Two decades ago I was in love with a sweet gentleman, a retired lawyer with a beautiful estate in the Sonoma Valley. We spoke of marriage and I was not so interested at the time. From him I learned love affairs don’t need to end in shattered dreams and broken hearts. Of course our parting was sadly sweet, and in retrospect it brought me to a place I needed, perhaps looked for most of my life.
Just prior to our parting of ways, we’d met the son of a couple who lived on a neighboring hillside, a steep hillside, so steep that after finding a spot on the winding road to park, you approached a ladder-like stairway and began the climb, but not to a traditional house with a common roof. This home consisted of three independent structures a good distance apart from each with a ladder-like stairway. A selection of umbrellas were posted by all doors.
The first cabin, the smallest, contained the kitchen and breakfast area; second cabin was a very large entertainment room, and the third held sleeping quarters at the top of the property. Fascinating paths and special gardens were between cabins: herbs, fruits and vegetables between kitchen and entertaining room, and between the last two cabins a landscaped plateau, holding a hot tub, fragrance gardens, and the largest statue of Buddah I’ve seen in the states smiled gently over a lovely paved area large enough for Yoga or to sit down and meditate.
This home was a thrilling, soothing, naturally inspirational place, and it hosted the funeral for the wife’s only child, Michael, who died in a motorcycle accident. He was only 27 years old. Michael’s passing marked the beginning of a very new life for me.
The Practitioner gave a brief heart-touching ceremony, speaking words of comfort for our loss, and of joy for having had Michael touch our lives, and of the sadness as we all let go, let it be.
The closure of his remembrance was breath-taking. Michael’s parents each had divorced then remarried. Michael and his first wife, Alla were in the process of divorce, and he was in a relationship with a very lovely young woman named Julie. The Practitioner invited the two sets of parents, Michael’s wife, and the young girlfriend to a small table draped with a simple blue cloth, his favorite color. In the center three candles burned, representing the three decades of Michael’s life.
The biological parents joined hands and together they snuffed out the first candle. The step parents joined hands with respective mates and snuffed out the second candle. And finally the divorcing widow joined hands with the lovely younger woman, and together they snuffed out the final candle.
From a place further up the hill John Lennon sang Imagine, and we all joined in, tears rolling down our faces, as Michael’s wife Alla, cradled a broken-hearted Julie in her arms, singing with the rest of us.
Within six months, I suffered the breakup of that three year relationship, lost my job, and my children decided to live with their father. For the second time in my life I was totally alone and grieving deeply.
I remembered Michael’s funeral, and tried to remember the spiritual place the Practitioner had trained at or worked for. It was not a “church”, but a “center”. But center of WHAT I had no idea.
One rainy Sunday morning I opened up the newspaper, urged on by an almost physical need to go find this center, find that wonderful Practitioner. I scanned the religion listings and finally came upon a “Center for the Science of Religion” and placed a call. Lo and behold the new Minister, Rev. Edward, answered and with his musical South African accent invited me to join him and everyone at the center, and gave me directions.
I made a bee-line for the Center, and was gob-smacked when I walked into the gathering hall before service was to begin. I met at least seven people from all walks of my life there: two from my early childhood in Calistoga, several real estate agents I worked for and with, a lady from my yoga class, and a fellow on my tennis team. They laughed when I “finally found” the Center. They had been members for decades.
On that day,Edward, the new South African Minister welcomed everyone to the gathering, and said something to the effect that we can change our lives by changing our minds; and if we cried ourselves to sleep last night, we had come to the right place.
I felt like he spoke directly to me. I called myself a “Renegade Christian”, having given up on traditional Christianity at the age of fourteen, and who had married, a “Bar Mitzvah Jew” – the one I was divorcing. Our two children were reared deliberately without any religious instruction. On that day I felt like I found the place I truly belonged, my home, after three decades in two very different kinds of “deserts”.
