Tag Archives: Mysticism

The Mystical Utility of the Imagination

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Hazrat Inayat Khan, circa 1920

Published by wordcatalyst.com
PR–476

At the Window Pane

“The natural initiation may come to a person at any time of his life. It does not come to everyone, but only to some. And for this initiation one need not go to a teacher; it comes when it is time for it to come. It comes in the form of a sudden change of outlook on life; a person feels that he has suddenly awakened to quite another world; although he remains in the same world it has become totally different to him.”
–Hazrat Inayat Khan (Three Aspects of Initiation)

The wide-eyed boy lingers at the window pane
Looking out at slants of raining sadness.
But there’s rhythm from a dark
Symphonic horn and yes a gladness;
A basking-in from rose and thorn
Blood vermilion dance
To eclipse such sadness
As descants close the arc
(Like the ocean does the sand)
A divine madness brings round the circle
(It’s romantic when the Ring does the asking)
Which band symbolic born
Slips around his finger
As he holds his own hand.

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,
As you may recall (it is oft said) that this is a Sufi blog. But that begs the question what is Sufism? And I speak mainly from my own experience, since my time as a Sufi mureed (initiate) was seven years (1972 to 1979) of studying the writings of Sufi Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan, who was of the Moinuddin Chishti school. (As I was taught, there were four main schools of Sufism). This Chisti one placed an emphasis on the arts, as their path toward God. Indeed Inayat Khan was a celebrated musician. And the order I belonged to was heavily nto the arts. Each year we put on a musical play, on mystical themes. There were also many singers, dancers, artists and poets. Well, at least two I can think of. Me and Rachel Dacus–then Abrams (Well-published now–google her!).

The photo above is of Inayat Khan with his instrument, which I believe is called a vina.

But the arts carry certain connotations, such as the immense value of the imagination. (Try to write a poem, or compose a song without using your imagination!)

And so big surprise that Hazrat Inayat Khan seemed to agree with my favorite quote from the poet John Keats, “I am convinced of only two things, the sanctity of the heart’s affections, and the truth of the imagination.”

Here is what Inayat Khan had to say about the mystical utility of the imagination:

“Somebody can be praised by one and hated by another, and ten people may all have a different idea of the same person, because each understands him according to his state of evolution. Each sees that person according to his own point of view, each looks at him through his own eyes, and therefore the same person is different to each being. In the mind of one the person is a sinner, in the mind of another he is a saint. The same person who is considered gentle and good by one is considered the opposite by another. If this can be so in connection with a living being, it is equally possible that various ideas of the deity should be formed in each heart, and that each soul should mold his own deity according to his own evolution and according to his way of idealizing and understanding. Therefore the deity of every heart is different and is as that person has imagined; but the God of every soul is one and the same, whatever people imagine. It is the same God that they all imagine, but their imaginations are different and it is the lack of understanding of this that has caused the differences in religion.”

And for this reason Inayat Khan often quoted the Prophet Mohammed who said, “Every man has his own religion.”

And an objection might be raised saying, but what if God is nothing like what is imagined?

Since God is infinite and we are not, our brains and intellect are not, and so perforce it comes down to imagining stuff.

I fancy some will throw up their hands saying well then what chance is there we’ll have any accurate conception of God?

But this presupposes this to be an important question.

After all, understanding in this sense being impossible, is that ipso facto a problem?

Especially since in trying to understand the infinite with our finite brains is a wild goose chase, since as the cofounder of my Sufi order, Meher Baba said, to try to understand God with your brain is like expecting to see with your ears. It’s the wrong organ. The right organ for that is the heart.

Or, again to quote Inayat Khan, ”As one can see when the eyes are open, so one can understand when the heart is open.”

I will carry this further. We can imagine God to be in a totem pole or a doll, and God will manifest in that. Just like Pinocchio turned into a real boy.

Inayat Khan liked to tell this story:

Moses once passed by a farm and saw a peasant boy talking to himself, saying, ‘O Lord, Thou art so good and kind that I feel if Thou wert here by me I would take good care of Thee, more than of all my sheep, more than of all my fowls. In the rain I would keep Thee under the roof of my grass-shed, when it is cold I would cover Thee with my blanket, and in the heat of the sun I would take Thee to bathe in the brook. I would put Thee to sleep with Thy head on my lap, and would fan Thee with my hat, and would always watch Thee and guard Thee from wolves. I would give Thee bread of manna and would give Thee buttermilk to drink, and to entertain Thee I would sing and dance and play my flute. O Lord my God, if Thou wouldst only listen to this and come and see how I would tend Thee.’

