One L(ove)

January 2, 2009

Walking with al-Ghazali through the storm

Filed under: Uncategorized — galileehitchhiker @ 8:47 pm
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For the past two years I have been experiencing a spiritual crisis within. It’s not that I had given up faith but I felt as if my devotion was built on shaky foundations. I didn’t feel anything through my devotion — to the point that I felt I was only complying with my lips but not with my heart. I felt as if the world all around me was a serene ocean and I had extracted energy from it only to expedite the storms brewing within me. With these storms, I unleashed their terrible fury upon all that I loved and cared about. And after the damage was done, did I truly benefit? And when everything’s in rubble, why do the storms remain? And where will they go to satiate their hunger after all’s been destroyed and lies in ruins? On the first day of the Islamic calendar, I started reading al-Ghazali’s The Deliverance From Error (his spiritual autobiography which a friend gave to me), and finished reading it on the first day of the Gregorian calendar. Within this period of emptiness and unchartered territory, a space no one claims, I felt I had a rebirth within me. It was so refreshing to read al-Ghazali’s words. It’s amazing when a small book can communicate a wealth of information. It’s like being in a never-visited-before garden, running around madly with arms outstretched parallel to your sides, feeling the sadness of the petals brush against your fingertips, and then you stop when one flower catches your eye. You look at it and say to yourself that certainly another flower within this small garden cannot be prettier than the one you now behold in your hands. You gently tear this one from what you perceive to be its loneliness, and as you exit, you realize that you were wrong. There is another that is prettier. You tear that one and then it goes on — until there’s nothing left but stalks which reveal the painful subtleties underneath the beautiful wonders hidden within your hands. The same goes for al-Ghazali’s book. Within it were flowers of blossoming ideas and when you took them and tried to understand them, you realize the pain al-Ghazali went through to overcome his spiritual crisis. I found someone I could relate with and have a dialogue with. Even though there are some points of his that I felt are outdated, laughable, erroneous, and weak, I know that I’ve found a companion that’ll be by my side for the rest of my life. (What good are your heroes if you can’t laugh at and pity them?) After reading al-Ghazali’s spiritual autobiography, the storms have gone away and I feel as serene as the ocean I once manipulated. All I hope is that what I’m feeling within me is the opening of an eye of new understanding, and not the eyes of my hurricanes. Insha’Allah.

I think the next posts I’m going to do are going to be on al-Ghazali’s views on a handful of topics that he covers in his The Deliverance From Error. Three to be exact: philosophy, Sufism, and prophecy. Although al-Ghazali does talk about kalam (Islamic scholastic theology) and the Ta’limites (the Isma’ilis, I believe), I’m not going to cover them in those posts because I feel as if I’d truly had a dialogue with al-Ghazali on the three topics mentioned above. I’m now reading Shaykh Abdul-Qadir Jilani’s Revelations of the Unseen. I hope to have the same life-changing dialogue with him as I’ve had the one with al-Ghazali.

P.S. I watched Godard’s film Le Mépris (English: Contempt) today. I have eternally fallen in love with Brigitte Bardot (even though she’s not a big fan of Muslims), but I wish deep inside that I had also fallen in love with and had picked up a video camera when I was younger. Instead of being in law school, I should be in a film school somewhere mixing my love for art, philosophy, literature, poetry, colors, waves, the breeze that comes after the rain, music, the desert, parking garages and lots, a leaf struggling through the cracked concrete together with my thoughts, desires, boyish romances! & dreams! & fantasies!, hopes, and tears.

Currently listening to: Cat Power – You Are Free

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December 26, 2008

/\/\/\____^____/\/\_____^_____/\/\/\ (Confession. aka: Meet me at the place with no words, my love. Don’t worry, my eyes will say it all.)

Filed under: Uncategorized — galileehitchhiker @ 4:31 pm
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Before I start off, I’d like to wish everyone a happy and safe holidays.

