Scholars and practitioners of Sufism joined with psychologists to talk about the journey of the ego-self to the Spiritual-Self. Fleur Nassery Bonnin hosted this beautiful day, and the energy and excitement that this diverse but unified group generated was felt throughout the entire symposium.
Dr Alan Godlas Audio
Dr Alan Godlas
The morning session was started by Dr Alan Godlas of the University of Georgia, whose topic was “A Systematic Present-Centred Approach to Sufi Psycho-Spiritual Transformation”. Dr Godlas premised his entire talk by saying that all our “psychological states are significant and can be changed”. He reminded us that all our moment to moment states of being, from the banal to the sublime, are nothing other than the manifestation of Allah, God. He made important comparisons and distinctions between the humanistic psychological movement and Sufism by reminding us that even this trend in psychology is still based on the individual’s relationship to the world and the people within it - whereas the Sufi way is to shift our fundamental focus to God. That is, to see ourselves and the events of our lives, including the states that arise within us, in relationship to God.
Another of the important points of Alan's talk was his discussion on knowledge. The Sufi's task he said, was to cultivate knowledge, intellect and intuition, such that they could read the 'ayat' (signs) of Allah, not only in the Qur’an but also in the book of existence and the book of the Self, the ultimate goal being nothing less than knowledge of Allah. Where, like a moth to a flame, knowing one's self leads to direct experiential knowledge of God.
Dr Patrick Laude Audio
Dr Patrick Laude
Next in the morning session was Dr Patrick Laude, who spoke on “Sufism, the Relationship between Metaphysics and Psychology”. Dr Laude described how psychology is dependent on metaphysics because “psychology is nothing other than the microcosmic subjective reflection of the objective metaphysical order of reality”. That is to say that psychology and metaphysics together form the two sides of the same coin. Further, Dr Laude showed us, using the Latin meanings behind the English words for ‘concrete’ and ‘abstract’, that what is normally considered concrete viz. psychology, when separated from its underlying ontological reality, is in fact abstract, as in “abstracted from” the metaphysical reality which is much more “'concrete' in reality as it gives access to the meaning of a thing in relation to the whole or God”.
“However metaphysics can remain inoperative - unless it grows like a plant in the light of the sun it is not a true, applied metaphysics. Sufi psychology is integral in the sense that it makes use of all that is human in us. It consists first in awakening all the possibilities of the soul without leaving any out. Everything has to come into the Light. Anything that remains dormant will be potentially an obstacle, because it will remain unconscious”.
Spiritual psychology in Sufism is a way of realising metaphysics, and the early hagiographies show ways of understanding and achieving this spiritual transformation. Some of the major themes mentioned by Dr Laude were: 'Muhasaba' (self examination) – cultivating an acute awareness in order to identify and neutralise the ego centredness in the soul; 'Waqt' (the child of the moment) - being both engendered by the moment and responding to it in the way required and 'Wajd' (finding God) - any "findings" are not the result of human effort, they are pure Grace, but human effort is required.
Fleur Nassery Bonnin Audio
Fleur Nassery Bonnin
The morning session was brought to a close by the host of this special day, Fleur Nassery Bonnin who, after thanking all the speakers for their contributions, went on to outline the spiritual journey of man that occurs along the continuum of his ego-self 'nafs' starting from his lower commanding self, 'Al Nafs Al Amarra' through to the self that has attained to peace and certainty 'Al Nafs al Mutmainna'. Fleur's talk emphasised that in order for this journey to be actualised one needs access to a psycho-spiritual system that recognises the spiritual reality of man and the heights to which he is made to travel. Fleur went on to say: “Sufi psychology has been the beholder of this reality as the goal, and is at one with the purpose of life. Western psychology has been unaware of it for the most part so far. One reason is that most of the schools of psychology have been developed by people who wanted to stay clear from religion and its teachings and therefore spirituality was sacrificed. But whether they want it or not eventually the issue of the soul and the spirit of man needs to be dealt with since we are made up of more than just the body, mind and psyche. So much is missed when we try to amputate parts of a human being, especially parts that relate to a higher consciousness and creation.”
However, as Fleur pointed out, there is a dilemma that we are meant to face on the journey of life:“first we develop the ego-personality that is necessary in order to function in this realm of form and senses. Then, with the Grace of God, we wake up to the Reality that the self and its perception that we took for real is not real, that there is a real Self as a reflection of the Divine in us that is veiled from our perception by the construct of the ego-self. And the only way to reach it, unite with it, which is the purpose of our life, is to transform the ego - from being a veil to a vessel - to take us back to the Beloved. As Rumi says:”
“Make a journey from ego-self to Self, oh friend
for by such a journey the earth becomes a mine of gold”
To bring her talk to a conclusion Fleur quoted C.G. Jung who epitomised the shift from secular psychology to a spiritual psychology in the latter part of his own life, and he very poetically described his experience thus: “Our age is seeking a new spring of life. I found one and drank of it, and the water tasted good.”
