A Modern Mystic

Musings on life, work and contemporary spirituality


A call to prayer

Morning in Udaipur

Morning in Udaipur

Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you truly love. ~ Rumi

Today I awaken to the muezzin’s call shortly before sunrise. I can hear it quite clearly this crisp morning, thrilling time of day when the sun promises to rise above the trees, lifting one’s hopes after the long night. It’s late summer. The birds have gone for the season, leaving a profound stillness. The cat purrs quietly by my side, chirping as I shift to raise my ear off the pillow.

It starts naturally, one long lament. The clear rich warble bellows the call to prayer, amplified in the direction of the Almighty’s ear, Mecca. Oh how I get lost in the sound, mournful and full of such sweet longing, as if waiting many days for my Beloved to caress me with the softest croon. “Come. Pray,”  He calls to me, “Prayer is better than sleep!”

Yes, yes, I open my eyes to pink walls, gold rose-colored silk and the softest yellow cotton sheets. Rich burgundy patterns beckon from the floor as if to lure me from my bed toward the fragrant air outside. It’s a full minute before I realize where I am. It’s my own room, in a mundane suburb in the western United States, the rich silks and cottons dressing my bed, the ones I carried back from India; the bright wool carpet, a hand-me-down from a friend’s sojourn in Turkey; the heat-loving honeysuckle blooming where I planted it not long ago to attract the butterflies.

My heart stirs just the same.

I remember the first time I heard the Call, just a few years ago. I spent the night with a new lover in his flat overlooking the industrial end of the Willamette River. He carried me into his bed, the lights on the dry docks flickering on the water. We made sweet love for the first time and I felt emerald green inside, for no reason.

I heard it clearly when I awoke a few hours later, the long melodious wailing amid the ships’ whistles and heavy equipment moving on the railway tracks below us. The song beckoned me awake and I knew that I would follow someday.

Five years later I am in a foreign place that feels more like home than not. It’s my first trip to the East. I have taken a car ride from sprawling Mumbai, India through the quaint smaller city of Pune, with its universities and motor bikes, deep into rural Maharashtra. I arrive at my destination, a stucco and wood cottage outside the gates of the ancient holy caves at Ellora.

Exhausted, I fall onto the bed, travel and jet lag taking their toll. I awaken several hours later to the most glorious sound, the Call from my dreams! I jump out of bed and fly through the door to my little terrace. The scene is amazing, an expanse of scrubby landscape over the bougainvillea entwined stucco wall. I glimpse the caves in the distance and the sun about to crest the small hills. There is nothing but the songbirds to distract me from the rich voice amplified from a nearby mosque. I feel so at home at last.

I am haunted by the memory–or premonition–of the Call that repeats often in my heart.

In my travels through India I have marveled at the way an entire huge city–Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists–rouse themselves to this morning call. From a recent entry in my travelog:

“Udaipur, Rajasthan, Jan 1, 2009

This morning I arise before dawn and creep out of my hotel room in the early darkness, hoping to watch India in her deep morning slumber and then to catch her first waking moments. I tiptoe carefully down the narrow and twisted marble stairways to the courtyard lobby, the only lights the small votives set in the tiny Shiva, Ganesh and Hanuman shrines amid the stucco and tile. At the front desk I see a dark hand resting on the gleaming wooden counter, its arm draped below, the rest of the body fast asleep beneath the British-era hotel ledger. Across from the front desk another figure snores peacefully under a thick quilt. I notice other shapes sleeping on makeshift cots as I make my way quietly up the steps to the rooftop dining room. Choosing a prime alcove,  I savor the extraordinary experience. this morning. of arriving in time to hear the morning call to prayer. It is the best time of day, when mother India opens her arms, caresses her children awake to the new day. I am blessed to be a witness to the holy event.

In Udaipur, ancient Rajasthani city surrounded closely by small rural hill villages, the call to prayer starts out quietly, a few indistinct croons in the distance. Within a few minutes the intensity and volume increases as many voices join the holy cacophony. Amid the morning stars, a few lights begin to twinkle in the distance, the Lake Palace still lit up purple and green from the New Years Eve revelry.

At the height of its intensity, the beautiful plaintive wailing seems to completely envelope me and the ancient city. Indeed, all begin to join in; the street dogs yap and howl, the water fowl start their squawking and the pigeons begin their gentle cooing. A man comes out of a house at the water’s edge and leans over a wall to perform his morning nose cleaning with great honking sounds. Then he lights his first cigarette of the day. I can see the glow of his ash glistening against the water. Slowly the voices of hundreds of muezzins begin to crescendo as the sun ignites the hills from behind. All manner of city noises begin. The small boats on the water sputter and start. Just as soon as the last voice dies down from its distant minaret, a car honks loudly in the courtyard below.”

I hope to always hear the Call. I pray to ever heed it.


Ask a modern mystic: cosmic job hunting skills

Picture 3Looking for work during a recession can be a daunting and exhausting endeavor. Some days I feel defeated before I even start, especially when my favorite morning radio program spews dismal economic statistics. Although such news reports have little relevance to my geographical location, lifestyle, or unique individual skills and experience, I can’t help being swayed by the national media’s insistence that I am only a dot on the bell curve.

