Earth Water Fire Air

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 Allah

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.

Gunnebah15aGunnebah15bIs something amiss here, or is something very right!?


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


Tashi Delek! from South Australia

Our next Dances of Universal Peace gathering is to be –
Saturday June 15th  2013
3-5pm at ‘The Christian Community Church’ 3 Anzac Ridge Road Bridgewater in the Adelaide Hills.
All are welcome.

Here are some photos taken at one of our gatherings in March this year.
Open hearts and goodwill flow….







I look forward to sharing some dances which were included as part of the recent Dances of Universal Peace Pilgrimage to India and Nepal where I was one of the 17 members of the travelling peace delegation. My heart was warmed by the people of India and Nepal and the pilgrims and I hope always to carry the essence of their generosity. It was a blessed journey.

Tashi Delek has taken on a whole new meaning for me since walking and praying with the Tibetan Buddhist people, as has the greeting; Namaste.

Travelling together with a united purpose is very empowering.


Pilgrims with Pasang ( our Tibetan friend and guide )
Pilgrims with Pasang ( our Tibetan friend and guide )


Kathmandu - Bouda Stupa. Buddhist full moon in April, sponsorship of prayer flags
Kathmandu Bouda Stupa. Buddhist full moon in April – sponsorship of prayer flags


Kathmandu - Bouda Stupa - Buddhist full moon in April, sponsorship of prayer flags
Kathmandu Bouda Stupa. Buddhist full moon in April – sponsorship of prayer flags


Community of pilgrims at full moon - Bouda Stupa
Community of pilgrims at full moon – Bouda Stupa


Saffron garlanding
Saffron garlanding


in peace

A New Venue for the Dances in Sydney

by Arjuna

A new venue for the dances is emerging in Sydney. It is a boutique studio venue to use Prema Desara’s term. We were very blessed to have Prema stay with us and lead a weekend of Tara practices, barely a week after we moved back into our newly renovated house.

The first stage of the process of return was the house blessing by Satpurananda Kulavaduta or Baba for short. As you can see from the photo, this was quite a complex process as Indian/Tibetan rituals tend to be. Previously, the land itself had been balanced by our late beloved Peter, a master dowser, some months before the build began over a year and half ago.


Then a week after we moved in we picked up Prema and Myri from the airport. They stayed in our guest rooms for over a week and had a good time in Sydney, which they presented with their story in the Tara Dhatu newsletter. It was so wonderful to see the space come alive with the Tara dances and with Prema’s teachings. After this first weekend in November last year, the space felt quite different energetically. Something had changed in its atmosphere. The very basic altar that we set up for Baba was expanded into 3 altars to Tara and to the ancestors of the dances. Here are some pics from that weekend. The first shows Prema leading a Tara dance with me playing guitar in the middle:


The next shows some rather wild dancing by Kafia in the middle:


The third shows Prema giving some of her profound Buddhist teachings:


After that weekend we’ve had regular Tara meetings here once a month. Prema’s visit rekindled the flame of the Sydney Tara group which is now meeting on a regular basis. This is a blessing for our house to have such beautiful sacred practices in our living space.

As well the venue has become a space for visiting speakers and teachers. Most recently on the 20th of March we had a dialogue evening with Manish Jain, an Indian American who had come to Australia for the Economics of Happiness conference in the Byron area and was brought to Sydney by Juli Gassner, one of our Sydney dancers, who is the educational coordinator at Kinma, a democratic free school in Terrey Hills.

Manish is the coordinator of Shikshantar: The Peoples’ Institute for Rethinking Education and Development, and co-founder of Swaraj University, which is dedicated to the regeneration of local culture, economy and ecology. He is the editor of several books on such themes as learning societies, unlearning, gift culture, community, and tools for deep dialogue. Juli has been giving out his book at our dance meetings.

One of the special gatherings was our house warming New Year’s Eve gathering where many friends gathered over the afternoon and evening. As well as a wonderful collection of friends, conversations, food and drinks, we had a soundasations session in the afternoon. This is a fully improvised drumming, percussion, chanting, dancing and whatever else music session. Then in the evening when it got dark, we watched photos and some short videos from the fabulous Uplift Festival 2012 at Byron that I attended, thanks to Zebunissa and Andrew, on whose floor I slept and Brigitte who drove me there and back most days. Finally around midnight, we did some dances and thereby danced in the new year.

Here’s a photo of the house at 15 Blair Street, Bondi, for those who have not yet had the privilege to see it live:


A Dancing Ecology Downunder

by Arjuna Ben-Zion Weiss PhD

The “Sufi Message” is an answer to the cry of humanity today; at this moment, when materialism is all-pervading and commercialism is continually on the increase.

