Waking Up

My first Zentangle!
My first Zentangle!

I’ve been thinking a lot about waking up. I don’t mean in a metaphorical sense this time. I mean literally. How do I wake up into the day? I’ve been a night owl most of my life. Sometimes dawn and daylight catch me still awake from the day before. But we live a good deal in a morning world. Having jobs that require me to be up and about early has meant staying up late and waking up with just a few minutes to get ready and out the door. I am a pro at the 20-minute turnaround. Rushing to get to early engagements has meant I don’t leave myself any time to ease into the day, no time to step into the frame of the day with clear intention. With only 20 minutes to get out the door, the list of things to do and responsibilities rush in. I’ve come to believe this way of waking up is not optimal in the quest to live in divine alignment.

Without something to rush to, I notice that I like slow. Waking up slowly, intentionally means noticing and giving thanks that I am alive again, writing (morning pages are wonderful!*), practicing Jin Shin Jyutsu and, most importantly, intentionally setting the frame for the day.

What does it mean to frame the day? For me, this means asking the Divine “How can I serve you today?” This simple question has made a profound difference in how I experience all that follows. As human beings, we have a tendency to get caught up in our feelings, our impressions, our opinions, our judgments, our assumptions. These can loom large in our view and, consequently, how we experience our lives. What I’ve noticed is that framing my day in terms of “How can I serve today?” has me pay keen attention, eager to recognize opportunities subtle and obvious, to be a vessel for something far bigger than myself, far more powerful than my desires, thoughts, assumptions, etc. For example, if part of my schedule for the day includes going to an event or obligation I am not thrilled to attend, saying to myself “I am going as a servant,” has me show up fully present and available to whoever I may meet and whatever may show up in that space. I find myself listening more carefully and giving of myself more freely. Service comes first, my agenda comes second. Of course, service is itself a blessing and through this lens things unfold far more beautifully than my myopic ideas about my agenda would have me imagine.  Needs and wishes, along with aspects of my purpose are unexpectedly fulfilled.

Last week I attended a Quaker weekend gathering. It was my first time going to a Quaker event. I wasn’t feeling well and nearly cancelled the trip but in the frame of “the Divine is sending me”, it was easy to trust that I would be well cared for. It was a wonderful experience and constantly remembering the frame created space to have conversations my fatigue might have had me rush from in favor of a nap. From one of those conversations came unsolicited news of a potential space I can use for an event I’m planning. Give. Receive.

I’m learning. There are still plenty of mornings I don’t leave myself enough time to really wake up into the day as slowly as I’d like, but now I know enough to make sure to ask “how can I serve today?”, jot a quick word and do even just a minute of Jin Shin Jyutsu before hopping to the next thing.


Questions for your consideration:

  • How do you wake up into the day?
  • What helps you feel grounded?
  • What question(s) frame your day?
  • What questions help you keep track of a bigger picture?


A musical treat: 

In honor of Nina Simone’s 80th birthday, her tune “Children Go Where I Send You”. In joy!

Children Go Where I Send You


*”Morning pages” comes from Julia Cameron’s amazing The Artist’s Way, which I enthusiastically recommend.

musical musings

Musical Interlude #1: Jose James & Charles Holt

I love music. I am a ravenous fan of music, consuming anything that moves me in any way at all. So, as part of our (r)evolutionary musings here, I’ll be sharing songs and albums I love, long favorites and recent discoveries, every 3 weeks or so. Please leave a comment with your thoughts/feelings. What do these songs evoke for you?

Up first, Jose James. “Bird of Space” is a beautiful record from his new album “No Beginning, No End”.  He’s been around for a minute. His style is an interesting combination of jazz, sometimes easily recognizable as such, and hip hop sensibility. I first heard his beautiful voice on Jazzanova’s gorgeous track “Little Bird”.  I enjoy “No Beginning, No End” all the way through, but this is one of the standout tracks for me. I find myself moved by the lyrics and the intensity of his vocals. Truthfully, this is kind of an Only Grape song: -) When talking about the impetus for the song, Jose says it was inspired by the impact of touring on his relationship. “I wanted to talk about the loneliness of the road but still have it sound romantic.”

In joy!

