The first blush of white blossoms of spring on the pear tree in the garden have come and gone. The same pear tree from my previous post A Tree In Four Seasons has proven resilient in the face of a mysterious infestation, being uprooted and close to death. It will take time for its branches to grow again and provide a sanctuary for the soft-bellied blue tits and house sparrows I so love. The tree bark once covered in spores has now recovered and grown thicker than before. Somehow in the changing seasons, the cycles of destruction and reconstruction have come and gone, moving swiftly to another target in need of help.
It’s the small triumphs of nature that give me hope that human nature can find its way back to vitality against the odds. Regardless of what colour skin we possess, participation in the toughest school in the Universe that is planet Earth in 2019 requires a thick skin and the stomach for a steep learning curve. In a healthy functioning body, the skin is designed to keep out harmful organisms but open enough to release toxins. But in a world overflowing with the rapid release of centuries worth of suppressed emotions, it’s difficult not to feel overwhelmed with the release of so much toxicity.
If I could choose which type of plant I could be, I’d probably choose to be a succulent. With thicker skin perhaps I’d be able to thrive better in harsh conditions, without getting washed away with each wave of polarisation. Though I’ve loved my long spells in nature, it’s left me feeling ill-equipped each time I venture back into society. I spent the New Year in the New Forest, one of Europe’s most ancient woodlands. Accompanied by my Rhodesian Ridgeback canine buddy, I walked for miles many a time without a soul in sight. Where solitude was once a struggle for me, I now struggle with being in the world.
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
‘Gate of The Year’, Minnie L. Haskins
After a month without much WiFi or phone signal, I was ready to come back into a civilisation that struggles to remain civil. Since walking away three years ago from structural systems that I once depended on, I’ve been left unsure of my place in the world and what my role is. Following my bliss has to be balanced with an ability to navigate my way around society just enough to ensure my needs are met without being pulled into my old ways of life and the thoughts that accompanied them. It’s so easy to get distracted by my fears and doubts sometimes that I forget why I left it all behind in the first place.
Someone said; “There is something I have forgotten.”
Rumi replied; There is one thing in this world that must never be forgotten. If you were to forget all else, but did not forget that, then you would have no reason to worry. But if you performed and remembered everything else, yet forgot that one thing, then you would have done nothing whatsoever.
It is just as if a king sent you to a country to carry out a specific task. If you go and accomplish a hundred other tasks, but do not perform that particular task, then it is as if you performed nothing at all. So, everyone comes into this world for a particular task, and that is their purpose. If they do not perform it, then they will have done nothing.
Discourse 4, Fihi Ma Fihi
My sense of self-worth has had to learn to disconnect from material wealth and outwardly signs of success. I’ve had to let go of external validation of my inner knowing, just because it can’t be seen doesn’t mean it’s not real. But I’m only human and each time I evolve to a greater sense of peace, I’m met with the twin experience of my shadows. So it is with the world, as more souls awaken and light up the world with their unique gifts, the more the shadows will come up.
My anxiety that I don’t have thick enough skin is still rooted in seeing my sensitivity as a weakness. It’s the masculine side of me telling me to toughen it out, but then the feminine side of me turns this perceived weakness into a tool of power. It takes a lot of discipline to remind myself to physically move my body when my mind becomes busy, with so many events in the world demanding my attention. My sensitivity has become the fuel for sacred body practices across traditions. By following the daily cycle of the rising and setting of the sun, it’s helped me stay committed to the choices I’ve made and the path I’ve chosen when my shadows make an appearance. Something magical happens when I train my body to move in a certain way following the rhythms of nature. With my head on the ground, my heart is elevated above my mind and back in charge. I know when my masculine energies have become imbalanced with my feminine essence when my womb begins to violently contract and forces me to switch from ‘doing’ to ‘being’ mode.
I’m becoming more attuned to my body working in rhythm with the moon cycle, just as the gravitational pull creates the dance of rising and falling tides. Women take in the energy of the world into their womb whether they know it or not. Ancient feminine wisdom asks us to transform this energy from a space which can hold new life, creating new worlds imagined with blueprints sent out through the energy of the heart.
Each day brings a daily round of insults to our nervous systems with images repeated in our mind’s eye that cannot be erased and flow into our bloodstream and seep into our muscles. Those who are wise and able enough will turn that poison into food to nurture an emerging world. Many others sadly become poisoned and the whole vicious cycle is repeated. The human hand is designed to grip all that we need to survive, to lend a helping hand, to comfort, to touch and soothe. Freewill also means the hand of the Divine will not stop determined hands from pulling the trigger of a machine designed by men to destroy and create chaos. Joy and grief, all lie in our hands.
