Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thoughts on Thanksgiving by Rahal Eks

Digital art by Rahal Eks - tile pattern 3 for an imagined contemporary Sufi center

"Oh God, unless you help sustain me,
what help can issue from my own hand?"

Happy Thanksgiving to all the American friends who are celebrating on Thursday, November 27, 2014! 

Others do so on different dates. 

Whatever day you decide to celebrate gratefulness - regardless of your religion, the lack of it, or whatever spiritual Tradition and cultures you claim - is the correct day, because expressing thankfulness and gratitude are as vital to human development and progress, as the act of forgiving and not keeping old grudges. So any time and place would do, just as indicated by an old Sufi saying: "Every day is a Friday, and every place is a Mosque!"

These are all very simple but effective tools for potential liberation to advance on the evolutionary level - or in Sufi terminology: refine your spiritual maqam, your spiritual station. 

The temporary gifts in the form of a spiritual hal along the way, here and there, should be welcomed and also thanked for. And above all they need to be seen for what they really are: a preview or taste in advance of what might come, an indication - depending on Allah being Karim, the Generous One and if the seeker is truly persistent and whole-heartedly dedicated to his or her efforts of practicing loving kindness as the universal and all-inclusive Sufi motto of one's life. 

Instead of thinking and acting miserly we ought to focus on the One, "who is rich beyond need" and appreciate all the beautiful things and events manifested as an on-going process in perpetually renewed creation, our lives. God is rich and therefore the universe too is rich and there is really enough for all of us, unless you're running on a negative conditioning program called "poverty", "victim", "not-empowered & helpless". 

But before you start to protest and complain, are you sure you know what you really want and who you are? What is your part to play in this life? Are you generous, loving, kind and real? Are you doing what is really in harmony with your inner being or are you working with all your might against your mission trying to be the impossible by wanting to imitate someone else? 

Get off, drop it, learn to love yourself and embrace your uniqueness regardless in what shades of the colors of the rainbow it comes. Be yourself and try to activate you very potential with grateful acceptance and queer pride if you belong to the LGBT tribe and friends. 

So Thanksgiving is ideally an on-going life-style that would beautify this troubled world of ours. Thursday is also the special day of the Sufis and Sufi seekers to remember the Friend and sharing some dates and Al-Qisatu Mushkil Gusha, the Story of the Problem Dissolver. 

"Will you retell the story of Mushkil Gusha on Thursday nights and thus help the work of the Problem Dissolver?" 

Those who don't know this Sufi teaching tale can google it or read it in Idries Shah's CARAVAN OF DREAMS. 

When you do, ask yourself: "Who am I today in this story? The old woodcutter working hard? The young daughter who wants to eat more and different foods? The neighbors asking for a light to restart their fire? The mysterious voice? One of the colorful pebbles found by the old woodcutter? The King's daughter, the King, or the generous man?" 

The characters in this tale represent the human nafs, the commanding self and its numerous fluctuations. 

The ability to express thankfulness indicates where you stand on the journey. If it can be improved, don't hesitate. It is an on-going project like maintaining a beautiful garden. 

Ishq bashad, saludos Rahal

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Abu Dhabi Media Summit - قمة أبوظبي للإعلام

Listen to a most positive and inspiring speech given by Queen Rania of Jordan in English at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit...

Friday, November 07, 2014

The art of deciding by Rahal Eks

Painted black - too bad - time for you to imagine your own visuals here for a change!

"Yes and no!" But this ain't Ibn 'Arabi replying to Ibn Rushd's famous question in lovely Cordoba during the wonderful times of Al-Andalus. Instead it is just me in rough and rather surreal 2014 with a slightly unorthodox film review. And at the same time it is something else, aimed to be ambiguous, hopefully multi-layered, and with some luck breaking your preconceptions. Yes, I do like that. And no, I don't do it just for the sake to annoy. As a matter of fact, I'm coming from a very different corner. So try and catch my drift and decide for yourself. 

I had lunch with a dear Turkish friend who turned me on to the film in question. And instead of going through my current long what-to-do-list and be a good boy, I decided to blow my schedule after my holy siesta and spontaneously go to the cinema and check out the documentary thriller in question. 

At the end of an unexpected sunny Friday it turned out to be a very good decision. The film's impact makes you think and wonder. 

Yes, there is a worldwide problem with terrorism, extremism and fanaticism which needs to be addressed, dealt with and hopefully soon be transformed - and no, we definitely should not agree to say adios to privacy, civil rights and liberty. When everyone per se and at large is becoming a suspect and falls into automatic surveillance programs then there is something wrong and not just in the State of Denmark, as the saying goes. 

Technically I liked the editing, the camera work was not always truly enchanting (of course that's a matter of taste and I have a very peculiar idea on visual matters of presentation). So much about form. The content leaves you breathless. CITIZENFOUR is a well-made docu-thriller by the filmmaker Laura Poitras. The film is about Edward Snowden who contacted Laura via encrypted e-mails signed "citizen four". Later Laura and the journalist Glenn Greenwald fly to Hong Kong to meet the whistle-blower in person. This documentary is a successful cinematographic piece of journalism in action, and courageous at that! Not just because of Ed's decision to blow the whistle and come out of the surveillance closet but due to all people involved and their decision to collaborate. 

How would you decide when the rights of democracy are at stake? How would you decide when there is on the other hand a serious threat by extremists? Where is the limit? Are all legal boundaries now gone with the wind? 

Currently our world is being extremely polarized - all sorts of phobias are spreading, so his hatred, hysteria and fear on multiple fronts. 

So what's my solution? Actually I don't have one other than trying to be focused in the now, keeping my Sufi dhikr going, and aiming to remain positive and not allowing negativity to creep in under my skin. Hopefully with the result of impacting in some form or another in a slightly positive way if I can. 

