Khalil Gibran: Broken Wings

Solitude has soft, silky hands, but with strong fingers it grasps the heart and makes it ache with sorrow. Solitude is the ally of sorrow as well as a companion of spiritual exaltation.” ~ Broken Wings

Sometimes, very briefly, I wish I could empty my identity, to dissolve any sophistication of thought and be mentally frozen like most of society around me who seem content living within these false facades and who dumb themselves down until they actually forget how to use their own minds, just so this heartache could end.

The impossibility to find a friend seems almost obvious now, someone at the same level  as me, reading the same page. I can’t read backwards. The most dangerous in our society tend to be the most ignorant and I can’t risk being hurt again, but the arid desert in front of me is frightening, the mirage of my own corpse standing in the hot distance singing captivating tunes of death. Read More

The Tree of Life

Her stained toes clutch to the narrow cliff-edge.
Prepared, crumbled stone trickle softly down
the overhang. Tap tap tap, a musical echo drops like
blood from the crucified lesions punctured over her crown. Read More

The Poetic Landscape of Rumi

Inside this new love, die.
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Escape.
Walk out like someone suddenly born into colour.
Do it now!
You’re covered with thick cloud.
Slide out the side. Die,
And be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign
That you’ve died.
Your old life was a frantic running
From silence.

 

I have given up on struggling to impress an insatiable world that is never satisfied, devoting hours of my attention to futile hopes or participating in trivial social games that deceive others and myself alike all for the sake of a fleeting, transient applaud or pat on the back. I decided to become myself and for a time I hid away, closed the door as I despairingly heard the loud echoes scream within the silence of solitude, the pangs of conscience for the guilt of being someone else, an anxious withdrawal from a false reality that I feverishly believed to be real. It took time, slowly but surely the sounds softened and a quietness brought within me a sense of calm that I began to actually hear myself, the still waters glistened as the sun rose over the horizon and bred warmth into my shaking bones. A real peace came over me and with it a real happiness where I could see as things were, that I could feel as I should and no longer sensed tension against my own nature. I found the balance from within and my happiness was no longer dependent on others. I found the love for me through my love for God. The silence became music.

I have long had some trouble with poetry. When Plutarch published Quomodo Adolescens Poetas Audire Debeat where he cautioned that “[m]any the lies the poets tell” the idea that poetry used as a tool to corrupt the truth certainly resonated. Indeed, there are many from personal experience who have attained the skills of rhyme, verse and form and speak of love and wisdom, but they themselves are far from being wise or loving people as they borrow and adorn themselves with fake poetic trinkets. Language is weak from protecting itself from such corruption. However, as we filter through and separate the greats, we do find ourselves holding the works of Robert Frost, Alexander Pushkin and Rumi who use parables within their poetry, where the fictitious prose exposes a moral truth and enables one to makes sense of and reason their own subjectivity. They provide access through ones own imagination en-route toward this repository of emotions and feelings that previously never had a language.

There is no doubt that poetry is embedded in Persian culture and indeed the tradition dates back centuries, remaining a powerful influence both socially and politically that provides insight into how such symbolic allusions and mystical allegories express a unique interpretation of meaning and identity. While the influence of poetry in the region dates back to the pre-Islamic era, a cultural revival during the Seljuq Empire – while short-lived – managed to revive Persian poetry that flourished in the region for centuries to come. Works by philosopher and theologian Al-Ghazali and vizier Nizam al-Mulk set the stage for this revivification that continued into the Ottoman Empire. Nasir ibn Khusraw as well as early mystics of the Sufi order Abdullah Ansari of Herat and Baba Taher of Hamadan introduced what later became a prominent method to interpret the mystical experience and unity with God that simple language could not correctly allude to. Indeed, the great poet and writer Nizami Ganjavi wrote epic love tales including Khosrow and Shirin about the love of King Khosrow with the Princess Shirin of Armenia, but also Layla and Majnun or what has become famously known as Romeo and Juliet in the west. Such epic tales of love and tragedy was already entrenched in Persian culture at the time but became further popularised and exercised considerable influence on later poets. While I could easily add a very long list of famed poets from the region, there is no doubt that Jalaluddin Rumi stands at the forefront in popularity.

When I remember your love,
I weep, and when I hear people
Talking of you,
Something in my chest,
Where nothing much happens now,
Moves as in sleep.

All our lives we’ve looked
Into each other’s faces.
That was the case today too.

How do we keep our love-secret?
We speak from brow to brow
And hear with our eyes.

In the early thirteenth century, Rumi was born to a well-respected and privileged family of theologians and became a student to one of his own father’ disciples Sayyed Termazi that gave him learned access to the Qur’anic traditions and spiritual landscape of Sufism. While he became a scholar and teacher of Islamic jurisprudence at a very young age, it was not until his meeting with the wandering dervish Shamsuddin of Tabriz (known as Shams) that he experienced the spiritual epiphany that awoken the deeper repository of aesthetic expression in the forms of poetry. Their friendship was very unique and indeed the brotherly love, the difficulties, and even the tragedy between them inspired Rumi to write a great deal dedicated to Shams, including his masterpiece Diwan-e Shams-e Tabrizi. It is clear that this deep, spiritual awakening led Rumi to understand the universality of love, a grace given by God and this ecstasy and wonderment of the experience made him express his deep appreciation for Shams by providing with the wisdom and insight to enable access. There are layers that describe various expressions of love in objective forms that explore the ultimate union with the external world, that brotherly love, erotic love, and familial love merely deliver this euphoric power as fragments of the love of God, the very Form of Love itself, as within the first Kalima of Islam that writes ‘there is no reality but God.’

