The Month of Light

Wishing peace and happiness to our Muslim friends and contributors during this holy month of Ramadan. This feature article is by guest contributor Imen Benyoub (Algeria). It is from the February issue (theme: abundance/lack of abundance) of The BeZine. The first illustration is courtesy of American multimedia journalist and novelist (Bagdad Fixer), Ilene Presher. She found it online and shared it on her Facebook page. Ilene hosts a weekly radio show, TLV1Radio, Weekend Edition. The second illustration is courtesy of Russian photographer, Petr Kratochvil, Public Domain Pictures.net. J.D.

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Ramadan is the month of light, the month of reflection, blessings, generosity, devotion, change and sacrifice and a pillar of Islam as Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said: “Islam is built upon five pillars: testifying that there is no God except Allah and that Mohammad is the messenger of Allah, performing prayer, paying the Zakah (charity), making the pilgrimage to the sacred house and fasting the month of Ramadan.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.  It is called the sacred month because it is observed worldwide by all Muslims as the month of fasting.  It’s twenty-nine or thirty days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon.

Fasting in Islam means “to abstain.”  When you fast, you completely abstain from food, drinks, smoking and sexual intercourse from the break of dawn until sunset with an intention. This is not, however, all of it.  Real accomplished fasting is when you abstain from every behavior that is considered bad behavior in general.  It is something we share with Christianity and Judaism but with a lot of difference in details.

Who must fast? In general it is obligatory upon every Muslim, male or female, who is adult, sane, not sick or in a journey (traveling more than eighty kilometers). The exceptions to this are women who are in period or post-natal bleeding days, pregnant women and mothers who are beast-feeding.  These women are expected to make up the fast when they are in a condition to do so.  Those who are terribly sick, need constant medications, and those whose illness may be exacerbated by fasting.

When you fast, you will have two essential meals, sahur ( a pre-dawn meal). The Prophet Mohammad talked a lot about the reward and blessing of this meal, preferably left ’till the last half hour before dawn.  This meal will help you resist during the long hours of fasting during the day.  The second meal is iftar or break-fast, you take it immediately after sunset.

Along with exceptions mentioned above, there are a lot of permissible things a person can do that will not invalidate his or her fasting, like swimming in the sea when it’s too hot, with caution of not swallowing water, taking injections, doing blood tests, using toothpaste and eating or drinking unintentionally when someone forgets.

Fasting is a school of wisdom.  It has great spiritual and moral meaning too long to be listed in a few lines.  Beside its health benefits, it teaches patience and utility. It makes us closer to Allah because we are doing it out of love and seeking spiritual reward. It cleanses the soul from grudge and hatred. It teaches self-control and maturity.  Through fasting we learn to be selfless because we feel the pain of the poor and the hungry.

There is a beautiful sense of solidarity and community in Ramadan when everyone is helping, when mosques are filled, when relatives visit each other, when people forgive and start a new page, when a person vows to be good to others and when people stand in one line to pray.

Fasting can truly change a person’s heart when done with utter sincerity. It fills the heart with satisfaction, happiness and light because you’ll be rewarded double fo revery deed of goodness, every charity, every nice word you say, every verse of the Quran you read. When you realize that Allah gave hose who fast a special door in Heaven because of its holiness and significance.

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Every country celebrates Ramadan differently.  Traditions and customs change. The only thing that connects us all together is that magic that everyone feels during the month. The one I truly love is when the family celebrates the fasting of a child, encouraging him and helping him to understand what fasting truly is.  It is like a recharge for the year, a self-nourishing experience and one of the most exquisite a person can have.

Some sayings about Ramadan: on Prophet Mohammad (PBUH):

“When Ramadan enters, the gates of paradise are opened, the gates of hellfire are closed and all the devils are chained.”

“Every action a son of Adam does shall be multiplied; good action is by ten times its value up to 700 times.  Allah says: with the exception of Fasting, which belongs to me, and I reward it accordingly for, one abandons his desire and food or my sake.”

“Whoever observes fasts during the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith, and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven.”

