Thursday, 29 September 2011

Rule 35: Polar thinking

In this world, it is not similarities or regularities that take us a step forward, but blunt opposites. And all the opposites in the universe are present within each and every one of us. Therefore the believer needs to meet the unbeliever residing within. And the unbeliever should get to know the silent faithful in him. Until the day one reaches the stage of being the perfect human being, faith is a gradual process and one that necessitates its seeming opposite: disbelief.

Similarities and regularities are qualities of nature. There is no flower like the other, yet they all bear similarities. No spring is like the other, yet it comes every year with great reliability. In nature, there is no either/or but change from one state to the next. Gradually the weather changes from sunshine to thunderstorm, stageless the day glides into the night.
Opposites are qualities of human thinking. Probably this way of thinking is based on the deep rooted duality of fight or flight in case of danger, which can be found in any living organism. In an instant, a decision between two possibilities has to be made and then all power has to be invested in the chosen alternative. So this way of thinking can be an outcome of fear and is steered by it.

Anyway, by thinking we have the opportunity to find an opposite to everything and anyone. We only need to use the word “not” or the prefix “un-“ to turn something into its opposite. With the help of this key, we can cause thoughts to appear and to disappear, just as we like. It also helps us to radicalize our thinking and thus preparing radical action: “If you do not want to be my brother, I will split your skull.” Or: “Those who are not for me, are against me.” From the terror regime of the Jacobins during the French Revolution to the axis of evil according to an US-warlord president, we can find a simple operator in our thinking as the root of many atrocities and destructive actions.

Also and specifically in the matters of faith and religion, this operator has been used with great zeal. People believe that they need to proceed in the area of faith with extra radicalism, because the basic conditions of our lives are at stake. It depends on the faith whether my life has sense or not, whether it ends with death, whether there is a transcendent world etc. When someone favors another belief, my belief is questioned, and a simple and often practiced possibility in handling such irritations is to split the skull of the opposing believer. Then the problem is out of the way.

Interestingly, most founders of religion, most saints and wise people, that is most of the experts in faith are peaceful and friendly persons. Most of them radically denounced violence or allowed it only under restricted circumstances, but never made it the central points of their teaching. Yet their devotees shed countless amounts of blood, obviously neglecting their own principles, which should be defended by their atrocities.

The mystics, that is the experts in spirituality (as which I understand the central insights of all religions without their historical, moral and social attachments) demonstrate ways to control our tendency to spread our beliefs with fire and sword. Again, the royal road is introspection. When we look inside ourselves and observe our thinking, we will notice that our head is so busy in uploading and downloading all sorts of crap and nonsense. So we can state anything about ourselves – that we are atheists and strict believers, materialists and spiritists, esoterics and pragmatics, and more and more, and almost everything. The most peaceful person ought to find the rascal inside of him/herself when taking enough time to find it, the thriftiest the most lavish, the most benevolent the most begrudging etc.

And we do not have to be appalled by all this contradictions inside of us. Rather we can ungrudgingly concede that our head contains a whole universe, exactly the same universe we share with all the other heads. In life, we only display those parts which we and our surroundings got used to, the roles we easily perform. When we fall out of our roles we immediately attract attention: “Oh really, you can be funny?” “Oh really, you can be earnest?”

So it is in our nature as thinking beings steered by mighty emotional patterns that we construct oppositions for explaining the world again and again, and especially when we feel threatened and fearful. Reasonably we can use this design to enlarge our potential and to lighten up our inner world. When we have found a shadow part of our personality (a trait of our character we do not know so well and we tend to reject and criticize in others), the danger falls away, which we had projected into this possibilities. We gain a piece of ourselves and more freedom. Then we can act differently in the world, as we can include this piece rather than rejecting it – till finally, in the stage of perfection, we embrace the whole world with all its oppositions and contradictions, with all its chaos and order.

