Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving Eve

Breezy morning, November 22, 2017
Rumi says, “[The thought of sorrow] scatters the yellow leaves from the bough of the heart, in order that incessant green leaves may grow” (Mathnawi, V, 3680, Nicholson trans.). Four lines earlier, we are admonished to penetrate beyond the material world and to go on past the immediate emotional response in order to see the beneficence of our Creator: “Every day, too, at every moment a (different) thought comes, like an honoured guest, into thy bosom.” This guest arrives every moment and so we have to welcome the full range from joy to blah to nonsense (better taken as not-yet-sense), even into loss, like yellowed and falling leaves, like a diagnosis of cancer, a child's addiction, a loved one moving on. . .
We are urged to “see” beyond the bare branches, cling not to emptiness nor despair, but find certainty in the root: 
“Do not say it is a branch: take it to be the root, in order that thou mayst always be master of thy object of desire;    For if thou take it to be (merely) a branch (derivative) and pernicious, thine eye will be waiting to see the root.    Waiting to see is poison to (spiritual) perception [literally: taste]: by that method thou wilt remain perpetually in death” (lines 3704-6). 
Rumi delivers a strong teaching. In the previous blogI noted three levels of certainty. It’s harder to trust in the third level, like seeing the root and not waiting at the eye-level until a surface sighting is shown. When sent a guest, at least for a person capable of spiritual discernment, Rumi says to stay at the first level (Eye of Certainty) is dangerous, poisonous, deathly.
I spend time looking at the autumn woods. The golden tones are beautiful; the opened spaces draw me further in. 

       The fallen tree that stood at least 75 feet into the sky now rests amid the 3 inch sprouts of oaks. Through our deeper visionwe know the decomposing leaves and the fallen tree flow into the roots underground. May we live in trust so that the moments of pain similarly feed our souls.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Sure Good?

