Tuesday, September 27, 2005


What we hear depends on how we listen. How we listen can be shaped by many factors.

Sometimes when we hear a person talking to us, we are not really listening to them at all. We know words are being spoken. We may pick up words here and there. We even may know the gist of what is being said.

Nonetheless, we are preoccupied with something else. The individual speaking to us is running second best, or worst, in our attention sweepstakes.

On other occasions, we may be both hearing and listening to what someone is saying. However, for whatever reason, we just can't grab hold of what is being said. Our minds are sort of 'fogged in'.

Maybe the topic or issue doesn't interest us. Maybe we are tired. Maybe the other person is not very articulate. Maybe we don't care for the other person all that much and, as a result, find, for instance, empathizing or sympathizing with the individual difficult to do.

We hear with our ears. However, we listen through many other modalities.

For example, we listen through our minds. In other words, we listen through, among other things, our attitudes, values, understandings, beliefs, interests, and memories. All of these shape the way we listen to what we hear.

We listen through our emotions. We filter what we hear by means of our fear, anger, jealousy, pride, lust, envy and so on.

We listen through our moods. Our hope, sadness, apathy, happiness, impatience, and irritability all tend to color what we hear.

We listen through the condition of our bodies. Feeling healthy, tired, sick, hungry in pain, or energetic may affect what we hear.

We listen through our motivational states. We tend to hear what others say in terms of our ambitions, goals, purposes and plans.

We listen through our fantasies. We project the scenarios generated by our imaginations onto the words of other people.

However simple what we hear may be, how we listen can complicate matters very quickly. Our modes of listening are the source of many different kinds of distortion, misunderstanding, and communication breakdown.

We may be able to repeat exactly the words we hear. Nevertheless, the listening context in which those words are immersed can give those words an array of meanings quite far removed from what the speaker had intended.

Sufi masters seek to help initiates transform the way they listen. There are, at least, two stages to this transformation process.

To begin with, emotion, mind, motivation, fantasy, physical condition, and mood all give expression to characteristic ways of affecting the manner in which we listen. Thus, every mode of listening has an identifiable phenomenology or experiential flavor.

Consequently, one aspect of the aforementioned transformation process is to learn how to listen to our modes of listening.

By becoming familiar with the currents running through our internal listening milieu, we will be in a better position to be aware of the many different ways in which our mode of listening is capable of distorting what we hear.

Secondly, we must begin to substitute other modalities of listening for the "normal" methods of listening used by our egos or false selves. For example, consider the following.

When we listen through insincerity, we cannot hear sincerity. When we listen through intolerance, tolerance sounds foreign to us. When we listen through indifference, compassion has a false ring to it. When we listen through impatience, we have no time to listen to patience. When we listen through grudges, forgiveness seems hypocritical to us.

On the other hand, listening through sincerity, compassion, tolerance, forgiveness and patience leads to very different results than when we listen through insincerity, indifference, intolerance, grudges and impatience. Even when the former modalities of listening are not reciprocated by others, we tend to be, for instance, more at peace with ourselves and the world than when we employ the listening modalities of the false self.

There are many other residual benefits, besides a greater sense of peace, which emerge when our way of listening to others becomes more spiritual in nature. In fact, our whole way of interacting with other human beings, as well as the rest of creation, undergoes a transformation.

Quite frequently, when a person first comes to a Sufi shaykh, the individual listens to the spiritual guide mostly in problematic ways. As a result, not much of what the teacher says stays with the individual in a manner which would affect the latter's behavior.

The individual may remember what the shaykh has said. Nonetheless, the connection between what is said and changing the way we listen to ourselves, others or creation continues to elude the individual.

When, by the grace of God, a spiritual inclination arises in the individual to maintain permanent association with the spiritual guide, this spiritual link becomes the seed of the Philosopher's Stone, so to speak, through which the individual's way of listening begins to change.

Through spiritual association with the shaykh, the heart of the individual becomes, by the grace of God, purified. As the heart becomes purified, the individual begins to listen to the shaykh's teachings with the heart and not through the beliefs, emotions, moods, motivations and fantasies of the individual. When the person starts listening to the shaykh through the purified heart, the words of the shaykh begin to seep into, and shape, the fabric of the heart. If God wishes, this leads to further changes of listening behavior in the seeker.

The Sufi master always listens to the individual through love. Whatever we may think or feel, we are listened to with love. Whatever our faults and mistakes may be, we are listened to with love.

Indeed, the spiritual guide listens to all of creation through love. This modality of listening gives expression to one of the ways in which the Sufi master worships and serves God.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

What's in a word? (From Mystical Horizons)

There once was a man – let us call him Earl – who liked to read about mysticism, and, as a result of his studies, he knew a fair amount about the theory of various esoteric traditions. Although Earl, for reasons he had never been able to understand fully, was intrigued by the teachings and stories of the mystics, nevertheless, he had a lot of reservations about whether much of what he read was actually true.

Because he lived in a rather remote region, Earl had very little opportunity to come in contact with people who were actively involved in mystical practices. Even when he went into some of the more populated areas of his country, and despite persistent efforts over many years, he had not been able to locate an actual spiritual guide.

If he were able to meet with a mystical teacher, Earl had lots of questions to ask. For the most part, the books he had read were good -- at least as far as they went -- but there were many issues which needed to be probed in a way that just wasn’t possible through books.

Via snail mail and e-mail, Earl had tried to contact the authors and publishers of several of the mystical books which he particularly liked. However, in each of these instances, his attempts had gone unrequited.

