“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”
It’s 5am and as the city sleeps, I’m wide awake. It’s the quietest time I can find for inner reflection and writing down my thoughts. Normally I’d stay in bed and allow my thoughts to endlessly rewrite over each preceding script churning in my mind, but today I jumped out. Today is a morning that needs to be honoured and celebrated. February is a difficult month for many with its short days and unpredictable stormy weather, but for some of us, the storms aren’t restricted only to weather patterns outside. Almost twenty years ago, two policemen knocked on the door of the family home with the news that every parent dreads. The words ‘sorry‘, ‘son‘ and ‘car accident‘ followed by the call to the hospital in a city far from home only to be told, ‘sorry we couldn’t save him,’ have become synonymous with dark February mornings. By a strange coincidence, my cousin lost her long fight with cancer many years later within days of my brother’s anniversary. Each culture and faith has its own way of honouring the dead, but it seems that the more technologically advanced a nation becomes, the greater the fear of death becomes in a dominant worldview where events occur seemingly at random with no purpose. Perhaps it’s this subconscious fear that drives so much hate and prejudice. As nations contemplate building walls and closing borders, nature has had to come and remind us that She can’t be subdued by manly structures. With the rubbish and litter in the streets piling up into a stink around the takeaway restaurants in the streets I live in, I see a recipe for disaster brewing with all the ingredients on hand for a perfect storm. If a small virus entered here, it’d find the perfect ground to replicate and spread as quickly as the global media frenzy around coronavirus.
I find myself alone with these thoughts around the people I live with, so I keep them to myself. My constantly wayfaring ways came to a halt last summer and never really resumed as I thought they would. I’ve got used to family life again, becoming a stable figure in the lives of the children in the extended family I’ve added myself to. For many years I felt I had no option but to be constantly on the road because my unconventional ways were too triggering and painful for my loved ones. By some miracle, this sore wound has finally healed itself and I find myself being accepted for who I am for the first time. It’s easy to be liked for what you’re not but much harder to be accepted for who you really are, and even rarer to be loved for it. It just takes time I guess and much faith and perseverance. But in my darkest moments I always felt the love of my passed away brother.
At the bottom of my bed is an old tan leather suitcase filled with his things, pages written in his signature handwriting filled with doodles of car designs. Later on today I’ll take it downstairs and show it to the children and remind them of the uncle they never met. Pages upon pages are filled with his designs that were never seen and will forever remain as tokens of his unfulfilled dreams. At my desk hangs a picture of my father in his youth with a handwritten poem written in a language I can barely read. For years I’ve been haunted by the sentiments of unrealised dreams of deceased members of my family. Their silent nods of approval have kept me going when it became hard to face painful separations with living members of my family. But in every trial we gain an extra quality of the Divine we never possessed before. A seed must be pushed deep into the ground broken before it can shoot upwards. An oak seed perhaps doesn’t know it has the potential to become a giant oak tree one day, so how can we ever know what are true potential is?
Time after time I came to your gate with raised hands, asking for more and yet more. You gave and gave, now in slow measure, now in sudden excess. I took some, and some things I let drop; some lay heavy on my hands; some I made into playthings and broke them when tired; till the wrecks and the hoard of your gifts grew immense; hiding you, and the ceaseless expectation wore my heart out.
Take, oh take-has now become my cry, Shatter all from this beggar’s bowl; put out the lamp of the importunate watcher; hold my hands, raise me from the still gathering heaping of your gifts into the bare infinity of your uncrowded presence.
”Take, oh Take’ by Tagore
Perhaps it’s because I’m no longer in conflict with my family and enough has time has passed, but I no longer feel the storms of grief I once felt at this time of year. Maybe the real source of my anguish all these years has been the deeply hidden inner knowing that the responsibility of living an authentic life was now mine. Pain travels in families until someone is willing to clear it. Living a life filled with passion and purpose seems to be the only way to rise above the troubles of the world, not becoming immune to it but just knowing that by doing that which I love heals me and the people around me. I find myself being filled with gratitude for all the trials that led me here. I’m thankful that I was able to overcome the painful realisation that the life I had previously built was an illusory one built as weak as a sandcastle washed away without a fight by the tide. Though materially I may not be as successful as I once was, I have confidence that my foundations are firm enough to weather any future storms and from that, I take much comfort. My years of solitude have paid off and I find myself happily singing to my own tune amidst the chants of recants of the crowds around me. But that too is an illusion, we’re never alone. Even when I’m alone in the crowd, I hear and sense the silent footsteps of fellow companions on the path just like snowdrops blooming in January before the flowers of spring.
This is a Divine Feast, and all those present have been invited from pre-eternity when the souls were gathered in the Divine Presence to pledge their eternal worship and loyalty to their Lord. At that time those who were destined to meet in love in this World were gathered near to one another, and it is for this reason that their hearts are drawn together in this world. Whoever is attending has been invited from that day, the Day of Promises, and it is impossible that any of you be late or absent. Now all of us are taking our shares of that Divine Feast.
Sh. Nazim, ‘Divine Sources.’
In recent months I’ve been gifted with the rare treasure of life-enriching friendships that mirror my struggles of recent years. When I hear them speak, I hear my own words reverberating back to me and I have to take a moment to smile and thank the Beloved in sending me angels disguised as humans to help me settle back into the world. To enjoy solitude in the crowd knowing that I’m always connected to my soul family. My years of feeling alone are slowly coming to an end, and when on occasion feelings of loneliness resurface I only have to place my head in prostration on my prayer mat to elevate my heart and I’m reminded of all the secrets I’ve been blessed to witness. I am human after all, I’m prone to forget all the hidden potential that lies in all of us. The cure to forgetfulness is remembrance and so that’s what I do when facing personal tragedies and those collectively accumulating in the world.
Tradition has it that the sacred Trust by God was bestowed upon mankind after it was refused by the mountains and the heavens because it was a burden they wished not to carry. To be alive today is to be conscious of the responsibility of being gifted with this ability to make lasting change. With so many fires raging in the world today it can feel overwhelming to know how to make a difference, to remember to go inwards and heal our own shadows before moving outwards to heal others. As our capacity to hold our own pain expands only then can we witness and transmute the pain of the world. As I’ve climbed higher up the mountain of consciousness, the rise in altitude has often made it hard to breathe and so I’ve had to let go of excess baggage in order to set myself free. And when the clouds occasionally part, I allow myself to rest and take in the views and remind myself of how far I’ve come instead of worrying how far I still have left to go. I chase breadcrumbs left by fellow travellers higher up the mountain and sense their presence which buoys my confidence and propels me forward. Sometimes I’ll open my Masnavi as my map to guide me, and on this day it tells me,
“It’s not the time for tears and lamentation; it’s time for joy and much congratulation.”
Masnavi II 2757
But tears aren’t just for grief, they’re also for moments of joy. Behind grief always lies love. All grief is really unexpressed love waiting to be showered on someone else. Who that other person may be is never really in our hands either, only the Beloved knows best. Happy Valentine’s everyone.