How does the job-hunting Mystic curtail the sinking feeling that she is just another victim of an economy gone bad? She pounds the pavement of her inner path before ever venturing outside the house.

I counter the negative psychic effects of the collective’s fixation on bad news by spending time on self-inventory and self-care: lots of rest; a conscious cultivation of positive thoughts such as gratitude, faith and generosity; regular healthy meals; and plenty of down-time to dream and support my own inner vision.

Indeed, the following dream I had the other morning yielded an important clue about maintaining a sane and enjoyable job hunt even during hard times:

I am with my mother and my brother when there is a knock at the door. I open the door to find three masked children outside. They each throw a dime into my house and when I stoop to pick them up off the floor, I also find another coin, a heart-shaped quarter.

My dear friend and Tarot master, Hector Cerbon, intreprets my dream as a spontaneous nocturnal Tarot reading. The dimes represent the three coins, disks or pentacles of the traditional European decks. The Three of Pentacles reminds us that every endeavor, including the successful job hunt, involves community. It is the card of Teamwork.

Just as the two Lovers come together in creative union to produce the third, their child, when we initiate any new endeavor we must acknowledge that it takes others to help us manifest our vision. The card represents the practical skills needed to plan and execute a vision. Working with others is the beginning, not the end of your job search.

That’s why Tip #3 from the Mystic Job Hunter is rally your team.

We all have a team or crew, those individuals who are there for us, whether as confidants and supporters, or because they have practical know-how to share. Some of us have large teams and others small. Some of us rely on the professional perspectives of our team members while others just need a little cheering-on. What do you most need that you cannot provide for yourself?

In addition to being a Mystic and a job hunter, I have long been a Networker. In my years networking I have assembled what my friend, Portland artist Jennifer Doheny, calls “My Team.”

Last night I visited Jennifer’s latest art opening at the Milepost 5’s huge 10-day event, “Manor of Art.” As I wait patiently for my turn to shake her hand and congratulate her on her latest work, I salivate over her series of gorgeous paper “batiks,” back-lit and glowing vibrant greens and indigos. She sees me in the crowd and grabs my arm.

“Carrie, I’d like you to meet Sarah, my graphic designer. Sarah, this is Carrie, another member of my team.”

There is instant recognition and connection, for although we have never met, Sarah and I know of one another’s work as part of the team that supports our artist friend. Of course we had each already heard of the other’s contributions.

Jennifer is not only an early adopter of the team concept–an idea that will become increasingly important as we reevaluate work and career in the new economy–she thoroughly embodies the principle. Her blog, entitled “The World is on Your Side,” states her message loud and clear. Jennifer has long made a living as an artist because she understands her role in the community. She relies on others  to help her plan and execute her mission to provide a positive and uplifting message through her art.

Another teamwork example comes to mind. During the second installment of a year-long course in which I’m enrolled, renowned teacher Caroline Myss discusses the concept of the Crew. At the beginning of the workshop she announces that hard times being upon us, we have to realize we’re all in the same boat navigating the same waters.

We’ve got to row with our crew if we hope to make it, she explains to a ballroom packed with spiritual seekers. The rest of the weekend entails finding a crew and processing some high level spiritual data together.

My crew and I are still together, months later. We navigate four different time zones to participate in bi-monthly conference calls. We also use more informal methods to “check-in” and support one another in our spiritual growth. Not surprisingly, four out of six of us are dealing with the issue of work and career.

Another of my teams is my “family.” My sweetheart, also in the midst of a career change, tells me how much he loves me on a regular basis, not because I’m insecure, but because I have told him that I particularly enjoy positive verbal affirmations. He is also there when I need a hug and he listens without comment when I get discouraged and just need to vent.

Likewise, I pick up the phone when he calls during the day because I know that he likes to share a triumph or disappointment. I edit his cover letters and help him relax when his focused activity turns tense. Our children support us both by helping us laugh, play and enjoy the process!  They remind us that family time is one of the most relaxing and nurturing ways to unwind after a day on the job search.

Finally, don’t underestimate the creative ways in which your team can help out. I recently met with my financial advisor, a savvy business woman who spent the entire hour not evaluating my IRA mutual funds, but brainstorming ideas for getting my freelance career off the ground. A true crew member will support you in the way you need to be met, rather than with a pat one-answer-fits-all approach.

While I am lucky enough to count healers, teachers, financial wizards, neighbors, computer specialists, marketing and sales experts and artists among my crew members, any one of them can be counted on to provide the extra service of acknowledging and affirming my unique contribution to the greater community.

As a Mystic job hunter, I am learning important skills that aren’t taught by career coachs and the popular job market press. I’m learning to assemble a team of experts who know me, believe in me and support me in the precise ways I need to be loved. I’m learning that one of the first practical steps toward getting the job I want is to ask others for help and support from a place of self-awareness and mutual respect.

And building your personal team is good practice for team-building at work. Try it before you get hired!