End of Winter, cold and windy days. Some few little birds appearing as a sign of an imminent Spring.
I am a big fan of Winter times, particularly when I manage to have holidays in warm and sunny places.
Yet, there is something about this season that made me think.
It all happened while feeling cold during my waiting for an apparently far away bus.
The feeling of cold. My body has a natural reaction to it.
The feeling of cold appears and my body shakes, telling me that it is better to move, to generate energy and heat.
On that evening at the bus stop I could not seem to accept the fact of experiencing a low temperature.
Yet, there is an opportunity while feeling of cold. An opportunity to listen.
If we give the feeling of cold a chance to tell its story we might see that this feeling is not that bad. It might even be enjoyable.
Have you ever had this experience?
One starts perceiving the feeling cold all over the body. On the cheeks, on the legs, on the hands, on the neck. The cold seems unpleasant. But then a sudden shift.
The feeling of cold is not that bad. In truth it is what it is. Just a feeling.
Cold stops being unwelcomed and what appears is a chance to see it just a physical reaction of our skin to the low heat. Nothing more nothing less. It is actually a very awakening feeling.
How many other things are like that in our everyday experience? How many glares of light appear to be terrible ogres, when they are just a small play of shadows?
I have recently contemplated a thought: what if there was no next?
This question might seem detached, distant, or fatalist if you want, but it is not. Or at least, not in the way I mean it.
My question is a genuine investigation of how we perceive things.
In almost everything we do we search for a next. While travelling we fantasise the next city, when learning a new skill we want to see improvement, when starting a new project we to picture its completion, or perhaps we already think at the next one.
There is nothing bad in all of that. This is just the normality of a dynamic life. But, just for a second, I would like to ask what would it feel like to have no next?
What would it feel like if we knew there was no other thing to wait for, to aspire to, or to desire in any possible way? Would we feel empty? Would we feel content? Would the whole world end as we discover that we are something different from what we have thought?
I don’t think so.
To imagine that there was no next might also lead to a lot of appreciation for what has been and what is right in front of us. In a sense it can be liberating.
Having nothing to achieve might mean to have nothing to be distracted by. There would be just ourselves, our breath and the things we really value.
In the last period I have practiced letting go of expectations. It is not easy to let expectations go, for a very simple reason. We are trained to have expectations and when we feel discomfort in not having something to cling to. Yet also this is momentary.
When one expectations go there is a chance of just staying with what is in front of us. When doing the dishes there’s just the washing of dishes. When working on a job there’s just the task in front of us. When writing there’s just the stream of words in our heads. When looking in somebody’s eyes there is just the looking in the eyes.
Where would it lead to having no next? A very simple life made of thousands of beautiful moments.
This is what remains when we let the next go.
Writing is an exceptional art, but is it an artifice, a way of searching for truth or both?
I have a confession to make, I like to make stories sound better. It is something that my girlfriend reminds me all the time.
When something happens that is alright, but nor remarkable, I like to add some details or some pathos to it to give the story some more appeal. My intent is to make other laugh or phantasise. My girlfriend hates it and to some extent she’s probably right. But does this make me a liar?
I like to write stories. Writing stories is something great in that it allows us to create a world which is not there, which is deeper, or lighter, or darker, or shining at will.
Writing is also a way to do dig deeper into one’s own self. With writing we can create characters or events that allow us to see things differently and perhaps to see parts of ourselves that we don’t fully comprehend in an environment we can control.
In this sense writing might become a mirror which, by definition, should reflect things as they are. It should, because no mirror is perfect. Even the cleanest mirror has some micro imperfection that doesn’t allow it to reflect perfectly. At the same time that same imperfection is what makes the mirror unique.
My grandparents had and old mirror from the nineteenth century which was fantastic. Time had consumed it and only a part of it was left. The same part was also corroded and oxidized. This old mirror was not functional at all, but it was beautiful to look at. It had a character which made it unique. It was reflecting things its own way.
So, to go back to the point, are all writer liars? Yes, to some extent. Yet, even now I might be lying, so it is better if you jump to your own conclusions.
