I died as mineral and became a plant.
I died as plant and rose to animal.
I died as animal, and I became human.
Why should I fear anything?
When was I ever less by dying?
We are at a critical crossroads in our civilizational experiment.
Precipice is a more apt word. Of course, this is not because of COVID19. This most recent pandemic is a symptom of a greater polycrisis — an economic, political, cognitive and spiritual crisis — that has accumulated from 5,000 years of separation from the natural world. This includes domination over each other & the more-than-human world; monotheisms that disconnect us from our direct relationship with the divine; the imposition of totalitarian agriculture culminating in the psychosis of monoculture & genetically modified foods; anthropocentric exceptionalism manifested in beliefs that humans are an evolutionary culmination rather than the youngest species to join the pantheon of life; the raising and killing of billions of domesticated animals for our pleasure & consumption; cultural and institutional patriarchy; hubristic imperialism; perpetual war; the economic enslavement of the majority of the world under the guise of free markets; corporate hegemony and economic apartheid; xenophobic genocide fueled by illusions of identity; and the ongoing ecocide of our planet. Pandemics, viruses, floods, draughts and ecological destruction of biblical proportions will only continue to increase until we fundamentally change our global operating system and our internal guiding systems.
Some believe that we are in the midst of a great transition towards a golden age. Some even believe in an imminent ascension. Others remind us that there is such a thing as too late, to paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr. I don’t know what you believe. And you may not either. Where science and mysticism meet, we are (re)learning that we are co-creators of an emergent reality; we are at the edge of consciousness. There is no pre-destiny; however, there is also no “pure agency” as the West has deluded itself into believing. The quantum physicist and feminist philosopher Karen Barad concludes, “we meet the universe halfway.” As we become increasingly self-aware of our role in the greater cosmos and the animate field of this planet, as we awaken our ability to be in dialogue with consciousness itself, we open our possibilities for expansion and renewal, and perhaps, even redemption.
“This [crisis] is not because of COVID19. This most recent pandemic is a symptom of a greater polycrisis — an economic, political, cognitive and spiritual crisis — that has accumulated from 5,000 years of separation from the natural world.”
Whatever happens, one thing is certain: as mortal beings, this incarnated journey will end for all of us, at least in the physical form. I come from a line of Sufi mystics that trace its lineage back to pre-Islamic times. We have kept our oral wisdom tradition intact, despite constant migration from Arabia to Egypt to Persia to India to Africa, and now as a global diaspora in hiding. There are many in my tradition who oppose the sharing of these teachings. They see them as endowments to heirs of a legacy and lineage. I see a species on the brink of extinction, paralyzed by fear, with no correlation between eldership and leadership. There is no more time for gated initiations, for sweeping up at the mosque or ashram for years before our ‘teachers’ share their knowledge. This is the time for gnosis. There is no guru and no disciple. There is no Imam and no follower. There is only co-evolution into becoming.
. . .
Here is one of my central inquiries: If our spiritual and religious practices are not expanding our circle of empathy, compassion, love and care, what is their purpose? If they are not preparing us for our physical deaths, what ends are they serving? Part of the reason that institutional religions have lost their way in this regard is that the praxis of a once-enlightened human cannot be calcified and universalized. As humans, we are contextual beings. The context of Jerusalem 2100 years ago or Mecca 1500 years ago or India 4,000 years ago, or even the Amazon 100 years ago, does not translate into a relevant code-of-ethic or moral philosophy in the messy, entangled world of modernity. In fact, the context of Jesus or Mohammed (may peace be upon them) could not translate from the moment they left the material realm.
“As we become increasingly self-aware of our role in the greater cosmos and the animate field of this planet, as we awaken our ability to be in dialogue with consciousness itself, we open our possibilities for expansion and renewal, and perhaps, even redemption.”
This is not to say that practices and traditions and aspects of culture should not be preserved and perpetuated. Rather, they should be openly shared and discussed with a contemporary critical lens and the loving embrace of the evolutionary impulse that lies within all of us. Does your spiritual practice make you a better student of the impoverishment of your time? Does it allow you to be in deeper service to the transformations that are happening now? Does it connect you more deeply to the body you inhabit? Does it root you more profoundly to this generous planet that serves as your home and your mother?
In that spirit, I share with you some of the key insights about death and dying that have been passed onto me from my culture, and I have validated for myself through direct experience, critical thought and subjective interpretation. I suggest you do the same. Take only what your intuition validates. Also, question which aspect of you is in judgement or rejection. Truth is a negotiation amongst many gods.
“I see a species on the brink of extinction, paralyzed by fear, with no correlation between eldership and leadership. There is no more time for gated initiations….”
