Tag Archives: sufism

Today’s Destiny, and May It be Happy, Abdullah Ibrahim

My friend Abdullah Ibrahim turned 83 today. Of the many possibilities for experiential learning he served my way in the late eighties, the most essential was that the next breath possibly might turn out to be the last such breath.

Abdullah Ibrahim from Ian Henderson on Vimeo.

A man in prison is sent a prayer rug by his friend. What he had wanted, of course, was a file or a crowbar or a key! But he began using the rug, doing five-times prayer before dawn, at noon, mid-afternoon, after sunset, and before sleep. Bowing, sitting up, bowing again, he notices an odd pattern in the weave of the rug, just at the qibla, the point, where his head touches. He studies and meditates on that pattern, gradually discovering that it is a diagram of the lock that confines him in his cell and how it works. He’s able to escape. Anything you do every day can open into the deepest spiritual place, which is freedom.
— Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi

800px-Abdullah_Ibrahim

Abdullah refashioned a teaching story and transmitted the best version. I’ve revised it a bit due to some additional understanding gained over the intervening years.

A hunter was in the jungle hunting when he heard in the distance a beautiful bird song. He slowly and quietly made his way to the song’s source. Standing in the brush near a tall tree he spotted a gorgeous bird singing a song the hunter was the most beautiful melody he’s ever heard a bird sing. He set a snare, and the next day came back and found the bird trapped. With a great deal of respect and care he brought the bird back with him to his country place.

The hunter outfitted a large cage and hung the cage with the bird in it in a sunlit corner with windows on both sides. The bird was quiet for many weeks after first being housed in the cage. However, eventually, the bird began piecing together bits of melodies. After beginning to do this, a few weeks later, the bird began singing the songs that had so captured the hunter’s attention in the jungle.

Yet, the songs seemed much sadder to the hunter than the original melodies. He reflected on this and decided the bird was lonely. So it was the hunter decided to return to the jungle and track down a bird like the bird in the cage, and bring it back as a companion.

The hunter returned to the same location in the jungle where he had first heard the marvelous bird songs. Not right away, but soon enough, the hunter one morning heard a similar song. He tracked the melody to another tall tree. From some nearby bushes he stood quietly observing the singing bird on a branch high up the tree. Then something shattering happened, mid song the bird fell out of the tree and landed with a soft thud in the undergrowth.

The hunter was shocked and dismayed as he made his way to the now still and silent bird. He gently picked it up. It was dead. The hunter was so moved and so deeply startled by this that, after burying the bird, he abandoned his search.

He returned to his farm. Walking into the room where the caged bird was singing, he sat on the shoulder of a couch next to the cage. To himself, the hunter recounted what had happened in the jungle. When he finished, the bird stopped singing. Then it fell off its perch to the floor of the cage. The hunter was instantly beside himself. He opened the door of the cage and picked up the still bird.

Then, as he was about to pronounce the bird dead, the bird instantly fluttered a second and then flew out of his hand and flew out an open window, and flew to a branch on a nearby tree, and, started singing a fresh and glorious song.

(The title of this story is: Thanks for the Message!)

Dr. Ibrahim and me, 1989, Middlebury Vermont

Dr. Ibrahim and me, 1989, Middlebury Vermont

Speaking of my current chapter as an artist, Abdullah Ibrahim’s influence on my creative mission is certain and very direct. Yes, for me, my art is about providing an opportunity for a small moment of positive feeling. I also have redeployed many times his self-evaluative question: What are your four highest art forms that you practice?

FB-Yayiqandusela-16x16-Stephen-Calhoun(2016)

At 83, Abdullah Ibrahim, the ‘africanizer of Ellington,’ remains one of the masters of contemporary and ancient music. The tour video above from a few weeks ago speaks for itself. Ibrahim lives today with his honey in Switzerland.

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Silence, Healing

Heraclitus Throws Down

Failure does not matter in life. To a progressive person even a thousand failures do not matter. He keeps success before his view, and success is his even after a thousand failures. The greatest pity is when life comes to a standstill and does not move any further; a sensible person prefers death to such a life. (Pir Inayat Khan)

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Teaching Cartoons: Structure and Shifting

freewillor

shift-happens

bonus:

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Two Teaching Cartoons

Sufi-Story-The-Cat

Sufi-The-Eye

h/t 202 Jokes of Nasreddin Hodja, Minyatur Yayinlari Press, Istanbul, Turkey

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Teaching Cartoon: Destiny

Sticks

“There is no such thing as an omen. Destiny does not send us heralds. She is too wise or too cruel for that.” Oscar Wilde

A Story about Choice and Fate or Destiny — or choosing one fate for another
The King had been obsessed with fate and death for as long as he could remember. He didn’t know precisely when his intense preoccupation with these intertwined realities had begun, but begun it had, and, gradually, they had come to consume nearly every waking moment.