These were some of my thoughts as I followed the actions of over a million school children stand for climate change, yet the actions of one man in New Zealand overshadowed all their efforts. As if echoing their voices, Cyclone Idai came out in full force in response to so many collective injustices that are killing our world. The children of tomorrow seem to know this while many of our elders feign deaf and blindness while still expecting sympathy. If we lived in a just world, those committing the crimes would be the ones to feel the force of their actions, but this is exactly the simplistic thinking that keeps our world small. I have to remind myself that ultimately, we all suffer. Empaths and those sensitive enough to hold opposing viewpoints equally feel the pain of the victims and the perpetrators.
A Sufi is not a Sufi until he takes it upon himself the whole of creation as a family charge.
The shadows of humanity have decided to come out en masse, yet just like the teenagers demanding justice for assaults to the environment, the world is becoming united in collective grief. For all those who have been praying for world peace are starting to see their prayers heard. Peace however cannot come until the pain is witnessed, so that it may be transformed and healed. It would be a disservice for all those who have suffered in silence carrying the wounds of those who came before them, not to have their hurts acknowledged. In an imperfect world, I wonder if the cycle of hurt will ever end.
It sometimes feels like we’re tangled in a messy net of global grief, with all of us at different stages for different reasons. Denial can quickly jump to depression and fired up again into anger before bargaining is exhausted into acceptance. Individual grief adds a separate dimension, but as I recently experienced, personal grief can transform itself in the presence of world events.
As long as one is completely absorbed in his own grief, arising from the death of a dear one, there is no way of gaining victory over pain or release from the numbing bitterness of loss. He may gradually forget, as most people do, but that is to accept the numbness rather than fully to adjust to reality. If, one can identify in feeling with the experience of others who similarly suffer, he will be freed from his own grief by and in a compassionate oneness with all living beings.
This oneness instrinsically brings an enduring peace and joy that are superior to grief-superior because they spring not from hopelessly trying to evade its causes or stoically steeling the mind to its impact, but through overcoming the evil to oneself by the good of a deep and fully satisfying love for others.
Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha
I recently lost my first meditation teacher who was the first to introduce me to the teachings of Buddha. Lonely and dealing with loss many years ago in a small coastal city in the North of England, I was struggling with the weight of belief systems that perpetuated my suffering. She came into my life like a beacon of hope. Last month I stood in a woodland together with all her former students at her funeral where a silver birch tree now marks her grave. All my unexpressed love towards her welled up in my eyes and wet the earth that now held her. The mark of a good teacher is one that is not attached to the path their student takes, with the wisdom to know that all paths lead to the same Summit. Our deep bond transcended race, faith, and age without invalidating the differences between us and the unique challenges that arose from them.
In the same city where my grandparents had first arrived in England from the hills of Kashmir, I had unwittingly recreated the religious pluralism that had existed for so many centuries in the land of my ancestors. My taste for vipassana led to a deep immersion into the meditative practices of Mahayana Buddhism following the path of Sufi mystics long before Post-Enlightenment thinkers in Europe. I’ve been blessed to meet many teachers from various traditions, but you never forget your first spiritual teacher. The blossoms from trees owe their existence to the seeds they first planted.
“The wise saying is the lost property of the believer, so wherever he finds it then he has a right to it.”
Hadith of Knowledge
I feel grateful to have met a genuine teacher at a time when so many of my friends are coming to terms with the abuse of power by teachers they trusted and who I once knew. I’ve vicariously experienced the ensuing fallout in the community we once lived and worked in, one that I walked away from a few years ago. Always an outsider, my words from years ago have been remembered and excavated by friends who now see things differently. It’s been a harsh reminder of the dangers of a concentration of power in the hands of a few. Though validating, it’s been painful nonetheless to witness their varying stances from denial to anger and confusion.
It’s brought back personal memories of being ignored about issues that were only a concern for a few. But a few eventually become many and the truth can no longer be ignored. For as long as those in positions of power only surround themselves with those similar to them, they unwittingly create grassroots uprisings where the power is taken back and the balances readdressed. Brave are those who return to dismantle the power structures from the ground up.
Three years ago I began a cycle of deconstruction in my own life, naively thinking this cycle wouldn’t last so long. Each time I’ve prematurely attempted to reconstruct my life, I’ve faced obstacle after obstacle, the timing has never been right. So I wait patiently on the peripheries of society waiting for the green light to come back into the world with both feet forward. Only this time, I refuse to make myself small enough to fit into existing structures. Either they’ll have to fall first or make space for all parts of me or none at all. It’s not thicker skin that I need but greater acceptance of myself just as I am. Until then, I’ll keep working on my breath and body to make space for the world around me, all parts of it.