Homecoming In Corona Times
Posted by Aslinur Akdeniz on Mar 25, 2020
The first 18 couplets of Masnavi talk about homecoming in detail through the story of the reed flute. It is cut off from the reed bed, carved hollow from the inside and burnt. We hear its complaints. It tells us the stories of separation.
Let’s for a second put ourselves in its shoes. Are we aware of the separations we have been going through? If not, corona is voicing it on behalf of us. Telling us the strories loudly, in a way that it makes it impossible to avoid it any more.
What kind of separation am I talking about?
Dislocated wild life, burning forests, immigrants, people including me and my friends feeling away from home in a system that does not properly function any more. I witness how disconnected we are from the Earth, from the life forms on it.
I witness how isolated we become by our own presumptions, assumptions and scenarios of how things are and should be. Clinging to them, we are being blinded and deafened to what really is. On top of that, we are trying to find solutions that are coming from the same root as the problem. In fact, we have already put ourselves in quarantine long before corona arrived, by keeping ourselves in the comfort zones of our fictional realities.
In the midst of this rush, we are numbed to the existence of the earth below us, and sky above. This rush does not have to be a physical one. Not only white collar workers but also freelancers, those who are into yoga and meditation, people practicing five times prayers a day and fasting, environmental activists, they are all part of this rush. It is an intellectual as well as a spiritual rush.
As long as we do not slow down and thus allow ourselves to be humbled by the greater whole we are part of, embodying it each and every day in devotion, many so called crises and disasters are arriving to align us with the Greater Story. In its core, it is about homecoming. It shows how invalid our small fictional stories are. They smell of plastic. They are disrupted again and again until they come to a halt, until we lose the grip and let it go, let it die and dissolve in light and love.
For some of us home is our family, our work, projects, productions. Trying to survive, our salaries and insurance become our home. To some, what is home is their social status, positions and prestige. Sometimes it is a group of friends we are trying to compensate our loneliness with or a community we be-long to. For some it is workshops, trainings or retreats. Even the spiritual path we walk and the practices tend to become our home. What if, for the sake of feeling satisfied, consoled and even for reaching truth, these homes of ours are actually blocking the paths going towards Home?
What if none of the above was our home? What if home lied in the unknown as our near future does? What if we came to realize that we can not pin home down to a concept, rationalize and systemize it, but instead we have to stay receptive to it and wait for it in patience, in humility, in respect? What if we eventually understood leaving the limited human will and its power dynamics behind is not any more an option but an existential must and responsibility? What would change, shall we start imagining?
There is a Quranic Surah which I find very much related to this topic.
Read, in the name of your sustainer
who has created man out of a germ cell
read, for thy sustainer is the most bountiful one
who taught men to use of the pen
taught men what he did not know
nay verily man becomes grosly overweening
whenever he believes himself to be self-sufficient
for, behold, unto thy sustainer all must return
For Sufis, there exists nothing but the Sacred One, The Intelligent Wisdom. It manifests itself in different forms. The word “Rab”, which is translated as “sustainer”, also means the one who teaches. As the Sacred unfolds itself in us in a way that is compatible with our potential, everyone manifests the Sacred in a different way. We can observe this around us very clearly. However, the Sacred is not something residing in the skies, checking on us only to find our mistakes and punish us. If nothing exists except it, then there can not be any duality. Therefore, I am the one who is sustained and who sustains. I am the one who is taught and teaches. This means I have full responsibility. I am the forests burning, I am the animals going extinct, I am the refugees suffering at the borders. I am that Sacred which is manifesting itself on different levels; through water, fire, earth and air.
Coming back home marks the journey of discovering our personal and unique ways of relating to the Sacred one. Home is the Sacred itself which escapes from definitions. That’s why the Quranic verse invites us to “read”. This practice of reading is the act of self-observation in the moment. In order to practise this, we need to first of all slow down and be brave enough to let go of what we already deem to be true (for ourselves and for the world). Right now, what we are called to “read” together as a human family is not the already memorized, systemized and legitimized information, but a formless and ever-changing scripture written in the air.
