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Past Events & Retreats
  • Jami Philip Elwin

Earth Water Fire Air, Gunnebah, 2013

Dancing in Peace with Murshida Mariam Baker, Gunnebah, NSW April 18-22, 2103

Thursday evening Eighteen dancers excitedly gathered for the first night at Gunnebah, nestled under the scenic rim that encircles Wollumbin (Mt Warning).

The evening meal, prepared by Andrea and Casper, was a prelude of delights to come.



Murshida Mariam Baker, resplendent in ankle length dress, led the first dances, the Introductory Bismillah and the healing dance, Let me do Thy will Allah. Nizamuddin grounded us with throaty drum and Michael Ali led us with open tuned guitar. The caravan was underway.

Energised and focussed by the dance, we moved to a carpeted altar area for a sitting Zikr. We passed around a Native American style rattle, intricately decorated by Noorunissa (formerly Zebunissa), gave our names and expressed what gift it was that we desired from the retreat.

We chanted four wasifa, accompanying them with movements of arms and body:

Ya Fattah – The Opener, The Revealer Ya Rashid – The Appointer to the Right Path, The Unerring Ya Mu’min – The Faithful, The Ultimately Trustworthy Ya Muhaimin – The Protector, The Bestower of Security

Our desire:

…if a peaceful person comes into the room, someone might say, “It’s wonderful to see a peaceful person.” The dervish, however, would say instead, “Isn’t it wonderful to see Divine Peace coming through this person?” What they mean by this is that the human personality has the potential to become the vehicle of the Universe’s archetypes. This is the intention behind the practice of wazâ’if… to connect a specific quality in oneself to its source…

Awakening, by Pir Vilayat Khan

We moved into the silence before sleep:

Sunworld dissolving       ahhh…… Bathing in moonlight        ooo…… Dreams ………

Friday EARTH A Cedar Prest mandala of rocks and soil, borne by a Robyn Hutchison poppy field, honoured the Earth and greeted the dancers:


Honouring Earth:

Mother earth is a great, great ship that we are sailing on

Sailing on through space and time. Touch the earth, feel your worth, Wake up to the universe. Open up your heart and touch the divine!

Honouring Earth:

I walk beauty way, beauty way, beauty way. I walk beauty way, ________, __________. Healing ourselves, Forgiving ourselves, Loving ourselves, Honouring ourselves.

After morning tea, we gathered outside on lush grass, a cathedral site with soaring walls of camphor laurel and brushbox, light filtering between the crevices of a million leaves, sparkling water murmuring in the bend of the creek, whip birds slicing the air with their song as we inhaled the elemental breaths of earth, air, fire, water and ether.

In the afternoon, we gathered in a circle, united in holding an enormous string of 1001 beads, large and small, of wood and stone, smooth and crenulated, from every corner of the world.

Tasbeeh (tasbih, tajbee) – a new word and, for many, a totally new practice. Tasbeeh literally means “to travel swiftly”. It is a Zikr practice where the beads are used to count the praises of Allah. For what seemed merely a breath and, simultaneously, an eternity, we passed the beads through our fingers, chanting the name Allah, breathing the name, shouting the name, crying from the heart.

The ONE and the many – beads with a multitude of shapes and textures, each bead with a story of the ones who had shaped it, touched it, dreamed it, prayed with it – voices of many timbres, now hushed, now full, now insistent, now in awe – all united in the weaving, pulsing, harmonising, yearning  iterations of ALLAH.


In the evening’s subdued light, we travelled to the desert:

Mohammed loves camels because they are so neat Mohammed loves camels because they have big feet. At night in the desert they will keep you warm, Sleeping together sheltered from the storm.

Hu Allah, Hu Allah, Hu Allah, Hu.

We sat to pray a Zikr transmitted by Afghani women. We stood to dance Te he Moriora and Alhamdullillah El Shakur Allah.

Once again, the silence before sleep:

Sunworld dissolving         ahhh…… Bathing in moonlight          ooo…… Dreams ………

Saturday WATER

Prayers of the Confraternity led from the heart by Talibah at the bend in the creek:


We danced Wishita and the Beauty Way Dance.


We invoked and chanted Allah Noor over our whole bodies – head, ears, eyes … throat, heart … arms and feet … and heart once more.

We moved into the semidarkness of the hall to be greeted by another one of Cedar’s evocative creations:


We chanted the wazifa Musawirr (the Shaper) and the song Willing, unwilling, what does it matter.

We moved to a soul dance subsequently danced many times:

There is a secret one inside. All the stars and all the galaxies Run through her hands like beads Ishk Allah mabud lillah

Then followed a long meditation guided by Mariam segueing into painting, writing, moving, resting in stillness ……

In the afternoon we began with dance:

Goddess come down


Allah (in four directions).