The rules are taken from Elif Shafak's novel “The Forty Rules of Love” (Viking 2010). They are inspired by the Sufi tradition and worded by the autor's imagination.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Rule 34: The Hidden Sense of Submission

Submission does not mean being weak or passive. It leads to neither fatalism nor capitulation. Just the opposite. True power resides in submission – a power that comes from within. Those who submit to the divine essence of life will live in unperturbed tranquility and peace even when the whole wide world goes through turbulence after turbulence.

For the enlightened mind, submission sounds like an insult and a humiliation. It would immediately oppose and say: I will never submit to anyone. I will never acknowledge a superior power above me.

Immanuel Kant has proclaimed the motto of enlightenment: "Have courage to use your own understanding!" And further on: “t is so easy to be immature. If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me. … The officer says, Do not argue, drill! The tax man says, Do not argue, pay! The pastor says, Do not argue, believe! (Only one ruler in the World says, Argue as much as you want and about what you want, but obey!) In this we have examples of pervasive restrictions on freedom.”

Who uses his own understanding, does not need anyone above him, he is free. He designs his own guidelines and values and follows them. He only does what fits them and fights anything what opposes them. This requires courage, because an authority one trusts in also grants security and shelter. The modern man of personalistic consciousness is left to himself and feels only responsible for himself. In the dusk, after having brought order to the world, he sets out riding towards the setting sun (or settles down in front of a keyboard and writes his blogs.)

This is the ideal image of the independent person of modern time, free of the chains of medieval thinking and social boundaries. The reality is different from this ideal in many areas. Permanently we have to compromise with other people and restrict our plans and ideas. In a world of growing complexity, mutual dependencies become stronger and more complex and less transparent and understandable.

Amidst the busy social networks the question arises what of this headstrong understanding we ought to use is left over. Is it more than a thought processor filtering incoming information and producing permanently changing constructions about itself and about the world? Is there something like an archimedic point behind all these production which holds the world together, like a “I think so I am”? Is this I, the anchor point of the modern man, after all the catastrophes and revolutions leading up to the age of postmodernism, still a relevant factor or nothing more than a cumbersomely mended construct? Do we hold on to our I so desperately as the medieval people did with a split from the cross of Jesus?

Our consciousness is made up of different layers. Not one of them can claim a priority over the others. Yet we proceed in our exploration when we dare a general overview and acknowledge that we are sometimes steered by the oldest level of mankind and sometimes by a yet hardly to grasp realm of a universalistic consciousness. Sometimes we use our understanding with more or less success, sometimes we move in this world without our I, sometime we function in submission to systems which we neither can nor want to influence.
Growth in consciousness means then to perceive on which level of consciousness we are right at the moment. This helps us to see which alternatives of perception and action are at our disposal in moments, when we do not know how to move on.

The masters of wisdom show us the world of the widest and freest consciousness possible to man and also show us ways how to get there. In this aspect, we also have to revise the concept of submission. We leave the hierarchical imprints of dominance and subordination behind and resolve all our issues with it. We enlarge our view beyond human attempts to erect a decent social order. This way, we reach the life power which is active behind, under and in all these attempts. It is stronger that our individual and collective efforts and transcend the understanding capacity of our minds.

We can explain as much as we are able to explain, and this is what we should do: Make explainable what yet cannot be explained. For this we use the mind. And we can accept its limitations. There are areas of our consciousness which are beyond and needless of explanation as they are immediately evident but cannot be put into words.

Part of this is the area which we enter when we connect to inner peace. This place exists, and we can find it for instance at the end of a deeply relaxing exhale, lost in a piece of music or in watching nature. There, tranquillity and equanimity reside, far from the chaos of our outer worlds. Here we surrender totally to the greater entity which carries us and cares for us. So we honour what lets us live, from moment to moment.

The rules are taken from Elif Shafak's novel “The Forty Rules of Love” (Viking 2010). They are inspired by the Sufi tradition and worded by the autor's imagination.