Some children had a favorite toy which played a central role in their early lives. Other children had an imaginary friend who kept them company through difficult times. As a boy, during adolescence, and into young adulthood, the King’s constant companions had been thoughts of fate and death.

Perhaps, the triggering events which helped precipitate his condition were the many wars that had been fought during his childhood, with so many of the Kingdom’s families losing father’s, sons, and brothers. Or, maybe, the terrible plagues which had swept through the lands, taking the lives of numerous men women and children, somehow had planted a deadly seed of another kind deep within his subconscious.

Undoubtedly, the foregoing sort of factors played contributing roles, but the King suspected that the real source of his anxieties and fears started with the mysterious stranger he had encountered one day in his room. The King had not been sure whether what took place that night was a dream or something else, but the experience had stayed with him.

Whenever he permitted his thoughts to drift in that direction, the whole scene would occupy his consciousness, like an invading force. The experience was just as vivid now as it had been some three decades ago when it first occurred.

As young boys are wont to do, he had been lying in bed, listening to the sounds of the night, thinking about the events of the day, planning what he would do tomorrow, when he heard a noise of some sort – like someone clearing his or her throat. The noise had come from the corner of his room which was always in shadows at night — even when the full moon shone through his window, as it did that evening.

All his attention was drawn to that portion of the room. He peered into the darkness of the corner, and although he couldn’t see anything, nonetheless, he felt a presence of some sort. He knew, with certainty, he was not alone.

A strange fear descended on him. He became paralyzed. (remainder of tale) h/t Bill Whitehouse.

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Teaching Cartoons: On Context

CAlvin&Hobbes-trickquestion

Calvin will be surprised when the test comes back.

cartoonleaarning

This replicates a classic form of a lesson on ‘precision.’

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Development

Dervish Dancer No. 3
S.Calhoun – 2013 – Dervish Dancer No. 3

A boy, very attached to his pet pig, one day decided to enter it in a horse race. Much to his dismay the pig finished last and suffered the ridicule of all the horsemen. The boy was quite surprised, for, as he told one of the horsemen: “it makes no sense that a pig as fast as she was when she was a piglet shouldn’t grow up to be even faster!”

(I first heard this on a cassette of a lecture by Idries Shah.)

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Teaching Cartoon: What You Ask For

catagory

Scott Adams’s Dilbert here replicates one of the classic learning forms given in Sufi teaching stories. There even is a common saying that covers this form: ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ The hidden aspect at the first level–in formal terms–concerns ‘features’ that come along for the ride, so-to-speak. In this instance, you get the head’s up about the downside of working hard, and the grim prospect comes along for the ride.

Dig deeper and this is also about one-sidedness and obsession. But, you didn’t ask about these!

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To Speak With Solomon

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Teaching Cartoon: It Works!

It Worked

Today’s teaching cartoon captures a mini-drama and a pattern of “presumption and response.” We understand this in modern terms when this pattern is gives the sense of: be careful what you wish for.

This same pattern is found in old teaching stories. Such a pattern describes a timeless kind of conjunction of presumption and necessary response; or, perhaps better would be to say, inescapable response. Without giving the near layers of learning away–remember in the classic form there are seven layers of learning–it is enough to suggest how the result is wed to the initial assumption.

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Attar: What Is Not the Mystic

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One Reason

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Rumi: Flutes and Peas

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Found: Coleman Barks

Poet Coleman Barks

Several weeks ago I went searching on the net for Coleman Barks. Barks, a poet, is most well known for his versions of Rumi. In fact, to the extent Rumi is known by the English-speaking world, a lion’s share of the credit accrues to Mr. Barks and to his colleague and co-author John Moyne.

Having done this same search years ago, I knew there are numerous resources and media, but, one such resource at the CBC had been taken down, an interview with Barks and Andrew Harvey by Mary Hynes (as part of Ms. Hynes’ Tapestry Series.) I made an inquiry.

Lo and behold a few days later a nice gentleman from the CBC emailed me and asked if I would be interested in providing an introduction for this archival podcast. I jumped at the opportunity to help bring the interview back into circulation.

The podcast at the CBC is back, and listed here. (Direct download-mp3)

Coleman Barks interview at Lapham’s Quarterly. (mp3)

Video at Poetry Everywhere (PBS)

Rumi-Big-Red-Book

The Big Red Book is the newest exploration of Rumi by Coleman Barks. It focuses on Rumi’s relationship with Shams of Tabriz. One of the aphorisms of Shams is a touchstone for me:

Follow the perfume, not the tracks.

