Monday, March 27, 2006

Fear of Death

“Where does the fear of death come from?
Ignorance of the self gives fear of death. The more one learns of the self, the less fear there is of death, for then man sees only a door to pass through from one phase of life to another - and the other phase is much better. The more spiritually one lives, the less fear there is of death. The more one lives in the soul, the less hold one has upon the body. The body has fear according to the consciousness it has in itself. Man is not only dependent upon his mind for thought, but every atom of the body is to some extent conscious, and so protects itself” Hazrat Inayat Khan

A lot, perhaps most, of these articles come from conversations that I have with people and this one is no different. I seem to get my best teachings from the people around me who think I am teaching them. I have been convinced for some time that I am the one who is blessed with so many wonderful, thoughtful teachers.
In this particular case one of my friends, who purchased an advance copy of my book, happened to mention that she was reading a section where I say that the reason I began serious spiritual work was because I wanted to die consciously. She then said that death was her major fear. As we talked about it, it became clear that her fear came from the images conjured up in her childhood by the talk she heard in her church about the dangers of Hell. She said that it was probably childish and silly to feel that way but there it was. It isn’t silly. We all have childhood images of various kinds that form how we feel and act as adults. Some of them are so deep that we have no idea they are there. In my friend’s case, she was very aware of the cause of her fear but felt helpless to do anything about it. Maybe that is so, but I think that once identified a person is well on the way to healing whatever trauma was inflicted upon them. And it is a trauma, make no mistake.
It would not surprise me at all to find that the vast majority of people who rise to the top of a religious organization are bureaucrats and have never had the sort of mystical experiences that actually formed their organization, church, whatever. Part of the reason that they rise to the top is their desire to tell other people what to do. And these people have imaginations. Can you imagine the delight that they experience in realizing that their dictates form the doctrine that others are expected to believe and to teach? I can clearly remember being taught in Sunday School as a six year old, the horrors of Hell. Who would tell a six year old that they are bound for eternal damnation if they are not good? It kind of reminds me of cigarette companies being delighted at every 12 year old who tries a smoke
But what to do about this particular trauma?
I do not know that this will work for everyone but I can tell you what I did. Some years ago, when I was still quite young, in my early 30’s, I realized that I was very worried about death. So, I started thinking about all the various ways that I could die. It became a kind of habit. I would be sitting alone in my living room and I would visualize a death. It might be from hanging, or fire, or drowning, or some kind of sickness, even being tortured to death. It became a very gruesome exercise but I was determined to imagine as many ways that my body could be forced to stop operating as possible. At this point I was not so concerned with what happened after but with the event itself. This is when I slowly began to realize that there really was a continuation. I am not sure how I came to this conclusion, more early childhood training perhaps, but it was definitely there, a kind of sure knowledge. With this knowledge came something else. I discovered that I did not want to die in my sleep, I wanted to be awake for the whole thing, from the moment my body stopped, right on through that transition through the tunnel that everyone talks about, to finding out what happens after you emerge from the tunnel and what goes on after that. That is when I began to study mysticism seriously because I realized that simple doctrine and acceptance of some religious bureaucrats pronouncements was not going to work for me. I later found out that this is a normal Sufi exercise (and here I thought I invented it) which goes along with spending nights in graveyards and communing with spirit beings.
Death is a natural normal phenomena that we all must experience. Perhaps the exercise above is to harsh for you but you might find some way of coming to terms with what will happen. And another thing – this whole idea that God, the God of mercy and compassion – would condemn any soul to eternal damnation and torture – well that is just patently silly. Leave it to bitter old men to come up with something to control people.

Love & Blessings, Musawwir

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Thoughts on Unity

“The worlds are held together by the heat of the sun; each of us are atoms held in position by that eternal Sun we call God. Within us is the same central power we call the light, or the love of God; by it we hold together the human beings within our sphere, or, lacking it, we let them fall.” Hazrat Inayat Khan

Do you ever look at the people around you and just appreciate them? Not saying anything to them, just appreciating? I think it is a special state of consciousness to be aware of and appreciate those around you. As if you are basking in the light of these people.