He was beginning to suspect that, perhaps, the reason why his efforts had gone nowhere was because, in fact, there was really nowhere to go. Maybe, the authors were hiding from him because they knew the whole mystical idea was just a big hoax and didn’t appreciate people asking embarrassing questions -- questions which might affect their book sales should their answers prove inadequate or implausible and, then, become known to the general public.

Still, Earl’s heart was restless. The doubts he had were very hard to ignore, and, yet, he hoped, somehow, there was some element of truth in the books he had been reading.

During one of his vacation periods, Earl had decided to visit a famous resort along the west coast of his country. Between difficulties at work and his constant vacillation about whether, or not, to pursue the mystical path any further than just reading books, Earl felt he needed to just get away from things for awhile, and since he always had wanted to visit the resort area, he thought he would try to accomplish several goals at the same time.

On the fourth day of his vacation, Earl was reading the local paper in search of something interesting to do when an ad caught his attention. A woman, from some place he had never heard of, was going to give a lecture on mysticism that evening in the city’s main library. Apparently, the woman was a highly regarded spiritual teacher – although this might have been just promotional hype.

Because there was going to be a question and answer session following the talk, Earl believed the event was tailored made for his needs. Not only would he get a chance to listen to the answers given to the questions asked by others, but, as well, he might even be able to ask a question, or two, of his own. This was too good an opportunity to pass up.

That evening, Earl found his way to the library’s auditorium where the talk was to be given. While there were quite a few empty seats, nonetheless, Earl was somewhat surprised at the number of people who had showed up.

Although much of the material covered by the speaker already was familiar to Earl from his previous studies of the literature, it was quite informative and did supply some insights which were new to him. The next portion of the program - that is, the question and answer session – was the aspect which most interested Earl, and he awaited it eagerly.

The first four or five questions which were raised by people in the audience annoyed Earl for they could have been answered by the people themselves if they had listened attentively to the speaker. Earl was becoming frustrated because the time allotted for the Q & A session was rapidly being consumed by unnecessary questions.

Ever since he had come across the ad in the paper, Earl had been trying to think of what would be the best question to ask for he might only get one opportunity to do so. He found it an excruciating exercise to try to distill all his doubts, questions, worries, and concerns down to one or two questions, but he finally settled on one question.

Earl had decided to raise a question which would give expression to his skeptical side. He knew the issue he wished to raised would be rather confrontational, but, he felt justified in asking it, and, who knows, other people attending the talk might be grateful to him for broaching the subject.

When the speaker asked for another question, Earl raised his hand and hoped the intensity of his body language might attract the woman’s attention. His hopes were realized for the woman pointed to him and waited for him to state his question.

Earl rose and began: “I enjoyed your talk and found it very stimulating, but I must confess that I have many doubts about the amount of truth that exists in what you have to say. Part of me would like to believe you, but there is another part of me which finds much of what is said to ... let us say ... strain credulity. So, here is my question, and I would like you to answer me as truthfully as possible.”

He paused for a few seconds, mentally composing his question and, then, took the verbal plunge: “In your talk you mentioned the idea of chanting the Name of Divinity and indicated this to be a very important practice on virtually every mystical path. Now, why should I, or anyone here, believe that merely repeating a few words will be able to change our spiritual condition?”

The woman waited a few seconds to make sure that Earl had completed his question, and when she saw that he had, she began to respond. She looked directly at Earl and asked a question: “What is your name, please?”

Earl spoke his name. She closed her eyes and was silent, as if concentrating very hard on something.

A few moments passed, and, then she opened her eyes again. Once again, she looked at Earl and spoke: “Your father was a dishonest man. He cheated the people he worked for. He stole money from several of the community organizations with which he was affiliated. He lied to you about many things.

Moreover, your mother was unfaithful to your father. She had numerous affairs with men from your father’s work place, as well as with the husbands of some of the women in your neighborhood.”

The speaker was about to go on when Earl interrupted her. He was more angry than he could ever remember being.

He shouted at her, spittle jettisoning from his mouth: “You have no right to say those things. You don’t even know my parents. You’ve never met them. I want – no, I demand an apology from you. I really don’t know who you think you are, but I have never been so hurt in all my life. I hoped to come here tonight and be enlightened, and I have, because now I know that you and your kind, lady, are nothing but con artists.”

The woman held up her hand, as if pleading for Earl to stop. But, Earl was so beside himself with anger and outrage that it was a few minutes before he stopped berating the speaker – and he stopped not because his anger had dissipated but because he seemed to have run out of words to express his feelings.

When he paused, the woman began to speak: “I’m very sorry Earl. I really don’t know what came over me. I am quite certain that your parents are very good, decent, moral people who never harmed anyone in their lives. I am just as positive that they were, and are, wonderful parents who are pillars of your neighborhood and community.”

The more she lauded Earl’s parents, the more Earl’s earlier anger began to lessen. Soon, Earl’s anger had subsided completely.

When the speaker saw that Earl had calmed down, she said: “Earl, I am sorry for upsetting you, but I wanted to answer your question, as you requested me to do so, in a very truthful, direct way. I said negative things about your parents which you knew, and I knew, were not true, and, yet, your condition changed dramatically. Furthermore, when I began to praise your parents, even though I have never met them and do not know what kind of people they are, and you knew that I do not know them, nonetheless, your condition changed again.

“Now, if the saying of a few words, which are either false, or not based on true knowledge, can alter your condition in such a dramatic fashion, don’t you think it is possible that repeating the Name of Divinity can alter your spiritual condition just as dramatically, if not
more so?”

Sunday, September 18, 2005


There are different kinds and degrees of yaqueen or certainty. Yaqueen is very much tied to the sort of experiences one has had.

