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The nightingale and the rose: from attachment to renunciation — Review of results

 

Many of us have participated in the reflection activity proposed at the end of the article “The nightingale and the rose: from attachment to renunciation” and have examined the question of how we can apply in our lives the hoopoe’s advice to the nightingale enamoured of the rose:

Forget the rose’s blush and blush for shame!
Each spring she laughs, not for you, as you say,
But at you – and has faded in a day.

(Fârid-ud-Dîn ‘Attâr, The Canticle of the Birds, Diane de Selliers Éditeur, transl. A. Darbandi & D. Davis, 2013, d. 777)

What are these roses?

What are then these roses—or attachments—that too often fill our thoughts or take up space in our lives to the point that we neglect that which is essential? Our survey brought to light that the main attachment that was perceived as excessive by the participants was work (nearly 30%). Next (20 to 25 %) came attachment to children, fashion, and going on holiday. It is significant to note that for most people it was the “lack” of importance—insufficient attachment—given to certain areas that was pointed out. Up to 30% of those who responded to the survey (most probably students) seemed dissatisfied with the importance they gave to studies… The most striking quantitative result of this overview, however, is that more than 50% of the participants felt they did not give enough importance to their health and to their physical well-being. About 40%, judged their participation in social activities or activities with others to be insufficient, whether it be family, friends or the community.

These first observations are paradoxical: the article called readers out to think about their attachments, but it appears that it is a “lack” of attachment to certain areas of our material life that was commented on the most! To better understand, let us look at the extent to which the participants thought these attachments were impacting the way they fulfil their ethical and spiritual duties. The judgment was harsh: 2 out of 3 participants felt that their excessive investment in the things they are attached to introduced an imbalance in their life, in the sense that they were neglecting spiritual or ethical duties. These quantitative results reflect a hazy feeling of guilt among the participants, which was clarified in the qualitative feedback.

These accounts show that participants massively feel that they are (very) insufficiently taking care of the primary duty they have toward themselves, their soul: whether it be “recharging” it with spiritual energy through prayer, attention or inner dialogue, or nourishing it with spiritual principles and thoughts through specific readings. Comments were just as numerous, deploring the lack of care toward the physical self, whether it be the lack of regular physical activity, insufficient sleep, or poor lifestyle (in particular regarding Internet-type psychological addictions, or poor eating habits). Insufficient attention paid to others, to family and friends is also mentioned, but to a much lesser degree, and insufficient care toward oneself appears to be the most important problem.

These quantitative and qualitative elements reveal the “typical profile” of those who participated in the activity, and for whom, then, the question of attachment as a challenge for their spiritual progress is relevant: they are active, very much taken by their jobs (or caring for their children for some), and they generally have a very fast-paced life which they find hard to organize in a manner that would allow them to properly take care of their body and soul. This inability to successfully manage their lives is experienced by many with great frustration that some seem to try to escape through passive or addictive activities (TV, the Internet), even though that ends up actually increasing their feelings of guilt and powerlessness.

In their comments, SM and Alex give good illustrations of this typical profile, which is characterised by a hiatus between what one is and what one would like to be, and that many of us surely will identify with:

SM: “It is very interesting to reflect on the value we place in certain areas of our life. I am realizing that the way I think I am and wish to be is far different than what I actually am when I engage in my daily life. Although I am mindful of my spirituality on a daily basis, I still place far more emphasis on my material life. I find myself so exhausted by the material world that by the time I sit down to do something to benefit my soul, I am not in the “right state of mind” and I put it off. However, when it comes to relaxing by surfing the web, I can easily spend the bulk of my day doing so.”

Alex [translated from French]: “I have always given a lot of importance to my work, but recently things have changed. I have become more and more obsessed with professional success to the point that it has led me to anti-ethical behaviours and thoughts—I succumb to backbiting, envy, plotting, and even deep unhappiness when I cannot get what I want. This also infringes upon the rights of my wife and children. For example, at home in the evening, I am constantly on my smartphone reading or writing email, often to show my bosses how zealous I am… In the meantime, I am spending time neither with my children nor with my wife, or worse, I often end up “sharing” my stress with them.”