We checked in with our dreams. We chanted the wazifas Wahabo (God the bringer of gifts) and Ya Wahido (The One, the manifestation of Unity).

Moving to our feet, we were led by Nazamuddin in a mercurial walk. Such a sight! Nazamuddin, thoroughly grounded, walking with small, swift steps, eyes moving rapidly to take in right, left, up, down. We followed suit!

From this mercurial context, Mariam’s prefaced her leading of the next beautifully grounded dances, saying, “We live in paradox”!

Ave maria

Kwan Zeon Bosai

Water of life (Lilla Flood) link to YouTube video

Water or life, cleanse my soul Fire of truth, burn away my fear. Wind of the spirit, let my spirit soar. Mother Earth heal me again.

In the evening we danced

Namo amida Butsu

This was dedicated to Maria, Zebunissa’s mother, who was awaiting burial. This was followed by

May all beings be free and happy May all beings be free from strife May all beings return to love. Peace be with you, forever more.

We told the Tasbeeh with the marvellous beads .Once again, the silence before sleep:

Sunworld dissolving ahhh…… Bathing in moonlight ooo…… Dreams ………


Sunday FIRE

Breakfast was eaten around a fiercely burning brazier of logs. Welcome to fire!

After breakfast, the women moved to the creek for “women’s business”.  The men later joined them in procession, bringing gifts of fire red roses.


Zebunissa, Zubin, Nirtana, Talibah and Karima led a wonderful healing service on this day of fire.

We danced      Om nama Shivaya.

We chanted    Allah noori, Allah hay, Allah noori, Allah haqq. This is my body, this is the temple of God This is my heart, this is the altar of God.

We chanted    Who are you who stands before me? I am you in another form.

We danced    Musawirr Allah

We chanted  Willing Unwilling What does it matter? No longer resisting, moulding, kneading, Like every lump of clay.

In the afternoon, the pot bellied stove in the hall was kindled.


We danced:     The Ram Nam dance The fish in the water’s not thirsty (link to YouTube video) Bismillah Alhamdulillah la illaha illa’llah Shakur Allah Shakur

We chanted:   Ishq allāh ma’būd allāh swimming in the great ocean of God’s love. Ya wahabo Ya wahido Hayyee Hayyee Allah Sabbur

All our gatherings were centred around the marvellous mandalas created by Cedar.


In the evening, after dancing the Kalama and Bismillah Ya Fattah we moved into a Sama celebration. Sama literally means “listening”.  Mariam told some wonderful stories (the huntress and the deer) while Michael Ali accompanied her on didgeridoo and drum. Nirtana presented a many textured dance of the prophetesses and prophets. Zubin evoked the Aborigines of northern Australia and their country with its sacred rocks, lakes, birds and animals. Jami’ danced fire and the evolution of Wollumbin, the volcano at the heart of the Tweed. Jalila told gently humorous stories of the mundane and utterly extraordinary relationships of people in her retirement village.

Monday AIR



We danced:   Go sweep out the chambers of your heart Use me for the purpose that thy wisdom chooses This how I would die

After morning tea there was a soul work meditation guided by Mariam followed by the opportunity to rest in stillness, paint, write or move in dance.


Angel wings provided by a superbly generous and imaginative Andrew.


Tuesday ETHER



Ether is the element that encompasses the integration of all the other elements. It is the element of wholeness, centeredness, quintessence. Cedar captured this wonderfully:


The highlight of the final morning was the walking of the labyrinth created by Cedar.


Inwards to the heart and outwards to the world.

Many thanks to Murshida Mariam, Nizamuddin and Michael Ali for travelling to this side of the world to be fire and earth, to be the melody and the song that continues to sing in our hearts.


A final good bye to Wollumbin on the road back to a life yet again transformed!

Jami’ Phillip Elwin

Cedar Prest's Retreat Experience with Miriam Baker 2013

Led by Murshid Mariam Baker with husband & German musician Michael Ali A rich canvas of activities for a smaller group than usual. It worked well with 20, a good dance circle and more time to share our thoughts. Mariam lets it flow rather than organize, her experience knows where it’s going for the group and how to orchestrate an outcome. Yes , there were less dances but generally my minimum of 3 per session! It was a rich Sufi experience with wasifirs, 1001Tambo beads, authentic twirling and long soul meditations daily which were profound for me. I asked to be happy and came away singing in my soul as always happens. They are such a wonderful group, people I only see once a year, but with whom one can dance in a relaxed warmth of loving gestures, truly nourishing! I feel fortunate to be able to Retreat with them. I may have felt so unspiritual that I could not see why I should go BUT as ever I came away with a heart on fire, feeling full of love. This morning there is no babbling brook to sing beside, I’m in Surfers with Silver and Geoff who turned 87 yesterday. by Cedar Prest

April, 2013


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