Consider some of the ways in which an individual might come to learn about, say, one, or more, of the oceans of the world. There are various degrees of certainty associated with different kinds of knowledge or understanding.

For example, let us imagine there is a person who has overheard some puzzling conversations by travelers passing through the region about something called an "ocean". These wayfarers even may have described various aspects of this 'ocean'.

If the individual does not know the travelers and does not know about oceans, she or he has no way of knowing if they are telling the truth or telling stories. All the person knows is that, prior to the overheard conversation, he or she had never encountered such an idea.

Next, let us suppose, the individual goes to a regional library and begins to look up information on oceans. The person: reads a few books on oceanography; sees a variety of photographs of different oceans; and, maybe, watches an educational film or two about oceans.

Certainly, the person now has more information at his or her disposable than before. However, this information still is secondhand and removed from the actual ocean.

The individual begins to think a lot about oceans and desires to see one. Consequently, the individual makes arrangements to go on a journey to the ocean described in the library material as being closest to where the person lives.

The individual goes on a trip to the ocean and reaches the desired destination. Soon, the person is walking along the shore and gazing at the ocean.

Let us assume the person eventually comes to a marina where there are boats for rent. The individual is the adventurous sort and decides to take a small boat out on the bay.

While rowing or sailing about, the person sees some people in the water engaged in various kinds of activity. Later, after describing the activity to someone on shore, the individual finds out these people were swimming.

Swimming seems a rather intriguing thing to do. Therefore, after buying the appropriate apparel, the individual proceeds to wade into the water and splash about in the shallows near the shore.

During this "swimming" session, the person comes across some people who are getting ready to go scuba diving. Questions are asked, and answers are given.

When the individual comes out of the water, someone gives the person a flyer about a school for scuba diving which has just opened at the marina. Naturally, the individual signs up.

After receiving the appropriate instruction, the person rents some equipment and begins seeking someone with whom to dive. As luck would have it, such a person is found, and they begin diving at various locations near the marina.

During various conversations with the new found companion, our wayfarer finds out one can go much deeper in the ocean than had been the case on their previous dives. However, different equipment is necessary, depending on how far down one wants to go.

Having come this far, our wayfarer is not interested in being limited to diving only a hundred feet, or so, beneath the surface. This individual wants to go as deeply into the ocean as possible.

The person begins finding out all about deep-sea submergible vehicles. One of the things learned during this period of study is how dangerous such voyages can be and that only a fool would try to undertake such a project alone.

Therefore, the individual sets about trying to find a knowledgeable diver who would be willing to tolerate the ignorance and inexperience of the wayfarer. Not being sure where to look first, the individual goes to the Yellow Pages.

The Yellow Pages contain listings for: deep-sea tele-presence; deep-sea mapping; deep-sea secrets; deep-sea advisory boards; deep-sea consultants; deep-sea vision; deep-sea explorations; deep-sea books; deep-sea imaging; deep-sea mining; deep-sea virtual reality; deep-sea resources; deep-sea junk; deep-sea mysteries; deep-sea salvage; deep-sea treasures, and quite a few other entries. The individual is confused with all the choices.

Eventually, after spending considerable time and effort in checking out various possibilities, and after a few false starts, the individual stumbles across the path of an authentic expert. Fortunately, this expert also has a weakness and compassion for training novices in the area of deep-sea diving.

The expert, nevertheless, sets one condition on the arrangement. At some point, the individual must choose between the life on land or the life at sea.

The individual spends a number of years learning about submergible vehicles, currents, navigation and so on under the guidance of the veteran diver. Finally, the time comes for the individual to dive into the depths of the ocean.

As the two get prepared for the dive, they are beset by people protesting their proposed venture into the deep. Some of the protesters believe the dive is in contravention of various laws. Others among the protestors believe the resources being assigned to the dive could be put to better use elsewhere. Some of the people fear the dive could upset the balance of nature.

Protests notwithstanding, the dive is made. During this dive, the individual sees and witnesses all kinds of incredible, beautiful things which, previously, had not been conceived of by the individual.

The individual reaches a depth which is beyond the scale of the vessel's gauges. Suddenly, there is incredible light all around, where previously there only had been darkness. The light is alive with knowledge, love and many other qualities as well.

The person wonders if this is a symptom of some form of depth psychosis about which the individual once read. The veteran diver says this is not the case. The person is told something similar happens almost to everyone who reaches this depth, although the precise character of the experience varies with the individual.

The wayfarer comes away from this voyage determined to commit the rest of his or her life to being a deep-sea diver. The experiences encountered in the depths of the ocean have had a transforming effect on what the individual feels and thinks about the purpose, meaning, value and significance of life.

Moreover, this new found understanding is not conceptual in nature. It is experiential, direct, and essential.

When the two deep sea divers return to land, there are some media people waiting to interview them. These reporters have come to find out both: about the controversy created by the encounter between the divers and the protesters, as well as about some rumors concerning their extraordinary experiences during their dive.

Most of what transpired during the dive is really beyond description. However, the two divers try their best to give the media people a sense of what the dive was like.

The reporters ask a lot of questions and seem rather skeptical about the story of the two divers. With all due respect to the two individuals, the account of the divers, nonetheless, seems to the reporters to be rather vague, phantasmal and far-fetched.

A number of the media group have advanced degrees of one sort or another. However, none of them has ever done anything more than a little snorkeling.

The reporters all feel, based on their years of media experience, quite certain there are ample reasons for not taking the accounts of the divers seriously. Consequently, if they report about the divers at all, the pieces will be treated, at best, as some sort of entertaining, weird human interest story and not as hard news.