The process of taking out all of impurities was not an easy one, this is what Mahir was realising in his practice.
He realised all of that as he gathered with that company of Sufis, as they called each other, right outside the city of Izmir.
Mahir heard quite a lot about those sufis before deciding to join them. He heard so many different things on their behalf. He heard that they had lost their common sense, that they were mad, that they ruined their family’s reputation by leaving everything else aside and by joining this unconventional path.
Mahir did not fear of all this. He heard deeply in his hearth the burning desire to join that unusual fellowship. He knew when his hearth was telling him something he could not doubt. As a brave young man, he was rebellious enough to follow what his hearth whispered him.
“Remember Mahir”, once told him his uncle, “the rebellious ones are those who, over the centuries, gave humanity new ways of seeing things. All the prophets were not accepted by their fellows at their times, yet they did not give up. This is how things go”. Who knows, perhaps his uncle’s words plaid a part in his decision to join the company of dancing holy men.
Joining the Sufis was exactly how Mahir expected it, at first. A bunch of joyful people, dancing in circle and repeating the name of the Beloved. Everything was perfect, ecstatic, joyful. Nothing seemed to impair that bliss that Mahir had always experienced in the background of his consciousness and that finally seemed to have found the right foundation on which to grow.
Months had passed since he joined the Dervish. Mundane preoccupations were just a memory of the past. The future seemed to be one of bliss and divine enjoyment. Until the day were the unexpected happened.
On that day Mahir woke up early. He was going all the way to the central hall to start his daily work, as it was the rule of the community. As he was walking from his house to the hall something from the inside struck him. A deep sense of pride suddenly struck him like a thunderbolt. This feeling overcame to him quickly and deeply that Mahir did not even had the time to hide this feeling under some momentary distraction.
It was just unbelievably obvious to him how much his life had always been centred in his sense of superiority to other human beings. Even the holiest of his decisions, the one of joining the company of dancing dervishes, appeared to him as driven by a desire to gain importance, power and prestige, not in material terms, but in much subtler ways.
The more Mahir looked at this feeling the bigger the feeling seem to get.
After a few time the feeling grew so strongly that Mahir had a clear sense of exploding. Inside his brain a thousand voices suddenly appeared. Those voices were telling him how much he deserved to be recognised, that he was the holiest of his family, that he was the holiest of that company of dancing dervishes, that the was the holiest of the whole world. The voice was not stopping there. It started to remind him how well he did in school and that if he wanted he could start his studies again so that the whole world could benefit from the knowledge that was naturally flourishing in him.
Many other promises arose on that day in Mahir’s mind, many of which we cannot speak about because of decency.
Luckily for Mahir not all of his good will disappeared in a instant. He remembered what he had read on the Quran. He was well aware of the tricks that demons could play to the people in the search for God. He knew what had to be done. He had to visit Jalal, the headmaster of the dervish company to tell him all of his doubts and temptations.
“Beloved Master”, started Mahir. “Joining this company was the choice that most drew me closer to God. This is, at least, what I used to think before this day. Since this morning, however, there is a voice inside of me that screams so strongly it can’t be ignored. It tells about me. It tells about my place in the world. It tells about how you should sit at my place and how I should stand on your throne. It tells about all sort of unworldly things. I know that this voice is not true, but yet it won’t stop. I know that I am sinner. I am still the same sinner I was when I first joined. Oh Master, all of my search is just pure pride and I deserve nothing!”.
“Very well”, stated the Master, “I was waiting for you to come to this place. To be a Dervish is to accept God’s gifts, both in light as in darkness, as there is not without the other”. The Master stated.
“The human hearth is like a raw metal”, continued the Master, “to come to purity the metal has to suffer. It has to be put in hell’s fire and be beaten a thousand and more times. No metal has been born pure. Nor it is you, Mahir”.
Upon hearing those words Mahir’s pride intensified, just to quickly lead him to confusion and then desolation.
“But then tell me, beloved Master, what shall I do to overcome my pride? Because this pride squeezes me, like a bug under a shoe. Yet, I know there must be more. I have seen it in the past!”.
