Origins of the 7 Words System
The first taste of Sufism
James Burgess, the originator of the 7 Words system, was born in Bristol, UK in 1951. He was to have a traditional upbringing, going on to qualify in accountancy at the age of 27. Yet the era itself was far from traditional; it was an era of questioning and challenge, with an upsurge in interest in spiritual and psychological development. This was later reinforced by the social and ideological polarisation caused by the Thatcher age. Change was in the air. Self-development workshops became normal at festivals, green gatherings, camps and at centres; it seemed that everyone was studying something new, trying to find different ways of understanding and relating to the world.
He was inspired by this shift in consciousness and turned his back on a safe career in accountancy, to become heavily involved in 'alternative' camps, with the encouragement of Palden Jenkins of Oak Dragon Camps. He also met John Seymour, then just beginning to lead NLP groups in Bristol. Amida Harvey, the UK force behind Dances of Universal Peace, and the renowned Peace Through the Arts Camp (now the Sacred Arts Camp), was another major influence. However, the lifetime connection with Nickomo and Rasullah Clarke, which led to the growth of the Unicorn Camps, was vital. With that came the provision of a rich seeding ground for further study and eventually an arena for the birth and early teaching of the 7 Words system.
Throughout this time James was also influenced by teachings across a wide range of subjects, including dance, astrology, paganism, and divination. However what was of increasing importance to him by the latter part of the 80's was the study of those subjects with inherent teachings about the impact of words upon the psyche: Neuro-Linguistic Programming, pure esoteric linguistics, and DUP. These provided some satisfaction, but none of these were as profoundly wedded to the relationship between the use of words and states of consciousness as Sufism.
The concepts of Sufism were intellectually familiar because of previous studies of the texts of Idries Shah and others, but the practices themselves - in breath, sound and light - were found to be surprisingly powerful emotionally. Whilst a great deal of personal healing had taken place for him in the early years of camps and workshops, when James encountered Sufism, he realised that the real work of personal transformation was just about to begin. His profound journey into the depths of Islam and traditional Sufism began in West Wales in 1987 at the Oak Dragon's Harmonic Convergence Camp. Ahead of him lay the challenges of the 7 levels of consciousness, the foundation stones of the 7 Words system.
Journey to Turkey.
James had already encountered a major spiritual breakthrough, when he was introduced to Dances of Universal Peace. Here he confronted many emotional issues, and found a joyful sense of spiritual upliftment that went with the release of psychological baggage. But then he was introduced to zikr, an Islamic devotional act, typically involving the repetition of the names of God, supplications or formulas taken from hadith texts and verses of the Qur'an.
Zikr is renowned as a powerful process that can transform on all levels, resulting, for the serious practitioner, in a life path of constant deep-seated change. It took only one session, on a camp in Wales, to convince him that he had found his way. Within a few weeks, James had let go of his flat, cleared his life into a backpack, and set out on a vision quest / pilgrimage to Turkey, into the ancient heartland of traditional Sufism - Kars, Istanbul and Konya - where he connected with several dervish orders.
What awaited him was far from being a romantic paradise. It is necessary to lay aside 'prideful self-love' even to enter the gate of Sufism's rose garden, and typical westerners have a hard time accepting the degree of submission required. Cold, wet and unacknowledged, James followed his Sufi master for days on end, being offered no friendship, comfort or even guidance. He was totally ignored for hour upon hour and then ridiculed and chastised for even slight imperfections of behaviour.
There was no comfort to be had from the other (Moslem) students either, who considered him untutored and ill-disciplined. To add to that, he was also suspected, by some, to be a government agent, and was viewed as an 'arrogant Christian' by the chief sheikh of the Helvetis. Coping with unpopularity was not the real challenge however, what was more demanding was surviving in Turkey when he couldn't stop crying all day with the effect of profound emotional release!
Having endured this baptism of fire, James returned to the UK in 1988, and began a long journey into the work of Nigel Hamilton at the London Sufi Centre, resulting in his initiation by Pir Vilayat Khan of the Sufi Order International. These western Sufi teachings, derived from Hazrat Inayat Khan, were characterised by the alchemical retreat process - for example 21 days alone, in silence, and practising zikr all day - and group retreats. Here he first encountered the 7 Planes of Consciousness, a Sufi cosmology to explain how energy - or light - has 7 distinct manifestations, each one giving rise to a particular state of being with different qualities and purposes. For him, these were the mother and father of all teachings, his epiphany.
It is widely understood that in spiritual practice the student will need to deal with the negative side in order to realise the positive. As James deepened his study of the 7 planes, he called up the challenges of each and had to deal with them in real day to day terms. The Earth plane is to do with physicality, its mystery is abundance, the Astral teaches about freedom, especially of mind, whereas the third plane's lessons are of love, harmony and beauty and the Heroic plane is a lesson in authenticity.
Several influences reversed his direction away from the security and control of accountancy towards trusting in the abundant wealth of the universe. First and foremost was the traditional image of a dervish, whose only possessions were a cloak and begging bowl. Secondly were the words of a speaker on 'prosperity consciousness'. James was inspired by the esoteric mystery of giving as evidence of one's faith and, though unemployed, gave away all of his savings. He learned how to live very economically and freed himself from what he saw as the enslaving power of a paymaster and fear of poverty. Homeless for many years, he, nevertheless, enjoyed the comfortable hospitality of his many friends and students, fulfilling the dervish protocols.