Hail Love, hail Love, because Love is divine
It is tender, it is beautiful and benign
What passion, what passion, we are burning like the sun
It is hidden and obscure, it is an obvious sign.
We’ve fallen, we’ve fallen, it is hard to rise up
We know not, we know not, this complex chaotic design.

Thus everything comes from this reality or Zikr where we remember the love of God by the variety of forms that we express one to another. While the love that is formed in friendship initiates the removal of the infantile ego and commences the conscious experience of caring for and loving someone external to oneself and to thus start experiencing reality, this capacity is clearly fortified when one experiences the longing founded in erotic love. This feverishly impassioned experience between two people solidified by the admiration for one another and a longing to unite with them inspires a state of real happiness that brings us closer to this ultimate reality where everything is God. This genuine engagement between two lovers can be seen in Rumi’ fascination for the love between Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, of how the virgin Queen changed the heart of a man who had many lovers and to finally see what genuine love meant. King Solomon represented a man of wisdom and of high intelligence, but his life had slipped as he fell victim to a world of beautiful yet intellectually lacking women that he soon gave up on his own mental gifts. Queen of Sheba’s dedication to wisdom was clear when she came to test him and they both glimpsed within one another a mirror of themselves that awoken the inspiration for this euphoric feeling in love. If a person is a book, locked away and hidden, it is clear that the genuine union between the love of two people supplants a wholeness and a euphoric happiness as though one is finally seen, unlocked and read by another.

I’ve come to take you
With me
Even if I must drag you along
But first must steal your heart
Then settle you in my soul

I’ve come as a spring
To lay beside your blossoms
To feel the glory of happiness
And spread your flowers around

I’ve come to show you off
As the adornment of my house
And elevate you to the heavens
As the prayers of those in love

I’ve come to take
A kiss you stole away from me
Either return it with grace
Or I must take it by force

You’re my life
You’re my soul
Please be my last prayer
My heart must hold you forever

For Rumi, the ultimate panegyric is reaching this honesty and awareness, to break free from the encapsulated smallness of a mind that follows convention. If I were to eliminate such environmental and epistemic influences over my thoughts and emotions, what would ‘I’ have left but a brain, which is merely a tool that vehicle my rather fleeting existence. His work Masnavi narrates powerful rhyming couplets of a spiritual and religious nature that attempts to illustrate the attainment of the love of God or the Divine, to feel the existence of God by embracing the didactic that we are inherently evil. We must overcome this immorality by welcoming the theistic wisdom founded with in the scriptures through the denial of the carnal and material in praise of moral reflection that enables one to reveal our very nature and the ecstasy that one can attain when reaching this state of wholeness with God. Whether this experience is entirely mystical is challenging as this inspiration could merely be an innate awareness that recognises our own state of nature, to transcend externally influenced perceptions and become conscious of our own capacity to think independent of material considerations.

If you want what visible reality
Can give, you’re an employee.
 
If you want the unseen world,
You’re not living your truth.

Both wishes are foolish,
But you’ll be forgiven for forgetting
That what you really want is
Love’s confusing joy.

Gamble everything for love,
If you’re a true human being.
If not, leave
This gathering.

Half-heartedness doesn’t reach
Into majesty. You set out
To find God, but then you keep
Stopping for long periods
At mean-spirited roadhouses.

While there are a number of verse forms used including Masnavi, Ruba’i, Qazal and Qasideh, it would be unreasonable to categorise Rumi as a poet of forms, indeed he transcends such distinctive rules and uses poetry as a way to express the subject or content of his feelings rather than making any calculable effort. For instance, Ruba’i are quatrains or stanzas using a particular meter that nevertheless can alternate rhythmically, the Ruba’iyyat by famed Persian poet Omar Khayyam resonates with his philosophical and mathematical background. Khayyam, rather conversely to Rumi, had a very logical approach to reality perhaps owing to his mathematical and philosophical nature where the content of his poetry takes a more material and existential approach to reality and the disillusionment wrought by the futility of existence, parallel to Epicurean thought and the poetry of Lucretius. Rumi, on the other hand, could be clearly seen as a deist and describes the importance of removing oneself from the material world. Indeed, for Rumi, freedom requires the courage to let go of all worldly attachments and become one not only with reality – reality being Nature – but by becoming one with yourself, to lose all the mental and emotional dictates that one believes is reality and to become absorbed in the nature of our very being.

Birds make great sky-circles
Of their freedom.
How do they learn it?

They fall, and falling,
They’re given wings.

Thus the use of the aesthetic is coming from an embedded song that sings the movement of his emotions, the words and meters merely the rhythm and the harmony that enables a voice and language for such feelings. It is why there is much debate and controversy relating to the translations of his poetry by Coleman Banks – author of numerous books on Rumi including The Essential Rumi – and that while having popularised Rumi to the western world, he appears to take his own subjective interpretation of this content and form it into a translation. It is difficult to ascertain whether this is merely a form of Orientalism as expressed by Edward Said where the West culturally misrepresents the Middle East. For instance, Bernard Lewis who – having the title of scholar and historian of the Middle East whereby historians require a strong understanding of culture and beliefs – has never, in fact, stepped foot into the Middle East; he has even gone so far as to advise the Bush Administration related to foreign policy in the region. It is highly unusual to read the translations by Banks for this reason as it cannot interpret the peculiarities of both the Persian language and the special use of imagery specific to the culture. Visiting a tomb in Konya or watching the Whirling Dervishes would not enable one to embrace the allusions and references to the Qu’ran, Sufism and other imagery embedded into the Persian language that provokes an emotional effect that other languages are unqualified to translate. Whatever the case, Rumi remains a poetic giant in the landscape of theistic devotion and the subject of love.