“You shall dance, Mahir”, stated the Master, “with your right palm asking for mercy and your left offering the world the blessings you’ll receive. In your dance you shall rotate, to remember that all in this world is a cycle in God’s will”.
From that day Mahir started to dance. He danced and danced and then he danced some more. He danced so much he could not remember his name. He danced so much that even his feeling of pride fell off. He danced until there was nothing else in this world apart for the dance itself.
Mahir finally became that dance, and the people looking at that dance, and impulse leading that dance. He became everything and only because Mahir was no more.
When the dance finally stopped Mahir returned to be who he was. He returned as Mahir, the dervish, with a hearth filled of gratitude. He knew in his hearth that that was just the beginning. The beginning of a wider dance in which to give roots to what he saw in his whirling bliss…
Could it be that the answer Jacke waited for so long was finally answered? Yes, Jacke finally got permission to relax and be himself completely. This permission from the biggest authority on his life Jacke could think of: himself.
The beginning of this story started not so much time ago, it started twenty eight years ago to be precise. Under some unknown circumstances (unknown to himself!), Jacke was born.
Jack always had a discrete memory of the events that concerned his life. But how it all started, why and on decision of whom he could definitely not remember. The only thing that Jacke could remember is that since, he had memory Jacke was searching for something. What that something entailed Jacke was not quite sure.
This thing Jacke had been looking for for so long seemed to constantly changing shape, taste or even position in his utopian imaginary. At times it was a desire to create, other times it was a desire to be recognised. At other times it was a desire to be safe, at other to go for risky adventures.
Jacke was constantly looking, and looking and looking. He looked into so many different sources: music, writing, art, careers, relations. Nothing was exactly able to give him the sense of peace he was really looking for. Restlessness was seemed to be the subtle state that characterised him for so many years.
This state of being was a very subtle one, like a habit that Jacke learned to embed so well that he was now able to deceive everybody around himself. Jacke was in fact a nice a friendly person on the outside. Nothing of himself could let another being guess that his mind was always on the move, always trying to provide an answer to humanity’s most timeless question: “why are we here?”.
It was only one day, as he was walking around the corridors of the beautiful Victoria and Albert Museum in London that he could give an answer to himself. There is no particular reason why we are her and yet all we do is meaningful. But let me articulate some more to explain you the meaning of what Jacke grasped on that sunny Sunday.
To get his point you need to know that Jacke was walking around the beautiful statues of the ancient Greece. For how much he could appreciate those statues from an artistic perspective, he realised how much the message that was embedded in those statues had influenced his life.
“Symbols, this is what those statues are!”. Looking at all of those statues that he saw so many times, Jacke could finally recognise that all of those mythological stories were what they were: stories. In other words they were desire and expectations developed by people, eating a breathing just like us in the past to try and explain life around them.
Those statues ver indeed exceptional, the treasure that the most talented people of previous generations left us. But there was no embedded archetype in those statues that was not already present in Jacke’s experience of ordinary life. The excruciating simplicity of his insight shook his whole body and soul in what for him seemed like a wracking of the ceiling, but which appeared as a quiet snigger to the people around him. Life around him was enough. There was no authority out there who could tell him how to live and what to value. His intuition and his presence was enough. There was no need to master any art nor discipline. The only art to master, if any, is to master one-self, be fully open and present to what one is, beyond every teaching from the past and beyond every restlessness.
This is what Jacke realised in a moment. All the mythologies, stories and traditions did not matter. Life was joyfully unfolding, and nothing more.
If you manage to go and visit the Victoria and Albert Museum. It has a beautiful “Ideal sculpture” room which is particularly enjoyable on a Sunday afternoon.
This morning I did a little exercise: I have tried to imagine the world as it is.
I have imagined myself being there with all my idiosyncrasies.
Then suddenly my girlfriend was also there, carrying her own character, preferences and behaviour.
We started to interact, chat, move around.
Then suddenly my parents, relatives and friends appeared in the image. All of them were carrying their stories, their struggles and successes, their desires and their interactions.
Then I’ve imagined all the people I know and that I’ve ever met in my life. We started to be a small crowd.