Yes, I'm concerned. 

But no, I'm not indulging in negativity or allowing for fear to overwhelm all facets of reality. 

It is time for all of us to make some decisions, isn't it?

Below a link to the official trailer of CITIZENFOUR - check it out and decide for yourself...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The limitation of language by Rahal Eks

Digital art by Rahal Eks - tile pattern 5 for an imagined contemporary Sufi center

When "I and you" no longer exist,
what is mosque, church,
synagogue, or fire temple?

Once upon a time (it seems a long time ago from the perspective of my current "now"), I had a dear friend during the period I spent in San Francisco, whose goal was to become a poet and a writer. Actually he was quite poetic and a quite original writer in his own way, even though he had no idea of these facts. One of his punchline expressions was "words are dicey" and I didn't get his point at the moment of hearing or reading it. Meanwhile a lot of water has come down the Nile, I pondered about the issue and nowadays I utterly agree with this saying. Words can indeed be like dice, doing a random effect number or in other words: language can be precise or it can be misleading, it can surprise, have one or multiple levels of meaning or tell a lie or the truth. Language is just one means of communication and not always the best, it does have its limitations, and I say this as a writer. Luckily I'm also into music and visual art and therefore I won't always opt for verbal ways to get a point across and express myself. After having painted or done some digital art my writing will automatically be somewhat different than before, the same could be said when I engaged in music, dance or whatever else it may be. Please don't get me wrong, I'm far from wanting to put down words and writing - au contraire! Language(s) is/are a definite part of a person's vital identity which keeps growing and expanding in the course of one's life. 

Let's look at it in a very mundane way. For example when getting angry I prefer to bark in Spanish, or when I'm really upset in Arabic. French would not serve the purpose in such a situation. I'm sure different people with different languages have different relations and make different choices for diverse circumstances and that is good that way. The same is of course vital in which tongue you prefer to give a romantic rap (lesbian, gay, queer, trans, bi, straight or otherwise), express mysticism, write a scientific paper, do a political discussion, or crack a joke. In order to communicate successfully it all depends on the time, the place, the culture, and the people and above all selecting the right language and tone of voice. Yes, the world is sound, even music! Ideally speaking. 

I just finished the Thursday Mushkil Gusha Sufi night, the night of the famous Problem Dissolver, and I was reflecting on the difference between the essential meaning of religion and spirituality. There is a huge difference. Religion comes from the Latin ligare, meaning to bind, to connect, to reunite. Religion is used interchangeable with faith and belief. It also leads you right away to a set of rules, duties and dogma. Another meaning is having respect for what is considered sacred, moral obligation and worship of the Divine. 

As an example let's take Islam as a symbol of a religion and the Sufi Tradition as one form of spirituality. Some people say that the Sufi Tradition is the mystical core of Islam and that Sufis are also Muslims. 

Well, yes and no, it depends, this can be quite dicey. There are Sufis who are Muslims, some are Sunni, some are Shia, some are none of the above or Alevi/Alawi, or don't belong to any organized religion, or come from a Jewish, Christian, Shaman, Hindu or Buddhist background. Almost anything is possible among mystics. 

However, not all Muslims are automatically Sufis and certain Muslims are even strongly opposed to any manifestations of Sufism - so here seems to be one major difference to be considered and looked at. 

Spirituality, in contrast, seems to be more about the personal transformative work on the commanding self, the good old nafs, and yearning for ecstatic union with the Beloved, the Friend, with the aim to go through fana, annihilation, and reach eventually the maqam of baqa, subsistence in Allah/Khuda/Dios/Dieux/Gott/God/Hu/He/She/It or however you want to call or name the Divine who is at the same time transcendent and immanent. At least that is the position of those who follow Ibn 'Arabi's school of philosophy which has later coined the expression wahdat al-wujud, the unicity of being - also meaning hameh ust in Farsi

Other people say that the Sufi Tradition existed prior to Islam and has taken on the name Sufi since the time of Mohammed, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). 

We may as well ask: "What was first, the egg or the chicken?" Or try to crack the meaning of a Zen koan with the intellect...

The secret is to be found in the heart center, the Latifa Qalbiyya. It is the seat of the higher knowledge and the Divine who is closer to us than our jugular vein. 

Now in Islam we have the imam - male or female - whose function is to lead the prayers in a mosque, give religious advice and counsel people. He or she can also marry folks etc. 

While in the Sufi Tradition we have the Sufi murshid, guide, also called sheikh or pir, master, depending if you speak Arabic or Persian. While others prefer the more modest label "friend and teacher" and are not getting carried away by fancy titles in any tongues. After all the position of a Sufi teacher is a very practical and vital function on the Sufi Path, not always a popular one because he or she is often used as a projection screen and/or has to say not always pleasant things to help the student on the way. No matter what is said or pointed out, the Sufi teacher, including the one most malamati-like, will always function from a space of love - even if the student's nafs or commanding self is having another interpretation on the issue taking place. The Sufi path is not always just milk and honey, it is hard work and often not so easy to face the shadow and transform the lower ego qualities with patience and persistence and not get lost in the wilderness. 

There have been imams who have been Sufis and even Sufi teachers, but not all Sufi teachers are automatically imams. The combination is actually rather rare. It does exist though. One of my teachers was of that type, another was a malamati sheikh, those who walk the path of blame, and another came from a totally different spiritual corner and space. In my queer case all of them were vital on my personal path and I'm most grateful to all of them and everything they have said and done, even the most unorthodox at the time bewildering action to rattle my cage. It sure enough did the trick - as the Native Americans would say: "It grew corn!" 

Ishq bashad, saludos Rahal