Here is a long and wandering Sunday post, in two parts: written a few months ago. The first part is a twirl of Sufi lambswool, followed by two of Alan Jacobs’ poems. In the second part I dig up some ideas on language, from Arthur Koestler’s Act of Creation, which have inspired me.
Body tree Tao
25 May 2014 – Thoughts on Sufi
In the religious battle, Imam Ali raised his sword to slay his enemy. At that moment the enemy spat in his face. Ali sheathed his sword and saw his own anger. It was against the law to kill when moved by the blind emotion of rage. Ali said his real enemy is the anger itself, and this he must meet with clarity: a path of love.
And we have to receive the truth of this, as it is. No sword can slay it.
And so, consciousness within the emotion was stirred, and a spiritual path was born – Sufism.
Sufism is to Islam what Kabbalah is to orthodox Judaism, and Rosicrucean Alchemy is to the Christian faith – the concealed Revelation. In the middle ages, Sufi masters and Jewish sages studied together and pooled their wisdom. It was a highly creative period in history. The disciplines of sacred geometry, alchemy and astrology were cross-fertilized, and inform us to this day.
Islamic geometry after Keith Critchlow
In the 14th century, Christendom – then in full temporal power – began to persecute the Jews and Moslems, and to set them against each other. Yet the three religions – Star, Cross and Crescent – share the root of Abraham …
… and before Abraham was, I AM.
Orthodox religion is based on faith and the commandments. It holds a society and its family systems together, on an organized ethical foundation. The religious concept is exteriorized into temples, churches and a priesthood “out there”. The follower seeks that guidance, protection and safe identity – a house of God. Each dominant religion fell into the crisis of worldly power, corruption and intolerance. This is inevitable, with the everyday mind’s tendency to divide and rule, and to mount a crusade. What is more powerful, or more possessive, than an idea? What are the bloodiest wars fought over?
The esoteric or hidden way arises through direct revelation of essence. It comes from “within”, and historically, the religious establishments fear and mistrust it. It lives at the margin of society. It prays and is creative for humanity, for it transcends the individual. This spiritual path encounters the same kind of crisis as the religious one – mental inflation. The personal ego may at any moment get hold of a spiritual voltage, get supercharged, and distort and exploit the truth for power and influence over other souls. There are enormous temptations and misunderstandings. The mystic fights a holy war with this tendency!
The psychological paradox is real, in each individual life. What do I project “out there” and what do I receive “in here”? Why am I me, and not you, yet each of us throughout history, is the centre of all things, for ever, including dying? – most people run for dear life from this question!
No human being, however materialist or atheist, can escape or explain the quantum – the mystery – of his/her existence. Most minds are more comfortable with putting the existential focus “out there”, into politics, management or belief (conventionally) – but a few are aware of it “from within” (which sets them apart). Each of us navigates that interplay (“out there” versus “from within”) to a certain extent, because we all are human, and influence each other. From paradox, life is born.
From the battlefield a way of light is born. (See Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2).
What is paradox? The word para means “beyond” or “to one side of”, and the word doxa means “the soul” or “the capacity to understand”. We experience paradox in each collision of opposites, and the way is extraordinarily life-giving. Day/night. Grief/laughter. Male/female. Sharp/soft. Light/shadow. Death/birth. Summer/winter. There is no painting of humanity without God’s dark brush-strokes. There is no shadow without the light. (See Koestler on The Logic of Laughter, PART 2 of this post).
What is paradox? Paradox is polarity. Paradox is the battlefield of the inner life with the outer climate. Creation is also destruction. The acorn dies to become an oak. The egg dies to become an embryo, the seed to become a plant, the scholar dies to be born a sage. The paradox is a catalyst. Human growth happens when a person cannot “explain” reality, but enters and surrenders to it. What is surrender? A way of dancing.
Islamic patterns, after Critchlow
The spiritual path seeks peace, because it is born from conflict. A person on a spiritual path may discover it through the pain of life, for it opens into honesty and love. Realisation comes, with the acceptance that conflict and love are one and the same polarity.
