Saturday, September 23, 2017

Silence, Experience, & the “Book” of Knowledge

The foundation of Paradise is knowledge and action—that’s the line from last night’s reading in Rumi’s Mathnawi that captured my attention (Book IV, line 478, Nicholson translation).  And five lines later: “The life of the everlasting Abode (Paradise) exists in the heart: since it comes not on to my tongue, what is the use (of my attempting to describe it)?” 
     Of course, Heaven described as “streets of gold” (Rev 21:21) must be metaphoric, but of what? The lines from Rumi lead to musing about Paradise and the way.
1. Heaven’s structure is not of this world’s building materials (not of “dead water and earth,” line 476); instead of bricks of any color, paradise is founded on “knowledge and action.” But with so many books and even quite diverse notions of what counts as knowledge, where is the kind that builds Heaven? It must be that which “exists in the heart.” Then what action is also needed for the foundation? Recent pondering points to experience that is fashioned by reflecting out “the microcosmic form of the Divine Being” (from Henry Corbin, Alone with the Alone, p. 222; see previous blog). 
2. Words are risky. Paradise “comes not on to my tongue.” When we have the same word (i.e., “knowledge” as well as “action”) being applied to different worlds, we risk overimposing false meanings. When Alan Williams articulates seven forms of discourse (“voices”) interwoven in the syntax of Rumi’s Mathnawi, he includes “hiatus.”
“The ‘voice’ of hiatus signals the limit of spiritual discourse and the return to silence. Hiatus questions the wisdom of continuing to speak, having reached the brink of incoherence because of the unattainability, or inexpressability of what the poet is trying to evoke." (Rumi: Spiritual Verses, p. xxv)
3. Advanced understanding and heightened consciousness depend on “getting it” through a form of knowing that differs from the usual rational process.

     So much of this world’s enactment of “knowledge” is irrelevant to the spiritual world; head-stuff easily turns arrogant, dismissive of any other kind of knowing. For example, academics often label the knowledge found through storytelling as imaginary, childish, and of little to no value. If a person is dominated by the view of knowledge learned in most schools, chances shrink for entering the Imaginal World (c.f. Alone with the Alone), and that’s possibly disastrous as far as building a dwelling place into the divine. We need to teach and learn the difference between imaginary and imaginal. We’re stuck in elementary school if we haven’t progressed beyond the false dichotomy that facts are true and fiction false.
     Facts and scientific proofs have their purposes, but “knowledge” has many constructions. Wikipedia surveys some possibilities, starting with epistemology and then moving through situated knowledge and on to religious knowledge.
     Of course, when a person enters a religious institution, the shift from head to heart does not automatically happen. On the contrary, terms that spiritual leaders use for the heart level easily turn upside down when manipulated by the head and for power trips. Look at all the managed confusion related to “jihad” mixing up 1) the intense struggle for inner cleansing with 2) terrorism. Or, again, consider the head vs. heart on “immigrants.” Who is the “neighbor” Jesus talks about and how are persons of God to care for the stranger?
This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.(Jeremiah 22:3, NIV)
     Preparation for Paradise depends on a kind of knowing other than that of the head. Heart-knowledge is approached as a mirror. We move into the unknown through likeness. The Imaginal World forms out of continuing to interpret. Knowing comes by seeking and realizing the truth, often found in a leap from one experience into awe. . . “out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing…
     My favorite and most generative experience for making these leaps comes in horsemanship (and they come without leaving the saddle as well as without physically jumping fences). My aim in this horse/human experience is health, relationship, and exuberance. Leg’cy today looks more fit than before we began working together. Her history of lameness has been replaced with happy cantering. Catching her in the paddock used to be a frustrating challenge; now she runs to the gate and willingly accepts the halter. My vitality gets a boost from our time together and I believe she’s humming also.
     Through these experiences with rider and horse, I’m beginning to realize glints of insight about the meaning of the teaching: He who knows himself (his soul) knows his Lord (cf., Me and Rumi, quoted in previous blog; Alone with the Alone, e.g. p. 266; He Who Knows Himself Knows His Lord). For example, I have a feeling of joy when my intention takes powerful form in Leg’cy. It’s as if she claims our “action” as her own idea. I’m happy with her empowerment even as I also credit the many hours I’ve spent preparing for and signaling the “leap” she takes. Looking at this dynamic, I gain appreciation for the “set up” provided for me by my Lord, including experiences that, at the time, I felt were harsh and frustrating. Perhaps when I feel I’m acting with integrity to my self/soul, my Lord has led me there and feels joy. 
     Of course, any speculation I have about the divine is a leap and must be held with humility and with the hiatus that goes with “the brink of incoherence because of the unattainability, or inexpressability” in approaching the Divine Presence. Yet these wonderings are precious because they allow the growth of certainty that I find described in the writings of and about Rumi and Ibn ’Arabi (c.f., Corbin and Chittick). 

