Transkript in Deutsch
In this piece I reflect on the limitations of language to describe a pathway to a living future.
For over thirty years I have been trying to use words to describe the mystery of the soul and its patterns of unfolding. I have written about dreams and love’s transformation, how the heart awakens and our inner alchemy. I have described states of non-existence and a silence deeper than the mind, and how we are all a part of the living unity that embraces every dew-drop and every cloud, every humming bird drinking nectar from the flowers in my garden. And always I am aware of the limitations of our language, which has evolved to describe the tangible world of the senses and the hard structures of reason, while these inner states are fluid, mysterious, and like the seasons are circular not linear. But I have tried to depict this intangible shoreline where the worlds meet, the unseen worlds and our human world of people and problems and how the heart turns. And then this other landscape came calling, this horizon beyond which the future lies waiting, and how there are signs all around us which we cannot read, a language long forgotten, as well as what is too simple to be captured in words.
Watching today’s dawn softly arrive I wonder whether words can even reach into this moment. Can words really untangle a civilization or describe a path that leads to a different way of being? A falcon sits on the telephone wires in the early morning mist, and when it flies off a single feather falls at my feet. This reminds me of a Zen saying in which the master Fuketsu, when asked to describe the truth, observed: “I always remember spring in southern China. The birds sing among innumerable kinds of fragrant flowers.”
The single feather falling speaks the same language as the birds singing. It bypasses the mind and its patterns of thought and instead opens our consciousness to what is always around us. Paradoxically, painfully, we have to walk a dusty road with bleeding feet to reach this moment, just as the monk has to sit for many years in silent meditation to awaken. There was a moment of grace when it was given, there is always a moment of grace. But only a very few are ever present at that moment, when one can slip between cycles of existence, when everything is free and full of laughter. Instead it seems our human destiny to pay the price of our forgetfulness, of our lack of attention, our inability to read the signs.
And now not just a single person, not just a monk sitting in silence, but a whole civilization has missed the moment, when oneness was fully present, when the warnings were given and the signs so easy to read. The feather falls at my feet, speaking its own language, so easily understood by those who walked the Earth before us, so foreign to us now. I can catch it at the edge of my consciousness, before thoughts come tumbling in, before I try to understand. It is like Ariadne’s thread that can lead me through the maze of today’s crazy world, where everything seems upside down, where everything matters so much and means so little.
It is not the Zen truth we are missing, that is too far away, unobtainable to our cluttered minds. But a simple shift in consciousness to a new way of being, a way to walk together with the Earth. That is where laughter and love and belonging are present, a return to the source, to where life is fully alive, far from the patterns of abuse of nature and humans that define so much of our present existence. In this living moment there are neither problems nor solutions, because life is not like this, rather a mystery constantly shifting from the formless into form. In all its myriad forms life is as much in the connections and spaces between things, which is where joy is born, but which we seem unable to recognize.
Because I am too old to be caught in the busyness of life, because I have spent so many hours in the heart’s silence, I am able to slip out of today’s world, this desolate machine driven world we have created. I am able to listen to other sounds and deeper silences, and feel the texture of another existence. I try to speak of this landscape, this way of being, but todays words belong to today’s world. While Indigenous peoples know languages where words are woven into the land, are magical and can speak to both animals and spirits, our words are not like this, they are formed from different thoughts, mental images long separate from the land and the soul.
Language is developed from our patterns of thought, our connections with each other and our relationship with the world around us. Language also reinforces our ways of thinking. Reason and science demanded a clear, precise language, a plain style of writing, in order to describe a world of hard facts, and so a quality of lyrical beauty and ambiguity alive for example in Shakespeare, who birthed so many new words, was lost, and we learned to think in narrower, rational ways. In recent years we have even invented a new language, ones and zeros, which now program so much of our world, imposing their logical, linear patterns, taking us even further from the more-than-human world that surrounds us. Their binary nature affects us more than we realize, while their algorithms distort our perception, taking us further out of balance.
One day, both in the present moment and far from now, words will once again become alive, names will be sacred and sing together with the patterns of creation, its magic and sacred meaning. The inner and outer worlds will no longer be separate but speak to each other, tell secrets. I would like to wait for this language to arrive, but I am too old and this future too far away. So instead I hint of pathways and gardens whose gate is always open, of ways to listen and bear witness.
I am grateful that words can still tell stories, can weave a little what is between the worlds. This world is not as we think; it is made from a substance that is not of atoms or particles, and in its depths there is a hidden song. Words can touch the edge of this song, even if the song’s real language is long forgotten or not yet rediscovered. Words can remind us, take us down hidden trails. They are friends and companions on this journey, especially if we let them shift, bend the edges of our consciousness. I hope that these words are fluid enough to arrive at the present moment.
I watch the feather falling and wipe a tear from my eye, because truth and sadness walk hand in hand at this time, this time when the axis of the world is shifting but we are too busy with the problems of today to notice. When our thoughts cannot embrace what is numinous, miraculous. One day the future will arrive, in its own time, not caught in clocks, or defined by facts. One day the moment will sing and we will remember why we are here.
© 2022 The Golden Sufi Center, www.goldensufi.org