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Creating the Universe Anew

Pir Zia Inayat-Khan

As part of a series on Seven Pillars’ four thematic areas, Pir Zia gave this talk related to Cosmology on February 19, 2010, in Sarasota, Florida. This is an abridged version of his remarks.

Nature mystic Richard Jefferies speaks about how one night he felt himself as wandering amongst the stars. They were no longer above and he below; he realized that the stars were all around and even beneath the Earth. We are floating in space, traveling amongst the stars. Then he recognized that he could maintain this awareness even in the daytime, even though the daylight sky was like an obscuring mist. He was aware of the celestial bodies all around, aware of occupying celestial space, aware that space is not somewhere high above. We’re in the midst of the cosmos. We’re surrounded by swirling planets, suns, galaxies colliding. This discovery is not a matter of learning something new. We already know it. What’s new is living in its awareness, overcoming the illusions that we project upon our experience, illusions that disenchant the world. We’re plunged right into the midst of a cosmic mystery, if we would just open our eyes and recognize it.

The cycle of the day and night is a sacred affirmation of the mystery of our place in the cosmos. We work in the day, we rest at night. There is an in-breath and an out-breath. There is turning within and turning without. There’s activity and repose. There is darkness and light. And presiding over our day and night, there is always a luminous sphere; in the day the disc of the sun, in the night the disc of the moon. And by some cosmic coincidence that no one can account for, these two discs appear to our eye exactly the same size. So we live on a planet where cosmic balance is symbolized for us by day and night.

Of course the energies of the sun and the moon are different, and if one begins to acquaint oneself with their personalities and moods one can more and more sense the unique quality of the sunlight as contrasted with the moonlight. We all know this down deep, but perhaps we don’t yet know it consciously. We relearn it when we lie out under the full moon at night and receive the cascade of emanations from the moon, and when we receive the fiery rays of the sun as they reflect on the surface of water and pass into the optic nerve. What’s happening, of course, is that the very substance of the sun, traversing the gulfs of space, is pouring forth over the surface of the Earth, penetrating our physiology. We are drinking in with the eyes the light of the sun, we are assimilating the luminous body of the sun. When we go about our day, when we have our breakfast, lunch, or dinner, what do we consume? All of our nutrition derives from photosynthesis, which itself derives from the power of sunlight. We literally consume the sun. The action of our body is fueled by the sun, and our vision too is entirely dependent upon the sun. I don’t see any one of you, nor do you see me. We only see light. All that we ever see is light. Light ricochets off surfaces, enters the eyes and lights up the brain.

We come to understand that the sun is not a disc in the sky. Rather, we reside in and are immersed in the sun’s photosphere, which fills the solar system. We metabolize it physically. It fuels our every motion. It even fuels our thought, our inspirations. We live within the sun. We are a cell of the sun. And at some level, you may say we are the sun experiencing itself within itself. 

If we were to similarly re-imagine our body, we would discover a sort of animism or elementalism which has to do with the old hermetic principle of sympathies, proposing that whatever exists in the cosmos exists within. Each of us is a microcosm. We are the personification of the cosmos, the personification of the Earth. In our body and mind we possess attributes that reflect and correspond to the elements that surround us. This perspective overcomes the feeling of boundedness and isolation that contributes to the idea that we the human species have somehow transcended nature, that we stand above and beyond and can control and manipulate it at our pleasure. Instead it reaffirms our embeddedness. Then we discover that embeddedness, which we might have feared as a source of dependence, is instead a source of renewal, of regeneration, of awe and wonder. We find that our direct physical embeddedness in the landscape and in the cosmos is really the most powerful resource that is available to us.

The Sufis and the Yogis have both traditionally worked with this. When the Sufis and the Yogis met in India they found that though they had very different theologies, they had a common language in the theory of the elements earth, water, fire and air, and they agreed on the value of elemental practice. For example, witness the earth element in one’s body. That means witnessing the hard core of one’s body—the skeleton, the flesh, the weight and density of the body—and feeling the resonance of that earthiness with the Earth itself, more and more experiencing one’s body as a figure of animate clay, the churned substance of the planet that has awakened to its senses so that Earth can touch and feel itself.