For a couple of weeks now, a co-worker of mine has been talking to me about meditation. The first time he mentioned it was when I bumped into him when I came out of this cafe on the ground level of the building I work in and he was right outside its doors, having a smoke break. He looked at me and said, “I see auras. Yours is pink, which means that you’re a good person. You care about other people.” I didn’t know how to respond to that so I said, “Um, thanks.” I didn’t believe him though. The reason is that not only would I adamantly disagree with the statement “I’m a good person,” but I naturally distrust people who say that they see things that others can’t verify. I’m really a skeptical person. I tried to hint to him that I didn’t believe in those sort of things (i.e., auras, psychics, etc.) by saying, “I’m not really a spiritual person.” He then asked me if I meditated. I answered him in the negative. He couldn’t believe my answer and said that he believed that the reason we were having this conversation was for my benefit. However, I thought I had been living a pleasant life; that is, I’m pretty happy right now and that life is treating me well so far. He asked me how I viewed life. I told him that life’s a struggle. He got irritated and said, “That’s bullshit! I’m sorry, I respect your opinion. But I think that’s complete bullshit.” He told me that life is a miracle. The world is a miracle. Everything is beautiful. There’s actually no difference between me and the salt box (it was snowing that day) and the tree. I didn’t say it to him but I definitely thought that was bullshit. Yes, life is beautiful if we make it out to be and carry out choices that align with our notion of happiness, but how can life not be a struggle? If life wasn’t a struggle, our choices wouldn’t mean much. The weight of our decisions would not matter. We are always confronted with different things, life being beautiful depends upon how we react to those things. The world may or may not be a miracle, but that doesn’t matter in my humble opinion.

My co-worker told me that this world has a dual nature. Everything is a duality. There’s good and evil. Right and wrong. Happiness and sadness. Pleasure and pain. Something and nothing. Blah and non-blah. He said that in this world, there are words that have dual nature: they either cause happiness or harm (nevermind that words also have a neutral sense to them). The way to escape this world of duality (our world as we know it), we have to escape it through meditation by going to a world/realm of no words, where there is no duality, where everything is one. I guess, that’s what my co-worker meant that there’s no difference between me and the tree. That coming back from that other realm, we have this sense of awareness that everything is in fact one and not dual as they appear to be. I disagree with the view that this world is dual by nature. I hate it when someone views it through a black and white lens and describes it in terms of what they see through it. The world is highly complex precisely because we’re in it. How can we then compartmentalize it into two? I have to agree with Nietzsche. Nietzsche, in one of his essays, wrote that we humans tend to look for similarities in things and group them together. He used the example of a leaf and said that we look at leaves that look similar and group them together, thereby losing sense of all the things that make them different. To put it succinctly, Nietzsche says that there is no leaf that is the same as another. We just like to think that they’re similar. So even when we say that the duality of this world is an illusion because in another realm we saw that things are actually one and of the same essence, I think we’re deluding ourselves even further. We fail to recognize all the difference that is between, let’s say, you and the tree. I don’t know why, if you look throughout human societies in this world, difference has been looked upon in such a bad way. Difference is beautiful. (It should be noted that I’m in danger of giving “difference” a quality of sameness. Certainly, difference is not always beautiful, it can also be bad. For example, deformity, illness, etc.). We look at people that are different from us and compartmentalize them into one group. “These Jews…,” “These blacks…,” “These Muslims…,” etc. If you take a person of my background and compare her to me, you will find many characteristics that are similar (not only physically, but what we might believe as well). But if you fail to realize that there is a world of difference between her and me, you will fail to realize the beauty of individuality, the beauty of personhood. Yes, we as humans to compartmentalize and life becomes easy when we do so (i.e., we categorize in science, etc.), but when we apply it in a social sense (although compartmentalizing here can be useful also in that we get together in common belief or pursuit of something), when we fail to realize the complexity of people, this could lead to dangerous results. No Jew is the same as another Jew. No black is the same as another black. No Muslim is the same as another Muslim. No woman is similar to another woman. No person is similar to another person. I guess I might be being a little unfair. I’m using the world “difference” in a social sense. I might be missing the real reason, missing some deep point on existence. But I do think, even if we don’t use “difference” in the social sense and we ourselves as similar to a tree and when we say, “There is absolutely no difference between me and a tree, that our ‘ground of being’ is the same,” I think we fail to realize that a tree has things that I don’t have and I have things that a tree doesn’t have. We are different no matter if you all of a sudden have this deep sense of awareness that the tree and I are the same. We might be but yet we are also different. Plus, another point I had trouble with is that if this world is a miracle and is beautiful, that there is essentially nothing wrong with it, then why do we need to escape it? But I’m reserved on this point, because I feel within me that I’m being unfair on this point and I’m not totally getting what he meant by him saying that.