Your entire life is preparation for the moment you die
In the Sufi tradition, we believe that we have incarnated on this planet to live and die in a better way than we did last time, to right our relationships with thought-forms, deities and souls, and to continue the cosmic mystery of being (some may call this Karma or Dharma). The event horizon of physical death is not something one should fear. It is the culmination of all of our lessons, from this life and others. How you die is more important than how you live. You are in preparation for that ultimate moment of surrender (the Arabic word for surrender is Islam). Live with death as your advisor, your companion and, Insha’Allah, your final lover.
Reincarnation is not simply a belief
As there is a cycle of birth and death in this realm, our souls also engage in cycles of creation and re-creation. In the ancient world, this was so deeply embedded in our spiritual understanding, only the uninitiated and lost would question the universality of being-ness. In Sufism, we believe there are two primary identities. The universal identity and our individual identity. We live in a culture that undermines the former and deifies the latter. The aim of our spiritual practice is to transcend the subject-object duality, and journey back into our universal identity as fractal manifestations of unity consciousness, of the divine itself. This does not mean we have to lose our individual identities. Rather, they are constructs — beautiful constructs we have chosen — that provide a pathway into universal consciousness, the Cosmic Mind (in Islam, we call this Al-aql al-kulli). This is the great love affair between our temporary selves and the divine. And remember, there is no greater aphrodisiac for the divine than humility.
None of us are free until all of us are free
We have all chosen to incarnate in troubled times. You may describe our context as the Anthropocene, the Kali Yuga (the dark ages in the Vedic cycle) or late-stage capitalism. Regardless, it is a context that rewards short-termism, greed, psychopathy, narcissism, and extraction. We must all be good students of our culture in order to be conscientious objectors. In the dominant culture, this means being conscientious objectors to capitalism. This is the path of the mystic. Some may call that heretical, I would describe it as being contextually relevant.
Part of our spiritual practice is to study our cultures in order to understand the antidote logic. In our culture of capitalist modernity (to borrow Abdullah Öcalan’s phrase), the antidote is to cultivate reciprocal relationships, to live in dialogue with a living planet, to act in solidarity with all Life, to build power and oppose oppression, and to live in the gift, without usury, speculation or accumulation. We know that our souls will continue coming back to this planet until we create heaven on Earth. Non-dualistically, we also understand that heaven on Earth is already here. We source our political power from the simultaneous truths of multiple realities. This is divine will.
I can do no better than to borrow from our siblings who wrote the Talmud:
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
You are not obligated to complete the work,
But neither are you free to abandon it.
Allah (God) is a metaphor for the universe becoming self-aware
As you die, you will return to your creator seat within the God-head. This may be momentary before your swift return, this may be an eternity. Time as a concept is both existent and non-existent within the overlapping, fractal nature of source-consciousness. As you enter what string theorists call the Calibi-Yau manifolds, all of possibility will open to you. As the portal of death opens, be aware of your body, your pain, your grief, your attachments. Do not by-pass the felt experience and immediacy of that moment. This is the gateway you incarnated for. Acknowledge the life you have lived, and hold the vision for what you could be, what your soul could contribute to. Don’t succumb to the false modesty of a Bodhisattva. Become the Rings of Saturn if that will serve.
“In Sufism, we believe there are two primary identities. The universal identity and our individual identity. We live in a culture that undermines the former and deifies the latter.”
There are many ways to practice surrendering to the remembering — what we Sufis call the deathless death — from sacred dance to long periods of isolation and silence. None is more powerful than the psychedelic experience. Especially when it occurs within a cultural context and container that understands how to hold the conscious merger with plant teachers and allies. They are the evolutionary elders and have symbiotically co-evolved with us. Part of the reason modern culture is so sick, is that it has severed its direct connection to plant consciousness.
This work also requires deep integration through a daily practice, or sadhna as the Vedics call it. You must create your own Hadith (life ceremony as embodied practice), as Prophet Muhammed did, may peace be upon him. You may call upon your ancestors for help in this regard. Afterall, you are the living prayer of your ancestors. Their redemption work is happening through you.
As the portal of death is opening for many souls during this time of pandemic and polycrisis, please be aware of your thoughts and prayers. Our cultural and personal phobia around limits, and the end of things, has created deep repression and delusion — spiritual escapism and religious dogmas; dangerous desires for Artificial Intelligence & Singularity; fanatical fantasies for messiahs & apocalypses which then strengthen the morphogenetic field of dystopian possibility; addiction to life extension technologies; a belief in consumption as salvation; and a constant yearning for “more” in the face of the inevitable. We must pull ourselves out of the entropy of victim-perpetrator binaries and the belief that things are happening to us, rather than through us. As you know, your life is a consequence of your prayer, and your prayer is entangled with all other prayers. Get ready to let go. As above, so below.
May peace be upon you. Shukran Lillah Wal Humdu Lillah (All praise is due to Allah, the most high) and you are Allah becoming self-aware. You are that which is becoming.
This article was first pubished on medium.com