Blessed is he who sees the star of his soul as the light that is seen in the port from the sea.
In a dark night
With longings kindled in love
Oh blessed chance
I went forth without being observed
My house already being at rest
Through darkness and secure
By the secret ladder disguised
Oh blessed chance
Through darkness and in concealment
My house already being at rest
In the blessed night
In secret that none saw me
Nor I beheld aught
Without any other light or guide
Save that which was burning in the heart
That which guided me
More sure than the light of noonday
Where he was awaiting me
Him whom I knew well
In a place where no one appeared
Oh thou night that guided
Oh lovely night moreso than the dawn
Oh thou night that joined
Lover with beloved
Beloved in the lover transformed
Upon my flowery breast
Which I kept whole for himself alone
There he stayed sleeping
And I was caressing him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze
The breeze from the turret
While I was parting his locks
With his gentle hand
He was wounding my neck
And causing all my senses to be suspended
I remained myself and forgot myself
My face reclined on the lover
All ceased and I abandoned myself
Leaving my concern
Forgotten among the lilies.
Ascent of Mt. Carmel,
St. John of the Cross
Yesterday I wrote, in part, to my guide:
It seems to me that my practice goes in different directions. . . For quite awhile it was all out, out, out…into the cosmos, the vastness, into oneness….and now, it seems to have reversed, and it’s all right here, inside. . . Presence. Right here. Love, Presence, yet still cosmic . . . God right here.
[Perhaps] the stages of the dhikr enact themselves not just in one’s practice, but over time. Up, down, out, in…. [Not to mention forwards and backwards!]
I have written about the practice of dhikr before, and even what I called an “existential” dhikr, as it comes to this one . . . It is the central practice of the Sufis, yes, but it is a practice that is found in the esoteric traditions of all the world’s religions, whether it is the Kyrie Eleison of the Christian mystics, or Om Mane Padme Hum of the Buddhists, the Samadhi practices of the Yogis . . . or whatever form it may take when the Totality becomes Sublimity and becomes greater thereby.
The classical alchemical stages depict the journey, as do various esoteric systems (the Tarot, for instance, and Numerology), and it seems that there is this journey that could be seen as a Star or a Cross or even a crescent moon that takes the seeker first in, when one must face one’s own darkness and find, there, the quietness of the Divine Perfection in its self-imposed limitation. It is torture at first, as so many of us have found: darkness, torment, memories, flashbacks, guilt, remorse, remembered fear, rage, desires, desires and more desires: it is like wandering down a long corridor and not allowing oneself to turn back: and finally, when the ghosts and demons that assail one from every direction have ceased their wailing and gnashing of teeth, one sees that it is only in the courage to keep moving backwards that one discovers the peace to be found in darkness. Then: a separation.
Perhaps at this point a shift may occur: or perhaps not, as well. It depends. Yet it doesn’t matter, because even in the early stages of practice, one begins to sense the meaning of incarnation, even as the ego still clamors for recognition. It is then that the Cross begins to reveal itself, or the bow shoots an arrow straight into the heart of soul or, perhaps first, the gut. One’s sense of self becomes decimated, one becomes shattered in one’s understanding. Oh, it doesn’t happen all at once, and it takes a great deal of longing for it to happen at all. It is often called the stage of the Broken Heart, but in the early stages, it is enough to allow the ego to be shattered, and God knows, that is hard enough. It may take a lifetime, in fact, which is one argument for the desirability of reincarnation: but that is another debate. Even one repetition of whatever form of this process one chooses is enough to make all the difference.
I remember many times sitting with my teacher, a group of us somewhere in the world under a huge, circus-like tent, saying La illa ha illa ‘la Hu over and over as the day wore on, feeling more and more exhausted, thinking of nothing so much as dinner, of lying down, getting up, reading a good book, talking to someone . . . Longing for home, longing for Home. Eventually the longing seems to disappear into the exhaustion and perhaps then, after many, many repetitions, the longing is answered, but I suspect it is only for the few that the promised benefits begin to manifest themselves in the early stages, and often in the form of increased desires, increased howling of the hungry ghosts, an increased hurling of the animal trapped within against the walls of its cage.
Yet if one continues for much time, eventually that crucifixion becomes not just the cross on which the starving nafs willingly hangs itself, but one begins to realize that it is the God of one’s understanding that, out of love, chooses to hurl Itself into the abyss of the desire for its unfoldment. What then? What begins the descent, what motivates It?
