Follow the soul’s light: Sufi meditation to focus on the individual’s purpose



The soul is unique in that every person has his or her own, and each person’s soul should be honored in an individual way. This is one of the key aspects of Sufism, Muinuddin Charles Smith said.

The Sufi practice of meditation focuses on “learning to really honor who we are, with all our qualities and all our supposed shortcomings [and realizing] that they can really all be used,” he said.

Smith and his wife, Sharifa Felicia Norton, will lead Week Seven’s Mystic Heart Program in their tradition of Sufism. The program is a Department of Religion initiative that hosts teachers of different world meditative practices and traditions each week, thus allowing Chautauquans to engage in a variety of silent, guided and educational meditation experiences.

The couple founded the Light of Guidance Center for Sufi Studies in New York City and are teachers and retreat leaders within other Sufi organizations. Norton is also a professional dancer and teacher at the United Nations International School, and Smith is a professor of leadership and group dynamics at Hofstra University.

“The goal is just to get in touch with our natural self,” Smith said. “To remove all of the things that get in the way of us really listening to our deepest selves — acting out of that place and living from that place.”

While it’s common to think of meditation as being transcendental and detached from reality, Smith said most Sufis were originally artists, craftsmen and very active people in society. The practice — a combination of Middle Eastern and yoga techniques — engages the body and uses breathing techniques. The Sufis honor sacred aspects of life, looking for purpose and beauty in the world around them.

The couple’s Tuesday seminar, “The Soul’s Joy,” will focus on the soul’s individual purpose.   

“Not necessarily purpose or meaning like a job, but just like what our note is — what we bring in different situations. It’s the gifts of the soul that we’re bringing forth,” Smith said.

Their Thursday seminar, “The Alchemy of Happiness,” will help Chautauquans figure out the methodology for getting to that purpose. Smith said this doesn’t mean that people have to add elements to their lives, but rather subtract the emotional baggage or negative impressions that have latched onto the mind and the soul and are preventing the person from realizing his or her true purpose.

Poetry is used in Sufi meditation as a way of connecting the spiritual and the material. Smith said they incorporate short poems into morning meditation.

“They add the heart quality in,” he said. “They bring that sense of inspiration.”

The poems can also be used as teaching tools in the afternoon sessions. One Sufi poet, Saadi, compared the individual’s purpose to light, calling it “a lamp on the soul,” that the person has to follow in order to reach his or her full potential.

Other poets, such as Smith’s favorite, Hafez, wrote about finding the divine through beauty instead of through traditional religious study.

“One day he saw the queen of his country, and she was so beautiful that he realized there was more than what was just in his books,” he said. “So he left the religious life. … [His] poetry is about living in the marketplace, in the street, and finding the beauty and the divine there, not just in the temple or mosque.”

The Mystic Heart Program holds daily, guided meditation sessions from 7:15 to 8 a.m. Monday to Friday in the conference room of the Main Gate Welcome Center. Meditation seminars, which include more in-depth instruction and discussion, are held Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:30 to 1:55 p.m. in the Hall of Missions. Silent meditation is held Thursday from 7:15 to 7:45 p.m. in the Welcome Center.

People of any religion or spiritual belief can attend the sessions, and can attend any day of the week, regardless of previous or no experience with meditation practices. Gate passes are required to attend the morning meditations.