The Divine Comedy: Three Cycles of Self Discovery

I feel terribly low at the moment after my recent discovery that old wounds were not yet fully healed, that it is much harder to move forward when someone who mistreated and humiliated me is rewarded despite feeling no remorse. I have discovered, however, that this is not the first time I have felt this way because of him, on the contrary it appears as though I am in the third cycle. It is a feeling that has been present for quite sometime, present but dormant like an illness hidden until the conditions were right before emerging. A dream – or rather a nightmare – that I had this morning left me in a cold sweat that reminded me of the previous cycle. I had suffered the same heartache, searched for the same renewal to motivate me to move on from the pain and found myself back in the same place again.

While it may explain progressive stages of coping with grief and how weaving through these phases verifies our psychological resilience, being caught in this cycle of repetition is a process that slowly steps us through several phases that one completes once they are ready to move onto the next cycle. How do we navigate through the depths of the vestibule of this unknown and illustrate the raw authenticity of our mental states, to journey through the land of the dead until we find the right guidance back and into the peacefulness of heaven? Perhaps Dante can help explain.

Inferno

Gustave_Dore_Inferno32

O human race, born to fly upward,
Wherefore at a little wind dost thou so fall?

I wandered into the dark forest and there I encountered a three-headed beast; one of a leopard, one of a lion and the other a wolf, enormous and raging with the hunger of lust, pride and avarice. He was thirsty for chaos that never seemed to cease, his appetite to torment me unyielding as he ripped out my heart. He is unrepentant, without a soul and resides in the darkness of error. This terrifying experience left me lost and in a state of limbo, descending into the depths of a frozen hell in search of my heart while warding off his lustful attacks, his treachery and wrath, aggression and finally his cunning.

Men who think that they can play a game with love do not understand love. Some men fraudulently shower their partner with persuading compliments where a man loses himself as he manipulates and convinces his woman to believe that she is in love. He is rewarded for his efforts but remains perpetually unsatisfied, locked in a submissive state where he is controlled by her like Sisyphus is controlled by the boulder because he has to constantly feed her false affection in order to keep her. Other men force women to submit through fear, reminding through his wrath and the threat of violence that she must believe there are no other possibilities other than staying with him. It is a man creating the conditions that control women, removing any authenticity or affection where one is attracted to someone because they admire mutual qualities to instead have a deluded couple tied to one another through lies. Women who identify with such men, who feel comfortable and acknowledge terrible behaviour as though it were acceptable are vicariously liable for perpetuating bad behaviour and are just as liable to blame. While there is indeed a larger schema of social pressure that infects people with these toxic patterns of expected behaviour, both Adam and Eve had fallen from heaven.

In this first phase, I was coming to terms with each of the experiences I had with a bad man behaving badly. This is where it all began and there were so many things he did that left me terribly confused. He gossiped and slandered me, he lusted after me and lied about me and about himself, he intentionally manipulated people against me, but worst of all was the continuous indirect threats he made over my life making me afraid that he was going to physically hurt me or rape me.

In order to reach a state of mind that would enable me to filter through the repeated and continuous effects of his attacks toward me, where I was filled with fear and anxiety, all I needed to do was to make it stop. This meant escaping, leaving the toxicity and going into hiding until I was at capacity to be free of him in order to have the capacity to focus.

  • Phase One: The Cessation of the Torment
    • You are actually experiencing the terrible and you need to get through it and out for the experience to end. I did it both by being forcibly removed from the toxic environment following a car accident, but also making him think things about me that were untrue so he can willingly stop. This is the most challenging.

Purgatorio

dante

The man who lies asleep will never waken fame,
And his desire and all his life drift past him like a dream,
And the traces of his memory fade from time like smoke in air,
Or ripples on a stream.

The beast followed me down the nine circles of hell until I reached the feet of the devil, the very place Satan had landed when tossed out of heaven and there I stood at the base of a great mountain that I was required to climb. The terraces of my own sins towered above me and I saw my broken heart – now pieced together – protected in a glass cabinet beaming with golden light at the very peak, waiting for my arrival. The beast lingered behind me and whispered mischievous and bitter remarks deep into my own soul but despite the gaping emptiness and weakness I felt, I needed to climb that mountain. I needed to understand and articulate who I was, what I understood of myself, of love and of morality. The mountain was me.

While I was no longer in his presence and there was no direct danger anymore, he continued to inflict violence and did so online by messaging me while pretending to be other people, driving around my home, otherwise humiliating me with deceitful behaviour that caused me incredible stress. The worst part was that despite being vulnerable and conscious that I was alone and in need of a friend, he used that advantageously to frighten me even further. By pretending to be other people, he stole my identity and my voice because I was too frightened to be myself, struggling to cope with feelings of humiliation especially when at the same time people were telling me about his slanders at work. He took away the reality that I was funny, kind, fiercely intelligent and instead forced his own assumptions of me by trying to prove to himself that I was not a good person. He never allowed me the chance to be myself and to show and explain who I really was.

The question at this point was what did he want exactly? Did he think that I was going to like it? Does he believe it was even remotely acceptable behaviour?