     I’m just working and playing my way in the building of Paradise with the advance of knowledge and experience. Words cannot clearly voice the knowing of heart, but we venture closer with story, and increased knowing forms through authentic action/experience, often rather inarticulate yet warm.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Pathway Home



Hummingbirds are missing and leaves tumble bronzed. The beautiful woodland sunflowers soon will depart, petal by swirling petal. Signs of the soul’s journey. How do we find our way home?
   Yearning has been noted as a highway marker and Sufis have a somewhat similar term, himma. While wonderfully, fascinatingly, helpful, these signposts blur in ways that demand new readings, redirections, perhaps like a treasure map that has a hidden cipher. This pathway home has never been traveled before because it’s unique for each soul. The lore of stories, scriptures, and guides point the way – thanks for these. And yet no one navigates his or her way home except the one listening to the heart throbbing. Amid the multitude of meanings given to yearning and to himma, the straight path follows the purifying heart.
   My heart overflows with gratitude today for this space called retirement. Opportunities to travel, to sightsee, to take up a new hobby, for more writing, reading, photography, and riding, of course: all these sound interesting, but the heart wants stillness, quiet standing, and moving with more perfect integrity. Intimacy with the soul.
the heart is the organ which produces true knowledge, comprehensive intuition, the gnosis of God and the divine mysteries. . . It is a notion to which the utmost importance has been attached by the mystics of all times and countries. . . In its unveiled state, the heart of the gnostic is like a mirror in which the microcosmic form of the Divine Being is reflected. [Henry Corbin, Alone with the Alone, pp. 221-222.]
   In the conversation between Rumi and Shams, a wonderful account of this is told:
Whoever is more learned is further from the goal. The more abstruse is his thinking, the further he is. This is the work of the heart, not the forehead.   That’s the story of the one who found directions to a treasure. “Go out to such-and-such a gate. There’s a dome. Put your back to the dome, your face toward the kiblah, and let an arrow go. Wherever the arrow falls, there is the treasure.”   He went and let fly. No matter how much he tried, he didn’t find it. Then the news reached the king. The master archers let fly and of course no trace appeared.   When he referred back to God, he received an inspiration: “We did not say that you should pull the bow.” He came, placed the arrow in the bow, and it fell in front of him. When solicitude comes, Two strides and he arrived. . .   Which is that stride? He who knows his soul knows his Lord  

William C. Chittick, Me and Rumi, pp. 46-47.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The "Cipher" of a Mystery


 I’m remembering yesterday’s ride. The gift was so light it could have evaporated as if it never visited. We were circling the arena in an everyday rising trot, when I sensed a readiness for the canter transition, almost dreamlike softly settled in the saddle, and with scarcely any disruption of flow, almost seamlessly, we were cantering, as if an image took wing. Through an almost-everyday experience arises the opportunity to enter the intermediate world. I wonder about this phenomena as an embodied symbol in the sense articulated by Henry Corbin:
The symbol announces a plane of consciousness distinct from that of rational evidence; it is the “cipher” of a mystery, the only means of saying something that cannot be apprehended in any other way; a symbol is never “explained” once and for all, but must be deciphered over and over again, just as a musical score is never deciphered once for all, but calls for ever new execution. [p. 14, Alone with the Alone]
The mystery in the heart of our riding has been called “true unity” (e.g., Tom Dorrance, True Unity: Willing Communication between Horse and Man,1987). As Corbin notes above and elaborates extensively in Alone with the Alone, such an experience defies rational explanation; it’s in the breathtaking awe of boundary crossing. In that whispered instant in the arena yesterday, what had been the two of us flowed through a simple trot-canter transition as if we were one, a sensation/thought/imagination lived into being. That particular moment involving the horse/human is special, but the significance runs deeper when taken into the symbolic translation. 
Weaving the image, in my application of Cobin, I’m given the realization, the tasting into “a new plane of being or to a new depth of consciousness.” This play in the imaginal world adds capacity to live by faith, to believe enough in matters of spirit that allows one to hold integrity in going alone, voyaging outside the security of dogma, giving up status markers, foregoing praise, in the hope of deciphering anew and living out joyfully. While dedication to the imaginal world gets demanding, even frightening—like riding a spirited horse, courage rises from acknowledging the alternative.   
Corbin articulates the “metaphysical tragedy” (e.g., pp. 13-14) when the individual loses the “transcendent dimension” (e.g., p. 17). Entering the divine is both a burden “easy and light” (cf. Matt. 11:30) and terrifyingly next to impossible. But the denial of the authentic “water of life” results in a desperate thirst for more than the materialism of conventional life. As we witness everyday, when the thirst for spirit goes unattended or gets substituted for with “crazy water,” the result is abuse of persons (as in delusional claims of supremacy), use of fake “highs” (e.g., speed, sex, drugs, money, fame), and reliance on false saviors.

The living water springs still in the world between worlds and directions to there are yet to be mined from spiritual guides, through teaching stories, in translating resonant images, and especially by tasting transcendent experience.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Brimming Over with Wild



Last night from somewhere out there during the liminal time between midnight and dawn came the coyotes’ song, brimming over with wild. Lonely and still tantalizing. Reminding me of the haunting call of loons across Sebago Lake, echoing from almost thirty years ago. These callings harmonized then and still do with the resonant voice of Coleman Barks, reciting Rumi in the lodge, accompanied by sitar and tabla. Which lines? I can almost hear him answer, “It doesn’t matter.” "Try these," and I read from the ones he chose for September 16: 
“… Too often we put saddlebags on Jesus,
and let the donkey run loose in the pasture.

