Friday, April 14, 2006


“Place a sentinel at the doors of perception.” Pir Vilayat

The above is an instruction that Pir Vilayat always gave at the beginning of a group retreat and was the advice he gave for the beginning of an individual retreat. For many years I did not understand what he meant. Where was this sentinel guy who was supposed to show up and combat all the stray sights and sounds that I was to be protected from? Wherever he was, he wasn’t at my perception doors because I could hear every little sound, was super aware of the people around me and was continually opening my eyes to check things out. I knew that he meant something that I did not understand so it was frustrating. The problem was, you see, that Pir Vilayat was very visual. He had no trouble at all in conjuring up various sorts of mental imagery and using that imagery for himself and as a reference for his students. For those of us without that ability however, some of the things he said made no sense at all. The sentinel business was the least of it. He also had this meditation that he would lead which he called Landscapes of the Soul. Some people would sit rapt in ecstasy when he went through one of these meditations. Me? I couldn’t follow it at all. In fact I once asked him for help since I felt so embarrassed that I couldn’t follow him. He did try to help but I quickly realized that he didn’t understand my problem. I simply do not get clear mental imagery. At best it is murky. I understand that about a third of humanity is this way. Pir Vilayat was at the other end of things and was very able to summon up just about any image he liked. So he simply did not understand my problem and gave me advice based on his experience. This taught me a really valuable lesson.
We all have limitations. Even a highly respected teacher will, occasionally, not know what to do. In my own case, I happen to be blessed with students who tell me if what I tell them does not work for them. I do worry about the ones who say nothing though. Nothing to be done about that I guess other then to tell people that they can tell me if it doesn’t work.
Limitations are interesting for lots of reasons. One of the reasons is that we often do not recognize our limitations, thinking instead that others are not understanding us and it is their fault. In fact we can get quite irritated at the apparent stupidity of others for not getting IT. I believe that the more truncated our world view, the more likely we are to feel this way, and we will be all the more likely to think that it is the responsibility of others to grasp our intent - no matter how poorly it is explained. In fact I have seen people get all upset at someone else for something that the other person did not even know was happening; that they had no clue at all about. Have you ever heard someone, or even yourself say, “He should have known…..!” Meanwhile, the one who should have known has no information at all about what he, “should have known!”
I have been a carpenter most of my life, an up and down business as anyone in the construction field will tell you. During one particularly dry period, I took a job as a Job Corps instructor. It was a frustrating experience for all sorts of reasons but one of the more frustrating aspects was teaching these kids to use a hammer. For a carpenter a hammer is just part of your hand. You don’t think about it, you just use it. Not for the students. They would watch me and then bend nails, watch me again, bend more nails. It took me two full years to figure out how to teach someone to use a hammer. So, my limitation in understanding wasted two years of student learning. That was another lesson for me.
How often do we think that we understand something, maybe it is political, not realizing that our truncated point of view is keeping us from seeing all of the condition. And then we get angry because others, also subject to limitation, do not understand in the way we do. What is needed it would seem is for conversation, listening to others and trying to understand, wrong though they may be, but instead we get frustrated and angry, or worse; contemptuous of the other point of view.
One way that I think of all of this is to imagine that God, or however you think of Universal Intelligence, has need of all points of view, all types of experiences. I know this can seem a really harsh way to see things but experience would seem to say it is true. If the statement, Nothing Exists But God, which is in so many religions and philosophies, is in fact true; then that would mean that the terrorist is just as valid as the saint. How we think of each is also valid. In fact everything that happens has validity. It is all a conversation that the Universe is having with itself. This is where the mystic’s point of view becomes so very important and acceptance of all things becomes our schoolwork.
I invite your comments.

Love & Blessings, Musawwir

ps: I forget to mention that I finally did figure out what the Sentinel was. It is ignoring the outside stimuli. It is a skill that you gain after some practice. If you send me a private e-mail, I will explain it further.


Qalbi said...

Wow! I just finished the 'forced march' from Florida to NY with my mother. Talk about finding my limitations and truncated points of view! We did really well, both being very cheery and full of good will even through her selling one of her places and us moving her out of it. At about the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania I thought I'd had enough and corrected her erroneous and narrow minded point of view - not useful!! But, it was far better than other trips where we came to screeching at each other over and over.

I'd love to hear more about the sentinel.

Sarala said...

I guess I am lucky or blessed that visualization is such a ready and strong tool for me. I would not be very good at practices without it - 'empty mind' has never been my forte.
The whole idea of ignoring outside stimuli reminds me of a legend of ancient China. Perhaps you will enjoy the story...
One day the emporer sent a message/challenge out to all the people, calling them to gather one year hence, prepared to present a representation of 'peace'. A year to the day, the people came from far and wide bearing their creations. The poets rhymed, the orators spoke, painters painted and dancers swayed, each displaying their expression of peace. The people waited for the emporer's choice, most expecting him to choose a beautiful painting of a calm lake reflecting wispy clouds and birds riding the breeze. Imagine their horror when the emporer emerged on his balcony bearing quite a different canvas. It portrayed a raging waterfall, boulders tumbling from its crest and crashing to the boiling tumult below whilst dark storm clouds raged overhead. The people were appalled and frightened - surely the emporer had lost his mind and then what would become of the empire? (for in those days, the empire reflected the ways of the emporer)
The emporer raised his arms, motioning for quiet.
"But look more closely," he said,"here, at the base of the waterfall, just at the water's edge. Do you see in this cragedy shrub, a blue bird building its nest?" The people were quieted, and comforted by the emporer's wisdom... for surely true peace is in finding tranquility in the face of tumult.

Abi-Ru Shirzan said...

I was watching the PBS documentary about the life of Mohammad (Pbuh) the other day. My favorite part was when the Prophet was telling the troops about the strategy in a last-stand battle and a soldier piped up and asked "Did God tell you to adopt this strategy, or is it your idea." Mohammad said that he was speaking just as a man. The soldier proposed an alternative strategy. It was brilliant, and won the battle, and the war, and kept Islam alive.

I love this story.

First, because it shows that even Mohammad had limitations. Second, because the soldier was willing to question him to find out where they were. Third, because Mohammad was humble enough to reveal them openly. Fourth, because having done so, both Mohammad and the soldier were rewarded with victory. Who was that soldier? Maybe Pir Vilayat's sentinel? :-))

I visualize easily when it comes to imagery, but have no sense of spatial direction and see no relationship between maps and reality. I can imagine myself nearly anywhere but often don't know where I actually am, physically.

My husband's name is one of the Hindu names of God and means literally "no limit." It's a tough name to live up to!

Jules said...

"Place a sentinel at the doors of perception".
In this world we all communicate differently, and we all perceive that which is communicated differently. Making validation and conformation very important in todays society. There are many doors!
People do not all think alike, Neuro Linguistic Programming outlines three main representational systems. We generate visual images, internalise feelings (kinesthetics)or use auditory cues. This can be easily sorted by listening to the language each person uses- the types of words they process, such as verbs, adverbs and adjectives.
It is always easier to open the door when we have the right key.
love always Jules