The following article is from a beloved community member from the UK, Dr. Majid Kahn.
The only way out is in.
The attempts to configure an identity grounded simultaneously in (only apparently) irreconcilable world views lies at the heart of the modern Muslim dilemma.
Religious dogma, so often confused with cultural norms, provides a model of living which is grounded in confusion at its inception and crystallizes as anxiety in its manifestation.
The incoherence of “me” is ironically disguised as a coherent sense of self, which provides comfort without providing substance and the illusion of permanence built, rather bizarrely, on completely impermanent foundations.
Such a construct presents a mystery to the consciousness which purports to contain it, principally because the said consciousness has difficulty in recognizing the existence of a mystery at all. It is only when this consciousness becomes a question for itself that the speaking animal takes its first tentative steps to accepting the absurdity of being alive, having limbs, senses, hair, teeth, breath, and mysteriously walking on a giant ball of rock, moving inexorably towards permanently inhabiting the very land on which its feet now tread.
Anathema to the modern secular mind-set is even the very suggestion that this collection of flesh, bones and blood, should have any predetermined meaning. Anathema to the Muslim mind-set is that it shouldn’t.
Meaning and its absence are arguably most authentically realized through that peculiarly human phenomenon: self-awareness.
And the bridge of this (apparent) gap between authentic self-awareness and authentic God consciousness is precisely what I had not expected to discover in the hills of Pope Valley on that warm October sunny day in 2016.
The existential space between that which “I possess” and that which “I want to possess” is the playground of imagination. But where there is a playground there must also be a play thing. Becoming the play-thing of my own imagination, I find myself emotionally pulled one way and pushed the other. Such confusion becomes the recipe for a suffering which I do not have, but which rather has me.
My attempts to relieve myself of this suffering end where they began, and I soon realize that I am rapidly running on the spot, going nowhere. I feel as though I am trying to fill a pail of water, only to find that the faster I fill it the more rapidly it empties. So absorbed am I in trying to correct the problem by filling faster that I fail to spot the hole in the bottom. For if I were to notice this hole, even glimpse it, it would change everything.
Propelled by my own suffering, I begin on a journey whose destination I cannot know. The Buddha’s apophatic path to enlightenment seems a reasonable starting point, and so I begin meditating. I dim the lights, pay attention to my posture, rest my hands in my lap, or occasionally on my knees; I am told to pay attention to my breath, my feelings, my thoughts and any bodily sensations I may experience. ..
And so I begin to feel my feelings. I explore their location, weight, texture, even colour. I might even ask them a question: “What do you want from me?”
The conceptual leap from “I am feeling sad” to “I am feeling my sadness,” I soon discover, is neither conceptual nor particularly leap-like; more an intuitive shift. Thence my entry into the world that is beyond words.
It is precisely in the generation of this space that I begin to relax, and to experience a relative stillness that gives me respite from anxiety, dread, fear and despair. I feel as though I can breathe. I feel as though I may even have some control. For to understand sadness for what it is: a transient state of mind, is to liberate it.
To understand my feelings is to understand myself. Trying to understand myself, I seek answers in books, courses, retreats, other people, family.
My feelings of isolation and loneliness are temporarily assuaged when I think I have “found the one,” though no sooner do I begin to feel at ease, then my old anxieties resurface, or are indeed replaced by new ones.
I cry as I realize that, yet again, my journey is at a new beginning, and yet again, I am back where I started, asking the same questions.
And I experience the thoughts which are the mantra of every seeker:
“When will this end?”
And so in my hopes of finding the final answer, I join yet another group, and seek yet another teacher.
But the troubled heart does not listen very often to its cognitive counterpart, as I pack my things and start again, finding myself at the beginning of yet another long, hard road….
The path through these hills is winding, and the trees are beautiful. The air is clear, and the lakes give a serene comfort that only nature in its pure form can provide.
I sit back and enjoy the drive in silence, relishing the bizarre phenomenon of a brilliant warm sunny October day (something which presumably could only happen in California).
Arriving at the centre, I get changed and enjoy a rather delicious meal with other guests. I am too tired to make much meaningful conversation, and so enjoy my food in relative quiet.
I later get changed and then we all sit around and introduce ourselves to one another.
I meet a middle aged Chinese chap who used to attend 100 day silent Buddhist retreats before coming to Sufism, and I hear of another lady who was a lecturer in Buddhist studies before finding Sufism.
And then I learn of the teacher:
then I am your brother to take your hand and
to guide you from the darkness to the light,
to the garden of truth.”
` Sidi Muhammad al-Jamal al-Rifa’i
I think they call this “home.”
It is said that a butterfly flapping its wings can be the cause of a hurricane on the other side of the world. And if the truth of this infinite nexus of connections holds good, then my feelings of sweet certainty on this warm sunny day cannot but be directly dependent upon the events of that terrifying night on Tuesday the 13th of May 1997.
But that, as they say, is another story…….
Majid Kahn is a doctor (family practitioner) living in Birmingham, UK. Majid teaches mindfulness to medical students, and he is an intern in mindful medical practice at the Rochester school of medicine in New York. Majid was born Muslim, but on his spiritual walking has gone through Buddhism and Atheism, before finally reaching Sufism and becoming a student of our guide, Sidi Shaykh Muhammad al-Jamal ar-Rifa’i.
We thank you, Dr. Kahn, for sharing your heart with us.
Photo Credits: Adobe Stock Photo © Dmytro Tolokonov #67761278