Monday, December 12, 2016

Free range inner work

I got into a conversation with my wife this morning about the nature of our spiritual work, and how it's conducted.

  Less than a week ago, I was at the Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah in Delhi. For those uninitiated in such places, this is the real thing.  (The above video was taken leaving the monument area... just to give you an impression of the vibe.)

Getting out of the car, one plunges into the back streets of a city steeped in ancient traditions and the rich, dark brown tea of Indian Islam. Passing vendors who take your shoes (hopefully they'll still be there when you get back) and stalls choked with huge piles of rose petals and prayer shawls woven in garish, extraordinary colors, you plunge into dark alleyways, low ceilings, narrow passages lined with blind beggars and women dressed in saris holding their hands out for alms. It's crowded. Almost all the men are wearing kufis; the women, headscarves. You go deeper and deeper into the passages, trusting in the flow of the crowd, drinking in the alternating impressions of dark tunnels under buildings and bright rays of sunlight streaming through iron gates. Much of this is lined with white marble, surprisingly clean considering the condition of most of the city. You go upstairs, downstairs; hawkers attempt to sell you their religious wares.

Eventually, you break out into a square packed with people. Musicians are playing; prayers are being chanted. You are at the tombs.

 Women can't go into the Sufi tomb, but I am lucky (or is it unlucky?) enough to be born a male. I enter the narrow space, with the sarcophagus of the saint in the center, piled high with prayer shawls and deep layers of rose petals. The entire wall of the tomb is lined with men in intense aspects of prayer, their hands held under their faces to cup their beards as though they are receiving a blessing; one circumnavigates the tomb with respect. Understand, if you will, that these impressions are impossible to convey unless one experiences them directly; but this is the face of untamed Sufi Islam in India. A place of wild, organic, free range spirituality, celebration, and prayer... so unlike the quiet rooms and meditation centers that Americans like to sit in with their hands folded, striving towards spiritual presence. 

Maybe that presence is there, maybe it isn't; but here in this colorful madness, our earnest American activities are suddenly revealed as perhaps too artificial... they've been caged, penned up. 

All of the exuberance, color, and craziness of real life have been shut out, in order to foster the "special" conditions necessary for spiritual development.

 In experiences like this one — and all the other uncontrolled experiments that arise from ordinary conditions, which repeatedly thrust me into situations where I have no choice but to actually work in life, I am reminded of where all the most intense and most real spiritual effort has to take place.

These, it hits me, are the special conditions.

More on this in the next post.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

1 comment:

  1. Pity about the sufi least Gurdjieff moved beyond that.... :)


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