When a country obtains great power,
it becomes like the sea: all streams run downward into it.
The more powerful it grows,
the greater the need for humility.
Humility means trusting the Tao,
thus never needing to be defensive.
A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers. He thinks of his enemy as the shadow that he himself casts.
If a nation is centered in the Tao,
if it nourishes its own people
and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others,
it will be a light to all nations in the world.
of daily necessity, I sense there is this mystery:
All life is being lived.
Who is living it, then?
Is it the things themselves,
or something waiting inside them,
like an unplanned melody in a flute?
Is it the winds blowing over the waters?
Is it the branches that signal to each other?
Is it flowers
interweaving their fragrances,
or streets, as they wind through time? — Rilke
Recently I received, from a well-known academic and Muslim here in Chapel Hill, a blanket criticism of American Sufis, pointing out that “we” do not understand the true meaning of Sufism, but veil our understanding within the bias of “our” Western capitalistic world view. He gave, as an example, Deepak Chopra who, he says, charges $5,000 for a weekend seminar. The implication is that real Sufis are not materialistic, and do not practice the kind of engaged spirituality he believes is the correct way of life for a true Sufi.
Well. Where do I start?
First of all, I wasn’t aware that Deepak Chopra bills himself as a Sufi. Second, I was not aware that he is an American, but I will admit I do not know, because his words do not attract me, nor does his being. Third, I object to blanket statements about any group, particularly from a noted academic who ought to be capable of more critical thinking. Finally, I am not aware that the practice of Sufism means that one is “this” or “that” or holds a particular world view . . . and I find it astonishing that someone who is supposed to be an “expert” on such matters would make such an irresponsible statement.
As for me, I just sit on my porch and watch the birds and listen to the trees. It seems to me that the trees know where they stand, and the birds refuse to favor one position over another, and thus they demonstrate, for me, the meaning of the word Allah. I will say one thing about “we” American Sufis: sometimes we can be rather naive and uninformed about the Islamic framework in which Sufism has become known to the Western world, but it seems to me that such constructs are really only the “basket that carries the flowers,” and I think the essence is available to us all, regardless of our station in life or our political views or our geographic location in space and time. I was reminded, recently, by my new favorite book, Physicians of the Heart (see below) that the word Allah is derived from the Arabic verb waliha, which means to love passionately, intensely, totally: “crazy love.”
The teacher who brought me up told stories about the rishis in the Himalayas, the Desert Fathers, the Yogis and the Madzubs, the Chassids, the contemplatives of all the varied ways to illumination who refuse to “join the club (or the “old boys’ network”),” those ones who refuse to believe the lies, those ones who hold the world up in space, who keep it spinning, wobbling, staggering along because they say Allah . . . and leave “them” to their devices. And Allah is a name that can be called in many, many ways . . .
Let us not forget: in the Al and La of Allah are the words yes and no. The rest is just excuses.
The highest good is like water. Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive. It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao. In dwelling, be close to the land. In meditation, go deep in the heart. In dealing with others, be gentle and kind. In speech, be true. In ruling, be just. In daily life, be competent. In action, be aware of the time and the season.
Keep fast and eat also, stay awake at night and sleep also, for verily there is a duty on you to your body, not to labour overmuch, so that ye may not get ill and destroy yourselfs; and verily there is a duty on you to your eyes, ye must sometimes sleep and give them rest; and verily there is a duty on you to your life partner, and to your visitors and guests that come to see you; ye must talk to them; and nobody hath kept fast who fasted always; the fast of three days in every month is equal to constant fasting: then keep three days’ fast in every month. –from The Sayings of Muhammad, by Allama Sir Abdullah Al-Manum Al-Suhrawardy
So I am healing after the terrible ordeal the world and I imposed upon myself, the one that finally caused me to have both knees replaced and nearly killed me. It was the first foray I had made into the halls of allopathic medicine for quite some time, having concluded long ago that too many of the doctors of today are more invested in making money in keeping their patients sick than in true healing. But sometimes, perhaps, one must elect to be “healed with steel,” as in my former posts about all this; and so I tried that, and it was a terrible way to convince myself that I was right in the first place. And now I work to heal the damage and make use of these new joints which gradually come to seem more and more a part of me. What other choice is there?
