In Learning How to Learn: Psychology and Spirituality in the Sufi Way, the writer, thinker and Sufi mystical teacher, Idries Shah wrote: "There is no wisdom where there is no common sense: it cannot under those conditions find any expression."
In response to this quote, in a recent on-line discussion, a friend wrote: "We are, as Al Ghazali points out in his Niche for Lights, surrounded by symbols and metaphors in our "everyday life" that potentially, if looked at carefully, can act as a bridge to higher realities i.e. "the metaphorical is the Bridge to the Real" but if we cannot understand those metaphors or symbols in their most ordinary sense and what they mean in commonsensical terms, it will do us little good to "fly" toward the "esoteric".
Whilst I agree with that up to a point, and agree with the need to first carry out the preliminary work of learning how to learn before moving on to higher things, I'd still like to take this further.
Shah's use of the term "common sense" might not be quite what we think
it is. When people say that "you haven't got the sense you were born
with", this perhaps comes a little closer?
Have you come across a phenomenon which we might call "parallel conversations" before? What do I mean by that? I mean where one thing can be said at a rational and everyday level, and yet something else, some other message or signal, modulates that basic carrier wave.
So, for example, let's say it is your birthday and someone sends you a lovely and witty birthday card, on which is the image of a male with tussled hair and a slackened and displaced tie, obviously enjoying himself at a celebratory party. That is the outward meaning. But the card might also convey other meanings (to different people). If the recipient had a problem with drink, for example, which might be of concern to the sender, either at a conscious or subconscious level, then it might convey other messages to the recipient at psychological or emotional or subconscious levels.
Or someone might use a metaphor or a common saying (either knowingly or unconsciously) such as "There's no point in mending fences while the wind's up", which might rationally fit in with a physical task that they were carrying out at home over the weekend, and yet might convey other meanings to whomever they were talking to.
Shah actually organized a meeting and he had two guys up on stage talk about
whatever came into their minds. Then they asked the audience what the
conversation meant to them: each could relate it to different things
that applied to them, that were in their minds at the time or in their
Of course, this will sound like -- or even be -- madness to one, and yet perfect sanity to another.
At the basic level, then, common sense means simply "common sense", just like it says on the tin. But I think in the upper reaches, it is the ability to communicate using a shared, subtle or hidden language, and to act (without the intervention of thought-out purpose) in accordance and harmony with what the Sufis call the Necessity or the Design. And in part, Shah's works help one to learn that language and to sensitize one to it. The program is one of "attunement", "mutual induction" and "resonance" (initially under direction) far more than instruction; of something that is "caught" more than taught; of unlearning as much as learning; of "know how" more than know what, about which there is -- and can be -- no purely linear A to Z. It is a journey of self-discovery and a re-awakening into an enhanced reality.
Making use of the language of the heart, however, is perhaps not easy, as the thing can be distorted by all manner of human limitations and by delusions, and it also requires one to be able to discriminate between the false, the spurious and the real and also the level from which such things are emanating (since everyone is capable of acting as a receiver/transmitter/transceiver to a greater or lesser extent and with varying degrees of clarity). Is the communication, for instance, head to head or heart to heart? And, when faced with often conflicting advice from apparent "sensitives", which advice most closely accords with one's real needs and the needs of others (requiring one to be master of the option: to do what is right or what has to be done)?
So clearly, one's first need is to carry out the preliminary work of learning how to learn, and the first stages of familiarization and sensitization, before venturing into deeper and more esoteric areas ... and that is the vital subject of most of Idries Shah's work, which he conveys through lectures, lateral thinking, counter thinking, the challenging and examination of assumptions, poetry, multi-layered teaching tales, anecdotes and jokes.
You can find the official Idries Shah Facebook page here.
~ Etienne de L'Amour, 31 January 2013.
• By Etienne de L'Amour ~ Google+