The next selection is Charles Holt’s cover of Nicole Nordeman’s “River God”. I hadn’t heard the song until a couple of weeks ago. A minister at an interfaith gathering I attended quoted some lines with such passion, my curiosity sparked. She recommended I look up Charles. His passion in combination with the lyrics moved me deeply. Sufis tell the story that in pre-eternity, Allah said to all souls: “Alastu bi-Rabbikum? (Am I not your Lord?)”. The souls cried out in response. The memory of this question is imprinted in the core of our being and some music can evoke its memory. “River God” reminds me of that. Have you had the experience where your whole being reacts to a song? It feels as if every cell is crying out in response. My cells cried out.  Here are the lyrics:

Rolling River God, little stones are smooth

Only once the water passes through

So I am a stone, rough and grainy still

Trying to reconcile this river’s chill
But when I close my eyes and feel you rushing by

I know that time brings change and change takes time

And when the sunset comes, my prayer would be this one

That you might pick me up and notice that I am

Just a little smoother in your hand
Sometimes raging wild, sometimes swollen high

And never have I known this river dry

The deepest part of you is where I want to stay

And feel the sharpest edges wash away
And when I close my eyes and feel you rushing byI know that time brings change and change takes time

And when the sunset comes, my prayer would be just one

That you might pick me up and notice that I am

Just a little smoother in your hand
Rolling River God, little stones are smooth

Only once the water passes through


Only Grape Syndrome

Only Grape Syndrome

I suffer from Only Grape Syndrome (OGS).  Some time ago I was a talk given by Shayka Amina Al Jerrahi. She spoke about how one of the essential roots of human hurts is the belief that we are alone. “Imagine, it’s like a grape on a bunch thinking it’s the only one.”

OGS is characterized by 4 persistent symptoms:

  • Believing you are the only grape on the bunch, that you are not part of a larger community
  • That you can only rely on yourself—even for small things
  • Forgetting that you are part of the larger bunch of your family, your lineage
  • Intense loneliness

I thought I had by and large kicked it until I began thinking about writing about it. This last week I’ve felt traces of the intense loneliness I experienced for a good chunk of childhood and adolescence. In my teenage years, I endeavored to get comfortable with it, thinking it was my lot in life; loneliness was a fact to be endured. Thankfully, I’m not there anymore. I’ve also seriously questioned whether it would be ok for me to write about something that feels so vulnerable to me.

OGS first came on when I was about 5 or 6. My mother and I moved to Los Angeles from Nigeria. It was major culture shock for me, with my accent and fancy dress. The kids in LA public schools were not impressed with my dresses and ribbons everyday. “Christmas Tree” they called me. I came home one day and told my mother I would no longer go to school dressed that way. With some dedication and many hours spent mimicking tv commercials, I lost my Nigerian accent, allowing me safe passage on the playground. From that experience and others in later years, I somehow internalized the notion that other people were, by and large not safe, even as I yearned for meaningful connections more than anything. Other people could not be counted on. Somehow disappointment always turned up. I remember walking around my high school campus, after some small slight, feeling reaffirmed in my belief about the unreliability of everyone but myself. There were a few exceptions but for the most part…

As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to notice more deeply the ways that friends, family and folks in brief encounters, can be magnificent, kind, loving, thoughtful, patient, funny and otherwise gorgeous, in my direction. I’ve learned to be more understanding and less attached to small disappointments—and to catch it when those disappointments arise because I haven’t actually communicated what I want. You know, that awkward moment when someone doesn’t say/do what you hoped they would and you’re disappointed that they didn’t just know to do it without you having to tell them. Sound familiar anyone?

“Are you mad?”

“You’re acting mad.”

“It’s fine.”

“It doesn’t seem fine.”
“It is.”


“by the way, here’s that scarf you gave me. I don’t need it.”

A week later—maturityJ

Remember last week?”

“I was really hoping you would surprise me by making dinner.”

“Oh! That’s what you were mad about. Why didn’t you just say something?”

“I’m saying it now.”


OGS has also seriously impacted my relationship with my family. It’s gotten a lot better in the last couple of years, but for the most part, I really forget that there is this network of people I am connected to, past and present. I don’t call them often. It’s a strange thing really, and it isn’t because I don’t love or care about them. It’s the amnesia of OGS.  I’m working on shifting this because I see the distance it has caused with people I don’t actually want to feel distant from. The irony is that the embarrassment and others ways I can feel bad about not reaching out to my family can become a further obstacle, which only compounds the situation. My cousin has been asking me to visit her for a very long time and I haven’t made it yet. It has actually caused some damage to our relationship.

“Heeey! Nice to hear from you. It’s been a very long time.”
“[slight pause of embarrassment], yes. I’ve been…[what reason can one really give if it’s been months, or years??] you’re right, I’m sorry about that. I’m working on it…How are you?”

