Tag Archives: Fazal Inayat-Khan
I wrote the above essay in 1997, inspired by my readings during a vocational film degree, which helped me to catch up on cultural history. The file was idling away in a Clarisworks format on an old floppy disk. A friend (thank you Ian) managed to transfer the text into a Word document. Cleaning the formatting distortions suffered in the process took a while, but was worth the effort, since I wanted to share this theme of exploring Human Identity in the Digital Age with my readers in a PDF file. A short overview of this essay can be found in my archived posts, listed under January 2018. But here is the full work, including its bibliography. The chapters are headed: Vanishing Time, Vanishing Space, Vanishing Body, Eyes that would Fix and Control us as Objects, Seeing through the Simulacra, and, A Palace of Mirrors. Throughout, I evoke scenes from the SF film Bladerunner.
I’m interested to know your thoughts on the yet unfolding theme of identity in our age.
The title of the essay was inspired by a wonderful Walt Whitman poem called ‘Sing the Body Electric.’
A poem by a former Sufi teacher and friend, Fazal Inayat-Khan, conveys a similar vibrant spirit:
A QALANDAR … a human being in the making …
Adam/man, Minerva/woman – a human being in the making – functioning in the world on the stage of life – playing the script of destiny with the delight of indifference and the carelessness of full satisfaction. A being knowing all there is to be known by it, yet ever learning; ready to feel all there is to be sensed by it, yet ever discovering new depth of emotions; capable of expressing its deepest and truest inspirations, yet ever expanding its consciousness; sensitive enough to give and receive love in all its forms and levels of becoming.
The full poem is printed in ‘Heart of a Sufi,’ a book I co-edited with two friends (see my book page.)
Here the last paragraph of QALANDAR …
A Qalandar is simple as a child, wise as an old woman, unfathomable as an old man. He belongs to the moment, she responds to every need. He speaks all languages; she performs all roles. They are one …
Fazal Inayat-Khan, 18th of June 1972
As an example, not a general theory, a parent who habitually keeps everything organised, clean and in place, may feel displeasure when their child does not follow this model. Sensing displeasure, the child may feel restrained and controlled, and possibly develop a reaction via contrary behaviour. Of course, reactions to initial conditions are way more complex. But both, excessive order and excessive chaos in the early environment set a tone.
My early impressions were in the middle, yet plenty of condensed experiences pull me into repetitive behaviour. But people for whom, let’s say, the organised model felt intolerable, meeting an adult partner who likes order, even in a mild way, easily hooks into their initial reaction. The desire for order is stability, beauty, keeping the wild and unpredictable at bay, and also serves as a buffer against anxiety. But someone who felt restricted by order may easily feel controlled. In this two-way process, any projection also frames the projector, and various complex relationships are such defined, with children, partners, work colleagues, mentors, groups, and even political parties. The irony is that instead of choosing a partner or group where this conflict does not arise, we often unconsciously attract an early model we disliked, maybe because of its familiarity, maybe because of the implied challenge. I assume it’s a psychological trick allowing for lessons in tolerance and, hopefully in time, a reframing of one’s life story.
While periods of stability are necessary, it is from chaos that creativity is born and new forms emerge, which is why some artists embrace chaos, allowing for the spontaneous discovery of new patterns and hidden harmonies.
To voluntary endure the dissonance between order and chaos is a spiritual quest towards an attitude of transcendence.
In this sense, and with the emphasis on becoming, my Sufi teacher, Fazal Inayat-Khan, who was also a musician and poet, used to orchestrate chaos in workshops for his students to great effect. He trained us well for the turbulent cultural changes that are now upon us, a global rite of passage we best consciously engage with. Faith in the unknown tends to signal our guiding spirit to open unsuspected doors towards a deeper resonance with the collective psyche.
“Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the heart of man.’ — Fyodor Dostoevsky
‘The Gods envy the perfection of man, because perfection has no need of the Gods. But since no one is perfect, we need the Gods.’ … Carl Jung, Liber Novus, page 244
‘The ideal is the means; its breaking is the goal.’ Hazrat Inayat Khan
Ever since I came upon James Gleick’s book ‘Chaos,’ the William Heinemann Ltd 1988 edition, I was fascinated by the concept which has radically changed scientific enquiries, as well as giving new meaning to my practice of transpersonal therapy.
James Gleick’s book also contains the amazing Mandelbrot set. Here a short introduction …
James Gleick’s newest publication is on ‘Information.’
Phew … here I’m challenged … a new wordpress format with its insistence on ‘blocks,’ disallows me the use of the classic editor. It’s a headache to create a post.
Imagine a circle of people, 20 to 40, adding their voices to the drone and tune of a reed organ, repeatedly singing a phrase for an hour, or longer, with short intervals when the organ’s tune breaks into musical improvisations, only to return to the melody and phrase. In the end the sound slows and fades, leaving the echo of your voice as an indispensable part of all voices.
