Studies : Sufism pt.3 Commentaries

 : Sufism

SignsVeils & the Symbolic Photograph 
"records of encounters with God   
in the little details of everyday life."
Studies project #8 - Part 3, Commentaries

Studies : Sufism  ~  Signs, Veils, The Symbolic Photograph
click here  Part I : Introduction & Photographs
click here  Part II : Text Excerpts from William Chittick's book: Sufism  
click here  Part III : Commentaries 


Signs & Veils
From the perspective of the Sufis, this world is a "sacred book" and like everything in the Quran, every thing in this world and every thing inside our very being--our hearts, our souls--is a sign of God's presence.  Signs announce God's Self-disclosures, revelations of Himself to those of His creatures who have "right vision," a vision based in Love for God and Remembrance of God.

On the other hand, and paradoxically, God is a "Hidden Treasure."  He cannot be perceived by mere sense perception.  His creation veils His presence.   To most people, God is unreasonable and thus not real.  On the other hand, the Sufis say it is God's veils which make Union with God possible.

Related to this, certainly most people think of photographs as mere records of the apparent world.  They are but mechanical, optical images which replicate--or reflect, like a mirror--the appearances of the outer world.  If God loves to be known and longs to be remembered and loved by His creatures, how can a photograph of the world possibly "unveil" the divine Treasure, the divine presence, the Face of God hidden within or behind each and every veil?

An answer is given to us by Niffari, one of the very earliest writers on Sufism (b. 970).  He said, through the light of God's guidance an opening of the door to unveiling will occur for the seeker.  Thus, he says Wish not for that which cannot be wished for!  Instead, ask God to sprinkle something of His light on your essence.  In other words, God is the door, and it is God who opens the door--does the unveiling; it is God who reveals Himself to Himself, His creatures . . . those who have the eyes to see.

Image #1     Studies : Sufism     Open front door and wreath

Grace ~ the Light of God's Gudiance
Sufis have the great longing to be near to God, and ultimately to Unite with God.  And they know how to ask for grace, or "the divine light of Guidance."  Like the Prophet the Sufis pray:  Make me into light, but one must be fully prepared to receive the light of God's revelation, for it is unimaginably bright:

Were He to remove the veil or veils, the glories of His face 
would burn away everything that the eyesight of His creatures perceives.  

It is the veils of God that separate us from God, but paradoxically it is the veils which make Union possible.  The "other wing" of the bird of grace is self-effort, the spiritual practices; and the primary spiritual practices of the Sufis is Loving God, Truly, and Dhikr, the Remembrance of God.  These practices, and of course there are many others as well, finally purify the mind and heart of the Traveler of the Sufi Path, that is to say, those who long to return to their Origin.  The practices draw grace, (himma) the spiritual energy, the vital force which finally opens the heart of the Traveler.  When the heart is open, the "Real," the Supreme Truth, the Absolute, God Himself is seen, experienced, known through the "Eye" of the Heart.

The Names
In the view of the Sufis, the difficulty of our human situation arises from the fact that we have forgotten what God has taught us.  That is, at the beginning of Creation, when He created Adam, God gave Adam (and thus all of His creatures) knowledge in the form of the Divine Names and language.  This knowledge exists in every human heart.  In order to know the significance of the Names (Ibn 'Arabi, a great Sufi sage, says each soul has its own primary Name), and in order to perceive the realities behind the Names, we each have to become conscious, aware of these Names within our hearts . . . as God breathed them into Adam.  One of the primary practices Dhikr, Remembrance takes the form of repeating over and over again the many Names of God.  Other practices includes reading and reciting the Quran, contemplating the teachings, meditation, prayer, music, dance.

Photography as a Spiritual Practice
To be able to see God (God's Name) in oneself and in all the things of the world, one has to learn how to Remember God, and be constantly aware of God's presence in everything.  Photography is important to me in this respect; it becomes a form of spiritual practice for me, a form meditation, a form of Remembrance, a way of perceiving and staying conscious of the presence of God in the multiplicity all created things, including my own self.  More about this later.