These days, my healing process is a nutritional one, through the very important work of Joel Fuhrman, M.D., who strives to take us back to the diets of the Yogis and those other ancients who taught the original lessons we have in healing through the mind-body connection. The above quote from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him) shows that those who teach the path of the soul have always shown that honoring the physical self through right attitude and right nutrition and, very importantly, balance, is the way to keep the soul fit and supported by the body on its journey.
It is this idea of balance that concerns me at the moment, because I have been through quite an ordeal, and there must of necessity be times when a pretty extreme balancing act in the cause of restoring health and wellness is warranted. At the moment, I follow a pretty restrictive nutritional regime which includes occasional fasting, and otherwise includes a great many dark green, leafy vegetables, beans, few grains and a lot of fruit. I have a daily exercise routine, and there is theoretically not much room for socialization and celebration in the sense that the rest of the world terms such. I just had a birthday, and of course there is a certain obligation to celebrate on those sorts of occasions, at least so the rest of the family can eat cake, but my daughter lovingly made me a wonderful chocolate cake made with tofu, bean flour and flaxseeds, and the only problem was not eating too much of it (perhaps I should post the recipe here). So I got through that one. But balance is the name of the game on this planet, at least, where we come to learn how to be human, which is to say, fully Whole, fully God(dess). We seem to be a culture of perpetually guilty people. We strive to “do it right” and beat ourselves up when we think we haven’t. We attach ourselves to various gurus who will supposedly take responsibility for us, making sure we are on the right path, and if they are authentic gurus, they generally do advocate balance in living and loving kindness toward the self and others. Yet we continue to be exacting and unkind to ourselves. What is behind that? And why is it that we cannot seem to trust ourselves to do the right thing, and must have someone else to take that responsibility from us? I refer to the aforesaid gurus here.
The true meaning of faith is self-confidence. –Inayat Khan
As far as I can tell, it begins in infancy. Food is the center of our lives of necessity, and as the providers of food and other nourishments necessary to the soul on earth, it is the parents who become the first gurus. If they fail us, and if we believe in the theories of Freud and others, it is in those years that we learn the lessons that will dog us our entire lives. The very act of breastfeeding, if a chid is fortunate enough to be nursed, is rooted in the emotions, the heart-feelings of love and nurture. Sexuality comes into it, simply because it is the same hormones that let down the milk that bring about orgasm. These are inevitably tied to the development of trust. Thus, it is in these very earliest years that we make our decisions about how we will live, and whether we can trust the world. If those first gurus fail us, then we may conclude we can only trust ourselves, or we spend the rest of our lives trying to find someone to trust. If our parent-gurus don’t fail us, if they are there for us and encourage us to develop autonomy out of the womb of their containment, then we are fortunate enough to grow up trusting ourselves.
At least that’s the way it would seem to be historically. In this day and age we are, however, victimized by an increasing barrage of contrary messages to the ones we learned from our first nurturers, and we are encouraged over and over not to trust ourselves. Depending on our innate resiliency, we either survive and flourish despite all the false gurus, or we fall under the weight of the huge corporations, the pharmaceutical companies, the fast-food restaurants and food and alcohol commercials and ads, all of which promise us that if we will just use their product, we will not only be well, we will find the meaning of life and achieve perfect happiness. How many of us can turn a deaf ear to the promise of instant gratification and an easy “fix?”
Recently, I have been privy to a discussion about the proliferation of Buddhism in this culture. The Dharma, I hear, has moved to the West. While my own world-view holds that there is truth in all religions, I can see why the Middle Path is a lifeline to those of us who are trying to swim our way to the far shore through the wreckages of junk food, junk living and junk emotions we have had forced upon us. In fact, as illustrated by the quote I started this entry with, moderation, self-trust and loving-kindness are among the teachings of all the authentic teachers of humankind.
