Receiving Part 1

“The sun is the wine, the moon is the cup. Pour the sun into the moon if you want to be filled.” – Sufi poet Hafiz

The Sufis and the yogis have a long and connected history. It’s no coincidence that yoga teachers quote Sufi poets Rumi and Hafiz in classes. The two mystical paths share the same passion for devotion and surrender on the path to awakening. They also both recognize the importance of balance, of giving and receiving, of the sun and the moon.

In Sufism, there are 99 names or qualities of the Beloved (well 100 with Allah as zero), and each represents a facet for us to explore and experience in order to become united with this Beloved. The second of these “pathways of the heart” as Neil Douglas-Klotz calls them, is Ar-Rahim, The Moon of Love, and when called to it, we are asked to deeply consider our capacity to receive, and to look to the moon.

I love this pathway. How many of us find it uncomfortable to receive? A gift? A compliment? A friend offering to pay? I know I do. We can practice gratitude for the things that come our way, but that doesn’t always help us feel less overwhelmed or less awkward in that moment of receiving. Yet here are the Sufis telling us that if we want to live a life of love, it’s imperative that we get to know what it means to receive—to stop resisting.

The Good of Giving

Our greater emphasis on giving is understandable. We are genetically wired to give—scientific studies show that when we give, the brain releases the pleasure hormone dopamine. We also are reminded to give much more often—especially if following a spiritual path. In the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita we are reminded that service is a path to self-realization. Generosity, dana paramita, is the first of Buddha’s six perfections. In Kabbalah, giving is vital to overcoming self-centeredness. And in Judeo-Christian religions we are told that “it is in giving that we receive.”

Ar-Rahim, the Moon of Love, teaches us that when we allow ourselves to receive, the world gets our moonbeams.

This encouragement is wonderful, and there are clear practices we can follow to cultivate our giving nature: being of service to others, performing random acts of kindness, volunteering, donating, saying kind words….

But by comparison receiving can feel far less noble an action. There aren’t really any clear guidelines for practice as it is almost assumed we receive by default. As such, we’re not very adept at it. We confuse receiving with “taking.” We can judge receiving as selfish, or only suitable for certain people who we deem “needy” enough. How many of us do not practice the art of receiving, but simply regard it as something to fit it in “between” giving? “OK, I’ll accept your help,” we might acknowledge with defeat, while we figure out how we’re going to pay them back.

But the Sufis ask us to rethink how we view receiving, and to reflect upon the moon to help us do so.

The Moon of Love

When the moon is full, the light that bounces off it is enough to illuminate streets, yards, forests, lakes, and oceans. How many of us have enjoyed a night bathed in moonlight? Yet, upon exploration, we find that the moon isn’t really “giving” us any light—it’s receiving light from the sun. We simply benefit from the reflection. Ar-Rahim, The Moon of Love, teaches us that when we allow ourselves to receive, the world gets our moonbeams.

As we look at receiving through this new lens, we can begin to imagine… What if the moon could grow and receive even more sunlight? How many more moonbeams would the world get? While the moon can’t get any bigger, there is no end to the love we can receive if we practice opening our hearts and letting love in. Receiving is essentially surrender.

This requires giving up our judgments, and exploring the moments when we feel uncomfortable receiving. Why is it we find it hard to receive gifts? Do we feel obligated to give back? Why are some compliments hard to accept? Do we think we’re not worthy? Why don’t we let others pay? Do we judge those with less money as weak? These are all just pointers to what Sufi poet Rumi would call our “barriers to love”:

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

Practicing Receiving

Practicing receiving helps us uncover these barriers. It also helps us recognize that if we think giving is “better” than receiving, we are mistaken. They are one action, as the sun and moon teach us. To resist receiving is to resist giving.

I learned this beautiful lesson not under the moon, but in a checkout line at a New York City supermarket. The woman in front of me, a stranger, was gathering her food stamps and coupons to pay when I felt an internal nudge to offer to buy her groceries. But I hesitated. I started thinking about whether she would be offended—or what if she said no?

It was at that very moment the woman turned to the teller and said: “And I would like to pay for the groceries of this lady behind me.” I was shocked. It was like we both heard the giving/receiving voice at the same time, but her mind did not get in the way. Her heartfelt capacity to give was far greater than mine.

