14 April 2020
Cape Town, South Africa
I find myself beginning with the birds yet again. They have begun to play a significant role in my day. This time the squirrel made an appearance and furtively peeked out from behind a tree eyeing the bird tray. It deftly lunged forward and sipped from the water-bowl, grabbed a big piece of bread and dashed behind a branch frantically nibbling at it, still wary of the birds, who may spot him foraging their supplies. I was surprised that the squirrel even cared. It was at least 3 times the size of the birds and could easily win in a scrap with anyone of them, or maybe not. Maybe size and speed were no match for the sharp beaks of the tiny, feisty creatures of flight who lit up our garden with their chirpy twitter and colourful plumage. I want to know more about these fluttering creatures, their names, habits, subtle language and behaviour. One would think that this would be the ideal time to read about these things. Yet I find myself engaged in so many other things.
Surprisingly my days have been far busier than I thought possible. Over the Easter weekend, I fully expected to be binging mindlessly on TV series and movies, till there was nothing left to watch except re-runs of old classics. Instead I find myself vacillating between cleaning and cooking, exercising, and social media, and renewing my love for baking, even venturing into breads and cookies. Why am I doing this. Is this my time-out or is this my attempt to escape from the reality of my existence? My existential angst has been re-emerging and the fire within me rising yet again. What is the more that I want? What is the void that I keep trying to fill? I am obsessed with changing the world for the better, and even though this is a noble pursuit, I have to question why it is so important for me. How much of it stems from a deep desire to help and how much of it for self- accomplishment and false pride. All these questions race around in my mind as I meander through one day after the next in isolation of the rest of the world. This is supposed to be a kind of Khalwa (spiritual seclusion from the world) so that I may contemplate my place in the universe and my love and relationship with Almighty God. I find my seclusion less tranquil and more arresting as I feel Him bring me closer and closer to my own reality, my own truth in its full splendour. The good, the bad and the ugly, all coming together in the oneness of my beautiful but restless existence on this distressed planet. I sense an increased sense of panic setting in after the extension of the lockdown by 2 weeks and experts are predicting that South Africa will reach the peak of its infections only in September. That means potentially longer periods of social distancing and isolation, weakening economies and hungrier more desperate people…
How do I make sense of all of this?
I watched a YouTube video where a learned and wise Imam give a Friday talk at a masjied somewhere in the world. He spoke about the COVID virus not as a calamity but as an awakening of conscience to humanity. God is inviting us through Him to right the wrongs we have created through our own hands. ‘In this tragedy is opportunity’, he said in a soft yet assertive tone. If human beings were allowed to continue the way we have been we would be destroying this beautiful planet of ours. He described it like a train rushing at an unforgivable speed towards its own destruction. Beautifully, the hand of God has worked through us to caution us and stop us. Within only a month the atmosphere is being restored, marine life is re-emerging and the ecology is restoring itself. Mother Earth is beginning to breath and live. We are co-operating with each other and have forgotten to kill each other because something else is killing us now. We have started sharing our know-how and knowledge as the human family has become our main concern. We are transcending ethnicity, sex, religion, culture and geographical boundaries. “Beautifully”, he says in his calm and soothing voice, “everything is fading away within the colourless beauty of humanity and that godly sentiment of caring and wanting good for all”. This lesson is taught so simply. Through a tragedy comes the greatest gift. The purpose of God is not to punish us for what we have done by our own hand, but to awaken us to revert to Him. He is not a vengeful angry God waiting for us to make a mistake. Instead he minimises the negative effects of our actions. He is a loving God who awakens us and remind us to return to His protection and love, lest we deviate so far from goodness that we are completely subsumed by the darkness that we create. The calamities themselves have infinite mercies, such as those that surround us through this pandemic.
Although I had the knowledge of these concepts they had never reached the echelons of my heart and consciousness before. The most disturbing thing about this man’s beautiful rendition of the subtle magnitude of God’s misunderstood mercy, is that many people in my community would likely reject his words based on the solitary inconsequential fact that he is a Shia Muslim. I was even afraid to send his post to many people for fear of the backlash. How fickle of me, to care about my reputation more than the truth. What is this tragedy awakening within my own little unimportant world? Is it awaking me to my own vanities? Is it rousing my deepest desires dressed up as spiritualism?
This virus is awakening me to the darkness within me. I see it when I engage on social media. I study my reactions with cat-like acuity. I notice my empathy for people who are disempowered. I see my irritation at the narcissism I see in others, which reminds me of my own. I see the envy I may feel for silly things. I notice the quick criticism and judgement I feel towards others because it’s so much easier to project than introspect. Many of these traits I thought I had conquered, yet I watch them re-surface and I know it is my calling to quell my darkness and let the light within me rise like the phoenix. And yes, it is this pandemic which is bringing me to another level of awakening. I see the goodness in me as clearly as the darkness. I wish I had abundance to help many unfortunate souls. I crave wisdom, patience and virtue. I seek to help others and empower them to bring out their light and awaken their inner truths. Is it perhaps because I seek my own inner light and awakening? Alas! I also seek recognition, acceptance and admiration. Oh! but for that last devilish want of being seen, known and admired, I would have made a great teacher and motivator. The Sufi traditions teach about the different stages of the self. The most common state of being is when the soul is entrapped in worldly pursuits, struggling and suffering in the service of the baser self but always holding others responsible for their continued unhappiness. When one becomes aware of the soul’s abased situation and works on one’s self-progress to the next stage is almost opposite to the previous one, in which self-blame is so prevalent that it could reach the point of self-effacement. Although extreme it is the beginning of the journey towards purification. The third stage then sees the seeker is more matured and evolved, being able to “surrender”, displaying patience, perseverance, wisdom and humility. The world will feel new and full of inspiration. The 4th stage of consciousness, if one has the gusto to reach out of the comfort of the 3rd is a higher level of consciousness which encompasses generosity, gratitude and an unwavering sense of contentment regardless of hardships in life. Those who reach the 5th stage are pleased with whatever situation God places them in. The 6th stage is when one becomes a lantern to humanity, radiating energy to everyone who asks for it, teaching and illuminating like a true master. Sometimes such a person may also possess powers to heal and will make a big difference in other people’s lives in everything they do and aspire to do; the main goal is to serve God through serving others. The 7th stage is best left alone for now. All require rigorous discipline over the many different facets and layers of the nafs (ego).
Until I learned about these stages I never realised that my dream of being a great mentor was actually a desire to attain one of the lofty states of spiritual and physical existence. This discovery of what it means, made me realise how very far away I am from being the human being that I want to be and that I have much hard work and struggle against my nafs if I have any hope of getting there. As much as I wish to impart wisdom (which I have yet to acquire), and empower others, I can never become a true mentor until I doff the robes of vanity and part ways with my ego. Losing my ego is not the same as losing myself. In fact, the opposite is true. Losing my ego will help me find my true self, my higher self. Only when I find the weightlessness of a higher existence, devoid of the need to impress, to be right, to be admired, to be obeyed and respected; devoid of the need to for anything except Divine pleasure, will I find the path to my higher consciousness. Only then will the fire within me be quieted.
Through the quagmire of my soulful tryst, I am thankful for the fissure of light that I spot on the horizon as I hasten toward it in the hope of ennobling my rather tarnished existence. God has beckoned me, as He has all of humanity, to stop us from hurtling into the abyss of evil and self-created misfortune. We can choose to hearken that call or we can choose to ignore it….
With love 💚