The two divers invite the media people to join them in the next dive as participant-observers. The veteran diver indicates one really cannot understand the experience of deep-sea diving unless one undergoes the experiences oneself.

Details concerning departure time and so on are given. Several of the reporters indicate considerable interest in following up on this invitation.

When the time arrives for the next dive, none of the media people show up. Apparently, the reporters have something else in mind when they speak of investigative reporting.

The veteran diver reminds the individual of the condition set some time ago when the person first came seeking assistance in deep-sea diving. More specifically, the individual has to make a choice between the ways of life on land and the ways of life in the ocean depths.

The veteran diver points out that, now, the wayfarer knows what people, such as the reporters, and those influenced by the reporters, think about deep-sea diving. The individual is asked: "Which is more important: the theories, opinions and conjectures of others concerning experiences which they have not had, or one's own experiences which have been confirmed by an expert in such matters?"

The wayfarer says the latter is more important. Therefore, the choice of the individual is to opt for the way of life of the ocean depths.

The two divers proceed to head out to sea. They again dive to the depths and find it as exhilarating and joyous as the last time.

During this voyage, there are many difficulties and problems which arise. As a result of these challenges and tests, the individual comes to learn many important things concerning life, character and identity.

Over the years, a deep bond of love and friendship arises between the two divers. The veteran diver shares a wealth of understanding, knowledge, wisdom and experience with our wayfarer.

Several decades later, there are reports the two have been lost at sea. Some say they are dead. Some say they found a hidden treasure in the deepest part of the ocean. Some say they are in the Bermuda Triangle or aboard the Flying Dutchman. God, alone, knows the truth of any of these accounts.

The disappearance is covered by the same group of media people who interviewed the divers many years earlier. These reporters really don't know anything more now concerning the ocean than they did before. Furthermore, they know very little about the lives led, or the experiences encountered, by the two divers since they last were all together.

Nonetheless, at least, these reporters had some personal contact with the divers. Therefore, they go about reporting their stories. This is, after all, what they do for a living.

Every year, around the time of the reported disappearance, there are public gatherings. These functions commemorate the spirit of commitment and exploration exemplified in the lives of the two divers.

On these occasions, learned speakers come and deliver various kinds of addresses. Some of these lectures are based on studies and experiments, completed under simulated conditions in the laboratory, concerning the lives of deep-sea divers.

Some of the speakers talk about their computer models of deep-sea diving. Still others have worked out an impressive array of mathematical equations and formulae which purport to capture the spirit and essence of deep-sea diving.

There are some people who commemorate these occasions in a slightly different way. On the basis of a variety of evidence, including eye-witness reports, they feel certain the divers still are alive. Consequently, they organize search parties to go looking for the divers who have disappeared.

The travelers, the library, the marina, the boat, the swimmers, the person passing out handbills, the scuba-diving school, the scuba divers, the organizations and businesses in the Yellow Pages, the deep-sea divers, the protestors, the media people, the learned scholars, and the search parties, all have a relationship with the ocean. All of these relationships are rooted in experiences of one kind or another.

Some of these experiences are quite removed from the realities of the ocean. Other experiences come from the ocean depths. Still other experiences fall somewhere in between the foregoing two possibilities.

All of the parties feel varying degrees of certainty concerning the truth of their experiences. Some of those who feel certain actually may be correct. Still others not only may be correct, but they actually also may know this to be so.

Friday, September 16, 2005


A Sufi master has said that, God willing, there isn't anything which cannot be accomplished if one has courage and patience. Since patience will be touched upon in a later chapter, the present reflections will concern courage.

The mystical tradition is not an easy path. This is so for many different reasons.

First of all, one must consider the forces which will be aligned against one if one decides to undertake the mystical quest. These forces of opposition have a formidable array of weapons at their disposal.

One's own ego will be applying constant pressure for one to cease and desist from one's efforts in this direction. The ego will fight a war of constant harassment which is designed to wear the individual down through a steady stream of: confusion, doubts, desires, pressures, ridicule, fears and anxieties.

The ego also will fight a rear guard action intended to resist and ambush every attempt by the individual to gain spiritual strength, commitment, and focus on the path. For example, one may discover, courtesy of one's ego, many, seemingly plausible excuses for why one's time and energy should be devoted to non-spiritual activities.

Alternatively, one just may feel too tired at the moment to observe the requirements or discipline or duties of the path. "Tomorrow, tomorrow", whispers the ego. This chant has a pleasant, mellow, relaxing quality to it.

In addition to the campaign of the ego, there will be substantial opposition from the world. The world has great need of, but no use for, sincere mystics or spiritually inclined individuals.

The world is a bordello of sensual delights. The world is a playing field in which all sides are vying for power and control according to a set of rules that would make Australian no-rules football look excessively authoritarian. The world is a cesspool of greed, malice and selfishness which generates an odor that, by comparison, would make the stench of manure a welcome change. The world is a gigantic mirror being polished by the mineral oil of self-adoration. The world is a killing field whose executioners are equal-opportunity haters of considerable enthusiasm.

One could go on at great length in the foregoing way. However, enough has been said to give the drift of things vis-a-vis the condition of the worldly perspective.

The bottom line is this. The world stands for a state of mind and heart from which qualities such as decency, compassion, integrity, faith, honesty, love and fairness have been exorcised. As such, the worldly orientation tends to consider the ideas of spirituality or mysticism to be either stupid or obscene or obscenely stupid.

Some people of the worldly persuasion are aggressively hostile to spirituality and mysticism. Some people in the worldly camp have impeccable manners and would never dream of being rude to people whom they believe to be fools.

