Monday, 6 October 2014

The City of Separation: A Tale of Transformation

There was once a city covered by clouds. In it were great office buildings, schools, stores, and factories. The city was a place where raw materials, both physical and human, flowed. It was the centre of the economy. It was where you had to be if you wanted to be an important, successful person, but it was also a place where many terrible things happened. The majority of people in their own estimation were failures; no person or place was secure from unlawful behaviour; and the result of this environment was an infinite variety of illnesses, some of them deadly and contagious. This city was very dark. To be noticed more, the people improvised various extreme forms of behaviour and dress. They lived in fear and suspicion. Even so-called friends withheld much from one another. If you asked who was in charge, you would be told, "We are all free here; we follow our own selves. No one controls us. This is just the way things are."

At first I had found this city interesting. I was drawn to walking its dark streets at all hours. Eventually I began to wish to find some other life, or change something inside myself, but as often as I thought about it, nothing ever changed. I once asked someone, "Am I the only one who feels that something is not right? Or do other sometimes feel this way?" "Sure, we all complain," he answered. "But this is life. We have to adjust to reality. Why whistle in the wind? But there is a neighborhood of this city where you can find people who feel the way you do."

I was informed of the neighbourhood of Remorse, as it was called, and came to know the people there. They were in every respect like the other people of this city, except that they felt remorse over some of their actions. Among the population were many arrogant, envious, and insincere individuals who took pleasure in getting the upper hand in every situation. I came to know them well – their selfishness and doubt, their obsessions and hesitations, their remorse, and their inevitable acceptance of their weakness. I asked, "Why don't people change? Why do they only think about it and never do it? Why don't we consider how all this will end?"

By some chance a few of the people of this neighbourhood found their way out of the city and came to the village of Sharing. They found it either through real desperation or by accident. A sign at the village limits said, "Spirit in us All". The people here enjoyed many forms of togetherness. They had many occasions for celebration, and they sang songs together and danced. Their children were respected and allowed plenty of play time, and they were also given useful work. Travellers were always welcomed and cared for. Family members did not fear getting old and useless. If someone fell sick, others took this as a special opportunity to visit. Married people did not fear judgment or abandonment. Lovers were guiltless and pure. Each person valued his or her work because of how it fit into the whole, and everyone had something to work at because all were needed by the others. But more than anything, what kept the people happy was the totally irrational and immeasurable love they felt for a goddess of affection who walked amongst them. Once people had met her there was little chance of their ever returning to the city.

Painting: "Horae Serenae" (detail) by Sir Edward John Poynter

Unlike the people of the city who acted solely and predictably from their own selfish-interest, these people of Sharing were unpredictable. They acted irrationally, giving always the best they had and expecting nothing in return. These people lived in a mist of love. They would not have survived well in most other places, but here in Sharing one found rich and poor together. The most educated were humbly teaching those who wished to know more. Those who were served respected those serving them. I immediately felt relaxed and at home, even joyous. My life went along smoothly for some time before I began to feel unsettled in my heart. When I saw a certain old man whose face was radiant with life and compassion, I told him, "Maybe you can help me. I cannot seem to remember what it is I really want."

"What do you deeply love?"

"When I was in the city I had forgotten about love. When I came to this village, I realized that there was nothing I wanted more than to be here with these people, but now I am not sure."

"Beyond this village, my son, is a place you might visit," he said. "Don't worry, I can easily take you there. In this place, you may meet, God willing, four kinds of people:

"First, there are the Pretenders. You will see them reading and talking about the Truth, even doing the postures of meditation and the forms of worship, but their minds are often somewhere else. And yet they are practicing the ways of love, the fruits of love, as if they really knew love, and this will save them in the end. They are learning that the One has many names. May their imitation become reality.

"Then there are the Warriors. They practice the Greater Work, the struggle with the ego. They are quiet and gentle, thankful and courteous. The activities they love are the simple acts of living, prayer, and spontaneous service. They have shed the artificialities of the ego and its many distractions. Their egos have been tamed by love, found submission, and learned to serve their great Self. If you find them, stay with them long enough to learn patience and the real contentment.

"Third, you may meet, God willing, the People of Remembrance. They remember the One inwardly in all they do. They eat little, sleep little, and speak little lest distract one another's attention from the presence of the One. They are the easiest people to be with — light as feather, never a burden on anyone. If you spend many years with them, God willing, you might overcome your forgetfulness, doubt, and withholding. But even when you do, you will still have the hidden contradiction of I and He."

At this moment I was overcome with such sadness, and the tears were flowing before I knew it. I wanted to drown in this sea of sorrow, because I felt so far from anything real — so lost — but the sight of the radiant face of my old friend took away my sense of hopelessness.

"Oh dear one," he said, "slave of your own ego, orphan, exile, beggar, the fourth group you will meet, God willing, are the People of Total Submission. They undertake no unnecessary action on their own, but there is no obstacle to the will of their great Self, no hesitation, no second thoughts, no bargaining. They have reached the most subtle state of themselves and know their own nothingness. These people ask nothing for themselves because they are identified with the creative power Itself. You may live among them for many years until you know of their state and your actions appear as theirs, but you will not be inwardly one of them if you still suffer from separation, if you are still yourself, if you still feel lover and beloved. While your experience still comes from the well of your own subconscious, by your own inner faculties — as long as a trace of you remains in you — you have not attained your purpose. Know that there is a knowledge and certainty that comes through Spirit alone. Spirit plus Nothing: that is your highest destiny.

The above is a version of a story from an unpublished nineteenth-century Sufi source as re-told in "Living Presence" by Kabir Helminski:

so that those of us who are searching will reflect —
on where it is we live and 
where we are going?

Emily Dickinson & Charles Baudelaire

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) & Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) lived in different continents, but for both their religion – 
and intoxication — 
was poetry!

I dwell in Possibility —
A fairer House than Prose —
More numerous of Windows —
Superior — for Doors —

Of Chambers as the Cedars —
Impregnable of eye —
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky —

Of Visitors — the fairest —
For Occupation — This —
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise —

Baudelaire, ‘Get Drunk’

Always be drunk.
That is all
there is to it.
Do not feel
Time’s horrible burden
chip at your shoulders
and crush you into the earth,
by getting drunk and staying so.
On what?
On wine, on poetry, on virtue, on whatever.
But get drunk.
And if you find yourself
at the steps of a palace,
on the green grasses of a gutter
or in the bleak dejection of your room,
waking to find your drunkenness
already fading, disappearing,
ask the wind,
or clock,
ask anything that flees,
anything that whimpers,
ask anything that rolls,
or speaks, ask what time it is;
and the wind,
bird or clock
will all answer you,
‘Time to get drunk!
Avoid becoming Time’s martyred slaves,
by getting drunk;
by getting drunk endlessly!
On wine, on poetry, on virtue, on whatever.’ 


I taste a liquor never brewed —
From Tankards scooped in Pearl —
Not all the Vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an Alcohol!

Inebriate of Air — am I —
And Debauchee of Dew —
Reeling — thro endless summer day —
From inns of Molten Blue —

When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove's door —
When Butterflies — renounce their “drams” —
I shall but drink the more!

Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats —
And Saints — to windows run —
To see the little Tippler
Leaning against the — Sun —