Image #9     Studies : Sufism     Bird, lamp, rocking chair, golden light on woods

Unveiling & Imaginal Visions of the Heart
Unveiling is essentially an experience of the heart.  When the ego becomes somehow abased, dissolved, purified . . . the heart opens.  This opening of the heart enables "pure" or "true" vision, vision of the heart.  It is a very special kind of seeing, which the great Sufi sage Ibn 'Arabi called Active Imagination.  This Imaginal vision allows one to see through the veils to the Face of God, the Hidden Treasure behind or within the veil.  Active Imagination is a form of theophany, a vision that conjoins spiritual or celestial images (Names) with their corresponding sensual-visible-earthly counterparts.  This conjunction of the physical-sensual with the imaginal-spiritual is an act of consummation of the Mystic Lover's longing for the Beloved; it is an alchemical marriage, a theophanic Union that is played out in what Ibn 'Arabi calls the Imaginal World.  At the very heart of this process of mystical Union is the spiritual energy, the divine vital force which the Sufis call Himma.

William Chittick addresses himma in terms of "Aspiration and Discernment."  In the following quote, when he says the lover wants only to serve God, we should understand that the word "serve" here infers Remembrance, and more than that, the Lover's desire to become United, One with the Beloved---what the Sufis call tawid.

Professor Chittick writes:  "Love means to be free of everything in the created world and to choose God.  It is to serve God, nothing else.  Human beings alone were created such that they can love God in His infinite, all-comprehensive reality . . . When they focus on God by realizing tawhid, they escape the limitations of possessing certain attributes rather than others. . .  If human beings are to aspire to God, they need to be able to differentiate between God and all else.  The key to human love and perfection is a discerning heart, one that sees God in the midst of the confusing multiplicity of creation."

The Studies Photographs
My Studies photographs, in their highest form of aspiration, are indeed about "seeing God in the midst of the confusing multiplicities."  They are, in a way, "records" of God's signs.  The very best of the Studies photographs, though, transcend description, that is to say, their function turns from description to symbolic revelation.  Such images--in some ineffable way--unveil the Face of God behind God's creations if one sees the images with "right vision."  This is no easy thing to explain for it is not a function of the rational mind; rather its an experience of Active Imagination and the Imaginal World.  A symbol's pictorial form is the imaginal place where the mystical Love-Union consummates itself, for the photographic image holds together, that is to say, conjoins both the heart's inner archetypal images--God's Names--with their outer-world, sensible-physical corresponding counterpart-forms of those Names.

The mystery of the True symbol is that it unfolds its meaning into "hundreds of thousands of freshnesses" as Baha Walad (d. 1230) writes in one of his beautiful, poetic meditations:

I saw that the parts of my thoughts, my courses of action, and my perceptions are like birds . . . standing up straight before God. . .  He Himself bestows upon them life and He bestow upon them taste, so that each of these birds might open up its wings to ease . . .  He showed me a hundred thousand many-colored flowers.  Then He opened up the parts of the flowers and showed me a hundred thousand green herbs and flowing waters and blowing winds, and He opened up the winds and showed me a hundred thousand freshnesses.   a meditation from Baha Walad's Ma 'arif

Image #14     Studies : Sufism     Lamp, bird, and shade-covered picture window

An Imaginative Act
It is God who creates the veil; and it is God who removes the veil.  When there is "right vision" it is God who sees Himself through His creatures.  Sufis agree with the notion that God cannot be seen with the sensory eyes and the rational mind.  But they do believe that God is immanent, that God can be "seen" within the heart, through the "Eye" of the opened, unveiled heart.  When the ego is annihilated, the vision of the heart unveils God's presence, His Face in everything, including within one's self, one's heart.  But God is not seen with the sensory eyes.  This "seeing" of the "Face of God" is an Imaginative Act which takes place on another plane of reality, an Intermediary plane--between the celestial and the earthly planes--which the great Sufi sage Ibn 'Arabi calls the Imaginal World.  This, says Ibn 'Arabi, is the same Creative Imagination, the same divine Imaginative Act with which God manifested All that Is and All that is Not.

