Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Many of us have experienced the condition of spiritual
malaise. Although this malady can assume many different
shapes and forms, all of these forms tend to flow from a
sort of spiritual unhappiness, accompanied by feeligns of
alienation, as well as a sense of emptiness or lack of
interest and commitment to spiritual matters.

Years ago, in the Fifties, a movie director, Don Siegal,
did a film called the 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers'.
It starred Kevin McCarthy and, I believe, Dana Wynter.
About thirty years, or so, ago, a remake of this movie
was made. It featured a couple of Canadian actors -
Donald Sutherland and Art Hindle, and the picture also
starred Jeff Goldblum, Brooke Adams, Angela - or was
it Veronica - Cartwright and Leonard Nimoy.

The director of the earlier version, Don Siegal, even
had a small role in the re-make as a taxi driver who
has a menacing presence. Robert Duvall also had
an uncredited, non-speaking cameo in the remake
as a priest on a swing whose general ambience at
the beginning of the film helps set the tone for the
movie which follows.

In any event, the basic premise of the story was,
and is, this. From deep space comes a form of life
which somehow drifts to Earth and lands in the form
of spores which take root and begin to go through
their life-cycle.

Part of the life cycle of these alien spores is the capacity
to latch onto sentient, conscious, intelligent life forms of
Earth and withdraw the life force, bodily characteristics,
intelligence, personality, and consciousness of Earth
creatures -- especially human beings -- and assume the
identities of those whom they 'take over'. This transfer
and transformation takes place when the spores
have grown into plants that gave rise to large pods out
of which the pseudo-human would arise when the pod
is placed near to a human being who is asleep.

In every way but one, these alien duplicates are
identical to the bodies they snatch. The body-doubles
have no emotions.

The way the aliens see things is that they are the
solution to human problems. They feel that most, if not all,
of the turmoil and tragedy of the world is due to the way
in which emotions adversely affect life. Since there
would be no jealousy, envy, hatred, selfishness, greed,
pride and so on, when the alien life forms assume human
identities, then, the world would, finally, experience
peace and harmony.

The human beings who stumble onto the invasion
conspiracy, however, have a different read on the
ontological challenge facing humankind. According
to them, if there were no emotions, then, there would
be no love or passion connected to life either, and
they believe such emotions go to the heart of what
it is to be a human being.

For the human heroes and heroines of the film, the
"offer" of getting inner peace, as well as world
harmony, in exchange for losing the essence or soul of
what makes human beings human is just too high a price
to pay and, consequently, humanity will just have to
try to work, or stumble, toward peace and harmony in
some other way. Naturally, this human perspective leads to
a life and death struggle with the would-be alien antagonists
and, therein, lies the dynamics of the story as it unfolds
during the course of the picture.

In the original movie, the character played by Kevin
McCarthy is finally able, with a bit of the coincidental
luck of dramatic license, to convince the authorities
that he is not crazy and that the story he has been
recounting is the truth. More specifically, humanity is
in imminent peril of destruction should the invasion of
the body snatchers be allowed to continue unchecked.
However, in the remake of the movie, the end of the
story is much more ominous, and the movie-goer is
left in an ambiguous state concerning whether or not
humanity is going to survive the invasion.

What has all of this got to do with the issue of
unhappiness concerning one's spiritual state and
the accompanying feelings of emptiness and lack
of emotion concerning spirituality, family, friends
and life? People who experience spiritual malaise
-- and we all do go through this from time to time
-- are, in a sense, being invaded by, among other
things, a body snatcher known as "nafs".

Spiritually, while in such a state, we are drifting
between sleep and wakefulness. While we are
asleep, nafs latches onto our being and begins its
process of transforming us according to its pre-
programmed agenda.

Like the alien forms of life in the 'Invasion of the
Body Snatchers', the nafs is offering us a form of
peace -- the peace that comes from not struggling
to realize that which is most essential to the human
being -- namely, spiritual love and passion for
Divinity and the purpose of Creation. Just as in the
movie, however, the price which must be paid for
accepting this offer is the lost of that which actually
defines our essential, human identity and spiritual

While in a state of spiritual malaise, the deadening
of one's feelings for family, friends, and life are signs
of the kind of peace nafs has in mind for one. However,
unless the transformation process of the nafs has been
completed, one, by the Grace of God, still has the
opportunity of snapping out of this state from time
to time -- either temporarily or permanently.

This process of 'snapping out of it' takes place when
there is some degree of spiritual awakening which comes
to us through whatever means -- whether in the form of
prayers, zikr, fasting, Fatiha, or in some other way. To
the extent we are awake in this sense, then, the
transformation process envisioned by nafs cannot
proceed -- in fact, it is forced to reverse course, to
some degree.

