Inhabiting the Body, Not the Mind
Embodiment is the Physical Perception of our Spiritual Reality
Embodiment implies presence. In other words, you are nowhere else and fully present where you are. Presence is a reality, whether we realize it or not, and the realization of the truth and reality of this reality is the purpose of embodiment. Embodiment is the goal of the seeker, a truly magic elixir, and the resolution to most if not all questions. True embodiment is the essence of fulfillment; it is the fourth stage of the classical seven stages of perfection as described in many Sufi texts. It is not far. It is very near. Where else is our secret hiding if not in plain sight?
So what’s the problem? Why do we not realize it? It’s simply a matter of where we focus our attention – of what we choose to be aware or unaware.
Driven by our subconscious sense of dissatisfaction, we focus on what we believe will end it. And it's our dedication to this drive that keeps us mentally occupied. It's a classic fix-it mentality. Needing something to fix in order to justify our existence, we seek out any small dissatisfaction and devote ourselves to fixing it. We have been conditioned to believe that we have no right to be happy or satisfied without in some way having earned it. We believe that the root of our dissatisfaction lies in some deficiency in our actions. We’re always searching for something else - something more to do - and we never seem to know what it is. We choose to ignore or trivialize out innate happiness. We choose to forget that our dissatisfaction is merely the absence of a certain focus - the focus on our true nature and the inherent satisfaction within us.
Believing that our happiness comes from others, we have learned that the right way to remedy our dissatisfaction is to focus our attention off of ourselves and onto others, projecting in our minds some good coming to us from such a choice. This is the choice of “pleasing” rather than "healing". We learn it early on. It is our conditioned response to what we believe is the reality of life in this world, the illusion referred to in Qur`an and by Sufis as the “Hayyatu-Dunya”. Our act of being pleasing is the result of our conditioning and accepted as a necessity of life. We are rarely presented with any reasonable or viable alternatives, and when we are, such alternatives are considered preposterous and summarily dismissed. This rejection of alternative possibilities is also an integral part of our daily training and conditioning. It is referred to by Qur`an and Sufis as Kufr – rejection in the guise of disbelief.
Once having made the choice to focus our attention away from our selves and onto others, it is the nature of our so-call life in this world that it presents us with myriad endless distractions both pleasant and unpleasant in nature. It is the nature of this temporary world that its illusion overwhelms us. Dealing with it becomes our primary focus and eventually our only reality.
This temporary resting place is a world of education but it is not ‘the’ reality. Its purpose is to educate our souls in the power and beauty of God and in the nature of duality and the principles of cause and effect. It is a dwelling place for a time. Qur`an calls it “mata`un ila heen” - "a place of rest for a while". It is a similitude of our True Reality, a likeness. Qur`an calls it a “mithal”, from the viewpoint of which our true reality is referred to as the “hereafter,” or “the life to come”. The purpose of this mortal existence is to provide our souls with a groundwork for social behavior, to learn aadab – the procedures of pleasant and fruitful interaction with others; to provide for us a framework for a truly heavenly life. Its purpose is to demonstrate to us the Realities of Our Lord and Creator. It is a world of rewards and punishments, of consequences, for it is truly this world of consequences in which and from which we gain our education.
There is a knowledge - a single knowing - the possession of which assures us a clear understanding of purpose and meaning in life. This assertion permeates openly or implied throughout all the teachings of all the times; its attainment is the underlying goal for the most profound quests throughout the history of humanity.
Embodiment was the goal of the ancient shaman healers whose innovative means were aimed at bringing the soul back into the body.
Embodiment is a requisite to self realization for it is through and only by means of physical perception that true realization or any benefit therefrom can occur. True self-perception as a goal is emphasized in the yoga sutras and paralleled with confirming verses from Qur`an and other scriptures. The ignorers of the message are they who harm themselves. The truly successful are those who realize the Truth. "Who knows oneself knows ones Lord."
Embodiment is an integral part of realization. How can one be self-realized and not be present to one’s Truth? Embodiment both implies and necessitates feeling. This statement may seem obvious to the intellect, but the truth of the matter is that true feeling, no matter how much lip service or intellectual attention we may give to it, is still the most avoided faculty that the human creature possesses. If that were not the case, the spiritual quest would not only be not so difficult, it could conceivably not exist in the realm of the necessary at all. After all, it is only our distraction from our true self that maintains our sense of separation from perfect realization.
