There are two sides to every story and a million more perspectives. Stories morph and evolve through time and space. In the tests and trials that polish the quality of trust in God, a dervish living on a mountain makes a vow to never pick fruit off a tree unless it falls of its own accord. After waiting nearly a week, his patience and convictions thin. As his body weakens, his resolve weakens and he breaks his vow. Mistaken for belonging to a band of thieves hiding in the area, a policeman swiftly cuts off the dervish’s hand. When the policeman is stricken with remorse upon realisation of the dervish’s true identity, the dervish himself humbly accepts his fate for not only breaking his vow but having made one he wasn’t able to uphold.
This is why God said, “You all must beware to add ‘If God wills’ to the oaths you swear. I give hearts ever-changing leanings, and I lay upon each one a different brand;
Each dawn I have a new activity, to busy Me; naught sidesteps my decree.Masnavi III 1640-5
On the other side of the spectrum is the story about the preacher who’s stranded during a storm that turns into a flood. A boat offers to rescue him but he refuses, he trusts only in the Lord to rescue him. As the water rises, numerous more attempts are made to rescue him. He climbs higher and higher up the Church until he is left clinging to the cross on the roof. Finally, a helicopter comes in a last attempt to rescue him, but still he refuses. And so the raging waters eventually claim him. A pious man, he comes face to face with God and asks why wasn’t he saved, to which he receives the reply, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter!”
It’s a humorous story but one with serious implications when we apply the same logic to our own lives. I’ve often struggled with trusting my own intuition, in pushing through on promises made, even when circumstances change. I’ve noticed a deadly fault line, where once I’ve declared something contrary to my destiny, the Universe swiftly rearranges my life to prove me wrong. But I’m a stubborn mule, I usually dig in my heels and persevere anyway in unworkable situations. That is, until it begins to affect my health. At this point, not only can I hear the alarm bells but the smoke threatens to choke me if I don’t leave. That is the hazard of waiting too long to leave. By then, my body has already begun to protect me in the absence of my poor decisions, it rebels and decides that I can’t be trusted to protect it. So it takes control. It holds me hostage, making my life difficult until I succumb to its wishes despite my fears. For most of my life, my most challenging emotions lay trapped in my lower abdomen. These days, it’s more likely to be in my heart.
If the pain of separation from God is felt most acutely in the heart, then it’s also the same place where solace and the hope for reunion can be found. Life becomes divided into actions that either take you away from God or bring you closer.
If I had listened to the whispers of my heart, I could have prevented all this. Instead, it had to shout so loud to compete with my equally loud fears. But the heart is much stronger than the mind, its magnetic resonance is far superior. In every heart is a sophisticated electrical system, but when pulled in two different directions, the system can go awry. If you don’t listen to it, prepare to deal with palpitations, an irregular heartbeat and generally feeling like an elephant is sitting on your chest. Such is the suffering caused in the battle between the heart and the mind, especially when we don’t listen to our intuition. In the end, only one can be truly victorious.
With God there is no room for two egos. You say ‘I’, and He says ‘I’. In order for this duality to disappear, either you must die for Him or He must die for you.
It is not possible, however, for Him to die-either phenomenally or conceptually, because ‘He is the Ever-living Who dieth not.’ He is so gracious, however, that if it were possible He would die for you in order that the duality might disappear. Since it is not possible for Him to die, you must die, so that He may be manifested to you, thus eliminating the duality.”Fihi Ma Fihi
Listening to your heart doesn’t guarantee a life without challenges, only those that are worth fighting. History has a way of repeating itself. I find myself contemplating which of my ancestor’s unresolved challenges are being played out in my own life. The science of epigenetics confirms the transmission of experiences, patterns of behaviour and ways of thinking that have passed down from generation to generation.