The following video provides a beguiling introduction to Rumi and Shams.

Jalaluddin El-Rumi & Shams El Tabriz from Raphael Rousseau Sason on Vimeo.

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The impossibility of education

Classroom
Once, the villagers invited Mulla Nasruddin to deliver a lecture on spiritual matters.

When he got on the pulpit, he found the audience was not very enthusiastic, so he asked “Do you know what I am going to say?”

The audience replied “No”, so he announced “I have no desire to speak to people who don’t even know what I will be talking about” and he left.

The people felt embarrassed and called him back again the next day.

Once again he asked the same question – “Do you know what I am going to say?”

This time when he asked the same question, the people replied “Yes” So Mullah Nasruddin said, “Well, since you already know what I am going to say, I won’t waste any more of your time” and he left.

Now the people were really perplexed. They decided to try one more time and once again invited the Mullah to speak the following week.

Once again he asked the same question – “Do you know what I am going to say?”

Now the people were prepared and so half of them answered “Yes” while the other half replied “No”. So Mullah Nasruddin said “The half who know what I am going to say, tell it to the other half” and he left!


(Carried over from Transformative Tools blog; part of the process of transitioning its content to squareONE explorations.

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Minding the Mind

My favorite (Gregory) Batesonian teaching story, reconfigured and originally via Idries Shah.

A frenchman is teaching another french rudimentary english.

“So, the word for froid crème glacée is ‘cold ice cream.’ “

“What’s the word for chaude crème glacée?”

“Oh, they have no need for it, so there’s no word for it.”

Although I have an acute memory, I can’t recall which friend of mine did me the favor of bringing the work of Gregory Bateson to my attention. It was a long time ago. (Maybe it was Chris Irion? Pilcher?) I dug into Bateson’s Mind and Nature thirty years ago, when it was published. In another sense, it only matters as a fuzzy starting point. It was definitely in 1996 that I returned to his opus in a re-doubled effort to make some further connections. This was due to meeting my mentor and squareONE partner Judith Buerkel in 1995. During this first meeting it turned out Bateson was our mutual touchstone. Bingo!

It was only then, after a more mature effort to really deal-in, that Bateson’s understanding came to deeply inform my outlook, and to comprise a large facet in my favorite lens. The interesting nexus for this was a weird insight evoked by my trying to make coherent the weaving together of three things, the Sufi teaching story, my new (at the time) fascination with others’ theorizing about experiential learning (this via Mezirow and Kolb,) and, my revisiting Bateson (via his last book, Where Angels Fear. Toward An Epistemology of the Sacred.) About this last visitation, the bookmark stuck a third of the way through the book–when I picked it up again–marked where I had left off nine years earlier.

Judith basically told me to woodshed! Ultimately, we grappled with how to underpin our applications–what was to become the tool kit for squareONE. We spend a lot of time discussing the practical import for our work of our different Batesonian outlooks. We both thought Bateson was an adept designer; (although this is a novel sense about Bateson, who overtly was an anthropologist, psychologist, philosopher, and naturalist.)

Anyway, my insight at the time, excitedly delivered at our weekly meeting at Arabica, was this: it was apparent to me that something like Batesonian metalogues were embedded, even secreted in the structural folds of many Middle Eastern teaching stories. Judith responded: “They’re folded in everything.”

I’ve been revisiting Bateson once again over the last month. This, however, comes long after I added my experience and understanding of his understanding, (well, some of it,) to be, basically, the fundamental facet of my favored lens. By which I mean: some synergy of dynamic ideas-in-interplay make up the essential background frame for my intentional observations. Funny how lens and frame come together!

I use a ‘reduced set’ roughly taken from Bateson. Perhaps it would better to say appropriated from Bateson. I’m not a Batesonian because I’m eclectic, disorganized, not masterly, and, an ol’ hippie. Yet, in another sense, I often turn the world around to experience its different sides using my idiosyncratic (sort of) Batesonian lens.

If I assert that I’m dedicated to being a student of my environment, then in the background of this claim is this lens. You should know this to know where I’m coming from. I’ll have more to say about this soon.

I’ve recently had reason to woodshed some more and revisit the work of Gregory Bateson. I was invited to participate in a seminar at the local grad school. Stephen Nachmanovitch, author of the terrific book Free Play, musician, and student, friend, colleague of Gregory Bateson, is to give a lecture on something to do with experiential learning and play.