This was a lengthy period of time that I needed to heal and the climb was indeed long and arduous, discovering along the way who I was, what I wanted and gradually finding inner empowerment. It was a period of travel, especially to Italy where I was reminded of who I was and I started to take care of my health, quit smoking and stopped following other people. It was a time of solitude and although I risked slipping and falling off the cliff many times, I learnt the importance of virtue and leading a virtuous life. I mirrored myself against his evil and thus was able to reflect moral goodness, to articulate what I wanted in myself and in others, which was everything that he was not. I stopped running away from my enemies and started to face them, for them to see me and remember that I was not overcome by their evil. It was a time of exposing my vulnerabilities, dealing with acceptance and failure, disclosing my secrets and gaining a sense of courage.

In this cycle, I had no choice but to form a defense mechanism where in order to cope with the avalanche of terrible things that I had experienced, I shifted most of his wrongdoing into a repressed and quite place. I told myself that I liked him and that maybe he liked me, that he was not bad and within me lingered the hope or possibility that he would apologise, that he would regret his behaviour and feel some repentance. I did not really understand or accept who he was just yet and created the delusion and the hope that he would be my friend. I was protecting myself from the tremendous hurt that he inflicted and so I remained confused about my feelings toward him during this period. I needed to take care of me first.

  • Phase Two: The Long and Arduous Climb
    • You have moved past the anxiety and the fear and so comes the great task of trying to articulate both your own pain, the reasons for the misconduct and abuse you experienced, and finally your own wrongdoing. It is a period of healing.

Paradiso

0607singing

Here to us, thou art the noon and scope
Of Love revealed; and among mortal men,
the living fountain of eternal hope.

I reached the summit of this mountain of self-discovery and the transparent cube in which my beating heart lay ascended up towards the moon as the mountain collapsed below me and I flew high above as the clouds, Earth, the planets all melted away. I watched as my heart exploded into a supernova and created the most illuminating star that showed just as how much I love. Despite all I had been through from my parents, to my siblings, to my friends, to him and to me, I loved with the greatest love and had a deep and unyielding passion. My suffering became clear. I had no one to love and so I love God and God is everything. I need to commit myself to divine justice, to commit myself to a life of contemplation and prayer while also making a difference to show just how much I love. I hold in my hand the rose of peace and I had that to the three-headed beast.

Having our vulnerabilities exposed is not easy, on the contrary doing so is courageous and a type of strength that enables resilience to deal effectively with heartache. As tears roll down my cheek, I have been confronted with a ferocious reality that I had repressed the real person that he was in order to climb that mountain and find that healing. I created an idealism that had hope he would apologise and be my friend, that he would find the courage to be honest to me and everyone else and I only did this as a defense mechanism to cope with the fact that he hated me so much and that I was undeserving of such hatred. I actually really wished from the bottom of my heart that he would find that courage to help us reconciliate and it has been a terrible feeling to realise that I was only imagining this.

He gives honour and respect to undeserving people and mistreated a kind and loving person without any sense of shame. He never acknowledged me or allowed me to be me. Anything that I ever said before about liking him, hating him, none of it was real, it was an illusion I created as I was working toward mending my broken heart and why I have been chipping away on the subject of authenticity over this period. I see a three-headed beast who has created a false facade in order to trick people around him to make him think that he is a good person and so make him trick himself that he was justified for his bad behaviour.

If he told himself that something is wrong with me – despite him harassing and antagonising me that put me into a very awful position – and made other people believe it, he did this under false pretenses and having people believe him does not make these beliefs in anyway true. It breaks my heart so deeply that he never gave me a chance to be myself and that he stole my voice, my real identity, and threw it away. I am tremendously sad that he failed me as a person, as a colleague, as a friend, that he could not have the courage to admit to me his errors and that I am unworthy of even being looked at. This really hurts right now.

I am not at Premum Mobil just yet, I have only just awoken to this the last few days and when I think of him a pain suddenly stabs me in the side of my rib-cage as though the emotion were physically real. I am new to this phase but I understand what is coming. What I do know is that I need to find the courage to commit myself entirely to what I should have a long time ago and that requires the courage to be completely honest with myself. To make a promise and I know even now that I am afraid of this promise, like getting married knowing it is for life, I need to make that decision about who I am and what I want to achieve for the rest of my life.

  • Phase Three: A Lifelong Promise
    • Reality as it is and not as you imagine it, making you present in a real world. It is time to make a life-long decision about what you really want to do, to be and to commit yourself to that. It is about ‘you’ and not others anymore.

Dante: Love That Moves The Sun And Other Stars

What is love when no one understands you, when no one can see you for who you are? Esse Est Percipi, ‘To be is to be perceived’ as said by G. Berkeley.

Is the sadness you feel real when no one is there to comfort you, when you are alone and lying in bed thinking about how those that have hurt you are completely oblivious to such an experience, perhaps on the contrary where they believe that no wrongdoing exists at all? What happens when you speak of the wrongdoing and they deny you, perhaps reverse this and claim that you are the one with the problem, competing with you to prove they were right and settle the anxiety they feel for their own falsehoods? Playing games to make themselves believe that they are somehow better than you. Is this why when faced with facts they are suddenly stirred with an emotive viciousness that increases as though the louder and more assertive they are, the more right they become and the more people they gather to agree with them, the more likely you will be silenced? And is it the reason why we appreciate the truth with greater clarity when it is uttered through lies, fictitious stories and parables that explain moral symbols that become the hermeneutic source for our subjective capacity to interpret facts without confronting the harsh and abrupt reality of our own failures?