Then imagine a deep silence.
One of many musical tunings my spiritual Sufi friend created went with these words:
There is a place of beauty –
There is a place of peace –
There is a place of harmony –
Before you grunt at the sheer illusion of such place, consider the evocation of beauty, peace and harmony as an ideal, a means – not a goal – a means towards the hub of the mill, where the grain is ground to flour in a process of transformation.
Musical tunings are regular events among Sufi friends. Their rhythmic repeating, with or without words, produces a trance-like state in participants – not aiming at escape, but at a homecoming. Fazal Inayat-Khan’s teachings broke rules, exceeded conventions. While honouring the value of traditional methods, he introduced contemporary phrases, like the one above, and responded to his audience with spirited musical improvisations.
The purpose of such events is remembrance of the Self, or the One. In traditional Zikr it would be Allah, God, though in strict Islamic circles music is not allowed.
I occasionally play and sing the above tune on my reed organ, especially when distressing incidents happen around the world and I have a need to tune mind and body. The place of beauty, peace and harmony only exists in the imagination, as a timeless inner realm, a state where duality co-exists, a state of unknowing, where the spirit of eternal potential lingers.
For me these group events were profoundly renewing. The body, my temporary home, became a tuning fork brought into resonance with the ground and the marrow of my bones. Suffused with consciousness, any mind-chatter merged with the yearning sounds, and my atoms realigned in new constellations.
Intention does not bring us to this uncharted and unmeasured inner place. And even glimpsing a truth flashing from there may shock the angels in us. Catching such truth can happen equally through other means … nature, art, dance, literature, drugs, breath work, praying, guided imagery, computer programming, psalm singing, sport, silence, fasting, dreams, etc., but resonance is needed, and a deep desire for truth must lurk in the heart.
While practices towards this ungraspable inner realm may have repetitive elements, the place is never repeated but ever fresh. It is where the breath of life pulses, just not at our timescale.
Returning from the inner realm to the contemporary flow of time, we get on with life. Yet such deep memories remains and will respond to a sincere recall, where we detect once more how matter is revealed in its essence and shine. For the psyche this is gold. This inner place shows that while we embody birth and death, light and darkness, good and bad, past and future, in true essence we are pure consciousness.
To remain grounded and prevent the fate of Icarus, I tolerate the company of my little devils.
My angels like it so, agreeing that while the obscure company I keep makes living complex, painful, a challenge, it also makes existence more interesting for that, and aids the psyche’s expansion of consciousness.
We mostly think through conventional forms and givens, for practical reasons, while another way of thinking embraces invisible and unknown dynamics via intuition – like the seeming particle/wave paradox in quantum mechanics, where a local particle also exists as a non-local wave. The two perceptions can potentially mingle creatively, but, notably in times of social uncertainty, they clash, and fewer people maintain the ability to tolerate negative capability.
The way autocratic opinions over divisive issues are sensationalised by some tabloids, sends my thoughts flitting through the mutable and nuanced zones of shadow lands. I write the glut of absurdities off my chest, only to delete the drafts, not having the talent or guts for the iconoclastic fun Marina Hyde pours into her articles for the Guardian.
The tit for tat race of opposing interest groups that blame, attack and counter attack each other eludes any balanced comprehension of events. Opportunists, generously funded, like to whip up the chaos for their own benefit. Fertile ground for tyrants. This will go on until the churning oceans calm and offer deeper reflections.
My early education was unremarkable, but I fondly recall a few teachers who made space for ambivalence, encouraging us to question everything and value respectful, if inconclusive, debates. Glib opinions and self-righteousness were mocked and laughed at.
In the early seventies, doing a short apprenticeship with a small Dutch advertising firm in London, we had weekly meetings, where ideas, no matter how crazy, were explored. Every person working in the building was asked to the table, including caterers and cleaners. This inspirational seedbed sparked successful projects and maintained a motivated team.
Decades later, during a part time stretch at Social Services, policy makers introduced a new computer programme for tick-box client assessments, a software developed without involving the people who were meant to use it – us. Sparing you the specifics of this nonsensical scheme, the nightmare in its wake resulted in multiple nervous breakdowns by employees. Since I had a private psychotherapy practice I escaped the hell and resigned.
A relentless trend towards greater efficiency continued despite loud social backlash. Over and over I listened to the stories of my stressed clients suffering from the overbearing changes in public institutions and private companies. The forced procedures insulted the intelligence of workers, who felt the stupidity and pain of it all in their guts, as did I. The harmful effect on mental health, family life, education, small traders and community venues … is ongoing.
