Salaam, stillness and song-in memory

Marguerite Wallis writes- salaam-stillness-and-song

SALAAM, STILLNESS and SONG is the title of a Requiem event I am putting on in memory of my father Ronald Watts who died last year. It is being held in the John Bunyan Church, Cowley, at 12.30 on Saturday the 24th September. Donations will go towards the Ark T centre, a youth arts project.

The inspiration for this event was the death of my father last year and the revelation of a profound peace that grew palpably in my awareness as he melted into eternity, oneness, the mystery, the source. It is an offering of healing for all of us who have lost people we love. If you can come you are invited to bring a memento for the shrine of someone you love or someone you longed to have been able to love. My intention is to allow our loss, pain and sorrow to carve out a space in our hearts that can also contain great joy, beauty, love, compassion and peace. Through Sufi practices I find the distinctions between grief and love, joy and sorrow, giving and receiving, death and life becoming blurred. I find in the depths of intense pain and loss there is also a tender joy, relief, peace and acceptance.

I’ve had many partings from my parents: My mother worked as a doctor of Tropical Medicine in bush clinics and hospitals and was a flying doctor. My father was an Agriculturalist and Lecturer. In Africa, as a baby and small child, I waved them off to work each morning and was left with unfamiliar nannies – or Ayahs as we called them. My parents fostered many babies so I lost them to the busyness of looking after their needs. The next most painful partings were being left at boarding school in the UK and being separated by continents as my life unfolded in England and theirs in Africa. All these partings held a painful intimation of this final one, with memories gathering and colliding in the months after his death.

I have wondered at the different ways we can all exit this world and how modern medicine has influenced this. There are so many choices to be made when caring for our parents and it seems we are paving the way for a particular kind of slow drawn out death. Although my father lost so much – his ability to write, then to find words, his mobility, his sight and any ability to look after himself – I was glad we had these last 4 years together and feel he too valued our soul connection and the love, compassion and understanding that grew between us.

It feels uncomfortable and maybe even shameful and certainly painful to talk about death and to bring it to consciousness. It’s strange that given that we all die, it isn’t more talked about. It is frightening for the body and for our egos. It has been strangely more frightening in this last year than it was when I was actually with him in the Nursing Home as he died. We seemed to be held in such intense love, compassion, peace and grace. Before I went on retreat this summer, my mind and emotions were conjuring up regrets and flash backs of moments of distress around his suffering and the inadequacies of Nursing Homes… but mostly after the retreat there is a painful longing to touch him again, to hear his voice, to lean against his 6’2’’ shoulder.

It feels like an alchemical process to turn this loss, grief and pain in to music and something beautiful. To find a way with vibration that can manifest the quality of peace and love we so need in our beautiful world and for ourselves.

I have mused on the words muse and music! It seems that a mix of death and the Sufi message of Spiritual Liberation have acted as a muse for me and out has poured music. Since “in the beginning was the word” or vibration, the importance of sound and the quality of vibration have held a fascination for me, especially when silence follows sounds. In the Sufi world this is called Fikr…the essence, as if the quality being invoked becomes magnified through silence. Resting in stillness, in the depths of silence, has a homeopathic effect on me and I feel the essence of the essence or perfume of the quality become all there is. This is called Fikr Asir.

Salaam is the Arabic word for peace and it is one of the 99 beautiful names of Allah. This is the greeting of most Muslims and I wanted to honour that. As I was brought up a Quaker, peace has been at the heart of much of mine and my parents’ work and longing. Invoking peace is more like a remembrance, as the “peace that passes all understanding” seems to me to be like the ocean of eternity/nothingness that is there before time, and will be there after time. Life arises out of it and returns to it. Rest In Peace is no mistake or idle wish. The more we remember peace the more concentrated it becomes in life. It can be frightening to our sense of self, which is possibly why there seems to be so much un-peace…

Stillness is an opportunity to return to the ground of our being, our origins (where the word original comes from), our source (re-source) and be curious about what we find there.

The songs at this event were mostly composed during the last 4 years and will arise out of stillness and silence and a Sufi meditation on peace. To draw us all in to unity I hope to honour the listener as well as the singer by having us all sit together at the beginning. Those who wish to are invited to learn and sing a 4 part Taizé chant together (the Taizé ecumenical community in France have brought many beautiful chants in to the world and this one on peace has been a particular comfort to me in the last 2 years).

Please contact me if you are interested in knowing more about the Sufi Group in Oxford which runs on the second Thursday of each month. I also run a mindfulness for health group on the 3rd Thursday of each month. There are 2 sessions of mindfulness during the Kicking The Bucket festival.

I hope to see some of you at this event or at the Kicking The Bucket festival.

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