I spent my childhood wishing for a friend that never arrived and my tenderness and love remained protected by the isolation I endured as I hid away from those contemptible enough to enjoy tricking and humiliating me, laughing at my vulnerability and frightening me. The pain even greater when I hoped for kindness that I never received, as though I were manoeuvring through a hellish purgatory, wandering and wondering if there is anyone out there that can genuinely love. For Dante, this is symbolic of what we experience when we become conscious of love and his Divine Comedy is a poetic allegory that divides such an existential reality into what becomes the three stages of our soul’s journey towards God. The Inferno is that moment of consciousness, where one awakens to a reality where our actions and failures or sins become transparent as well as our aloneness on this dark journey towards hell. As we uncover our own self-deception, we see the treachery in others and the lies and games of those within our environment who pretend to goodness when they only seek the indulgences of this false reality. It is only when one admits to this fraudulence and seeks repentance, to apologise for our own misconduct and become morally conscious that enables an escape from hell and ascend toward Purgatorio, the mountain on which we begin to climb toward heaven in order to see the difference between what is genuine or pure and what is false. The desire to reach the summit is the motivation that compels us to become honest with ourselves and though lengthy the process and arduous the climb, we purge the soul of sin by attempting to embody true love. Dante means to show that if one would ever find this heavenly peace, it is only possible through love. To put it succinctly, one begins this divine experience when they genuinely fall in love.

My will and my desire were both revolved,
As is a wheel in even motion driven
By Love,
Which moves the sun and other stars.

Dante’ lifelong love was Beatrice and highlighted in his publications including La Vita Nuova that attempts to exemplify the provincial methods of courtly love in medieval Italy. Her presence in the Divine Comedy indicate her position in the symbolic experience of Dante as he traverses through these realms, initially falling into limbo as she prayed for Dante to be saved by Virgil – who embodies a person that is wise with virtuous attributes – during his decent into the Inferno. It is almost like she desired genuine love that Dante was not yet capable of giving and prayed that he would one day come to her as one wise and authentic. His experience in Purgatorio is a necessary step that he needs to make as he reaches out to Paradiso where Beatrice is then able to guide him toward the attainment of virtuous attributes that could make a man wise and constant. Dante believes that this love is divine and one must love another through God where she becomes the symbol that enables him to reach Paradiso as she embodies the desire for him to become a better man. Thus his admiration is not aroused by the physical beauty that she possessed, where such considerations merely compel a man to turn away from God, but for who she is and that led to the awakening and the transparency of his own soul and improved the clarity of his purpose.

She – as the sun who first in love shone warm
Into my heart – had now, by proof and counter proof,
disclosed to me the lovely face of truth.

Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265 during the late Middle Ages and wrote the epic masterpiece The Divine Comedy in 1321. Love that moves the sun and other stars is reference to a number of cantos (III – XXXIII) in Paradisio. Dante epitomises the work itself, his biography is found within the cantos as it provides us with the magnificence of his imaginative scope and allusions to his own thoughts and experiences. Highlighting the influence of Beatrice in particular, it also includes figures such as Jesus and St. John along with philosophers such as St. Thomas Aquinas that helped solidify his faith in God. His family was embroiled in the politics of the time; clashes between rival factions the Ghibellines who were defeated by the Guelphs for which he was a member, soon thereafter found those loyalties broken when Dante was exiled following a division between the Guelphs (Black and White) that led him to be banished for supposed corruption. The treachery he experienced became a part of the Inferno hell that left him disillusioned for the deception and violence he witnessed, his exile the many years that it took through Purgatorio to learn the wisdom to ascertain the difference between right and wrong, all the while Beatrice stood as a beacon or “holy lamp” that helped light his way to the good life. Her death in 1290 was met with pangs of anguish that it almost appears that her place in Paradiso is his lifelong yearning to be with her in what would become his own paradise. Beatrice Portinari is said to have been a woman of virtue and grace, though he briefly met her in advance of his marriage to Gemma di Manetto Donati, his later encounter with her clearly indicated that he fell in love and she became the muse for his love ballads, none of which mention his wife.

Dante finds himself travelling through a number of spheres in heaven, represented by astronomical or planetary symbols that allude to a series of virtues. Cantos III, for instance, embarks on a lunar journey to the moon when he confesses of his failures and is born again through the love for Beatrice. She became his saviour, a child that she could help gain steady ground about how to live in God’s love or be attuned to what correctly wills or motivates man to reflect with accuracy. A man can find salvation through a virtuous woman; when being pulled by men set on greater harm then good, she struck him with the splendours of the decency that she attached to her heart. Canto X or the Sphere of the Sun alludes to the light of God, to witness the universe and the power therewith in creation and the universe itself can eclipse the worldly attributes for a moment as Dante gives thanks to the monumental reality of the world above.

And there, entranced, begin to view the skill
The Master demonstrates. Within Himself,
He loves it so, His looking never leaves.
Look! Where those orbits meet, there branches off
The slanting circles that the planets ride
To feed and fill the world that calls on them.

A number of figures enter into the celebration of this epiphany, including King Solomon, St. Thomas Aquinas and Boethius that allude to their place in assisting one to reach this venerable awakening. They are rejoicing for Dante finally becoming aware of the fallaciousness of the world below him and where his soul deep within him begin to burn from the joy of abandoning all the lies that tied him to that false reality. It is followed in Cantos XI with, “Those idiotic strivings of the human mind!” The toil of worldly affairs including politics and law, where Dante finally finds peace in his should within the arms of Beatrice and being up high in the heavenly spheres where his soul rests in the light of truth. Here, Dante speaks of St. Francis who takes a wife and loves her despite the objections of his father and others, that his dedication to love a loyal and courageous woman though many feared her that represents the potential poverty of a life lived in the love for God and that one may be at risk of losing family and friends in the commitment to what is good. But Beatrice remains the defining guide, whereby in Cantos XIV she shows Dante that there is yet more truth that he is required to find within him, the eternal nature of this experience and whether one will remain committed in their love for God. Beatrice grows and becomes more beautiful to Dante when she chooses to join the light, perhaps representative of the longevity and growth of the beauty of love in a virtuous woman that renders the clarity of the experience eternal.