Recently I re-read a 1970s lecture by my Sufi teacher, Fazal Inayat Khan – Old Thinking, New Thinking – also used as title of a small collection of his controversial talks, published in 1979 by Harper & Row. Some of Fazal’s students insisted on this publication. He reluctantly agreed. I’ll share here a few notions that struck me form the lecture, Old Thinking, New Thinking:
The end of real is false, while the greatest false is real.
The real is about form, the false (non-evidenced) is about essence. Fazal addressed two qualitative different ways of thinking, both beneficial if used in the right time and context. Those supporting form and tradition set out to protect stability, whereas those who seek essence knock over the stable towards the freedom of the unknown. Imaginative people, including scientists and artists, tend to overshoot crumbling realities.
The sad logic of power driven politicians is to manipulate social anxieties by promising simple fixes to allay feelings of uncertainty. In such times people tends to grope towards old thinking, to what can be predicted and depended upon, thus moving away from the immeasurable independence of anything beyond facts.
Old thinking relies on valid knowledge; however, to apply this knowledge intelligently requires new thinking, so essence can find expression once more.
Old thinking will bring achievement, notwithstanding that without new thinking it will have achieved nothing. Traditions wedded to established forms exemplify old thinking. Yet for a tradition to remain sincere and dynamic new thinking is required.
In other words, only what changes stays functional. Much as we dislike it, life could not continue if it were not for the transient growth and death phases of nature. The same applies to cycles that call for the expansion of consciousness.
How is one to value both form and essence in complex times and stay sane? No way around it, we must suffer the anguish of holding the tension between static knowledge and intuition in our hearts. Not easy. Perhaps because I experienced the 1960s new thinking surge, any leaps of goodwill from young people still brings tears to my eyes. I’m interested in everything. I’m interested in bridging divides. I even occasionally delight being in the spirit zone, with the effortless flow of things. (A Zen concept)
Deep, maybe very deep down, every one of us knows the bliss of being in the zone.
… Old thinking is a sorting process – new thinking is a melting process …
… Old thinking is a claim – new thinking is an aim … Fazal Inayat Khan
… for hitting its edge with your toe or elbow? Are dense objects sensitive to our emanations, be they kind or malicious? Call me quaint, but when I collide with a door frame I apologise, press the sore spot to the point of impact and send the pain back, assuming the wood tolerates it better than my soft tissue. It’s a long-honoured small-scale experiment with disentangling subtle vibrations. It works for me – pain and swelling ease miraculously. Try it, for fun.
We accept that people, animals and plants retain the pulse of our attitude to various degrees, from shock to nonchalance, yet how about the rest of nature, down to solid rocks and stones? I assume my relationship with what I see, touch or think about is reciprocal, for better or worse.
As in receiving and sending waves, I converse with my body, with trees, shrubs, flowers and creatures. I caution spiders not to come near my sleeping space. I have heart-to-heart chats with my house, laptop, car, and all manner of things. I say thank you to what I value and depend upon and even use little mantras conveying something like – all is well – I hear you gasp. I do this to disrupt mindless automatic response patterns. With people, I admit, it’s way more complicated.
I reckon all known and unknown life is moved by a force we poorly understand. Call it by any name, god, spirit, psychic energy, the ghost in the machine, it is a power that works throughout the cosmos, including the things we create, like tools, art, furniture, buildings, machines, weapons, ships, cars, trains, planes, phones, computers. As we project our pleasure or frustration into gadgets and the autonomous functions programmed into them, nature’s energy currents flow and oscillate through all, the whole universe.
I conclude that nothing is dead, lifeless, artificial and of no consequence.
Thomas Vaughan puts it poetically: ‘The real world is invisible. Thus in the physical or spiritual or light world – all forms or beings – stones, trees, stars, streams, men, flames and turds are really facts of invisible presences. Mineral, wood, fire, water, flesh are terms of dense soul-full sense.’
During recent centuries, western cultures developed multiple viewpoints. But what is happening to this wonderful diversity, given the hyper connectivity of the internet, where the masses turn for guidance, where people empowered by visibility offer opinions that swing back & forth in dramatic ways? Is this the dawn of a new tribalism that blanks out the unique contexts and realities of individual minds? One has to have one’s wits about these days.
In his time, Walter Benjamin wrote: ‘Technology, instead of liberating us from myth, confronts us with a force of a second nature just as overwhelming as the forces of an elementary nature in archaic times; our need for a practical philosophy of self-knowledge has never been greater.’
You see where this is going … autonomous technological devices will be no less interdependent than us, relying on social cohesion, the spin of politics, networks that harvest electricity –like, a solar flare could halt all digital utilities on this planet. So I wonder about it all, given there’s much we don’t understand about the forces that govern nature, and the input human consciousness has towards its geometry.
My Sufi friend, Fazal Inayat-Khan, said once in a lecture: , ‘Let us look at reality as a sort of operating faith, a sort of subjective, self-created assignment of realness … It is radiant intelligence which creates reality.’