A proposed analysis and potential remedies

From the general tone of the feedback received, it would appear that participants are feeling both stunned and overwhelmed when looking at their own life. Many seem to feel completely at a loss as to how to have any influence at all on the course of things, how to get a handle on them and how to organize their lives in a way that would correspond more to their aspirations (less investment in work, better spiritual and physical lifestyle and more investment in their relationships with others). This feeling of powerlessness also contributes to a vague form of guilt—a negative kind of guilt that those concerned do not seem able to channel toward action.

Two participants offered an analysis of the causes and consequences of this situation, which led them to take action:

Charlie [translated from French]: “I was exaggeratedly attached to something. It had started to take up a lot of my energy and to invade my thoughts. Especially after I realised there was a chance I would lose it. This triggered a lot of negative feelings. Grudge, bitterness, disappointment, stress, anger, and so on. Because all my energy was flowing into this, I was starting to feel exhausted and apathetic. I had already felt this way before, a long time ago, and at the time I totally let myself go. The whole thing was really unpleasant and had led to a sort of endless negative vortex. I really didn’t want to go down that path again. So I started to focus a lot on auto-suggestion lately. Even though I continued to be overwhelmed by this attachment, I forced myself to do things, even on autopilot, to fulfil both my spiritual and material duties, as well as leisurely things to take care of my psyche, in order to change my state of mind. […] I started to imagine I had lost that thing I was so attached to, really trying to feel as if it had actually happened. In my heart, I asked for God’s help and continued auto-suggestion. Then, suddenly, I felt a sort of relief, as if I had started to accept the possibility of losing that thing I was attached to, and was prepared to move on and embark on a new path. It suddenly wasn’t such a big deal anymore. I went to a café and I started reading and was able to focus on my reading without being distracted by this other thing. I looked around me, I took a deep breath and I said to myself that life was beautiful and that it could be beautiful even without that thing. And that having faith was certainly the most beautiful gift of all. I went to the café restroom, and there, on one of the restroom walls was written in big letters this sentence by Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “The source of true happiness is within us”. […] In Ostad Elahi’s Maxims, you can find the phrase: “A spiritual traveler must avoid anything that leads to distraction or dependency.” Saying 108 in Words of Truth is also helpful: “[…] Knowing that someone else is watching over us helps to allay our worries and concerns. Simply focus your attention on that Beholder of fate and cease your worrying. Knowing not what tomorrow brings, our imaginings are but idle speculation that do little more than torment us. He, on the other hand, knows all that tomorrow beholds. Let us abandon, then, these idle thoughts and imaginings. […]”

Tom: “Listing my attachments gave me a chance to reflect on the choices I make with respect to priorities. During this introspection, I made a sad discovery: based solely on my actions and my intentions, I have little care for spiritual tasks such as prayers. I do them once all of my other material tasks are done, and after I have relaxed, and only if I feel like it. When I was a student, I was extremely diligent and hardworking and had enthusiasm for studying and working hard. Yet now, when it comes to my spiritual education I am a slacker. I am attached to my material activities (work, fun, relaxation) to the point that my spiritual tasks are 2nd tier. This to me, based on my actions, means I do not think they are important and do not enjoy doing them. It’s kind of like in the movies, when they say “love is not just words, it is an action! You have to show me you love me!”. Well, based on my actions, I really do not like doing spiritual work! […] I have had the same problem with organization when it comes to prayer, and decided to work on this through the OstadElahi inPractice Lab called “Connecting with the Divine”. During Phase 3, I spent two weeks experimenting with what prayer schedule worked best for me, and I have come up with something that works really well with my life, and helps me to work on weaknesses that lead to lack of prayer. I could not recommend it enough. I decided that I needed to pray at least 3x a day. I then spent two weeks testing out different times throughout the day to pray that worked with my schedule (Phase 3 allots 2 weeks of reflection). I tried various tricks to help me remember (various reminders on my phone and computer), different places (i.e. getting on the train to go home was a good time to do a prayer). Importantly, I tested how the times worked on the weekdays vs the weekends. I found certain times that worked best depending on the days of the week. Also, based on a suggestion I found on OstadElahi inPractice, I decided to also reflect on an attribute of God to help me focus before my prayer. I tested this and realized that it added a tremendous depth and helped me to focus my prayers anytime and anywhere, even if it was a brief moment. At the end of the process, I ended up finding 5 times to pray that I thought would work for me. I realized that if I could do my prayer 5 times, each time could count as two points for the day. So if I did my prayer 3 times that day, then I would get 3 x 2 = 6 points. This would help me with the analysis phase as well. I hope this helps and if you have suggestions please let me know! Another point is that I am now in the Action phase and I am very motivated and feel energized by the system. It makes me feel like I am in school again (in a good way!)!”

