Anyway, I arrived and Olivia's mom, Coletta, picked me up from the airport. We went to her house before going to the Vinca where we stayed for the remainder of the trip. She lives in an old remodeled house in the country that has palm trees, chickens, two dogs, and fourteen cats.
Most of the animals had a virus that was going around, so the house was filled with the sounds of sneezing cats and the rasping of dogs attempting to breathe through their clogged nostrils. I saw a cat bathing another cat, but all it accomplished was smearing a string of mucus down its back.
Outside, it was quiet, save for roosters crowing and choirs of birds practicing their harmonies. Bright sunlight shone on grass still wet with dew, and roses bloomed even as oranges hung on small, well groomed trees. The foliage ranged from desert plants to tropical hibiscus, as if the earth could not decide what to clothe herself in.
I was surrounded by the quiet, natural atmosphere of a Kansas farm paired with the red soil and cacti of Arizona. It brought me back to my roots, which reach deep into my Grandparents' farm, where I used to sing tuneless improvised songs and wander down muddy paths. Lyrical prose ran through my head again, painting the world in vivid, colorful brushstrokes. This was the most at-home I had felt since arriving in Europe, and according to Olivia, I looked like I belonged there.
Saturday evening, we all met together to meditate and chant. The chanting was very melodic and though I did not know the words, I was at least able to hum along. Then, Olivia guided the meditation by telling us where to direct our thoughts. We reflected on our journeys and on the people we had met and loved along the way. She had us listen to the room around us and then put our hands to our hearts and feel it beating. She said, "To connect with others, you have to first connect with your heart--with yourself."
I liked that thought, because it reflected what I have come to believe in the past two years. When you are unhappy with yourself, it is more difficult to be happy with others. If you constantly critcize yourself, you will feel the need to criticize others to prove that you are worth something. Finding compassion for yourself, learning to love and accept who you are, opens room in your life to do the same for others.
We then thought of all the people who could not be with us that night and who cared about us. I started naming the people and quickly realized how long the list was. I have a large, strong social web, yet I often don't realize it.
She then told us that we need to be like Jimmy the cat (the one who was smearing mucus all over the other one) and just take every moment as it comes. He does not know what is coming, but he accepts it and is content, even when he is sleeping.
She ended the session by having everyone chant passages of the Quran together. The final chant was a list of prophets, such as Mohammad and Jesus.
After the session, some of the people stayed to pray. I decided to join them so that I could more fully immerse myself in the Sufi culture. As I prayed with them, I tried to follow all their movements, and I very much felt like an outsider. I decided that in order to truly experience what they did, I needed to feel as they did. It was like being an actress; you have to feel what your character feels. So, I tried mirroring their emotions, and I felt much more comfortable--less like an outsider. When they performed chants I would hum along and rock back forth with the beat like Yasin did.
After the prayer ended, Olivia told me that I was like Jimmy the cat, doing everything they were doing and just going with the flow.
Our second session started with a night prayer. There are 5 prayer times each day, and that one was the last. After the prayer, we all sat in a circle around a candle, turned off the lights, and started performing traditional Sufi chants. Once again, I didn't know the words, but I was able to hum along and harmonize. Many of the chants consisted of call and response or of continually repeating phrases, so sometimes I could sing something resembling Arabic.
While singing the chants, I was reminded of when I played Capoeira music. Like the Sufi chants, it was mostly call and response with a clear leader and hand drums, which makes sense because drums are widely used in both African and Middle Eastern music.
Now, it might sound like we were basically sitting in a circle singing "Kumbaia," and for all I know, perhaps we were. I don't speak Arabic--we could have been singing about cats. But for them, it was something much deeper; it was really no different than Christians singing hymns in church. However, people get the idea that anyone who sits in a circle and sings non-western music must be some sort of hippy. The atmosphere in the room was much different than some college drum circle, though, for them it was a very spiritual experience; you could hear it in their voices and see it in their smiles.
The religion was very beautiful, all about loving yourself and others, and I see why people would want to have Sufism in their lives. It is a very calming and accepting environment. I am very grateful to have been invited to participate in their meetings, because that is not an opportunity most small-town Kansas girls get. Plus being Mallorca was pretty cool.
By the way, did you know that Cat Stevens converted to Islam? I couldn't find any recordings on the internet, but we listed to some songs of his that were in the style of Sufi chants. He also did another version of "Wild World" with no guitar, just voices and hand-drums (like Sufi music).