Getting back to one of my main people has been fantastic. The Explorations Blog is going to go on a Bateson trip for a spell. Stay tuned. I’ll wrap with a review of resources I’ve discovered out in the shed.

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Secrets Revealed

I noted recently via a google alert that lectures of Idries Shah, taken from a series of hard-to-obtain cassettes, have been made available on the web site, The Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge. Ishk.net is ostensibly the web of home of all things ‘Shah.’

The wikipedia article on I. Shah seems to me fair enough; and, I’ve been tracking his work for 20+ years. Shah, who departed the worldly coil at 72 years-of-age in 1996, was a controversial figure. His effort to promote in the west an accessible and cosmopolitan Sufi-inflected regimen for self-development and spiritual growth was the most notable among the several such original efforts which unfolded in the mid-sixties.

The controversies are many, yet I won’t go into them. This isn’t my purpose today. It’s enough to mention that Shah could be termed a neo-Sufi, whose project unhooked Sufism proper from it’s narrow traditions, and, whose own bona-fides remain murky. Still, during a time when Sufism itself was an exotic arrival on the nascent counter-cultural scene, Shah enjoyed patronage, was an entrepreneur, and, was a prolific writer. Any notoriety he gathered in didn’t prevent him from, for a time, becoming the face of Sufism–the foremost Sufi.

Sometime in the late eighties I worked part-time at a group home for the mentally disadvantaged. My boss, Jim, was surprised I had heard of Shah. Shah was Jim’s main man. He told me he had some tapes he wanted to loan me. He brought them in, a set in a box entitled if memory serves, Wisdom of the Secret. Shah reminded me of Alan Watts: great voice, humorous, compelling.

I must have listened to those eight tapes twenty times. I took to enjoying Shah’s books, especially favoring the many that contained teaching stories, including the series of books with the tales of Nasruddin. To this day, these materials penetrate my own sense of experiential learning. I have learned even the surface of some of the so-called story-based applications may provide surprising reconfigurations away from habit, cognitive error, blind spots, etc..

(Later, I became very interested in Shah’s career and its notorious moment as cultural ripple in a specific historical moment.)

Four of Shah’s lectures may be streamed or downloaded as mp3s. I’m familiar with them already because they first appeared as single cassettes. I recommend all of them. My favorite is Overcoming Assumptions That Inhibit Spiritual Development. From the intro,

So one must learn to be flexible, one must learn to question assumptions, one must learn to put up other assumptions than one’s customary ones to study things…some of the things are, for example, our narrative materials which I have published… Now various points of view on these produce a certain kind of flexibility. Trying too hard doesn’t work, trying to make out what they mean doesn’t work because this material is instrumental not indoctrination.

There’s also an interview in four parts on youtube.

Here’s Part One.

Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

A year ago I put together the ten parts of other videos and posted it. I wrote then,

He was a walking library of Sufic esoteric material, yet, he also brought these traditional secrets to proto-new age stages in the sixties. He walked a weird razor’s edge in maintaining that these materials could retain their power even when stripped of their context, as long as the context of the user was precisely calibrated to these bare-of-context materials!

Video 48m Happy Nous Year

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Teaching Cartoon: Paranormal

Nasruddin - Delusion

Story from The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin, (Idries Shah.) h/t Max Cannon’s cartoon franework Build Your Own Meat.

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HAPPY NOUS YEAR

Get the Flash Player to see this content.

On youtube there is a series of videos, apparently excerpted from a longer documentary, that features the renowned-in-his-time counter-cultural figure, self-proclaimed Sufi, misterioso teacher, charlatan, Idries Shah. I joined the ten parts and present it here; 49 worthwhile minutes beckon. Pay attention!

My string of adjectives is not intended to underplay Shah’s reputation, such as it has been able to be sustained. He was a walking library of Sufic esoteric material, yet, he also brought these traditional secrets to proto-new age stages in the sixties. He walked a weird razor’s edge in maintaining that these materials could retain their power even when stripped of their context, as long as the context of the user was precisely calibrated to these bare-of-context materials!

Speaking of post-modern Sufis, I recommend the volume by Ian Almond, Sufism and Deconstruction. A comparative study of Derrida and Ibn ‘Arabi, (2004:Routledge.) A rigorous mysticism, moved toward the subject drilling deeply beyond it’s (his or her,) self, cannot be about fixing identity.

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BANG BEFORE

The Integral Spiritual Center lands a come-on in my email box every week. Yesterday’s gave me a whack on the side of the head.