Some people who are inclined to the worldly way of things are supremely indifferent to, if not bored by, mystical and spiritual pursuits. Some proponents of the worldly orientation are amused, in a slightly contemptuous way, by any talk of spirituality or mysticism. Some of the worldly people are just totally mystified why anyone could find mysticism and spirituality of any interest or value, although they are prepared to accept everyone's right to spend time as one chooses.

Unfortunately, we are all contaminated, to varying degrees, by worldly forces. The aforementioned hostility, indifference, bemusement, contempt, and perplexity exists within us in a variety of guises. Because we are citizens of the world, our egos have a long-standing exchange program with a spectrum of worldly forces.

To swim against the numerous, raging, ugly currents of the world and the ego requires a lot of courage. To fight against the terrorist tactics of the world and the ego cannot be done except with courage. To experience the dark night of the soul created by the dance of the ego and the world takes courage.

To face the unknown and not run away demands courage. To be willing to leave what is familiar and comfortable, while journeying through the unfamiliar and, often, uncomfortable terrain of the mystical path, presupposes courage.

To place trust in one's spiritual guide, is an act of courage. To become committed to the mammoth task of reclamation involved in the spiritual reconstruction of one's life is a pure act of courage.

As if the world and the ego were not bad enough antagonists with which to have to contend, one also must deal with the demands of the rational mind. This poses an extremely complicated problem since the rational mind is what we usually rely on to evaluate experience and make judgements.

Most of us tend to believe rather strongly that if an evaluation or judgement is not rooted in rational analysis, then, we are being irrational. To speak of non-rational modalities of understanding appears somewhat of an oxymoron - at least, this is the conclusion of the rational mind.

To ask the ears to understand the way of the eyes, sounds unreasonable. To expect the nose to have insight into the world of proprioceptors, is disorienting to our rational sensibilities.

After all, ears and eyes are different structures entailing different processes and functions. Similarly, olfactory phenomena are quite different from the phenomena dealt with by sensors dealing with the orientation of muscles, tendons and joints.

Nonetheless, the rational mind believes it has the capacity to understand the ways of the heart and spirit. This is so despite the fact that Sufi masters have confirmed, and are agreed, that the latter phenomena are entirely different from, in structure, function and process, the workings of rationality. Like many other aspects of human existence, the rational dimension is presumptuous in the manner in which it seeks to extend its sphere of influence beyond its limits of effectiveness and appropriateness.

When one is taking an intelligence test, if one should try to force large, round pegs into small, square holes, this is taken as a sign of diminished capacity. How ironic that the rationality which conceived of such a test should insist on forcing the large, round pegs of spirituality and mysticism into the small, square holes of rationality.

The eye cannot see beyond its capabilities. The ear cannot hear beyond its capabilities. The nose cannot smell beyond its capabilities. The mind cannot understand beyond its capabilities.

There is, as the rational mind will be quick to point out, a major difference between, on the one hand, the nose, eye and ear, and, on the other hand, the mind. More specifically, in the former case, we have a fairly good idea of what the limitations are in each sensory modality. However, in the case of the mind, we have not yet, for the most part, discovered what the limitations of the mind are in terms of discovery, creativity and invention.

Some rational minds believe the sky, so to speak, is the limit. Effectively, this suggests there is no limit, given sufficient time and funding, to the rational mind's capacity to penetrate the secrets of the universe.

Extrapolating from ignorance does not seem a rational thing to do. Since we have no firm idea of what, in essence, rationality is or what makes it possible, we really have no idea of what the parameters of this capacity are.

Nevertheless, against reason, the rational mind is adamant it should have the final say in all matters of evaluation, judgement and understanding. The rational mind will take extreme umbrage with anyone who disagrees with its pronouncement in this regard.

The rational mind will inundate and intimidate one with formulae, tables, equations, statistics, mathematical functions, diagrams, experiments, research, debates, symposia, forums, journal articles, and so on proving that the rational mind is right and everything else is wrong. The rational mind will cajole, badger, ridicule, boast and flutter its big blues at one to convince the individual of the errors of his or her ways with respect to issues of non-rational modalities of understanding.

Sometimes, rational minds, upon reflection, may assert something of the following sort. We accept the possibility there may be different modalities of knowing. Nonetheless, the rational mind will suggest, directly or indirectly, that priority and preference should be given to rationality in the analyzing, evaluating, judging and understanding of most matters.

Sometimes, in order to bolster this claim of priority, the rational mind will remind us of what has been done for the world through rationality. Looking at the world and its history, one might wonder if such 'proof' cannot as easily be used against rationality as it can be used in its defense.

To confront the rational mind, with all its eloquent oratory, is an act of courage. To stand firm in one's search for the reality of the unseen, despite the impressive, dazzling feats of logic, science, philosophy and mathematics, is to have courage. To be willing to walk, alone if necessary, against the bitter winds of outraged reason, is to show courage.

Reason rails against the modes of understanding of the heart and the spirit. The tirade comes not only from without, it comes from within. Take courage.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Spiritual Abuse -- The internet connection

Someone has described an addiction as something one continues to do long after reality or experience has shown one that the behavior is destructive or problematic. If we leave aside the issue of whether the Internet is addictive in the classic sense (that is, does discontinuing Internet activity lead to symptoms of physical withdrawal), and if we put aside the issue of trying to distinguish between a habit and an addiction, one might say that there are potentially addictive dimensions related to interacting with the Internet.

If a person has a deep yearning for essential, meaningful contact with others, a person tends to go in search of that which may be satisfy this yearning. Like most addictions, being attracted to something because one believes it may be a solution to one's problems in life, plays a role in the formation of addictive behavior.