Feeling is the physical agent of perception. Perception is our capacity to perceive, to know and be aware of all things, seen ans unseen, "`alimul ghaibi wa shahadah".
Have you ever asked yourself why we are so ignorant of God that we have need for a so-called spiritual quest at all - when God Himself created us to know Him? Many of the Masters have said that the quest itself is a part of the problem in that our determination to the path distracts us from realization. Often the Buddhists pose the question “which comes first, the realization or the cessation of seeking?” Nevertheless, the work of the path continues as long as one shall live because the other maxim is also true that “before enlightenment, chopping wood, carrying water; After enlightenment, chopping wood, carrying water.” The Masters all say that the work is hard, the journey long and difficult, and yet there never was nor will there ever be a moment in which the Reality of God is not immediately present, available and obvious. Its knowing is inherent within us. Will we not take heed? Allah asks “O mankind, what foolishness is it that distracts you from the mercy of your Lord?”
Isn’t this a puzzle? What is this body that we so fervently attempt to avoid, take for granted, and deny? Where are we when we are “not” present? Where IS this “somewhere else” that we conjure in our minds in order to avoid our own self-realization? Why is presence a matter of concern and some difficulty if there really is nowhere else we can be? It can only be due to our mental programming, our conditioned thinking.
Distinguishing Thinking from Feeling
Few people can clearly distinguish between thinking and feeling, often confusing the words and their meanings with one another. And most people nowadays would be hard put to recognize that there even is a difference - thinking that feeling is thinking and thinking is feeling, that one's thoughts are one's feelings and not recognizing true feeling until it hurts. So to aid in the understanding of the knowledge of embodiment, let me point out and emphasize what might not be so obvious.
Let's make note that there is a clear and palpable distinction between thinking and feeling. And take it as a matter of fact that the thinking after realization is clearly different from the thinking before.
I'm sure once you understand my point, that you'll agree. Thinking is not feeling. Thinking is a distraction from feeling. Thinking is an avoidance of feeling. There is a clear distinction between the two. One is not the other and only in unified being is there any real connection. One cannot think one feels. Feeling requires 100% of one’s attention. They are as different as night and day, as man and woman, as heart and mind - left brain, right mind. One cannot do both at the same time. We are either doing one or the other and the preponderance of favor and habit is on the side of thinking.
If we understand that thinking is nowhere near the realm of feeling, we can then understand why we do so much of it. It’s classic trauma psychology. We go into our minds when we need to escape from feeling. We then determine that feeling is exactly what we do NOT want to do and that’s why we build blocks against it and habituate occupancy of our minds.
It is our avoidance of our selves by our insistence on thinking that causes endless tension and anxiety in the body. What would happen to us if we contemplate true feeling - the word, the meaning and the actuality of true feeling? Do we even know what it actually means? But without feeling there can be no sense of embodiment, and without embodiment, no sense of presence. And without presence no happiness, no understanding, and only death awaits us as a relief for our agonies.
I’d like to summarize with a key point emphasized by Mr. Gurdjieff in his teaching after returning from his travels in search of the Masters of Wisdom and alluded to by Sayyid Idries Shah it in his book “Learning How to Learn.”
Surrendering to feeling, surrendering to our being, causes relaxation accompanied by an increase in our perception of reality. This cannot be done by thinking, and it is the beginning of the cessation of thinking. It takes us out of the individual self and establishes us in the generic self. In true Surrender we are one with All and the Reality becomes apparent.
The Relationship of Embodiment to Selfless Service
As mentioned before, embodiment is necessary for the experience of self-fulfillment, in that one cannot realize self-fulfillment without being in the body that is fulfilled. Self-fulfillment is the fourth in the classical seven stages to perfection. In the terminology of the Sufis. It is called an-nafs al-mutmainna. But make no mistake. Fulfillment itself, although a requisite to realization, is not enough. It must also be maintained. Think about it. Once we realize ourselves, how are we to fend off the recurring and very demanding residual memories of our previous life, and the propensities of our ingrained habitual upbringing?
And the answer is, through Selfless Service; the only way out of this dilemma.
