October 7: Cemalnur, Istanbul

Cemalnur Sargut is a beautiful spirit.  Look into her eyes and you see vitality, wisdom, compassion, and her love for Allah.  Cemalnur is a Sufi spiritual teacher.  She teaches that Islam is unification and that Sufism is the way to weave together all the differences in the world.   She uses a symbol for beautiful – placing the thumb and all four fingers together and gently shaking her hand back and forth.  All of the fingers are different, and together they create beauty.  Differences in our world can also together create beauty.

Cemalnur holds conferences.  She writes – commentary on the Koran.  One of her most popular books, she tells us, is one about how the Prophet treats women.  Allah gave jobs to women, she teaches.  And, as we mature spiritually, sexual differences become unimportant.  She comments that “male spiritual guides have trouble accepting me.”  And with a twinkle in her eye acknowledges that it does not bother her.  “I just keep inviting them to our conferences.

Her work is international.  She has founded a Chair of Sufi studies at the University of North Carolina and a Chair of Religion at Peking University, Beijing.

Sufism is about living one’s religion.  This is the essence, as described by Cemalnur.  She teaches with stories, and elaborates on this belief through a story of eyeglasses:

  • One set of eyeglasses through which we can view the world is like mirrors.  They reflect back to us only the physical world that surrounds us.  They are short-sighted.
  • A second set of eyeglasses reveals only the “other world, the ecstacy.”  This is the mountain top view, the retreat from this world.
  • The third kind of eyeglasses are bifocals ( ! )  They see both near and far.  They reveal deep wisdom AND witness the current physical reality – – and they provide our way to live our faith, to put into practice our most sacred beliefs.

Cemalnur expresses gratitude that she grew up in a family that did live their religion.  “There was no hatred.”

Her spiritual teacher founded TURKKAD, to teach Turkish women to seek right ways to raise their children, for example and to see their lives in a larger way, to understand service – and to focus on that, and not the small concerns – of wrinkles, or petty matters.  Such teaching was provided in the University.  But when the religious schools were closed at the founding of the Republic; the teaching became the responsibility of NGOs.  Cemalnur now continues this work begun by her teacher.

As Jim and I talked with Cemalnur in a small conference in her offices we were also joined by a friend of hers and two of her students, one of whom was an excellent translator.  Over tea and heaping bowls of beautiful fruit, the lasting impression for me was the unity of mind and heart, and the capacity we have to see the sacred in every person.

For those of you who read these posts, please know that I apologize for typos and unfamiliar symbols where the commas should be – – and that time here is too precious to invest much of it in making corrections.  I hope that you can “read for the essence” and enjoy whatever is meaningful for you!

Love from Barbara


October 7: Eveline, Istanbul

Hello all,

I wish you were here – we could have coffee together – you would love the setting.  Jim and I are sitting on the rooftop of our hotel, the Blue Mosque to my right, the Bosphorus behind me, and the Sea of Marmara to my left, warmed by the sun and the shouts of school children next door.

I want you to meet Eveline – what a delight!  Trained as a Cordon Blu chef in Paris, manager of hotels in New York and Paris, entrepreneur who founded and managed a hotel in Istanbul, and, after that, a Cooking School and Restaurant.  Eveline is clearly a self-directed woman, unfettered by constraints that would have halted many.  For me, this seems a lesson in itself.  Robert Fritz- artist, composer, author (The Path of Least Resistance is one of his books) argues that one approach to changing deeply embedded habits or patterns of thought or behavior – – – is absolute commitment to truth.  What he means by that is that every time we consider anything as a “given,” as “that’s the way life is,” we are taking a theory or assumption as an incontrovertible “truth.”  AND, further, that those moments are profound clues that we need to examine that belief.

I asked Eveline how she had the courage or vision to do all of these things.  She shrugged.  “İ come from a high achieving family,” she said, “and, actually I was a concern to them because I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up – or rather – there were many things I wanted to do/be:  an architect, a painter, a chef.”  And, so, she began to create her life.

Composing her own life didn’t suggest that her life was easier than others.  Far from it.  When she came to Turkey, for example, she could not find a “decent job.”  That is what led her to establishing her hotel.  And, yes, being a foreigner is difficult she notes.  You to not have the connections – and connections are very important!  And you are more challenged to understand cultural realities, the many subtle nuances of life that are often invisible to one from outside the culture.     İ think of the pitfalls of starting a business in my own culture – the unending requirements, the bureaucracy, the unforeseen hurdles – – managing this in a culture other than my own seems daunting indeed.

Eveline acknowledges that “trust” is a profound enigma.  She has experienced the consequences of being deceived by those she trusted.  And yet, she says, you get up, dust off and go on.  You can’t do business without trust.  Intuition is key she says.  You have to learn to trust your own intuition – – – AND you always have to realize that you are taking a risk.