Moses was amused to listen to all this, and, as the deliverer of the divine message, he said, ‘How impertinent on thy part, O boy, to limit the unlimited One, God, the Lord of hosts, who is beyond form and color and the perception and comprehension of man.’ The boy became disheartened and full of fear at what he had done. But immediately a revelation came to Moses: ‘We are not pleased with this, O Moses, for We have sent thee to unite Our separated ones with Us, not to disunite. Speak to everyone according to his evolution.’

And to nail down the the mystical utility of the imagination, Hazrat Inayat Khan wrote,

“All works of art and music and poetry come from imagination, for imagination is the free flow of mind, when the mind is allowed to work by itself and bring out the beauty and harmony it contains. But when it is restricted by a certain principle or rule, then it does not work freely… No one has believed in God, no one has loved God, and no one has reached the presence of God who has not been helped by his imagination.”

And according to Inayat Khan, this is his destiny:

Then there is the person who has imagination which is strengthened by faith. He not only prays to God, but he prays before God, in the presence of God. Once imagination has helped a man to bring the presence of God before him, God is awakened in his own heart. Then before he utters a word, it is heard by God. When he is praying in a room, he is not alone. He is there with God. Then to him God is not in the highest heaven but close to him, before him, in him. Then to him heaven is on earth and earth is heaven. No one is then so living, so intelligible as God; and all names and forms disappear before Him. Then every word of prayer he utters is a living word. It not only brings blessing to him, but to all those around him.

It might take a long time, admittedly. And while Inayat Khan never explicitly talked about reincarnation,* it was obviously something he believed in, from the connotation given in his writings of the perforce gradual and drawn out nature of our spiritual development.

But then there is always grace (which keeps things from being cut and dried) and so the issue is complicated. As seen in my poem above.

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*Sufism is originally derived from Islam, which does not talk about reincarnation. And neither does Christianity, though I have heard rumors it was in the Christian tradition until the fourth century when it was no longer talked about. And if you read much about Inayat Khan you will gather that he was big on not rocking boats, going with the flow of everyone’s belief system, saying that what mattered was the heart behind it all. Hence unlikely that he would dwell on anything controversial, except as was connoted in his writings, which as I say are rife with talk which would not be meaningful without reincarnation.

And Meher Baba, who thirty years later reoriented my Sufi order, quite explicitly confirmed the reality of reincarnation.

Instead of Despair, I Studied the Dancers

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Me and Mehera atop Arc de Triomphe

PR3–427

In Lieu of Despair, I Studied the Dancers

Normally I am mildly traumatized
At parties I subtly panic
And yet things are moving right along
Like last night was Mardi Gras

Right?
And there was dancing and I watched the dancers
I wondered at the fact that they enjoyed that
But then they all could dance but I

Felt like the illiterate dunce
At the poetry contest but guess what?
Instead of despair over what I couldn’t do
I studied the dancers

With their hands outstretched hips snaking
I looked at their eyes
And I saw there how it’s done
(You dance with your eyes)

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,
Because I care about your happiness, I (from personal experience) write about and frankly push poetry production. And visual art. But if you are good at music or dance or even conversation is an art. So it expresses the heart, it’s therapy.

But I am dance challenged. When I was a Sufi (back in yore) I was a sufficient exhibitionist ham as to want to act in the annual Sufi play. But the Sufi Gods decreed that try for one you must try for all. Try for all three (singing, dancing and acting).

So I had too to audition to sing and then to dance.
Sigh.
No, my sigh is premature. Because first was the sing thing and that DID go okay because I chose the old spiritual Steal Away because at family Thanksgivings, etc. I used to sing the straight part of it–to be intermingled with the improvised harmonies of my musical genius older brother Jim (God rest him). The result was very nice. I am sure I must have talked about Jim. In some of the biographical blog posts. If not why not soon? He is very interesting. Yes and maybe a bit like the Chinese curse. (”May you live in interesting times!”)

Anyway to get the crabgrass out of my digress let’s get to my dancing audition.

I had the good fortune to have as my audition master my friend and fellow Sufi, Gail.

Kind Gail.

Patient Gail.

(Gail who could dance circles around a dervish)

Though it was a simple (I mean pathetically basic) choreographic instruction replete with several Sufis on either side none with any dance related troubles. All easily repeating it.

But I couldn’t repeat the basic steps. Oh, the humiliation.
The pressure.

And remember all this is with witnesses.

