Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Thanksgiving day I met a new friend, shared a sample plate of a wonderful Thanksgiving Feast she had prepared, AND shared a Who and Where we are on this journey.
Later that evening after returning home this bit from a longer work by this unknown Sufi poet came in the mail and rather summed up the primary subject of a remarkable conversation after a remarkable meal with a remarkable Mystic.

I sought her from myself,
she was there all along;
how strange that I
had concealed her from me.

I kept going back and forth
with her, within myself --
my senses drunk,
her beauties, my wine --

Setting out
from certain knowledge
to its source and truth,
reality my quest,

Calling to myself from me
to guide me by my voice
to that part of me
lost in my search.

Me begging me
to raise the screen
by lifting up the veil,
for I was my only means to me.

I was gazing
into the mirror of my beauty
to see the perfection of my being
in my contemplation of my face,

And mouthing my name, I listened
and leaned toward me,
looking to one who could make me hear
mention of me in my voice,

Placing my hands
upon my heart,
hoping to hold me
there in my embrace,

Rising toward my breaths
pleading they would pass by me
that I might find
me there.

Until a flash appeared
from me to my eye;
the break of my dawn shone clear,
my dark sky disappeared.

There, where reason recoils,
I arrived,
and my bond and union
reached to me from myself.

Then I glowed in joy,
as I attained to me
with a certainty that spared me
from my journey's hard ride.

I led myself to me
after I called me back;
my soul my means,
my guide to me.

When I pulled away
the curtains of sensuous disguise
brought down
by the mysteries of wisdom,

I raised the screen from my soul
by lifting up the veil,
and so it answered
my question.

I had rubbed the rust of my attributes
from the mirror of my being,
and it was encircled
with my beaming rays,

And I summoned me to witness me
since no other existed
in my witness
to rival me.

My mentioning my name
made me hear it in my recollection
as my soul, negating sense,
said my name and listened.

I hugged myself --
but not by wrapping arms around my ribs --
that I might embrace
my identity.

I inhaled my spirit,
while the air of my breath
perfumed scattered ambergris
with fragrance,

All of me free
from the dual quality of sensation,
my freedom within,
I, one with my essence.

Shaykh Umar Ibn al-Farid

from The Poem of the Sufi Way

The poetry of Shaykh Umar Ibn al-Farid is considered by many to be the pinnacle of Arabic mystical verse, though suprisingly he is not widely known in the West. (Rumi and Hafiz, probably the best known in the West of the great Sufi poets, both wrote primarily in Persian, not Arabic.) Ibn al-Farid's two materpieces are The Wine Ode, a beautiful meditation the "wine" of divine bliss, and The Poem of the Sufi Way, a profound exploration of spiritual experience along the Sufi Path and perhaps the longest mystical poem composed in Arabic.

When he was a young man Ibn al-Farid would go on extended spiritual retreats among the oases outside of Cairo, but he eventually felt that he was not making deep enough spiritual progress. He abandoned his spiritual wanderings and entered law school.

One day Ibn al-Farid saw a greengrocer performing the ritual Muslim ablutions outside the door of the law school, but the man was doing them out of the prescribed order. When Ibn al-Farid tried to correct him, the greengrocer looked at him and said, "Umar! You will not be enlightened in Egypt. You will be enligthened only in the Hijaz, in Mecca..."

Umar Ibn al-Farid was stunned by this statement, seeing that this simple greengrocer was no ordinary man. But he argued that he couldn't possibly make the trip to Mecca right away. Then the man gave Ibn al-Farid a vision, in that very moment, of Mecca. Umar Ibn al-Farid was so transfixed by this experience that he left immediately for Mecca and, in his own words, "Then as I entered it, enlightenment came to me wave after wave and never left."

Although hailed throughout the Muslim world as one of the great spiritual classics, Ibn al-Farid's Poem of the Sufi Way has also been controversial because in it he refers to the Beloved -- God -- as "her," rather than in the more traditional masculine gender.

I sought her from myself,
she was there all along;
how strange that I
had concealed her from me.

These lines say so much. Spiritual seekers tend to look everywhere for the Divine -- by visiting holy places and teachers, through spiritual practices and austerities, through service -- but at a certain point we are surprised to discover that "she was there all along." The Divine, the living sacred source, is discovered to be present within us, within this very moment -- and most surprising of all, we recognize that It has always been there, that we have never been separate or apart from It. In truth, God is found to be the very Self of our self; we could never possibly be apart from That. Yet, how could we have missed this overwhelming truth of our own being? How could we have thought we were separate from God? "How strange that I / had concealed her from me."

There is so much depth and splendor in this selection from The Poem of the Sufi Way. The only other thing I'll point out is the general theme Ibn al-Farid here plays with: the psychic dilemma of how the dualistic state of the lover melts into the nondual unity of the Beloved. It is a dilemma because the normal consciousness can't conceive of it even when it is directly experienced. What can one say about "self" and "God" when the veil has been lifted and the two pour into each other as one?

To try to put this into the conceptualized world of words becomes farcical, and Ibn al-Farid plays mastefully with this:

Calling to myself from me
to guide me by my voice
to that part of me
lost in my search.

And what a perfect summation, the final line of this selection:

I, one with my essence.

Ivan Granger

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