Students whirl their way to wisdom

The ordinarily lackluster interior of the Holcomb cafetorium was invigorated this Tuesday by the two workshops taught by Sheikha Khadija Radin on the ancient Sufi practices of dance and meditation.

Participants included students, faculty and local  area residents. All in attendance enjoyed the eye-opening experience of a lesson that combined Eastern philosophy and spinning around barefoot in circles.

Khadija began by drawing the audience members' attention to the ways that they perceive the world around them with a brief lecture on consciousness and the philosophy of Sufi meditation. She explained that everything we experience "is an immaculate conception, born out of impulses in the brain." Continuing this line of thought, she asked the group to share their own beliefs on human spirituality and experience.

After a short discussion, Khadija demonstrated the proper way to turn, starting with her arms folded across her chest, hands on her shoulders and her head bent slightly toward the floor. With small steps and gradually speeding up, she whirled her arms along with her body, never losing the grace that continuously propelled her in circles.

Finally, it was the group's turn to give it a whirl. Spreading across the floor of the cafeteria, people began to spin to the steady, carefree beat of "Clint Eastwood" by Gorillaz. Not everyone was able to keep their balance the whole time, but even those who were overcome with dizziness seemed to have enjoyed the experience.

Students and faculty alike said that although the movements may have seemed strange at first, there was a lot more to spinning in circles than could have been guessed.

"You would never think that whirling or Sufi mysticism could have any kind of practical application for college students, but it definitely does," said senior Garrett Burger after Khadija led the group in a seated meditation exercise aimed at alleviating anxiety. Sociology professor Joanna Kirk said that she planned to start incorporating stress-relieving breathing exercises into her exams.

Khadija commented on the perception that sticking to a dance career is impractical, saying, "I'd like a nickel for every little girl who says they're going to be a dancer when they grow up." She said she would have lost that wager had she been betting on her own chances of sticking with dance.

After studying dance at The Juilliard School and working as a choreographer and modern dance teacher, Khadija moved to an ashram in San Francisco where she began to practice meditation under the guidance of Swami Muktananda. It was while living there that her life changed suddenly for the second time upon being introduced to Sufism at a memorial for a prominent teacher.

The journey since her initial encounter with Sufi mysticism has taken Khadija all over the world, from Israel to India, Palestine to Turkey and eventually to upstate New York, where she founded the Dervish Retreat Center in 1999.