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.

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:


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Truth: Sacred-Text/Lived-Experience


Especially primed for change now, right now—as if our world may explode if we don’t—is truth, the way we “get it.” Any high hopes that we can trust news media, political leaders, even preachers to tell the truth have disintegrated beyond the point at which the center holds. While this sounds awful, potentially the breakdown offers good news.
       We would like to trust persons in positions of authority to be truthful. The alternative of asserting my individual position can be dangerous as well as arrogant and stupid. Also, trust is a beautiful thing, but it leads to devastating betrayal unless we refine our moral sense. This continued refinement includes holding authorities accountable for telling the truth or saying “I don’t know.” Acts of deception have to be named and punished.
        Somewhat on the positive side, being lied to spurs us into hard learning of telling truth, even in uncertainty, in paradox, and in story language that intertwines with experiential data. Contemporary schooling has limited our development of moral sense with an overemphasis on fact as truth, in no small part because that version of true is easier to score “reliably” as right/wrong in grading and testing. Leonard Lewisohn tells the fuller nature of truth: 
This Truth/Reality (haqiqat) professed by the Sufis is best expressed by indirect symbolic allusions and more effectively captured by poetic metaphor than described by logical statements of didactic prose. Paradox, symbolic allusion, and apophatic expression are more the tools… (p. xiv in The Wisdom of Sufism)
       For adults today to bequeath any quality of life to the next generation, we must commit to advancing our moral sense so that we can tell the truth beyond the fact-level and beyond selfish interests. We make this commitment so that we can live into truth about peace in a world community, about “justice for all.” 
        While sacred text guides our best effort to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), each person’s engagement with truth also depends on living it out, with courage and persistence through inevitable mistakes. Refining and advancing our moral sense depends on a concerted willingness to live in the moment.  “The friend of God is the child of the present instant” (Lewisohn translating Junayd in Hujwiri’s Kashf al-mahjub; p. 45 in The Wisdom of Sufism).
        We need courage to turn down the volume of external proclamations blaring across the dial from eyewitness newscasts to expert scientists/academicians to scripture-quoting preachers/theologians. I’m not throwing out the volumes on wisdom, but I’m searching for truthful voices that resonate with experience. Models for interrogating our lived experience include the studies of key figures such as King David. I have about fifty passages marked in Walter Brueggemann’s David’s Truth in Israel’s Imagination and Memory
         Richly arrayed on my desktop are also Abraham Heschel’s A Passion for Truth; David Tracy’s Plurality and Ambiguity: Hermeneutics, Religion, Hope; Gadamer’s Truth and Method; Richard Niebuhr’s The Meaning of Revelation; Nasr’s The Garden of Truth; and God’s Light: The Prophets of the World’s Great Religions. I don’t want to go into the jungle of personal experience unarmed. From this array of rich texts, great ideas swirl with and against each other threatening to pull me under the spell of word-world, the enchantment of thought and philosophy. But the love of wisdom risks separation from the fragile truth of personal experience. 
        As noted in previous blogs, my personal favorite for bringing together my body’s knowing with the word world happens in natural horsemanship. For example, I reflect back on the most recent ride with Leg’cy. Shortly before I’d dismounted, my body vibrated in the way I’ve come to realize signals something meaningful, as an offering to be composed—or abandoned in unreflected dust. 
        But when I hold the moment in consideration, I see that our rides continue to simplify. While we both thrill in the fast-paced canter, we want it to be held in lightness with very subtle cueing. Midway in the ride, I’d asked for the trot-to-canter transition. Leg’cy refused. Instead of demanding, as some texts and coaches assert, I accepted: “O.K. My timing wasn’t right.” So we returned to working on flexion with more leg yields at the trot. Then, before long, Leg’cy herself sent a very subtle canter cue. I followed, and together we smoothly transitioned. The moral: Let go of an unmet desire and accept a higher power in the given—this allows a sweeter union.
        This is the lived-experience complement to the quotation by Lewisohn: the divine found in surrender to the present instant. So while it’s not new, the confirmation by body with the wisdom text combines into a vibrant truth that's strong in conviction and begging for commitment. Living in the moment is hard but with body-mind-soul it’s done.
        As we live into the integrity of our own being our capacity to tell the truth perfects because we are purifying the self-deceptions, releasing the illusions implanted by consumer culture, false belief, by power mongers, by fear, disappointment, harbored hate, anger, and so much more. How can we begin to expect to discern and to oppose the lies all around unless and until we live into the powerful truth within, moment by living moment in full consciousness and committed conscience! 

