“My feet know what to do.”
The urge to spin is irresistible.
I look across the room at my buddy, Josh, who’s spontaneously been overtaken by the same impulse. I can tell by the loopy grin on his face that he’s high as a kite from the music, the movement and the spiritual energy — the baraka — in the room. Nothing more. And I can feel that I’m wearing the same expression. I give into it and start to turn. My feet, surprisingly, seem to know what to do. Instinctively my arms raise, the right one over my head, the left one at heart level. Suddenly a divine energy flows through me: down from the heavens out through my heart… the tips of my fingers… It’s a profoundly powerful, and personal, moment as I spin and spin and spin…
This startling experience actually began five days earlier when a traveling companion casually asked:
“Greg, do you know what Aissawa is?”
We were bumping along the highway outside of Fez in Morocco. I had no way of knowing the impact that one simple question would have on my life.
I had come to Morocco to scout it as a destination for spiritual tours, and I was headed into my second week. Even by then, Morocco had insinuated itself into my heart and spirit in a way few places ever do. I didn’t realize I’d actually only been skimming along in the shallows, and that an immersive dive into the deepest mystery of existence was hidden inside that one simple question, waiting to spring itself on me in a a few days.
Morocco is a truly stunning place – an ancient kingdom that lies at a magical crossroads of culture, language and history that has produced one the richest, most compelling and most beautiful countries on the planet.
From the Mediterranean coast to the daunting peaks of the high Atlas Mountains to the breathtaking, trackless ocean of ruby sand called the Sahara, Morocco boasts a diversity that I still can’t completely fathom. It’s like somebody took North America and washed it in really hot water so that it shrunk to 1/100 of its normal size.
The physical richness is complemented by a fusion of cultures that is, at least in my experience, without equal: Spanish, French, Moorish and Portuguese influences mingle with the indigenous Berber and Toureg nomads, as well as strands from deep in equatorial Africa, to create a mosaic of music, dance, spirituality, art, architecture, cuisine and language that is truly dazzling and utterly unique.
Casablanca, Marrakech, Fez… These are the storied cities of a grand, magnificent past.
I was still absorbing this Moroccan kaleidoscope as we headed toward Fez. I already knew with total certainty Morocco would make one of the greatest Spirit Quests I’d ever created.
“Aissawa?” I said to my friend “No. What is that?”
It sounded like either a foreign car or a new club drug.
She handed me a thick book, in French, titled “Religious and spiritual sects of Morocco.” I stumbled through a fascinating expose on Sufism in Morocco. Sufism is the mystical aspect of Islam, one that eagerly welcomes all seekers of ecstatic experience. It is music, it is sinuous movement, it is a glorious, and liberal, path to melding with the Divine in transcendent states of consciousness.
And the “Aissawa?” It’s a centuries-old kind of spiritual rave that lasts five hours and is all but guaranteed to shift your consciousness into higher realms.
Four days later, I found myself in the narrow pedestrian street outside of a magnificent Riad —the traditional Moroccan style of city house — with a group of Aissawa musicians. Most of the local Moroccans from the area gather to watch the raucous procession that begins the Aissawa night. Between our group of Westerners, the locals, and the dozen or so Aissawa musicians there were probably forty people crowding joyously into the Riad’s soaring central courtyard. In the past few days my fellow traveler, along with the help of her Moroccan friend, has organized an amazing evening — going so far as to secure the presence of Mohamed Azizi Fez, one of the greatest Aissawa masters in Morocco. His spiritual energy is as palpable as his talent.
And so I find myself lifted up by hours of rhythmic dance and music. The rhythm of the music, the effect of the Arabic call and response singing, the devotional energy of the participants, the physical expenditure of dancing, spinning, flailing, even falling, for hours on end, all combine to create a profoundly heightened state of perception.
After the ceremony we all share a renowned meal of Moroccan couscous, as a deep sense of joy, peace and fellowship washes through us. I can’t wait for my next one!