Being ‘Spiritual’ in Dubai

Being ‘Spiritual’ in Dubai

This post has been a long time coming. As soon as I set up my blog (which is coming to the five month mark – time flies), I started to take notes on potential post topics for the inevitable writer’s block. ‘Being spiritual in Dubai’ was one of the first items on the list.

I was reminded of the quandary of living in the land of sand, shopping malls and sports cars a few weeks back after returning from a week-long retreat with my Shaman in the Spanish countryside. Coming back hit me like a ton of bricks.

I should be used to this by now, but I’m not. So while this post is partly about the irony of being a spiritual seeker in Dubai (and Astrologer, too), at the same time this post is about the itchy feeling we all get at different times in our lives when the where we are doesn’t seem to match the who we are.

At different times in our lives we can all feel the where we are doesn’t seem to match the who we are.

There can be an extra layer of dissonance for me living in Dubai and doing what I ‘do’ (or just being who I am, as the two things are not necessarily separate). It also means that every social interaction I face when travelling outside of Dubai leads to a series of indiscreet questions about my now-home.

It usually goes something like this: “Oh, Dubai…..[awkward pause while said person tries to find polite way to question my existence]….so, how is that?….You know, with the stuff you do? Is it not…kind of empty? Or, fake, I guess?”

Well you know, living in Dubai is not always easy with ‘the stuff’ I do. I take issue not with answering the questions, but the questions themselves.

First, let’s clear up a few distracting misconceptions about Dubai:dubai spirituality

Dubai is a bright spot in a pretty dark place. Do not conflate Dubai with the rest of the Middle East. While other countries around the Gulf are back-peddling into extremism, the UAE has held strong in its dedication to modernity. Is it the best place in the world? No. Is its human rights record spotless? Absolutely not. Would I rather live somewhere else? Almost certainly. Yet, it continues to pull the rest of the region forward by being an example of how a modern Islāmic society can function in the greater world and support an open-minded social culture (if it wants to). We all need Dubai to succeed – the stability of the entire region depends on it.

It’s okay being a woman in Dubai. I am not suppressed in Dubai and I do not fear for my personal safety being a woman. And no, I don’t have to wear a burqa. Most Emiratis don’t even wear a burqa; many of them wear the abaya, which is essentially a bad-ass kimono. Last year I briefly entertained wearing an abaya for a new job, and let me tell you…it was divine. Us Western women are missing out. I didn’t continue with the job for multiple reasons, but wearing an abaya made getting ready every day a complete cinch. Essentially: pyjamas + abaya on top = acceptable work wear. Mull over that.

Dubai is incredibly safe. This is the safest place I’ve ever lived. In Dubai you can leave your handbag in the shopping cart while you grocery shop and go wander around the store. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve forgotten to lock my apartment or left the balcony doors open, and it’s perfectly normal here to leave your car running, keys in the ignition at the gas station and go grab a few things from the store. It’s also reasonably free, and unless you engage in some serious high-level stupidity, you’re not going to run into problems here.

Dubai is a place full of irony, and hypocrisy, just like everywhere else. It feels more like irony when you’re at the beach full of plastique bikin-clad ladies and a group of fully covered burqa-wearing local ladies float by. It feels more like hypocrisy when you’re at an upscale restaurant and see a group of Arab guys surrounded by prostitutes openly in public, with not an ounce of shame. And guess what? This makes Dubai like every damn place on our little blue planet. How many times has the ultra-conservative Christian been exposed as addicted to kiddie porn, a closet homosexual or involved in any level of salacious side action? Give me a break. Dubai might be great people-watching material because of its inherent contradictions, but it’s not exceptional for that reason.

So what’s it like being ‘spiritual’ in Dubai?

It was a trick question, amigos. The question itself is the problem, or rather, the answer lies within the question.

The spiritual boom of late brought new-age basics to the mainstream masses: along came meditation and its suburban cousin, ‘mindfulness, one million different strains of yoga, so much Deepak Chopra, and a newfound acceptance for crystals, the odd sage-smudging and keeping a vial of Frankincense tucked away in your handbag.

That means there is now something called ‘spirituality’, and if you fit the bill, you can be referred to (or probably, self-refer to yourself) as being ‘spiritual’.

This is a pretty major fuck-up in thought process.

You see, there is no such thing as spiritual. We are all spiritual. Every last one of us, from every jerk you’ve every known to every saint and sinner too. Mother Teresa? Totally spiritual. Hitler? Also totally spiritual. Atheists are some of my favourite spiritualists.

Or if you need it put this way: #AllSpiritsAreSpiritual

Spirit is not something that exists only within a church, a temple, a particular type of person or a specific type of practice. Whether you are a man of the cloth or simply a man does not matter to Spirit.

In the words of Ram Dass, we are all beings of God ‘just walking each other home’. But more specific and relevant to this post, is a quote from Rumi:

‘Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place.’

The power of spirit is greater than our opinions of its proper domicile; in the end, there is no place that spirit is not. Which is why being ‘spiritual’ in Dubai is no big thang my friends. It’s a place, just like any other place.

A beautiful, jarring combination of spirit and matter, full of thrumming, living spirits that can both challenge you and renew your faith in the world.

So if you’re like me and sometimes wonder ‘How did I get here?’…Keep the faith.

We can easily be disappointed with wherever we’re at on our path, but that path is made of Spirit too. It’s all part of a plan, even if it sometimes seems like a pretty third-rate plan.

And Spirit is never third-rate.


  1. Karen
    March 22, 2016 / 6:49 pm

    I was really curious – but afraid to ask- how you managed in Dubai, so thank you for being upfront. It’s easy to paint the Middle East with a broad brush. I am also struggling with the who I am, what am I doing? situation. Right now, I am trying for authentic “me” because it has been lost for a long time.

    • March 22, 2016 / 7:28 pm

      You can ask me anything, anytime! For my ‘work’ Dubai is surprisingly open-minded. I suppose there is such a narcissism/materialism here that demands the opposite – spiritual fulfilment. Of course some thing are totally off limits (plant stuff), but I am of course okay with that.

      I’ve been going through the exact same thing. Glad to hear someone else is too! Part of that is Dubai sometimes – we are here for my husbands job which thankfully is going well, no small feat these days. Sometimes it really gets to me, and other times I’m more able to take a pause, breathe, and remind myself it’s part of the path…

      Hope all is going well with you Karen, and that we start getting closer to … Clear! 🙂