The Church of Religious Sciences, of which there are thousands throughout the world, changed the name The Center for Spiritual Living a few years ago. The Religious Science moniker was getting confused with a newer and somewhat disturbing organization.
I took a lot of classes there, taught 5th grade Sunday School and met up with old friends again through that. I thought seriously about becoming a Practitioner, but I had a busy life and bla bla bla. I haven’t totally stopped thinking about it though, especially now, as I’m also thinking of celebrating marriages again.
This morning I reached for my Science of Mind to look up the Guide for today, and it is about LOSS. Boo! Loss certainly strikes a resounding chord in my heart,and for most people. We know Loss. I grew up in Loss, and I’ve Lost a Lotta stuff! I’ve lived in Loss and from it all, I h learned an important thing: Nothing remains the same: it’s all change, which some call Loss.
The SOM title for the June 11th thought is “Letting Loss Lead Me”. That got my attention, because Loss does tend to lead us places. I read the piece and it was about Jalal ad-Din Rumi, the famous Persian poet. He lost a person very dear to him and went deep into grief. The story is that he wandered into his back yard where there was a pole, a team of his students trailed behind, out of concern for him. Rumi leaned on the pole, perhaps sobbing, and caught up in his grief, walk round and round it, letting his tears flow. Unexpectedly his thoughts changed. Grief left and he heard incredible words of poetry stream from his mouth. His words were so lovely that his students wrote them down.
These followers of Rumi adopted his pole walking tradition and now seven centuries later, we call them the Whirling Dervishes. These are the followers of Rumi and they believe that by whirling they let God in.
And so out of an unbearable loss came a gift for the entire world!
And, today in America Rumi is the best-selling poet. It is true that loss can break one, one without a support system. But it also is said that The Broken Heart can hold more love: I believe loss can expand us if we let it.
As far as the Whirling Dervishes go, I can tell you what I know about them from personal experience. The first time I went my children were very young. I didn’t take them again.The site was I think South, (but it could be North or West – it was so hard in the desert with no roads, dusty yellow desert beneath your feet, flat yellow sky above your head – couldn’t even see the sun, no shadows.) I could take you there, but not tell you how to go on your own, when or where to turn. Its twenty minutes past the ancient trading city of Omdurman. You leave the road and drive on (one of the) tracks that goes through the graveyard. Good Luck!
On the other side of the graveyard men in their white jellabias assemble, taking their shoes off and piling them around a telephone pole. They face one direction, possibly East toward Mecca, and begin to walk around the pole. Two men in white jellabias escort a third man who appears to have a crippling disorder, perhaps cerebral palsy. They begin walking him slowly round and round at his pace.
Some men wear bright green flaring tunics, white breeches, with green fez-like hats embroidered with red and yellow on their heads. As more men arrive and take their place in the walk-around, drums start beating, slowly at first, then with more intensity as the drummers get caught up in a rhythm of their own. As they beat louder and faster, the men moved quicker, loping around the pole – even the crippled man!
My own blood is coursing through my veins, my brain; the pounding rhythm is matched by my heartbeat. The mystics in green break loose, begin to twirl, their skirts flanged out and I recall an old top I had as a kid, spinning, spinning.
The two men escorting the handicapped friend step aside, and let go of their friend! And the man who could not walk alone, dances and twirls with the best of them!
My children were as fascinated as I was. We stood watching and weaving to the beat of the drums until I saw some men jad brought sticks with them, and began hitting their own backs fiercely, in some cases drawing blood.
They had gone into another place, self-flagellation. The kids and I made our way back to the car and headed home. As soon as the drumming faded I felt my pulse return to normal.
I went out there twice more, taking (adults only) newcomers around Khartoum, teaching them how to navigate. Eventually the political/military events started up, and it was considered no longer safe for a “kawajah” woman to go past Ombdurman alone.
Belief can be amazingly powerful. Mind: over matter! Change your mind: change your life! Believe and see! What I think is what I do! Loss will lead me to a fuller life if I let it.