Sufi Spirituality

Ibn Arabi QuoteSufism is an esoteric religious or philosophical system (depending on your outlook) that has roots in Islam but may have preceded it. Sufis are mystics. As a Sufi, the goal is to surrender fully to God. Being on the path to God is called “Sufi walking.”

As a new Sufi, I am hardly qualified to teach or share Sufi teachings. However, I had one of my teachers tell me once to stop holding myself back from teaching just because I wasn’t a master yet. He told me I just needed to be one page ahead of my students.

Along these lines, I am teaching introductory classes on Sufi healing and offering Sufi spiritual healings by donation. The latter is also part of my unofficial “practicum” (practice), as I am working towards a master’s degree in Sufi spiritual healing at the University of Sufism.

My Sufi Story

From a relatively young age, I was interested in esoteric spirituality. In high school, I worked part-time for the local library. On my breaks I would explore the dusty mezzanine stacks, which held a treasure-trove of obscure books on topics such as reincarnation. My soul-seeking led me to leave the Christianity of my youth, since I couldn’t buy into the idea that God would punish people with eternal Hell simply for not believing in Jesus.

I went “new age” for many years, but it was more confusing than satisfying. I would lay awake at night pondering whether God existed as a separate being or whether we were all collectively “God.” Was God good, neutral, or even malevolent? I didn’t know. God seemed distant.

I tried the “creating my own reality” thing, which blew up in my face in a spectacular, humiliating way, so that wasn’t the answer either. I had a few somewhat unsettling experiences with what I’d call dark entities and ended up becoming almost spiritually paranoid, preferring to talk only to my “higher self” or Archangel Michael than any unknown spirit guides – or even God, whom I did not trust.

CS Lewis QuoteIn 2009, I got some guidance while meditating. It was a clear, small voice in my head that said simply, “You must reconcile your new age beliefs with your childhood Christianity.” Oddly enough, I didn’t rebel against it or argue with it. I started going back to church sporadically, and I discovered that the rituals that I once found to be stilted and dry were actually quite comforting and lovely.

I went through a period where I struggled with being a Christian. While I feared the spiritual morass of the new age, I didn’t also fully believe in the traditional Christian dogma. The essential sticking point to me was this idea that God would punish people eternally for simply being Jesus skeptics. That never sat right with me.

Personally, I have thought for a while this is a false teaching. Jesus never actually said that. The common interpretation is a misunderstanding. In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Sure. But that’s not the same thing as saying, “If you don’t believe in me, off to Hell you go.” I think it really means: no matter how you try to find God, Jesus will be there as the intermediary or guide. (In retrospect, I think this is a very Sufi way of interpreting this passage of scripture.)

Saint Therese QuoteAt any rate, I believed in Jesus but not all the dogma surrounding Him. In 2017, I got a sudden infection, likely bacterial, that hit by lightning and almost killed me. I may sound crazy, but Jesus may have saved me. I was praying like crazy that night, when maybe I should have called 911 and asked for an ambulance instead. I was delirious and alternating between periods of intense darkness and a bright comforting light, which seemed to be Jesus. He told me (in my mind) to stop being so angry at people. I’m thinking, “I’m dying, and this is what you have to tell me?!”

During my recovery, I went to Christian “Healing Rooms” for help. These are not for everyone. These healers are not only believers, they are the kind of serious, “holy roller” believers that get made fun of on shows like Saturday Night Live. And they were wonderful. So caring, so loving, so helpful. I felt a power and presence from these volunteer healers. I wanted to believe 100% like they seemed to do, so fully trusting. But I couldn’t quite get there. So did I get an instant miracle healing? No. But slowly I got better. They saved my life!

Rumi QuoteIn the beginning of 2020, however, I was feeling stuck and in a dark space. I was having a relapse of the infection. It was literally making it hard for me to walk straight in the living room. I was having a lot of anxiety and worrying that I had MS, since I have two cousins who have it. I searched online for healing from MS and found the website of someone who had studied healing with Dr. Ibrahim Jaffe. She claimed he was the “real deal,” so I found his website and signed up for his Foundations of Spiritual Healing course in February.

The first day class started, I had landed in the ER earlier that day because I had gotten so dizzy, I could barely walk straight and felt like I was going to pass out. I ended up on antibiotics, which did make a huge difference. But the Sufi spiritual healing also helped, big time.

I didn’t really plan on it but somehow ended up enrolled in the first-year University of Sufism program (through Dr. Jaffe) along with a work-study agreement and partial scholarship. I had apparently been “called.” I joined the Shadhiliyya Sufi Tariqa (fellowship) when I started the program. I had no idea what I was getting into – it was more because I was guided to than anything else – and frankly, I was really concerned about the “Islam” thing. In this group, most people are Muslim converts, but you don’t have to be.

With a very extensive background in yoga and Ayurveda, as well as Christianity, I consider myself to be a “Vedic Christian Sufi.” No-one seems to be pressuring me to be anything otherwise, which is nice.

Now. There are two schools of thought about Sufism. Some say it is truly Islamic, and others say it transcends Islam and existed before Islam. I’m more of the latter in philosophy. There are a lot of Islamic practices you can do as a Sufi. Some “tariqas” are more strict and Islamic than others. For example, the followers of Hazrat Inayat Khan are universalists and possibly the least Islamic Sufis. My tariqa is very Islamic in tradition and yet you don’t have to be a Muslim to join or practice. Other tariqas require member Sufis to be Muslims.

Ibn Arabi QuoteSome conservative Christians get paranoid and believe that Allah is actually Satan. Well, after working with this Sufi healing for less than a year now, and seeing such great results, I can say for sure there is nothing evil about “Allah” – which is simply the Arabic name for God. I think there are a lot of problems with mainstream Islam, but if all Islam were Sufi Islam (which has been persecuted over the centuries), a lot of these problems would be non-existent.

Ultimately, being a Sufi is about being on a path to God and surrendering to the Almighty. We can argue all the finer points of theology, but Sufism is really about practice and experience. You chant, pray, ask forgiveness, and surrender. It’s been really helpful for me. I’m still new but already going out and sharing it, because I think it’s so needed. Too many people in America are turned away from God due to negative impressions of churches. So please forgive me for being a new Sufi and yet deigning to teach about it and share my experiences. I am just trying to help and follow the guidance. “Inshallah” as they say (if God wills it).