“If a wound hath touched you, be sure a similar wound has touched others. Such days (of varying fortunes), We give to men and men by turns.”Surah Al-Imran; 140
It brings me comfort to know that I’m just a cog in the wheel, and if I’m not able to heal a familial pattern entirely then at least I have lessened the burden for the generations to come. Even around me, there are probably thousands or millions more experiencing the same challenges as me. Just as there were in every cycle of my life in the past, and in the future to come. The body has kept a score of it all. And layer by layer, I allow it all to come up when the time is right. Even the intrusive thoughts that plagued me for months in an acute attack of anxiety of an intensity that I have never before experienced. If depression is related to our past, then anxiety is almost always related to our future. As one cycle of life ends, fears come up. They’re dying too and they don’t want to let us go, but go they must or else we risk taking them into our next cycle of life. To befriend our fears and then watch them leave is one way, but they won’t leave without a fight. Using the breath and the body is probably the most efficient way to send these uninvited guests on their way without a return invitation. In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna warns Prince Arjuna that whatever one concentrates upon at the point of death determines the future of that soul. Once that process begins, it’s incredibly difficult if not impossible, to turn back.
“After first examining one’s means, one should either begin or not begin. Surely it is better not to begin than to turn back once one has begun.”Shantideva
Like the dervish, I know that if I give in now, I’ll only suffer the consequences later. If it’s during times of mental and physical weakness that we’re most likely to falter, then the importance of a strong body and mind during periods of transition cannot be overstated. Such are the demands of the unrelenting perseverance required in overriding free will with that of Divine will. In the myth of Psyche, in her final and most difficult task, she stops to help retrieve heavy sticks fallen off the back of a donkey driven by a lame man. But she is forbidden to help with a warning it will waste precious energy needed for her task ahead. She’s also told to ignore a drowning man in one of the rivers of the Underworld, despite all her natural inclinations. By choosing a higher cause, she relinquishes her own self.
“Half of life is lost in desire for a charming friend; the other half of life us lost in anxieties caused by foes.”Masnavi 6:460
When you follow a Divine path, not everyone will understand the motives behind your actions or the need for a transformation. A true rebirth involves an intense death of our former selves. It is a time for retreat from the world, to allow the new version of ourselves to develop, away from the opinions of others. Silence allows the breath to be conserved. The breath is the precious medium through which all successful endings and beginnings are navigated. With every out-breath we’re allowed to mourn former versions of ourselves,and all of our former desires and attachments. Space and time are needed for those closest to us, to grieve the loss of the person they once knew. But sometimes the chasm is too great to overcome and a schism develops and separations become inevitable. Hardest of all, collateral damage can spread to innocent parties too young to understand what is going on. But not all separations have to be permanent. It was the breath of Prophet Jacob (AS) that transformed grief into gratitude and hope. Torn between the treachery of his older sons, and his grief first for Joseph and then the young Benjamin, it was through his breath that he sensed the return of what he longed for the most.
“When the Caravan left (Egypt), their father said: ‘I do indeed scent the presence (breath) of Joseph. Nay, think me not a dotard.'”Surah Yusuf: 94
The reunion of these two Prophets was propelled by the intense love they maintained during physical separation. To let go is to let in what is truly meant for us. Even the elements caged within us want to be set free eventually. This earthly mixture of clay, water, fire, and ether can be our biggest hindrance or asset. Opposite poles fuse in the heart, from where all beginnings and endings are instigated. The compass that guides us back towards the Beloved. To experience the Beloved in this world, to taste heaven on earth. To die before we die, and still remain alive for the next cycle of life. To keep growing. To keep expanding until the last breath. To God we belong, to God we return.
“A window joins each heart that is apart. Since there is a window that links hearts together, they aren’t, like bodies, separate from each other. Though two parts of a lamp aren’t joined, you’ve seen how still their light will mix there in between.
There is no lover seeking union who is not sought by his beloved too. The lover’s love will waste away his body, but the Beloved’s love makes Him so lovely. When love for Him makes lightening enter in, it’s clear that heart contains His love within. When love for truth is doubled in there too, you’ll know without doubt God has love for you: One hand can’t make a clapping sound can it? It needs another hand that it can hit.”Masnavi III 4392-4401