Better to stop short than fill to the brim.
Oversharpen the blade, and the edge will soon blunt.
Amass a store of gold and jade, and no one can protect it.
Claim wealth and titles, and disaster will follow.
Retire when the work is done.
This is the way of heaven. –Tao te Ching, trans. Feng and English
Ah, letting go… It’s been called renunciation, relaxation, even crucifixion: somewhere along the line, if we want to come Home, we have to let go of the untruths and, from the vantage point of a clear playing field, examine What Is. Somehow, somewhere, the voices have to stop clamoring, the frenetic visions have to be tuned out, and we have to come home to ourselves prior to the stories all these tell, all the stories told from the very beginning. Is it possible to live without story, without the myths that shape our days and nights? What if we become able to look at our actions and our practices in a clear light that is not surrounded by Concepts. Then what will we do?
I would say that renouncing the myths I live by (also known as “Killing the Buddha”) is just about the hardest thing I have done or ever will do, because I expect it to be a lifelong project. It requires being constantly present to the moment and to myself. It requires examination of my motives and actions, first to ask myself what myths I’m playing out in them, and second, by deciding what is Right Thought and Right Action when the stories have been cleared away. It requires loving-kindness toward the world and toward myself, and it requires self-confidence. It was lack of self-confidence that made me sick, and it is Wise Pride, as Inayat Khan terms it, that will make me well.
Recently, a friend mentioned that he’d been checking frequently here to find out how I was since I last posted, because he was concerned about my condition and thought that if I had stopped addressing my fans (both of you!), things must be really rough. It occurred to me, then, that it really had been a long time since I’d written anything, and somehow this seems significant, as nearly everything does these days… and so here I am.
Well, it has been rough, and although the worst is over (I hope), the climb back up is taking quite a long time and is fairly hard. Not knowing exactly what I’m climbing back up to is also rough, but rather interesting. As to the details of this particular adventure, I had mentioned in my last post that, having had successful surgery to replace one knee, I had the other one replaced, only to incur an infection that kept returning and kept taking me back to the operating room, the last time to remove the “new” knee and replace it with an antibiotic “spacer” which would allow for healing, so that the knee could be replaced again. This meant that I had to spent approximately two months in bed, as I was not supposed to bend my leg or put any weight on it, and I have never had an experience quite like that before. It was quite painful to accomplish the little movement I was allowed (trips to the bathroom and such), and even more painful was the boredom of immobility. I spent the time writing, reading, working on my computer, communicating with friends and doing my best to make the time count for something. In the end, I think it did count for something, but not exactly what I’d first thought, and I am still sorting it out. In mid-December, the new knee was put in, and hopefully that will be my last surgery. Now I get to assess it all, while I try to put back together a life that was put on hold nearly a year ago, although at the time I told myself it would be six months at the most. These experiences are accompanied by some trauma, as might be expected, although I am one of those people who tends to just grit my teeth and tell myself I’ll be fine while the process is taking place, and it is only afterward that I realize I am left with numerous unresolved feelings about the whole thing. These come under several categories: first, there is the mainstream medical profession, and the “helpers” that accompany its work. I have been inclined, as an adult, to steer clear of allopathic doctors, and this major surgery was my first brush with them since my first child was born some 30 years ago. I do not recommend it, overall, although if one truly needs them it’s good that they are there. And surgery seems a more appropriate recourse–if necessary–than much of what counts for healing these days. I needed to have surgery, and I’m glad I did it, but I wish all my holistic and alternative measures had prevented it. Still, having done all I could on my own, it’s good that I was able to feel that I had no other choice. Before it was over, I went through three doctors before finding one that I felt actually cared about me as a person and truly wanted to heal me rather than just collect my medicare dollars, and it was instructive to find the courage to take care of myself by doing so. It paid off, finally, but I wish I’d found that courage earlier. Then there were the “helpers,” the “little people,” the “mid-level professionals” who took care of the details the doctors left to them, and I learned much about healing and human nature from them. Some of them became real friends, some of them just didn’t care, and some of them seemed to need my help more than I needed theirs, which is always interesting. While in the hospital, I noticed myself doing more therapy than was done for me, and I was glad if I could help, but I did wonder about it.