A vibrant, energetic, creative woman – it has been marvelous to get to know her a bit.  I asked her what advice she would give to other young women, and – no surprise – she said, “I would tell them to ‘go for it,’ go after what they want, go do what they want to do.”  And, she stressed, I would tell them to watch to balance their life.  This is very important to her, something she struggles with at the moment.  She works six days a week from early morning until late in the evening.   Realizing that this is not satisfying long term, she will no doubt create changes that will give her more time to relax, to paint, to spend time with her partner.  Meanwhile, if you are fortunate enough to visit Istanbul  – – – treat yourself to a meal at the Alaturka Cooking School/Restaurant ! ! ! !

A quick note about our evening there.  While you can make a reservation to simply come for lunch or dinner – by far more fun awaits when you reserve a place in one of the classes and get to prepare the meal yourself, under Eveline’s expert guidance.  They usually have two classes each day – one from 10:30 – 2:00 and one from 4:30 – 8:30.  We chose the latter and joined eight other folks in chopping parsley, slicing onions, peeling garlic, stuffing grape leaves, etc.  The group itself was delightful – young folks (25   – 35).  One couple was on a 4 and 1/2 month trip around the world, spending a week or two in various locations.  Three had met up in Istanbul for vacation – two of them had worked together in Seattle, now one lives in San Francisco and the other in London and their friend is from Brazil.  Two others work for Boeing in Washington DC and are on vacation.

And so it goes, this global dance.

With love to each of you,



October 4: Alison, Istanbul

Greetings from Istanbul!

As we prepare today to leave this fascinating place  – with its grand mosques, historical palace, amazing grand bazaar and  – – – Ah, yes – – the spice market – – a feast of sights and smells  – – an early morning provides me the opportunity to  share some experiences with  you.  As mentioned in the September 15th post, “A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step,” these early blog posts are a chance to share some stories of an actual journey ~ a trip to explore Turkey.    I want to share the essence of some of my conversations with individual women who either are Turkish or who have embraced Turkey and live and work here.

On Friday, I had the pleasure of meeting Alison, a US woman who has lived and taught in Turkey for 30 years.  Jim joined us as well and two friends /colleagues of Alison’s.  These friends, Ken and Betty, have also taught in Turkey for 30 years. They are sponsored here by the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ, protestant churches in the US.  When a visiting Korean missionary once asked them how many persons they had converted to Christianity they were shocked!  That is not why we are here.  We are here to serve.”  And they serve – as teachers, elementary and high school, and as librarian.

All three are looking toward retirement in the next few years and reflective about how their work here has benefitted the world.  For sure they have benefitted the young people they have taught through their care high expectations and consistent presence. Beyond that, they said, the collaboration, building of partnerships with other groups and agencies, has been a significant gift  – – in fact, as well as by example.  Betty described her involvement in the Istanbul Interparish Migrant Program.  This cooperative network of parishes and church groups, founded in 1991, provides guidance, food, medical aid and repatriation services to thousands of migrants and asylum seekers (mainly from African and Asian countries) who are stranded in Istanbul.

As we spoke specifically about women’s experience these folks affirmed the domentic abuse experienced by many women, condoned by the culture and devastating to women and children.  They described an organization that seeks to serve these women.  Volunteers visit homes to describe available services and efforts are made to train police to believe and support the plight of these women, rather than simply returning them to their husbands.  Government policies are in place that guarantee safety and significant rights for women, but enforcement seems negligent.

Knowing that my specific interest is in women’s leadership, Ken asked about the relationship between assertiveness training and leadership development – which led to an interesting conversation.  This was fascinating to me because while it affirmed the need for both, it also revealed the different assumptions underlying the two.  The “pushing” energy to achieve rights, respect, the honor of being heard, seen, acknowledged is necessary. As is the “pulling” energy of leadership, which comes more from the assumption that our affirmation comes from inside and is about taking initiative, moving us forward – with or without the respect and affirmation of others.

A brief note about another fascinating theme of this conversation – the role / future of the “organization” – – any organization.  Recognizing both the necessity of organizational infrastructure – and the fact that organizational hierarchy and bureaucracy has so often become the tail wagging the dog – – – several examples were discussed that are emerging – where groups come together around values and mission that are held in common, and distinct  differences are honored, where a single “organization” (read minimal) can manage the administration of the collective groups.

Alison acknowledsged the need she feels all women experience to assert themselves and their ideas, and indicated that she had rarely felt discounted or disregarded because she was a woman.

Please excuse errors in typing, my friends.  Using the keyboard of a Turkish computer is yet one more example of the challenge of changing deeply embedded habits!   🙂