by MuHammad Nejmi
A Basic lesson from the begining of much Sufi teaching as it most recently has been conveyed to the West in the projection by the late Idries Shah (pbuh) is not to undertake anything until one has foreseen all of the consequences.
This brings us right to the problem of effective action.
There are many teaching stories designed to convey this point and indeed it often occurs as a motif in many other stories. In “Worthwhile” for example, by “A Dervish” in Bodwyn Wook, the Mayor got himself thrown into the Mankato River by the Dervish and the Sufi because he simply could not foresee the result of his habitual and therefore childish demand for information, “Show me!” He had been living professionally and personally a provisional life on other people’s money, other people’s rather uncritical respect for his “professional” Feng Shui credentials, large amounts of federal government money and so forth, and so he had run his head right smack dab into the ceiling. This is common in middleage, and often enough it can mark the begining of a possible valuable new phase of life.
At stake is the matter of improving one’s mental eyesight, so to speak.
In any case conventional methods such as reading and lectures have to precede actual experience, precisely to frame whatever development individually may be possible. So it is the role of the teacher to know exactly when direct experience is ripe to be substituted for theoretical narrative and discussion. Sometimes the capacity to benefit from direct experience is not easily produced in a student by their exposure to the initial narrative materials. Conscious utilization is in fact simply impossible for some because of the deeply rooted nature of immaturity and it is made worse by social approval, one is “normal” and materially successful and so forth.
“So why do I have to read all this stuff?”
More than anything the querulous response of the student to the available materials tells the teacher what that student is exactly like and what approach they need most. The teaching itself, about not acting until one knows what all the results will be, works on many levels in any case and one part it plays is to help the teacher, to detect when an individual student is ready for more exact and “real” experience.
Or at least when a recalcitrant can provide a helpful example for others.
Hence in the Mayor’s case he could at least be thrown into the river and then rescued as an example to the onlookers, as a teaching device. Hopefully we don’t all have to be thrown into the river, although the Christian baptism motif seems to indicate something very like that!
In any case sooner or later there comes a time when the student’s objections may pass from the generic and automatic, to the real and humanly personal. People often first of all will wisecrack about the teaching, “Oh, WHO can POSSIBLY know ALL about the outcome of anything, even of picking my nose?” And then, later, a handful will return to the problem in a more thoughtful way, which is important because this brings us to the problem of prayer.
The problem of prayer is in many ways the same as that of formulating any other really successful plan of action, and there is therefore a corollary to this that says it all at this point:
ONLY He who knows how to pray can know how to act.
NOW Trying to come up with a good prayer, for those who have gone beyond “now I lay me down to sleep” anyway, is the real creative work. This is because “God, please save EVERYBODY!” is semantically impossible and yet it is also the indispensable thing. Good prayer therefore is so frustrating to compose in fact that it is in an important sense the real work of the Sufi. This is because actual prayers that “come true” are the foundation on which literally the world and the future are being built all around us everyday. And yet in his human embodiment in very few cases does the individual Sufi really fulfill the requirement to know “all about” outcomes ahead of time. He just cannot (this is the semantic problem again) and the suspicious student who may be otherwise completely unregenerate knows this deep down and perfectly well. That is the meaning behind their sarcastic initial rejection of such a notion. Even for the Sufi as mainly as a man among men, and even as a man “in the World but not of the World,” such perception is just not possible.
Or rather it is not afterward to be put into words.
This limit on discourse is simply a consequence of neurological physical limits and not the nervous defensiveness about these limits which make raw people say “who can do it?” and then turn away in disgust. Their uncertainty is instinctive, it is in fact protective as far as that goes and first of all has to be cleared away, certainly if they are even going to become elementary students.
Only as we tangle with this business of perception beyond narratives does the question become clear, which is:
WHAT Is effective prayer?
NOW All the people in the churches and mosques and temples of the World all praying on their scabby knees that their girlfriend isn’t pregnant and to heal their old grandfather and incidentally to “bring peace in Iraq” are not praying effectively. Only to the extent that petitions and requests such as these are made by persons in at least a momentary state of devotion can we say can that any real praying is happening. And there is in the last analysis all too much begging going on in any case. And so even the conventionally devout are merely generating daily a certain amount of psychic energy that then has to be directed. Their efforts in fact are vital on that level, but otherwise people are just blowing off steam and relieving personal tensions in an enjoyable, or at least habitual and comfortable, weekly ritual. Others of course go on a good drunk, which incidentally supplies other ranges of needed energy.
And just as with the drunk, some of whom do get into AA when they have finally had enough of being sick and tired and trapped in a closed circle, so some people when they finally wear out religion ask things like:
“Where is there a good college where I can study evolution and science and things?”
“How can we make this so-called ‘good’ God come through on things?”
As to the first, it is now apparent to persons of perception that the scientific setup of the past five centuries is at an end, and we are indeed returning to this business of making “God” live up to any number of promises. This is the agonizing problem of Good and Evil. The hideous and witless fundamentalisms everywhere of religonists and evolutionists is after all only a part of the rhythm of the history of Good and Evil, in which an exhausted civilization that is willy-nilly at sea in a new age, a new eon, has to take up the unfinished business of the age before last. One important element that will be taken up in new ways is that a certain amount of “creative visualization” has first of all always been going on in secret throughout history, and that now we will work with this in new ways.
In closing, those who effectively pray as always will be those who actually transform reality for themselves and those they love around them. Laboriously sometimes the work will go farther now as visionary workers indeed work out all of the possible outcomes of existence in advance, and then using techniques of “active imagination” create on the mental and electronic scale another existence beyond time. Needless to say, “beyond time” means the complete transformation of the past as well as the “present” and future.
THIS Is the meaning of the Sufi contention that”wishful thinking is magical thinking.”
[Emmett R Smith all rights reserved 11 December 2007]