Then there’s the element of water, which brings us to a more internal experience of ourselves via the flow of blood and lymph, the throb of the heart, the pulse in the extremities. This is what one learns in the path of meditation, for when one stills oneself one becomes aware of this inner rhythm. And this inner rhythm corresponds with the rhythms of bodies of water, with the rivers and the oceans. One feels more and more one’s kinship with the whole hydrological cycle of the Earth. The water in one’s body calls out to the water in the Earth, and vice versa. The more one awakens these elements within oneself, the more they become animate, and the more the boundary of one’s skin is overcome in moments of communion.

Then one feels oneself less and less contained in a personal self, and increasingly one feels the sky, the earth, the waters and the stars pouring themselves into you. Your bones are the stones of the mountains, your blood is the waves of the ocean, the heat of your body and your glance are the heat and light of the sun. Your breath is the air of the atmosphere. You feel yourself as a cosmic being. You feel yourself as the universe having personified itself to survey its contours and to praise, to glorify, and to ecstatically embrace its divine essence.

Another nature mystic, a novelist and poet named John Cowper Powys gave a name for this sort of process. He called it cavoseniargizing, and he defined it as “the secretive psycho-sensuous trick of ravishing the four elements with the five senses, and of doing it with these latter so fused together that it was like making love to the Earth mother herself.” I love that definition because it combines the four elements and the five senses. The senses are, of course, the means of contact through which we experience the treasures of embodied life.

There are levels of working with the senses. The first level is reawakening the senses. One can do this sense by sense. For instance, suppose you take a day or a week and work with just one sense, like the sense of touch. “Today, whenever I touch something, I will do it mindfully, with presence.” Feel what it means to be an angel that has descended to Earth and in this moment is actually pressing flesh to stone. And know that you will not always have this experience. There are other realms of being, but here and now, this mode of witnessing has been given to you, so feel it completely. When you walk on the Earth, feel the touch of the soles of your feet with every footstep. When you grasp something, feel its texture in your hand. Feel the touch of the air on your cheek.

Then do the same with each of the senses. Downplay for a time the other senses and highlight just one. Then recombine them one by one. In this way, animate the senses cumulatively to the point where you are fully experiencing all of the senses in unison. This might lead to an experience of synesthesia, a mysterious intermingling of sense perceptions. This is the domain of poetic awareness, where you discover that mode of being where touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing all converge in a meld of presence in the heart, a pure distillation of Earthly experience. The heart’s awareness is the sensus communis, the “common sense,” the sense behind all of the senses.

But even that is not the final destination. Just as sound waves that hit your eardrum are converted to biochemical signals in the brain, the heart’s knowledge via the senses is carried over to another level of consciousness. It doesn’t end with the personal self; ultimately it is traced right back to the vital eternal essence that is the source of the universe, to the One Being.

We are the senses of the One Being, which has produced this world for the purpose of knowing itself. As we go about the various tasks in our life, we tend to forget the basic reason for our having been born in the first place: to be the sensory organ through which the universe senses itself, and to return our sensations back to the Source, to distill the essence and send it back to God—the Real, the Whole—on waves of praise.

Here is a poem from the great nature poet Andrew Young:

God, you’ve so much to do,

To think of, watch and listen to,

That I will let all else go by

And lending ear and eye

Help you to watch how in the combe

Winds sweep dead leaves without a broom;

And rooks in the spring-reddened trees

Restore their villages,

Nest by dark nest

Swaying at rest on the trees’ frail unrest;

Or on this limestone wall,

Leaning at ease, with you recall

How once these heavy stones

Swam in the sea as shells and bones;

And hear that owl snore in a tree

Till it grows dark enough for him to see;

In fact, will learn to shirk

No idleness that I may share your work.

I love that last line: “To shirk no idleness that I may share your work.” There’s a juxtaposition here between idleness and work. What seems from a human perspective as idleness, like watching the clouds rolling in the sky, from the divine perspective, belongs to God’s work. It means attending to what is going on in this web of life, among these creatures, among the owls and the seashells and the rooks in the trees. Our work is to drink it in and to offer it back to God. That’s why we’re here.

I would like to close with words of the great eco-theologian of the 20th century, Father Thomas Berry: “Even as we glance over the grimy world before us, the sun shines radiantly over the Earth, the aspen leaves shimmer in the evening breeze, the coo of the mourning dove and the swelling chorus of insects fill the land, while down in the hollows the mist deepens the fragrance of the honeysuckle. Soon the late summer moon will give a light sheen to the landscape. Something of a dream experience. Perhaps on occasion we participate in the original dream of the Earth. Perhaps there are times when this primordial design becomes visible, as in a palimpsest when we remove the later imposition. The dream of the Earth. Where else can we go for the guidance needed for the task that is before us?”