On the other hand, when, spiritually speaking, one
goes back to sleep, the process of spiritual imperialism
and colonialism starts up again and seeks to take over
more and more of our humanity through guile and, if
necessary, force. This battle takes place in our hearts
or the qalb.

One of the meanings of "qalb" in Arabic is "that which
turns". The heart has the capacity to turn, on the one
hand, toward the nafs, dunya and Iblis, or, on the other
hand, the qalb can turn toward the realm of spirit and

When the qalb turns, by the grace of God, toward
the spirit and Divinity, it begins to wake up. When the
qalb turns toward nafs and so on, it goes to sleep.

Sleeping, spiritually speaking, aides the cause of nafs,
dunya and Iblis. Awakening invigorates the quest for

What we each must come to understand from the
bottom of our souls is that we are being forcefully
invaded by an alien presence within us when we begin
to feel a sense of spiritual malaise. This is not science
fiction ... it is life.

An authentic shaykh plays the part of Kevin McCarthy
and, among other things, tries to warn people of the
imminent danger to which their spiritual lives are
being exposed as a result of the invasion of the soul
snatchers within and around us. Of course, few people
believe such a person and consider the words of the
spiritual guide to be the rants and ravings of a mad
person or a possessed individual.

Moreover, because there are many "people" in the
world who already have become transformed and,
therefore, no longer are human, in any essential sense,
but, now, are alien, in nature, these allies of the invaders
help to work against any attempts which are designed to
assist people to awaken from the horrors of the nightmare
which are all too real. Consequently, there will be many
who will beckon us to go back to sleep and seek to convince
us that we will feel much better when the transformation
is all over and we, too, have become an alien in human

Just like the heroes and heroines of the movies, we
all are engaged in life and death struggle for our
spiritual survival. If we go to sleep too deeply and/or
for too long a period of time, we may, very well,
spiritually die. If, with God's grace and the assistance
of those whom God has appointed to serve this
purpose, we struggle to wake up, then we have the
chance to stay human and resist becoming alien to
our essential Self.

One of our problems is that we often don't know
which movie, so to speak, we are in. Are we
participating in the original version where the hero
-- in this case, hopefully, oneself -- finally convinces
the authorities (that is, one's intelligence and
motivational capacities) that steps must be taken
to avert the tragedy which is threatening human
existence (namely, ours)? Or, are we playing a part
in the re-make of the original version of 'Invasion of
the Body Snatchers' in which all may be in the
process of being lost to the onslaught of the alien
invasion going on within us, both individually
and collectively?

Each of us is the script writer, director, actress
and producer of the film. The ending is ours to

We should be very clear, however, that this film
which is being made, even as we speak, is not
fiction. It is real, and it is unfolding before our
eyes -- both internally and externally, both
spiritually and physically.

To borrow from another film, Lawrence of Arabia,
I am reminded of the words which Omar Sherif's
character says to the Peter O'Toole character as
they are crossing, I believe, the Nefu desert, where
to go to sleep can mean death. His Arab friend sternly
cautions Lawrence: "Be warned, you were drifting",
as Lawrenceis caught napping while riding a camel.

A similar caution could be directed to each of : 'Be
warned, you are drifting' as we cross the great desert
of dunya or worldly entanglements created by the
dynamic interaction of our collective desires, ambitions,
and destructive emtions.

We cannot afford to go to sleep, or we risk losing
everything of value, even if opuor physical lives
remains intact. We each need to wake up to the
horror of the alien life form which is within us, and,
as well we need to be mindful of the dangers to
spiritual life that are lurking all about us - any, and
all, of which can destroy us - as might be true of a
person journeying across a physical desert.

We need to hold tightly to the hand of friendship
which, God willing, may be extended to us during
our journey through life. On the Path, we need
company to help keep us awake and alert to the
dangers which are hiding in the night and waiting
to pounce upon us should we relax our vigilance
and forget the purpose or destination for which we
have undertaken the journey.

Unfortunately, and to add a further twist to the
plot lines of our lives, not everyone who claims to
be capable of guiding one across the deserts of
dunya, nafs, and Iblis is capable of doing so. In fact,
like Leonard Nimoy in the remake of 'Invasion of the
Body Snatchers', sometimes the people to whom we
go for help and guidance have already been
transformed into alien creatures who have no love
for humanity or the human soul, despite having an
exterior form which suggests otherwise, and despite
their willingness to serve as a trusted guide across
the deserts of life, or to serve as a physician of the
heart who can assist us to rid ourselves of our
spiritual malaise.

Caveat Emptor. Let the buyer beware, for,
sometimes, truth can be stranger, trickier, and
more sinister than fiction. The choice is before each
of us: do we struggle to become fully human or do
we permit ourselves to become Pod-people ...
human-like on the outside, but spiritually dead
inside. Be warned ... sleep is close at hand.

Anab Whitehouse

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

May Allah reward the writer.