Friday, December 1, 2017

While in Hafez’ Tavern

sunrise Nov 30, 2017
While in Hafez' Tavern

When I have an argument with God,
I go to my horse, to the ocean edge,
to leaping poetry of Hafez.

I won’t ride in a rage
but must settle the wild current
before risking the broken leg.

I won’t dive in the riptide
but listen for the turn, in fire,
making the red stain disappear,

The hot wine of stolen kisses
washing away desire, and I
am right into nothingness.

To read Hafez is to be drawn into the wonder of love’s abandonment, the paradoxical simultaneous double of passion: going beyond the rules of safe office chairs into the literalist lie, the fundamentalist sin while also drinking the blood-red love of that which surpasses human mind, out beyond “ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing.” It helps to read “Hafez’s Theology of Sin” and “The Way of Blame” (Lewisohn in The Angels Knocking on the Tavern Door: Thirty Poems of Hafez, p. 78). It’s to launch into “leaping poetry” where stanzas break free from being in control and thus allow one to taste divine intoxication without wetting the lips.  
This mystic wine helps me live simultaneously in and out of “Pray without ceasing” in my personal land of broken promises and the between world of a diivine power both All-Powerful and All-Loving, when the material world reeks of injustice, loveless power, and apparently indiscriminate death-dealling suffering. How else but to “sin boldly” and trust in mercy.

1. Leaping Poetry of Hafez. Robert Bly opens his book Leaping Poetry with a section called “Dragon Smoke” that begins “In ancient times, in the ‘time of inspiration,’ the poet flew from one world to another, ‘riding on dragons,’ as the Chinese said. Isaiah rode on those dragons so did Li Po and Pindar. . . a leap from the conscious to the unconscious and back again, a leap from the known part of the mind to the unknown part and back to the known.” In The Angels Knocking on the Tavern Door: Thirty Poems of Hafez, Bly and Leonard Lewisohn describe how the ghazals of Hafez work this way with the jumps that prompt our movement from one world to the other. It’s a style that invites controversy and the confusion that sometimes marks the tidal edge of a surge in consciousness. One of the ghazals they translate ends “The grace of the teacher is often stained with rebukes” (p. 21). James R. Newell shows the diversity and even disagreement in translation of Hafez in the comparison of 8 versions of the same ghazal and samples from twelve publications:
     My interest in Hafez and Rumi and in leaping poetry builds especially from the potential to dispel barriers to peace that often show up in ideas connected to differences in religion and that are used to justify war, oppression, and superiority. Daniel Ladinsky (The Gift, p. 32) translates Hafez:
I have learned so much from God
That I can no longer call myself
a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew.

Those lines echo Rumi who lived about a hundred years before Hafez. Coleman Barks in A Year with Rumi includes his version of a poem from Rumi’s Divan. It begins
Ah, true believers, what can I say?
I no longer know who I am
Not Christian or Jew or Moslem
Not Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen
(p. 371)
2. out beyond ideas. Coleman Barks uses this phrasing in his version of Rumi. (See p. 36 in Essential Rumi. Also shown in ).
The complexity and perplexity of the beyond-mind space is elaborated by Ibrahim Gamard & Rawan Farhardi (The Quatrains of Rumi) and translated as “‘place’ beyond the world of belief and unbelief” (p. 407. No.1314 & 1315). They further discuss the complex notion in a reference note (#154 on p. 665) where they describe this space as “a state in the mystical journey where the presence of God’s Reality is so evident that mental concepts about belief or unbelief can seem irrelevant.” Gamard and Farhardi also note that “A dervish who realizes the limitations of outward religious forms is not supposed to stop required religious practices, such as daily prayers…” 

3. Surpasses human mind. See Ephesians 3, especially verses 17-19:
17 aso that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being brooted and cgrounded in love, 18 may have strength to dcomprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and eheight and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ fthat surpasses knowledge, that gyou may be filled with all hthe fullness of God.
4. Pray without ceasing. I Thessalonians 5:17.

4. sin boldly. Martin Luther. “Let Your Sins Be Strong: A Letter From Luther to Melanchthon.” Letter no. 99, 1 August 1521, From the Wartburg (Segment) Translated by Erika Bullmann Flores from: _Dr. Martin Luther's Saemmtliche Schriften_ Dr, Johannes Georg Walch, Ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.), Vol. 15,cols. 2585-2590.
13."If you are a preacher of Grace, then preach a true, not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here we have to sin. This life in not the dwelling place of righteousness but, as Peter says, we look for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. . . . Pray boldly--you too are a mighty sinner.” (Weimar ed. vol. 2, p. 371; Letters I, "Luther's Works," American Ed., Vol 48. p. 281- 282) 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Outside and Inside

I’m still wondering about developing “vision" that can move from the bare branches and dead leaves to the living root, wondering further about the possibility of an advanced capacity involving imagination to “see” through here-and-now branches into a vision of past and future seeds and flowers.** One step in building this capacity must involve detachment from the surface. It’s like plumbing deep in search of the “water of life.” It’s driving deeper than satisfaction with or indulgence in the immediate zing, the allure of fame, the look of money. It’s discipline to go past immediate gratification toward health instead of sugar high, intimacy beyond sex; it's sacrificing status for destiny and accepting longing as a sign of being on the path.  