“Taught men what he did not know” points out to the same thing. We learn again and again that we actually do not know. And we learn what we do not know because we let go of what we already know. The next step is again to let go of the newly known and sacrifice it to the unknown. It is a dynamic journey. In this way, we re-member our potential gifts and welcome them back home. We are welcoming the Sacred back home whose pieces are scattered and buried all over the place. We are welcoming every misplaced living being in the universe back to where they belong, honoring them in their original beauty in their original place. This is a fundamental right for all beings. If we fail to do it, we experience wake-up calls and so called “crises.”
I am talking about a transition from ego-logy to eco-logy. Ecology puts the whole at the center. It is based on interconnected relationships instead of hierarchy. Being aware of the real worth of all life forms and taking care of them is an ecological attitude and the most spiritual act to do. If I come to re-member that I am not an isolated, separate being but connected to a Bigger Life Form with seen and unseen bonds, my perception shifts and I come to know myself as a small cell of this Great Body. This is very humbling.
The verse “nay verily man becomes grosly overweening/whenever he believes himself to be self-sufficient” explains what egology is. The components of this life view are individualism, self-centredness and self-righteousness. A person who is trying to survive in modernity comes to abuse his inner and outer sources and all the living beings around him because he does not know his limits/boundaries. He does not know where to stop. He consumes and he is being consumed. Since he is living in the story of separation, he is miles away from his home. Even at the times of isolation, he never hesitates to buy all the toilet papers in the supermarket without taking care of others’ needs. His only truth is himself. He is trying to be self-sufficient, he is trying to survive and become a hero in this time of crisis. He believes that he can keep living alone.
The virus is inviting us to wake up from the stories we are told. A new story is emerging. Are you willing to take up the pen and write it down? To write down what you read in the field…
Someone who is not aware of her/his potential, talents/gifts/service to life is away from home. S/he does not set aside any special time to discover these gifts through practices. Even if s/he has some practices, after a certain period of time, those practices are turned into idols to be consumed in the end. As human beings we tend to fall into duality, to worship something that is separate from us and to be worshipped by others in turn. That’s why we enjoy the heroic games and its dramas. As a result, the world is full of professionally trained and educated people who are in fact “illiterate” since they do not have an alphabet to read what is happening right now. How can we get in touch with such an alphabet? Who will teach us? Do we have wise elders and ancestors who will train us from an equal place, a place which is based on loving compassion?
Our elders and their role in this rite of passage
Before diving deep into the topic of ancestors and elders I would like to share why we need them. I read the times we are in as a rite of passage. First of all, the world is going through this passage, it is very clear that it is in a deep transition. So are we, as humanity. But there is a problem: We lost the wisdom of holding such rites. They are not transferred to us. That’s why our elders in Turkey are mostly acting like small children or teenagers. Children are forced to act like elders to be able to survive in the system. Therefore, instead of waiting for elders to teach us how to do it, we need to become our own elders. We need to become each others’ elders by facilitating these transitions into adulthood.
Only an “adult” consciousness can understand the function of boundaries, otherwise you think freedom is giving you the right of doing whatever you desire to do. In fact, freedom is the ability to set conscious boundaries around your choices and actions in a way that serves everything you are in connection with. Recently the physical borders have been closing down, and humans need to understand where to set boundaries as well.
Yet, people who have not tapped into that consciousness persist to act according to the narratives they are part of. An adult is willing to let go of her present narrative for the sake of entering the field of the present moment. She is willing to deeply listen to what is emerging in the moment and surrender to the flow while staying in the unknown. Without humility, it is almost impossible to value things, be attentive to their needs and respect them since people without humility continue walking on the road set long a go, their eyes fixed at a certain goal. They are not willing to change their perception and habitual behavior. Therefore, corona is inviting us to act from “us” rather than “me” and act in service of the whole. This is an opportunity to become an adult.