She had me go over the routine over and over, even after all the rest had left. Some kind of Sufi test I expect.

But I was ashamed. Especially when finally I had to throw in the towel.*

My point being I am scared of dancing. Except maybe in one sense because I am a clown exhbitionist (Boy did that piss off my first wife Judy! The dignified sedate quiet type, who was mortified to have God and everybody know she was married to dicho payaso.)

And that could cancel out the fear. I remember once when my old friend Ralph and I got roped into a party where there was dancing. I remember Ralph taking the safe route of sitting it out on the sidelines but watching me with arms flailing (well more exactly feet. I tended to imitate those clog dancers where all the action was below the hips.) but when I did it I remember I had friend Ralph almost on the floor from the belly laughs.

Or the time when my daughter Mehera graduated from medical school and I had to celebrate that so I invited her to a trip to Europe! See above–that’s us atop the Arc de Triomphe, over looking the also legendary Champs-Élysées (French for Elysian Fields—see Greek Mythology).

Not as expensive as it sounds because she had friends there (from having graduated from Cal Berkeley as a French Literature major, and for that having spent a year in France, largely with her host family, who came to declare Mehera was an honorary daughter for life.

Indeed as we left everyone there also declared me in the family and so whenever I am in France I have an invite to stay with them.

Of course they had a three foot in diameter cherry tree and we were there at prime ripe cherry time! I am a cook and got popular making cherry pie after cherry pie. They had a little handy apparatus that you punched by the palm of your hand forcing the pits in one direction and the cherry sans pit in the other. (Rhymes with cheery Sanskrit! Oops Pardon my “poetry!”)

But back to the dance theme. To prove her father was her puppet Mehera had me dance to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. (The Ode to Joy)

And Mehera too of course laughed her ass off. (Which made me dance funnier because I love Mehera’s laugh!)

And when in Paris we stayed with her old college roommate, Tina,** then a professor of French Literature in a Paris University. She had married a French photographer and they lived happily in an apartment on an island in the Seine not two blocks from Notre Dame Cathedral. Not as romantic a visit as it sounds though because it was under renovation at this time and so surrounded by scaffolding. I guess they had to tend to the row of gargoyles.

I have always heard impressive things about the medieval concept of religion and it IS said everyone down to the peasants believed in imminent miracles and the constant presence of God.*** But to “adorn” a such impressive cathedral with rows of hideous-aspected gargoyles, doesn’t seem in that vein, which is indeed hard to think runs on to the heart. I think I read somewhere that the gargoyles were there to be shown who’s boss or some such.

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*Which reminds me. I have all ready to go a chapbook of poems dedicated to and loosely about my surprisingly spiritual cat, Dahlia. It’s titled “The Cat Who Threw in the Tao.”

So many projects

So little time

Sigh

** This friend of Mehera’s was named Tina Chen, and yes, of Chinese extraction. But she had been fighting bouts of cancer since she was seven years old. Alas, she died a few years after our visit. She came to California for her final treatment which was unsuccessful. Mehera flew north to be with her as she died. It’s a perennial matter for contemplation why the sweetest among us so often die young. A person (like me) who had independent and impressive proof of the existence of God, might wonder how that fits in. (If this statement makes you wonder see the “about” button above, where it is all explained.)  I suspect it has something to do with reincarnation.

***An instructive example of that in those times is found in the short booklet recounting the philosophy of Brother Lawrence (a simple monk in the sixteenth century or such). The title gives a hint: The Practice of the Presence of God, with Whom Brother Lawrence constantly talked, asking for help in what he was doing for the monastery etc. chatting merrily saying (to God) stuff like, “You see what happens when I do things unattended!”

Elizabeth’s Punk Piece Party

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Elizabeth Herron

PR4–61

I’d Been Invited by the Queen

“I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
he said to me, “You must not ask for so much.”
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
she cried to me, “Hey, why not ask for more?”
–Leonard Cohen (Bird on a Wire)

Some guys like me
We talk big about no fear
Of death I tend to say
If my time were drawing near

(My theory goes)
I would wax wise and declare
It was like a dinner party:
I’d been invited by the queen

And then inevitably I’d had to go home
And yet there’s complaint anent which
A case could be made for it’s just ungrateful greed
Considering all the wonders I’ve seen

All the free dinners and theater tickets
To ask for more
Although these things are far from unarbitrary
(It’s a subjective soul thing)

And maybe it’s more like the Leonard Cohen thing
Above and even
(Lots of times)
There’s Oliver Twists to this

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,

In my youth my favorite TV show was Science Fiction Theater.