Vision and imagination support generativity; these connections may advance understanding resurrection and probe the meanings of “die before you die.” Reading further in Frithjof Schuon’The Transcendent Unity of Religions, I’m fascinated by his exploration “Concerning Forms in Art” (Chapter 4). Schuon illustrates specifically with the “decadence” of religious art involving the change from “sacred, symbolical, and spiritual” into the “individualistic and sentimental” (p. 63). 

“When art ceases to be traditional and becomes human, individual, and therefore arbitrary, that is infallibly the sign—and secondarily the cause—of an intellectual decline, a weakening, which, in the sight of those who are skilled in the ‘discernment of spirits’ and who look upon things with an unprejudiced eye, is expressed by the more or less incoherent and spiritually insignificant, we would go even as far as to say unintelligible character of the forms” (pp. 62-3).
The connection between art and the spiritual journey looks vitally important.

For me, although the meaningfulness of this remains substantially inarticulate, the movement from branch to root as well as from nature to art points to the capacity of Beauty to guide us toward the Divine. Such vision is invaluable and not automatic. 
  • Invaluable: A human’s intuition, tasting, and composing of beauty provide a bridge between worlds. When Beauty is known as a quality of God, we can see our pathway as we engage capacity of discerning sacred art.
  • Not automatic: Finding and building the bridge depend significantly upon the gift and development of the human’s ability to see and to feel beyond the superficial.
In the passage just cited, Schuon notes the extra-development in the clause: “in the sight of those who are skilled in the ‘discernment of spirits’ and who look upon things with an unprejudiced eye.”

Rumi tells of this vision and capacity. Nicholson reworks sections from his translation of Rumi’s Mathnawi into a collection of poems. One of these is extracted from Book IV, beginning in line 1358; Nicholson titles the reworked version, “The Truth Within Us” (p. 47 in A Rumi Anthology). These lines tell of a Sufi sitting and meditating in a garden with eyes closed. He gets confronted by a person who urges him to open his eyes and “behold these Signs of God” evident in the garden. The Sufi responds that he beholds the signs within because “without is naught but symbols of the Signs.” Rumi explains that the external world consists of images similar to an orchard being known only as reflected on the surface of water. The “eternal Orchard abides unwithered in the hearts of Perfect Men.” **
As I look in the woods and gardens generously nurturing our home, I wonder about the signs and about the inspiration and direction given through the perfecting heart. Neal Robinson’s contribution to the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers assistance on the capacity to have vision: 
“Here Ibn al-'Arabi's idea seems to be that the cosmos as a whole—the totality of existent entities—manifests all the divine names but does so in a diffuse way, whereas man, as a microcosm endowed with consciousness, brings them into sharp focus as a unity. Potentially every man is a microcosm, but in practice men differ in their polishing of the cosmic mirror, with only a select few realizing their primordial nature. These are the prophets and saints, all of whom belong to the category of 'the perfect man' (al-insan al-kamil). They alone assume the character traits of God, which are latent in all human beings, and manifest them in perfect equilibrium.”
It seems that all spiritual pathways call for cleansing in order for humans to see God’s signs and not just symbols of Signs. The image of the mirror with its tendency to cloud over, to distort and misrepresent, points to the limitations of forms, including religious rituals, that lose the power to link the worlds. Without purification, this world covers over our vision of our source and destiny. The mode for cleansing might come through a sweatlodge, baptism, and varied acts of repentance/remembrance. The Bible’s book of James, for example, tells that “pure and undefiled religion” relates to cleasing the heart and to keeping oneself unspotted from the world. 
The cleansing removes veils, allows a passage to open. In his note below Rumi’s “The Truth Within Us,” Nicholson gives “an early parallel” from “the legend of Rabi’ah.” 
“One day in spring-time she entered her house and bowed her head. “Come out,” said the woman-servant, “and behold what God hath made.” Rabi’ah answered, “Come in and behold the Maker.” 

** Perhaps this wonder stirs from the beauty disclosed in nature, in this case, the woodland “garden” viewed through my window. The specific case probably opens toward the creative process. R.W.J. Austin notes the “pairs of concepts essential to the understanding of the creative process, such as universal-individual, necessary-contingent, first-last, outer-inner, light-darkness, and approval-anger.” This quotation comes from Austin’s introduction to “Chapter 1. The Wisdom of Divinity in the Word of Adam,” from his translation of Ibn al‘Arabi’s Bezels of Wisdom. That chapter especially addresses the construct of “Perfect Man” or al-insan al-kamil which is vital to the passage from Rumi cited in this blog. Austin’s introduction to this chapter also elaborates the vital metaphor of the mirror. Further teaching about al-insan al-kamil can be found in Music of the Soul (Sidi Shaykh Muhammad Sa'id al-Jamal ar-Rifa’i as-Shadhuli), especially in “Adam” (pp. 158-165) and in “Secret of the Love of God” (pp. 171-175).

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?