And still, it does not serve to give up the hope in our elders when it comes to receiving their wisdom. Nowadays we are trying to take care of them. However there is another way of taking care of them which is holding space for them to reconnect with their roots, cultures of wisdom, their ancestors. In this way, we give them an opportunity activate their roles in the society. In this way, they feel that their presence matters to us and they can serve. By asking them questions about their traditions and elders we can activate the spark in them. Moreover, it can be quite helpful and beautiful to include them in the rituals and circles we are having, offering them to sit on the witness cushion.
The crisis we are facing right now gives a taste of what our elders had to go through. And most of the traumas are not seen and heard; they have been buried in the silent waters of collective psyche. As long as we do not welcome them back home to be grieved, they will continue haunting us. There are so many people excavating the burial sites of lost traditions and cultures. I am deeply grateful to them because thanks to their work, we get to start feeling the long belated pain of the universe. Until we look into their eyes, the stories of the past will keep coming back in new forms to be acknowledged as in the case of pandemics. So, our collective traumas needs to be welcomed back home too.
Grieving and lamenting
During a vocal training session my mentor told me that grief and sorrow are collected in the lungs. I observe how my belly is contracted when I breathe in and out. My lungs are not filled with air fully. It became clear to me that my lungs are already full; full of ancestral inheritance that shaped the choices I made. In order to breathe fully we need to look right into the watery eyes of these sorrows and grieve them. The suffering we co-created as humanity can be turned into a healing experience. What does the corona virus have to do with our lungs? Pains of centuries have been leaking from the psychic container they are locked in. It is time to release what we have kept inside, detox it out and mend the cracks of our containers with gold.
What does it mean to grieve? How to grieve? I would like to quote from my upcoming book “Coming Back Home”:
Rumi initiates the Masnavi with two actions: To tell stories and to complain. The first 18 couplets of the Masnavi talk about the story of the reed flute. What is the flute complaining about? The separations. How is it complaining about? By storytelling. In fact, the whole 18 couplets are the unfolding of the nature of these two actions.
Let’s try not to project our daily perception and understanding of complaint (like the crisis and catastrophes we experience such as the virus) onto the flute’s act of complaining. Its complaint has a different nature, since it is not based on desperation, rebellion and disorientation. The flute has a clear awareness of what it is experiencing. That’s why its complaint is its unique way of grieving.
When we think of grieving, maybe the first images we receive are the people who lose themselves crying or captured by a deep desperation by disconnecting from life. In fact here in Turkey I heard lots of people telling each other not to cry at funerals in case we might disturb the soul of the dead. For this reason, most people numb themselves with medication when they face loss and instead of going through it, they step over it (and this is mostly the automatic reaction we show when we face pain and fear).
Telling the stories of the complaints is the outer expression of the flute’s grief. Rumi uses these words (story telling and complaining) one after another for a reason. Someone who grieves has a story to tell. Sharing this story willingly from a vulnerable, yet trusting place is a healing experience. And on top of that if you do it through poetry and art, the grief turns into lamentation.
Grieving can not be reduced to the mere act of losing control and destroying everything around you. It does not only express itself through the body, but includes other dynamics in it. My grandmother used to kiss my feet when I was a child. Actually, in this way she kissed the feet of my father, the son she had lost. This was her way of grieving.
I feel there is a thin line between grief and lamentation. Lamentation is the creative expression of grief. It is the embodiment of the feelings and experience of grief through a poem, dance or a drawing. That’s why the act of grief which can not find expression in the form of lamentation might pull some towards desperation. The complaint which is not grieved turns into whining, while the complaint grieved turns into lamentation and starts breathing freely in the realm of creativity and hope. Most of our elders are in a state of constant passive whining because they are cut off from their roots and alienated from their traditions.
