Two bows-length

There is a Sufi story about the master who was telling a story to the uninitiated. He got to the end of the story and paused to let the point sink in. Then a puzzled listener spoke up to ask, “What does it mean?”

The master looked him over and said, “What? I have given you a luscious bunch of ripe grapes, and you want me to eat them for you?”

I have been eating grapes for a while after the incident I described in my other blog, Rose Opening Forever, and I wanted to explore it here in this blog with my mind rather than as I do there with my heart.

This event actually took many years to occur. I now recognize that I have seen Him approaching all my life, but beginning in a very indistinct and veiled form, as if a face in a crowd in a photograph, just a vague blur in the distance without detail, without even a coherent form. But over the years He came closer and closer until I understood that I was seeing Him in a primal setting with all other beings, arrayed in formation, witnessing Him. This appearance had great impact on me intellectually, but it was nothing compared to the contact I describe in my other blog, where I found myself alone with Him, “two bows-length” away.

Now, the Naqshbandi masters, especially Ibn al-Arabi, contend that one cannot meet God this way in the flesh. To do so would cause annihilation. Instead, they say we are witnessing via the line of Baraka that is the spiritual reality behind the Silsila, the chain of divine grace that stretches from the Prophet, sallahu alahi wa salaam, down the line of 40 Shaykhs to my own, Shaykh Nazim Adil al-Haqqani al-Qubbrusi. The Greatest Shaykh explains that even the prophet Moses was killed when God explained the ten commandments to him, and then reanimated afterward.

But the salient facts are that I had experienced Him before in an intellectual way, without the shattering personal element, which makes all the difference. There are other details I want to consider, too.

My experience, as I remember it, could be seen by me in several ways: as I have described it, in Sufi (Islamic) terms and in the context of the Diamond Approach. Almaas’s overall structure of experience is so close to the Sufi model that his high-level overview book, The Inner Journey Home, can be seen as an exegesis on Ibn al-Arabi’s Journey to the Lord of Power. His understanding of the Enneagram of Holy Ideas and the Enneagram of Personality also rhymes with that of the Sufis.

As an individual with an Enneagram Type Four fixation, the corrective freeing of the fixation comes from realization of Holy Origin, the Holy Idea that frees the vision from fixation on narcissistic delusion. And this is what I experienced, the certainty of being and existence coming into reality from the Source, quenching the concept of a meaningless and blank universe where only suffering was real.

That experience can also be seen as an encounter with the Logos as boundless dimension, the ground of all activity and expression and differentiation into the universe of form and meaning. I don’t know if the experience of ultimate intimacy typically occurs with apprehension of the Logos, but in my case it did, as did my experience of the Holy Name number 17, Al Qahhar, the Crusher, Who crushes quantum fog into the unitary reality we see in everyday life, material existence. It is interesting that the “corresponding” pair-Name of Al Qahhar is Al Latif, the principle of Divine Infoldment of meaning into infinite resolution, as existence shows in the mathematical artwork of the Mandelbrot and Julia sets, and in everyday life in clouds and landscapes and the human mind.

I will probably write more about this later, but I wanted to launch the blog entry now…

 

 

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Student and Teacher

The relationship between Shaykh and Dervish in Sufism is unlike the usual one of teacher and student. From the beginning, the Dervish is expected to credit the Shaykh and praise him for the benefits received on the Path. First this is understood as the person of the Shaykh; later it becomes apparent that the appreciation really goes to the line of Shaykhs that extend back in time to the Prophet of Islam, sallahu alahi wa salaam. The grace that comes down this line is called Baraka, and is the Divine sine qua non of the Path.

But, unlike temporal relationships, the Shaykh needs a qualified Dervish to fulfill his own function as a conduit. That is, if his Dervishes are unprepared, no Baraka can flow. That is one reason Sufis do not seek out new members; the members must come to them with some amount of perception of what they really need.

This was explained to me when I was initiated. My Shaykh came to the US from Cyprus and initiated five Americans during a public event. We were just five people who showed up to see him, and we were not even formally Muslims (we had not recited the Shahada, the attestation of faith, before other Muslims, which I have done since). I asked one of the people in the Shaykh’s retinue why it was so easy for us to be initiated, when I knew that in Muslim countries it took years to become prepared and accepted. He told me that because we grew up in such a hostile (from the Sufi point of view) environment here, that anybody who “made it” to sit at the Shaykh’s feet was considered to have been divinely guided to him, and worthy of acceptance on the spot. So I did, and so I was, and so in the hands of my Shaykh, and the Naqshbandi masters, I did eventually Attain. May Allah send them all blessings and rewards.