If you have then you understand the above quote. It is that last phrase that is the kicker.

You will notice that Pir O Murshid says that this light is within us, that the love of God is right there inside of us. Which can seem wonderful and exciting or simply frustrating as we try to figure out just what that means. First of all let us define God. Everyone has their own idea about what that is, in fact in Sufism each person is encouraged to create their own God ideal. This may be a very personal being or it may be an amorphous intelligence, remote and indifferent. What ever your ideal it still remains that you are a part of the Universe and cannot separate yourself from it. That is what he means. Since you are part of it, the Universe or God, you also have the right to use this connective energy, Love, to embrace those around you. I think the first step is acknowledging that you are indeed a part of the Universe or God. That may seem very hard as we are trained to think of ourselves as separate, competitive beings, who must constantly fight others for our place in the world. All too true. Every time you apply for a job and there are other applicants, you are in competition. If you live in a city you compete for parking spaces. There are lots of things like that. Is it possible for you to think of this as living in the world while also being an intrinsic part of it? How to explain? It is as if there are two very distinct things going on. One is the normal competition of every day life and the other is the combined expression of Universal Intelligence that we all are part of.

On a more personal note, when you are with your family or friends, do you compete for food at the table or do you offer tidbits to one another? Do you compete for other things or constantly defer to one another? There are lots and lots of possible dynamics here I realize, not all of them pretty but one must start somewhere.

I am not advocating suddenly embracing someone who has abused you or whom you find difficult. What you can do, however, is see if you can discover how they fit into the Universe, because they obviously are in here with you. This is a very secret place that Pir O Murshid is talking about, a deep awareness of our intrinsic interconnections. So, as I said, it is as if there are two very distinct ways of seeing that are not exclusive of one another, they are just different. One is the realistic observations you make about your immediate environment, taking into account your personality and the personalities of those around you; and the other is the fundamental reality that we are all in this together, along with the planet, the stars, the galaxies and all the beings of all the dimensions of manifestation.

Let me know what these thoughts bring up within you.

Love & Blessings, Musawwir

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Beyond Distrust

I have been thinking lately about policemen. All cultures have people who are drawn to this sort of work, for good or ill. The more honest and free a culture the more likely these people will be restrained. Conversely the more dictatorial a culture, the more likely they will be unrestrained and overtly brutal.
What I think about is that I cannot remember a single encounter with a policeman that was pleasant. Most of these encounters over the years have been traffic stops. It is hard to live in the city and not be stopped occasionally, if only for a broken tail light. The thing is, it is never, “I’m sorry sir, I need to tell you that your tail light is out.” No it is always an excuse to check you over. And you can almost feel the air of suppressed contempt or distrust.
I have been thinking a lot about this recently and wondering if there is anything that could be done to change this philosophy. I am a normal person, I do the right thing and so on. It is annoying to be seen as a potential criminal with every minor encounter.
There is a young man in my apartment building whom I have known since he was 10. He has recently joined the NYPD and already I see the change taking place in him. He rarely speaks now, just looks at you and kind of grunts. He seems to view everything with suspicion and is slowly losing touch with normal people. It is sad to watch.
I am beginning to think of this sort of attitude as an extreme example of the fundamental emotion that is so prevalent in the world’s culture, distrust. Distrust is right up there with disappointment as a basic emotion we deal with constantly. I suppose it would stand to reason that those who have the illusion of power, while knowing they must follow certain rules, would also fall victim to distrust. Perhaps more than most. After all they are constantly running into all sorts of extremes and are also constantly describing these extremes to one another. The problem is though that most people, by far the majority, do not fall into the extreme category.
If our world wide culture is typically responsive emotionally to distrust, whatever can we do to change this? Smile at policemen? Maybe. Or maybe the problem is how we insulate ourselves within our tiny little world of friends who share our basic attitudes and how we are so very reluctant to step outside. See if you can step out of that world and encounter someone, at their level, that you would not normally encounter. Policemen have a very limited world view but then I suspect so do we all. It seems that I am constantly reminding myself, and others, to look beyond what we think should be real. We all tend to think that others share our basic viewpoints and have trouble understanding why someone would not, even when it is obvious that they do not. Many conversations begin with, “Why can’t they see………..?” Do you suppose the reverse is true as well? That these people who cannot see are saying the same of you?
What is hopeful is that we notice these apparent aberrations and think about them. Condemning behavior we find difficult may not be as powerful as simply noticing and perhaps thinking how we can respond in a manner that will ease that constant sense of disappointment and distrust. Most of the time I think of the correct response too late, long after the fact. Very occasionally the most perfect response is right there, in the moment. Eventually, with constant attention, I hope to catch up with my more perfect responses and do the right thing in the moment more of the time.
It may be that this noticing of distrust, disappointment, resentment, despair and all the other emotions that we seem to wallow in is our opportunity to go beyond – if only we can see the possible or – as my teacher would say – have the point of view of the soaring eagle. This does not mean looking down upon all of the little people and feeling superior. It means seeing, as much as possible, how all things, beings, emotions, etc., interconnect and then doing our best to embrace all while continuing to maintain our basic dignity.