Dr Arthur Deikman Audio
Dr Arthur Deikman
After lunch, we were again treated with an afternoon session filled with wisdom and insight. To start we had a special presentation from Dr Arthur Deikman, who was interviewed in California by The Australian Centre for Sufism to partake in this Symposium. Dr Deikman told of his journey in life as a psychiatrist who was constantly searching for the spiritual dimension. Not satisfied with the lack of spirituality in psychiatry, he kept searching and came across Idries Shah. Here is where Dr Deikman learnt about the importance of humour in Sufi teaching stories and analogies that initially hide the deeper meanings from our defensive egos, so that they can penetrate and become active in us when we are not vigilantly defending ourselves.
Crucial to Dr Deikman’s thinking during his productive career is his insight into the observing self, and Fleur in her talk read extracts from his book "The Observing Self". Dr Deikman offered his perspective on the issues facing the psychologist wishing to work with a spiritual focus. Foremost among the issues was the requirement for the psychologist to have extended their own observing self beyond their usual subjectivities so that they have a better perspective on themselves. A psychologist can never extend the observing self of the client into areas that they are unaware of in themselves.
Dr Deikman also believes that service is a fundamental part of the spiritual path because it offers a way out of our self orientated motivations. He found that everyone who gave service said that they received more than they had given. Dr Deikman went further saying that service, when it is not self serving, can ultimately lead to an epistemological shift - a different way of knowing.
Neville Symington Audio
As the afternoon progressed we took a more philosophical turn, hearing from Neville Symington, a psychoanalyst trained in London and now living in Sydney. His talk was entitled “Becoming Who We Are: From Attachment to Relationship”. Neville opened with: “the human task is to become who we are” and then he engaged us with an exploration of this paradoxical statement. For Neville, ontology, the investigation of being, is the area that holds an important key in both overcoming mental illness, and in ultimately becoming who we are. He explained that this was grasped through “an inner act of mind”, which did not flow from the reasoning that was connected to the senses, but was grasped as a principle, that is to say, that what we are cannot be grasped by information flowing from the finite senses.
Part of the journey of man from attachment to relationship is to recognise that although we are impermanent, we are in a universe which is not. This is a mystery of being which he recommended we should have the humility to try not to solve. “All the great mystics from all the religions have known this paradox that, while ‘I’ am a transient being, I am also part of a universe that is eternal and absolute, that just is.”
Neville concluded that to reach the stage of real relationship and the reality of who we are, we must reject the notion that we are only driven by our instincts and senses.
Julian Zanelli Audio
The afternoon session continued with a presentation on the work of Laleh Bakhtiar PhD on the Sufi Enneagram. Laleh Bakhtiar has done extensive work in researching and explaining the way that the Enneagram, now changed and popularised, has been used within the Naqshbandi Sufi order for centuries. The Enneagram in Sufism maps the journey of life and how to heal the unbalanced self that we are - back into both psychological and spiritual health. It takes as its starting point that the human being is actually on a return journey to realise the true nature of their self, their 'fitrat' in Sufism, with which we lost connection early in life. The Enneagram can help a person discover the nature of their imbalance, and the appropriate course of action required to integrate their outer worldly life into their inner life, and eventually become centred.
The first key to understanding the diagram of the Enneagram, which is a geometric shape, is to recognise that the complex diagram depicted the individual soul, and that the circle and lines that comprise the whole diagram are much like markers on a map, telling us in which direction to turn to heal the unbalanced soul. These lines tell us the pathway that a person must tread in order to find their centre, literally represented on the diagram as the middle of the Enneagram. One of the key points presented was that the soul, once purified, has an ethical nature and therefore all true healing and growth of the soul must be ethical in its dictates. Laleh Bakhtiar's work draws extensively from some great Sufis and philosophers of the 11-13th centuries, notably Al Ghazzali, Nasir al Din Al Tusi and Muhasabi. The presentation of Laleh Bakhtiar's work was done by Julian Zanelli, a student of Sufism and a psychotherapist.
The final presentation of this full day was a video of Persian mystical poetry by Moulana Rumi put beautifully together into song form. The mystical meanings of Moulana's poetry are usually out of reach for the Western ear, but we were fortunate to have Fleur Nassery Bonnin translate and explain the esoteric meanings of the poetry to us. So we had the experience of understanding the meaning of Moulana's poetry along with captivating music, superbly sung in his native Farsi. The music and lyrics touched the audience, once again uniting us by reminding us of our common search for the Beloved.
The day drew to a close with Zikr, which means Remembrance of God. Dr Alan Godlas took to the stage again, this time with his Persian Daf and led the whole audience in the Zikr ceremony. The pulsing sounds of 'La ilaha ill'Allah', (there is no god but God) reverberated through the symposium bringing us to a fitting finale for the whole day, exalting the Real Planner and Executor of this Symposium.