Second, there was the effect of all this on the instrument of my embodiment–my body–and that is both interesting and depleting. In one of my favorite books, Women Who Run with the Wolves, Pinkola-Estes speaks of the body as the sensor and recorder of all our experience. My body went through quite an invasion, and it held up admirably, but I am tired, and I often wonder if I’ll ever get back my former energy. On the other hand, such an experience leaves one realizing that one only gets so many chances on this plane, and I’d better get the lead out–literally and figuratively–if I want to wind things up in any organized and complete fashion before this phase is over. So I tell myself that this is an admirable priority to hold just now, and I do my exercises faithfully and wait for the return of chi, libido, energy, moxie, all of the above.
Going deeper: I have the strange sense that this entire experience somehow marks a transition in my modus operandi, which to this point has been largely characterized by shoulds. I should do this, I should do that, I should do it this way, it is my responsibility to do a,b, and c. Such attitudes are characteristic of adults who grew up in chaotic homes of one kind and another, people who had to do their own parenting, and thus became perfectionists in the attempt to merely keep themselves alive as children. I notice that this time of life seems to mark a change from that sort of attitude and one that says “how do I want to do it from now on?” After all, I am a white-haired old lady now, and it seems that this is my time to begin to kick up my heels and thumb my nose at all the nay-sayers who want me to affirm their own positions about life, the universe and…whatever. And why not? I tried doing it “their” way, and that only got me so far.
I find that I have begun a process of reflective living, a kind of contemplative style of being that has few shoulds other than the internal ones, one that is actually the one I would have chosen in the first place had I felt I had the choice. It seems to me that there is a need to find a way to live this, so that my direction in the future will be clearer. One thing that I am able to acknowledge for myself now is my need for quiet, for loneliness, for silence. It seems absolutely necessary that I allow myself these in the course of my day. For someone who has followed a contemplative path, this ought to be self-evident, but perhaps there are levels, or rings as one goes down into the silence and spins soul. So whatever I do in the future, I think it will be done largely from my home, my own “dervish well,” where I can hear the truth in silence:
Greatness is in humility; wisdom is in modesty; success is in sacrifice; truth is in silence. Therefore the best way of doing the work is to do all we can, do it thoroughly, do it wholeheartedly, and do it quietly. –Inayat Khan
In the Hindu religion, traditionally one passes through the numerous stages of life very consciously: the life of a child, of a student, a householder, retirement and finally, taking up the mantle of an ascetic. Each of these is preceded by a samskara, a ritual to mark the passing from one stage into another. In my case, I suspect my samskara was the health crisis I have just passed through, which is ushering me into a deeper quiet, a deeper work. “Do what you love, the money will follow,” the saying goes, and we will see, because in the world I live in, material needs and obligations must still be met. Yet,
. . . what is most necessary is to connect the outward action with the inward journey, the harmony of which certainly will prove to be a cause of ease and comfort. This is meant in saying that one must have harmony within oneself. And once this harmony is established, one begins to see the cause of all things more than one sees it in its absence. –Inayat Khan
This need for even more silence heals and inspires me, ushering me into the next reality. It takes me beyond the reach of all the voices that clamor for my attention, urging me to accept their realities, while allowing me to love those voices:
See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
then you can care for all things. –Tao te Ching
I can be content with not knowing and healing, healing and not knowing. I am the Hanged [Wo]Man, “being still in order to learn the secret to freeing myself.” (See above)