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.

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