AUGUST 2000 at the ABODE of the MESSAGE
Some personal reflections of Rev. Hamid Cecil Touchon

AUGUST 3, 2000 APROX. 9:00PM

After an early start at 5:30am from my apartment in Cuernavaca, Mexico I arrived at the airport in Albany, New York on a Delta flight from Mexico City about an hour later than the scheduled 7:40pm arrival time. After gathering my luggage at this fairly small airport I wondered what to do because I had not received any instructions though I had paid for a shuttle to the Abode of the Message about 45 minutes to an hour away. So I wandered out the door that said 'SHUTTLE PICK UP' assuming this might be the right area to look around for someone that I hoped was waiting for me. As it turned out it was a wild day all around for air travel with many of the retreatants' planes being delayed for a variety of odd reasons.

After stepping outside and waiting with my luggage I observed a few suspicious characters that I thought might possibly be Sufi mureeds waiting for a shuttle so I inconspicuously moved myself and my bags within ear shot of these folks to see if I might hear some Sufi like conversation. One 50 something gentleman was smoking a sweet smelling pipe and had a casual air about him that seemed he might be from California or some other Pacific coastal location. There were also a young handsome looking fellow and two women. At a certain point I mustered up the courage to ask if they were waiting for a shuttle to the
Abode and after finding out that in fact they were waiting for the Abode shuttle I introduced myself. It turned out to be Ashraf and his companion Christa from Maui, The young fellow was..., was..., Darn! his name is right on the tip of my tongue... from Seattle and the other lady was, possibly Kafiya Yager from the Land of Enchantment though I can't remember for certain.

After a while a shuttle did show up which was driven by one Sherdil and in the back of the white extra long rented shuttle van was another Sherdil with his lovely wife Farida Nelson who are the new center in Tempee, Arizona. There were others in the van but I can't quite draw the others into my mind's eye. (if you were one let me know) There was also Chandra who arrived driving another shuttle to pick up more late people.

I was present  at the Abode of the Message from August 3 in the evening until 6:00am August 25. There were overlapping events so the previous event - whatever it was - didn't clear out until noon the next day (4th) so many who arrived on the evening of the 3rd were put up in dorms down the road about a 1/3 of a mile at Darrow School for the one night only. This is where I recall Ashraf, Christa and I stayed on either the third or fourth floor. It was kind of hot and stuffy in the rooms but I happened on to a private room with one bed where I slept. The next morning we were supposed to meet a shuttle up to the Abode at 6:15 so when I headed out the door at 6:15 the shuttle was leaving already so I had to start walking dragging my roll along baggage with me down the black top road to try to make the 6:30 meditation with Pir Vilayat in the Meditation Hall at the Abode. After a short walk Jibril Okon from Kalamazoo happened by and offered to give me a ride which I greatfully accepted.

My son Zack was supposed to send me my camping gear from Texas but I contacted him a bit late and it took him a while to get around to it so my camping gear wasn't to arrive until a full week later the following friday. I had a pillow with me and a sheet but no tent or bedding so I asked my old and dear friend Zehra-Latif Williams who was running the Programs Office if she had a tent I could borrow and maybe a sleeping bag or blanket but not until after a lot of long missed hugs. I attended the morning session with Pir till lunch in the Meditation hall and after lunch we were all ready to head up the hill. Later in the afternoon Zehra-Latif came through for me with a blanket and tent which she had dug around for in the attic which I set up on the Mountain as they call it above the Abode where the retreat facilities are located. We found a reasonable place in the woods where the ground was more or less flat and soft and Zehra-Latif helped me to set up the 6 person tent not far from the bathrooms and shower building. During the afternoon I made friends with Kenan Meyers from Seattle who just happened to have a spare mat of his son's (Rafael) that he loaned me and by evening of this sunny day I was set for a night's sleep. I got to sleep pretty easily as it was cooler than the night before but I didn't think of it to close the flaps over the screen windows thinking it was the dead of summer and by 5:30 I was practically frozen. I was so cold in fact that even with the blanket wrapped around me for the 6:30 morning meditation in the big tent with Pir Vilayat I was still shivering cold by the end of the hour long session.

A memorable experience for the wake up call at 6:15 and later that day and all days there after were the beautiful, often haunting short phrases of music played on a french horn by Naquib Harris from New York City whose name actually means "The Herold" at various locations around the camp to awaken or remind the mureeds of the various impending events or sessions; each time playing a new snippet of Bach or Beethoven or Mozart among others. He told me later in the camp that he has been doing this job at the Sufi camps for 20 consecutive years.

The three weeks that I was there included 6 days of Leaders Camp which was composed of representatives, coordinators and Cherags and I presume guides and healing conductors. The next five days were Mureeds Camp and training in the various concentrations such as esoteric school, universal worship, retreat guide training, etc. Then for me and a number of others there was a private retreat. In my case for ten days but some were taking a 30 day private retreat.

Overlapping at the beginning were the meetings of the Jamiat Khas who are the higher ups who have graduated from retreats to committee meetings and overlapping the private retreat was a 6 day walking meditations camp with Wali Ali.

The typical day of both the leader's camp and the mureeds camp was as follows:

6:30 morning meditation with Pir Vilayat till 7:30

8:00 breakfast

9:00 morning session with Pir Vilayat (usually) till 11:30 and silence all morning till noon.

12:00 lunch

2:00 or 2:30 the afternoon session till 5:30 which was with people of various concentrations during the leaders camp and actually broken up into various locations during the mureeds camp for the various concentrations

6:00 dinner

7:00 or 7:30 or 8:00 an evening event such as dances or zikr or Pir Zia's presentation about Sufis or a 'sit around and eat cookies and drink tea and shoot the bull' kinship session

around 8:30 or 9:00 everything is over and time for getting ready for bed or taking a shower etc. and finding your way to your tent or cabin

10:00pm the first few nights of camp and later 11:00pm the generator - what provides all of the electricity for the camp - is shut off and the whole mountain is dark as ink except for the ocean of stars above and the moon in its phase.

