Life and Times Blog

Feedback Loops

I was chatting to a friend recently about “tough times” in life. Moments or periods of sadness, pain, despair, loss.
As I chatted to him I recalled a concept from High School Biology, the bodies feedback loop to maintain chemical equilibrium. ( Concept of feedback loops is widely used in different contexts).

There are two types of feedback loops, Positive Feedback Loop (PFL) and Negative Feedback Loop(NFL).

PFL causes an affirming reaction to the feedback it receives, so for eg, woman in labor, they start contracting, a message is sent to the glands that there are contractions, and the brain sends the message to the respective gland to ask it to produce more of the hormone that supports cramping.

A NFL works the opposite way, the body asks the respective gland to produce less of a chemical or enzyme in response to this.

So in the broad context of life, I think God subjects us to Feedback Loops too if we are lucky. I think that the difficulty is God’s way of telling us to return to Him and His way, and to seek His closeness.
It is the turmoil that brings us to awareness of our vulnerability. The feedback of things going wrong should tell us to turn back to God, because no one else has the ability to assist. By turning back to God, we bring ourselves closer to having that pain and despair being solved.A positive negative feedback loop.

April 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 3 Comments

Ghazzali conference

Last weekend (17th-19th) was a Ghazzali conference in Cape Town. God’s grace allowed me the opportunity to attend.

Keynote speaker was Shaykh Abdul Hakeem Murad aka T J Winter.

I’ve never been keen on punting individuals, as it sometimes creates a groupie culture that may result in narrow mindedness and a sense of partisanship. I must however say that I was completely awe struck by the Shaykh’s talks. A definate combination of the content and his delivery.

He isn’t the sort of checklist power orator, with a booming voice, varied tones, appropriate gesturing. He is calm, he is measured, and there is something about that calmness that calms you, a calm that overcomes you into a sense of vigilant attention. A penetrating receptiveness.
I really can’t describe to you how incisive his words were, you often hear about people who speak directly through you, into you. I must say I felt this acutely with his delivery.It was so acute, that at one point I actually recalled the hadith where Rasool (SAW) talks about being squeezed by Jibreel (AS) on Wahi. I felt that my insides were being wrung whilst listening to this man speak. A healthily oppressive kind of truth that finds such resistance by the well established Nafs that it actually hurts.It actually hurt. I felt shattered by the immensity and complete relevance of what the man said

The talks were about the message of Ghazzali, rather than about the life or personality of Imam Ghazzali, although his personality can’t really be separated from his message, an interpretation of The Message.

Imam Ghazzali, for those who don’t know, was a Muslim Theologian of high caliber and wide acclaim, who reached a point of discontent in spite of his immense theological prowess, prompting him to abandon his environment and set off on a journey of ten years of mysticism to seek a deeper contentment, awareness.

Many things were spoken of, I can only hope that I have grasped this content at a deeper level, because I cannot recall them all in words. I do recall being completely entranced by the message.

A major take home message for me was the fact that the intellect is limited. That no matter how extensively we may read, study, discuss, analyse, without a healthy and cultivated soul, we will be disappointed.
The message was especially poignant given the point I am in life, rudderless. Jaded even.

There was a line: The soul of a man illuminates his intellect.

Beyond the limitations of the intellect, the emphasis on a healthy soul hit a chord. It isn’t something I haven’t heard before, but as mentioned, a combination of the speakers Nur, and my own sense of vulnerability made it strike a little deeper this time.

Ghazzali’s experience was one of a person who had scoured the length and breadth of his mental ability, and still found that he had fell short of a deeper penetration of God’s essence.
If it was relevant for a man who had occupied himself with knowledge of God to set out and seek more internally, how much more relevant is it for us, who are pre-occupied with mundane things to set out in search of a deeper, more illuminating truth, experience.

An essential part of this quest for Closeness with Allah, which is the crux of a spiritual journey, is Love.
The speaker spoke extensively about this Love. I can’t hope to even scratch the depth of what he said, but a key point was that an essential pre-condition of Love is humility. To realise that we are nothing.We know nothing. We have nothing. That all we have is Allah. A hadith mentioned was that Allah has said that he created the heavens and the earth for man, but he created the heart of man for Himself. And that the heavens and the earth cannot contain Allah, but the heart of man can.
That is a definite spur on the path to purification. A flaming torch that should guide us and motivate us to deeper levels of penetration.

The love that we cultivate for Allah, translates into a mercy for all our fellow beings, it creates a more merciful approach to life, and its disappointments too. It softens a person. And softness was indeed the way of our Prophet SAW, who was merciful, mild mannered, and just. Soft but Just.

I must confess I have always been wary about Sufi groups and the authority of their Sheikhs. This is mostly as a result of the indo-pak brand of Sufism I was exposed to , which seemed to build its credibility on the back of walking-on-water sheikhs and other such fantastical powers. Also exposure to members of some tariqa’s wherein the Sheikh has absolute power over his mureeds, dictating nuances of the daily lives, overriding family decisions.

But this is an incorrect, or rather limited view of Tariqas. After a more considered process of introspection, exposure, discussion and experience,that began around March last year, I have come around to thinking that for this internal journey a teacher is indeed needed. Yes, a Sheikh.

Other major lines were:
Anger is like a burning coal in the hearts of Adam.
Remember often the ender of pleasures (death)
Path to purification begins with a sense of brokenness.
Fear and hope are the two wings of a believer.
How can a man ask to have authority over his spouse if he has no mastery over himself?
Death should be a motivator for righteous living.
That which is valuable morally is that which can be universally applied.
No one has truly believed until he has doubted.
If basis for any occupation is not love, we wont find peace in the rest of it.
Liberalism has a habit of delivering people into social situations where they really suffer.
The soul is an ocean with no shore.
KNOW THYSELF.KNOW THYSELF.KNOW THYSELF.
Tragedy of modernity is that we have become very good at manipulating things, technology, environment, governments, but we have become more detached from ourselves.
Logic won’t take you beyond first principles, if the internal isn’t sorted out, external will collapse.
Love is the perception of Allah’s perfection in the things he has created.
What matters in this world is human consciousness and its relation to its source.
KNOW THYSELF.KNOW THYSELF.KNOW THYSELF.
The more you develop spiritually, the more you appreciate the boundaries set by Allah.
Shariah is the path to deeper truth.
Deeper truth is within the Shariah, as butter is within milk(to be extracted)(this bears relevance to claims against Sufism that it focuses on the spiritual whilst ignoring fiqh, which is absolutely not true, fiqh/shariah is the very first step)
Happiness comes from doing good tasks well.
KNOW THYSELF.KNOW THYSELF.KNOW THYSELF.
Love is the dynamo of our religion.
Just as people in battle have a heightened sense of physical vigilance, people who wage an active internal jihad also have a heightened consciousness.

Anyone who attended and is reading this, PLEASE PLEASE ADD TO IT.

April 24, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 9 Comments