A Sufi master might say that the seeds of addiction are sown when an individual, mistakenly, believes that some given substance, liquid, drug, object, or relationship is a doorway to some dimension of Divinity -- a dimension of Divinity which will take away pain, or fear, or anxiety, or memory, or unhappiness, or loneliness, or low self-esteem, or a sense of in competence with respect to life in general. Some people see the Internet in this fashion -- as something which, on the surface, appears to have the capacity to administer to whatever problems may have led one to investigate or be attracted to the idea of the Internet in the first place.

False spiritual guides, like all abusive predators, seem to have a fundamental grasp about some of the ways in which people who are emotionally, psychologically, socially, interpersonally, and/or spiritually vulnerable tend to behave. Such predators are very sensitized to the signs and indications shown by others that indicate yearning, need, problems, loneliness, and so on.

Like a bottle of alcohol, a packet of heroin, a line of cocaine, a cap of Ecstasy, or a potential new round of sexual partners, the slippery slope of addiction begins with an encounter with something which seems to be able to administer to the deep need we have to be healed and healthy. In the beginning, whatever the choice of addiction may be, it seems to provide a sense of well-being, an emotional/physical high, a sense of meaning, purpose, identity and methodology for being able to continue on in such a new altered state of awareness about one self and life.

Maybe, the substance, or whatever, helps us to forget ourselves, or, maybe, it helps us to think about ourselves in a more genteel light, or, maybe, it helps us to diminish the importance of certain kinds of problems and issues, or, maybe, it provides us with a sense of control over our lives, or, maybe, it is a way to express our disdain for the world, or, maybe, it induces us to believe that we have found God, or, maybe, it helps cast life in rosier glow, or, maybe, it removes a sense of meaningless that has been eating away at our hearts and sense of identity. Whatever the curative properties seems to be, the seeds of addiction tend to become established when we go on what learning theorists refer to as: an intermittent, variable, reinforcement schedule.

Essentially, this means that a person finds some experience sufficiently pleasurable, meaningful, powerful, enhancing, or attractive that the experience of this reward begins to serve as a carrot which motivates one to seek out a repeat of the original experience that one found so powerful or pleasurable or meaningful. However, because the sought after reward does not come every time (intermittent) or comes in ways which are variable (the precise 'high', if you will is never quite the same as originally or initially experienced) and because we tend to become somewhat habituated to even pleasurable experiences, our seeking behavior becomes more intense and, as a result, we tend to become more committed to certain forms of behavior which we believe, on the basis of past experience, will lead, eventually, once again, to what we seek, but, alas in reality, do not always lead to the desired mode of satisfaction (reinforcement).

When our seeking behavior begins to undermine our own well-being, or interferes with our capacity to make good judgments, or begins to destroy the fabric of our lives (socially, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and physically) because we are unable to withdraw from the behaviors which we insist -- evidence to the contrary -- will lead us to the promised land of whatever form of satisfaction or fulfillment or problem solving we were seeking, originally, through such behavior, then, at that point, a person may be controlled by an intermittent, variable reinforcement schedule of learning which is shaping, coloring, and organizing everything one feels, thinks, and does. At that point, a person is exhibiting addictive or addictive-like behavior.

Using the foregoing as a backdrop for discussion, then, one could say that under certain circumstances, one's interaction with the Internet could be considered to have addictive-like qualities or properties. If, for example, one continues to go to chat rooms or interact with certain persons through the Internet even though, somewhere within one, there is a recognition that the interaction is poisonous, problematic, hurtful, destructive, or inviting us to behave in ways which we might not do otherwise, then, the person who continues to do this is exhibiting addictive-like behavior.

Whether one wishes to call such a pattern of behavior an addiction may only be a matter of semantics and definitions. The real issue of importance is that an individual is engaged in a sequence of behavior over which they have lost, to some degree, control and that such behavior is leading to problems in one's life.

False teachers will use techniques such as love-bombing (which is a combination of flattery, positive affirmations, encouragement, seemingly unconditional expressions of love, and so on) to exploit an individual's vulnerabilities and induce 'highs' in that individual which will become the fulcrum around which the leverage of bringing about more and more compliance and commitment of an individual because a person doesn't want to lose the 'high' which was associated with the love bombing.

Love bombing is something which can be done easily over the Internet. In fact, the structure of anonymity, together with the way that the Internet camouflages the great physical distances that often separate people, means someone can say almost anything over the Internet in the way of a promise or commitment and never have to back it up with any real-world, substantive acts.

In addition, there is another aspect of the Internet which helps a fraudulent teacher to forge cohesive bonds with unsuspecting, vulnerable individuals whom the former wish to exploit in one way or another. Like radio, the Internet, often engages our imaginations, because the people with whom we are interacting are faceless, voiceless mysteries, and, therefore, we tend to create our own images of what people are like based on the clues which we given by the other participant(s).

Sham teachers use this dimension of the Internet to feed people only the kinds of information the false teacher wishes in order to induce the unsuspecting person to create a certain kind of image of the false teacher -- an image which well be in the false teacher's best interests. This image is constructed from so-called 'biographical facts' which are total inventions -- such as: place of residence, past experiences, personality, temperament, interests, and so on.

By parasitically latching onto the imaginal faculty of another human being, the false teacher induces the unsuspecting person to, little by little, construct precisely the kind of image the false teacher wishes the individual to have of the false teacher. Oftentimes, what happens is that a person is induced by a false teacher to develop a dependent relationship with a fictitious, phantom individual who has been constructed by the imagination of one person with the help of the false teacher's various campaigns of manipulation, disinformation, lying, deceit and so on. In this sense one is lured into having an addictive-like relationship with someone who, in truth, resides only in one's imagination -- which makes withdrawing from such behavior doubly difficult because one carries around within one the very image from which one needs separation.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

An Essay from Streams to the Ocean - Hope

When Sufi masters speak about hope, they are not referring to a condition of merely longing for something to be the case. Hope which is not rooted in a foundation of struggle, work and sacrifice is nothing but an idle fantasy.