The essence of conflict is peace. There is no conflict in the coming in and the going out of the tide: there is an unbroken circling movement, like the breath. (J.Krishnamurti).
Conflict suggests the opposing extremes to each side. And we experience conflict – stress – when our nature is loaded to excess.
The essence of conflict is the moving, fluid centre which is “balance”.
Yet we are creatures of conflict. Our atoms are those of the aeons of Earth through the conflict of fire and ice, eruption and downpour, moisture and the lightning flash, ocean and rock, and the fishes of Nature who eat each other, red in tooth and claw. It is an enormous human challenge to be aware of the seeds of conflict within ourselves, and to awaken, through them.
Conflict is not “bad”. Conflict is the unbroken circling of Nature, of life through death.
The angels of God – or Source – are cosmic phenomena. They may be subatomic conduits, intergalactic or in miniature. They are expressions of qualities in the universe. They are functions, and they have no choice but to serve what they are. They cannot alter, for they are timeless. Human beings have the in-born capacity to turn, to change and to grow, which is time. This is because we have all seven chakras and are therefore earthed; we do time on earth. The angels only have the upper four, and the animal kingdom only has the lower four. Only the human has the full spectrum. (search Angels in http://janeadamsart.wordpress.com).
The angels are the same as the gods in the Hindu and Buddhist pantheon. They use our hands and feet and gravity when we are willing. They are pictured as winged beings. They are an interconnected cosmic intelligence, with special functions. They join up the stars. The entire cosmos is Greater Mind.
A Kabbalist’s view of universals
It is told that among the angels of God, Satan disagreed. Satan’s element is the glorious fiery one. He was Lucifer, the light bearer. When he too was ordained to defer to the human element, ADAMH, the clay, he rebelled; for fire is far superior and more subtle than wet old earth.
(NB: in Hebrew, ADM spells clay, and the H is HEH, the life-breath God/JHVH breathed into the clay.)
So Satan became the tempter of Providence. The Adam Eve seed of humanity rested in a timeless garden, in the upper worlds. Satan beguiled them with the fruit of knowledge, and they entered the dimension of time and space: the division of NOW into past and future: the labour and toil of the generative cycle, towards return to the Great Circle. The descent is into Knowledge and full Consciousness. At first they feel blind and driven. They were driven into sexual conflict and limitations. They were desperate to reproduce, for they knew they would die.
Adam and Eve were of the Upper World which is paradise – a region of the mind which Kabbalists call Olam Yetzirah, the World of Formation. To a large extent, we continue to live inside the formative world of our mind and the power of fixed ideas, and are not sufficiently earthed in our bodies. That is why we as a species are at odds with our environment and with nature, and why we fall ill. So the spiritual path – especially in the west – insists on developing our Earth centres along with the metaphysical focus, to receive in full, the word of God.
Our world is assymetrical – a movement towards completion. Nature is based on the ellipse rather than the perfect circle. The nucleus is weighted to one side of the ellipse or egg, and so there is cell division, birth, and the unbroken movement towards equilibrium. In every part of nature and the animal kingdom and the human soul, there is the strife towards completion: the heart’s systole, diastole, the tide: this is Life.
The Sufi path puts theory and theology into practice. The aim is to not only hear the Word, but embody it. There is a movement from the centre, like a flame. It oscillates, it trembles a little to each side. It has a pulse, a rhythm. It grows like the spiral of branches around the stem of a tree. It becomes a dance. The gravitational core is this movement from stillness: stillness is soft and all-encompassing. It is moved from side to side; and fore and aft; and in every direction, like the rays of the Sun. This is the sacred fire.
The path of love, through dance, song and the poet, stretches out to each side, embracing the unknown future, unconditionally. It is a path of ecstasy.
The fluent centre reaches out, like branches from the tree in the breeze, embracing the future. Reality is present. The present contains the paradox of past and future, in a circle where they are One – the timeless present.
We cannot “see” the future, unless our “NOW” is so wide that we perceive the encircling landscape – past, present, future – from above. This happens when the consciousness is raised to a higher and deeper level, like the bird of fire, the Phoenix.