Rule 33: Learning from the Void

While everyone in this world strives to get somewhere and become someone, only to leave it all behind after death, you aim for the supreme stage of nothingness. Live this life as light and empty as the number zero. We are no different from a pot. It is not the decorations outside but the emptiness inside that holds us straight. Just like that, it is not what we aspire to achieve but the consciousness of nothingness that keeps us going.

Nothingness and emptiness are enigmatic notions, which are not so easy to handle in daily life. The whole world seems filled with objects, and even when we look up, we find something there called the sky. How should we see or hear nothingness, and what should we do with it?

Only when we start to speculate, something changes: When leaving the atmosphere around our planet and move out into space, there is nothingness till we reach the moon or the next planet. Physicists tell us that atoms mainly consist of empty space. This can cause scary feelings – we standing on our comparably tiny planet speeding through empty space, and far and wide nothing and again nothing? Or how the simplest things cling together when they contain so much emptiness, and what about this emptiness inside ourselves? 

Yet these are questions which just lead us on a trace without a chance to find answers for our spiritual path. The trace lies in the irritation which can be caused by such speculations. They break the cycles of activities and busyness which fill up our days in order not to encounter emptiness. They show us that the world in its self evident way is just a tiny extract of existence. And also, that all which seems so evident to us, is just a combination of information delivered by our sensory organs. 

When we follow this trace, it leads us to search beyond our daily world. How is this world behind the world of our phenomena? When there is a world full of things here, could it be that the world behind it is empty?

The first form in which we internally meet emptiness is boredom. It often appears when we leave the busy rush of daily life and we have no demand to meet or no appropriate entertainment is available. Also a lack of creative impulses due to exhaustion from the necessities and pressures of business life can be the root of boredom.

We suffer from the length of time which expands ahead of us. We desperately look out for a bridge to an area with safe ground. Just now “I do not know what to do with my time”, and hopefully someone will come to save me from this emptiness, or hopefully an event will occur so I can forget about this emptiness because it offers me something to fill it. We live by filling the outside with contents, tasks, stimulations and surprises.

When there is just our inside, for instance when we close our eyes and direct our listening and feeling towards the inside, then at first we usually find only the objects from the outside world, thoughts from and about the contents of the world buzzing through our heads, from one end to the other. When we stop to be irritated by that and wait for the end of the storm of thoughts and images, we start to feel quietness, emptiness between the thoughts. This nothingness shows up without any action from our side, and the experience is pleasant and fine. It does not want or need anything from us. It shows us that we are here, and that we can be here without having to be different as we are. Everything is right and good as it is. What a relieve, what a liberation can spread out. This is the life force, which we only can find in emptiness, in the in-between, in silence. It is pure, because it is not obliged to any contents or programs but because it only serves the ongoing stream of life.

The emptier we get inside, the easier becomes our life. Worries about things which have not yet happened, burdens from the past which have already been overcome, vanish. Things to do get done without mentioning, and the times in-between stay free for the nothingness.

The things to do become less important, because the focus is on the doing itself and not on its effects. By plunging into nothingness we learn that successes we are striving for, are only adornments of our lives which have nothing to do with our essence. Equally, our failures and disappointments are insignificant; they are the less well accomplished decorations. Of importance are those experiences which we accompany with our full and clear consciousness, and such experiences do not bear any label. They are fugitive and do not leave a trace. By this, they give way to the next experience.

Maybe the whole of our existence is like that – we can see ourselves as fugitive phenomena on this planet who at some point in time will vanish in the void, and then new appearances will take the space until they as well enter the void to give space …

The rules are taken from Elif Shafak's novel “The Forty Rules of Love” (Viking 2010). They are inspired by the Sufi tradition and worded by the autor's imagination.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Rule 32: God is Your Only Guide

Nothing should stand between yourself and God. Not imams, priests, rabbis or any other custodians of moral or religious leadership. Not spiritual masters, not even your faith. Believe in your values and your rules but never lord them over others. If you keep breaking other people’s hearts, whatever religious duty you perform is no good. Stay away from all sorts of idolatry, for they will blur your vision. Let God and only God be your guide. Learn the Truth but be careful not to make a fetish out of your truths.   

