Thursday, August 22, 2013

Rumi's Field: A Sufi's Perspective

Recently, I listened to a TED Talk by Leon Berg (see the accompanying video). The talk covered a lot of existential territory, including: emotional intelligence, empathy, vulnerability, active listening, equality, conflict, exploration, spiritual growth, as well as the idea of learning how to stay with emotion rather than walling emotion away or giving in to an inclination to exhibit acting out behavior concerning this or that emotion.

All of the foregoing ideas were woven from the fabric of the practice of ‘Council’. Council is a process that is rooted in qualities of listening with, and speaking from, the heart.

When done with sincerity, commitment, and honesty, the practice of ‘council’ is an act of worship or devotion by those who participate in such a process. During council, one seeks to attend to the depth of Being out of which the speech of another human being arises, and, when one speaks one seeks to give expression to the deepest core of one’s Being. 

While outlining the essential character of the foregoing process of worship or devotion known as ‘council’, the TED speaker indicated that he was a great admirer of Jalalu-‘d-din Rumi. More specifically, Mr. Berg quoted the following words that are attributed to Rumi: 

“Out beyond the ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” 

Actively listening to those words induced me to enter the territory of my heart and reflect on what Rumi might be trying to say. Was Rumi stipulating that there is no such thing as right and wrong? Not necessarily! 

Perhaps Rumi was saying that irrespective of how appropriate ideas concerning rightness and wrongness might be in certain circumstances, there is a dimension to existence that falls beyond those sorts of discussion. When one strips away the cluttering debris arising from the machinations of the world or dunya and quiets the confusing, incessant chatter of the nafs or ego, there is a sacred field or space where only essence exists … your essence and my essence embraced by the field formed through the activity of the Breath of the All-Merciful … a wonderful, beautiful, fulfilling, nurturing place to meet and become engaged in the transactions of transcendence.

However, there are problems surrounding the challenge of finding one’s way to the field to which Rumi is alluding. This is where spiritual practices have a central role to play. 

Virtually every authentic spiritual tradition that I have studied shares certain things in common. All of those traditions – each in its own inimitable fashion – emphasize the importance of: fasting, prayer, remembrance, seclusion, self-purification, charitableness, meditation, contemplation, as well as the acquisition of positive, constructive emotional qualities of character – such as: compassion, love, friendship, courage, honesty, tolerance, forgiveness, humility, gratitude, patience, integrity – as well as the elimination of negative, destructive emotional qualities involving: anger, envy, greed, hatred, dishonesty, intolerance, selfishness, arrogance, impatience, apathy. 

If one wishes to arrive at the field to which Rumi is alluding, sacrifice is required. One of things that must be sacrifice is one’s own idea about what is right and wrong. 

One must become like a scientist seeking to discover the natural laws through which Being operates – this is the real meaning of: Shari’ah – a process of journeying to the place where one will find the water that gives sustenance to our essential nature. However, one will only have the opportunity to make the journey of discovery with respect to natural law by immersing oneself in the constructive qualities of emotional character and distancing oneself from the destructive qualities of emotional potential.

Constructive qualities of emotional character are at the heart of whatever is right. Negative, destructive qualities of emotionality are at the core of whatever is wrong.

When one transcends one’s ideas about rightness and wrongness and, instead, adopts the existential metric of rightness and wrongness inherent in the natural laws of Being, then, God willing, one will enter into the field to which Rumi is alluding in the aforementioned words. 

In the early stages of his TED talk, Mr. Berg mentioned a saying attributed to Jesus (peace be upon him) that appears in the Gospel of Thomas – namely: “If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.”

The natural law of the Universe can be found within us. If we bring forth those natural laws that serve our essential nature, they have the capacity to save us from ourselves. If we do not bring forth the constructive dimensions of natural law, then the negative, potential which lies within each of us will lead to our spiritual, if not, worldly destruction. 

Life is the story of the conflict between the constructive and destructive sides of natural law. Life is the story about the identity of the quality of emotional character we will bring into our lives. The purpose of life is to seek to discover those natural laws that will assist us to survive – if not flourish – spiritually. 

In his TED talk, Leon Berg related an anecdote concerning the life of Carl Jung. At one point in his life, Jung visited the United States and, among other things, spent time with the Hopi Indians.

During his time with the Hopi, one of the elders said to Jung words to the effect that the Hopi considered the white man to be crazy. When Jung asked the elder why the Hopi felt this way, the elder was said to respond with words to the effect of: “The white man thinks with his head.” Jung inquired about what the Hopi thought with, and the elder is reported to have said: “With our hearts.”