– Imen Benyoub

© 2015, feature article, Imen Benyoub, All rights reserved; 2015

The BeZine, May 2015, Vol. 1, Issue 7

640px-The_Historian_(The_How_and_Why_Library)Storytelling: It’s a means by which we are entertained but also by which we explore meaning and develop our internal fortitude, our moral fiber, values and identity … At least that was the purpose before storytelling was so grossly co-opted by marketing with its push to accumulation and self-aggrandizement. This month in our lead feature, Healing Stories, Michael Watson, therapist and Native American shaman, explores the power of storytelling to heal in the context of tradition and of therapy.

Our resident professional storyteller, Naomi Baltuck, gifts us with four photo stories, small gems that will make you smile and laugh and remind you of what really matters in life.

The poem, Mourning Brooch, reflects on the power of memory when it evolves into story. John Anstie‘s poem is a love story for his grandson. How many of us have told our children or grandchildren stories about their birth, it’s meaning to us, and what we want to leave them as legacy? Turtle Speaks explores meaning in Native American stories about Turtle. Charlie Martin, Joe Hesch and Myra Schneider use poetry to tell their stories or those of others. For Charlie it’s all about social conscience, compassion and justice. For Joe Hesch it’s often about nature and history. For Myra it’s about the different ways that both fine art and everyday things move her … and by extension, us.

Señora Ortega’s Frijoles is a short story about dichos (sayings), which are used to pass tradition and values from one generation to the next … just like storytelling.

Silva Merjanian shares four poems from her second collection, Rumor (Cold River Press).  We introduced Silva here last month.  Silva’s poems tell us the stories of war – not simply a reaction to the news of war as in my own The Doves Have Flown – but her experience of war.

We shared in the last issue that Silva and her publisher are donating all profits from the sale of Rumor to the Syrian Armenian Relief Fund.  As I was preparing this intro I learned that thus far they have raised $1,397.73.  Well and kindly done, Silva.

The use of poetry to raise funds for worthy causes is not new to our contributors and readers.  John Anstie and the Grass Roots Poetry Group donate the funds from Petrichor Rising to UNICEF.  Therein lies another story featured this month: “Petrichor Rising” … or how the Twitterverse birthed friendships that in turn birthed a poetry collection …

With a nod toward spring in the Western Hemisphere, Corina Ravenscraft serves up a charming soupçon of gardening advice, a small treasury of hints to help you garden with simplicity, patience, and compassion.  It’s all about balance, whether you are caring for plants or for your own spirit.

Millais_Boyhood_of_RaleighAs you go through your days, do your work and practice your art, we hope you keep in mind the meaning and value of the stories you hear and read and of your own story as it unfolds. We hope you’ll share your stories in the comment sections here or via books or blogs or at gatherings of family and friends.

Enjoy this issue.  Be sure to “like” and comment to let contributors know what you think and that you value their hard work and their contributions. The BeZine is entirely a volunteer effort, a gift of love. (Our mission statement is HERE.) Any ads you see are not our own.  They are WordPress ads used to defray their cost of hosting blogs and websites.

Be the peace.

Thanks for visiting us.
Jamie Dedes

Illustrations: Header via Wikipedia under CC BY-SA 2.0 license, A very fine par dated 1938 A.D. The epic of Pabuji is an oral epic in the Rajasthani language that tells of the deeds of the folk hero-deity Pabuji, who lived in the 14th century.; photo #1 (public domain) via The How and Why Library, E. Irving Couse, A. N. A.; The Historian; The Indian Artist is painting in sign language, on buckskin, the story of a battle with American Soldiers;  photo #2 (public domain) via Wikipedia, The Boyhood of Raleigh by Sir John Everett Millais, oil on canvas, 1870. A seafarer tells the young Sir Walter Raleigh and his brother the story of what happened out at sea.