In approaching the Astral plane, James found 'freedom of thought' a subtle and sometimes slippery concept! He came to realise the influence of early experiences and the potential depth of prejudices. He travelled widely for some 20 years and mixed with people from all walks of life. Bit by bit, it became clear to him that it is sometimes far from easy to differentiate between 'good' and 'bad' people! He found that even the 'good guys' are, sometimes, not free from prejudice and blame, including those that purport to teach. His own blockages and preferences thrown into sharp relief, he learned to appreciate some of the hidden qualities of members of a diverse range of groups, such as, for example, Hells Angels, rugby players and hippies. Mixing in such circles, alcohol and drug abuse were hedonistic temptations that he was not exempted from facing, yet these groups' qualities of liberality, authenticity and freedom of personal expression he found, nevertheless, worth valuing.
As the plane of Love, Harmony and Beauty came to the fore, James was happily in a relationship and learning something of the personal sacrifices required in order to prioritise love as a daily life practice. During this period, he was enthusiastically writing dance material to support his main life work to date, as a leader of Dances of Universal Peace, for which he is still remembered in a few corners of the globe. Many of his dances are still taught and his CD Beautiful Names is still popular. Yet he and his partner found it hard to keep a family life going when his work was elsewhere and his outreach work in the Baltic States, Russia and further afield kept him on the road too much for his own good; the relationship faltered and ended and for a time his softer side took a back seat.
Tests of personal authenticity thus came quickly to the fore as he moved into the challenges of the Heroic plane. His father had been a violent man and this experience underpinned James's refusal to bow to authority without question. He baulked at what he saw, in the Sufi and dance worlds, as "prettifying the false and unsustainable harmony of spiritual groups by singing poorly understood love songs to God". Unsurprisingly, in taking this uncompromising stance, he clashed with the 'powers-that-be' and he found himself marginalised, and at times, excluded. However, as we shall see later in this serialisation, the anger and sense of injustice at his treatment was to massively reinforce and feed the creative spark that led to the development of the 7Words system.
Rejection and Acceptance
The first 4 planes of consciousness in the Sufi cosmology are seen as the routine circle of life. Until a person awakens some degree of awareness of the 5th plane, life can be rather predictable, a cycle of repeated engagements with the basics, such as finding and keeping a home, someone to share it with, and food for the table.
The Plane of Splendour shows how to live in sacredness and what happens when you make sacredness a normal aspect of life. James had lived according to a rigorous discipline for 17 years, with daily zikr and a life continually leading groups, teaching, counselling and healing. The fruits of that lifestyle began to show in various ways, perhaps the most relevant being in his growing sense of self- confidence and determination. Although a path of mysticism teaches devotion to God, it also teaches that God and self are indistinguishable from one another. An advanced seeker knows that they are an agency of the Creator, most helpful to God when they are expressing their own ideas creatively.
James felt moved to speak out, promoting the desire to interpret the teachings widely and personally, for the freedom to adopt a set of principles that were liberating and natural, for the freedom to live without priests and dogma. His teachings could no longer be presented as mainstream Sufism, and after a period of unsettled relations with the hierarchy, in 2007 his position as Sufi Representative of the Baltic States for the Sufi Order was, eventually, revoked. His Sufi retreats took on a whole new twist, and a new and unique blend of traditional and western Sufism, plus NLP, emergent 7Words thinking and aspects of "Conversations with God" became the form for his message.
This was a time of tense controversy and division. Over half of his students opted to follow a mainstream path and there was an atmosphere of suspicion and recrimination. This was a source of great pain for James, who now found that the spiritual challenge was how to rise above blame and feelings of betrayal. The time had come to touch the Immaculate State, the place of forgiveness where resentment has no purchase.
He had been the first Sufi representative to visit the Baltic region and, even before the collapse of the Soviet system, had introduced Dances of Universal Peace. In addition, he had spent 20 years building a Sufi school centred in Riga, Latvia and a retreat centre in rural Lithuania. All of this work had to be let go of after his dismissal. Nothing was available as comfort or recompense except the state of detachment offered in 6th plane attunement, reached not only through meditation, but also through the shedding of habitual attachments to any social support that may prove fickle.
The 7words system had first emerged before the millennium as a collection of unrefined ideas. James, now free of any other responsibilities, devoted himself into the further development of the system. The workbook, which was to form the basis of his subsequent work, was finally completed after seven revisions. Groups of friends and supporters spontaneously formed around the teachings, and the process of refinement and correction led to the launch of the work as a teaching package in late 2007. At this point Richard Grey joined James in the outreach and presentation work.
James was to find that the actual process of developing the word Yes was to provide a vehicle which, itself, inched him closer to the final plane of consciousness. It was, however, in the experiencing of it and its energies at 7Words gatherings that he finally felt that he had begun his journey towards Unity.
Comments (2) Leave a comment
Graham (Oct. 26, 2011)
vincent (Nov. 11, 2011)
from a novice seekers viewpoint i see truth and courage on a path of action.my humanity has always been my problem....he teaches a path that overcomes that.