There is a fascinating book called ‘Islam, Arabs, and the Intelligent World of the Jinn’ by Amira El-Zein. I started reading it right after finishing Bill Gray’s biography. At this point I cannot share a full review of it yet - it is soon to come though - but want to take a moment of something important it helped me to see...
Among many other pieces of wisdom it contains a wonderful quote from Ibn Arabi (1165-1240), a medieval Sufi and philosopher. It reads like this...
What a great image: We are divine breath blown into shapes. In shapes we linger and dwell and put strain and stress on ourselves until it is time to move out of them again. If the truth is that simple though, I am asking myself, why can life still be so bloody hard?
When I shared my review of ‘The Old Sod’ there was one thing I left out deliberately at that point. I felt it didn’t add value to the review and was more of a personal reflection. Yet, I guess I changed my mind and will share it now - especially in light of the quote above and the insights it triggered...
Upon reading the biography of Bill quite often I caught myself comparing my life to his. I thought of the events and turns in his life and - most of all - of the marks, the tracks he had left behind for others. His seminal books, the network of witches and mages he was in contact with as well as the vessel of his occult spirit in form of the Sangreal Sodality... I guess I reached half-time in my own life by now? So I was comparing myself to this long dead man and felt tightness and concerns creeping in... What would my legacy be? My reason for being? The tracks I leave behind for others to see?
It was a few days later in a lunch break when something again reminded me of Bill Gray. It was the middle of a busy home office day and I cannot recall anymore what it was that brought his memory back to my mind... I remember I was on my way to the kitchen to get some water. And suddenly I understood it. It was right in front of me... I stood still with the glass in hands, while I could see my house spirits raising their non-existing eye brows, then frowning in pity and thinking: ‘Really? That’s how long it took you to get this?’
Let me try to explain what hit me...
Image you are dead and drifting through darkness. You are drifting through chambers and tunnels, until you reach a large hall. Maat is there and so are Thoth and Anubis and Ammit the soul eater. They are all quietly waiting. You pass along the walls lid by torches and step closer to the empty bronze-scales erected in the middle of the hall. Then you lay your heart down into one of them. Ammit is glancing up to Maat, Thoth is setting his feather to the papyrus in his hands. Then Maat places her feather into the opposite scale.
While Maat lowers her feather into the other scale you think of all the good things you achieved in life: The school you attended, the degrees you were awarded, the family you founded, the sacrifices you made for your kids, the hard work you put into your job, the promotions you earned, the teams you led, the business you grew, the books you were asked to write when you had already retired, the students you mentored during your final years... You think of all the invisible, yet emotionally-charged emblems and orders you wear on your heart. You think of all the reasons why after all the hard work you managed to achieve not to waste your life.
As the feather touches the scale there is a moment of hesitation. Then the scale that weighs your heart is lowering itself to the ground. You are catching your breath. You cannot believe what you see...
Maat approaches you and lays her hands on your eyes. Your vision is changed; it is like a veil ripping apart. Suddenly you can see through things: What this scale weighs is not your accomplishments, it is not the marks, the tracks, the legacy we leave left behind. Everything we ever strived to achieve in order to stand out, in order to be remembered is light as air on these scales. It is as if it never existed... The scales are blind to the goals and visions, the priorities and plans we or others have given to our lives.
We are breath blown into shapes. What actually matters when we approach these scales - is what we have done with the breath not with the shapes.
The biggest illusion the trickster called society has planted into our mind, is making us belief that shapes matter more than 'breath'. That the imprints we leave behind in this world would matter more than how we encountered it every day. For whatever reason this trickster made us belief the tracks of the animal were more important than the landscape they lead through - that what we have left behind was more important than how we experienced it.
I am thinking of a river right now. I can see it meandering through the open wild. It is a sick river unfortunately though. It believes the boulders that block its flow would be more important than its water streaming around them.
I am thinking of a man right now. I can see him rushing through his life. He is a sick man unfortunately though. He believes the goals in his life - the ones that cost him so much time and devotion and sacrifice to achieve - would be more important than a walk around the lake.
Here is what hit me during this moment in my kitchen: It is the fleeting that will remain. When we finish our lives and look back we realise - it’s all the small things that really mattered, not the seemingly big ones. It is not where our life’s path lead us that matters, but the attitude with which we walked. It’s all the things that don’t even have a name that truly matter. It is how we react to morning light, it is how we open the door when we step out into dawn, it is how we sit in the tube before our first coffee, it is how we listen to the cars in the streets, it is a heart full of curiosity, of playfulness that matters - or the lack thereof.
It’s everything that happens in-between while we are busy chasing our life’s goals that truly matters. It is not the shapes we achieve to form - from ourselves or others - but the spaces in between. There is a wonderful German word that expresses this state or momentary status of being. It is called ‘Zwischenraum’. It means the space in between objects or moments. It describes the space that is invisible - unless we chose to see it.
Another quote comes to my mind. This one comes from the far East instead. Yet, it is the same wisdom we encounter there, if we chose to. It is the fleeting that will remain...
“Under heaven nothing is more soft and yielding than water.
Yet for attacking the solid and strong, nothing is better;
It has no equal.
The weak can overcome the strong;
The supple can overcome the stiff.
Under heaven everyone knows this,
Yet no one puts it into practice.
Therefore the sage says:
He who takes upon himself the humiliation of the people
is fit to rule them.
He who takes upon himself the country's disasters deserves
to be king of the universe.
The truth often seems paradoxical.”
(Tao Te Ching - Lao Tzu - chapter 78