How terrible! Already much has slipped from my rememberance. Let me try to recall things as they pop up…
There was a little beautiful, amazing girl age five who introduced herserlf to me as Julie. When her mom called her Julianne (julie anne?) she made fervant silent body language signals to her mother to not say her real name as she obviously preferred Julie (this remined me of my daughter who for a while introduced herself Charlie Kiss). Julie is a five year old blonde haired blue eyed angel who reminded me of my own five year old Noor-un-Nisa. Julie was just a complete joy and so polite and attentive to others, even complementing adults that she thought did something impressive in her estimation by saying; "That
was really good!" to the person.  As you can tell, Julie and I developed a strong attraction for each other and the third day into the camp she told me about a dream she had of me in which I flew to her and invited her to have a picnic at the beach during sunset. After telling me this she gave me a drawing she made of the sunset and we had a big, long, deep hug. I will never forget her beautiful spirit.  I have a picture of us together which I will share when it is scanned in. If you know who I am talking about I would sure like to stay in contact with her but failed to get an address or email from her mother. Shame on me!

I remember my friend Rev. Jacob Cabb who now lives in Atlanta. Jacob worked at the children’s camp most of the time. He told me that he had come to the camp via bus from Atlanta and if memory serves, it was a 20-hour adventure with sitting in bus stations etc. Jacob’s luggage didn’t make it to the camp for the first couple of days either. Jacob used to live in the Denver area and that is where we made out connection. Once Jacob came to visit me in Pagosa Springs where I used to live before moving to Mexico and he brought with him his friend Khabir Wilt who was also present at this camp. We all still remember swimming together in the cold mountain stream at a park outside of Pagosa.

Jacob, knowing that I have a little background in martial arts invited me to come over to the children’s camp where several of the boys had become interested in breaking sticks karate style so one morning I spent with the boys and girls discussing some basic martial arts techniques and attitudes. Pir knighted a few of the older boys the day before and this particular day the older girls decided that they should be knighted or ladied, I am not sure which, so they left for a while to have Pir perform a similar initiation for them. We broke enough sticks I would say to have a marshmallow roast but we never did get around to it. The boys found that the rotten sticks were much easier to break than the fresher ones and while there were many sore hands by the end of the morning most of the boys were satisfied.

One boy however, by the name of Michael, thought breaking sticks was a rather boring and stupid activity and spend most of his time patiently waiting for the other boys to get the stick breaking out of their systems so that they could all play together doing something that was actually fun in his opinion. There is another good story, a fishing story regarding Michael that Jalil Buechel recounted for me I believe on tape and as soon as I come upon it I will post it as well.

Mirabai, like the kitchen itself was a standard feature this year and I got a picture of her, which I will share when I get the photos back from the printer. The food over all was pretty darn good. There was even gourmet coffee served beginning around 7:30 after the early morning meditations with Pir. Mirabai lives on the second floor of a house close to the main Abode complex and came up every morning around 5:45 by shuttle and worked most days for breakfast and lunch and it seems to me her plan was for another cook to do dinner but I am a little fuzzy on the details. Anyway, she put in a big day every day. The normal arrangement was for a couple of staffers to work the kitchen with Mirabai one of which was a very nice young man by the name of Amos who was part of the Young Adults group which I will mention later. Other than this three volunteers  from among the campers were selected for preparation of each meal and 6 volunteers for the clean up crew of each meal. These were solicited at the blessing circle before each meal.

The food was primarily vegetarian but it was still good anyway with a number of creative and tasty dishes thrown in here and there including soups, stews, pastas, tofu in various configurations, salads, teas, veggie burgers, and a variety of yummy breads. I noticed that Mirabai is into various kitchen protocols and adabs so anything to do with the kitchen or food it is good to secure her blessing before hand so as not to receive a chastising as I did once for eating early due to having some event that I volunteered for which was going to cut into dinner time. I never did ask her which codebook she was using but now that I am thinking about it I am curious. Always remember that when you go to a Sufi camp to put in your time as a volunteer. It is a great way to spend a little time getting to know others and being of service at the same time, which is our intended constant expression of Sufism anyway – to be of service.

Only shuttles for the most part were allowed up the mountain and even like that the road, which had been freshly graded before camp was in pretty bad shape by the end of the mureeds camp. The main shuttle drivers during camp were Harvey (from where I am not sure), Khalid who lives at the Abode and Malik [formerly Merlin] Kruger.
Harvey was always in too big of a hurry to actually talk to and I heard at least on story of a lady in the back of one of the shuttles he was driving spontaneously breaking out into a cold sweat and repeating protective wazifas on the apparently hair raising ride all the way down the hill at speeds that seasoned campers had never previously experienced on that hill.
Khalid, an old hand around the Abode, some time back was also the head of operations at the Abode and while there, I attended one of the Sangatha classes that he leads on a weekly basis.
Malik was a very helpful and thoughtful guy who I enjoyed spending time with and whom I remembered from my very first Sufi Camp in 1978 I believe it was. To give you an idea, there was a young mother with two young children at an evening event and as any parent will tell you, it is very difficult to focus on anything at a Sufi Camp with a couple of small children who become easily bored at adult activities. Any way, when Malik noticed that these two children, a brother and a sister started getting antsy, out came a couple of shiny envelops with very small pop and glow sticks which turned into a red glowing light. The children instantly became enthralled. Malik, it turned out brought a bag of 50 of these glow sticks with him to give to the kids. Hum… Take note future campers.

Young Adults