Pir Zia Inayat-Khan is a scholar and teacher of Sufism in the lineage of his grandfather, Hazrat Inayat Khan. He received his B.A. (Hons) in Persian Literature from the London School of Oriental and African Studies, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Religion from Duke University. Pir Zia is founder of Seven Pillars House of Wisdom, and also of Sulūk Academy, a school of contemplative study with branches in the U.S. and Europe. His most recent books are Saracen Chivalry: Counsels on Valor, Generosity and the Mystical Quest and Caravan of Souls: An Introduction to the Sufi Path of Hazrat Inayat Khan, both published by Sulūk Press, an imprint of Omega Publications.

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Comments (12)
  • This was a particularly beautiful presentation from start to finish. It was recorded. It would be nice to make the audio recording available.

    — Steven Bell on June 20, 2010

  • OM Sweet OM

    — Bassam, Victor Demko on June 29, 2010

  • Thank you for your exquisite and affirming piece and the reminder that our egos must take time to reflect the light within.

    As the poet Kabir says:
    The moon shines in my body, but my blind eyes cannot see it:
    The moon is within me, and so is the sun.
    The unstruck drum of Eternity is sounded within me; but my deaf ears cannot hear it.

    — Joy Stocke on June 29, 2010

  • and how true are Pir Vilayat’s reminder that we here are in outer space…with the stars all around us…

    — orlando on June 29, 2010

  • In response to Steven’s comment above, we will be making the audio of this talk available in September.

    — Jennifer Alia Wittman on June 29, 2010

  • perhaps in the synestethic awareness of the earth as our beings, the stones , the trees the waters, this expanded sense of self will morph our sense of self preservation to include the preservation of the health of the whole natural sphere of being, our most urgent physical plane task, peace and radiance to all JK

    — john khalid dickason on June 29, 2010

  • I loved reading this! Particularly at this time during the great out-breathing of the year.

    Thank you for the renewed wish to look, listen, taste, discern, give, hold, praise, sing, and more…

    — Claire Blatchford on June 30, 2010

  • It ‘s a fantastic coincidence to read this right now. Especially the first paragraph. I have been using the visualization of our place in the cosmos lately during meditation to great effect. “We are the senses of the One Being, which has produced this world for the purpose of knowing itself. “ I love that thought. I have read it before in Alan Watts.

    — Nathan on June 30, 2010

  • Waiting for the Sun to Rise

    Waiting for the Sun to rise?
    I say Mother Earth turns her face to You
    Bows her head to You.

    When Rosy Fingered Dawn was a Goddess
    We worshiped You,
    Your cool daybreak, Your hot noon, Your balmy evening.

    We say the Sun rises
    But it is we who fall on our knees
    We turn toward the Sun and call it Day.
    We say the Sun sets
    Yet it is we who turn away and call it Night.

    We block the Sun
    And call Sister Moon a crescent
    We move out of the way
    And call Her full.

    We call her names
    When it is we who block the light.
    We complement her when
    We get out of her way

    Tell the little children the truth
    Tell the little ones the way it is
    We bow to Thee and it is morning
    We turn away and it is night

    It is midnight
    My Lover waits patiently
    It is I who am impatient

    Oh Rosy Fingered Dawn, I beg,
    Paint me another day
    It is so easy to blame you
    When it is I who turn away

    Copyright 2010 Amin David Dawdy

    — Amin Dawdy on July 17, 2010

  • The Sun does not rise in the East and set in the West; that is an illusion caused by the rotation of Earth.

    Life does not begin at this birth and end with death; that is a fleeting moment in the eternal Life we all share.

    — Ron Krumpos on August 27, 2010

  • This morning I remembered the work of William Irwin Thompson and a phrase of his
    from one of his books.  It totally expresses the essence of a dynamic (living) system.

    It goes like this:  “The time falling bodies take to light, light bodies start to fall.”

    Thank you, Sir

    Russ Shaw

    — Russell E. Shaw, MA, Lt. Col., USAF(Ret) on November 9, 2010

  • Great work!

    Thank you!

    Russ Shaw

    — Russ Shaw, The Artist once known as "the commander on November 9, 2010

18 June 2010

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