The Masters in the sufi and other esoteric traditions, sustain this strata of human consciousness, and we as seers can access it, when our focus is raised to that plane. It is a shared plane – an orbital (hierarchic) level, like the electron’s relation by number, to the nucleus.
We deal with what we carry from the past – our memory and the issues laid down, to re-enact. How do we integrate and let go the past? By embracing the future in an unlimited way. The marrying of our sense of past with our feeling of “future” is an eternal child – the present, the Now. From this – like a wave travelling concentrically – our past transforms. Our idea of the past transforms.
Our past is nourished on what we feed it, from the future: and thus it transforms.
Our past is a feature of the present. It is like looking down into a pool, the depth of the water. Our memory is a well, whence the stories we believe in, are told. It is here and now, and being re-told.
The Wandering Fool by a well, 1988
The Sufi dance movement is like the Tao in ancient Chinese philosophy. The Great Circle holds a moving point – the balance of Yin and Yang. The same point is within the Sri Chakra Yantra lattice, in the Indian tradition, and in all mandalas, yantras and yogas.
The Sufi dance movement oscillates into a kind of T’ai Chi (which centres the dantien, in the belly.) In life, as we reach the limit in one situation, another is opened: as one breath ends, the next one is received. “I open where I close” (J.K.Rowling). And so it is, from side to side. So God is praised, like the way a blade of grass is stirred by the wind.
Tao Cycle, seasons
The Sufi shares with other hidden paths, the stem of unity, an open secret. All religious and spiritual revelations converge to the simple source. In the apex of a pyramid, the peak of a mountain, nothing divides the sky. But down the sides, down the ridges, rivers and valleys, the Word gets divided into culturally separate entities who – unable to see the peak – consider themselves apart, and quarrel. The power of the source revelation, fuels – alas – war and ignorance.
A tapestry or eastern carpet is woven on a loom. Horizontally are sewn the colours, the patterns and the stories – the lambswool threads are dipped in strong dyes. This is life. But the core of the thread itself is white lambswool with no dye, vertical through the loom’s warp and weft. This is the pure Sufi consciousness, through the colour spectrum.
The Sufis in the old days, were called “wool wearers”. They are persecuted by fundamentalists, who say they betray the faith.
There are denominations and sects within Sufism, but they all follow Imam Ali in principle. Some call him God. Worshippers idealise an individual who stands before God. But worship is a signal – five times daily, to unroll a sacred mat and let nothing but Heaven stand between.
I think Imam Ali the War Leader identified his anger and recognised its divinity, because it can be worked with. It is a seed of life. I think he recognised the primal conflict in human nature, and embraced it – not by opposing it, but by accepting the movement: the polar opposites. The dark with the light: the Satanic with Allah. (In Kabbalah, we call Satan the Tester – he has an essential role.) The climatic forces.
Whenever there is true paradox, and a meeting of opposites, there is ecstasy, a natural state. It is like clapping hands, or like wave-currents in the sea which run together and break into white spray. It is a condition in the mind which throws all questions open and no answers enclose them. It is the union and dissolving of past and future concepts in the Now. It is the absence of separation. Many sages break out laughing when “it happens”. It is the natural way of life, the Buddha laughs, the tension breaks, and it opens to beyond the stars. Who knows what will happen next?
But Sufism is born from conflict, stress, opposition, war. Sufism is born from the establishment of a religious empire, by Mohammed’s right hand man. From the setting of things apart, to combat each other, Sufism is born. It draws the combatants together, and journeys into the human interior.
In other words, Sufism (in my understanding) knows the transcendent Self, the awakening of consciousness in a moment of tribal or religious enmity.
lord siva on his tao
Sufi Dervishes wore long moustaches. In the olden days, a man when making a major promise or commitment, would pull out a hair of his moustache.
On Conflict and Paradox
These various threads need to be pulled together, to view Sufism’s root perception of conflict and paradox.
There is Self-enquiry. We become aware of naked feelings of anxiety and trauma, hearing and giving them room, instead of spinning off into who’s to blame or who did what, or I can’t help it.