Suffering

Something happened to me on September 4th of this year.  It was not very dramatic at first. But it became one of the most important moments I have ever had.

I was waking out of sleep. As often happens, I wake up to instruction from the Sufis who have gone on before me and who act as guides and teachers. There is something about the hypnogogic state that makes it easier to remember than the dream state, at least for me.

Anyway, I will not relate all the details of what happened (perhaps later on Rose Opening Forever). The important thing is that I considered a number of things about my own personal “history”, or “story”, or “internal narrative” as it is called now. I had rejected a number of these internal experiences because they seemed incredible and impossible to verify, grandiose, narcissistic, and possibly deranged. But I realized as I thought about one incident that happened as I was born – by caesarian section – that just accepting the sequence of the event and its outcome had a peculiar effect on me. Something in me relaxed, as if a load was taken from me.

In Scientology, the idea behind the notorious “engram” is that emotional incidents that are experienced in a state of diminished consciousness may not get properly translated from short term to long term memory. They can survive as a memory, but one inaccessible to normal consciousness. If the memory was traumatic, the fear and disorientation can intrude into the here and now in an inexplicable and inappropriate way.

Until recently, there was little scientific explanation for this, although the empirical evidence for the mechanism has put new wings on many a psychiatrist’s home. In Rick Hanson’s excellent book, Buddha’s Brain, he describes exactly what mechanism can cause this: interactions within the Sympathetic Nervous System and the combination of endocrine glands called the “hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis”. In particular, an unfortunate tick in this system between the amygdala, which creates implicit memory, and the hippocampus, which creates long-term memory, can result in a kind of internal “programming” that is all too familiar to me and many others.

When continual or extreme stimulation occurs to the amygdala, it becomes hypersensitive, encouraging conversion of state anxiety into trait anxiety. That is, anxiety attached to a situation becomes chronic anxiety. Moreover, the same neurochemicals that hypersensitize the amygdala interfere with the hippocampus’s work to convert short-term memory to long-term memory. As Rick Hanson says, “Painful memories can then be recorded in implicit memory – with all the distortions and turbo-charging of an amygdala on overdrive – without an accurate explicit memory of them. This might feel like: Something happened, I’m not sure what, but I’m really upset.”

According to Scientology, to remove a “charged” issue, one has to go back and re-experience it in sober consciousness over and over until it “blows” and loses its emotional command power, the “charge” that pulls you out of the present and makes you relive some unpleasant event in the past. I wasn’t trying to audit out this event in myself, but that is more or less what happened. But this was different. I was releasing a preverbal “engram” laid down during my birth, and it became apparent as it unwound before me and dissolved that it was indeed the incident that I had been looking for my entire life that poisoned my relationship with my mother. Basically, I was stabbed in the back accidentally during the operation. I was conscious at the time and understood that men with knives were cutting my mother open to get at me. And I blamed her for not protecting me from them, and for getting the stab wound in my back in the process.

Now, I am still not certain that this happened 62 years ago or not. But what happened at that point in bed is that some structure in my mind unravelled. I felt this and took up looking at a set of related ideas and memories and assumptions. The same things happened with them; other related parts of my experience seemed to unlock and melt away as I looked at them. I was left in tears with a sense of great inner peace.

That sense of peace has lessened somewhat as my life got back to normal that morning and since. But there was one important difference: I was not suffering anymore. I still got frustrated: often, but not that deeply, and totally without suffering. I got depressed, but also not that deeply, and also without suffering. Today is October 1, and the suffering has not returned. Nor do I have the feeling that I need to walk around on eggshells waiting for it to pop up and clamp onto my ankle like a pit bull. It just seems to be gone. Without drama, just gone.

This is what my whole life has been about as long as I can remember. I suffered tremendously, dramatically, deeply, and brutally for six decades. It ruined my life. It made interactions with other nearly impossible, work a torment I could only face with drugs, love an urban legend like alligators in the sewers, and death a shining star of promise of release from a nightmare that never ended.

And it has made me think about suffering. Buddha’s Brain, mentioned above, is largely about suffering (Rick Hanson’s latest thoughts about the relief of suffering can be found in a TEDx lecture.) It is not pain – I still feel pain, I still get depressed, exasperated, impatient, heedless, thoughtless. Not as deeply, by any means, but it is there. What don’t I feel now? I don’t feel wounded, vindictive, deprived, proud, or most importantly, treated unjustly.