The sense of loss and estrangement we feel for whatever reason deepens the collective pain we have. How do we welcome this pain? How to engage with it? Who is grieving for it? If grieving necessitates the presence of witnesses, it can not be a solitary experience. We need a community to grieve (even with two people). Think for a moment, when you are challenged by life, whom do you turn to? Can you really drop your heroic persona and be vulnerable with your witnesses? If so, how your witnesses help you to do it?
The fact that people are called to isolate themselves physically does not mean they will be disconnected from the world. For sure, there will hopefully be disconnections from the egological attitude, from the comfort zones we designed, from the addictions and stimulants we use to satisfy our complexes, from the illusion that everything is under control. In my opinion, the virus first of all invites us all to stay by ourselves; to slow down, stop, check in with ourselves and re-evaluate our priorities to align ourselves with the collective intelligence. To re-member the A B C of the wisdom of the moment. To get the compass and maps to help us come back home.
At the same time, in this challenging times we come to realize the worth of authentic and intimate relations more. In this way, we will make efforts to find more serving and creative ways of connecting with each other. We will grieve for the collective pain. That’s how we will give and receive healing. And maybe the online circles we are having will facilitate our process of maturing and guiding initiation ceremonies. Instead of whining about the virus, we have started finding ways to grieve. Right now people are offering group conversations, jam sessions, breath and body work etc. People who have been collecting gifts in their sack are now coming out of their holes and sharing with generosity because there is a deep sense of urgency and responsibility in the air.
We are not imprisoned, we are retreating
Therefore, we are not imprisoned in our houses, we are retreating. The way old Sufis practiced retreats are hard to be sustained in post-modern times. The ancient wisdom needs to be updated according to the soul and callings of the times we are in. Life is presenting us the great master saint Corona to open such sacred spaces in our lives. We need to be present wherever we are, just like the dervishes were present in their retreat cells with a strong intention, prayers, ablution and sense of devotion.
And we are already practising the famous saying of Mohammad “Cleanliness is rooted in faith.” Taking care of our immune system, our relationship with what we eat and how we eat have been undergoing transformation as well. Nowadays I can not start my days without apple cider vinegar with honey and lemon. I am more dedicated to my dream work and daily physical exercises. No more postponing. My body became my priority, since in order to be able to be present in the moment and deeply listen to the wisdom whe need to open the antennas of our bodies. We tend to freeze in times of crisis, that is why it is much more important to move our bodies and dance. There is a Turkish saying: “There is abundance in movement.”
In one of the circle classes I was offering we talked about routine and rituals. In fact we may have daily practices we regularly hold and call them our “routine”. When I relate to my routine with a strong intention and do my practices with an awake attention, I witness the unfolding of the sacred. However, there is always a risk of turning them into idols; something that we worship, that we depend on, something beyond us and larger than us. For this reason, it is helpful to keep our rituals fresh and dynamic and let it be transformed into whatever form it desires in time.
Staying in the unknown is present in the nature of rituals, because we can not plan the process beforehand (though you can design the container). When I initiate a ritual, what wants to emerge from me depends on the moment’s wisdom and how I welcome it. We can not calculate what emerges during the ritual. Rituals differ from routine, because they belong to the incalculable field. How can I prepare my apple cider water every day like a ritual? How can my daily rituals help me lament for the process we are in? How can every food I prepare contribute to the wellbeing of the ecosystem?
Actually these practices come from a natural state of wholesome living. Thanks to corona, we are realizing their importance. Without delaying them anymore, we are slowly taking the responsibility of leading dedicated adult lives. Now I come to understand that the workshops, trainings and retreats we have been joining for the past years have been preparing us for such times.
As a result, dear souls, rather than freezing, numbing and escaping in the face of the virus (and the fear, anxiety and panic it might trigger), let’s try to stay grounded in our bodies and souls to stay awake. Let’s start sharing what we have collected in our sacks. I think one of the most beautiful prayers we can make at this point is to come back to our essence, sharing it with all the life forms we are in connection with and continuing to walk each other home hand in hand.