Norton and Smith to teach Sufi meditation

Hazrat Inayat Khan, the first Sufi teacher to the West, taught that true religion to a Sufi is the sea of truth and that all the different faith traditions are its waves. For a spiritual seeker like Sharifa Norton and Muinuddin Smith, Sufism is the best meditation tradition they could have wound up in.

“Sufism doesn’t ask you to give up the tradition you were brought up in,” Norton said. “It embraces that. It also had this ‘free from dogma’ kind of mentality to it that really appealed to both of us. It’s expansive.”

Norton and Smith will be the Mystic Heart Program’s meditation leaders for Week Seven. Meditation sessions are held from 7:15 to 8 a.m. weekdays at the Main Gate Welcome Center. Seminars are held from 12:30 to 1:55 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday in the Hall of Missions. This week’s seminar themes are “The Soul’s Joy” and “The Alchemy of Happiness.”

The Mystic Heart Program is an initiative by the Department of Religion. It seeks to introduce Chautauquans to the various meditation traditions of the world, such as Zen Buddhism, Vipassana and Sikh Dharma. Norton and Smith will be drawing from Sufism in their instruction.

The Sufi meditation tradition reaches back to the times of the Muslim mystics and poets, such as Attar, Rumi and Hafez, who lived throughout Persia between the 12th and 14th centuries.

But modern Sufism in the West has an even broader range from which it draws.

“The tradition of Sufism that we study is not full-Islamic,” Norton said. “It’s more ecumenical. And it honors truth behind all the traditions, and then sometimes it even draws from some Buddhist practice and Kabbalah.”

Norton and Smith are senior teachers and meditation retreat guides in the Sufi Order International. An Emerald Earth, their book on natural spirituality, was published in 2008. Norton is the leader of the Ziraat Concentration of the Sufi Order of North America, and she is also a classically trained dancer, performing internationally and teaching at the United Nations International School and at the Educational Alliance, both in New York City. Smith teaches organizational theory, leadership skills and group dynamics at Hofstra University and is a trustee of the Sufi Order international.

The meditation sessions will seek to “empty the mind of all the clutter,” as Norton said, through breathing practices and visualizations.

“It’s a practice of … clearing the field of the heart and the mind,” Norton said. “Then one can go and access one’s deeper self, which is very nourishing, and the deeper ground of the source of being.”

During the seminars, Norton and Smith will be drawing on the teachings of Attar, Rumi and Hafez.

“The poetry in these teaching stories are wonderful vehicles to explain the spiritual journey that we’re all on,” Norton said. “And we’re all on one, no matter what tradition.”

There will also be dialogue at the end of the seminars, so practitioners can share the stories of their own spiritual journey and respond to the themes presented.

“We need to have some time that we devote to our own spiritual tuning … because the world’s very jagged and accelerated these days,” Norton said. “Tuning one’s perspective, tuning one’s heart to a deeper place … provides a reservoir of something each individual can work from in their everyday life.”