Images of Imaginal Power (Himma)
Photography helps me see through the veils; they help me see the things of the world as signs; but this requires constant spiritual practice--self-effort, great love for God, and God's grace.  Ibn 'Arabi wrote that it is because of God's love for all his creatures (himma) and His desire to be loved and known by His creatures, that He gifted each of his creatures with Active Imagination.

Thus ultimately it is true that it is God who makes the photographs; my function is that of a Loving servant.  The images made with grace, the images that function as symbols, become carriers of that grace.  The truly symbolic photograph is radiant with the light of grace (of God's Guidance), with himma, and those images have that Imaginal power to project its grace toward the receptive contemplator.  Just as I, as an artist, must give myself over to the will of the Creative Process so must the contemplator of a symbolic photograph be willing to open his or her heart to the images in order to receive its grace, its divine energy, its himma. 

Image #7     Studies : Sufism     Mirror, two frames, light switch

Veils Have Many Names
Veils have many names: there is the veil of clouding, the veil of reason, the veil of knowledge, the veil of sense perception  . . .  desire . . .  will . . .   There is even the veil of Rust, say the Sufis. Everything is a veil except pure knowledge--that which, through grace, rises up from inside the heart. Pure knowledge is not a veil, and the Sufis say pure knowledge can only be accessed by completely emptying the heart of everything that has come from the outside.  Pure knowledge, God's Names, have existed in the heart from the time of Creation.

A Personal Visionary Experience of the Heart
It was the remembrance of my visionary experience of the "illuminated" Quran that led me to the reading of Prof. Chittick's book Sufism.  And when I read in his book that "rust" is a veil, I was amazed for it reminded me of probably the most important experience of my life: when I was graced with a heart opening, visionary experience that involved the image of an ancient metal door that had been sealed shut by layers upon layers, ages upon ages, of rust.

The image of the door I "saw" was completely covered over--veiled--with rust. There was something behind the rusted door that I was longing to get access to, I needed to see or experience.  Though I wanted to open the door, it was sealed shut.  I couldn't open it myself.

Image #21     Studies : Sufism    Illuminated puja, with pictures of 
Baba Muktananda, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda
and Bhagawan Nityananda

Then I saw the beautiful face of my Siddha Yoga Meditation Master, Gurumayi Chidvilasanda.  I felt overwhelmed by the closeness of her face and her powerful presence.  She seemed so close to me that it seemed as if her presence was inside me as well as outside of me.

Then I saw her beautiful hands and her long elegant fingers begin to push with great force against the ancient metal rusted door.  The harder she pushed, the more pain I felt in my chest; the aching just kept building in intensity as Gurumayi continued to push on the rusted metal door, harder and harder.

I thought I was having a heart attack . . . but eventually there was a release of all the energy that had been building up.  And with this release there was a transformation of the pain into something close to a blissful, flowing of water-like light.  It was like a damn had collapsed, and the water, the love that had been held back for so long, finally was free to rush into, and flood my entire consciousness of being.  I felt completely enveloped by love.  Then gradually the feeling of love merged with the feeling of gratitude.  Tears of gratitude and love were streaming down my face.

A deep longing that I had not allowed myself to realize, but nonetheless clearly had existed within my heart for ages upon ages was finally being fulfilled with the light, the grace of what the Siddha Yoga Masters call Chiti Shaki, divine Consciousness, the love, the bliss, the Truth of the divine Self.  My heart had opened through the grace and Guidance of my teacher.  She gave me the great gift, the taste of "illumination" that she and all other saints know as their constant, unbroken state of being.  In that sustained, timeless moment, I felt more alive than I had ever felt before.  

This experience occurred in August, 1987, during my first meeting with Gurumayi at a two-day meditation program called an Intensive.  This was my shaktipat initiation into the Siddha Yoga Path.  The "opening of my heart" occurred just after chanting with a room full of other seekers the grace-filled Siddha Yoga mantra--the Name of God that Gurumayi had given to us in the intensive.  The experience was an unveiling, revelation of the Face of God which dwelled within me, as me.  I discovered behind the rusted door, inside my opened heart the truth of the teachings of the Sufis and the Yogis God dwells within each heart.  God dwells within me, as me.