Many Blessings, Musawwir

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

More Patience

I just had a long talk with one of my friends about something that she just discovered about herself.  In telling me she also said that she hoped I would write about it and maybe help someone else to see what can happen.  
My friend had an awful childhood, about as bad as I have ever heard from someone.  I know there are worse ones but not one that anyone has discussed with me.  Needless to say this childhood, which I will not describe, did not equip this person for life in the world in a genteel manner.   It would be my expectation that such a childhood would lead a person automatically to hook up with an abusive type man and, until yesterday, that is what I thought her first marriage was like.  The marriage she is in now is with a true passive/aggressive type person and is something that she is slowly extracting herself from but her first marriage was out of the normal pattern, she actually married a nice guy.  He was supportive, he constantly encouraged her, he made excuses for her and gave her as much as she needed.  In return she was the abusive one.  She realizes now that she simply had no way of understanding what was happening.  Her cultural and familial training had taught her to be defensive, aggressive, distrustful and terrified so, she treated this man really badly.  In other words she had no clue how to be loved because that emotion had never been in her world before.  So she divorced this man, that being the only response possible for her, since being loved was so alien, and married a passive/aggressive man who would treat her as she expected to be treated.  
Does this sound familiar to anyone?  
What then happened, apparently as a result of some clues she had extracted from other talks, was that, on a recent evening, she went into a state that in Sufism is called Shahid, The Witness.  Shahid is a state wherein all things observed are simply looked at.  There is no judgment, no assessment or opinion, you just look.  It is a fairly high state of observation since a person has to leave all of their opinions about what is behind and just observe.  So she was looking at her life, all of it, and seeing that this man, her first husband was in fact her first teacher.  He was the person who showed her that there were other ways of being that she had yet to understand or accept.  At the time she simply could not respond as we might expect her to in our fantasies.  All she could do was remember.  Finally, after 15 years, the lessons became real and she has begun the very painful but wonderful process of recognizing who she really is.  
There is much more to this story of course.  All the drama and angst and bitter assessment of her own reactions but slowly she is seeing what we all might see, that our reactions to conditions are all part of our learning and ultimately are part of the healing that must take place for us all.  
We all have poor reactions to things that are not part of our normal matrix just because we have no way of knowing what is appropriate.  And an argument could be made that any reaction is appropriate because that is what we are doing.   For instance, what did the first husband learn about himself and about life as a result of this total rejection?  
So, for just a moment, allow yourself to look on a part of your life that you are sure is already settled and see if perhaps there is something that you were being asked to learn but which you simply could not see at the time.  It can be embarrassing of course but so what!  Embarrassment is part of the spiritual path.  And while you are doing that, consider all of the people around you who are also struggling to heal their psychic damage.  Do you suppose it is possible to allow them their current states?   Do you suppose that they too will discover something, some years down the road, that they could not see in the moment?  It does not mean that you have to put up with their nonsense but it can mean that, while you are extracting yourself from some relationship, that you also see what is possible, for them, for you and for humanity.

Love & Blessings, Musawwir