Modern science has given us a compelling picture of the evolution of our universe, from its first moments: quantum fluctuations—i.e. the “Big Bang”—led to a massive inflation, followed by “the dark ages,” then the formation of the first stars, at about t+400 million years. But science has been largely unable to explain what happened before—indeed, what brought about—the Big Bang. Scientific explanations have tended to end up sounding somewhat like traditional Eastern cosmology: the Earth stands upon the back of an elephant, which stands upon the back of a turtle, and from there, it’s turtles all the way down…. The world’s great spiritual traditions have long sought answers to this question, and have theorized a process reciprocal to the one that science has investigated so thoroughly: prior to evolution, there was involution.

Truth be told, I’m not aware of any spiritual tradition that has pondered what happened before the Big Bang. (This is the case if one discounts secular science enough to make of it not a spiritual tradition.) But the main thing is: the traditions didn’t know of the Big Bang.

Not so curiously, creation myths tend to be very relational and story-like! These stories have a beginning but don’t usually pose a beginning prior to their starting point. But the Big Bang doesn’t begin with the Big Bang. It’s a just-so story in the sense of ‘as far as we know’ and ‘to the degree that we know.’

The turtles all the way down trope certainly aligns with one of Ken Wilber’s oldest (surviving!) propositions, The Great Chain of Being. I’m not sure which scientific explanation was to the ISC’s blurb writer, “sounding somewhat like traditional Eastern cosmology.” (And this was stated after the same writer wrote: “science has been largely unable to explain what happened before.”)

The blurb seems to change the subject and goes on after raising Involution:

Essentially, says Ken, we begin every moment in a state of nondual Suchness. But if we have yet to stabilize that state into a state-stage, that state will be pre-conscious to us, and we will undergo the first contraction, into the causal realm of the Witness and all that is witnessed. If we have yet to stabilize that state, we will contract into the subtle realm of the soul. And if we have yet to stabilize that state, we will contract into the gross realm of the ego and our conventional self. So with every moment, we “fall down the stairs,” cascading down from suchness until the point of our state realization. Here, we recognize ourselves, in a dynamic similar to what the Tibetan Book of the Dead teaches about the Bardo and our experience after death. And this world (and with it, all “lower” worlds) arises in our experience.

Reminds me of Ibn al-Arabi, ra, and an encapsulation I wrote in 1991.

Henri Corbin commenting on the fact of ascension
(as described by Ibn’ Arabi, r.a.)

Look upon our own existance. Is it continuous ?

Or is it incessantly renewing on every breath ?

Does not being cease then come into being
with every breath, and upon His sigh of compassion?

Hexities, themselves pure possibles do not demand concrete existence.
recurrent creation manifests infinitely, essentially, divinely.

Divine being descends, is epiphanized in our individuality
such being thus ascends to return to the source.

Every being ascends with the instant
to see this is to see the multiple existing in the one.

And so the man who knows that is his “soul”,
such a man knows his Lord.

Richard Grossinger, from his superb new book, The Bardo of Waking Life:

The 9.5 years that it will take a spacecraft to bust out of Earth’s gravity well and be slingshot by gas giants to Pluto, out at the edge of the Kuiper Belt, must be measured against an event barely the size of a ball-bearing out of which the entire universe detonated once into a state so protracted and sticky it continues to fulminate and distend.

Involution? This reminds me of quaint and romantic notions from the hydraulic 19th century. Of course we’ve moved through the hyper-hydraulic 20th century. And past the cusp of the 21st century it seems contemporaneously quaint to suppose involution tended to reveal (Wilber’s) suchness is another turtle. We’re all enslaved for hundred thousand story-making years to this mechanical conceit.

“Before,” then, is only a mechanical necessity. What happens before you and your dear one decide to go out and dance? What is caused to morph?

Grossinger:

Our basis is completely mysterious. . .

Completely. It’s not that involution makes clear the origin, it’s that “pure possibles do not demand concrete existence” may require any origin to be essentially not knowable and, perhaps, origin exists beyond mere mechanics, beyond mechanical concretization of (even) original possibility.

Granted, Wilber is moved to try to explain everything. What a romantic!

Alternately:

What we call music in our everyday language is only a miniature, which our intelligence has grasped from that music or harmony of the whole universe which is working behind everything, and which is the source and origin of nature. It is because of this that the wise of all ages have considered music to be a sacred art. For in music the seer can see the picture of the whole universe; and the wise can interpret the secret and the nature of the working of the whole universe in the realm of music. Inayat Khan

Grossinger:

We are only possibility, and God is no one but the background agaisnt which possibility rests.

For me, ‘completely’ and ‘only’ tear involution and sunder suchness. Mystery cannot be the ground of mechanics and also itself mechanical. Before involution and evolution? Only God knows.

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