The “Sufi Message” respects all Religions, recognises all Scriptures, regards all the Prophets held in esteem by large sections of humanity, and is the Source and Goals of all “”His Wisdom in the One”.

Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan at the American Radio in 1926

What does dance do for us? First and foremost, it inculcates the sense of rhythm and enhances our response to rhythm. This is really a response to life. It makes us more living, which is to say, more spiritual. It brings out beauty of form and movement, and envelops our personalities in the enjoyment of them. It takes us beyond ourselves, bringing an initial taste of the state of non-being, which is really a balm for the soul.

Murshid Samuel Lewis

The Dances of Universal Peace, as described by Murshid here, are one of the primary spiritual practices in my life. I also do practices drawn from Universal Sufism, Renewal Judaism, Engaged Buddhism, Urban Shamanism and Yoga. This diversity of practices, drawn from different cultural traditions reflects the situation in the multicultural Australia of today. My practices were not always so diverse, just as Australia was not always so conscious of its cultural diversity or of its biodiversity.

When I arrived in Australia in the 1950s it was very much a British colony in the South Pacific. A British monoculture dominated the society. Present day multicultural Australia was only officially recognised in the 1970s. Aboriginal people were not recognised as citizens of Australia until 1967. British agricultural practices imported by the colonists almost turned Australia into a desert twice in 200 years. The colony itself resulted from the invasion of Aboriginal land. Hundreds of Aboriginal cultures and native species of plants and animals unique to this country were destroyed. The great irony was that the uniqueness of fauna and flora here had fascinated British scientists like Joseph Banks and Charles Darwin. It had contributed to Darwin’s theory of the origin of species. On the other hand the colonists had mercilessly massacred Aboriginal people and devastated the delicate ecosystem by inappropriate agricultural practices.

So how does this relate to the Dances of Universal Peace you ask? As Arjun of Colombia writes in his inspiring article, we are facing a planetary crisis ecologically. In that sense Australia can be regarded as a case study of how this crisis has come about. Practicing the dances in Australia can then be regarded as part of a healing process for both the people living here and the land itself. Just last Saturday, at our regular biweekly dance meeting in the Quaker Hall in Sydney, we focussed on a theme of dances inspired by indigenous traditions. The first four of these were drawn from the Native American traditions and celebrated Beauty, the Sun, the Moon and the Earth as our Mother. Australian Aboriginal people also celebrate the Earth as our mother, however we have yet to create a dance in an Aboriginal language that celebrates this. Two of the last three dances were inspired by the Maori tradition and one by the Hawaiian tradition. Given that Australia is an island in the South Pacific, there was some geographical relevance to having these dances as part of the evening. Australia is part of the cultural ecology of the Pacific Ocean, even if this is rarely acknowledged.

It was this lack of acknowledgement of cultural ecology in Australia that inspired me to become involved in the work of the Pachamama Alliance.  This work involves facilitating a symposium called ‘Changing the Dream, Awakening the Dreamer’, in which we present through videos and discussion the situation facing the planet to small groups of people to encourage them to take action. The Pachamama Alliance grew out of the crisis faced by the Achuar, an indigenous people of the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest, whose land was being threatened by the petrol companies that had devastated much of Ecuador already. The basis of the symposium is that the crisis facing the Achuar is also facing the whole planet. It is attributed to three interactive factors: the unsustainable ecological practices of the industrial world; a lack of social justice in neo-liberal capitalist economics; and a lack of spiritual fulfilment in our post-modern urban lifestyle. As a social ecologist, the symposium has become a way to share my concerns with my community.

Having been involved with the dances since the early 90s, I felt I wanted to share the symposium with members of my dances community. There is a resonance between the work of the symposium and the dances. Both are about deep peacemaking. The dances clearly address the lack of spiritual fulfilment, the third factor that has triggered this crisis, and as these factors are interactive and interdependent, if we directly address one of these we are indirectly addressing all three. After several dance leaders had also experienced the symposium, this resonance led to us making the symposium the theme of our home-grown retreat in April of 2011.

In Australia the dance community has established a pattern of having annual dance retreats around the Easter Holidays. On alternate years we have decided to have home-grown retreats, so our Australian dance leaders can have the opportunity to lead longer sessions of dances to larger groups. Given the large geographical size of Australia and its relatively small population, there is often difficulty in maintaining regular dance meetings in certain parts of the country. So some leaders have little opportunity to lead dances. The home-grown retreats have proven useful for that reason.

