Sufi Practice with Shaikh Kabir at the Festival of Faiths in Lousiville, May 2016
Reflection on June’s theme: The wealth of the seeker is emptiness (fakr, poverty).
~ David Ginsberg (Sunnyvale, USA)
“The wealth of the seeker is emptiness.” What an odd statement. How much of our life is filled with seeking work and livelihood, home and family, food and comforts; and yes, religion and God? And doesn’t the ‘seeking’ of emptiness negate the very emptiness we would seek?
Perhaps the emptiness of seeking is more like this: a space, a gap, a quietude that opens before us unannounced. Perhaps it comes in that moment of resignation when the seeking of ‘things’ becomes tiring, the seeking of ‘comfort’ becomes boring and the fatigue of chasing ‘necessity’ weighs on our mind as a subtle, or not so subtle, anxiety that will never truly leave. Perhaps even the seeking of love and friendship disappoints us; sullied by our expectation of reciprocity for time invested and resentments over a litany of misdeeds and neglects. In a world (dunya) built on the back of duality, there are always two shoulders and arms in motion. It is in the emptiness between these alternating strikes to the forge of existence that we glimpse Reality; where the silent, whispering heart longs for rest and Oneness and the mysteries of meaning.
The emptiness that is of real value (wealth) is found, invisibly, between the ‘things’ of life. Things meaning anything that can be named: Possessions, places, ideas, emotions. Even people and ‘love’ may be things to the mind. How much arrogance, violence, sexism and bigotry are caused by ‘object’-ifying people? How much compassion and empathy are lost in our mechanical projections and disappointment towards those we love?
But love itself is of a different quality than the object-word ‘love’. Who in the history of the world has successfully defined Love and transformed it into a ‘thing’ to be purchased? If we would still lay our claim to love, it is by inference: from its manifestation as thoughts, feelings, acts, people, beauty and such; not to its mystery.
Love itself can be found in the empty cracks between things: in the abandoned field along the fence between city and country that nobody notices and no one ventures; where the Unseen Breath blows in the seed of an invisible flower. Love exists in the borderland between the beloved people, places and things of one’s life, and the grief of their separation. It spreads roots between the hurtful words said by the tongue and the loving words left unsaid, but continuously cradled within the heart. It branches between the faceless, nameless people scurrying about us and The Living One walking amongst us along The Way.
Life is not different than The Way of Love; which imparts a certain quality, a color or hue, to existence. Love projects its direction and intentionality onto the universe no matter the protests of entropy and decay. The order and symmetry that Love imparts to the world we call ‘beauty’. “God is Beautiful and Loves Beauty” says the Hadith. “Everywhere you turn is the Face of God” says the Qur’an. Beauty is the Face of God made manifest; yet the “face” is only the surface of existence. Do we love the Face, or the soul of the soul of the soul within? The outer order and symmetry of beauty imply an inner intentionality; and therefore an awareness and purpose. Beauty announces the conscious presence of the Creator within the created.
Beauty will always be the door to Love. Some stand at its threshold admiring beauty, boastful of having seen it, desirous of purchasing it, prideful in extolling its qualities. But the poor one (fakr) wafts as dust on its threshold; whispering “Destur?” (Permission) on the fresh morning breeze; hoping for a glimpse of The Beloved One beyond.
It is not our strength and striving, forceful effort, which opens this door. It is said, “We are the Slaves of Love”. But slavery is of two kinds: When strength captures beauty, this is the slavery we despise. When beauty captures our strength, we call this adab (courtesy), futuwwah (chivalry), service and generosity. This is the slavery of the lovers. There is a mystery within it: It takes us from the fullness of ourselves into the emptiness of God. “These things are signs for people who reflect” (Qur’an). Permission is of a different quality than tugging at the veil without consent.
In our lives we both know and witness friend and friend, parent and child, lover and beloved, helper and helpless, self and other. But the ones who have made a friend of their losses and grief tell us that there is a third among these pairings; that we have been blind to Love itself in all of its radiant splendor. Love is different than the comings and goings of paired ‘beloveds’. Love lies suspended, almost invisibly, at the unvisited borders between awesome beauty and tragic devastation, thought-silencing ecstasy and life-shattering grief, inexplicable bewilderment and razor-sharp reason, selfless compassion and selfish cruelty. It is inferred from the morning dew of life and the dawn-light of consciousness touching upon this golden meadow of earth; bringing the hidden, gossamer web of Glory momentarily into view.
The very breath of God blows from “where two seas meet” (Qur’an). The heart that blossoms there contains both, yet is neither.
How to speak of an empty page or that place of emptiness within? Why extol the triumphs of love or tales of grief when we can meet silently, experientially, in the meadow between these things where love itself speaks? “There is a field, I’ll meet you there” (Rumi). In that space, the flowers do not bloom nor wilt nor live nor die. By God’s leave, they grow a heart that is these things and beyond these things. “The angels were amazed” (Qur’an). Alhumdullilah.
God said to the Dhu ‘l-Nun Misri:
I divided humanity into ten parts.
I presented worldly desires to them. 90% of humanity chose worldliness.
Of those who remained, I presented them with heaven.
90% headed to heaven.
Of those who remained, I gave them a taste of hell.
90% were scattered away due to their fear of hellfire.
Only a handful remained:
not enamored by worldliness, not seduced by heaven, and unafraid of hell-fire.
I said to them: “My servants! You did not look at worldliness. You did not desire heaven,
and were unafraid of hell-fire. What are you here for?”
They humbly put their heads down and said: “You yourself know Who it is that we desire.”
-Omid Safi, translations from Farid al-Din Attar,