Or, in another lecture: ‘The experience you have within yourself of your separate identity, to allow right and wrong to be re-defined by your singular contribution, is where evolution really happens. You, by becoming yourself, can open a new wavelength.’
C.G. Jung spent his life mapping the deeper structures of human experience, the collective unconscious, archetypes, and the shadow. Now that a collective mind is mirrored back to us, magnified on screens via the internet, it present an ideal opportunity to explore what is emerging for the collective psyche in the gap between recurring states of balance.
The flashing mirrors of the media blind me at times. Wary of the hive, I also like to belong. When fed up, in need of digestion, I retreat to a cave in my mind (once real) where I attend to what bubbles up from the unconscious in that zone between dreaming and waking, until I emerge from my cave into the light of a new reality, new beauty, new meaning and new questions.
This post is not about social, political or spiritual affiliations, but shares an attitude that aims at openness towards the unknown.
And I wonder what my readers think about conversing with dense objects 🙂
… “If we ever reach the point where we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from, we will have failed.” Carl Sagan
With the vast volume of creative expressions by innovators, scientists, thinkers, writers and artists of any kind in our climate of over-saturated productions – some unique works will flicker shortly and then sink to seeming oblivion, temporarily invisible on the crossroads. Does it matter?
My Sufi friend, Fazal Inayat-Khan, once said, ‘If Einstein had never published his theories, his ideas would still have irrevocably changed the world of science.’
What makes products succeed in the public domain? Is it genius, fame, skill, merit, sponsorship, contacts, money, timing, luck, or the phenomenon of strong desire and expectation? Over years of psychotherapy practice I’ve met people, who, let’s say, were the apple of the eye of a parent, a friend, a teacher, a mentor, or maybe an angel of synchronicity that inspired confidence towards success. While some people may be born with faith in their desire, others, whose confidence was knocked, need a nudge. Expectation feeds success. Expectation is uncanny; it’s like carrying a magnet.
Still, even meteoric success can be short lived. Weighed down with superlative praise, a work can sizzle out and draw ridicule. When a lauded product doesn’t impress me, I ask myself – is this because of my acquired taste, my hugging of precious time, my complex mind, my standards, my arrogance, or my jealousy? A half-truth sneaks through all these questions, embarrassing. Shouldn’t creative people support each other?
Yes and no. Triggers that stimulate us vary. I must catch the tune of an authentic wave that keeps me in the zone. My interest wakes when an unnameable quality shines through a work of art. I call it an internalised idea transformed in the heart. This kind of deep assimilation is often transmitted by poets, like Rilke, Rumi, Neruda, Warsan Shire, to randomly pick only a few artists who reveal multiple layers of meaning.
Equally, the simple words of some prayers and mantras transmit the power of their initially intended blessing. Then again, if a quality is not already dormant in me, I may sense the love tincture, but the symbolic aspect drowns in crackling noises when I can’t fine-tune the relevant radio wave. This is why, when we return at different times during our lives to creative works that intrigued us, we may find the essence of a message and grok how it relates to us with sudden intuitive comprehension.
‘Grok’ is a word coined by Robert A Heinlein in his 1961 novel ‘Stranger in a Strange Land.’ A Martian term for intuitive understanding, though it means much more. The Wikipedia entry for Grog is totally worth reading.
Cloned, copied and reassembled work, in short, quirky experimental materials, often has deeply assimilated qualities, if one can detect the code. In today’s flood-lit cyberspace there is stuff that blinks and chimes, stuff that rings pretentious, and stuff the heart can’t decode, yet.
As for writers who tilled a patch of their inner territory and planted seeds that thrive, it can be a lone satisfaction when no promoter propels readers to seek out the garden so lovely and inspiring to spend time in.
When a few connoisseurs find and grok the hidden place, the pleasure is shared. And that’s not even addressing the mysterious process of any creative work, the reward of which lives on in other time-zones.
To bring back the question – does it matter if creative works don’t appear in the light, are invisible on the public crossroads? The publishing world, for example, geared to profit, accumulates mountains of slush piles, like compost heaps. When you think of it – all manifestations are constantly recycled, small bits, big bits. And yet, I sincerely believe that anything processed and transmitted through the heart’s intelligence leaves a coherent mark and demands eternal resurrection. In other words, the essence of these works will shine on.
This post may be a tad confusing, not telling you anything you don’t already know. But having been immersed in editing ‘Shapers’ and composing a short story for a local competition, and, sigh, fretting over practical issues, like a defunct heating system I have nil resources to fix, nor the nerve to tap into the bureaucratic nightmare of government grants, I wanted to pause and say hello to all creative warriors out there.
In this warm and wet autumn
fresh grass grows, as soft as silk …
Talking of growth and beautiful spaces, visit this plot of a friend with a brilliant mind, who inspires by planting riches in a real earth plot in the middle of a roundabout.