How I came to follow the mystic path of Sufism demands an allusive prose that, I hope, remains faithful to the spirit of initiatory Gnosis at the heartfelt core of all faiths.
Some 20 years ago I come across the book, Alone with the Alone, creative imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi by Henry Corbin. At first, this convoluted explication of a particularly arcane branch of Islamic Sufism was way over my head. Yet this book-and a powerful dream that was inspired by my first encounter with it-has since established a steady waypoint by which my spiritual life has been oriented. It has opened vistas onto a world of secret symbols whose meaning continue to elude, perplex and inspire me.
There is a realm, Corbin says, that lies between sense perception and the rarified sphere of pure spiritual essence. This is where divine revelation takes place. Those whose inner vision opens into the intermediate world (alam-al- mithal) are given the insight that liberates from the rigid strictures of dogma. This perception–whose channel is the active imagination–requires we forsake the learned myopia of scientific materialists who accord “reality” only to those objects of sense, reason and measurable data.
In the dream, I was flying through black space, turning with outstretched arms and singing the Basmallah: Bism’allah er Rahman er Raheem [we begin in the name of the One who is all Mercy and Compassion.] I’d learned this beautiful verse–which opens each sura of the Koran–some 20 years earlier at a gathering of the Dances of Universal Peace. It had only returned to me again in this dream.
All was still dark when I felt myself land on solid, dream ground. I heard a voice-over wryly proclaim: “it’s amazing what you can do with special effects” –I am heartened to know that spirits in the Sufi bardo maintain a sense of humor.
I was still turning and singing the Basmalah when I opened my eyes to find I was in the center of a large circle of men, women and children. The men were bearded and wore turbans with long robes. As it seemed presumptuous to occupy the center, I joined the others on the circumference of the circle.
A lively chant was taken up and I was led into a mad dance, side-steping 3 paces to thee right and shouting the word, “Kupt, Kupt, Kupt.” We then took 3 steps toward the center singing: “Pisht, pisht, pisht.” All were caught up in the ecstatic spirit of the dance. It was an unaccompanied, non-melodic chant that filled the place with electric energy. Children laughed as they were swept along in the frenzied tempo. My dream body was being wrenched by my zealous neighbor whose left arm tightly held my neck. Overcome, I retired outside of the circle and woke with a sudden “pop.” My dream bubble had suddenly burst.
After long pondering the two, obscure words–those cyphers whose import I had only dimly glimpsed all those years ago–it is always to the original, immediate apprehension of their sense that I return.
In a Turkish\English dictionary I found the word Kupt, which means vault of Heaven, [shouting loud enough to bring down the heavens.] The only definition for pisht I discovered was: an area marked on the ground for some sport or dance.
After long contemplation, I can only allude to the true sense of these words by images and feelings that relate to our capacity for theopathy–to know God in a form that corresponds with our innermost being. It is a timelss dance of ritual remembrance, an act of co-compassion between center and circumference, and a moving rite of worship that establishes a sympathetic bond between God and man.
I will return to this theme next post. This brief account can hardly begin to plumb the depths of theophanic mystery. I claim no special ability to navigate the intermediate world. I believe all, if we really pay attention, have the ability for angelic perception; all have the capacity for revelatory experience.
I’m back on Bainbridge.
Just found out I have to find a new studio by April. Not many left on the island and gentrification has driven most artists away.
Still, I’ve always been fortunate when it comes to finding places to work.