Baha Walad:
I keep entering into the remembrance of God and the meaning of God, for the meaning of God is better than all.  . . . The more the tongue moves in uttering the remembrance of God, the more the heart opens up and the more that precious things appear within it.  It is as if the remembrance of God is the east wind bringing news of the Beloved.  It delights the earth . . . by filling it with gardens and orchards.  Water flows before the door of every house of the body, and blossoms pour down in the meadow of each organ and part. . .    If your inward self also looks cleanly and clearly it will become aware . . .  and find that very joy.  ~  Now, utter the remembrance of God so much that you see God. . . .  When your veils are torn by the remembrance of God, you will see.  from Baha Walad's Ma 'arif

The Never-ending Bliss of Paradise 

Many Sufis maintain that true understanding of God can only be achieved through perplexity and bewilderment, awe, wonder and astonishment.  We cannot see God with sense perception, for, truly speaking, God is the only Seer.  Bewilderment is that which is beyond the rational mind, beyond the senses.  Bewilderment, awe, wonder, astonishment . . . is but a taste of the never-ending bliss of paradise.

Image #22     Studies : Sufism     Early morning winter scene 
Gloria returning to the house after feeding the birds

"Wherever you turn, there is the face of God" (1:115).

She Became One of Her Beloved Birds, "Perched" in a Tree
This photograph of Gloria walking back toward our house after feeding the birds on a frosty winter morning is for me a magical "blissful image of paradise."  In the image it is as if Gloria became one of her beloved birds, "perched" in a tree.  (I encourage you to click on the image to enlarge it)

This blue image with the pink light of dawn unfolding in the background has something of a visionary quality about it.  All photographs that achieve any degree of unveiling has to be functioning to some degree as a theophanic image, a poetic metaphor--a symbol.  Such images are alive with grace, himma, the Creator's presence, His celestial Names conjoined with their earthly corresponding appearances.

There is only one way an image like this is all possible: as the photographer, I must get my ego out of the way and let the God make the exposure.  The Sufis call this annihilation, and it is also thought of as the death of the ego, the purification of the heart and mind.  The goal for a Sufi is to live in this state of freedom, this state of pure being constantly.  In photography, symbolic images can manifest in the most brief faction of a second . . .   Indeed it takes no time for God's grace to act, to create.  It is God's grace that gives light, presence, transcendent meaning, Being . . . to symbolic images.  Again, it is a matter of getting out of the way so that grace can Act.

I saw that the parts of my thoughts, my courses of action, and my perceptions are like birds, and sparrows and gnats standing up straight before God. . . God does all my acts.  He by Himself makes and gives being to my earth, my air, and all my atoms. Baha Walad

Image #15     Studies : Sufism     Golden light and shadows in bedroom

God's veil is light.  Were he to remove the veil or veils 
the glories of His Face would burn away everything 
that the eyesight of His creatures perceives.

Image #3     Studies : Sufism     Golden light in the corner of the front door hallway

When this veil is rent and a door opens in the heart, 
like springs toward like.  Light rises toward light, 
and light comes down upon light . . .
Qur'an 24:35 

Image #11     Studies : Sufism     Plant shadows on basement wall of house

 I saw that God is working alone behind this curtain of the Unseen. . .  No one becomes cognizant of how He works. . .  Then I saw that the world is like a house that God has brought out.  He has sent out my meanings on its inside, like aware individuals . . .  My substances are like the walls of the houses, within which the meanings walk.   from Baha Walad's Ma 'arif

Images Inside My House
Many of the photographs presented in Part I of this project were made inside my house.  Photographing in my house has been an ongoing process for me for I spend much of my time inside my house now that I am "retired."  I am becoming always watchful for picture-making possibilities within my house, and it is the light that lets me know, that "signals me" so to speak, when, where and what I should photograph.  Being inside my house is in itself a mode of being.  It often seems to me to be an interior world, an entire, changing, living Universe of its own.  The walls light up--as if from within--with cryptic luminous-shadow writings . . . perhaps the Names of God . . .  emerging from the within the veils--from the invisible to the visible . . . the very "substance," the meanings that dwell within my own heart:

My substances are like the walls of the house, 
within which the meanings walk.  