What does the Sufi way offer? The Sufi way – divested of whoever it wears – becomes conscious (perhaps in a great interior storm) and is in movement with it. The Sufi way is a path of love. It is non-resistant. So we love others BECAUSE of what they said or did which annoyed us, because it is perfect to their unique being. We love them for that; otherwise it is not love, it is a fantasy.
The path of love however, is transpersonal. It is more like the unlimited flow and love of life as is: the force of creation. It is universal like the force of gravity. Irrepressibly, it moves to dance and sing and flower. The pairs of opposites are lovers. The hardships in the past, are marvels. The shadows are a glory. Suffering is also laughter, and lightness of heart. The poet cannot help drumming the strings.
The way of love opens to each side, a moving fluid centre.
Embracing future, Reality is present.
The Present includes the paradox of past and future.
Why does religious belief divide believers from non-believers?
Do we care? Or do we exploit?
What is the political block in human development?
A Note on the Firebird
The Phoenix lives and moves on inner meanings. When a refugee called Tariq arrived in UK, he lost his environment, ecology, social setting, friendly contacts, power connections, and his dominant male and spiritual role in general.
The body of the Phoenix, deprived of the meaningful texture to Farid’s life, couldn’t exist. The body itself was burned and died. He suffered a depression and took to his bed.
When Tariq learned – with great difficulty – to accept his position, and to let his wife do a nurse’s training and go out to work, new meanings entered his life and his Understanding. The body of the Firebird filled with life again, and lifted its wings.
These symbols cannot exist in isolation. They are interactive with all aspects of changing life, and the world. That is what gives them life. The humanities start to flow together, when Tariq connects in a fresh way with his environment and his family. He adapts: his family thread is interwoven with the social warp and weft: and through this, with humanity at large. His daughters go to university and achieve responsible positions in society. He respects his wife in a new way as his equal, because she held the family together through the worst years. He becomes a skilled carpenter. He regains his centre of gravity, while grieving the culture he left behind. He lives with his losses: his family values, grafted onto the new reality, thrive.
The Phoenix is self-created. Tariq’s conditioned concept of the human family was altered. This is survival. I am moved by his story, and admire his courage.
A Philosophical Poem:
Unseen Weaver, by Alan Jacobs
Here stands a loom of Time in duration,
born of Infinity, in consummation
with Life, ever void of time.
The sun and moon a shuttle upward climb,
weaving to and fro as night and day,
a splendid pageant, a colour play.
Strung on warp and weft of cosmic unity
the back of the vast, embroidered tapestry
derives from the formless One.
The face in every colour, radiates the Sun.
The tones reflect from archetypal light
unabsorbed … an unequalled sight.
Only what’s allowed by unseen hand
appears as moving panorama, a horizontal band,
a magic painting of the world.
Through it, each vertical thread is whirled
as Light without duality
unique, unparalleled, the Self Reality.
Coated by golden fleece and white angelic wool,
and dyed in deepest vat of destiny’s darkened pool …
does the holy cloth that’s woven with love
quarrel with his Weaver who beholds from above?
Rather, wrapped in warming cloak at rainbow’s end,
eternal pilgrim adores his Mighty Friend.
Alan Jacobs, April 1993
Analogy and metaphor are interwoven,
Criss crossing poet’s weft and warp.
Rigid tight are guiding strings, form and symmetry;
Over, around it broods the standpoint – truth.
Supreme silence invokes devotion.
There is time for speech and rhetoric
In verse framing the subtle play of thought
Catching threads into One tapestried splendour.
Perhaps you find this Work over ambitious
Or at best, a well intentioned foolish error.
Endeavour to follow the hero’s way –
Men, timid as mice and fearing failure, achieve no thing.
So the weaver tries his skill to make some useful cloth.
Alan Jacobs, early 1990s
Arthur Koestler on Humour and Creative Paradox
(from “The Act of Creation” 1964)
Koestler begins by examining the paradox of humour and its relation to the paradox of creativity.
“L” (fig.1) is idea. “M” (fig 2) is frame of reference.