From the perspective of Sufi masters, hope gives expression to a certain kind of working relationship with God. On the one hand, as indicated above, hope cannot exist in a context devoid of the individual's spiritual efforts. We must seek out, and strive for, God in a sincere fashion. Our struggle in this respect must be persistent. We should not be stingy in either the personal or material resources we expend on this undertaking.

On the other hand, we must have a very clear understanding that our efforts, in and of themselves, are not enough. If our spiritual hope lies in our abilities and possessions we are sadly deluding ourselves.

Practitioners of the Sufi path maintain that what comes to us from God is far more important than what goes to God from us. Effort, struggle and sacrifice are merely sincere signs of our working relationship of hope with God.

Besides our efforts, the essence of hope is a trust or confidence in God. Sufi masters indicate we must have confidence God did not create us arbitrarily or as a whim or as part of some game. We must have confidence God created each of us for a spiritual purpose.

To be confident our existence has spiritual meaning and value, is to invest hope in our relationship with God. Among other things, this means there are reasons for our struggling toward God.

Sufi masters maintain God wishes to be known by us. They stipulate that although God will always know us, God especially would like to know us when we are in the condition of knowing Divinity.

The shaykhs of the Sufi path indicate God wishes to be loved by us. They point out that while God always will love us, God especially would like to love us when we are in the condition of loving Divinity.

Practitioners of the mystical path note that God wishes to be served by us. They specify that even though God always will provide for us, God especially would like to provide for us when we are in the condition of serving Divinity.

Sufi masters contend each of us has a unique capacity for knowing, loving and serving God. By realizing the purpose of our life, we realize the unique potential which God has intended for us.

In a sense, God is investing hope in us, just as we are investing hope in God. More specifically, God has provided each of us with a unique spiritual potential. On the basis of this potential, God hopes we will struggle to realize its value.

God is trusting us and is placing confidence in us to do the right thing with respect to our spiritual potential. The right thing is to trust in God to help us realize the secrets and value of our spiritual potential in the way in which God intended should be the case.

Sufi masters indicate we must have confidence God is busy with the work of providing us with everything necessary to help us free ourselves from our ego and, thereby, help us realize our essential identities. We must have confidence God already is doing what needs to be done in this respect, even before we have done our part.

We must have confidence God wants us to succeed in the purpose of life. We are the ones who fail God in this process. God never fails us.

The ups and downs of life, the contractions and expansions, the pains and pleasures, the satisfactions and frustrations, the guidance and ignorance, the light and darkness, the veiling and the unveilings, the giving and the taking away, as well as the success and failures of life, are all loci of manifestation of God's Names and Attributes.

They are all part of the spiritual curriculum of Divinity with which we must struggle in order, hopefully, to reflect on, contemplate, learn, remember and implement the spiritual lessons of life.

In providing us with the aforementioned curriculum, God's hope for us is that we come to understand: (a) we have never been away from Divinity, despite appearances to the contrary; and, (b) Divinity has never been away from us.

God's hope for us is that we come to realize: (a) we constantly have been meeting with God all of our lives through the forms of the different Names and Attributes by which God relates to us in our day-to-day lives; and, (b) all of these meetings have been arranged for our spiritual benefit. God's hope for us is that we will return to Divinity well pleased by, and well-pleasing to, God.

The books of revelation sent to us by God, as well as the prophets, saints and spiritual guides provided for us by God, are all signs of, so to speak, bilateral hope. On the one hand, God hopes we will take advantage of the guidance being offered through these different modalities of Divine assistance in order to realize our essential purpose for being. On the other hand, we can hope guidance is being extended to us as an expression of the Divine wish for us to permit our lives to be transformed in a manner which actively and accurately would reflect God's hope for us.

Our hope is nourished by God's Compassion, Beneficence, Mercy, Forbearance, Forgiveness, Love, Kindness, Strength, and Protection. Our hope is sustained by the many opportunities God gives us to move toward Divinity.

Our hope is activated by the manner in which God encourages us to have pure, sincere intentions toward Divinity. Our hope is decorated when God grants us good actions with which to clothe our naked intentions.

Our hope is given tensile strength by the way God calls us to task in this life while we still have time to work on correcting our weaknesses. Our hope is raised up in spiritual flight when God grants us spiritual states and stations of nearness in response to our hope.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Introduction to New Book The Sufi Lighthouse: Illuminating Spiritual Abuse


Spiritual abuse assumes many different forms. Such manifestations may be mild, or they can be quite intense and malevolent.

No religious or mystical tradition is immune from the presence of spiritual abuse, for, wherever there are people who are seeking to become closer to essential truths, purpose, and meaning, there will be individuals seeking to generate counterfeit currency to offer to those who are unaware of, or incautious toward, the dangers which lie in wait along the spiritual path.

Some instances of spiritual abuse may involve gullible individuals who are induced to become committed to a ‘guide’ or teacher who, when examined even superficially in an impartial manner, may exhibit many of the warning characteristics of a spiritual charlatan. Unfortunately, in many other cases, the problem of recognition with respect to a given ‘false teacher’ becomes much more difficult and subtle.

Just as there are hack engravers and master engravers who are involved in the production of counterfeit money, so, too, there are huge differences in the level of ‘artistry’ exhibited by those who would pass themselves off as authentic spiritual guides. Some fraudulent guides are fairly easy to spot, but there are others who present a far greater challenge.