Core Team and Guest Contributor Biographies

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Lead Feature

Healing Stories by Michael Watson, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC

Photo Stories

Survival Stories by Naomi Baltuck
The Inside Story by Naomi Baltuck
To See the World by Naomi Baltuck
Rather Than Curse the Darkness by Naomi Baltuck

Fiction

 Señora Ortega’s Frijoles by Jamie Dedes

Poetry

An Apology from Your Grandfather by John Anstie

The Mourning Brooch by Jamie Dedes
Turtle Speaks by Jamie Dedes
The Doves Have Flown by Jamie Dedes

The Discovery of Grass by Joseph Hesch
In Audience with the Queen by Joseph Hesch

dance to life’s music by Charles W. Martin
no translation necessary by Charles W. Martin
honey … I swear this is for the birds … by Charles W. Martin

Beirut by Silva Merjanian
Collateral Damage by Silva Merjanian
Doves of Beirut by Silva Merjanian
Rooftop by Silva Merjanian

Bird by Myra Schneider
Milk Bottle by Myra Schneider

Feature Articles

Being a More Compassionate Gardener by Corina Ravenscraft

“Petrichor Rising” … or how the Twitterverse birthed friendships that in turn birthed a poetry collection … by John Anstie and Jamie Dedes

One Perspective on Understanding Our Religious Traditions

BROTHER DAVID STEINDL-RAST (b. 1926)

Viennese, Catholic Benedictine Monk

Br. David is notable for his work fostering dialogue among the faiths and for exploring the congruence between science and spirituality. Early in his career he was officially designated by his abbot to pursue Catholic-Buddhist dialogue. He studied with several well-known Zen masters. He is the author of feature articles, chapter contributions to collections, and books. Among the most notable are Belonging to the Universe (with Frijof Capra) and The Music of Silence: A Sacred Journey Through the Hours of the Day (with Sharon Lebell). Br. David is the co-founder of A Network for Grateful Living, dedicated to the life-transforming character of gratitude.

PTSD and the Healing Journey

Evening-WoodsThe other night I had dinner with friends. After a traditional ceremonial meal, we watched Skins. I have read about the film, heard others talk about, and planned to watch it, for a long while. The film follows a few months in the life of a tribal police officer on a fictional reservation much like Pine Ridge, and weaves together myth and contemporary experience, violence and healing. Early in the story we are reminded that although humans like to think they are in charge, the spirits shape everything.

Earlier that day I had sat in a local bakery with a couple of medicine women, discussing a Medicine Wheel ceremony we are to hold next month as part of a conference honoring aging. As we come from different traditions and teachings it seemed important to all get on the same page. It turned out we were already in agreement, so the planning went smoothly.

Later, as I thought about the film and my delightful hour at the bakery I decided PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) might well live in the North, the place of night and winter. Fortunately, the North is the home of the Ancestors and the place we seek vision; in winter there is little haze and one can see clearly for a long way. The North is often a place where the spirits seem more immediate and accessible.

As the police officer in Skins discovers, healing from PTSD takes patience and courage, and may involve the workings of mythic beings. When we seek a healing for PTSD, we can request guidance from both our unconscious and the spirit world, asking them to give us manageable amounts of information regarding our traumatic experiences, and to aid us find new, more life nurturing, meaning in those experiences. Healing PTSD may become a vision quest, very like going alone to ask the ancestors and spirits to aid us and our communities, to bring us a vision we may live by.

Of course, we are not truly alone. Whether we are challenging the domination of PTSD in our lives, or praying for a vision, there are others, human and spirit, supporting us. We are blessed by the knowledge and caring of those who walk with, and pray for, us, and we benefit from their experience and companionship. Still, they cannot  make the journey for us; we must each walk the healing road for ourselves.

As we walk sun-wise around the Medicine Wheel we discover that when we stand in the North the path before us faces East. East  is the place of birth and rebirth, the home of insight and understanding. It is also the place, in the view of many Indigenous cultures of the Northeastern U.S., where we pass into the spirit world. Sometimes facing long-held trauma brings us an intense fear of death; indeed, the  journey from the North to the East is fraught with both danger and promise.

When we go alone to seek  a vision, or begin the journey of healing from PTSD, we benefit from telling our families and friends, asking them to pray for us, help us prepare, and honor our return. For many, requesting support when healing from PTSD seems shaming; often asking for aid requires as much courage as does confronting PTSD itself. Yet healing seldom happens in a vacuum; we each need the support of others in our lives and on our healing journeys. Let us honor the courage of those who ask for our aid.

Healing PTSD, like any vision quest, is not for the faint of heart.  On the journey we need courage, perseverance, and compassion for ourselves and others. It is a good journey, holding the promise of healing, renewal, and vision, for Self, family, friends, and community.