Image #6     Studies : Sufism     Bathroom curtain and light dots

Image #16     Studies : Sufism     Light, Bed post and lamp shadow

Doing the beautiful
 Doing the beautiful is a Sufi tradition involving the Quranic theme: "worship God as if you see Him, for even if you do not see Him, He sees you."  At the very center of this teaching is the heart, for "doing the beautiful" is directly associated with the heart, the very "depths of the soul."  Beautiful acts must well up from within the heart of the seeker spontaneously, say the Sufis, before mental articulation and physical activity can take over.

Indeed this is my mode of operation when I photograph:  I respond to an inner feeling, an intuitive prompting; often, it is light that signals me to make a photograph.  I try to take the picture before my thinking can get in the way of the grace that is opening me to my creative process.  An open heart makes access to the divine Imaginal World immediately available; but once thinking kicks in, the Imaginal World dissolves.  Images from the Creative Imagination are superior in all ways, says Ibn' Arabi, to that which the rational mind, and ego can manifest.

Not all my photographs are beautiful in the conventional pictorial sense; but many are beautiful in the sense that they are a form of worship, a form of recognition of God's signs, a form of Remembrance, Dhikr.  The photographs are beautiful in the sense that when I look at the images--the very best ones, those that are filled to overflowing with himma--I feel their affirmation of God's presence and love.

The images are beautiful when I recognize--through the contemplation of an image--that I am the Creator; I am He who recognizes Himself through the images.  That is to say, I recognize that it is God contemplating God.  This is beautiful in the sense of what the Sufis call "Right seeing" and "Right Understanding."  And this is beautiful in the sense of the Prophet's famous prayer, so important to the Sufis:  Oh God, show us the things as they are.  

Image #8     Studies : Sufism     Water bowl and plant


The early Sufi writer Niffari (b. 960) wrote:

He said to me:  
Once you have seen Me, 
unveiling and the veil will be equal.


He said: 
You will not stand in vision until you 
see My veil as vision and My vision as veil.


He said: 
O My servant!  There is a veil that is not unveiled, 
and an unveiling that is not veiled.  
The veil that is not unveiled is knowledge of Me, 
and the unveiling that is not veiled is knowledge of Me.



Snapshots & Symbols
Some photographs are "records of encounters with God in the little details of everyday life" and some are merely records of outer-world events.  The third set of photographs published in Part I of the project, those made at Taughannock Creek Park (near Ithaca, NY. ), contain some images that are for me "encounters with God" in the little details of life.  I took those photographs while walking along the Creek with my son and his wife and our grandchild, Claire, plus my daughter and our grandchild, River who had come to visit us from Milwaukee.

We had a little picnic when we arrived at the park, then we walked the path along the Taughannoc Creek up to the foot of the Falls, less than a mile up the Creek.  Most of the time I stayed on the path, in the shade, with the baby stroller while the kids played in the Creek with their parents.  It was a very hot day; indeed, it had been such a very dry summer that the Creek bed was mostly rock, with only a small stream of moving water coming down from the Falls.  I stepped out of the shade from time to time to take some photographs in the Creek.

I thought that most of the images I had made that day would serve as source images with which I would construct Symmetrical photographs.  Indeed many of the Creek images yielded fascinating Symmetrical photographs which I will probably publish in my next project.  But as it turned out I liked six of the images enough to include them in this Studies project.  I especially like the image below.

Part I:  Image #32     Studies : Sufism     Taughannock Creek 

Of Death & Ghosts and Skulls 
I see faces in this image; one face, in the upper left hand corner, reminds me of a ghost or perhaps an Angel painting or drawing by Paul Klee.  The wavy, flowing horizontal form as a whole is almost a cartoonish ghost-like figure, though its not particularly a funny image.  Something of the numinosity of death pervades this image, which functions for me as a symbol.

I'm fascinated by the lower skull-like "face." A small puddle of water is reflecting the luminous sky above.  In the puddle are two "dark eyes," and below the eyes, off to the right, there in a lighter shape that is like a mouth.