Since moving to Philadelphia, I’ve been thinking a lot about connection and community. When I decided to move I knew that I would be leaving the physical proximity of friends it had taken me years to make, and new friends I hadn’t had enough time with. I tried not to think too deeply about it. Arriving in Philly and into the arms of a new relationship, I thought that it would be my entry point into a sense of community, something I’ve not felt very connected to throughout my life. As fate would have it my beloved took on a project that resulted in us not seeing each other very much for several months. Unexpectedly, I was left on my own much of the time. OGS kicked into super-high gear, working overtime in fact. I didn’t know where to begin in getting connected. What I have slowly gotten comfortable with in recent years, is the sense of belonging to communities beyond a physical location. I belong to the Muslim community, to the Sufi community within and beyond that, to the community of educators, the community of artists, and so on. I feel more and more at home in these global spaces, understanding that even within a community there are smaller communities as well. My heart is healing here. A year later, I’ve noticed enough to catch my OGS and put it on the side as I endeavor to build a community of friends in Philly.


Though Only Grape Syndrome is serious, it can be remedied through the contradiction of catching it when it flares up, reaching out to folks—family, friends, supporters, mentors/teachers, community. When that temptation to forget the web of connections that are lifeblood, just picture imagine yourself as one grape on a full bunch on a vine with lots of other full bunches. As it turns out, we are not the only grapes. Alhamdulillah.


Questions for your consideration:

  • Do you suffer from Only Grape Syndrome? If so, what does that look like in your life? (remember that all or only some of the symptoms may be true for you)
  • What does community mean to you? What communities do you belong to?
  • What would it take to deepen your connections to/with those you love? With those you want to get closer to? Are you willing? Are you able?
  • What do you to do to kick OGS to the curb?



Divine Alignment

I celebrated my birthday my birthday this week. Happy New Year to me!  I enter a new chapter of my life with joy, enthusiasm, gratitude, and excitement.

About ten years ago I began giving a theme to each new year, birthday to birthday. There’s been the Year of Quickening, the Year of Reckoning, the Year of Transformation, and so on. A few weeks before my new year actually begins, I sit in stillness, take walks and listen for the name. It always comes.

This year the theme is Alignment. In the last year and a half, my life has changed significantly:

  • I started a new relationship
  • moved to a new city
  • went from full-time employment to unemployed/self-employed
  • came to some new understandings about myself, or more precisely, simply cycled back to remembering things I’ve known all along

From the time I can remember I’ve always had a strong sense of purpose, though I couldn’t quite say what exactly it was. The strength of that purpose compelled me and for much of my life – all of it really, until now – I made decisions about what to do or what not to do (become a teacher, get a PhD, etc.) according to intuitions that told me if I would end up closer to or further away from my purpose.

As 2012 came to a close, I realized that I’d spent the year getting comfortable with the new and first-time clarity about what I am here to do, getting comfortable with the possibility of answering yes or no to the question “am I doing what I’m here to do?” And 2012 I experienced what I call “divine alignment”. As I experienced the joy of feeling as if at any given moment I was in exactly the place I was meant to be a set of check and questions came to me,  guideposts by which to consider the day, the week, the month, the lifetime:

  • Am I in divine alignment?
  • If not, why not? What does my resistance look like?
  • If so, what does my surrender look like? What would the next level of surrender it look like?

In late 2011, I decided to move to Philly for love. I prayed about it and felt this decision was definitely in alignment. I was going to save money, move in the warm months – you know, do it prudently,  safely. In November I had a dream which showed me that my careful plan was nonsense, that by going in what I thought was a straight line I would actually be going in a circle. No, I needed to move by the end of December – in six weeks, not six months. By making the decision to move I had been in alignment but more was required. My resistance looked like “but…” And “I don’t…”  and waiting to get the ball in motion to actually move that quickly. Nonetheless, I leapt. I surrendered. Allah handled everything that could have been an obstacle. I was in Philly by December 28th.

Fear and bewilderment had me phasing in and out of alignment in 2012, or at least had me feeling as though I was phasing in and  out of it.  in 2013, I intend to be courageous. What’s the point if I’m not? I’ve been waiting my whole life to know what I now know about my particular purpose. So what does every day look like an alignment? Inshallah I’m looking forward to finding out.  Happy New Year indeed!

As the year gets rolling I invite you to consider these checking questions for yourself.

  • What does divine alignment look like in your own life? Are you in it?
  • If not why not? What does your resistance look like?
  • If you are in alignment, what does your surrender look like? What would the next level of surrender look like?

Wishing all of us courage as we each seek to fulfill our unique and divine purposes! Let’s love one another in the process. Ashe. Salaam. Shalom. Inshallah, inshallah, inshallah.