A childhood friend calls complaining about losing her once-upon-a-time ability to go full-out for twelve hours a day. I had so much energy! Not now. I think we all have to limit how much comparative looking back we do. We can get into a peevish resentment about aging, as if it is a personal affront, rather than moving into the next chapter. I mean, is age really such a surprise? Our house of memories needs culling. It’s a discipline. A little remembrance is fine. A few important, rich memories. I am tolerant of obsessing and redundancy—our rehearsing of the self, making sure we are still who we think we are—but if we rehearse this too much we miss who we are becoming.
What About Remembrance
Odd that I used the word ‘remembrance’. That is the English translation of the Sufi term zhikr and refers to chanting the names of God, the names being attributes like ‘compassion’, ‘healing’, guidance’—good things, beautiful things. In the Sufi tradition, this remembering is an appeal to one’s truth self. By repeating an attribute, one inhabits that attribute and is inhabited by it, and is therefor inhabited by God and is therefore free of one’s false, unreal ego self. This description sounds lumpier than the experience of luxuriating in a calming wash of utterance and rhythm, one’s throat, belly, and mouth rolling the purrs and rasps and tones–the joy of singing without having to carry a tune.
Zhikr is pleasant, soothing. Yet it is corrective. It implies that we are false and that the repetition of the attributes is a remedy for our falsity. According to my exhaustively neurotic journals from my Sufi training years, I thought I was a bad person because I was often unhappy, confused, chaotic, and at that time I thought such feelings were symptoms of imbalance or moral degradation. (Now I know them as signs of learning, or transition.) I thought I could/should fix myself. I wanted to purge out my perceived impurities and imagined that repeating incantations was that purification. I felt smug, righteous. And I felt tremulous, doubting any choice I made, doubting myself. What if chanting was all nonsense? Wishful thinking?
After having my hips sawed off, I laugh at the sincere yet obsessive worries that filled so many of my years. We are always our true self. What else could we possibly be? It’s just that we do odd behaviors for irrational or misguided reasons: wear a tight red dress to snag a man’s avarice: squirrel away two cookies for the coming Apocalypse. Youth is full of these experiments and, as my friend pointed out, we have plenty of energy for them. I’m not saying that youth is totally delusional or that striving to mitigate our pain is a bad thing, but it wasn’t the only thing. I am sure I was authentic from time to time, and I’m sure I had pockets of pleasure and satisfaction in my cavortings. I didn’t note that in my journals, and un-notated memory can be inaccurate; we like to fictionalize our past self.
These days I feel perky, pleased to be a human with all my pet pleasures of breathing and chatting. I think I’m a marvelous creature. Inept, yes, and also too-too capable, but those chagrins and vanities come and go like hats, while the head and body underneath is mostly likable, at least in small doses, and forgivable because I don’t murder people or creatures, and I try to recycle, and keep my clothes and rooms and skin clean. This morning early light shook me out of sleep. I came up slowly into gilded bare treetops out my window. The pure, two-note song of an early bird shimmered through me. I lingered in the day’s first moment unmodified by anything other than itself. Eventually I got up, had my morning tea. The gorgeousness of my current life is in waking up slowly, not knowing what I’m doing or why, just following the small green lights blinking throughout my days. I suspect gorgeousness has always trilled through my time when I wasn’t busy correcting myself.
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