This got to me thinking about a pattern I have noticed at the end of the past several years. At the very end of the semester, I tend to put a lot of energy into intellectual projects. By the beginning of June, I notice that I have slowed down the pace on some of those projects and I tend to have some kind of emotional reawakening.
It may be, for all of my efforts to try to live a balanced life during the academic year, that the bureaucratic culture leaves me intellectually hungry and emotionally constricted. It seems that I have try to reconstitute myself in stages over the summer break.
In 2000, after the end of the academic year, I went to a conference in Kansas and then proceeded immediately to my first Sufi retreat. As I sat in the circle, I was surprised at how burnt out and depressed I felt. In June of 2001, I participated in the first-ever Muslim contingent at the San Francisco Pride parade. In 2002, I moved here in June. In 2003, I met X and, later that summer, Amma. In 2004, I spent time with X, which quickly became complicated and painful as he began to try to confront his drinking through AA and also went into something of a healing crisis around the abuse he experienced in childhood and adolescence. By the end of that summer, I had discovered the local satsang and began to attend. In 2005, I went to Greece in May and met a Swedish grad student that I became friendly with, and that I developed something of a crush on. Following on that bit of heart opening, I reached out to Y, who I had been sensing might have been interested in spending some time with me. From 2005 to 2007, I tried to preserve that friendship as a way of keeping an open space for heart-related spiritual experiences. That had its moments, but ultimately that became complicated and difficult as well. Following my mother's death in late 2007, I found myself steadily withdrawing from the social contacts I had established through satsang. While I held on to the idea that Y and I were close friend through most of 2008, by the time he left for California in October I no longer believed that to be the case. In 2009 there were no new friends to meet, but I became aware of the music of The Killers, and that began a period in which certain types of pop music became an important part of staying in touch with feelings. 2010 through 2012 were mainly about withdrawal, with tendencies toward a fascination with pessimism, nihilism, and rebellious expressions of darkness. I see that I made a definite turn, somewhat unexpectedly, in January when I resumed the practice of salat. I know that it was related to some reading I had been doing about Hellenistic astrology and its connections with Stoicism. When I read the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius I was reminded of aspects of the ethos of Islam. Since I had noted a gradual loss of interest in Amma-oriented spiritual practices, there was an open space to resume a familiar and ultimately more satisfying form of a spiritual practice.
In scrolling back through my journal, I see that mentioned Adam Lebor's A Heart Turned East in an entry from February. That's when I began to seek out forms of Bosnian culture, in order to follow up on some of the things I had read about in Lebor's book. What I'm finding surprising is the way in which the single zikr meeting that I went to in mid-May, combined with my exploration of films about Bosnia, has led me to a stronger experience of heart opening than I thought would be possible for me any more. I had thought that those kinds of experiences belonged only to my past. In learning about sevdah music, I have come to realize that the voice of one of the most famous sevdah singers had been sampled in some tracks by Adi Lukovac, who was the first Sarajevan popular musician whose work I had discovered. I'm noticing that contemporary pop culture in Bosnia seeks to display the kind of glamor and youth appeal that is typical of pop music in lots of cultures, but it also reflects on the music of its past in ways that are sometimes quite subtle. In the past couple of days I've been exploring the work of Armin Muzaferija, who is appearently being groomed to be the pop superstar of his generation. While I was looking for information on Hor Hazreti Hamza, which is a male group that sings devotional music, I came across a photo of Armin.
Obviously he's a pretty young man. As I've been exploring his work, however, I find myself impressed by his ability to sustain a mood. I find, especially with the semi-traditional popular styles of Bosnian music, that there is a part of me that keeps some distance from those aspects of the music that might be sentimental or ethnically specific, but there is often a somewhat understated quality that sneaks up on me and draws me in, almost despite myself.