The claim for a direct contact between man and God is probably as old as the church and is a conflicting part of its whole story. Different religious groups have shared this claim, which has lead to uprisings, wars and splits of churches. Again and again, people realize that there should not be any institutionalized representative of the divine interfering in the direct contact with God or even worse facilitate it.

The hierarchical consciousness has invented the cone theory: God pours His wisdom into the angels which pass it on to the bishops and these to the priests, and what finally arrives at the common and unholy people, is just a fraction of the original outcome. Every step on the ladder from above to below has its own filter which takes away what is considered inappropriate for the lower laymen.

By this, people were incapacitated and stayed like that, and religions could establish themselves as instruments of authority. What people had to believe was dictated, and who dissented was handed over to the cruel elements of the power machinery. For deviant directions of faith had to be valued as direct threats for the power monopoly of the church. Discussion and development of the teaching could only happen within strictly defined borders where it hardly could blossom. Too many critical questions and reflections were forbidden.

Personalistic consciousness rebelled against such paternalism and limitation. It was considered as impertinence to state that a function in the hierarchy could help to a prerogative in wisdom. Functions are obtained by serving the needs of the power structures and stick to its rules, so an appropriate behaviour of subordination is needed. Those who bow in the right way climb the ladder to take care that bowing is done correctly by those below. So being in a function is only a sign for hierarchical intelligence and nothing else.

Yet wisdom cannot be gained in power controlled institutions. Wisdom is a wild plant which does not grow in regulated and tamed gardens. It is often explored and proclaimed by outsiders. Many prophets, saints and renovators reported about direct experiences of God, often in nature and usually in seclusion. They pointed out that God does not talk via institutions and chains of offices but that He seeks His own ways to the hearts of people. Faith does not get along with administration like a wild animal, which does not survive the cage. Faith loves risk and challenges to take risks.

So life apart and beyond institutions is harder and unsafer. Doubts are mightier as truth has to be searched and cannot only be read in a holy book or be taken over from an institutionalised preacher. And each of these searches for truth is individual, it cannot be copied from someone else’s how to make it. I do not find any role model on my way, because it is different from any other. I probably find people who give me good hints by telling me when I go array, but they cannot tell me what the next steps could be and when I have reached a goal.

On the one hand, I have to go my way on my own, on the other hand I cannot walk it alone, for I need by comrades as signposts, correctors and companions. I can easily get lost within myself by mixing my prejudices and projections with the truth. So I need the feedback of others, which they share verbally or which I get served indirectly by experiences I have difficulties to cope with.

This field of tension has the purpose that I can learn to withdraw my inclinations to generalize my experiences as this is done in the administered apparatus of truth: What is good and true for myself or for my group has to be good for all the others. Those who share my faith with me are with me, all the others are against me. Rather I recognize that my truths change, expand and refine permanently in the course of productive interactions with my co-seekers.

The internalized apparatus of power, which transforms people into fighters for faith, fanatics and bigots, collapses with the readiness to hold on to the tension between individual search and collective adjustment. Sharing and attaining power is replaced by creative and communicative growth in faith. By this, consciousness teaches itself to enter into the systemic and holistic level in order to prepare the social and individual conditions for the opening to the ultimate truths and deepest insights.

In the systemic panorama of faith, there exist many perspectives of truth and value setting, and all of them get connected with all the others. Not a single one exists independently and detached from the others, not a single one has an absolute position and not a single one stays unconsidered in the back corner. In this field, all the directions of faith can mutually learn from one another and grow in connection. Each one is appreciated in its unique feature and its special contribution. No perspective can claim a superior position over the others.

When this atmosphere is prepared, more and more people should succeed in entering the holistic level. Then they do not need any deities but are filled by the light of a free view on the innermost truth and clearest experience of God. By this, peace spreads on this planet.

The rules are taken from Elif Shafak's novel “The Forty Rules of Love” (Viking 2010). They are inspired by the Sufi tradition and worded by the autor's imagination.