February 03, 2020
Circling and Chanting, I Fell in Love with a Blue-Eyed Sufi

Having sworn off the possibility of falling in love, she found it in the most unlikely place: a Sufi lodge.

by Chitra Priambodo
Issues // Relationship
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Since I gave up dating I thought I would stay single until the day I left the earth. I believe in love, but not in falling in love. Falling  in lust, maybe, or, perhaps, falling in vibes. Passion, desire, and lust may wane, but love is built over time with trust, respect, and commitment.

Having refused  to settle when things did not seem right, I had gone through  several relationships, of which the longest only lasted two years. At the initial stage of a relationship, I often felt trapped in lust and infatuation, creating a veil to sincere communication.  Finally, tired of dating, in my early forties, I decided to focus my energy on my passions, including Sufism, the mystical Islamic belief and practice.  

In a place where I attended a Sufism course in Jakarta,  I bought a book that explains the various expressions of God's love through simple short Sufi stories. Unlike Islamic theological and philosophical books that require repeated readings to digest, the Sufi stories make us laugh and think deeply, while giving moral lessons without preaching.

The last page of the book suggests that the author is a scholar in psychology  who serves as a  sheikh, a teacher, of a Sufi group, based in California. After googling and finding the sheikh’s contact, I emailed him to ask about his Sufi group. I was excited that he responded and invited me to come as a visitor to dhikr, remembrance of God, at the dergah, the Sufi lodge, eight thousand miles from my home.

Ihsan, one of the sheikh's students,  was given as my point of contact when I arrived in California, and he offered me a lift to the dergah. Judging by his name I had expected a middle-eastern looking man with dark deep set eyes, but instead I came face to face with a  six-foot-six, dirty blond-haired, vivid blue-eyed guy.

His neatly trimmed beard decorated his smile when he greeted me. During the trip to the dergah, I asked him about the practice in his Sufi group,  and it was followed by a discussion on the growth of radicalization in the Muslim world. His view about gay people’s rights to practice religion free from being alienated and intimidated fascinated me.

After we arrived at the destination, Ihsan showed me around and explained the regular schedule and ritual at the dergah. Maghrib prayer is followed by dinner and wise words from the sheikh, before Isha prayer and the dhikr. The day usually ends around midnight.  The place reminded me of religious or traditional celebrations at home with people, mostly the dervishes or disciples of a Sufi group, sitting cross-legged on the carpeted floor.  The dervishes have a regular schedule of practicing the dhikr, and take turns in organizing the weekly dhikr gathering, including the meals.

During the dhikr, we called God’s name, and sung Illahis, religious hymns. Men formed a circle, led by the sheikh; women were lined in a semi-circle behind them. We moved our head to the left and then back in a circle to the direction of the heart, calling  God’s names. La Illaha Ilallah, there is no God but God. Moved in a circle with the rhythm of the breath. Moved in a circle following the tunes.

We were drunk with God’s love.

The dhikr  and Ihsan stole my heart that night. 

During my second visit to dergah in the following year, Ihsan and I had our first date having pupusa, an Ecuador-style burrito. He sent me off at the airport where we had our first kiss, a goodbye kiss. Our interactions through the social media and text messaging services in the following months were not intense but continued until his messages became less frequent.

In one of his text messages, he told me, "I am afraid of investing my feelings without spending much time together. I am worried and cautious about physical distance.”

I responded that I also needed  a space to understand whether my feelings for him were true.  While I respected his doubt and precaution, he agreed to discuss further on my next trip to the dergah.

I laid out my proposal when I met him again.  In the evening before we went to dergah for dhikr, we continued our conversation on relationship while walking along the Ocean Beach in San Francisco. I told him that I was not only seeking a lover, but also a partnership to grow old together. My father once told me that a healthy relationship grows the potential of the parties involved, instead of limiting the capacity of each party. That was my proposal. 

It took him eight months before deciding to enter into a relationship with me. Two years after our first encounter. Between the dhikrs and prayers. After rounds of discussions on past relationships and thoughts on overcoming the distance.

The seeds have been planted, and now is the time that we grow this love.

Illustration by Adhitya Pattisahusiwa.

Chitra Priambodo is a clean energy nerd who likes to observe numbers. Her recent interest is to explore the link of probability theory with astrology and metaphysics when she has time to daydream.