My take on “certainty” might be undergoing transformation. For sure, I get confused about conviction. Early on came the pain of disillusion over the loss of confidence in passionate preachers. Later dealing with life taught coping with relativity and tolerance for ambiguity. A recent blog featured Carrie Newcomer’s lyric of the travel “from certainty to mystery”; and while I like that a lot, it seems I’m being challenged to reach a certainty within mystery. For example, Rumi says “knowledge is inferior to certainty.” What kind of certainty thrives outside knowledge? When is being sure good?
     Perhaps when consciousness shifts so does the nature of certainty. Maybe the sense of being certain takes on a different tone, like a reformulating of the relative mix among knowing 1) by cognition, 2) by feel, intuition, and/or “gut,” 3) by emotion, and x) inarticulate/unnameables. Certainty might also be affected by qualities such as 4) joy and 5) passion. I use different ones of these when trying to read a person or a text, with a high level of certainty, concerning whether he/she/it is telling the truth, and especially whether to trust. The world has abundant lies in service to the Master Liar, Satan; gaining discernment can serve to advance walking toward God instead of going other ways.
     Given the import of this topic, it’s not surprising that material I’m drawn to read amplifies the theme. For example, Martin Lings’ Book of Certainty recently found its way from the “saved for later” into “Buy Now.” Lings opens: “In every esoteric doctrine there are references to three degrees of faith, and in Islamic mysticism, that is, in Sufism, these three degrees are known as the Lore of Certainty (‘ilmu ‘l-yaqin), the Eye of Certainty (‘aynu ‘l-yaqin) and the Truth of Certainty (haqqu ‘l-yaqin).” He illustrates the three degrees in relation to Moses and the burning bush: hearing about it (Lore), seeing it (Eye), and “being consumed by it and thus becoming one with it, for this degree belongs only to the One” (Truth).
     Hardly a day goes by that I’m not reading something from Rumi. Near the end of Book 4 of his Mathnawi, we find the line quoted earlier: “For in the tested Way knowledge is inferior to certainty, but above opinion./ Know that knowledge is a seeker of certainty, and certainty is a seeker of vision and intuition./ Seek this (difference between knowledge and intuitive certainty)” [Nicholson’s translation, lines 4120-]. In this passage, Rumi also references Q102:1-5. On page 1556, The Study Quran elaborates on Rumi’s lines as well as on the material cited from Lings, and the commentary brings in another favorite writer, Ibn ‘Arabi:
“Most Sufis see the knowledge of certainty, the eye of certainty (v. 7), and the truth of certainty as the three levels of spiritual development. In this respect the knowledge of certainty can be likened to knowledge obtained through hearing about something, the eye of certainty can refer to knowledge obtained by seeing or touching something, and the truth of certainty can refer to sapiential knowledge obtained by tasting, or experiencing something directly. In his Makkan Openings, Ibn ‘Arabi says that the truth of certainty is what is obtained through knowledge of the direct cause, the eye of certainty is what is provided by witnessing and spiritual unveiling, and the knowledge of certainty is what is provided by an indication (dalil) in which there are no obscurities (Futuhat, II 132. 27-29). Basing his words on the famous saying, “He who knows himself knows his Lord,” he further states that “one who witnesses himself witnesses his Lord and thereby moves from the certainty of knowledge to the certainty of the eye; then when he returns to his body, he returns to the certainty of truth from the certainty of the eye, not to the certainty of knowledge” (Futuhat, III 390.1-3; cf. 2:42; 3:71).”
     The Study Quran adds to this theme with its commentary on Q27:7-8 which states “[Remember] when Moses said unto his family, ‘Verily, I perceive a fire. I shall bring you some news therefrom, or a brand, that haply you may warm yourselves.’ Blessed is the One in the fire, and the one around it.” The commentary elaborates:
In Sufism, this verse symbolizes the levels of certainty envisioned as progressive stages in the spiritual life: (1) having conceptual knowledge of the fire, (2) seeing that fire, and (3) being burned or consumed by it symbolize (1) theoretical knowledge about spiritual matters, (2) direct vision of spiritual realities, and (3) the realization attained when the substance of the soul is transformed by being consumed by the Truth.
As this material meanders around and within me, a passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians comes to mind: “For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain” (Galatians 2:19-21, New King James Version). It seems that if I aim at “sure good” I’ll need a “death” or “annihilation” in relation to the law, and this might connect with a loss of certainty in legalism or literalism, and this would be followed by a rebirth in another level, such as living in the path of Love and Truth.
Returning to Rumi, the dimension of Law receives further treatment. In Nicholson’s introduction to the fifth book of the Mathnawi, he notes that when composing it Rumi “was approaching his seventieth year,” close enough to my age, maybe even furthering the connection I feel with the amazing text. Rumi’s Preface to Book 5 continues the wandering and pondering on this elusive theme.
This is the Fifth Book of the Poem in rhymed couplets and the spiritual Exposition, setting forth that the Religious Law is like a candle showing the way. Unless you gain possession of the candle, there is no wayfaring; and when you have come on to the way, your wayfaring is the Path; and when you have reached the journey's end, that is the Truth. Hence it has been said, “If the truths (realities) were manifest, the religious laws would be naught.” As (for example), when copper becomes gold or was gold originally, it does not need the alchemy which is the Law, nor need it rub itself upon the philosophers' stone, which (operation) is the Path; (for), as has been said, it is unseemly to demand a guide after arrival at the goal, and blameworthy to discard the guide before arrival at the goal. In short, the Law is like learning the theory of alchemy from a teacher or a book, and the Path is (like) making use of chemicals and rubbing the copper upon the philosophers' stone, and the Truth is (like) the transmutation of the copper into gold. Those who know alchemy rejoice in their knowledge of it, saying, “We know the theory of this (science)”; and those who practise it rejoice in their practice of it, saying, “We perform such works”; and those who have experienced the reality rejoice in the reality, saying, “We have become gold and are delivered from the theory and practice of alchemy: we are God's freedmen.” Each party is rejoicing in what they have.
    Or the Law may be compared to learning the science of medicine, and the Path to regulating one's diet in accordance with (the science of) medicine and taking remedies, and the Truth to gaining health everlasting and becoming independent of them both. When a man dies to this (present) life, the Law and the Path are cut off (fall away) from him, and there remains (only) the Truth. 
Rumi "A Door" 
   I have lived on the lip
 of insanity, wanting to know reasons, 
knocking on a door. It opens.
I've been knocking from the inside.      
          [p. 352] 
   "Inside the Rose" last line:
  God's secret takes form in our loving.   
[p. 356, Coleman Barks' version, A Year with Rumi.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Foggy Steps in the Path of the Heart