Conclusion: Yes, we can

To those of us—and we seem to be many—who relate to this feeling of being “both stunned and overwhelmed when looking at their own life”, with a touch of guilt, Tom and Charlie seem to be saying: it is possible to do something! It is possible to change the course of things. And no heroic efforts or radical transformations beyond our capability are necessary. Like Charlie, by taking the time to think about past experiences and meditating on correct principles, we can identify concrete actions to take, stick to them no matter what, and receive signs of encouragement, even in the form of words written on a café restroom wall! Like Tom, we can take advantage of resources such as OstadElahi inPractice to identify the concrete factors that prevent us from accomplishing things that we would really like to accomplish. It is not so difficult to find pragmatic solutions that can work for us within the specific constraints and circumstances of our lives, and that can really make a difference.

Another conclusion that can be drawn from reading between the lines of the results of this survey is the relative lack of importance given to the issue of others, as in putting ourselves in their shoes, selflessly helping them, cultivating our humanity… Few people manifested concern about insufficient investment for others, while many expressed frustrations about their inability to take proper care of themselves (body and soul). This omission could potentially be seen as a sign of a concerning discrepancy, in the sense that somehow we would prioritize taking care of ourselves over caring for others. Now, of course, the practice of attention—particularly prayer—is at the very foundation of our spiritual life, as is taking proper care of our body and psyche. However, this discrepancy, this omission even, seems to point to the fact that we may have fallen short of understanding how central concern for others, responding to their needs and doing good around us is in Ostad Elahi’s approach to spirituality. This persistent feeling of guilt (“I can’t find time to pray in this chaotic life”) could in fact be a slightly complacent alibi, an excuse for not being active.

Feeling “stunned and overwhelmed when looking at our own life” could be a form of deliberate imprisonment, much like the nightingale’s exclusive love for the smell of the rose that prevents him from setting out on his quest. We too indulge, in a way, in that state of mind, incessantly finding excuses not to change and not to be active. We seem nevertheless to be aware of the cost of staying prisoners to the inebriating smell of the rose and of the pain caused by the thorns. Nightingales we are, yet permeated with a general feeling of uneasiness about the state we are in and aware of the necessity to make a change. Let’s not content ourselves with this feeling, which in itself is rather useless and even toxic if we do not use it as a springboard for action. Tom and Charlie’s experiences are proof that it is possible to think and act.

Renounce delusion and prepare your wings
For our great quest; sharp thorns defend the rose
And beauty such as hers too quickly goes.
(d. 772-773)


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13 comments

  1. tom Oct 18, 2017 1:37 pm 1

    Thank you for a fantastic synthesis of the exercise. I was particularly touched by your comment on the fact that mentioning others/helping others was not a priority for us.

    As part of a questionnaire on OstadElahi-InPractice, one question asked what I am currently doing for others. I was literally stumped. I decided to observe myself and see what I do in the course of a day that I think constitutes an in vivo act of kindness. Turns out, I do not do much. Ok, I help make food for my husband, or clean up after him sometimes. But that is really because I hate a messy kitchen! I call my parents here and there when I am walking home from work. But that is mostly so I don’t have to call when I get home and want to relax.

    I could let someone have a seat on the crowded train, but I don’t. I could ask my husband how his work is coming along and really listen and participate, but I don’t. I could call my parents when I have a lot of time at home where I can devote my full attention to them, but I don’t. As a result of this gaping hole in my spiritual practice, I decided to make in vivo acts of kindness a priority. In the beginning, it was extremely hard for a rather silly reason: I could not think of any! For days, I failed not because I didn’t remember to do it, but because I would sit there and think what can I do? Nothing I did felt like a true act. So one evening, I made a list of things I thought could constitute in vivo acts of kindness towards my husband (I decided to start with him since I live with him and have most interactions with him!), so I had a ‘stockpile’ of acts ready to go when the time/opportunity came. This helped tremendously.

    I am of course still lacking in many ways, but I think the questionnaire on OstadElahi-InPractice and of course this one on e-OstadElahi really opened my eyes to a large gap in my practice.