I both agree with, and disagree with, the words being attributed to the Hopi elder. While it is true that all too many white people think in a way that is devoid of emotional intelligence and wisdom – especially their so-called leaders who often speak with the forked-tongue of calculating, manipulative, self-serving, corrupting, and exploitive logic– nonetheless, there also are white people (perhaps not enough of them) who think with their heart, and, consequently, the Hopi elder’s statements – if true – gives expression to a sort of thinking that seems to be more from the head than the heart, and, as such, however true it might be, those words might not be conducive to finding Rumi’s field where the essences of white, red, brown, black, and yellow-skinned individuals can meet.

The late Russell Means talked about the importance of trying to free the white man from the enslavement in which the white man currently exists … and, yes, the white man is deeply enslaved. Russell believed that unless the white man could be induced to re-discover the true meaning of sovereignty, then Indians would never be permitted to live as sovereign people, and, therefore, he spent a considerable amount of time trying to enter into a sort of ‘council’ with white people to help nudge white people toward a meaningful kind of sovereignty. 

Sovereignty – which plays a crucial role in the search for the natural laws of Being – is a necessary prerequisite for finding one’s way to Rumi’s field. Sovereignty entails the sort of respect for rights, along with the material means needed to realize those rights, that provides people with the opportunity to undertake the journey of discovery concerning the natural laws of Being that are capable of leading to Rumi’s field. 

Of course, the aforementioned Hopi elder might have been speaking from a place of considerable pain with respect to the genocidal, abusive manner in which Indian people have been treated by all too many whites. If one devoutly listens to the Hopi elder’s words with one’s heart, one recognizes the grief and sorrow that underlies those words … for the situation of Native Americans would not be what it is, if it were not the case that all too many whites engaged life through the calculus and logic of self-serving thought with little concern for the devastation that such ways of thinking foisted on Native peoples … as well as upon Blacks, and other races. 

Toward the end of his TED talk, Leon Berg spoke about some of the work he has done in Israel with respect to bringing Palestinians and Jews into ‘council’ so that they both might benefit from practicing the process of listening and speaking from the heart. He indicated how one of the first things he did to sort of break the ice during those gatherings was to ask each participant to say who they were, where they came from, who their people were, and to relate one story about his or her people.

Oftentimes during this phase of the council process, the Palestinians or Israeli Arabs would speak about the Nakba – the Day of Catastrophe – when, among other things, 700,000 Palestinian refugees were created as Israel declared its independence in 1948. On the other side, when the Jewish participants had the opportunity to talk in council about who they were and where they come from, they related stories concerning the Holocaust.

Like the Hopi elder, the individuals participating in the Israeli council sessions gave expression to the grief and sorrow that ensued when one group of people dealt with another group of people through the logic of negative, destructive, self-serving thinking. If the people in those council circles listen to such accounts with their hearts, they might just be able to struggle their way toward Rumi’s field. 

During this section of his talk, Leon Berg quoted words from a 2013 speech given by Barack Obama in Israel. Obama said: “Peace must be made among peoples, not just governments. That is where peace begins – not just in the plans of leaders, but in the hearts of people.”

Those words might or might not come from the heart. Irrespective of whether, or not, they do, they are almost always overruled by the plotting and planning of governments that insist on denying people the sort of sovereignty which would permit those people to make peace.

One can’t: give 2-3 billion dollars a year in largely military aide to Israel, permit illegal settlements and illegal walls to be built in Palestinian territory, and ignore the nuclear beam in the Israeli eye, while complaining about the possibility of a nuclear mote in the eyes of Iranians, and, simultaneously, make statements about peace beginning with people and not the plans of governments, without being considered something of a hypocrite. The Palestinian problem has, for the most part, never been a function of the people considered independently of governments … it has always been a problem of governments interfering with the sovereignty of people and denying the people any real opportunity to not only participate in the practices of ‘council’ that would afford them the opportunity to listen to, and speak with, other individuals from the heart, but, as well, to be able to act on what their hearts were telling them was necessary for peace to be realized.

Peace is rooted in being able to establish and give expression to the positive, constructive dimensions of the natural law of Being. Governments (on whatever side) tend to be deeply ensconced in the practice of negative, destructive dimensions of human potential even as such practices are couched in the terms of allegedly rational logic. 

There can be no real rationality without incorporating the wisdom of emotional intelligence into such deliberations. Moreover, the practice of council should not be restricted to occasional gatherings but should become part of the very fabric of government. 

In fact, sovereign people who regularly engage in the process of council would have little need for any kind of government except that which was needed to protect and nurture such sovereignty and its concomitant practice of council. Sovereignty is about establishing the conditions through which people will be enabled to discover the wisdom of emotional intelligence that is inherent in the natural law of Being, and council is one of the tools of sovereignty through which people can provide one another with the opportunity to practice and develop the skills of listening with, and speaking, from the heart. 

May the Great Mystery, the Tao, Divinity, Intellectus, the Buddha-nature, and/or Atman enable us to bring sovereignty into our lives through the discovery of the natural law of Being. May we meet one another in Rumi’s splendid field for a round, or two, of transcendent transactions during mystical council.

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