Spiritual abuse may occur in neighborhood churches, mosques, temples, centers, and other places of religious/spiritual gathering. This problem also may take place in much more exotic and/or remote settings.

Fraudulent teachers may call themselves a guru, shaykh, rimpoche, monk, priest, imam, apostle, avatar, or minister. They also may call themselves educators, revolutionaries, political leaders, and freedom fighters.

All forms of terrorism, whether these be acts of individuals or of states, presuppose the existence of spiritual abuse. Terrorism cannot occur unless someone -- a leader, master, or authority figure -- uses techniques of undue influence to induce other people -- followers, initiates, devotees, citizens -- to commit atrocities in the name of Divinity, spiritual purity, Justice, and Truth. All such forms of inducement are expressions of spiritual abuse.

The present book, The Sufi Lighthouse: Illuminating Spiritual Abuse, arises out of my experiences with a spiritual charlatan who called himself a Sufi shaykh or guide. Although a number of chapters within this book entail discussions which focus on themes that are steeped in the terminology of Islam, in general, and the Sufi Path in particular, much of this book is of relevance to anyone who is interested in, or struggling with, problems of spirituality and mysticism, irrespective of the particular tradition with which he or she may identify.

In addition, sometimes, it is easier to recognize a problem in one’s own life when one is, first, introduced to a given issue in a context which, initially, seems to be far removed from one’s everyday commitments and priorities. More specifically, while some of the chapters of The Sufi Lighthouse: Illiminating Spiritual Abuse have a specific Sufi/Islamic flavor to them, anyone who has an interest in spirituality will be able to feel a sense of resonance with the issues and problems which are being discussed in conjunction with the Sufi mystical tradition.

Furthermore, there are many other chapters in The Sufi Lighthouse: Illuminating Spiritual Abuse which are written in a way that, hopefully, will provide a more universal appeal to readers who come from a non-Muslim, and/or non-Sufi background. In other words, these other chapters explore themes which have an applicability to a variety of spiritual traditions beyond that of Islam and the Sufi path.

There are many people within the Sufi/Muslim community who will give lip service to the idea that there have been and, probably, are some individuals who, in both the past and the present, have sought to pass themselves off as authentic spiritual guides, when, in truth, they were, or are, spiritual counterfeits. However, these same people who may be willing to give lip service to this issue tend to feel that it is unseemly and, somehow, inappropriate to suppose that this is issue is anything more than a marginal, incidental, isolated, and occasional problem.

Based on my research of the past several years, the problems being addressed in this book are both substantial and pervasive. This does not mean that everyone who calls himself or herself a spiritual guide is a charlatan, for I do believe, on the basis of personal experience, that authentic, Sufi teachers do exist in this day and age, but, nonetheless, at the same time, I believe -- based on my own experiences, research, and the communications of many people from different parts of the world -- there are an array of spiritually abusive relationships that are being inflicted on thousands of people by Sufi charlatans in countries around the world, including the United States and Canada.

This problem is not small. It is huge, but all too many people within the Sufi/Muslim community are in denial about the existence of such spiritual abuse and seem to feel that if they just pull the covers up over their heads, the problem, like any good boogeyman, will just disappear into the night. This may have worked when one was a child, but it will not work now.

Perhaps, because of the events of 9-11, Muslims and Sufis are feeling so defensive that they believe any attempt to publically examine the issue of spiritual abuse within the Sufi/Muslim community is ill-considered under the present circumstances. The search for truth will always be an inconvenience for those who have vested interests to protect.

I, obviously, am of a different opinion. In fact, I believe that the shadow cast by the tragedy of 9-11 offers a tremendous opportunity to begin to critically examine the dynamics and nature of spiritual abuse -- both within Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

This is my belief for a number of reasons. Foremost among these reasons is the following one: spiritual abuse was at the heart of the 9-11 tragedies -- not only in terms of the histories of the individuals who plotted and carried out such acts of terrorism (although I am not suggesting, here, that any of those individuals claimed to be a Sufi or had a Sufi teacher), but also in relation to the histories of those government and media figures around the world who, either intentionally or unintentionally, helped bring about a set of circumstances which were conducive to the occurrence of the events on 9-11.

At first blush, the problems of spiritual abuse in the Sufi/Muslim community might seem to have little to do with the events of 9-11. However, when one begins to probe the matter further, one starts to understand that the dynamics and factors which are in play in the realm of spiritual abuse in conjunction with the Sufi path, also are in play in the realm of terrorism and the abusive effects which international economic and political policy have upon the souls of people throughout the world.

Beginnings are always difficult. But, begin we must.

Although the primary focus of the present work revolves about the issue of spiritual abuse, virtually all of the principles, themes, and dynamics which are explored in the following pages are fully applicable to a wide variety of situations in which abuse is being perpetrated even though the nature of such abuse, at least on the surface, may appear to be removed from the mystical quest. The dynamics of personal relationships, families, schools, organizations, corporations, and governments are all capable of giving expression to abusive relationships ... in fact, one might wish to argue that abuse, whatever its particular mode of manifestation, constitutes a violation of another individual’s basic rights as a human being such that the latter’s search for truth, meaning, purpose, and identity are undermined, disrupted, thwarted, and/or corrupted by another person or group of people (or both).

One should feel free to read the essays in whatever order one likes. Although the chapters are, hopefully, complementary with respect to each other, they also can be read independently of, and do not presuppose, one another.

The above book is dedicated to: Bilquees and Dr. Baig ... My traveling companions along the road toward greater understanding. By the Grace of God, they helped me journey through the valley of the shadow of doubt and to fear no evil.