It is at this stage, then and now, that I picture a terrified, shivering child crouching at the bottom of a dark, empty well, waiting to be picked up. Yet: who does the picking up? Why? And who is the Child?
And so there is no way of lifting our consciousness into the higher spheres unless we are able to bring about a change in ourselves. It’s not like a journey, that you can just a take a teleferique, as one says, a cable car, and reach the top of a mountain. No, you have to yourself undergo a whole process of catharsis and discover the child in you that is beautiful. –Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan
And the hungry ghosts continue to howl and rattle their chains. Two directions thus far: In. Down. And waiting in the dark, patiently and unknowingly.
One must keep moving, of course. Even in the stillness and peace, there is no turning back. Unless one wants to. I do not recommend this, even when one begins to realize the price to be paid for that Good Night.
What is it in that shaking, terrified child that finds the determination to get up and go up? Who is it that rises? What? Perhaps that question doesn’t answer itself at first, but at the bottom of the abyss with its damp, slick walls that have no handholds, that space where there is no place to go but up, one somehow finds the strength–or grace–to rise. Each of these directions can last many years…or an instant. They can all take place in the course of a day or a lifetime. As far as I can tell, there is no rhyme nor reason to this. But there is another level of this experience of descent: at a later point, it may be that one is able to partake of the Fall, the descent of God into God’s creatures out of love: the divine fiat that brought Creation into Being. So there might be that moment when God falls, instead of the limited being. A sort of cosmic swan dive. Perhaps the next direction, rising, comes from that:
The alchemical concept for rising is distillation, the conversion of matter into spirit. What this person knows is that in the frightened child, a seed is planted that eventually starts to grow, and that is the ressurection of Divinity in humanity.
The alchemical darkness awakens the nostalgia for one’s true home, and in the inevitable rising out of darkness, the demons cease their howling and one rises into a recollected knowledge of oneself as a being of light, of one’s origins in landscapes of light, of splendor, worlds of forgiveness and love . . . One can remember dreams one has had, paintings one has seen, music that evokes those memories, and the nostalgia itself is proof of the reality. Originally, I called this blog “Footprints,” because I found the Zen Oxherding poems evocative of the path to finding one’s true home (you can find these by clicking on the link at the top of this page, by the way). There is a silence and a whiteness that grows, like the silence and whiteness of a fresh snowfall, and the soul wanders out into its universe and discovers a history that includes lives and relationships and connections that stretch into the four directions and past them, into the dynamic silence that is the unity at the heart of Being. What is the efficacy of discovering oneself as the soul of the Universe? What does the soul trudging through an earthly existence do with the recollection of itself as a being of light, and beyond light? Go there and see.
It seems, again, to this soul that all this is happening in life and beyond life. We travel the journey of the soul in the course of a day, of a lifetime, in an hour’s meditation, in listening to a beautiful piece of music or regarding an amazing painting or a drop of water or a newborn child . . . Whatever moves the soul into its knowledge of itself and its journey.
There are beings that choose to stay “out there” (which is really “in here”) for their whole lives, and perhaps they are meant to do so: the nun in her monastery, a rishi high in the Himalayas, a dervish sitting by the roadside lost in contemplation, those who have chosen to, by the focus of their spiritual power, keep the world from tumbling into nothingness . . . And the rest of us have chosen to be in life and experience the dhikr–in whatever form–as the expression of the Divine Being in humanity, singing itself through our days and night, and so the soul, eventually, returns from its knowledge of its real self, promising itself to retain that knowledge, and sometimes it works for awhile, but eventually there is a stage of forgetting, past the alchemical stage of return, the marriage of spirit and matter. One opens one’s eyes and gazes, for a time, at a transfigured world. One gets up and walks and understands what was said of the Buddha: that where he walked, dead trees came alive. Up and down are relative terms. We fall, we rise, we fall . . . and we get up and walk into the forest again, and now we see that it is beautiful beyond compare.
Go and read those Oxherding poems, they’re right here, but here’s the last one:
Barefooted and naked of breast, I mingle with the people of the world.
My clothes are ragged and dust-laden, and I am ever blissful.
I use no magic to extend my life;
Now, before me, the dead trees become alive. –from Reps, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings, Doubleday Anchor
There is a phrase that keeps sounding itself in here: “The Kingdom of God is Within.”