Every episode started out with the host saying, “Let me show you something interesting.”

And he would walk over to a sort of display which featured a scientific principle. Like how a phonograph works or radio signals or such. And then he would say something about how that tied in to the extrapolation which could be derived, allowing future scientists to do some amazing thing, but along the same lines.

I often try to do that with my poems, when I start off with a quote (to show you something interesting.)

Like the Leonard Cohen quote atop the above poem. And then I extrapolate from there. How amazing that is I do not claim except to say I tried, and to quote Emerson: “Hitch your wagon to a star.”

What got me started on this post, is a couple of quotes from a book I just finished reading. They are from Larry McMurtry’s Magnum opus, Lonesome Dove, which got him the Pulitzer Prize and whose screenplays of it (any other of his works) got him Emmys. And muchos Oscars.*

Apparently (by my standards) he is a metaphysically oriented kind of guy. Witness these (interesting) quotes from Lonesome Dove:

“ ‘When was you the happiest, Call?’ Augustus asked.
‘Happiest about what?’ Call asked.
‘Just about being a live human being, free on the earth,’ Augustus said.”

And

“He had known several men who blew their heads off, and he had pondered it much. It seemed to him it was probably because they could not take enough happiness just from the sky and the moon to carry them over the low feelings that came to all men.”

I hadn’t heard about him until many years ago when I got fortunate to have a writing teacher (Elizabeth Herron).**

Elizabeth (the professor at Sonoma State University) liked to tell us who her favorite writers were and high on her list was Larry McMurtry. This was before Lonesome Dove was written. I remember she especially recommended Somebody’s Darling, and All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers.

I had a crush on her. And even though she was married, a guy could dream, couldn’t he? But the upside of that was I was motivated to impress her and so I tried my damnedest. And I wrote a poetry collection for my final project. (She said ONE good poem would have sufficed but I wanted to show off, and even dedicated it to her; I titled it, Elizabeth’s Punk Piece Party and Other Poems.)

And guess what? Two of those sixtyish poems have been published (and one republished). Which gives me an excuse to put them in this blog post (which after all is also–apart from my concept of Sufism and mysticism in general–about poetry and poetry writing. And of course often some biographical stuff)

And so here they are:

(These journals below are now defunct, except for Tipton Poetry Journal)

Published in Word Catalyst and then republished in Tipton Poetry Review:

I Was a Prince

I was a prince who found you in a pond
Secure beneath a lily pad to hide
Your creamy body from the sun and me but
You squirmed out of my grasp and dived so deep
I dared not follow so I placed a net
Which looked quite like a lily pad and I
Disguised myself and sat on top a frog
As any fool could see–when you came up
I quickly kissed your lips and magic things
Occurred like in the fairy tales to wit
I did become a frog and it turned out
You really fancied frogs’ legs but I squirmed
Out of your grasp and dived down deeper than
You dared to follow so you placed a net
Which looked quite like a lily pad and when
I came back up again to sit on it
You kissed me back into a prince once more
And it turned out you fancied princes too
So you apologizing for the frogs’
Legs dinner episode said “Still it was
A lot of fun” And so we lived and dived
Quite happy ever after til one day
You were especially hungry and you knew
That when I was a frog you were supposed
To kiss me but you ate me and you said
“It was a boring game after a while”

Published in Umbrella Journal:

Einstein, God, and Picasso

Einstein thought things
Were pretty mysterious
And that made him “religious”

You can’t handle coal
Without getting your hands black
So I guess he couldn’t handle the universe
Without getting awestruck
It’s a pretty big place

If it isn’t distance it’s time so
Think about the Jurassic if you will
I mean actually seeing dinosaurs
Whose digestive juices and genes
Were just like ours

Only in a different pattern:
The style of the Artist
Is instantly recognizable

God I think is like Picasso
Who never had to pay for anything
He would just write a check
Which, of course, never got cashed
It was far more valuable as a collector’s item

And this has not been published but it was her favorite in the book of poems I wrote:

Trying to Write Something in the Air

Just come from visiting you
I wipe my eye
I wave good-bye

My hand lingers in the air
My finger pointing
Not to blame anyone

It is wet cool on one side
A secret moisture tells me
Which way the wind is blowing

My finger sways drunkenly
Trying to write something
In the air

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*Larry McMurtry is an amazing guy who wrote lots of wonderful books and spin-off screenplays, many of which won Oscars and Emmys. For an interesting short bit about him and these, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_McMurtry

**For more about her see: http://www.elizabethherron.net/