It was not easy to receive, although I did so with great thanks. My mind had several opinions about what it meant to accept such a gift from someone who appeared to have less money than myself. I would have been much more comfortable being the one to pay. But if we want to unite with the Beloved, then it’s not the comfortable path we take. As Rumi says: “Run from what’s comfortable.” If receiving is your barrier to love, then it’s worth making receiving your practice. And if we need a reminder, we need only look out the window at night.

Moon Rituals

Author’s note: This article was written for Wanderlust.com

The moon is such a powerful presence in our lives — pulling on the ocean’s tides, and creating a rhythm for all life on our planet. Whereas the phases of the moon used to be honored by people across the globe, defining our farming calendars and our own fertility, and determining celebrations and events, today much of our modern culture ignores our deep and ancient relationship with this celestial object.

A moon ritual therefore can be a great way to reconnect to the rhythms that we share with all life on Earth. It can also be a powerful tool to align with the ebb and flow of energy as we seek to foster a life of our dreams, and release the things holding us back.

The two most popular moon rituals are carried out on new moons and full moons — although three days on either side also works.

The New Moon

The new moon brings with her the opportunity for creativity — appearing dark, or empty, like fertile ground. Over the following 14 to 15 nights the moon appears to gather more light from the sun, becoming a crescent and eventually a full moon, and so brings with her the power of growth and potential. It’s a time to plant intentions for the things we want in life, and to align with the moon’s energy to help us grow those seeds. Quite literally, gardeners that work with moon phases will sow seeds of leafy and short-root plants during a new moon. As the moon waxes, its tidal pull draws water up to the top of the soil nurturing the seed.

The Full Moon

While the new moon is a time to sow seeds, the full moon is a time to pull weeds—a time to release the things that no longer serve us. As the moon brims with the sun’s energy, we offer her the things we would like her to take with her as she starts to wane over the next 14 to 15 days, emptying out back toward a new moon.

A ritual created using our own intuition is always the most powerful, and once we become more in tune with the rhythm of waxing and waning energy, that intuition will grow. Here, however, are some ideas to include in any moon ritual.

Opening Sacred Space

Ideally for a moon ritual, you would be outside under the moon, but if that’s not possible then being near a window, or even setting an intention in an indoor space will work. Whether alone or with friends, smudge yourself and the area you are going to be working in with palo santo or sage, call in the Four Directions, the Four Elements, or any angels and guides you feel would positively support your ritual, intending to share the benefits of your ritual with all beings.

Making an Offering

I like to collect fallen leaves, feathers, branches, or stones leading up to a ritual and create a mandala on the ground or on a table for the moon. Similarly, you could lay out petals or crystals (under a full moon, crystals will also have the added benefit of being charged). To represent the elements of water and fire, a glass of water and a safely-lit candle can be added to an altar — although try to let the candle burn out by itself or gently snuff it rather than blowing it out. We can also offer our thanks during our preparation, pondering the many ways the moon brings joy into our lives.

Sharing our Intentions

Take a moment if you haven’t already to write a short letter to the moon asking clearly for what you want help with. At the time of a new moon you will be asking for things to come into, or to grow in, your life. This could be a job, a baby, a new friend or partner. It could also be greater clarity around an issue, or creative energy or stamina for a specific project. You could also ask for more playfulness, joy, or laughter to blossom in your world.

During a full moon, the same letter would ask for help releasing something from your life. That could be a relationship, a thought pattern, a grudge, a physical ailment, or feelings of anger or envy. I like to release blocks that are holding me back from my dreams—so that the full moon and new moon become part of a month-long ritual. Then place your letter somewhere on your altar, where you will leave it to be received by the moon overnight, before clearing away the next day when the sun has risen.

Celebration and Closing

A ritual, while serious, is something to be celebrated. Together, or alone, you could sing, chant, read a poem, dance, or even roll through some moon salutations in honor of yourself and the moon. When you feel like your ritual is ending, close the space and give thanks to the Moon and all those that joined you in the circle.

Finally, observe how you feel for the next few days. Rituals are very powerful. After a new moon you may have insights as to how to take action toward your dreams that you won’t want to miss, and after a full moon you may be guided to rest or drink lots of water. As the moon rules the water element, a bath can also be a great post-ritual addition — and a moon phases calendar so you can plan for your next ritual.