        Said again, in order to live ethically and to advance moral sense for doing it, we need our own embodied authority, refined through intention and reflection, and buttressed with universal source often re-told in good stories.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Move-On Invitation


A poignant capture of “back in the day” stands out from the classic mid-sixties “What’s it all about, Alfie?” The film and song push the recognition, as much needed today as any day, that all experience, even sex, loses significance when cut off from meaning. Our existence, including the world of possibility, has layers of potential meaningfulness. When a person is “done with” a level and another is poised for engaging, life suspends. Often it's frustrating and the person feels “nothin' matters” or put more emotionally “WTF!” This pregnant moment needs to be handled with care, not trashed, not indulged as cause for giving up, zoning out, medicating away.
       Such a state does make for a dangerous junction; it’s a set up for violence to self and/or others. One form of violence to the opportunity is to numb the pain, commonly found in alcohol or other substances, over or under the counter. TV’s another possible semi-conscious substitute for vibrant engagement in life. Sometimes escape from the soul’s demand for meaning comes, at least for a time, by overworking or compulsive working out. Sometimes we lie to ourselves about the excitement of something new (e.g., travel, an affair) or something old (e.g. spirit-less religion, a false memory of “greatness”). Perhaps the escape becomes permanent, but the question remains and along with the accountability, waits or lurks, looking for the opening, maybe held until life’s closing confrontation or the next one’s judgment.
        Why would a loving God let a life go unlived? Perhaps the persistent interrogation for meaningfulness comes from a freedom-loving, destiny-driving divinity; this offers a magnificent opportunity to move into a deeper level. Although it may appear too harsh to come from the god-we-wish-for, the impetus to force movement often requires leaving or re-making a relationship. The relationship to be broken might be with alcohol, with a partner, a workplace, a religion, a way of thinking, or some other engagement that seems to be just FINE. Louise Penny, my favorite contemporary mystery writer, has a star character, an old embittered poet authoring a book titled “F.I.N.E.” an acronym for fucked-up, insecure, neurotic, egotistical. Perhaps from a more divine perspective when a person persists in a finished state that’s lost meaningfulness, it’s time to realize this alternative judgment on “fine.”
        The shift to a deeper level, to one that matters, is often traumatic, and it may come a-sudden or glacially slow. Sometimes a dramatic change is required, but other times a person can best do it within an existing relationship. The proof of moving to a deeper level comes in new vitality, in a different capacity for knowing and feeling, and in a stronger connection with destiny.
        I’ve experienced significant movements in meaningfulness by staying within the same structure (e.g., teaching in the same university, horsemanship) and in leaving (e.g., divorce, place of residence, religion). Perhaps what has most stayed the course has been a conviction that meaningfulness is. The eternal. God. 
        Because my understanding is partial as well as changing, my perception of God moves. Old, deadened definitions and forms lose sense and leave, whether one likes it or not. In my limited understanding, the major religions (particularly Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) all confirm the need to continue to re-experience and move into deeper levels of the Source of Meaning.
        My journey has been held and pushed by special containment: lovers, Jungian psychoanalysts, horses, guides. The attempt to run from God, like Jonah did, needs to be restrained by someone who can cleanly name a run-away and who can also discern when a person is “suffering” a “done situation” from when the person is faithfully enduring an alchemical process. The chosen guide needs devotion to the Self; a true guide always looks to empower the authentic inner voice rather than to impose control. Discernment also often finds confirmation and purification in sacred text, in good story, and perhaps most of all in love, another ever-changing, perfecting form. 
        To accept disenchantment with life as a move-on invitation offers the space for story, for good stories that participate in the continuous recreation of meaningfulness.