Wednesday, May 23, 2007


I have been reading Karen Armstrong's new religious history, "The Great Transformation." I love her books and have read them all. This newest book fills a gap in the history books as it is an explanation of what is called The Axial Age. The Axial Age is a peculiar stage in human history, from approximately 800 BCE to 200 BCE, when the major regions of the civilized world; Greece, China, India and the Mesopotamian Basin all shifted how they approached religion. It was an age when numerous prophets suddenly appeared in all four regions and began to talk of the inner world. It is a great book. But it is not what I wanted to talk of other then as a starting point.

As I read the book I cannot help but reflect on what I see happening around me. One of the things that I hear frequently is the need for a return to tradition. That puzzles me. I wonder what tradition they mean. How far back should we go? Humans are funny, funny peculiar that is – not funny ha ha, about tradition. A tradition needs to be only a week or so old and we will assume it has permanence. A tradition that is a hundred years old seems hoary with meaning and one a thousand years old, no matter how much it may have been modified in the intervening years, well that is awesome. It never ceases to amaze me that, just because someone a thousand years ago wrote something, it must be full of inner meaning that we today cannot possibly totally understand but we know it is significant. What if it was just stupid? There are a couple of these ancient tomes that I have read that are just that – stupid. Yet they are revered texts. Oh well.

As I read the book and learn how our solid traditions evolved I wonder why we think they have value. As Ms. Armstrong explains so well, but which any thinking person should already realize, traditions are cultural responses to changing conditions and values. They are the way that a culture defines itself in that moment. In and of themselves they mean nothing other than as a cultural response.

One of the things that I really liked about my teacher, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, and his teachings was that, though he would use historical references and an extensive knowledge of the ancient Sufi's, he always insisted that what he was about was the creation of a new paradigm. He continually stated that we are the mid-wives of the Holistic Age (his word for what we usually call the New Age). I would think that means that we are obligated to stretch ourselves out and discover what has not been yet done.

Now I hear that we should return to tradition.

As a Sufi I feel that it is my job to not only know what has been done in the past but also to respond to the future energy pulling us forward. Anything else is turning ones back on the future, embracing the past and creating a comfortable cocoon which protects us but has no value to evolution. But it is scary; after all the future is essentially unknown. Oh, you might get some precognition I suppose. Lots of people do but the wholeness of it is unknown since, in the real world sense, it has not happened.

I think that a lot of people do sense something unfolding and are trying in various ways to make it clear. That happens in all sorts of ways; from nostalgic yearnings for Lemuria to crop circle divination to whatever seems neatest to the individual. It is difficult to just let the future unfold. Since it has not happened yet, though the potential is there, we do have options. We can pretend we know what it is. We can retreat to a traditional model that ignores this new energy and reassures itself that all is well. We can notice the small indications that are appearing in the remote depths of our consciousness and be glad. We can be scared. Oh there are all sorts of things that we can do.

I suppose that a part of this advice to return to tradition might be to get people to actually read some of the old material. Another thing that never ceases to amaze me is people believing that the individual they believe is responsible for their current state sprang full blown from the brow of Zeus or something similar without having done any study of his own. For instance, there is a cult of personality for Hazrat Inayat Khan. Some otherwise very intelligent people seem to believe that what he spoke about was all his. It never seems to occur to them that most of what he taught was a restating of normal Sufi thought made palatable for the Western ear. He took out most of the cultural references from the Middle East and India and substituted European and American cultural references. Anyone who has done any reading of the ancient's will realize this. That he was brilliant is a given but let's not go too far. So maybe it would be good to get people to read some of the ancient material and figure this out for themselves.

I am now very curious to hear what others might feel about what I have written above. I am still in a state of speculation about this and am just beginning to form my ideas. Any contributions? More to come!

Love & Blessings, Musawwir

Saturday, May 05, 2007


(Part 2)

I was walking through Manhattan the other evening on my way to meet Majida for a light supper before going to the theater. It was early evening, there was still quite a bit of daylight and it was a pleasant walk. Since it was mid week there were a lot of people on the street heading home from their jobs. They all had the look that commuters over the world have, determination, annoyance, focus and the stare that says they are already thinking about dinner. It was a perfect Spring day so the look was softened somewhat, though not a lot. I was walking along, avoiding the rushing hordes, feeling the cool fresh air when a memory came stealing into my consciousness. At first it was a feeling with no event attached – a sense of satisfaction or possibly elation – a feeling of being young again. I walked between the soaring buildings, barely noticing the street life, before I remembered the source.

I was raised in Minnesota, on a lake a few miles outside of Minneapolis. I just looked at a Google Earth image of Medicine Lake and it is just a bit more built up than when I lived there. In fact I doubt I would recognize anything. In any case, as everyone knows, Minnesota is known for its winters. Winter is great for a kid. You play outside all day, come home to the pain of thawing fingers and toes and go out the next day for the same thing. Spring is a different thing. The air is full of promise, the deep snow is melting, the ice on the lake starts breaking up and the mud comes – lots and lots of mud. Any rural denizens of northern states or Canada know all about spring thaw mud. But finally the day comes when the mud is more or less over and a magical thing happens, you get to take your bicycle out for the very first time in months. This was the memory that flowed through me as I walked through Mid-town Manhattan. It was the smell of freedom.