And so my eyes, regaining their strength,
Lifted once more. I saw myself alone,
Borne with my lady to a higher good.
Seeing the flares of laughter in that star,
Which seemed now far more fiery than before,
I knew full well that I’d been lifted higher.

We begin to see through the light of God all that is wonderful and so what we ‘see’ or understand continuously increases as we rise higher through the celestial planes. In Cantos XVII, Dante is still troubled and Beatrice continues to help him shed light on his feelings by prompting a discussion with Cacciaguida about the future and the difficulties he may face as was forewarned by Virgil. Contingency is met with the potential uncertainty for the future and that while one may experience hardships, in faith one will also experience events that are wonderful. It is to be courageous to face the contingency. When they reach Cantos XXIII or the Sphere of the Fixed Stars (Eighth Heaven), Beatrice is compared to a mother bird waiting for the sun, the light of Christ and enraptures all who experience this power to expand their thoughts beyond the horizon. The garden, for which Beatrice instructs Dante to look upon, contains a rose that is the Word of God and he can see Mary in the rose, the “Queen of Heaven” (Regina Coeli). By Cantos XXVII, Dante – despite being further from the earth – can now see the details within it with greater clarity, his mind now free from the false burdens that blinded him from seeing such details, the sins for which Beatrice speaks of when a man misuses his free will. He returns to earth in Cantos XXX, the light of dawn slowly drowning the light of the stars until he turns to see the beauty of Beatrice once more and both reached the Paradiso in one another, transcending the material world through love and wisdom.

As she then was – a guide in word and deed,
Her work all done – she spoke again: ‘We’ve left
The greatest of material spheres, rising
To light, pure light of intellect, all love,
The love of good in truth, all happiness,
A happiness transcending every rapture.

The final Cantos XXXIII, Bernard of Clairvaux praises the love of Mary as the foundation for the rose or the Word of God who helped illuminate Dante with the truth and the happiness that followed. Indeed, as Beatrice returns to her place in the rose, which is symbolic of the Queen and Virgin Mother, epitomises that she has satisfied her love for Dante as he gazes into the light of the Empyrean. He now understands God and what is right and good on earth.

As one who has now ascended to Paradiso, the bliss and happiness of finding the Divine love and waiting to meet someone genuine on this journey of mine, I believe as Dante does that love can only be real when two people experience this transcendence from the material realm, from the hellish Inferno where one becomes aware of the reality where there exists corruption, lies, and all things vicious. By seeking the divine love of God, one can redeem themselves and when guided by love, mirror our moral position to become virtuous and wise. Only then can one return to ‘earth’ and see the world for what it genuinely is. The Divine Comedy remains a powerful poetic bildungsroman, an epic of gigantic proportions that remains the heart of medieval Italy and the Italian language itself.

Authenticity and a Theory of Love: Wisdom Is A Process of Mind

Wisdom is synonymous with self-awareness, a state of mind where one is conscious and accountable for their behaviour and who epitomises an authentic person with good sense and judgement. It is clear that our environment impacts on how we develop perceptions of ourselves as individuals living in a world external to our subjective experiences, thus it is not only biological or genetic factors that play a role in our understanding, but social interaction, family and the culture we are a part of amalgam to potentially disturb our genuine capacity to perceive things as they are. While consciousness is a state of mind where an individual is receptive to external properties, the fact is our knowledge of existence and responsiveness to our surroundings is dependent on how we interpret experiences.

Our mental state enables us to interpret experience from a first-person point of view and I have long questioned the authenticity of these explanations. I favour the believe that a combination of mind and brain activity together enables our conscious mental state – both physical and non-physical – that is self-awareness is a product of our experiences over time and constructed into a narrative through memory, and our brain a physical tool to conceptualise external experience along with epistemological influences, all pooled into a totality where we become conscious of ourselves. There may be some with biological, genetic or physical dysfunctions that impair the cognitive capacity to become self-aware of our own personhood, including intellectual disabilities or brain damage, but there are also those who experience trauma or difficulties either during their developmental stages in childhood or due to their environmental or social influences that challenge an adequate capacity to translate experiences accurately. Their behaviour and responsiveness exemplifies this failure, particularly with the choices that they make and how they approach relationships with others.

Freud – notwithstanding some of his ideas that I consider objectionable – nevertheless provided a metaphorical clue as to the workings of the psyche that enabled an enhanced appreciation of the network of memories and emotions. This network is layered in a triptych of three areas of the mind, namely the Ego or our individual experience of the external world, the Id or our instinctual drives and the Superego or our conscience and moral ideals.[1] The ego acts or applies behaviour to the external world, the superego functions to evaluate those actions and inhibits together with the ego the instinctual responses with moral and behavioural injunctions. The Id is representative of basic drives that motivate function and being intense seeks an immediacy to satisfy tensions as instinctual drives do and therefore being automaton conflicts with the Ego and the Superego as they prevent the fulfilment of these impulsive drives. Management of these instinctual drives that almost coerces immediate relief can lead one to hallucinate in order to fulfil, to sublimate so that the drives are socially acceptable, or repress to inhibit the drives entirely so as to manage the spontaneity of the overwhelming sensations.