On the Necessity for Positive Action
The following of positive practices is absolutely essential to success in life for two reasons. The first is that positive action brings positive results, and the second is that positive action avoids negative results.
Truly positive action is often not something that we can discover or practice on our own because:
1. How many times have we set out on our own to achieve some good only to find that it ended in failure or worse?
2. It is not possible for us to lose our individuality by exercising it. Albert Einstein said it this way: “You cannot resolve a problem with the same mindset that caused it.” Selfless action, coming from the self, is not selfless.
How is it possible for us to set out for ourselves selfless service if the motivation to do so is itself selfishly inspired? Even the desire to be selfless is selfish. This dilemma can only be resolved by following one firmly established on the right path. Then the fruit of our labor is no longer for personal benefit, and personal benefit is a motivation which is otherwise inescapable. This is why all true spiritual organizations, and especially among the Sufis, have a Master; a visible manifestation of the results of following that path. And masters wish only to share. Sheikh Din is reported to have said that he’s never met a true teacher who was not intent on sharing with his students the joy and satisfaction to be had from self-realization.
Some positive signs of positive action are: an intelligent and comprehensible rendition of a time-honored, tried and true teaching of classic values; a manifestation of positive results in the character and material surroundings of the teacher; and a body of students who are benefiting from and testifying to the results of their following. In Buddhism they say “Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.” We say “Teacher, Teaching and Students”. Wherever these three elements are found there is a good chance of benefit being received.
Tying it all together
The embodiment of spiritual and divine qualities is true self-enjoyment. It is the liberation from the selfish desire for fulfillment that keeps us distracted from experiencing the reality of what we desire. The embodiment of spiritual and divine qualities is exactly the fulfillment we are seeking. It is the only thing that will allow us to fully and undistractedly participate in selfless service. It is the Ridhwanu’llah, the Divine Pleasure of Allah, and its realization is wished by Allah upon all good and righteous people. We pray for it upon us. It is the resolution to the personal and psychological hang-ups that keep us focused on the acquisition of pleasure rather than on the enjoyment of it, and it is our focus on acquisition that keeps us distracted from selfless service.
Since thinking and feeling are not capable of being engaged simultaneously, perception through embodiment means the end of thinking and the beginning of knowing. it is the highly prized Sufi station of ma`rifatu'llah.
Most of what is referred to by the mind as feeling is in reality only thinking. Perception through embodiment is generic and therefore universal, it can be felt by everyone, and therefore can know everything, whereas perception through the mind (as in my perception of a thing) is strictly individual and of no more universality than a personal opinion. Generic means inherent within the creation and not imposed or acquired though the experiences of life, like ethnicity, language, education and personal preferences.
So Note. All anyone wants is to feel good, to enjoy oneself and enjoy life. Embodiment is essential to self-enjoyment, and It is the absence of self-enjoyment that keeps us focused on its acquisition, and our focus on pleasurable acquisition is the cause of our distraction from the very things we seek, namely - true happiness, self-enjoyment and selfless service. This sense of absence is a remediable misunderstanding. It can be remedied because it it not real, it is a result of conditioning.
And one more thing - The Role of Physical Health
Physical health is important – and embodiment helps
Good health is the key to good feeling, and feeling ‘good’ is the key to good health. Here there is a double play on the word ‘good’. In the first case it refers to well-being, and in the second to the sense of good as opposed to bad, evil or guilty. There is no doubt that a great deal of what we experience as pain is either psychosomatic or emotional in nature. Mankind is the only species with the capacity to punish itself, to cause itself pain from a feeling of deserving it – from a feeling of guilt.
Feelings of guilt cause pain in any degree, and especially the deeply buried or subconsciously present ones. That’s why forgiveness is stressed in spiritual teachings as the strongest of healing agents. Forgiveness expunges guilt, and the guiltless feel no pain, they feel ‘good’ and therefore allow themselves the freedom from the need for self-punishment that gives them the liberation to be happy and be well. And there is no doubt that Happiness Heals and that sadness, depression and sickness are caused by its absence.
Imagine the evil of the ancients who knew these sciences and went out of their way to suppress them and keep them hidden from mankind solely for the sake of causing suffering and subjugation.