– Michael Watson, Ph.D.

© 2013, essay and photographs (includes the one below), Michael Watson, All rights reserved

michael drumMICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.

through the ache of time

720px-52706main_hstorion_lgsee it moving – Life!
moving through the ache of time
seeking that place
where identity isn’t worn on a sleeve,
where individuals challenge the tribe,
where beauty frees itself from convention,
where the chain of fear dissolves

– Jamie Dedes

© 2013, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved * Photo credit ~ NASA, U.S. Public Domain

photo-on-2012-09-19-at-19-541JAMIE DEDES (The Poet by Day)~ I am a mother and a medically retired (disabled) elder. The graces of poetry, art, music, writing and reading continue to evolve as a sources of wonder and solace, as a creative outlet, and as a part of my spiritual practice.

When Words Fail

“When words fail, music speaks.” This photo essay from Steve McCurry is simply fabulous, as all his work is. J.D.

Troubling the Post-Tribal

On hte BridgeRecently, I found myself in conversation with a diverse group of alternatively oriented, North American,  health care providers, some of whom integrate shamanic practices into their work. As often happens, talk turned to our various efforts to situate ourselves in the broader cultural framework. Inevitably, this proves a thorny conversation.

Identity issues cut deep, exposing the painful questions underlying the increasingly tenuous fabric of Self. When engaged in conversations about our fundamental beliefs about Self we may find ourselves asking: “Who am I? What claims may I make about my experience of Me-ness? In a world that appropriates and commodities everything, how do I understand and situate Self?”

Speaking with my colleagues I was reminded that conversations about traditional modes of living and healing generate additional anxiety. Ethical questions abound: “What constitutes appropriation? Given we learn to be adults through acts of appropriation, what may we respectfully borrow from others? Does our use of another’s knowledge diminish the other? “

My colleagues attempted to circumvent these raw issues by positioning themselves squarely in the “Post Tribal”. At that point I stopped talking and simply listened. While I see myself as situated in the uncomfortable potential space between tribal and urban, I identify strongly with my tribal heritage. From that point of reference it seems to me the idea of Post Tribal is fraught  with problems.  The greatest of these is that it effectively erases the sovereignty and authorship of the world’s thousands of active tribal cultures. In so doing it effectively dismisses any claim to ownership of knowledge, traditions, and practices these cultures may make. The idea of the Post Tribal threatens, once again, to leave tribal people behind and alone. It borrows freely and selectively from Indigenous understanding, and uses these decontextualized bits of knowledge to strengthen the very citadel  of individuality that tribal ways of knowing challenge.  This seems, at best, disrespectful, and at worst genocidal. Either way, such attitudes inflict great harm on the souls of tribal and non-tribal people alike. There must be more heart centered ways for us to negotiate these issues.

Most of my teachers walked the “Soft Path,” the way of the Heart. On this path we are encouraged to balance mind and heart, and to be courageous warriors of the Spirit. We are advised to wrestle lovingly with difficult questions and the challenges of our time. Yet we are also to stand up to tyranny in all its forms. From the place of the Tribal Heart, we can understand that in a world of eight billion people most of us will not live on the land, in tribal communities. That must not stop us from acknowledging and honoring diverse knowledges and ways of living, no matter how easy it would be to do otherwise. Rather, I believe we must, if we are to survive as persons and as a species, tend the garden of diversity, protecting and nurturing the myriad forms of culture and biological life that make Earth home.

As we consider the way onward we may well ask ourselves:”How are we to hold on to the best of the traditions from which we spring? What might we ethically incorporate into our lives from the beliefs and practices of other cultures? What shared knowledge might be of real use in our turbulent times, might aid all of us in moving towards sustainable lifeways?”

The path ahead is challenging and the view is at times bleak. Yet, we do not know how that view, or the terrain, may change around the bend, or on the other side of the mountain. I imagine we are called simply do our best as we walk on. Approaching questions of Self and appropriation with deep thought and great kindness is good to practice  as we journey along together.

– Michael Watson, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC

© 2013, essay and photographs (includes portrait below), Michael Watson, All rights reserved

michael drumMICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.