Whilst we can easily think of sexual drives, there are other survival instincts that displace these tensions using defence mechanisms so as to avoid feelings of anxiety. If we experience a trauma-related incident such as a car accident, our instinctual drives immediately repress the shock and distress as it seeks to circumvent the anxiety and tension quickly. This repression is due to an additional three layers of mind, namely the conscious, the preconscious or subconscious, and you have the unconscious. The Id is entirely unconscious as it is purely instinctual whereas the ego is conscious since it is mostly about our interaction with the external world, however it is also partly subconscious since, as mentioned above our experiences or memories with the external world can be repressed and partly unconscious as we could be completely unaware that we have even repressed these experiences or of even having them. The superego is also categorised under all three levels of consciousness and communication between the three consists of conflicting forces all trying to manage one another. This is where we develop mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, neurosis and other emotional and behavioural problems.

It is through the identification of the Id’ defence mechanisms that will enable causal reflection of the effect it is having on our behaviour, particularly repressed memories or inhibited drives that remain at subconscious level and ultimately impact on our emotional well-being. Reflection of the reasons why some experiences become repressed through an awareness of our self-defence mechanisms requires a combination of factors including intellectual – since language and our understanding of the world enables us to articulate experiences – as well as biological or physical [including genetic]; philosophical insight, or the superego being a repository of moral demands, is especially important and why I consider philosophy a language. Moral awareness and our freedom to understand why we may fear or adhere to particular moral points of view is an essential factor to explain why we may repress or inhibit thoughts and experiences.

psyche

The Triune Brain Model also involves three areas of the brain that attempts to explicate similar behavioural processes. This evolutionary model consists of the Reptilian or the part of the brain that is instinctual, automatic and responsible for survival instincts, Mammalian that expresses emotions and sensory perceptions, and finally the Neommalian is the thinking brain that involves cognitive processing and informative perspectives.[2] These explain the frontal lobe system [thinking brain], the limbic system [feeling brain] and the autonomic nervous system [sensory brain] or the Triune Brain.[3] In a trauma-related situation, the autonomic nervous system shuts down other mental processes as the brain attempts to survive until the threat ceases, where it thus restores the other two processes to enable the individual to deal with the shock afterwards. However, sometimes this shift or return does not adequately occur, holding the survivor in continuous anxiety as they avoid the sensory and emotional feelings of the experience and propel confusing and intrusive thoughts.

Physical reactions and how the body can convey emotional communication can be see by those who experience PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder]. With stress hormones including glucocorticoid continuously increased following the trauma-related incident along with the amygdala – located as part of the limbic system – that contributes to emotional behaviour and identifies threats and risks continues to be activated long after the shock or distress of the trauma. In addition to this, the hippocampus is effected by the constant elevation of glucocorticoid and the interruption results in the exasperation of its function, which is the area of the brain that forms new memories into a past-tense experience and therefore the individual is unable to correctly consolidate the experience. The result is a person increasingly wound-up and feeling threatened that they become paranoid, anxious and in a state of constant panic with intrusive thoughts and memories amplified. The survivor thus attempts to manage the confusing sensations that the avoid reminders relating to the incident that they lose their concentration, unexpectedly become emotional and sad, and have trouble sleeping, exposing how physical reactions effect the brain and body becomes representative of these reactions. When one thinks of depression or anxiety – the former alters the mood to one feeling low and sad whilst the latter is tense and restless – notwithstanding the chemical imbalances, exhibits the same physical reactions related closely to past memories and emotions. All of them are recoverable mostly through communication or psychotherapeutic treatments that expose how conscious awareness of the memories that are impacting on the brain and the body can result in the management of the emotional and physical reactions that are attempting to convey the problem that language or semantics is unable to articulate. It is not simply just chemical imbalances of the brain but rather the imbalance itself is directly a result of the conflict between our external experiences and inability to effectively make synaptic connections fused with our failure to put the experience into words.

It is the reason why communication is the key to stimulate the eventual clarity of these experiences and why our bodies, dreams and our emotions or moods – whilst appearing to impair or disrupt our functioning – are essentially indicators that unidentified experiences are repeatedly attempting to communicate an error through the rigidity of our embedded self-defence mechanisms. The awareness of these barriers enables the process to function with more clarity, that our consciousness of the defence-mechanisms inhibit the experience to transform into ‘past-tense’ enable the brain modality to restore or re-frame the trauma and enable a proper consolidation between mind and brain. To put it simply, it is to become honest to oneself about the trauma and while preventing self-defence mechanisms from influencing and suggesting alternatives to acknowledge the experience or even the inadequacy of the mind to articulate how the experience affected them, one is able to consciously command the ebb and flow of this natural process. Happiness thus becomes continuously restorative, where access to ‘past’ memories awakens the individual to the ‘present’ and they are no longer caught in a continuous loop where they confuse past with present.

A hidden matrix of experiences is hidden within the psyche, the subconscious becoming a repository for memories that are stored when one is incapable of dealing with or understanding the experience [age or trauma-related] until the opportunity to reactivate these memories by raising it to a level of consciousness, enabling the individual to articulate how these experiences may have impacted them. Signals that there is an emotional imbalance needn’t be expressed linguistically, but the body and physical reactions such as sleeplessness, excessive fear, a very low mood, panic etc &c., all expose that the mind is attempting to talk and convey the subconscious issues that may have been repressed through primitive self-defence mechanisms. The theoretical models of the psyche – such as Freud’ structural model or the Triune Brain model – exemplify an effective neuroanatomical explanation of our mental peculiarities that enhances our understanding of this subjective repository, in turn enabling a better management of our emotions and past memories. In addition to these triptych models, our own control of these experiences vis-à-vis the brain can render us capable of appreciating and applying our day-to-day actions correctly. This includes our relationships.