It is the role of the shaytan to keep us from the freedom of true self-enjoyment. By splitting our minds from our selves, causing us to jump into the world of imagination (mind, khayal, maya), keeping us in the world of concern for survival, and far away from the benefits of divine pleasure to be had through the enjoyment of self-perception, trust and non-concern.
Even the mention of non-concern brings up the haunting images of scorn and derision - the voices that shout at us to be realistic, to get in touch with reality, to take responsibility for ourselves and the plight of others. But what do innocent children know of all this? Where will they learn it if not from us? All the forces of fear and coercion are brought to bear in the effort to teach us, to train us, to compel us to fear as the others fear, believe as the others believe. And why would these forces be so marshaled against us if not to overcome an equally strong and opposing force, the force of the individual God consciousness, the awareness that does not see the world as a place for concern, fear and coercion but sees it as a place of joy, happiness and love, and wishes only to express gratitude for the opportunity to express gratitude. And Allah says in Holy Qur`an “If are grateful I will give you more.”
The nature of love is that the whole of creation is created from play (not clay) - the joyful intercourse of two equal and opposite forces. Now realize that a child is created from self-enjoyment for the express purpose of self-enjoyment. From that comes the best of creative self-expression that makes the world such an interesting, educational and enjoyable experience. What else would a loving and benevolent God want for his creation? Hence the theory that the universe is created for God’s pleasure, at God’s pleasure and by God’s pleasure – that God may experience the maximum pleasure of His own existence. What else could it be?
So if God’s purpose is a heavenly existence and a heavenly existence is made manifest by self-enjoyment, just listen to the birds in spring, how could our purpose be any less?
The fulfillment of this purpose is primary on all our radars. Fundamentally, all anyone wants is to feel good. Even though abandoned and forgotten, this purpose takes permanent precedent over all other priorities. That’s why it’s fulfillment is crucial to the development of society, and that’s why the purpose of society is to create an optimal environment for its fulfillment. Any society or community with that as its goal is worthy of whole-hearted participation, for in following that goal we will not only hasten the fulfillment of our own purpose in life but do the best for humanity as a whole by exemplifying a project and direction of true value and benefit, worthy of our service, which can then, and only then, become truly selfless.
And Allah is the Best of Knowers.
Abdul Hameed Almaas, a prominent Sufi Psychologist in Berkeley, California, said in one of his many books on the subject, “Development of character is time spent with essence.”
Speaking about the Khwajagan the other evening we mentioned a book written by J. G. Bennett, a contemporary of Mr. Gurdjieff, entitled The Masters of Wisdom, and in the sixth and ensuing chapters Mr. Bennett proffers his interesting and unique rendition of history during the time of the Khwajas, Khwaja is a Persian word meaning “possessor of great wisdom”. These Khwajagan were soon to be known as the Naqshbandi Sufi Chain of transmission which can be said to have found its origin in the advent of Islam but which is widely known, as he aptly points out, to have existed for generations before and is likely rooted in the ancient shamanistic perceptions such as purported in the Taoism of Lao Tzu.
A foundational precept of the Masters of Wisdom as stated by Khwaja Mahmood Faghnawi, a famous patriarch and Grand Master of the Khwajagan, is: "The removal of the undesirable must precede the acquisition of the desirable." This was directed against the deceptive belief that one can be filled with the spirit (of divine love) before one is emptied of self.
In studying the teachings of our path and its masters, the recommendations and requirements are strikingly similar to if not exactly the same as the teachings of the yoga masters - moral precepts, breath control, poise, focus, contemplation and realization - which teachings are also thoroughly canonized in the many books on the subject.
Our natural satisfaction is always with us even as God is always with us, and that God is always satisfied. And by the absence of satisfaction I mean the focus of our attention away from our satisfaction as if we have no right to it, and that is called distraction. And distraction is the work of the Shaytan; to distract us from the pleasure of God for which we can be rightfully grateful and with the attainment of which we are no longer distracted and we can do anything; and selfless service is no longer a big deal since it is really the only thing we can do that makes any sense any longer.
What distracts us is our previous commitment to determination; our habituation to self determination. I like to call it diagnosis and prescription. We self-diagnose, i.e determine for ourselves what is wrong, and self-prescribe, that is, determine for ourselves what we are going to do about it. It often sounds like “I’ll never do that again”, or, “I’ll remember to always be good, or kind to others, or watchful for signs of impending danger”.