In the Company of the Master

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

banbury gateThe following anecdote is a lovely remembrance of Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh (1926-2008), Master of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order. It will be included in the forthcoming book, Tales of the Sufi Master.

___________________________

I leave dry Santa Fe and arrive in the misty green English countryside. Here, every taxi driver knows the way to the Old Windmill farm, twenty-four acres of fruit trees, flowers, and deep bed vegetable gardens. A dog and a welcoming party greet me at the center gate.

I sleep in a brick grain tower with a spiraling staircase winding up three floors of wall lined bookcases, attached to an old Tudor house. Surprisingly, I meet an old friend I haven’t seen in years. We “room” together on the second landing of the tower. Rugs, snakeskins, dream catchers – a vast collection of gifts accumulated from international guests also line the walls. Master’s room in the main house is overflowing with flowers and gifts; weird and yet strangely beautiful and humorous at the same time. More gifts hang on the walls; an array of musical instruments rest by the fireplace in the large meditation room. The breezeway connects the Master’s room with the meditation room.

My hair discovers its African roots in the mist. It is happy in its short ringlets. It is as relaxed as my skin. But I can’t only claim the climate for the change. Lack of stress has conditioned my hair here and moisturized my skin. Lines are there but they sit easy on my face.

I garden, weeding for two weeks solid, and then for a change plant flowers. But here is where words fail me. I am laughing, crying, talking to myself and seem to be opening up with each weed I pull, with each flower I plant. At one point I lie down on a mound of earth blissfully holding on like a child to its mother.

I am left alone while others work together in the apple orchard. While all this is happening Master comes and goes, instructing me in the proper conduct of life, my life. But not with many words; a laugh, a demonstration regarding attention to details, intuition, a word or two, a stern word, a loving word, a look…and so it goes. I pay close attention and pray I learn. I never finish an area of work, I never complete a project; Master moves me on to another project. One time the rain began to come down heavily but I didn’t hear anyone call me in. When a few finally yelled to come in for lunch, I ran upstairs to clean up, got in line to welcome Master, as we could see him from the window screens in the breezeway. He stopped, looked down at the one flower I neglected to plant when called in. It was still in my hand. He didn’t look at me, he looked at the plant in hand amid the pouring rain. I left the line, went out and planted the flower. They all waited until I cleaned up and came down again. So it goes.

There are about fifteen others here. I am happy to see “Bruja”Jane; mistress of the garden. It’s been three years sine I’ve seen her. In my enthusiasm I weed more than just weeds. Actually, one of her prized African lily seedling. She asks where is her prized African lily and I freeze. I think I heard myself say, “I’m sorry.” She wasn’t angry but…So I’m thinking I know less about weeds that I thought I did. I ask her this time to take me around the garden and point out those that are and are not weeds. My ego is not feeling too good.

I see Mr. Niktab, the Shaykh of Shaykhs, walking slowly in his 80 years and recent knee surgery. He uses a cane and only walks short distances. He has been a darvish for maybe 40 years. He mirrors-lives only to serve the Master. A sudden spring arises in my eyes and travels down my face as I see him walk by. Maybe the years he came to visit the Seattle center, maybe the years he spoke to me, have finally found a way into my heart. He danced that night for Master in our sama gathering. I am certain he used no cane.

I massage the Master’s feet and he tells me I’m not strong enough. Two days later he asks for a massage again and tells the person sitting next to me how strong my hands are. He tells me how young I look one day and tells me not to help serving lunch the next day because I am too old, I should just sit. So it goes. I realize he is training me and every person that sincerely comes before him, relentlessly, tirelessly, patiently, never saying directly what to do. But I am weak, broken, wounded by the mere outskirts of life, in search for understanding, in search of myself. I look up at the sky, pregnant with the possibility of rain again, and then it rains and then the sun shines and the process begins again and it’s all very simple and clear here. I am not thinking of my departure.

The dynamics of the fifteen or so of us keep shifting as some leave and new beggars arrive. We are kind here. We want to be. We want to serve. Our ego-the dragon-liquid fire is with us. We are aware of it as it comes and goes, tricks us, shifts, but maybe we are more vigilant here and try not to hold on, just let it come and go.

However, the two weeks are over and Master boots me out of Paradise. The list of my my unvoiced questions have somehow been answered. Master had delivered on his promise, and tells me I must return to pick apples in September. That, too, is enigma. At this point in time I am to begin a new teaching job in September. At this point in time it seems impossible.

He yells at me “goodbye” the night before I leave in a very unattractive sound and the next morning I stumble out of bed 3:30am for a 4:30am cab. In the kitchen, one darvish has made it a point to get up with me and serve me tea, bread, cheese and honey before I leave…with a hug goodbye. What a loving 4:30am.

I have been home now for one month and have not “recovered.” My dragon is a little more active and my tears are like rain clouds overflowing onto the lush countryside of longing. I yearn to return but I know the work is inward and I must live in this world too as I have lived there.

– Carole Ross, July, 1998

Ya Haqq!

 

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