by A Dervish
The late Idries Shah (pbuh), in Neglected Aspects of Sufi Study (London, 1977), stated that Sufis contend there is all the difference in the world between your ambition commanding you, and you commanding it. This is a typical sententious statement that often magnetizes attention not least because of its symmetry. It it this last of course that appeals to a certain kind of anxious personality with a “spiritual” orientation and one who now wants most of all assurance, even more than attention in this case.
In fact it is to be noted that a general sort of dawning unease, worry about the others or altruism in other words, in fact marks the first step away from complete self-absorption.
Up to this point, life indeed is unavoidably all about me. So now, the emergence of a suspicion that getting what I want is no longer enough may mark if not the next step in the work, then at least a certain willingness to pick up one’s foot and risk one’s hard-won standpoint. Of course the farther one delves into the infinite the more obviously perfect symmetry and proportion are merely local effects. They reflect mainly certain stages of perception, whereas the goal is to be able to do the effective work of existence.
How to be effective and not merely dazzled by some effect or the other — and asymmetrical random affects! — is the immediate goal of development in this bodily stage of existence.
It follows that the statement “there is all the difference in the world between your ambition commanding you, and you commanding it,” therefore is designed to work on a number of levels. For example, to a depth psychologist such as Dr. Tamm-Clattuc it can point to the growth of a new relationship between the ego and the larger personality, and one in which the ego no longer plays the obstructive part of King Log by day and by night.
Still others have noted that the work of the psychologists may be taken yet further, however.
So now we approach from yet another direction the emerging contention being projected again now in this form after several centuries, namely that the Sufi is a “magician.” More properly what is being said is that the work of the Sufi is magical. After all, what the magician does — apart from in stage shows — is mainly just science that is as yet not more widely understood. This is not least the case with the majority of working scientists today, of course, and so the purpose of a certain sententious class of symmetrical formulations is therefore to trigger patterns of associative thought.
This is directly analogous to the medieval regeneration of religious science (NB) which was accomplished in his day by al-Ghazzali.
Again, Sufis contend that these mechanisms are already there in whatever else it is you may mean by “the mind.” It is after all only a matter of triggering certain effects. Their discovery lies in the direct experience of them. Now the last time this projection of the magical content in Sufism was done was in the age of the fables of the Arabian Nights. As is well-known even today, not infrequently a character would fall afoul of some genie or other. In return for being freed from the bottle, the genie would offer a certain number of bribes. These like the prestige-offerings of our postmodern life now were oriented toward the greed and lusts of the operator — and, afterward as always, there was and is Hell to pay.
All we have done here is to substitute the image of a powerful genie for an equally dominating ambition.
Again, in the tales, the canny operater, often advised by an intelligent woman, could succeed in getting the genie back into the bottle where it would be kept available for useful work, as needed. Now, you here may try substituting if you choose the word for whatever it is that is controlling you. For example it may be the dream of finding a perfect love, after all you doubtless already know something about what luck you have had with trying to own something like that….
And so now in closing simply ask yourself what might not result, if you once and for all began to work on being a doorway into the world for that sort of love instead of trying to keep it in a bottle all by itself.
[Emmett R Smith
[all transcription-rights reserved
[9 August 2008]