In figure 2 two frames of reference intersect: M1 and M2.
Gallery – click on page to view
… and so on.
“If (Koestler) “you strive hard enough to get to India, you are bound to get to some America or other. … For instance, the technician who set out to find a way to synchronise the rate of fire of a machine-gun with the revolutions of an air-screw, discovered an excellent way of imitating the lowing of a cow.”
(Einstein) “It seems to me that what you call full consciousness is a limit case which can never be fully accomplished. This seems to me connected with the fact called the narrowness of consciousness.”
(Lichtenberg) – “It (not ‘I’) thinks.” Cancel Descartes “Cogito, ergo sum” !
On Language and Dance (1988, inspired by Koestler’s The Act of Creation)
The rhythm in the written language, its voice, determines its content and imagery. The melody should follow the feeling – not the other way round.
Language is an orchestra, not a solitary pipe on a Greek hillside.
When sensation comes to say – it should river the rhythm into its way of speaking. This often happens subconsciously. If language should be all one colour, however seductive, it would only be able to tell the one thing.
Polyphonic language – carrying many thematic levels – is not therefore a matter of words, but of letting the rhythm break up into its various encounters and surprises of itself. Else we get bored with the same tune. We get bored with the same palette.
I like scientific language, which uses tools. And I like Koestler, who writes very well indeed. His phrasing falls into the mode of the imagery which comes up into it – sometimes staccato and rich like a jester. Then long and rich phrases, for some mythology. … …
Now, a metre can become so sugar sweet that it is a defense against the diversity of the orchestra. It becomes encysted. When my mind can prattle so easily and make all kinds of puns from my map, beware. Because that leads to self pity – a drone which the truth cannot get through.
Language can be like a rough, rough rock – and must, to throw rocks – so long as what comes out is seen. Language should not be too slick and Watteau’d. If it is grief, then break its heart. If it is sex, then pulse it. If it is a sea journey, then let the long (wine-dark) waves run into it.
So to write is like making music.
Before you play, you get a feel of the “dance”. It moves inside you, it begins to oscillate. And so when the thoughts come, their initial pattern in word or sound is not that important. Get a feel of the dance or flavour of the fish which pushes it up, which ripples the deltas of awareness. Let that thing there, whatever it is, show you what its real speech is. Stand away from the surface propositions, the easy atomic concepts; throw them away. They have their uses, but not all of the time.
26 May 2014 – To Twine all this Together …
Language is society. Language is family system. Language is relationship. Language is dance and song. Language is receptivity.
Language is meaning.
Without language – interior, social or cultural – we are lost. Without language, we cannot connect.
Language is the pulse of the worshipper. It is the Sufi singer-dancer’s language with Allah/Ali, and the Taoist’s movement with the Chi.
Without language, without connection, we are refugees at the gate of an alien and apparently hostile language pattern.
We reach a crossroads. We turn within the crossroads, to receive all directions.
Humour collides two frames of reference, the solemn and the droll, collapsing into mirth … and connecting through laughter – “the mind stops”.. (See Koestler’s fig.2)
Creativity is the collision of two frames of reference, the formal and the “out of bounds” which awakes the psyche in amazement, demolishing and healing a linear block.
Linear language constrains and dies. Creative language releases and lets live. As the creative energy ascends into the air, through release, the well is cleared for unimagined insights that lay in the deep. Nature abhors a vacuum. Osmosis draws up moisture from the root, to the sun. And the leaves come out.
This is language.
The rising Phoenix archetype is language – the language of interior connection and the capacity to recreate Life. In Tariq’s resurrection, he allowed himself to die, and to be reborn. His wife Tazeen was able to give him that space, by taking responsibility for the family’s adaptation to its new home. She was a strong woman, and she took her opportunity. This allowed her husband to redevelop his role in the family.
Nobody achieves anything in isolation – not Tariq, and not Tazeen. The strength of their relationship, and their love for their daughters, brought them through all the obstacles which their older language could no longer surmount.
Aquariel – an angel of the waters and of the air through the woods of life.
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