Another thing that he said was that the past and future are illusions. Everything is present. He made a sort of Boethius argument where the latter, in his attempt to solve the problem of free will versus God’s omniscience, said that God’s knowledge is always present, never past or future since God is not bound to time like humans, since we’re temporal beings. God then knows the future because to him it is the present. My co-worker basically uses this argument but reduces it to humans — that is, that everything for humans is in the present. While Boethius’s argument was highly creative, it’s not that convincing. Similarly, this argument that everything is in the present for humans and that the past and future are mere illusions is also not convincing. But what complicates the situation further is that my co-worker stated that he has had out-of-body experiences when he has done meditation and has even stared into his own eyes. He has traveled to places, including the realm of no words talked about above. He has also stated that he has visited the past and altered the future. Now, if you believe that the past and future are mere illusions, and everything is the present, how can you alter something that doesn’t exist? I find it an inherent contradiction, an illogical flow.

On Christmas Eve, my co-worker gave me a piece of paper on meditation. The first paragraph opens like this:

My approach to meditation is very simple: be still, relax, pay attention, and assume no relationship to anything that arises. No relationship to your consciousness is the posture of freedom. When you assume no relationship to your experience, you are aligning with the deepest part of yourself, which is the ground of all being. That groundless ground has never had a relationship to anything that ever happened in time, because it always abides prior to the world of time, form, and mind.

I find the second and third sentences really problematic. How can one sever one’s relationship with her own consciousness and expect to be free? This is emblematic of bad faith. I always personally believed that severing one’s relationship to one’s own consciousness is not freedom but in fact it’s quite the opposite, that one is actually running away from one’s freedom. Of course, when we contemplate about death it, effectively put, scares the shit out of us and puts an uneasy burden on our consciousness. It’s exactly the same when we realize how radically free we are. It’s really disturbing. In response to this, one of the ways to react to it and live in bad faith is to deny one’s freedom by severing one’s relationship with her own consciousness — severing one’s relationship to what one calls the “I.” What a beautiful one letter word! Assuming no relationship to one’s own experiences is only furthering bad faith. We learn from our experiences and I find it confusing when one says that she can have an awareness of herself without any recorse to her experiences. We base our actions on our experiences and how we create our subsequent actions after them show our awareness of our relationship to the world. I think when a person says that they want to understand the deepest sense of their being without consulting her experiences is not attaining freedom. Only delusion. To have an awareness of one’s person without consulting one’s own person is not a way to freedom. A way to obtain awareness of one’s world without consulting the world is not a way to freedom. We and our experiences are grounded in this world and trying to obtain an understanding of ourselves and the world s0 we can be free means we have to consult our personhood, which is grounded in this world. As one of my favorite philosophy professors put it once when we were discussing Heidegger: “We can’t crouch (shit) outside of the world.”

Please don’t get me wrong. I think meditation is a great thing. It helps reduce stress and brings comfort in one’s life when things seem so cluttered. Numerous studies have shown how meditation is extremely healthy and a great way to relieve stress. However, I just have a problem when someone says that she’ll have an understanding of herself by visiting this realm of no words, and thus be more free. We as humans understand through words, concepts, and symbols, images, feelings, and experiences. Take them away, how will we understand? How will we be free? Freedom requires an understanding of ourselves. It also requires action. When someone or something deprives our freedom, we realize and understand that something’s happened, that we’ve been wronged. Once again, I might be using freedom in a social sense. But we do in a sense base our understanding of social freedom through our understanding of personal/individual freedom even though the two might be different.

