planted this seed in me that I think is my “ticket” into an Islam that connects with me.

Thank you for being so excited for me, Mom. I remember the way your face lit up when I told you about it. You didn’t know much about Sufism, as far as I could tell. But you were pretty charged up about finding me books or helping me learn more about it.

Well, guess what? I am now, Mom. I’ve been taking this online course called The Sufi Way of the Beloved.  It’s by Andrew Harvey, the author whose book I got sent in the mail. I think I have written to you about that recently. Well, he is a passionate speaker. And I was so drawn to his passion and the way he spoke about literature and spirituality and passion and … He had this one line in his description of the course. He said something about Sufism being transfused into your veins, and that just had me.

I have to admit, I have found a lot of the information quite overwhelming. It is a lot to take in and some of it, I don’t quite understand. Or maybe I have just never been a great listener to one voice speaking continuously for long periods of time. I need visuals. I need to read the words. I need to stop and think about them or discuss them. Otherwise, they all become a blur.

But each week, I took another line or another concept, or another piece of history or something that intrigued me with me. And it added up until last week where I just had goosebumps for the whole hour as Andrew spoke about Rumi. I think he is right. The other lessons and talks were leading me to Rumi. Rumi is my in to spirituality, to Islam, to getting back to my connection with my faith. And I am hoping it will help me find a connection to you.

I actually called in to the talk afterwards, and spoke to Andrew live over the internet. I told him about you. I told him about what I was struggling with, what my intentions with the course were. And he reminded me of something it sounds like Rumi taught him, or at least consolidated in him- that there is no death, really. That we are connected still. And that I can find that connection through honoring my name- Tasleem, which I know means surrender. And this is the reason I was so fascinated with Sufism in the first place, Mom. I never got a chance to tell you how after I learned what my name meant, I also found out that the Sufis believed that surrender was the highest attainment that someone to achieve.

And that has been my goal ever since- to live up to my name. To surrender to life, to love, to God.  I just never knew that I’d be doing this without you physically here. Or at least not this soon. But Andrew gave me some wise words of wisdom. He listened with so much compassion and gave me so much hope.

Thank you, Mom, for honouring our faith and being so full of faith. Thank you for being such a beautiful role model of spirituality. Thank you for bringing me up with this as my grounding. I am sorry that I may have never really showed much appreciation for it. But I was feeling lost in it. Not quite understanding it. But I am wanting to learn. It may be through a different route that most, or than you went through or that I expected. But I think this is more me- poetry, mysticism, dance, surrender, passion, and love. When I think of these qualities as being so embedded in Islam, that gets me excited.

And I am going to use this to get more in touch with you. I will try to update you with what I learn along the way.  The Sufi Way.  It is kind of intriguing, and magical, and gives me hope that something truly beautiful will come out of this not just for me, but also for you and me together.

Love you, Mom.

 

Navroz Mubarak, Mommy

Dear Mom,

It’s Navroz today. But of course, you would know that. You always knew the special dates of when our celebrations would happen. I miss all the copies of the calendars you would get for everyone, so that we could all keep track of the dates ourselves too. I’m sorry I never really made use of mine. I would do anything to get one directly from your hand right now.  I was so stupid to just take all of that for granted.

To be honest, I just never felt like I fit in there- in our celebrations or in the social events that were put on in our community. It just felt so forced, for some reason, on my part, I mean. Like either I didn’t fit in but had to pretend that I did. Or, I didn’t feel like I fit in, and acted very much like I didn’t. So either way, it was just awkward all around.

What I should have considered was how important these celebrations were to you. You just beamed everytime something came up on the calendar- a music party, a Navroz party, a mendhi party.  And THAT’S why it should have been important to me.  Oh, Mom. I should have just explained all this to you- how I just felt out of place, and like I was trying so hard to have fun at those things. At least you would have known why I wasn’t so enthusiastic about them. At least you would have known that it had nothing to do with you. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to spend time with you or go somewhere fun with you. It was that I just didn’t have fun at those events.

I felt judged for what I was wearing, what I was doing with my life, my career, who I was dating, or wasn’t dating. Why I wasn’t married or had kids yet. If I was there, I was just criticized for not being at those kind of events more often. And I was always trying to be on this health kick, but the food that was served was often the exact opposite of what I was supposed to be eating. So… I would get an upset stomach in addition to the upset I felt emotionally at all the gossip and hypocrisy that unfortunately seemed to come with those kinds of community events.

What I should have done is just ignored it, and concentrated on what was most important- spending time with my mom.  Gosh, if I could get those opportunities back, I would take you to any and every event that you wanted to go. And I would proudly accompany you. I might bring my journal or a good book, or sneak in some headphones with some good music or uplifting podcasts to distract me when people went around saying nasty, snobby, shallow things- haha ;-( but I would be there with you.

But I can’t get those moments back. And now, I don’t feel like attending those events even more because it seems ridiculous that I would choose to go now, after you’re gone. What made them special was that they were special to you. And you were and are the most special thing to me. It feels wrong for me to all of a sudden go out to them now, even if that is what you would have wanted. I would have wanted to turn back time and make it so that I used those events as an excuse to spend more time with you. But we never get a chance to make up for lost time, do we?

I wanted to tell you thank you, Mom, for bringing me up in a community that I know, for you, was a way to give me an extended family, and support. Thank you for giving me a community that I can reach out to even if I am in another country or continent- a community that would welcome me even if they didn’t know my name or we didn’t share the same home base. I know you wanted us to have a place to go to in times of struggle. A place and people to give us strength and a feeling of belonging.

I do see some very positive changes taking place in the community more recently. It seems that for the years I have not really been involved in it, there has grown a more open mindedness that I can resonate with much more. And the younger generation are pursuing all kinds of creative projects and careers in arts, music, media, and writing. This is great to see and maybe I will slowly find a connection to the community because of it.

But the bitter sweet part of all of it is that the most important aspect of it- my Mother- is no longer there for me to enjoy it with.  I even get a lump in my throat just writing those words.  Even though I didn’t show up at the ceremonies today physically, the special occasion has been on my mind and heart throughout the day. And I am grateful for you, my Mother, for giving us a faith that I know over the years will prove to be more and more needed and valued.

Thank you, Mom, for everything you have done for us. I cannot ever repay you, but I will try to make better use of all that you have given to us, taught us, and shared with us.

Navroz Mubarak.

Love always and forever, your daughter, Tas