Thursday, 18 October 2018

Exercises: The Sufi Way

"Did the writer Idries Shah give people exercises?" someone recently asked, while another asked rhetorically, "What is the value of merely accumulating data points from reading?" Elsewhere, someone contributed to this question, as it relates to the teaching stories, an important element of "the course", like the poetry, that is sometimes neglected.

Please forgive me, I certainly don't mean to teach our good friends here how to suck eggs, nor preach to the highly experienced and talented choir! But someone did ask these questions.

Zikr (an exercise used in other traditional circles) is a repetitive, iterative exercise in remembrance, that helps you connect, and leads to improvement in certain senses.

In certain early groups, Shah had everyone chant "Om mani padme hum" at the commencement of group meetings, just as Alfredo Offidani, a one-time responsible of Omar Ali-Shah, gives a "rosal of the new phase" to all neophytes, so at a certain level there can be exercises given to all-and-sundry, as well as individually-prescribed exercises, such as those involving the lataif.



Reading Shah is also a daily exercise in remembrance, for many, and he is adept at keeping one on one's toes. It's not simply a matter of accumulating data points, though in the early stages there is a necessity to take the raw material on-board. If anything, rather than carrying a large inventory, knowledge arrives "just in time", in response to the needs of time, place, people and circumstances.

We go through four stages in our development: Earth, Water, Air and Fire and this can be likened to the way in which a farmer or gardener first prepares the ground (at a societal or cultural level, and also at a personal level), essaying the dead wood and the rocks (such as our unregenerate and base nature, unnecessary religious accretions, erroneous beliefs, intellectualization and opinions (opinions being like a**holes: everyone's got one and thinks theirs smells sweeter)). As I say, first pointing out and essaying the dead wood, and getting the pupil to contribute some of their energy to removing it. Next, and also at the same time, as part of the ongoing process, the materials are introduced as dormant seeds, and with the application of "water" and as the air becomes warmer, and with a vestigial instinct to direct themselves toward the light, these seeds begin to sprout and burrow up through the prepared soil, and out into the open air, where as the "season" progresses, the seeds become plants, gradually mature, begin to fruit, ripen, and are harvested. After which time, the "food crop" may perhaps be ground up, mixed with water, salt and the magical ingredient of "yeast", and baked into bread, (again, EWAF of a higher order), which is in turn eaten, digested and its nutrients assimilated. In the process, there are shocks to the system and other interventions (provoking real change), and these are all, in a sense, a part of the broader set of exercises, and these are the sort of things that are often "individually prescribed" as a result of the unique way in which individuals will approach and interact with the Teaching, or facets of it.

Things change as we develop. At a certain stage, we're going to be carting dead wood around with us; later we may fashion clothes pegs or other artefacts from it, or burn it on a fire while in the process of baking bread; at another stage, we're going to dump the wood and instead haul water from the well or spring; take the grain out of storage; and so forth, and so it is with the materials themselves and our interaction with them.

All of this requires work and dedication on the part of the seeker, through the application of effort every bit as real as that encountered in traditionalist exercises. At the expense of technical impediments such as ignorance, vanity, pride, greed, hypocrisy, intellectualization, over-emotion (and so forth), qualities must be developed such as patience; trust (in the Teacher, in oneself, in the process itself, and in what one can glimpse of the Greater Plan or Design); service (working for oneself, for the group, for the Work; etc); sincerity; remembrance; Love; Peace; Truth, and Unity. Not least, the three Fs of "flexibility", "fluidity" and "fluency" to help accomplish all this.

Of course only a part of this actually comes from one's own effort, while the efforts of others, of the Friends, and Grace (such as baraka), play a huge and vital role, in essence.

One major factor about the materials and how we are able to benefit from them is that they are richer and more varied and more voluminous than the models we have adopted in our everyday life; and they have been brought to us by someone who is at a higher degree than that at which he is teaching, so he "knows the ropes" and the knots (impediments to progress, as well as useful things).

Sorry, I know you know this already, or that you would beg to differ. I'm just muttering to myself, in reality. To be followed by silence, you'll be glad to hear.

Text: Copyright (c) 2018, Eric Twose. Licence for re-use: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

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