I have to make a confession. I used to be part of a Sufi group that was distinguishable from others due to its insistence on meditation. It’s called “Muraqaba.” What drew me to Sufism was its intense spirituality and a desire to reach the highest enlightenment stage called ehsan, where one prayed to God as though one can see him, and if not, know that he’s looking at you. I think this is the highest spiritual stage that all Muslims work hard to achieve and Sufism is that spiritual aspect of Islam helping you to get there. What I like about Sufism is that it doesn’t view the world through a black and white lens. It realizes that the world is so gray. I feel that some of my friends who are not Sufis and are super-religious view the world as either black and white. Even though I love them to death, I feel as if they act as they’ve figured it all out. If you can’t figure this life out, how can you figure or, at least, act as if you’ve figured out the next? You’re how old? Twenty to twenty-five years old? Hopefully, your whole life is ahead of you to learn more about it instead of saying you’ve figured it all out in your young age. It reminds me of that kid in that scary documentary Jesus Camp who said that he was “saved” when he was only five. Excuse me, I’m sorry, but how the fuck is that possible? How can you figure it all out at five? I think that’s what I like about Sufism. It realizes that the world is not black and white, highly complex, and that life is a learning process to develop and reach that stage of ehsan. It’s not something you get right away. Obtaining that stage takes a lifetime. You must work hard for it and it doesn’t happen right away, not only you work with the Shaykh (the spiritual teacher) but mostly with yourself. It’s a personal process and lets you know how seriously you take it. For those who act that they’ve figured it all out and that they’ve been “saved,” gives them the arrogance of Gabriel from James Baldwin’s novel Go Tell It on the Mountain. Faith is in fact not an expression of that you’ve figured it all out but instead a slow process of learning and understanding that may take a lifetime. I guess now that I reflect upon it, I think that’s why I stopped doing the meditation and left that group because I became disenchanted and frustrated that things weren’t coming so fast. That I fell asleep during the muraqaba, haha, and also that I just became too busy with life. Also that I felt that I rushed into it, seeking quick solutions to my pain and, generally, confusion with life. I told one of my friends, whose religious advice I greatly appreciate it (shoutout to Sanzid) this and he basically scolded me. I guess he’s right. I’m not a patient person at all. I guess after abandoning Sufism, my interest in it and the desire for it intensified after listening to a couple of my brother’s dear friends at Stony Brook. Their knowledge of Sufism and just religion in general (since they’re religious studies majors) is so inspiring since I have no idea what they’re talking about, haha. But you know that what they’re talking about is really deep and that’s really a good thing since that inspires you to want to know. One of them has a blog that you can read and you can see how deep they can get (a shoutout to him). Thanks to them, conversations with them have only reignited the passion for Sufism again and I feel now that I’ve made a mistake for leaving it. One has invited me to take an Ibn Arabi class in Stony Brook next fall semester there and I think I might since it’s a late night class and that the next year of law school won’t be as intense as this year.

But what really prompted me to write this entry is that for Friday prayer today, the guest speaker was the Sufi Shaykh I gave allegiance to. I felt tremendous guilt because I found out from a friend of mine that one of his students said that the Shaykh liked me. When I saw him, I had to physically restrain myself from cursing out loud in the mosque. I feel bad that I don’t give a call any more, just to say what’s up, haha. Although some of his active students were present, the whole time he gave his speech, he stared right at me. Whenever he said, “disobedient,” he stared at me, haha. Shit! Perhaps that’s just my guilt talking but I could have sworn. But it’s true that he stared at me throughout the whole speech. He must have wondered where I had went. It’s been two years since I’ve talked to him. He must have been wondering what happened to me. And there we were, making eye contact. He talked about how we are thankless to those who help us out. Shit! When the prayer was finished, I felt like I had to go up to him and just talk to him. But I didn’t. I felt I’d be too ashamed to look at his face and answer, naturally, the questions he would ask me. “Sorry, Shaykh, but I thought I’d go and do this myself. Try to figure it out. I need my own space. Need to figure this all out by myself. Don’t need ya help. It’s after all my life.” I’m an arrogant asshole, aren’t I? I should have talked to him. Said ‘hi,’ at least. To tell him what has been going on with me for these past two years. I think I should give him a call and thank him for being patient with me and with my questions. That he really helped me out. I should go to the spiritual meetings he holds each month and just have a heart-to-heart conversations with him like I used to two years ago. I should tell him that I’m in Ghazali’s state before he went off in the desert to go on that spiritual journey. I should tell him that I’m a character in an Ingmar Bergman film. I could go either way. Ah, why did I walk away without saying something? It’s so disrespectful. Perhaps, after all, instead of visiting the Shaykh, I need to visit the shrink. Such a nice and understanding guy, cares for me, and that’s how I repay him back? — even though knowing that he doesn’t want to be repaid back for anything. I dunno. Yes, I should give him a call. I hope I have a long life ahead of me to figure it all out. If I sit down and meditate, for spiritual reasons rather than solely for relieving stress, to find an awareness not only of myself but to reach a certain spiritual stage, does that mean I’ll contradict everything I’ve written above? Everything that I’ve taken time to write about above? Ah, man needs confidence to cut through the grayness in order to live colorfully.

Currently listening to: Bob Dylan – Modern Times

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