The presence of death in this image is not at all surprising to me; death has been an ongoing presence in much of my work.  Indeed I wrote a long, illustrated essay entitled Death, Art and WritingI invite you to check it out.  The remembrance of death is another way of bringing ourselves closer to God and our own divine Self.   Death helps us to remember God; it move us in a more conscious way into the deeper, most essential truths of life.

Making photographs is such a wonderful gift for me.  I can be enjoying the beauty of my family and the beauty of nature and at the same time remember the divine presence that surrounds me, that dwells within every thing.  Photography gives me a way of accessing meanings beyond what's sayable;  it keeps me aware; it helps me stay conscious of the things most important in life.


OK, while I have you here, held captivated by all that has transpired above . . . let me show you some lovely snapshots I took during our outing at Taughannock Creek Park.  You can click on the images to enlarge them if you want to look more closely.  And though the photographs are pretty self-explanatory, I have included captions for each photo.

Part III:  Snapshot 1   Studies : Sufism     Taughannock Creek 
Walking Toward the Falls.  Very little water in the Creek 
due to the drought 

Part III:  Snapshot 2   Studies : Sufism     Taughannock Falls
Just barely a dribble because of the drought 

Part III:  Snapshot 3   Studies : Sufism     Taughannock Creek  
Mom and Dad Changing Claire's diapers
Jessica and River can be seen in the background.

Part III:  Snapshot 4   Studies : Sufism     Taughannock Creek 
Jessica and River in a pool of collected Creek waters.

Part III:  Snapshot 5   Studies : Sufism     Taughannock Creek 
At the Falls, Shaun is photographing Hao and Claire dancing

Part III:  Snapshot 6   Studies : Sufism     Taughannock Creek 
Jessica and River, Hao and Shaun and Claire (in the buggy) walking 
in syncopated step together on the path leading back to the car


Himma, Tawid & Symbols
To summarize, for we are near the conclusion of the project: those images which I consider symbols have a palpable presence, an aura of numinosity or mystery; and most importantly, they have an overflowing abundance of spiritual energy--a vital force, a radiance which the Sufis call Himma.  Symbols are not about the world, nor are they about being in the world--that's what snapshots are about.  Rather, symbols--images filled with himma--are about God--God's love and God's longing for his creatures, and, the creature's--the Sufi Traveler's--love and longing to be near God, and ultimately to achieve Union with God's infinite, all-comprehensive reality.

This Mystic Love, this longing for Union with God, is what the Sufis call tawid.  Symbols are visual embodiments of tawid, the conjunction of corresponding spiritual and earthly archetypal counterparts, the inner and the outer, the invisible and the visible, the celestial with the physical.  Symbols are about a silent, eternal dialogue between these opposite modes of being.

Image #24     Studies : Sufism     Fish in luminous green pond

Image #25     Studies : Sufism     Light, hanging paper cloud, and internal lens flare

The Fish & the Sunlit Cloud 
These two odd photographs need to be addressed.  One looks down, one looks up; one is green, one is blue. I am not sure about the "cloud" photograph, but the fish image certainly function's for me as a symbol.  It is in some ways a terrifying image, but it nonetheless exudes himma.  The fish is emerging forcefully from under the water with something it desperately needs to say to us.  It is surrounded by green, the color of completion on the Sufi Path (the dissolution of the ego, the Union with God).  The fish could be interpreted in many ways (and yet one could never be "right" about such things).  It could be a Christian symbol of Christ.  Water, in more general terms, is usually associated with the unconscious, and so the fish, to me, embodies those ineffable mysteries of the unconscious and actively brings them up into visibility by breaking through the water's surface--which is a veil.  Now, it must be asked, what is it the fish is wanting to say to me with such extreme urgency?

The "sun and cloud" image is mysterious but also fanciful.  I know the "sun" and the "cloud" are not "real" but rather they are artificial, man-made/cultural objects.  Its hard to give myself over to the image completely because it looks so "unreal."  It makes me somewhat distrustful; I have questions.  

