In this interview Lizelot talks about her background in Sufism.
Q: What is Sufism to you?
L: Sufism is a mystical calling to fall in love with the Source of life, the ultimate Beloved. It is the response to the longing of the Source itself to meet and merge with itself within your heart. It is the love relationship between the human and the Divine, their union. The realization of the Unity of Being.
Q: Now this sounds very beautiful! How does the Sufi aim to reach this union with the Divine Beloved?
L: It is a combination of total surrender, as well as active aspiration. Of letting yourself go, as well as clinging yourself to absolute Truth and nothing else.
It is a path of ego-dissolution. Not by denying it or destroying it, but by letting it fall in love with God and with the whole of life as one Being, and with existence in all its forms and beings. The Sufi’s are one in adoration with God, with all living creatures within God.
Practically the path consists of mostly being within the world, outwardly conformed, but inwardly free. Without any pretentions or outward showing-off. Real Sufi’s live mostly anonymously in this world.
Practicing intensive meditation and contemplation. And a form of constant prayer, connected to the breath and with a mantra, called ‘Zikr’, given by the Sufi master at the time of the initiation.
Furthermore being in service of others, making an effort to make life easier or happier for others.
And another central practice in Sufism is the relationship with the Sufi master, who serves you on your path toward God-realization by his or her guidance. The bond with the master enables the disciple to practice ego-dissolution and surrender. To practice selflessness. To become one-pointed in the aspiration to merge with the Divine. This means to always keep the focus on God only within all of life. The Sufi master is the clear mirror reflecting both your Divine Origin, as well as all the impurities within the body-mind. In the light of this reflection, and by use of the Zikr we can become purified and thus one with the Divine.
The surrendering of the Sufi begins with not resisting reality, knowing that whatever happens has already the permission from the Divine.
If we want change we must begin with embracing what is.
Surrendering to what is, can be very subtle. It happens every moment in not resisting what is.
Instead of concluding, the Sufi stays present and watches how the mystery reveals itself within all that is happening.
When we think we know, we can no longer see truth.
Q: Lizelot, you told me your journey on the Sufi path started already at the age of 14. How?
L: I was going to school in Amsterdam at the National Ballet Academy. Life was harsh then: lots of travelling with heavy schoolbags, being in high school combined with many hours of ballet training afterwards every day. Coming home at 20:30 h at night and leaving the house again at 5:30 h in the morning.
I was exhausted most of the time and felt completely lost in this world.
I was disassociated from this physical life, and took refuge in my deeply devotional nature I was born with somehow.
So my spiritual life, in which I was in a constant state of bliss and adoration for the Source, was not grounded. And so earthly life was taking place as if I was somewhere else. It was very unsafe and I’m grateful I somehow survived this without any real support.
One day when I missed my evening train to go back home and had to wait for one hour for my next train, I discovered the esoteric bookstore Oibibio right across from the train station. As soon as I entered I was overwhelmed by an enormous sense of power and expansion. I was drawn directly to the bookshelf with the Sufi literature and fell in love first of all with Rumi.
Finally I felt a sense of home, now that I knew there are more souls that are crazy about God like I was! Such a deep relieve. It was like falling into the arms of an old friend.
Q: Wow, so you owe much to finding this bookstore under these circumstances and at such a young age! Did you share your discoveries with your parents or with anyone else?
L: No I didn’t. It felt like two different realities to me: one heavenly blissful in the spirit, and the other like a dark nightmare on the earthly plane.
But I started to get a sense in my heart of the possibility to merge these worlds into one. I just had no idea how.
In my search for a way out of the darkness, I was invited to come down from my heavenly cloud. So coming down from the light into the unknown realm of the physical world, into the body.
I remember the conscious decision to want to incarnate.
Because although I was trained as a dancer, I was not in the body at all.
The only relation I had to myself and to my body was by seeing my reflection in the mirror many hours a day in the ballet studios. I saw myself from that distance and until then had no wish to be a someone at all.
All I wanted was to be left alone and in peace with my heavenly Beloved.
But now, through Rumi, I got inspired to love my way into the physical life.
From that moment on my heart started to lead me further, day by day…
Sufism is really the path of Love, the path of the Heart.
Q: And when did you meet your teacher?
L: At that time, so between my 14th and my 23rd I considered Rumi as my guide. I did search for teachers in many different Sufi orders and groups. But since I had no difficulties feeling intimacy with God, but much more trouble with finding myself in the more dense layers of reality, it was difficult to find the right teacher. Most of the teachings I came across during those years were aimed at finding intimacy with God, and becoming free from the bonds of the ego. Whereas in my case I sort of had to go the opposite direction.
So it was only at the age of 24, when I didn’t expect it at all, that I first became aware of the existence of a living Sufi master that was going to be my guide.
Q: How did you find him?
L: In the library, haha! No really…
One day I went to the library to the department of mystical literature, like I loved to do. And suddenly I saw the cover of a book I strangely had never seen before. It was a Dutch translation of a small Sufi book with the title:
“In the Paradise of the Sufi’s”
As I read the cover vertically I felt I was literally falling into that paradise. My heart was responding so completely to these words.
Slowly I drew the book out of the shelve and opened it in my hands.
As I read half of a sentence a perfume so sweet and pure seemed to evaporate from it, permeating my heart. I was intoxicated by the love radiating from this book. My heart knew it immediately and without any doubt: I was suddenly in close touch with a true Sufi master: the writer of this book.
I felt his presence so strongly that it overwhelmed me completely. The whole library started spinning around me, turning and turning. I remember having to hold myself with both hands onto the book shelve not to fall over.
“Oh God….It is here. It’s alive. This is the path. It is real. It is truly starting for me. I have embarked on this journey for real now.”
My heart was pounding like crazy in my chest. And there was fear as well, as I realized how radical this was for me. I had no choice but to respond to this calling, regardless of the consequences. What about my child? My marriage? My job? I might have to give it all up, and yes…I would if this was required for this path.
Quickly I put the book back into the shelve. I rushed out of the library, completely shaken. I just needed a day or two to let this news sink in.
Two days later I was calmed down a bit, went back to the library to get the book.
In it there was a global description with instructions for how to ‘become a Sufi’.
The first requirement was pretty straight forward: One must become a Muslim if one aspired to embark on the Sufi path.
The perfume of Truth I sensed beyond the words was stronger than any mental question I could have had. I was in such a full trust that I happily converted and became a Muslim secretly. It was only after meeting the master and his close disciples, who were of all religious and non-religious backgrounds, that I found out that this requirement was only written in this book for certain reasons. One being that it had to be written for it to be published in Iran at that time. So it was written more as a cover-up, so it was allowed to be published.
Also it was written this way so that for example Westerners interested in Sufism, but trying to grasp it just with the intellect or in search of some romantic hope, would be scared away and find other portals to a spiritual life. For this same reason this specific Sufi order was not visible in the world with music, dance, or whirling, which would attract many people.
I was devoted to this path and trusted the sweetness, the pure bliss I sensed beyond the words. Having learned the Arabic prayers and performing the 5 prayers every day, I remember how deeply I was moved when I kneeled down for the first time so physically. It felt like a big relieve somehow. Like until then I had restraint from following a natural impulse. It was liberating in that sense.
And all this time I was practicing all that was written in this book: prayers, deep contemplation and meditation, nobody knew I was doing this. Not even my life partner. Doing all this on my own and in silence, hidden within ‘normal’ daily life was deeply transformative. I would recommend it!
I was delighted to find out that the Sufi order of this master even had a location, a Sufi house, in the Netherlands! It felt like a pilgrimage going there for a first visit. I was ecstatic arriving there and knocking on the door.
I was softly welcomed in and guided to the meditation room.
Beautifully covered with Persian rugs, and cushions all around against the walls to sit on.
There were about 12 other people, mostly Persians, sitting in meditation with their heads bent forward. I noticed a dryness, a sobriety, some serene colourlessness very new to me. A bit like being at a graveyard. Doesn’t sound very attractive, right? Haha.
But then something amazing happened:
As all was grey around me there with my eyes open, as soon as I closed my eyes it was the complete opposite. When closing my eyes I saw like all the richness and colours of the world, all the beauty in the form of jewel stones, gold, silk fabrics and rugs, diamonds…
Overwhelming beauty and wealth, colourful and shining.
And as I opened my eyes again all was back to grey again.
Again closing my eyes I was drowning in light, shining gold and beauty everywhere.
And opening the eyes again back to the graveyard, a colourless world covered in ashes.
The name of the Sufi order I became initiated into is the Nimatullahi Sufi Order, and Nimatullah means: the wealth of God.
Q: And how were you initiated?
L: After coming weekly to the gatherings in the Dutch Sufi house for about two months, I requested to get initiated into the order. My request was passed on to the master, who was residing in Oxfordshire in the UK, and was granted by him. And so I travelled to the UK for my initiation and meeting the master of the order.
In retrospect I am amazed how calm I was about meeting him. It was obviously better that I wasn’t anticipating the spiritual storm of total bliss and beauty that was awaiting me in being in his presence….
Here….I notice…I can hardly speak..
Whenever it comes to speaking about the master, about being in his presence, I feel I melt away, washed away by love. The light of his presence is indescribable.
It reminds me of the beautiful words of Rumi when he speaks of this love:
“Both light and shadow are the dance of Love.-Rumi
Love has no cause, it is the astrolabe of God’s secrets.
Lover and loving are inseparable and timeless.
Although I may try to describe love,
when I experience it, I am speechless.
Although I may try to write about love, I am rendered helpless.
My pen breaks, and the paper slips away
at the ineffable place where lover loving and loved are one.
Every moment is made glorious by the light of Love.”
Q: Can you tell us about the initiation and how it was for you?
L: First it was the arrival at the residence of the master in the beautiful English countryside. We, my travel companion and I, were led straight to the room of the master for him to welcome us.
It’s funny: I was in his room but did not see him.
This is because I was thoroughly instructed about the ways of conduct around being in the presence of the master. And the first thing I had learned was that one should never unasked look into the eyes of the master, and keep your head down. All I remember from this brief moment is that I felt the absence of my self. I was gone. There was a complete void. A perfect emptiness and nobody there to say anything about that state. As soon as I had set foot on the journey visiting the master I was in this state, like in a vacuum.
In this same state I underwent my initiation, without any emotion or reaction and in total serenity. A serenity which was not my own. I had no influence on it. It was beyond me.
This state was suddenly broken open a few hours later, at the moment I made a phone call home. This was really funny!
My partner picked up my call and said: “Hey, good to hear you! Tell me: how are you? Did you arrive safely? All is well? Did you have your initiation yet?”
And at this very moment I felt my chest breaking open and a voice from deep within me started crying out: “MERCI!!! Oh great Merci!! Grace!! Pure Grace, great great Grace! (Genade, grote Genade, – in Dutch)
I was shocked saying this, and so loudly. I had never before used this very word.
Obviously because I hadn’t experienced it truly before. And now that Grace had come and washed away all of my past, it seemed. I felt liberated and light.
Q: How did your partner at the time react?
L: Actually, he didn’t react at all to these words I had cried out. I think for some mysterious reason he didn’t perceive it in the same way. So our conversation continued very normal.
Being closely in the presence of the master in the years that followed, these kinds of events became more and more familiar.
Q: Can you say something about the way the master was teaching you on the Sufi path? What kind of practices did he prescribe?
L: My master like customized his way of teaching and transmission to each and anyone’s needs and capacity. There was not one specific method, other than the Sufi etiquettes we all attended to. Like always making an effort to make life easier or happier for others, selfless service to humanity, never complaining or expressing negativity, to name a few.
But the daily practice also was to tune in with the rhythm and vibration of the master. To be fully aligned with him, not just generally but also practically. This meant, for example, that I always made sure I got up in the morning before the master did. And in the same way never went to sleep at night earlier than he would.
The transmission and teaching I received from him was mostly without words, being in one-on-one sessions. But also in dreams or visions in which his presence was undeniable. The spiritual intimacy of this way cannot be shared with anyone else.
The main teaching was his boundless love for all beings. This love had completely consumed him. His body was so transparent and his eyes so radiant that his bliss was filling the entire space around him. Everybody came into this state of bliss when being in his presence.
It was impossible for anyone to keep ego-consciousness in the presence of this light. All melted away in this love.
His immense love created a field in which all of us came to blossom.
Q: And did you see him often? How did this bond with him evolve?
L: I was very lucky to have spent time with him, visiting him about 3 times a year during the last 7 years of his earthly life.
And each time I left his residence again to go home I felt like a rush moving me to bring in all that he gave me into my daily life and work. I always felt that he gave me much more than I could possibly realize.
And so I’m still processing this gift every day, even twelve years after his passing.
Q: Can you tell us how your journey continued after his passing? I know that you are much inspired by Kashmir Shaivism, Advaita Vedanta, and Tibetan Tantra.
How do these different approaches come together with Sufism?
L: Sufism will always be deep in my heart. This path is truly non-dual.
I continued the path up till today under the guidance of Dr. Alireza Nurbakhsh, who is the successor of his father and the current master of this lineage.
Studying closely the other traditions you mention, only deepened my insight and affinity with Sufism.
It can be seen as Tantric in the sense that it includes all human layers, the physical and emotional body, the sensual experience, in the process of transmutation of the gross energies into light.