About thirteen years ago my son left this world. The passing brought grief, anger, depression, despair, and life changes. Slowly, never completely, the memories turned from torture to treasure, not entirely. While heart breaking, the loss gradually brought along an increased presence, a visitation, even inner openings for spiritual guides, perhaps the one some call a "new heart.” The unsettled presence prompted contemplation, and the restless questioning led to readings such as Rabbi Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People, further into his Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person, and on from there in this continuous searching. 
The questions around the realities of pain, death, and evil drive humans from and to the Reality of God, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, and All-Loving. While I accept the short answer that as human I must surrender the presumption to know the mysteries of God because they far exceed my comprehension, I also feel spiritual guidance wants to move on into the Mystery in a path of love. For this travel, humans need guides that lead beyond human mind; and I find guidance in nature, with natural horsemanshipin friendship, dreamsprayer, and spiritual verse. 
My restlessness is regularly attended by reading from the almost-endless library related to the big questions. Currently, the edge of longing finds support for the next step in Frithjof Schuon’s Transcendent Unity of Religions, a text that would have made little sense without having read in Henry Corbin and before that William Chittick (e.g., Sufi Path of Loveand all along translations, versions, and commentaries on Rumi. I’m not attempting to prescribe a roadmap for anyone else but suggest that there are scaffoldings toward greater peace. Pain, despair, and addictive avoidance are not the end.
For me and I suspect for most everyone else, the journey goes by the path of the heart, discerned by the individual, with each next step coming through the fog, sometimes after wandering awhile, stumbling. It’s not thought out but is felt by likeness, trued by experience. The tonalities of love vibrate differently; the key of a faith journey differs from one of reasoned explanation. Yet it’s not cut off from the mind. I couldn’t manage to engage the dense text of Schuon without developing some hermeneutical acuity;  but the finding of good stories and spiritual verses happens through recognizing resonance and moving by likeness more than by following a manual and literal application.
      Corbin’s articulation of the imaginal world allows further entry into Schuon’s esoterism. These expansions build the space that’s needed if we are move in the heart-journey. The teachings allow me to absorb more of Rumi’s unveiling of the spirit guide as like unto Moses:

Without hunger the body makes no movement (towards God)…./ Though it weep and wail most piteously, it will never become a true believer. Take heed!/ It is like Pharaoh: in (the time of) famine it lays its head before Moses, as he (Pharaoh) did, making supplication;/ But when it has been freed from want, it rebels (once more)… What wonder (then) if the spirit does not remember its (ancient) abodes, which have been its dwelling-place and birthplace aforetime,/ Since this world, like sleep, is covering it over as clouds cover the stars?—/ Especially as it has trodden so many cities, and the dust has not (yet) been swept from its perceptive faculty,/ Nor has it made ardent efforts that its heart should become pure and behold the past;/ That its heart should put forth its head (peep forth) from the aperture of the mystery and should see the beginning and the end with open eye.

[Mathnawi, Nicholson trans., Book 4, from lines 3623-3636] 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Social Media, Spinning Lies, & Whirling Dervishes

droplets of light
“Stories move like whirling dervishes,” Elif Shafak concludes her magnificent TED Global 2010 talk*, “drawing circles beyond circles. They connect all humanity.” Shafak credits her grandmother (clearly the model for her powerful character, Auntie Banu, in The Bastard of Istanbul) for impressing on her the power of circles: “If you want to destroy something in this life, be it an acne, a blemish, or the human soul, all you have to do is surround it with thick walls. It will dry up inside.”  In the novel, Shafak compellingly moves us into compassion for persons who are caught in the walls of lies with their layers of distortions and destructions. 
The stories we tell, to others as well as to ourselves, believing them or not, must be clean if we are to avail ourselves of their healing properties instead of abandoning them to act as destructive forces. Our best stories tell the truth; their circles draw our imagination toward advancing consciousness and civilization.  But, of course, stories can also spread lies; and then, as Shafak warns, we risk damage to the soul. Lying separates oneself from the inner essence and, since they are so interconnected, also from one’s life-affirming work outside in the world. Participating in lies takes so many forms: fake news, denials, avoidances, screens, cover-ups, escapes, absorption in past or future, addictions, on and on.
Participating in social media presents perhaps the latest battleground involving this manipulation of reality. According to recent reports, in the 2016 presidential campaign, a third of the U.S. population likely received Russian-backed fake news through Facebook.
“Underscoring how widely content on the social media platform can spread, Facebook says in the testimony that while some 29 million Americans directly received material from 80,000 posts by 120 fake Russian-backed pages in their own news feeds, those posts were “shared, liked and followed by people on Facebook, and, as a result, three times more people may have been exposed to a story that originated from the Russian operation.”
Although more guarded in use, I continue actively viewing and posting on Facebook and to a lesser extent in Twitter. As anything that is powerful, social media can be used negatively as well as positively.  Rather than increasing isolation, I want to work toward global citizenship and to sustain world-wide friendships. My status updates on FB usually feature photos that witness beauty in the natural world; my camera’s on alert for views that glimpse, that invite wondering about other worlds, possibly that even guide us in composing our lives with more harmony and balance. Milan Kundera writes in The Unbearable Lightness of Being:
“Guided by his sense of beauty, an individual transforms a fortuitous occurrence into a motif, which then assumes a permanent place in the composition of the individual’s life. . . Without realizing it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress.” (p. 52)
With or without social media, we are individually at high risk for closeting ourselves in mindsets vulnerable to diseased thinking and feeling. As with physical health, early detection of infection is crucial. I believe that a vital step comes in sharpening the sense of the inauthentic. The most precious early-warning system lives in the soul, not in any news media, not even in friendship nor family nor religion. All those are very important; but because each individual has unique wiring to/from the Source, the ultimate test for truth comes within. To know oneself is to know one’s Lord.  And to do that we have to polish the mirror of the heart. Rumi teaches this over and over. I’m now reading in Book 4 of the Mathnawi, around lines 2881-2914. Here are some selections from Nicholson’s translation:
Does any painter paint [the beauty of the picture] for the sake of the picture itself, without hope of conferring benefits… from his picture (arises) the joy of children and the remembering of departed friends of their friends///the external form is for the sake of the unseen form; and that took shape for the sake of another unseen (form)./// even so (proceed), having perceived reasons within reasons, one after the other, in order thaty you may arrive… step by step…///those insights that are not frozen (dense and dull) are nothing if not piercing and veil-rending. He (such a one) sees with his own eye at the present moment that which will come to pass in ten years. /// Every one, according to the measure of his spiritual enlightenment, sees the things unseen in proportion to the polishing (of the heart’s mirror).///God alone is the giver of aspiration…God’s assignment of a particular lot to any one does not hinder (him from exercising) consent and will and choice. 
I believe we find much value in making our own versions of such texts. Here’s my work/play with the above:
When enthused by the beauty of the source, does any true artist intentionally compose primarily for the sake of the superficial layer while discarding the everflowing transcendent rays of light? The higher aim sights toward the joy of children and remembrance of love’s departures. Vision and memory track and trail the Unseen, reason unto Reason, living with abandon step by step. Each movement in trust rends another veil, dependent on dedicated polishing of the heart’s mirror.

*Note: Shafak is also featured in TED Global 2017.

Sunday, October 29, 2017


 Of course we love the sunlit afternoons, brilliant, dazzling, reassuring; and yet this morning’s slowdown drizzle carries an integrity calling: look closely, appreciate, care for the lichened branches in the muted pastels, too. 

The crow caws overhead into the chimes, and the raindrops patter, and nothing’s so important as it was.

Rain falling on garlic bed
We’re thankful for the blessing on the one-hundred forty-four garlic cloves nestled under two inches of amended mulched soil in yesterday’s planting. Seasoning. Medicinal. Over-wintering.

Maria Popova (BrainPickings) quotes from Ann Hamilton’s essay titled “Making Not Knowing,” adapted from her 2005 commencement address at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
“Our culture has beheld with suspicion unproductive time, things not utilitarian, and daydreaming in general, but we live in a time when it is especially challenging to articulate the importance of experiences that don’t produce anything obvious, aren’t easily quantifiable, resist measurement, aren’t easily named, are categorically in-between. . .It is the task of the artist to make material form, to give it presence, to make it social; it is the task of the artist to lead the leaders by staying at the threshold; to be an unsettler . . . "

Friday, October 27, 2017

Polishing the Mirror for Revelation

"make a practice of polishing, polishing, polishing"

The early-morning reading from Rumi’s Mathnawi provokes more reflecting on reflection with his metaphors of the mirror we make. 
… make a practice of polishing, polishing, polishing,/ That thy heart may become a mirror full of images…/In order that the forms of the Unseen may appear in it, and that the reflexion of houri and angel may dart into it . . . [Mathnawi, Book IV, lines 2469-, Nicholson's translation]
Polishing the mirror is such a similar motif to the porch-project. Stage three, the application of Transparent Waterproofing Wood Finish, was interrupted by rainfall and by a week-long trip; but when the wood planks of the deck had time to dry out thoroughly and polishing was done, their surface opened a view into the inner grain. 

Whether mirrors being polished or veils being removed, a life-work offers transcendence. So many windows, or doorways, unmuddy-ing waters, smogfree-ing skies… all such cleansing pushes a person into the mystery of revelation. I love looking into the inner flower or the deeper woods because they draw me further, yet further into the unknown. A swirling fog does it too. 

And Love itself. Falling into it, adolescently, paints a fantasy, like a fairytale coming true, a gift-giving glimpse of this world swirling into the other. And then, for me, becoming-a-father especially threw open a trapdoor with no bottom, prompting wonderment into a forever-expanding Reality. Now getting old and older, the light draws me on, more certain of the truth beyond, through the veils of this world.
Clear mirror, no rust. I am the burning core of Mount Sinai, not a mind full of hatred.
I taste a wine not pressed from grapes.
The one everyone calls to . . .
                Coleman Barks' version, from Oct 27, "I Am Not," in A Year with Rumi

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Woods; the Grain

Signs of two directions, two worlds, the outer and the inner, exoteric and esoteric. And the bridge between. Where and how does a person find spirit? For me, it’s like this: looking into the outer, going inside for the unique grain, the symbolic fingerprint, playing into the crossing, purifying, polishing, praying. It’s dedicated and reflected engagement of the kind I’m finding and making in this back-porch project, part two.

Why this fascination, some might say “obsession,” with realizing symbolic activity in what could be taken as simple matter? In this case, what’s the value of elaborating on the grain and knots in a plank of wood in the decking? Why photograph and write about this? Why connect it with spiritual text?
To respond, I might first step back to firmer footing. The broader question begins with the sense that cues importance: when is anything worth doing? Given limited time and other resources, where is the “go” signal (as well as the “no”) that guides selection and engagement. While doing the pro/con chart can be helpful, I’m relying more on an almost inarticulate sense; maybe the cue comes in the language of the heart. The best way I know to explain is through examples:
1. I’m convinced that enthusiasm tops the chart of Good Teaching. Although my certainty could be contested, about five decades of personal experience in teaching convinces me; this is also reinforced by reviews of published research on the study of teaching. 
2. I’m also convinced of the importance of resonance as a key to teaching with stories. When a person feels the resonance between a story and his/her inner being, a signal is presented saying: This is the place!  
3. In midlife, I discovered the need to invest in experiences with horses. When I’d find myself sorely in need of revitalization, I learned to spend the time and money for natural horsemanship because it provided energy for the physical, mental, and other demands of life.
The three cases point to sensing the source for vitality. Stories sometimes call it the water of lifeConcerning the back-porch project, I was very surprised that this dreaded task offered a water-of-life opportunity. It was a doorway or bridge that I could easily missed. Sometimes the signal is very subtle and this one presented in a blip of fascination. I recognized a slight zing that had sufficient affinity to the scent of the water of life I’d learned to trust in cases like the three named just above. Following the invitation, I invested more willingly and expectantly as I cleaned the wood plankthen photographed the knots in appreciation of their beauty, and further explored this phenomenon as a symbolic bridge between the mundane and the divine through readings, meditating, and writing. 
The whole back-porch-project thing gives me a stepping stone for stretching toward a dream. I’m aware that I may be “off” and that I might come to realize I’m going the wrong way on this. That’s ok because then I’ll try a different approach. The dream/goal is to move further into the Real. I’m treating the back-porch project as a practicum for teachings such as those in Corbin’s Alone with the Alone. From this, for example, the almost invisible bridge between the worlds comes more into view; and I’m building understanding of how the act of interpretation (hermeneutics) makes the bridge.
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. (page 190)
Corbin elaborates on the meaning and purpose of Active Imagination and takes my breath away with the connection to Story:
This imagination can be termed “illusory” only when it becomes opaque and loses its transparency. But when it is true to the divine reality it reveals, it liberates . . . The function [of Active Imagination is] effecting a coincidentia oppositorum . .  This manifestation is neither perceptible nor verifiable by the sensory faculties; discursive reason rejects it. It is perceptible only by the Active Imagination (Hadrat al-Khayal), the imaginative “Presence” or “Dignity,” the Imaginatrix) at times when it dominates man’s sense perceptions, in dreams or better still in the waking state (in the state characteristic of the gnostic when he departs from the consciousness of sensuous things). In short, a mystic perception (dhawq) is required. To perceive all forms as epiphanic forms (mazahir), that is, to perceive through the figures which they manifest and which are the eternal hexeities, that they are other than the Creator and nevertheless that they are He, is precisely to effect the encounter, the coincidence, between God’s descent toward the creature and the creature’s ascent toward the Creator. The “place” of this encounter is not outside the Creator-Creature totality, but is the area within it which corresponds specifically to the Active Imagination, in the manner of a bridge joining the two banks of a river. The crossing itself is essentially a hermeneutics of symbols (ta’wil, ta’bir), a method of understanding which transmutes sensory data and rational concepts into symbols (mazahir) by making them effect this crossing./ An intermediary, a mediatrix: such is the essential function of the Active Imagination. ..The intellect (aql) cannot replace it. . . it [Active Imagination] is also the place where all “divine history” is accomplished, the stories of the prophets, for example, which have meaning because they are theophanies; whereas on the plane of sensory evidence on which is enacted what we call History, the meaning, that is, the true nature of those stories, which are essentially “symbolic stories,” cannot be apprehended. (from pages 188-90)
I think Corbin’s meaning of Active Imagination extends well beyond the work I’m doing with cleaning planks and entering a bridge to “beauty” through the engagement with knots. But this might be a bit of practice. I didn’t find a way to integrate authentic passion into my teaching in the first years or decades, and learning to ride in natural horsemanship extended far beyond those first lessons. But a person has to get on the horse. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Lessons from the Back Porch

1. It’ll keep. 
2. Follow the path of love (prioritize it above the instruction book, the well-planned intention, the push to look good for others, the way it used to be or the way I used to be…). 
3. The deep beauty values the heritage grain but leans into the hard scars.
These items map backwards, circle around with persistence until a point’s taken, and defy linear logic. So the first one listed (“It’ll keep”) wasn’t earliest but got punctuated later on and more clearly as raindrops spattered bringing about a work stoppage.  
The rain was much appreciated (especially given the recent dry spell) and eased the surrender of ego-drive that wanted to finish the job “on time.” My readiness to let the project take longer than it “should” was also prompted by muscles giving out much sooner than they used to. In younger days, I probably would have driven myself to meet the high standards of quicker completion. My aging body helps me see the foolishness of such standards. A subtext on this lesson is to trust the process. I’m more willing to look closely, slow down, and spend time until qualities such as beauty and truth can be revealed. 
That seques to number 2: “Follow the path of love…” I’m realizing that qualities (love, truth, beauty…) inhere in process, even in grunt-work. This back-porch project tries to prove to me that beauty can be better known even in the apparently inartistic labor of stripping the old sealer from the wood planks. The lesson-giver forces me down on my knees scrubbing away with the recommended stiff-bristle brush, inch by inch. Since I’m a bit stubborn in accepting the lesson, some spots still have not been cleaned even after two or three tries necessitating a return trip to the store for another gallon of stripper. 
In addition to developing sight for the beauty in wood texture that I hadn’t seen before, I’m coming to know better a truth that’s more complex than the understanding that comes from reading: the knowledge of the body. This extended physical labor also pushes me to increase the value I give to embodied knowing. It doesn’t have the style of rational discourse; the voice of the body takes dedicated effort to discern.
I won't discard intellect nor the vital guidance from inspired text. Important words have been teaching me about the masks or veils that have to be removed in the spiritual quest. They’ve explained how humans are at high risk for covering over our true nature, the divine inheritance. The breadth of testimony to this permeates across religions; in The Play of Masks, Frithjof Schuon explores it in Krishna, Shakespeare, Diogenes, Jesus, Omar Khayyam, Eckhart, Goethe, David, and others. 
The masking or veiling can also be very subtle. Alan Godlas elaborates on Rūzbihān al-Baqlī’s teaching that hypocrisy, doubt, and egocentric thoughts must be surrendered to gnosis and love or we risk the “debasement of being veiled.”
My head understands this principle of removing masks/veils, and my intellectual knowing connects with life experiences that have stripped away pernicious illusion. And yet, the knowing in/of my body still needs attending. It’s my body that has to submit, to provide the more powerful perseverance that is required in stripping off highly-resistant veils, like ones that presume to define my identity but in truth carry an ungodly arrogance 
This mind/body dynamic might work like the “true unity” of rider and horse. Of course, I know the mind/body/spirit dogma, but that doesn’t mean that the knowing of/in my body is realized and respected. Probably my body-knowing has been so dominated and devalued by head-knowing that we have to absorb (or remove a mask/veil) related to the truth trying to come through. In this back-porch project, it’s taking repeated cleaning of the wood, involving sweating out at least three caps, shirts, etc. Like the lovely rainfall that halted the “get-it-done” mentality, the sweatouts were accompanied by the revelation of gorgeous textures hidden under the scum of sealers.
This truth coming in seems to be saying that I need to realize each everyday-project, the very business of living, can be and even must become a gateway to the other world. The work and play of each moment is given from God. Remember Rabia’s “Slicing Potatoes”…”putting my hands on a pot, on a broom” (in Daniel Ladinsky’s Love Poems from God, p. 10; performed on the Wilcox/Pettit CD Out Beyond Ideas). My mind may get the idea of this doorway so that I’m partially prepared for a life experience, but my body also has to be readied to join up, to surrender, sometimes to suffer the way.
When I took on this back porch project, the expert presented it in three simple steps: 1. strip the surface using product A, 2. apply the cleaner with product B, (allow time to dry), and 3. roll on the new topping. Voila. Ought to be a 2-3 day deal. I’ve lost count but this must be at least day five and I’m still in step one. 
But you know what. That’s ok with me because the lessons from the back porch are much more significant than getting it done. I’ve become leery of plans and can blame my suspicion on Mr. Burns: “The best laid schemes of Mice an’ Men gang aft agley.” Through the guidance related to veils and by attending to the revelations of labor, by searching for good work instead of results, I’m open to a transformed translation of the “cruel coulter” that strips the layer. I wonder at what kind of plough the divine hand has to employ in order to remove the facade that prevents us from seeing past skin color, income level, vocabulary… How many racist leaders are needed to strip away ethnic pride? What suffering has to happen before the eye of the heart can be opened?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

One God; many faiths

“… I’ve traveled through my history, /From certainty to mystery. /God speaks in rhyme and paradox…” Carrie Newcomer & Michael Mains “Leaves Don’t Drop They Just Let Go” 
     I grew up near a small town with 3+ churches of the Christian variety along the few blocks of the main street. As a child, I was taught and believed the two other than our own were going to hell and our mission was to save them. The exclusionary tactic might have purpose to keep children from straying, but there’s also a teaching about growing past childish things. I believe spiritual growth includes moving from “certainty to mystery” and accepting the humility invoked in paradox. (I’m also wondering if the texture of certainly can be reborn, but that’s another story.)
     I remember the day when JFK got elected and the sense of despair in our church because we feared Catholics took their orders from Rome. We each travel through our histories and maybe we’ve grown a bit more tolerant now, but distrust still pervades our nation. The religion of love can be hard to find.
     I cannot claim to understand why we have difficulty grasping a religion of love with “One God and many faiths,” but I have a few ideas and an awesome passage from Alone with the Alone. Perhaps a basic requirement necessary to advance beyond childish belief structures involves a capacity to engage paradox, in this case, the One and the many. We accept many roads to Rome; why not many pathways to God? 
     I suspect the difficulty comes in deeper emotional obstacles, especially 1) Fear and 2) Power:
1. Fear: When it comes to going to Hell, most of us don’t want to be wrong about God. Even if there’s no such thing as Hell or if it’s not all brimstone (whatever that is), still any risk-possibility runs high on the scary scale. So it’s comforting to have others alongside who are taking the same position (i.e., religion) about what is required to go to heaven. To take responsibility for working out one’s salvation without the confirmation of others is a hard thing to do. 
2. The Power thing probably starts off with parents taking care of children who need protection from danger. You must do a, b, & c; you must not do x, y, & z. . . and if you don’t, God will get you! The problem is that power is addictive. Both the “high” from controlling and the “security” of being controlled can be hard to escape. As just noted regarding Fear, going alone is difficult.
Unfortunately for #1 and #2, humans seem to be made as individuals, not as clones. To the best I can get it, my spiritual path requires and rejoices in progressing toward a closer fit with my unique God-given character and destiny. That’s a life-long pathway. Yes, we do have opportunities and responsibilities for sharing, and still ultimately, essentially, faith is a one-person fit. One God; many faiths.
This idea is far from original. Among the books gathered on my desktop at this time are Divine Love (Ed. by Jeff Levin & Stephen Post), Buber’s I and Thou, Nasr’s Religion and the Order of Nature, Marcus Borg’s The God We Never Knew, and God in Search of Man by Abraham Joshua Heschel. (I haven't read them all.) In his introduction to A Year With Rumi, Coleman Barks surveys a wonderfully wide range of “Disrepectable Unaffiliated Mystics, though most are not at all disreputable, and many are devoutly affiliated,” and he speculates that blasphemy “is in whatever insults the soul” (p. 7). 
As promised earlier, I especially find comfort and direction in teachings such as Henry Corbin’s interpretation of Ibn ‘Arabi (Alone with the Alone). The passage takes some careful reading as we should expect if we are to venture into the name and nature of “God”:  
God: “a word which each man understands according to his aptitude, his knowledge of himself and the world around him, or else it is a symbol for the form of his personal belief… Thus the faiths differ with the Lords, just as the Lords differ, although all the faiths are forms of the one faith, just as all the Lords are forms in the mirror of the Lord of Lords. . . it does not follow that the Godhead condescends with equal docility to all determinate beings; God is not limited to the manner in which He is epiphanized for you and makes Himself adequate to your dimension. And that is why other creatures are under no obligation to obey the God who demands your worship, because their theophanies take other forms. The form in which He is epiphanized to you is different from that in which He is epiphanized to others. God as such transcends (munazzah) all intelligible, imaginable, or sensible forms, but considered in His Names and Attributes, that is, His theophanies, He is, on the contrary, inseparable from these forms, that is from a certain figure and a certain situs in space and time. . .” [pp. 309-10, fn51]
The image of the God whom the faithful creates is the Image of the God whom his own being reveals, his own being revealed by the “Hidden Treasure.” Thus it is the Image of him who first imagined His being (created it, that is, revealed it to being) as his own form or Image, or more exactly his mirror image. . . the symbol of the Self. [p. 266]