I’ve then tried to stretch the image a bit more. I wanted to imagine every person who is alive on earth right now. That’s more difficult to imagine. There are many different types of people: Italians, English, Europeans, Chinese, indigenous Australians, Africans. Many different types of people.
To imagine proportions I have thought about sand. There was me, a small grain, all the people I know and I’ve ever seen, a handful of sand, and all the people alive at the moment, a beach. I am not sure about proportions but, hey, you’ve got the point! The beach became gigantic when I’ve started to imagine all the people that existed and that will ever exist.
It is not a surprise that when I went back to consider the little grain (i.e. the writer), suddenly all it’s troubles did not matter very much. We’ll it is not exactly so. The fact of having to address difficulties was still there, what changed was the perspective of it. Suddenly a million of other possibilities on how to respond to life, how to move around in this big river which is carrying all of us, arose. The attachment to one specific desired outcome in life was kind of gone as suddenly there were all of those possibilities given with the interaction with so many people. Also the importance of myself in this huge river was much reduced.
You know, I did this exercise again some years ago. At the time, though, I did not enjoyed it as much. This was because all the time I’ve attempted this exercise I was struck by a wave of fear of annihilation. I feared that being small compared to the whole meant that I was meaningless. Now I know it’s not like that anymore. The sense of meaning is relative to the circumstances one lives. At the same time, also, what is more clear is that our physical and psychological expression is always accompanied by a background of unchanging awareness. No matter what we do or who we are, that field will be present and unchanging.
What a big freedom we have! We can be big, small, or anything at all. What we truly are will be unchanged and always present anyway.
What can we do with all of this freedom then? We’ll we can play, just like I did this morning.
We’ll, what else to say? If you have a free half an hour give this exercise a try. You’ll see how freeing it is!
If you want to play some more check out this video below (from 1977)
Long time ago a friend of mine told me a phrase which influenced me much more than what she would have thought. One day I went there to see at her shop to have a tea and to chat about zen and our role in the universe. I was telling her all my thoughts on the issue, all the things I could not figure out and all of the paradoxes I was seeing in and around myself. In that afternoon she came up with a phrase struck me like a thunderbolt and that still resonates in my head: “We are not neutral beings”. Five simple words, yet so powerful altogether. For her those words meant that regardless what we do our actions will always affect others and the environment around us. Being it bad or being it good an effect will always be there. At the time I could not immediately understand the real depth of this phrase. To be honest I am still figuring it out. On one hand this implies that the intention we put in our actions is key in defining the outcome of our actions. Everything we do will eventually have effects on others, no matter what, hence the need as aware as possible of the intent of our actions in order for them to be of benefit for all beings. If you think about it this is a huge responsibility. On the other hand this also means that no matter what we do there will aways be some instances in which our actions might end-up hurting others, or, on the contrary, we might be hurt. On this point my friend continued saying that our lives should not be a continuous attempt to avoid pain, disappointment or a broken heart. In a way those things are not avoidable. What we should aim for is a life in which we really allow ourselves to fully feel what occurs in the moment. In other words every sensation should be felt hundred percent to lead to real comprehension and growth. It is needless to say that I totally agree with her. If this is the case, then, this comprehension might lead us to real compassion. If is it true that sometimes we have no chance but to hurt somebody, or being hurt, then it is also true that we can take a compassionate view about it. We can perhaps recognise that in sombody’s aggressive communication there might be despair for a situation they cannot cope with. Other times we be compassionate with ourselves when we see that hurting somebody in the short-run might lead to both’s wellbeing in the long-run, even if doing so can cause us pain. In any case this fact implies that we cannot simply spend our lives under the influence of fear. No matter what we do, we will leave a sort of trace in the world, even if we decide to lock ourselves in the closet. Knowing this we might be much better off embracing this as a fact and decide to live fully. In any case I believe I will continue to explore the implications of what I have been told on that afternoon and hopefully those reflections will lead to a deeper and deeper sense of compassion and unity. Of one thing I am sure, on that day my friend was certainly not a neutral being.