For a 12 year old boy freedom is simple. The first bicycle ride after a long Minnesota winter does nicely. As a person matures freedom becomes more elusive. We accumulate responsibilities and attitudes and assumptions and firm ideas about who we are and freedom seems remote or, at best, a philosophical condition not very related to real life. But for a 12 year old boy, or girl, none of that is real, freedom is very basic. It is the wind in your hair and the sheer joy of flying down the road on your bicycle.

This memory of freedom, so simple and pure, flowed through me with all the gentleness of a feather lightly drifting down to alight in the palm of my hand. I was charmed. And I realized that this too was part of my life's texture.

As the quote from Hazrat Inayat Khan in the last blog says: "The journey one takes in the inner life is as long as the distance between the beginning of life and death, it being the longest journey one ever takes throughout life; and one must have everything prepared, so that after reaching a certain distance one may not have to turn back."

Some preparations are quite natural – this perfect sense of joy and freedom that a child experiences is certainly one. Remembering these states is another. Most of the preparations really are just this simple – balancing your breath, noticing beauty, focusing your mind, ignoring the tape loops of worry and resentment. As adults we tend to create extreme complications for ourselves due to the above mentioned accumulated responsibilities but really it is very simple. If you constantly practice remembering these pure emotions that you very naturally experienced as a child then you are doing the necessary preparation. I am constantly reminded of Christ's dictum to be as a little child. I have come to believe that he was very serious. My teacher, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, was probably one of the most intelligent people I have ever met yet he was quite capable of extreme childlike delight. You hear the very same thing of the Dalai Lama and other beings at that level of spiritual responsibility. I suspect this attitude comes from acceptance of life's texture as well as discipline and meditative skill.

As I write this I am listening to the Woodstock album and Richie Havens is singing about Freedom. We want it, we know it exists in some form, we remember from our childhood as I did and, as we go deep into the Inner Life, we can sometimes remember the freedom of our eternal souls.

So, look around, see what is eternal in your existence and enjoy the rest.

Love & Blessings, Musawwir

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


(Part 1)

"The inner life is a journey, and before starting to take it there is a certain preparation necessary. If one is not prepared, there is always the risk of having to return before one has arrived at one's destination. When a person goes on a journey, and when he has to accomplish something, he must know what is necessary on the path and what he must take with him, in order that his journey may become easy and that he may accomplish what he has started to accomplish. The journey one takes in the inner life is as long as the distance between the beginning of life and death, it being the longest journey one ever takes throughout life; and one must have everything prepared, so that after reaching a certain distance one may not have to turn back." Hazrat Inayat Khan

One of the things that a spiritual guide hears frequently is how awful the people they guide think they are. When a person begins to do spiritual work or even when a person begins to get serious about introspection, their mistakes will come up. We all have sinned in one way or another. By sin I mean we have all done something that harms another. We may not want to admit it but our subconscious knows we have some things in our past that we are not proud of or happy about. On the other end is the victim, the person who knows they have been abused by people more powerful than they are for their whole life. So we have sinners and victims and often a combination of the two. And then something happens and the Inner Life beckons.

What happens when the Inner Life beckons isn't nearly as important as the impact that it has on your assumptions about yourself. What the above quote says is that a certain preparation is necessary; I kind of laugh at that part. How can you know? It's like preparing to drive when you have never seen an automobile. What you can do, however; is see the life before the 'what' appeared for what it is. This is your texture.

All of the experiences that go into making our life what it is become our texture. All of it is us. When we discover our Inner Life, assumptions tend to arise that things will suddenly be peaceful, wonderful, sin free. Upon reflection, we will realize that nothing really changes; in fact, now that you have discovered an extra dimension to living, things suddenly seem even more complex. As I mention in my book, it is not unusual for a person who has recently embarked on a spiritual discipline to suddenly realize that they are the world's worst jerk. This person will begin to see all of the flaws in their being and nothing at all seems nice or right or even remotely possible for them because of their many many imperfections. On the other side wonderful things are also happening. There may be realizations about the nature of the Universe, or understandings about the beauty of everyday life. All sorts of things suddenly become clear. One of the things that certainly should become clear is the amount of work to come. Strangely enough this is almost never the case.

It has been my observation that people get a tiny taste of alternative reality and suddenly feel that they understand all of it. I suppose this is normal enough human nature. It seems that we really need to know that we know. That's okay; the kicker is that we also have these flaws that keep creeping into our consciousness. At least they should if we are paying any attention at all. What to do?

I used to try to fix people. I used to try to show them how to stop being flawed. I finally came to my senses and realized that was not very intelligent of me. Flaws are only flaws when you think they are. If you do something when you are 20 that you would not do when you are 40, it does not mean that the 20 year old was wrong. In the 20 year olds world what he did was perfectly normal. You do the best you can with the information you have at the time. And experience slowly teaches you that maybe there are alternatives. Continually going back to the 20 year old with pain and regret is, however; a losing proposition. It's just your texture, it isn't you.

It is a basic of humanity that we learn through our mistakes not our successes. So perhaps our greatest mistakes are those that lead us to examine our truth and thereby discover the Inner Life. Isn't it interesting that it is apparent failure that does this and not wondrous success?

Next blog we can talk about the journey and the accomplishments one may have along the way.

Love & Blessings, Musawwir