What longing brings us to the desert and calls us to leave the comfort of our homes? Sara Landman shares some of her revelations from a Sufi pilgrimage in the Moroccan desert...
And so we walk—beginning each day in a circle with our intention—“ Open, Transparent, Lucid, Awake” and each day a new mantra.
The first holy name of Allah to contemplate—to repeat as a mantra as our footprints mark the sand and follow in those of the camels ahead of us leading the way.
YA FATTAH: The Opener
Who opens the solution to all our problems and eliminates obstacles….
How does the desert open me? I open my eyes and expand into limitless sky—blue, blue, and bluer. Opening my ears to the sound of Amazigh, our Berber guide Zineb talking, as she walks, to Ali, our clear-eyed camel driver with his purple turban and wide smile. Opening my heart to my fellow pilgrims from as far apart as Canada and Lithuania; opening my arms to encompass this desert world and welcome what each day brings.
YA WASI: The All-Embracing
Limitless capacity and abundance; the all surrounding, embracing presence….
Our camp prepared by the camel herders, with our tents up, embraced us every evening with a blazing fire. Where did they find the wood we wondered – it was provided from the desert sands by the camel herders who trusted what they would find. The abundance and generosity of the meals lovingly prepared by them—always passed around to the left until they came back to the beginning—a circle of sharing. The welcome mid-morning snack in the shade of a lone Tamarisk tree—nuts and dates and dried figs. Bowls of salad for lunch chopped and prepared with enormous care on Zineb and Ali’s laps. We licked olive oil from our fingers and savoured slices of cheese. And around the fire in the evening we shared stories and in Karim and Elmer’s care felt the desert surround us and embrace us like the arms of the Beloved.
YA QUDDUS: The Ever-Purifying One
Purified by the endless sun beating down, by the discipline of walking—day after day and the desert air, by the preciousness of the water which restored us and refreshed us and was even there for washing us in the evening. And purified by our vision quests. Alone in our sacred space, freeing ourselves from the bondage of things, watching the sun get lower and coming face to face with ourselves and in so doing, with the Divine.
YA KABIR: The Great Beyond Comprehension
Looking out over the desert from the highest sand dune in Chigaga—with the sand dunes stretching as far as the eye can see and the limitless sky turning red as evening falls. Then lying on our backs looking up at the night sky and the Milky Way as Elmer describes the never ending mysterious landscape of stars while we wait for the moon to rise. There is a timelessness to walking in the desert, like our ancestors did … no beginning, no end; just infinite presence beyond the boundaries of time and space.
YA NUR: The Light Luminosity itself
At first light—the call to morning prayer…. In full light—the heat of the midday sun. We search for shelter in the shade—so bright is the light. In the soft light of evening camels graze across the sand. Later is starlight which holds our gaze. Then firelight which illuminates the faces of our fellow travellers and pilgrims and later still moonlight which lights up the sleeping camels and the pale blue flowers of the desert in bloom…. Walking in the desert brings light to my mind and light to my heart.
YA LATIF: The Infinite Subtlety
The secret of kindness, tenderness and love with a hint of sweetness….
The long fineness of the shadow of the desert grass. The tender embracing curve of sand dunes. The delicate sweep of sand ripples. The finest black seed mixed with sand. The transient floating of white petals—infinitely tender. The softness of a camel’s hoof. Ali’s bare feet walking in the sand. The slow sprinkle of a camel weeing. Elmer’s song from on top of the camel. The gentle desert wind. The kindness I am met with. All these are in my heart.
YA RHAMAN: Endless Love
And so we end our pilgrimage in the desert singing the zikr of gratitude. May it sound forever as a beginning….
We don’t go into the desert to escape people
But to learn how to find them:
We do not leave them in order to have
Nothing more to do with them
But to find out the way
To do them most good