In 2011 we focussed on this theme of Pachamama by focussing creation dances inspired by indigenous traditions and the Abrahamic traditions. This included Maori, Native American, Hawaiian as well as Hebrew, Sufi and Aramaic inspired dances. We followed the four-fold structure of the creation centred spirituality, which flowed well with the structure of the symposium.  Each evening we would watch a few short videos drawn from the symposium and have some discussion around the issues they raised. This proved to be an effective way to connect with indigenous culture in an Australian context where we still have very little Aboriginal inspired dances. There is the dance Dreamtime, the phrase Youndoo Wunjibo as part of the Peace Greeting, the song Lancha and my own dance The World is a Beautiful Place, but that is all. Two of these indigenous contributions came out of a day I organised in the late 90s called Dancing the Land. I’d been working with indigenous artists as part of my work with the Adult Migrant English Service and I invited these artists to have a cultural exchange with the dances community. There had also been some connection with some of the women in the dances with some dreaming camps in the 90s where dances were led. Hopefully one day we’ll develop more connection with the Aboriginal culture, but at this time it has only happened in a marginal way.

This is not untypical of Australia as I discovered last year when I attended a retreat in rural Victoria at the Centre for Ecology and Spirituality on the theme of Integral Consciousness as conceived by Jean Gebser, Thomas Berry, Teilhard de Chardin, Joseph Campbell  and Brian Swimme. The leader of this centre had studied with Matthew Fox and was occasionally leading dances from the Creation Centred Spirituality booklet. A woman who worked at the centre was also leading dances in the Goddess tradition. One of their members was very passionate about the Aramaic Lord’s prayer work of Saadi, but they had never experienced the dance so I led the first line for them. They had no formal connection with the network of the dances.

This geographical challenge, where the Perth dancers are some 4000 kilometres from the Sydney dancers, has led to many of us travelling to New Zealand to attend dance retreats there. This trans-Tasman connection has been growing in the dances over the years and led to Shafia and Wendy from Aotearoa New Zealand leading a long weekend of Maori dances at our Spring Renewal retreat at the Karuna Centre, a Buddhist retreat centre in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. This had grown out of these travels to New Zealand by several dance leaders, like myself, who wanted to share these wonderful dances with our Australian community. Thus the Maori dances have become part of our Australia. In a similar way travels to the USA by Zebunissa, Muh’mina, Karuna Noor, Karen, myself and others, and to the UK by Khannah to Saadi’s training, as well as the long term presence of people from North America like Sitara and Jelaludin’s and Hakima Tomi Greentree in Australia, have left their mark on our dance community. As have all the international leaders that have come here since the early 90s when the dances became more established here.

Today the dances fulfil several functions in Australia: they contribute to celebrating cultural diversity; they recognise the value and depth of indigenous cultures; they celebrate the beauty and richness of nature; they contribute to making Australia a more peaceful society and they provide spiritual fulfilment to the community of dancers as we eat, dance and pray together through songs, dances and stories on the theme of Universal Peace. As such I believe they address some of the ecological and spiritual crises that we are facing in Australia as much as in the contemporary world.


Leilah Be Retreat 2013 Mana NZ


Many of us Aussie Dancers have become regulars at the NZ dance Camp  and the Mana retreat over the years.  Mana is such a deeply nurturing  space, whose equivalent  in Ozland, is still to be found, if it exists. This year  12 of us  attended the Leilah Be Mana retreat with 8 of us from Byron Bay, diving deeply into Divine Presence , under the skilful guidance of our beloved Murshida Leilah Be from Hawaii. We enjoyed beautiful warm weather where  back at home  the cyclones were howling!

We looked at the parts of ourselves that needed reconciling and forgiveness, we broke through new territory and  emptied out so we could live from the fullness of our radiance. We felt  a fuller measure of Divine Love  flowing  through us.

One of the things we covered is what to do when you have an aversion to someone. These steps were outlined:

  1. Have a strong wish for boddhicitta
  2. It’s natural to effort for peaceful abiding
  3. Have a deep longing to change the experience
  4. Give up the aversion and it will disappear.

We explored the attributes of God , from the book Physicians of the Heart as we looked at what does it mean to be truly human and how to  heal our wounded condition of abandonment and to cope with the above

Through acceptance and not resistance we can transform. We journeyed through many dances and zikrs as a vehicle for transformation, opening our devotional heart , making every breath our Lover. We gave ourselves and each other forgiveness and appreciation as we came into the centre of the Shalama Bayta dance, the Aramaic for “Peace upon  your household.” This was so deeply moving there was hardly a dry eye in the Dance space.

We experienced how the dances are a practice of Openness, which reveal our times of contraction and how in life we need the balance of both.

In spaciousness and gentleness, kindness and compassion we looked at it all, and felt ourselves coming to a deeper place of peace than we had known before. Alhamdullilah allah!

Although we seem to be in a world of song and dance, we are most concerned with peace on earth” – Sam