Journey to the Beloved by Arun Joseph Ragab
When I think of the journey that has lead me home, to the world that I love, my heart overflows with thankful joy. I express this gratitude to the Divine Family, inclusive of all beings, deities and systems that together compose the Living Cosmos. The deepest blessing of this life has been to feel more and more related to those with whom I share the adventure of being human on Earth. This was not always so.
The culture in which I was raised was not at all tolerant of diversity in either personal or spiritual expression. Everything that differentiated me from those around me was ridiculed and condemned. This led to a feeling that there was something inherently wrong or sick within myself, the world or both. There was a golden thread, however, that I learned to follow.
From an early age, I was drawn to the images whereby ancient cultures embodied and communicated with the Mysteries. As a boy, I did not understand the nature of this fascination, but spent many hours drawing Egyptian deities. Doing so would transport me into a place beyond the psychic desolation of my school years. Later on, I discovered the sacred artwork of India, and the luminous forms of the Devas. Each of these Deva images seemed like a window through which any thought, prayer or gift that was offered would ripple out to touch the Universe. With grace, a silent echo would reply and I would not feel alone, even when most isolated. Inspired by religions both ancient and global, I drew images and these became a vessel for my nervous energy and a sanctuary from the social anxiety resulting from feeling so out-of-place.
As soon as I was able, I left the region where I was born and set off to follow the synchronicities that were calling me to Portland, Oregon. I had learned to regard these “coincidences” as the language of the Cosmos. The signals that I sent through my artwork, prayer and rituals were answered through auspicious meetings, clues, serendipity. Soon after I turned 21, all of them started to point to a city that I had never even visited. When I arrived in this new home at the age of 23, I immediately recognized it as the place where I was meant to be. Suddenly all that I previously had to hide and defend became an asset, a shareable gift. What I thought were my neuroses were revealed to be my talents. This was a life-saving transformation. The Divine Family had shown me the face of the Fertile Mother.
I quickly discovered that I was not alone in this story. So many of those with whom I share life in Portland have similar stories of being called here, of feeling that there is a purposeful sentience guiding them to the place of their healing and growth. As time passed in my new home, I found community with those who shared not only this sense of being blessed by the Garden of Delights, but also a deep motivation to offer the kindness back to the Cosmos in whatever ways they could. These ways include the joyful release of dance, the healing arts, rituals of gratitude and devotions, such as Puja and Kirtan, and a larger context for how to live more carefully and sustainably within this valley in the midst of Cascadia.
Portland, both the city and its Genius Loci (spirit of place) acted as a benevolent incubator to my creative gestation. Like a garden that chooses the seeds that She wants planted within Her, this valley calls artists, vision-workers and community-weavers together, often supplying just the things that they need to catalyze their work. In my own case, it was through involvement with dance-gatherings and ritual celebrations that I found the purpose for the iconography that I was always drawing. During an Equinox ritual six years ago, it hit me: If printed onto fabric and used to decorate events, these designs could become the vestments for temples of joy and inspiration. The constant drawing that had, until then, been a way that I avoided social life, was suddenly revealed to be the primary constructive means to engage it.
Various facets of artful living were pursued separately with different circles of folks for a few years. Gradually, the overlap between them lead to more and more connections forming between the friends who studied or practiced them. A circle of family began to precipitate from these zones of mutual work and play. Circles of friends began to create more and more of the type of events that expressed their visions of how loving and creative life could be if we cooperated as joyfully engaged children of Cosmos. I felt so honored to find a place wherein I could share the fabric artwork that I began to create. Finally, my eccentricities were of positive, constructive value. My craft was placed in service to a community of those who dance in embodied recognition of the Living Mysteries that animate the world. Those around me were also growing into their crafts and callings, contributing their own gifts of skill and service to the extended family. The co-creative Garden was now bearing shareable fruit.
Eventually, a more focused vision of how to weave the threads of dance, devotion and conscious impact began to emerge. The parents of this vision were the questions that resulted from our previous years of inner and outer adventure.
The first of these questions was, “How do we promote a culture that helps us to integrate the peak experiences from which so much of our Vision of human possibility arose?”. Whether through pilgrimages around the world, entheogenic voyages within or the shock of being alive at this point in the human story; moments of intensity and revelation are a major part of how we have gotten to where we are. These peak experiences are pivotal to our journeys but must be integrated in order to be genuinely healing. As our community matures, more and more attention is being given to the subject of how to honor integrity of the body-mind. How can we allow for flashes of the divine lightening while staying grounded? Nutritional support, therapeutic touch, compassionate communication, arts of energetic motion and many other skills are cultivated within our community in answer to this.