The "cloud" is quite literally a sign--and it's suspended in space by two strings.  The "sun" is probably a ceiling lamp, however its radiance pictorially may transcend the cultural subject matter.  The image is a cultural fantasy, but that may only be a veil for a reality that is more mysterious and radiant than we may ever be able to fully understand.  The little blue, luminous "pearl" inside the "cloud" is known as an internal lens flare.  It could be an angel, a messenger, a flying saucer . . . And its position is synchronous with a line of text printed on the other side of the sign/cloud.  What do the words say?  More importantly, what does the sign mean?  Note: I have made an entire project about the Blue Pearl, I invite you to check it out. 

Commentary vs Contemplation
There are many images I have not written about here from Part I.  Each image is loaded with potential for discussion, I know.  Writing Commentaries is fun, but it's a bit dangerous, for the ego and the mind can quickly try to take over the sincerity of the process and become too clever for its own good.  Ultimately the meanings of symbols are private and beyond saying.  What functions for me as a symbol may not function for you as a symbol.  

When one contemplates an image that's functioning as a symbol, a silent dialogue will necessarily occur between the image and contemplator; each dialogue will have its own special flavor--whatever is necessary in that moment for the contemplator.  For symbols mean infinitely, like God.  You can't tie the meaning of a symbol down.  Rational understandings just don't do the job, they are ultimately unsatisfying.  The Imaginal World is so much more meaningful because its beyond words.

Contemplation is an experience of the heart.  It requires of the contemplator to open his or her heart to the image and then "listen" silently--from inside the heart.  The dialogue may go on infinitely because the grace, the himma energy flowing out of the image into the heart is eternally renewing and thus beyond time and space.  The meanings generated in the silence of the heart will always be beyond intellect and reason.  



The Next project
Reading William Chittick's Sufism has re-kindled my interest in Ibn 'Arabi's ideas about images and Imagination, and I want to do further reading in the early writings of Sufism by other writers as well.  Indeed, I have already begun re-reading Henry Corbin's remarkable book Alone with the Alone : Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi, and I have ordered William Chittick's book on Ibn 'Arabi entitled The Sufi Path of Knowledge : Ibn 'Arabi's Metaphysics of Imagination.  I will also read Michael A. Sells' collection of early writings on Sufism, the Quran and other theological writings.  His book is entitled Early Islamic Mysticism.  

I anticipate the next project to be filled with new Symmetrical photographs and a text that explores the concept of the visual symbol in relation to himma and Ibn 'Arabi's Images and the Imaginal World.  We'll see.  I have learned over and over again that my intentions or anticipations are not always in alignment with where my creative process wants me to go.  Please watch for the announcement of all my forthcoming new projects on my blog's Welcome Page, in the section at the top identified as Recently Added Projects.

Thank you for visiting Studies : Sufism.


A Poem by Hafiz

Something beautiful,
that old green boat
moving slowly in the water.

Something exquisite, that man rowing 
while a woman he has held intimately
hundreds of times sits near and rests.

Rests from the wars in the days.
Rests from the wars in the hours.
But now, more than to just relax;
she smiles, deeply brightens 
and comes alive

as the wing of a duck, landing on the other side
of the pond, gently touches her cheek.  Yes.

It all seems perfectly natural, 
realizing that all dimensions will someday
admit . . . we are your subjects, 
mere peasants within your vast kingdom.

All of God, which is everything, is really so close,
and caresses us now and then 
if your senses are alert.

The falcon's wing, on my better days,
crafts these images as I watch.

trans.  Daniel Ladinsky



This project was published on 
September 1, 2016

Studies : Sufism ~ Signs, Veils, The Symbolic Photograph

click here   Part I : Introduction & Photographs
click here   Part II : Text Excerpts from William Chittick's book: Sufism
click here   Part III : Commentaries 

Related Projects
 Illuminations: Photographs and Poetry of Hafiz and other Poet Saints. 
"An Imaginary Book"  
Welcome Page see the complete listing of online Studies and Sacred Art Projects

Welcome Page  to The Departing Landscape website includes the complete hyperlinked listing of my online photography projects dating back to the 1960's, my resume, contact information, and more.