“Immature love follows the principle: ‘I love because I am loved.’ Mature love follows the principle: ‘I am loved because I love.’ Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says: ‘I need you because I love you.’” What you love in the person is represented by who they are: to say “I love through you the world and back into myself.” 

It is why human intimacy and relationships play a defining role in our existential well being since how we approach relationships with others is representative of the clarity and authenticity of our emotions and ultimately our frame of mind. Erich Fromm stated that our impediment is despair and as a consequence the individual forms symbiotic attachments with others to treat the feelings of despair. This despair is the awareness of our sense of isolation and separateness from the world around us, something we seek to avoid by forming false connections. “Immature love follows the principle: ‘I love because I am loved.’ Mature love follows the principle: ‘I am loved because I love.’ Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says: ‘I need you because I love you.’”[4] What you love in the person is represented by who they are; to say ‘I love through you the world and back into myself.’ Immature love is the same with New Age theories of well-being that attempt to treat the emotional discomfort and distress at surface level through incorrect mindfulness teachings that merely manage the feelings rather than getting to the core of the issue. For Fromm, mature love is the union between two people who have both individually achieved an understanding of this despair by overcoming the isolation and separateness to the world around them through love; they no longer expect love but have learnt to give love and not simply to one object but to all. Achieving this maturity, the two individuals together preserve this integrity by decidedly supporting and retaining both their individuality with mutual affection. The triangular theory of love[5] functions in a similar manner, where mature love is correctly applied only when three forms of love are applied together at the same time; passion or our instinctual, sexual drives is amalgamated with intimacy or feelings of closeness and togetherness with another person, along with our commitment, the latter moral in nature. A mature form of love must have all three. Otherwise, the form of love that has just commitment but does not have intimacy or passion is considered ‘empty’ while ‘companionate’ contains both intimacy and commitment, but has no passion.

Love is metaphorically exemplified Biblically and while the following quote from Jung is certainly true: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making darkness conscious,”[6] the path towards building the confidence to face the darkness [the darkness being repressed memories] needs to be guided correctly. That is, the path towards the transcendence to conscious self-awareness requires an understanding of morality [the superego’ moral intensity initiates the fear that has a profound impact on our behaviour] and therefore attempting to ascertain why we have fears and doubts first requires an understanding of our moral position. When one thinks of the biblical notion “You must be born again”[7] it is metaphorical of having to change the process of how we think; to develop a clean slate by transcending all that we have been taught of and learnt of morality, to think rationally and philosophically as to the correct method of moral consciousness. To no longer have a conception and apply moral acts only through imposed or external properties directed outwards to within, but to transcend any countervailing factors and use the mind as an apparatus to draw rational inferences both with past and present experiences and apply a moral system from within outwards. It is a system or a process of thinking through self-awareness or to put it simply, it is wisdom. The bible contains the parables and moral substance that has simplified an understanding of love and moral well being by leading a person to the ‘short and narrow’ path towards this transcendence to individual, moral consciousness.

As God is infinite, to love God is to love all and whilst we clearly are incapable of grasping God or the infinite, it is symbolic that all things are interconnected. Our existence is representative of God’s grace, thus our capacity to give unconditional love or to give mature love. Righteousness, such as punishment of wrong, is not substantiated through an absence of love, on the contrary justice and human rights is an extension of – deliberately and intelligently – or the very application of love. Since I believe love to be moral consciousness, the application of moral consciousness to the external world of an autonomous moral agent is ethics [the act of righteousness]. As this act of giving love is unconditional, it is eternal in its permanence but only achievable when consciousness itself is fundamentally free from irrational interferences that possess an individual in a number of ways including external institutions to our very own subjective emotions that all crucially impact on our behaviour and opinions. This moral agent is a rational agent and features prerogatives and characteristics that are analogous to the attributes associated with God, perfect in nature and free from evil, avoiding the collision of moral judgements with irrational objectives. This freedom from evil is an authenticity, whereby freedom being a voluntary conception of moral consciousness and acceptance of our own accountability that heightens consciousness over environmental influences and institutional clouts. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”[8] The Holy Spirit is the authenticity, the very inspiration that enriches and enables us to comprehend and interpret our experiences that ultimately renders morality and love to become accessible. If we were to assume that our capacity to give authentic love is to love God – that is to love all – the following makes more sense: “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”[9] That authenticity – what is true, leads to the light – what is clear and known. Faith in God is a practical stimulus that manoeuvres and motivates moral thoughts toward an alignment of what is good and loving with our subjective thoughts and objective behaviour to and with the external world, where we become in control of our environment and our mind. It is a vigilance and accountability towards our behaviour and this authenticity enables genuine and eternal feelings of happiness. It becomes our capacity to give true love.

 

 

[1] See Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id, Martino Publishing (2010)
[2] Pat Ogden, Kekuni Minton, Clare Pain, Trauma and the Body: A Sensorimotor Approach to Psychotherapy, WW Norton and Company (2006) 5
[3] Susan Hart, Brain, Attachment, Personality: An Introduction to Neuroaffective Development, Karnac Books (2008) 12
[4] Irvin D. Yalom, Existential Psychotherapy, Basic Books (1980) 8 – see Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving.
[5] See Robert J. Sternberg, The Triangle of Love: Intimacy, Passion, Commitment, Basic Books (1988)
[6] Roger Brooke, Pathways Into the Jungian World: Phenomenology and Analytical Psychology, Psychology Press (2000) 181
[7] John 3:1-21
[8] John 3:8
[9] John 3:21