The next questions was “How can we honor the sacred traditions from which devotional art and music flow while being true to our contemporary situation”. Each tradition is the result of contact between the Mystery and a particular time, place and people. These human treasures are the most precious part of each culture. Yet there are new expressions of the Mystery as It comes into fresh contact with new people and places in each moment. The continuing fusions and evolution of sacred art is vital, as is the protection of ancient lineages of tradition. How to give space for each and for the interplay between is a creative challenge. Also, how to honor the inspirations arising from being authentic to ourselves in this exact place and time while appreciating the devotion of those who have given themselves entirely over to their cultural heritage. These considerations informed the choice of artists and musicians for the emerging festival that we would come to call “Beloved”.
The name “Beloved Festival” is a reference to the poetry of Jelaluddin Rumi. Rumi’s words convey such a sense of intimacy with the Divine to people from so many faiths and backgrounds. As we were trying to find a name that summed up this sense of the private love-affair that each being has with the Universal Mystery, the special title that Rumi used to address his spiritual center shined from the pages of his work. By naming the event toward which we were all working “Beloved” we were reminding ourselves of our own deepest motive for involvement in it. Even during the stress and complications that arise from a group of people trying to organize themselves around deadlines, there is always the opportunity to realize that this is the current expression of the Divine.
Once the first gathering was underway, I was delighted to see who it was that answered the call and took part. The range of ages created the opportunity for conversations and connections lacking from most other events that I had decorated. The level of engagement with the workshops and circles spilled over into peoples interactions with each other, most notably through shining eye-contact. So much of it was the chance to be Shown rather than Told what heart-centered cooperation can look like.
A major demonstration of sacred art transcending cultural divisions was the opening performance by Eliyahu and Qadim. As the sun set on Friday night, the members of this ensemble lit the Shabbat candles with beautiful song. When this was complete, they then sang the special Muslim prayer for Friday. This began a set of devotional music from both Jewish and Arabic cultures performed by members of each. I was overwhelmed by such a simple yet powerful expression of unity in musical prayer when so much of the world is consumed in religious division.
This started the journey that led through Kirtan, Qawwali, Tuvan throat singing, Vajrayana Mudra-ritual and into all-night contemporary global-fusion dance music. As the sun rose on Sunday morning, it was greeted by hours of the Dawn Raga. The rhythms and energies spanned the spectrum from passion to peace, motion to meditative stillness. Music rooted in five continents was shared with a gathering composed of several generations of people. After feeling estranged from humanity for much of my life, it was deeply healing to be able to fall in love with so many facets of human culture. To see so many people aspiring to treat themselves and each other as embodiments of the Divine was the perfect medicine.
Since the first Beloved Festival, I have found other ways to connect with the co-creative process from which it emerges. My body mind and soul are fulfilled to the extent that they are contributing to the healing, inspiration and joy of the bodies, minds and souls around me. In my own case, this happens through the sharing of massage, my writings and my artwork. There are just as many ways to experience this synergy as there are people. Gatherings that promote ways for people to constructively engage each other on these levels have a curative effect. The isolation and loneliness that come from mainstream cultural disconnection can be dissolved in the ecstatic realization of our birthright as members of the Divine Family, which is all-inclusive and revealed group devotional cooperation. It was through this flood of loving connection that I overcame the misanthropy engendered by my early years of culture-war.
The process continues. Each year, new people find their way into some of the many ways to experience and participate in the Beloved Festival while previous friends return to share what they have learned since last time. My own journey leads me to this place, and so it is from here that I invite all who would share in a collective healing through joy that can be offered to the world through radiant eye-contact and an overflowing heart.
Having lived out his awkward, larval years in various Southern states, Arun Joseph Ragan was called to the verdant bosom of Portland in 1997. Since then, he has been involved in several communities of mutual healing and ritual celebration, all of which have encouraged his growth and exploration of the juncture between the worlds of Art and Magick. Currently, he prints and fashions fabric vestments with which to adorn temples of dance and delight. His work can be found at www.thearuniverse.com, or you can see in person this August at Beloved: Sacred Art & Music Festival (www.belovedfestival.com).