Do not make the body do what the spirit does best,
and don’t put a big load on the spirit
that the body could carry easily.
A Year with Rumi, p. 294.


A few lines later in Book V of Rumi’s Mathnawi, (R.A. Nicholson, The Mathnawi of Jalalu'ddin Rumi, Vol V & VI, p. 68) we’re told to discern between body and spirit “with the eye of the heart.” From there comes the voice of God, in the song of the wild and in the spiritual verse.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Imagining a Better World


     The last day of August. Sensing a liminal space, feeling this seasonal threshold, I was lured from the luxury of the back porch, camera in hand, in search of the image that invited and scaffolded the glimpse beyond. The bold flowers, richly colored and so soon to fade and fall, captured the shutter. Often, the image recovered on my computer screen invites further meditation, a doorway opening imagination.
     The phenomena of images widens enormously, amazingly, in the writings of Henry Corbin. 
 “when a thing manifested to the senses or the intellect calls for a hermeneutics (ta’wil) because it carries a meaning which transcends the simple datum and makes that thing a symbol, this symbolic truth implies a perception on the plane of the active Imagination. The wisdom which is concerned with such meanings, which makes things over as symbols and has as its field the intermediate world of subsisting Images, is a wisdom of light (hikmat nuriya), typified in the person of Joseph, the exemplary interpreter of visions” (p. 190, Alone with the Alone).
     In addition to the ending of August, this week marks the beginning of another school year. It’s the first time in over sixty years that my vision is not focused in a school room. Not preoccupied with planning and presenting lessons, my mind finds space and time for reflection. It’s like looking into the photographic image to see beyond. My teaching career culminated in the Good Stories course.
     Reflected in eye of my mind and imagination, Good Stories served as a playground in the symbolic world. The importance of this kind of activity, taken seriously, goes mostly unrecognized in our age characterized by scientific proof and material values. The extinction of spirituality traces to many trends such as the triumph of rationalism (at least back to Descartes’ cogito, ergo sum , ~1637) and more than a century of nihilistic ponderings about the “death of God.”
     In Good Stories, we imagined the land of fairies, the flight on the firebird, the possibilities of the “water of Life,” the beast to beauty transformations, and other happenings beyond the surface level. Was Martin Luther King, Jr. crazy to dream of a world able to see past skin color on into a world with love for all God’s children? Was the academy right to treat dismissively any course dedicated to developing the human lens for seeing through story? Is the truth only found through the microscope, through behaviorism, the world as it is? The events and implications of hurricane Harvey and the monsoon in south Asia push us to wonder how policy makers and voters might expand vision beyond immediate and personal gratification, further than literal dogma, the denial of God. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Meadow Musings





Poetry in an early-morning, late-summer, meadow muse:
The rainbow seeds from last evening’s slanted sun, just 
before setting, spilled by thunder raindrops. 
Then overnight their eggs hatched and in the dawn-fog climbed up 
the laddered webs onto vines some lawn-lovers call weeds
disparagingly, but secret sharers see sky-blue stars,
Queen Anne’s Lace, common grass making Jacob’s ladder.

[And thanks to Mr W for the fine music--he recently played this track here nearby the meadow but prefers to go unnamed...]

Friday, August 18, 2017

Knowing Education


Henry Corbin, Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi. Can there be any better occupation for the gift of retirement than contemplation in such as this book! 
“the form in which each of us receives the master’s thought conforms to his ‘inner heaven’; that is the very principle of the theophanism of Ibn ‘Arabi, who for that reason can only guide each  man individually to what he alone is capable of seeing, and not bring him to any collective pre-established dogma. The truth of the individual’s vision is proportional to his fidelity to himself, his fidelity to the one man who is able to bear witness to his individual vision and do homage to the guide who leads him to it. This is no nominalism or realism, but a decisive contemplation, far anterior to any such philosophical choice, a distant point to which we must also return if we wish to account for the deformations and rejections which the spirituality of Ibn ‘Arabi has so often incurred, sometimes for diametrically opposed reasons, but always  because men have sidestepped the self-knowledge and self-judgment that this spirituality implies.” pp. 75-76
     Imagine an education, a lifework, aimed at making “philosophy and mystical experience inseparable: a philosophy that does not culminate in a metaphysics of ecstasy is vain speculation; a mystical experience that is not grounded on a sound philosophical education is in danger of degenerating and going astray” (p. 20).
     True learning manifests in “symbolic exegesis which ‘carries back’ the literal statements to that which they symbolize and of which they are the ‘cipher,’—taught, in other words, how to interpret the external rites in their mystic, esoteric sense” (p. 50).

     Notions such as these push me back to the horse where spirit and matter merge, in our better moments almost indistinguishable, a moving meditation, always short of the perfections of harmony-beauty-unity, and yet animated and inspired in the flow.


     Postscript. It's interesting that when I opened Facebook to share this post, I was reminded: