Saturday, February 10, 2018

Tracking on the Path of Attraction


In the account of his forest mandala for early February, David George Haskell focuses on the tracks of deer and their browsing on the emerging tips of winter vegetation. 

This week, the tracks in our woodlands have been quite visible due to the snowfall that has been covering the ground. In addition to the cloven marks of deer, padded footprints run alongside. In recent days, I sighted a coyote and possibly a bobcat. A grey house cat has also been prowling by, maybe from the barn or from neighbors, and bird prints abound. 
        My reading this week gains meaning when viewed in terms of tracking. In first passage through the books, some spot on almost every page or three attracted a marker. After reading, those fluorescent sticky notes made the tracks by which I returned to copy passages and to classify them into categories. Here’s the working set from James Winston Morris’ The Reflective Heart:

  • Bewilderment
  • Discernment
  • Face as symbol  Face of God    veil  cleaning   suffering
  • Friend of God
  • Heart   Tajalli
  • Imagination
  • Journey Voyage -ing
  • Meaning-Making  Self-Recognition   Spiritual Ascension of the Word
  • Secret
  • Spiritual Intelligence  Mahdi
  • Steward    Stewardship
  • Taste   Tasting
  • Tales   Story   Storytellling   Hagiography     Imagination
  • Teaching
  How is it that certain passages and terms emerge from the sea of words, like the young growth that attracts the browsing of deer? Haskell explains in length how a deer takes in the crucial parts that the body, the rumen, is especially receptive to and capable of absorbing. The deer discerns within the environment that which has life-giving power. Perhaps, again, it’s discernment, a term for the title of a key chapter in Morris’ book, that forges or finds a person’s unique pathway.
   As I wondered around this metaphor of tracks and tracking, the term himma came to mind. In attempting to follow the “path of attraction,” some markers or tracks would certainly be helpful because the world has many wolves, gingerbread houses, and givers of toxic apples. So many attractions distract or veil a person from the True Way; these tests range from ascetic to sensational. A tracker has to discern the fit for his or her particular fingerprint marking the Way, the track provided by the Source. In The Reflective Heart, Morris indexes only three pages specifically for himma, but one of them may be sufficient at this point. Translating Ibn ‘Arabi:
We empty our hearts of reflective thinking, and we sit together with the Real (al-Haqq) on the carpet of adab [appropriate courtesy] and spiritual attentiveness (muraqaba) and presence and readiness to receive whatever comes to us from Him—so that it is God who takes care of teaching us by means of unveiling and spiritual realization. So when they have focused their hearts and their spiritual aspirations (himam) on God and have truly taken refuge with Him—giving up any reliance on the claims of reflection and investigation and intellectual results—then their hearts are purified and open. Once they have this inner receptivity, God manifests Himself to them, teaching them and informing them through the direct vision of the inner meanings of those (obscure scriptural) words and reports, in a single instant…They limit (the meanings of these scriptural or prophetic expressions) to what (God) actually intended by them—even if that very same expression occurs in another report (with an entirely different intended meaning). (p. 61)
In her book on Hafiz, Elizabeth Green clarifies the meaning of himma: “‘high spiritual energy or ambition,’ spiritual power that enables an adept to attain higher planes of experience and understanding, and that enables the pir [spiritual guide] to protect his disciples” (p. 148, The Green Sea of Heaven). I’ve sometimes connected himma with an increased heartbeat or a sense of close attunement with purpose, the raison d’être. In Music of the Soul, Shaykh Muhammad Sa’id al-Jamal connects himma with a personal favorite:
“… you could say himma is like a horse and when the ‘arif (the knower of the truth) puts himself on this himma, he flies, travelling. Without himma, no one can walk. . . The knowing is himma.” (p. 285, note 11).
This tracking, this connection with himma, or with whatever mark one calls the trace of the True Way, cannot be underestimated. Rumi reminds us:
The Master said: There is one thing in this world which must never be forgotten. If you were to forget everything else, but did not forget that, then there would be no cause to worry; whereas if you performed and remembered and did not forget every single thing, but forgot that one thing, then you would have done nothing whatsoever. (p. 26, Discourses of Rumi, Trans. A.J. Arberry; See also, Coleman Barks for Feb 9, “The One Thing You Must Do” in A Year With Rumi and p. 21 in Say I Am You).