I just don’t take it personally, as the saying goes. To be blunt, shit happens, but I do not see myself as shat-on. So, from a personal point of view, you cannot experience “justified” suffering. To hurt in this particular way, it has to be transgressive. You must have your trust or personal view of yourself or something personal belittled or humiliated or negated or made into nothing.

I asked my Sufi teachers what caused this distortion, and they said. “Narcissism”. Hmm. According to A.H. Almaas, who wrote a large book about the topic, narcissism is an egoic response to isolation from the truth, or specifically, Truth.  This getting closer to the Buddhist observation that suffering comes from attachment – in this case, to the ego’s view that only it really exists and that it can act and be self-sufficient. Without Truth, this must suffice, though it is no more noble, at its root, than a parakeet twittering at itself in a mirror – in its cage.

So my current thought – and I will be thinking about this for a good long time – is that this is the other shoe dropping after my experience recounted in my “heart-centered” blog, Rose Opening Forever. I had a radical reorientation of my self; my ego apparently no longer had me in a rear naked choke, as the MMA guys do to their opponents. But as Rose makes clear, I had to “tap out” first.

Be, Do, Have

That noted philosopher L. R. Hubbard described a hierarchy of activity called “Be, Do, Have” that was purported to be the secret to life, or one of the secrets, or something. As he explains it, to Have some prize, or satisfying result, or what have you, you first had to Do. And to Do, you had to Be.

I was watching Frank Langella being interviewed by Charlie Rose. He gave deep and compelling answers, and it took me a half hour to understand his viewpoint. Both he and Charlie we talking about Doing from an exalted viewpoint, where the Having of success came from Doing one’s own authentic Being. But Frank was speaking as an Enneagram 4/5 who set out to discover his own being over a lifetime (he is 76 now) and feels like he has homed in on the Path and has made great strides.

Charlie had a similar conversation with two other great actors together on his program, Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McClellan, and as I listened to Frank I ached to have had Sir Patrick there with him, as I could see so clearly that Frank had much to say to his inner self.

I have made what I consider improvement, but integration of Being, in personality (the context here) has eluded me. When Charlie and Frank were exulting about the satisfaction they got from their Doing I was completely unmoved; I don’t know that world at all, the world of work, careers,  praise, esteem, success, attainment.

What do you do in that case? The only way to self is to get out of God’s way, to be His adjuvant, viceroy, servant, friend. The irony is that that may be the only permanent development, submission, that can be taken with you from life on Earth. I can only hope.

Abstraction and the Platonic Universe

A.H. Almaas mentions that each approach to the Truth traverses a path through a different universe, so to speak. The body of knowledge and experiences that take place during your particular Journey Without Distance depends on you, the set and setting of your life, and the means and modes used on your path. This body of interaction he calls the Logos, after the Greek concept. For example, communion with Mary may be a part of the Roman Catholic Logos, while this might happen less often to a Lutheran Protestant.

But regardless of the onramp to the Truth, one of the abilities that can develop quickly in a dervish is perception of the world of form and meaning that sits next to our own. This world is either nonmaterial or is “subtle matter”, as it is sometimes called. It is known as the “Platonic universe” from its mention in Plato’s books. It does actually exist, but its relationship to our world is that it is separated by what we call abstraction, which means that it occupies a sort of “higher ground” ontologically. That is, elements and entities and forms in the Platonic universe are “senior” to what we see around us, because all we perceive is a sort of shadow of these forms, which could not exist for us without their “grounding” in this abstract dimension.

The Absolute

gabriel

“The Absolute is the realm of complete mystery, or of bedazzlement, as the Sufis say. And only here will the heart feel it has arrived home, at long last. There is wonder, there is beauty, there is Majesty, but it is all mystery upon mystery. The peace is stupendous, the certainty is absolute and the beauty is dazzling. It is the ultimate Beloved of the heart, the Spirit of spirits, and the mystery of all existence. It is the absolute Presence of absolute annihilation, which is then seen to be the primal cause of all. Obviously such words make no sense to the mind, but when consciousness finally reaches this its final abode, the heart will hear these words as music. ”

A.H. Almaas

Maturation and Enlightenment

Aging is a process of rounding-off. The sharp edges of the personality are ground down and smoothed. In this sense, life drives human personalities toward a mean, an average.

If we lived long enough, would we all be the same person? In a sense, yes; in practical terms, no. But those people would come to resemble enlightened beings, and would become such beings in the natural course of things. It would happen between the age of 130 and 150 if the human race could survive that long.