    1. A. Oct 19, 2017 11:18 am 1.1

      “I made a list of things I thought could constitute in vivo acts of kindness towards my husband (I decided to start with him since I live with him and have most interactions with him!), so I had a ‘stockpile’ of acts ready to go when the time/opportunity came. This helped tremendously.”

      If you could share the ‘stockpile’ of acts that would really be appreciated. I will try to practice them with my wife. thank you in advance

      1. tom Oct 23, 2017 1:43 pm 1.1.1

        sure! they are extremely specific to my husband, but in general:

        1. take care of the chores he usually does
        2. ask genuinely about a topic he cares a lot about and participate it in (i.e. a particular hobby that you do not really care about)
        3. send nice message during the day saying thanks for something he did
        4. offer to help with housework or a task
        5. watch a show he likes even if you do not want to

        In general, the idea is to ask yourself at any given moment, what would you want him/her to do for you?

  2. A. Oct 19, 2017 8:18 pm 2

    Thank you for this great analysis. So interesting!

    One thing I found that works really well for me is morning prayer before sunrise. Really focusing on the Source and begging for help to fight against my imperious self and do my duties. This has led to some spectacular results for me. Actually, I believe Ostad Elahi says that a moment of prayer before sunrise has the same impact as 24 hours of continuous prayers at other times of the day (if someone has the exact words, I would appreciate the input). After these prayers I am a very different person and my reactions/behavior are different throughout the day.

    To give an example, a couple of weeks ago I was on a conference call for work, and because of certain things that were said which I perceived as humiliating, my state suddenly changed, I became extremely upset. By the end of the call I was overwhelmed with negative emotions and, the worst thing is, I was completely unaware of it. Now, just then I had an inspiration that basically “suggested” to me that the unpleasent discussion during the conference call was a good thing for me and that I should be thankful for it because it was an opportunity for spiritual progress. So I started to mechanically thank the Source for the experience and the negative emotions just went away. Given the fast-paced life we all lead, to actually become cognizant of our emotions, understand what is going on and react appropriately is truly a miracle.

    Something similar also happened no later than yesterday on two different occasions. Again, I had clear inspirations that suggested (for example) that the extremely rude behavior of a key customer of mine (one of my largest accounts) who had been avoiding me for several months, was nothing else than a scenario to test me. And, once I aligned my thinking with this view + I managed to allay my fears, in other words once I started looking at it with detachment, then the whole thing vanished into thin air. The customer in question talked me for a good 30 minutes and everything was fine etc… The net result was that I gained from it both materially and spiritually.

    From these experiences I conclude that the Source’s help manifests itself in 2 different ways: a) you become aware of what is happening, and see things as they are, e.g. “it is a scenario + you are being tested, and you are overreacting” b) you get the energy to actually fight and quickly find + implement a strategy to fight. Also, my impression is that step a) is absolutely crucial and represents more than 50% of the solution to the problem because it is like a beacon of light whilst in the dark (because of the darkness of our emotions).

    So, as you may have understood, I am a true early morning prayer enthusiast and would encourage anyone to take advantage of the fact that days are getting shorter and shorter (hence sunrise is getting later and later) to give it a try. Maybe that this will enable us to behave less like nightingales inebriated by the smell of the rose.

  3. Juliet Oct 29, 2017 1:05 am 3

    Thank you for this great article! I have a real problem taking time and making efforts for people around me. I am taking care of my family, which includes my husband and my kids, and other than that I am taking care of two other close family members of mine. They keep coming to my house back and forth. They need attention and hospitality. It is not like caregiving but it is more like helping them with their problems. I have a job and this kind of dealing with people is killing me. I can’t do anything to move forward in my job because I can’t spend more time studying and working at home. I am stuck in a low salary job because of too much stress and the time I have to take for people around me. I know that it is always good for my soul to help people, especially if they are close family members but how about my body and my psyche? I don’t know where the line is. Sometimes I feel like I want to be the good guy, so I make sacrifices. The bad thing is that I am not happy with this. I keep complaining about the situation to myself, and to my family, and to others. It is not like I do a good deed, and then I become happy, or feel pride. Sometimes after I do a good deed, I tell myself how dumb I was doing this thing for that person.
    The point is that the situation in unavoidable. I can’t avoid it. I can’t ignore it. Those people have become part of my life and they are here and they need me whether I want it or not. Can someone please tell me something to help me feel better about myself and this whole thing?

    1. kbld Oct 30, 2017 1:24 pm 3.1

      There are two questions in your message. 1. what to do? 2. why do I feel bad?
      1. First of all, I think it would be ill-advised for anyone to definitively advise someone online to act less altruistically, with so few details, without actually speaking with you, basically without having a more human grasp of your situation, especially such a complicated one. So you must see for yourself if the generalities said here are applicable to you.
      That being said, it is true that helping others is not the same as being taken advantage of or making people lazy and unnecessarily dependent. You have one husband and two kids, and there should be equal repartition of chores between you and your husband.
      Regarding the other people you are mentioning, it depends on who they are, especially if they are family, and what the help is.
      We could write books on the ethics of helping for people, and especially women, who have a family and a professional life. Actually, you could write one when you will have sufficient experience of the matter! You will be a specialist.

      2. At least some of the help you’re providing is necessarily a good thing, and everything you do sincerely for divine satisfaction, will stay with you forever. It does not mean that you can consciously alleviate the issue, but that your “honest mistakes” are seen with mercifulness. If you feel bad about some of the good deeds you do, perhaps you should analyse your intention (are you doing what you do for divine satisfaction, with a pure intention to help others, or are you doing it to be seen as the “nice one” by others for example), and work on it.
      In general, you shouldn’t worry about making mistakes. We all make them. What’s important is to do your best in balancing the different aspects of your life, with the guidance of your moral conscience, and, if you actually make efforts in that direction and if you are sincere, all will be well.

      1. Juliet Nov 05, 2017 5:01 am 3.1.1

        Thank you for your comment. It made me think of my real intentions. I think I want to be seen “nice” by others. I really need to fix my intention first and then balance different aspects of my life.

      2. adissam Nov 08, 2017 3:57 am 3.1.2

        I read kbld’s comment twice and it makes sense. I’m looking forward to reading such a “handbook” full of experiences about family life! Congratulations by the way. The story you share shows also the spiritual value of accepting the burden of a family life (vs. celibacy for example).

    2. Saga Nov 02, 2017 3:49 am 3.2

      Hi Juliet,
      I think you pose a very important and substantial question. I’ve been actually thinking about it for a few days now. It would be easy to tell you, be altruistic and care for others because it benefits your soul, but that’s not realistic is it? So this might be an extreme way of looking at it, or maybe it’s a good way to approach this situation. If someone close to you couldn’t walk, would you donate your legs (let’s say that would be possible)? Is someone else’s life more important than yours? Yes, no, perhaps. What about if we turn it around, is your life more important than someone else’s? Perhaps this will help to understand how to approach difficult situations. I believe most of us would agree that it wouldn’t make any sense for one person to loose their legs to help someone else to walk. So if you got to keep your legs and were able to help someone else by carrying them, or finding ways to help them walk without hindering your own abilities and process, that would be a completely different situation right? So perhaps you’re thinking that you are doing the latter, but as you’re describing it and how this is hindering your happiness and your life quality, it seems to me that you are making the first choice of my two scenarios. Our duties come in this order:
      Duties towards ourselves (-our bodies, towards our soul)
      Duties towards our Creator
      Duties towards others (-to our partner, to our children, our parents, others)
      You have to take care of yourself to be able to care for others. Also, if helping these people results in you complaining and being stressed with your partner and children, then you have transgressed their rights over those who come after them in the order of priorities. This is just my way of looking at it and might not be correct, but it might give some perspective at least.

      1. Juliet Nov 05, 2017 5:04 am 3.2.1

        Thank you for your comment. I was so impressed by the example you mentioned. Do I donate my legs? I agree with all your wrote. I need to prioritize all the chores and tasks.

    3. Peter Dec 30, 2017 8:58 pm 3.3

      Sometimes, accepting that tolerating hardships is good for our spiritual destiny can be helpful.

  4. tom Nov 03, 2017 1:47 pm 4

    I have noticed that, in certain times of my life, when I had to decide whether or not to help others considering the massive amount of obligations and duties I already had, I almost always would say ‘of course I have to help..no doubt I have to help’. In hindsight, I often thought that maybe I said this out of pride: I wanted to be the one to help and I wanted that person to think ‘oh wow! she is so busy yet she makes time for me!’

    In my experience, this decision is always influenced even a little bit by the imperious self…

    1. Juliet Nov 05, 2017 5:06 am 4.1

      Thank you for your comment. I am exactly that person who wants to look nice in eyes of others and I need to work on it.

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