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Even Beyond Intimacy

Last night, during the special dream-zone, more specifically between 3 and 4AM, I woke and jotted down notes about interruptions. Of course, all dream figures can be seen as parts of oneself as well as persons outside this multiple-layered complex called the “self.” In this dream, the figure that was most clearly me, perhaps representing the “ego-self,” was speaking and being interrupted by a young man. Why might this restless border of consciousness be troubled, like the waves moving in and out at the ocean edge, by consideration of which voice has the right to be heard? 
In reflecting on the dream, I recalled recent experiences of interrupting and being interrupted. I wondered what if everyone in a group just talked over the others, giving full expression to that desire we each have for center-stage: "Go on. Speak right now, before the line is forgotten, before the spotlight-instant passes by!" What a chaotic mess we make when deafened by the ego-desire, sometimes called the animal-soul. 
If the selfish impulse were restrained, might a different, a deeper desire, arise? The one that focuses on listening and really opening to the other. Perhaps beneath the impulse to speak, as well as the one for listening, pulses the yearning for intimacy, to belong, to know and be known, to love/be loved. When I interrupt, am I not acting out my fear of being unseen and unloved?
My explorations in psychology, in religion/spirituality, and in natural horsemanship offer names of that higher goal: “true unity,” the One, the Self, and so on. In Sufi writings, such as Rumi’s Mathnawi, the parts of the self and the soul are presented in the figures of a king and an advisor (“vizier”). The king is as the spirit and the advisor like the intellect (Book 4, line 1256a, Nicholson trans.). 
Rumi’s story contrasts two advisors; each even has the same name, with one advocating generosity while the other argues selfishness: “the corrupt intellect brings the spirit into movement (towards corruption)” [line 1256b]. Our interior landscape allows a variety of advisors. The intellect can be poisonous or sweet. The second advisor in Rumi’s tale is linked to a fallen angel. How vital that we continually discern and purify our inner and outer guides.
Sometimes when we are granted enough passing years to re-vision the difficult moments in life, we can perceive that what was taken as a calamity can be re-seen as the “death” of an ego-desire and a resurrection of a cleaner self. Sufis often recite “die before you die.” Cleansing of false advisors, especially ones reflecting the fallen angels, makes for a hard path.  Rumi says:
Do not take the particular (individual) intellect as thy vizier: make the Universal Intellect thy vizier, O king./ Do not make sensuality thy vizier, else thy pure spirit will cease from prayer. [line 1259]

photos taken at Chincoteague, VA, Oct 2016
The pathway, the journey home, is guided by this Universal Intellect. Our deepest desire attunes to that calling. It’s even beyond our yearning for intimacy and comes through the escape from the ego-self, “death” of the animal-soul; it follows the surrender to the Self, the divine-soul. And to help us along the path we have “that angel whose dignity” corresponds to our better self, the angel who has the “radiance and testimony of the Sun.” [Mathnawi,Book I, lines 3647-3655]

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.