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Come Together

The Southwest Sufi Community plans a retreat to dissolve
borders and open hearts.

By Donna Clayton Lawder


Embodying one of the tenets of western Sufi tradition—to honor the truth in all spiritual and religious paths—the Silver City-based Southwest Sufi Community (SSC) will hold a one-week event at its residential retreat property, bringing together teachers from the Sufi, Buddhist, Hindu and Native American sacred traditions, and participants from any and all religious traditions. "A Meeting of the Ways: The Great Heart of Compassion" will be held Sept. 1-7 at the Voice of the Turtle Retreat Center, on the SSC's rural Bear Creek land near Silver City.

As the wilderness has long been a magnet for spiritual seekers desiring deep retreat and renewal in the silence and peace of nature, the SSC land seems a natural place to hold such an event. Indeed, the site is home to several Sufi-related events and programs each year, including a "Sufi Camp" to be held this summer, August 6-12.

The property consists of 1,500 acres, including three miles of Bear Creek, shaded by massive cottonwoods and sycamores. There are several springs with wading areas, as well as hillsides and mesas, walking trails and high cliff vistas. Aside from the SSC's homestead and outbuildings, this site is "undeveloped."

Think of being "away from it all"—rustic, simple, basic. Think "natural rhythms"—birds at sunrise, afternoons by the creek, sunset beauty and lots of stars and moonlight.

Accommodations at the site also are rustic and basic, but welcoming and adequate—a step above solo camping on the comfort scale. In addition to dormitory-style accommodations, participants are invited to camp in their own tents or vehicles. Voice of the Turtle Retreat Center offers clean outhouses and indoor hot showers. The main building, the "Homestead," has solar-powered electricity and there is a cell phone available for emergency use.

Literature promoting the event promises "time for learning and practice, solitary time in nature, and time for fellowship with seekers on many spiritual paths." The event will offer a blend of traditions and practices, including the Sufi tradition of Dances of Universal Peace, observance of the Jewish Shabbat, drumming, meditation, time for prayer from various traditions, and the Sufi observance of Zikr.

The retreat begins with dinner on Friday evening and ends the following Thursday with breakfast. Participants will eat, dance and pray together. The daily schedule includes morning classes, afternoon rest or "creek time," afternoon classes, and an evening program. (Please note that there is no structured children's camp program. Children are welcome to the site, but parents are responsible for childcare.)

Meals at the event will be vegetarian, with a vegan option. As is popular in many intentional spiritual communities, workshop participants are asked to assist with meal preparation, serving and clean-up.


Azima Lila Forest, director for the event, stresses the benefits of sharing the truth from varied religious and spiritual traditions, a cornerstone of Sufism. Forest, herself, is a blending of traditions. She is a Sheikha (teacher) in the Sufi Ruhaniat International, and the SSC's spiritual director, a leader of the Dances for Universal Peace, as well as a Unitarian Universalist minister.

"Each time that we bring in teachers for the Meeting of the Ways that have not taught there before, it's like looking at the world and 'the Holy' through a different facet of a jewel," Forest says. "We are very blessed to have Siri-Gian from the Kundalini yoga tradition this year, as well as our dear friend Khenpo Paljor Gyatso, a wonderful teacher and conveyer of the spirit of kindness and compassion of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. I eagerly await the possibility of seeing through the beauty of these two paths."

Teaching staff for the event will include Khenpo Paljor Gyatso, retreat director Forest and Siri-Gian Khalsa, a Sikh who practices meditation and yoga in the tradition of Yogi Bhajan and also offers energetic healing and spiritual readings. Robert and Glenda Sassé, followers of the Lakota way, a Native American spiritual path, will lead a purification lodge in a specially constructed structure on the property.

Of her uniquely Sikh contribution to the multi-denominational event, Siri-Gian Khalsa says, "Courage and strength of character are cornerstone qualities for Sikhs. And the techniques of Kundalini Yoga and Meditation offer methods for both self-healing and self-expansion. All this provides a solid foundation for compassion to flourish."

Venerable Paljor Gyatso, a native of Nepal who has lived at Voice of the Turtle through invitation of the SSC, will lead the Buddhist portions of the event. He entered the De Nang Monastery at the age of seven, and has studied at several monasteries with scholars of Tibetan Buddhism, receiving the degree of Khenpo in 1999. He has completed numerous written works on dharma, variously defined as righteousness, purpose or duty.

Other Sufis contributing to the event will be Darvesha Victoria MacDonald, a Sheikha and a leader and senior mentor for the Dances of Universal Peace, as well as a teacher and longtime practitioner of Vipassana Meditation, and Yaqin Lance Sandleben, a Sheikh (teacher) and dance leader.

Although a teacher and director for the event, Forest also says in some ways she becomes a student, open to the truth in others' teachings.

"It's a pleasure to listen deeply to the other teachers during their classes, and then find the aspects and practices from the Sufi tradition that harmonize with those teachings or complement or highlight them in some way," she says. "I often will have an outline for what I intend to focus on in a class, and then discard it completely to follow up on what just happened in someone else's class. It's a delicious creative process that I'm deeply grateful to be called upon to bring through."


"A Meeting of the Ways: The Great Heart of Compassion" will be held Sept.1-7 at the Southwest Sufi Community's Voice of the Turtle Retreat Center near Silver City. Cost: $325 full retreat or $60 a day for adults, with 10 percent discount to Member and Charter Member Donors. Partial work scholarships are available. Contact the registrar for information on registering teens and children. A $100 deposit, non-refundable after August 1, is required. To register, or for more information, contact camp registrar Basira Nickle at 538-5034, or basira@southwestsuficommunity.org. The SSC will provide transportation to/from Silver City and the retreat, $5 each way.

For information on the SSC's Sufi Camp this summer, August 6-12, contact registrar John Foldan, 388-4536, john@southwestsuficommunity.org.

For more information on the SSC, see the Web site: www.southwestsuficommunity.org.


Donna Clayton Lawder is senior editor of Desert Exposure.



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