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Published Saturday, December 9, 2006, Capitol Journal, Topeka, Kansas

Sufism Appeals to Members of All Faiths
Focus of Sufi philosophy is Self-Improvement through God
By Claudia Lauer, The Capital-Journal

Yellow post-it notes can be key to helping people learn the basics of Sufism. Gail Zukav-Ross tells people who are just learning about the religious philosophy to write the word "breathe" on dozens of the small sticky squares and cover the surfaces they see on a daily basis. " Put some in the car, put one on the fridge, on the mirror, on your computer at work, put them anywhere you think you might need to see them to remind yourself to take deep breaths," she said. "Breathing is one of the main ways we can help our bodies and clear our minds."

Sufi philosophy lists a number of ways to improve health and understanding of God, including breathing, light and an awareness or appreciation for the world around you. One of the hardest parts of the philosophy is defining exactly what it is.

Sufism has a direct correlation to God, but isn't a religion. Some historians trace the origins of Sufism to the teachings of Islam that are related to the interior life. However, the students and initiates of Sufism who attend classes and Circle of Friends gatherings with Shaffia Laue, of Lawrence, are from many different religious backgrounds. Zukav-Ross, who found Sufism through Laue, is a Kabbalist."Many people who attend the class are Christian and some are Muslim, Jewish or Kabbalists," said Laue, who holds the classes at her holistic psychiatry office at 1025 Kentucky St. "There are as many definitions as there are people who practice."

Put simply, Sufism is a philosophy that focuses on trying to improve yourself through God by using meditation and other practices.
" Learning how to breathe is one of the most important things you can do for your physical and mental health," said Laue. "It changes your chemistry and biology and it gives you a better perspective."

Laue teaches classes at 8 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month. She reads from books written by Sufi scholars and poets and then the group talks about different aspects of the readings. They also meditate and focus on different aspects of their physical being or on visualizing beauty. She also leads a healing circle at noon every Thursday. Laue asks that people who are less experienced call her first to have some exercises to practice on their own before coming to the circle. The group then talks about different people in their lives who are in need of healing. They meditate and pray for those people. " There have been numerous studies that highlight the healing powers of prayers," said Laue. "We focus our energy on those people who ask or need our prayers. We attune ourselves to be used as a channel for the spirit of God."

Laue said people from various religions will say different prayers, but many of them have the same meaning. She likes to focus on the universality of different spiritual ideas. Every Sunday she holds universal prayer services where she reads a scripture from the holy books of different major religions that focus on the same area of teaching. The group then talks about them and is able to apply the Sufi philosophy to all the teachings.

" Sufism isn't about going to church on Sunday and being done for the rest of the week," said Laue. "Many people don't talk about it. It's very internal and spiritual and personal."

Gail Zukav-Ross, left, and Shaffia Laue meditate together recently at Laue's Lawrence home as they demonstrate the practice of Sufism.
Zukav-Ross is a conductor in the Sufi Healing Order and Laue is a representive in Sufi Order International.
Photo by Ann Williamson/The Capital-Journal

Zukav-Ross, who is a psychologist, attends classes in Lawrence but also visits several other circles including one in the Kansas City area. She said almost everyone she has talked to about the philosophy has a very personal response to it. " When I first started talking to people and realizing that there were other people who thought and saw God in these ways, it was like suddenly I had a whole other family," she said. "I became an initiate more to honor who I was than to become something different."

Laue, who said her focus is going to switch to teachings about magnetism in the coming months, likes to talk about various studies and papers written from Sufi perspectives. She said a lot of modern science has been talked about by Sufi teachers for centuries. " Some of these things would have gotten a quaint smile from most people when talked about from a religious perspective," she said. Laue pointed out studies in quantum physics that follow the spin of unpaired electrons or the electric currents that operate in the heart and the rest of the body. " A lot of modern Sufi writings talk about those parts of science, about magnetism and electricity," said Laue. "Those are things that we have talked about for centuries and now the rest of the world is finding them scientifically."

For those who are interested in learning about Sufism, but aren't sure how to start, Laue recommends reading the poetry of Rumi, a 13th-century Muslim poet and Sufi who has recently become a top-selling author. She also said Sufism is an internal philosophy that doesn't require a huge amount of time commitment or outward changes. Rather, she said, it's a change in your philosophy and daily life. " In ancient times many Muslims were also Sufis, but you could go your whole life without knowing that your neighbor also practiced Sufism," she said. "It's a very personal thing that each person practices differently. The most important thing is that you open yourself up to God."



Updated 11/18/13