photo of Nina Simons by Jennifer Esperanza
in conversation with Elizabeth Miller SPIRITUAL BEGINNINGS I was raised by two parents who each came from Jewish lineages. Because their parents had been immigrants, they were non-practicing Jews. I think it was more important to them to assimilate and to become successful in an American context, than to carry forward any Jewish traditions. Neither of them had any religious or spiritual affinity with Judaism, so I grew up in a largely agnostic household. There was, however, a strong sense of civic engagement and a deeply held commitment to justice throughout my upbringing. As a child, my parents took us to peace rallies and to civil rights marches. My
first spiritual recognition of a connection to something larger in the world came through my connection to nature. Though I could not have named it spiritual as a youth, I felt deeply drawn to the natural world. I grew up in the city of New York, and so the places where I communed with nature, in Central Park and the Catskill mountains, became a source of solace for me. Every time I found my life in transition or upheaval, I turned to nature for grounding and reconnecting to myself. In my twenties, I was introduced to a spiritual school called the Arica Institute created by a Bolivian mystic, Oscar Ichazo, who had traveled all over the world studying diverse
spiritual traditions. He assembled a school for consciousness based on aggregating wisdom practices that he had gathered from all directions, and central to its philosophy was the work of G. I. Gurdjieff. EMBODIED PRACTICE For me, Sufism has always had a magnetic appeal, in large part because of its heartcenteredness. I have been drawn to it because it offers an experience of celebration united with divinity, in wholeness. I also deeply respect its inclusivity, sensitivity, and respect for human dignity and for each personâ€™s personal path. Arica practiced a form of zikr, so I had my first experi-
Sufism: An Inquiry Vol XVI, No. 2
A journal for people of the heart.