Heightened Senses

Hello. I'm Imraan. This is the only thing I own outright; I write from time to time, in the hopes that free-association might save a trip to a sanatorium.

Tag: Death

On Loo Roll, Decay, Emptiness and Death.

Today, I had the fortune of having a mini class-reunion of sorts; naturally I had to be stoned on my medication in order to attend, and the loudness of all of the chatter in the restaurant was only tempered by a fair dose of clonazepam, baclofen, nortriptyline, gabapentin, paracetamol and a couple of other things. It was interesting to see how quickly since the last time, people’s lives had moved on. Of those who attended, all were in serious, long-term committed relationships, two had married. Others couldn’t attend because of work and the great distances they had to travel, and others still had family-type commitments. Professional training, finishing off qualifications, taking on multiple degrees, and still able to juggle having dinner with us.

Now, I usually avoid social gatherings out of the house; whilst I can get out in my wheelchair when reclining, I’m usually warned by relatives to avoid it if possible as my health can make a scene of its own accord, as it briefly did this evening. Crippling chest spasms – thankfully, I was in a class of bona fide geniuses who are now doctors, so I knew I was in good hands if things went wrong. But I reclined at the restaurant with my feet on the wheelchair to regulate my blood-pressure, and eventually with more medication, it abated.

Thereafter, I had to attend another venue where I expected to be picked up, but it would appear life had other plans and I was delayed for an hour and a half. A decent hour and a half – but I had to at the hour mark, ask for some assistance to use the restroom.

When in there, I saw an empty roll of tissue paper (or whatever the cardboard type insert is) and its emptiness horrified me. I of course replaced it, praying I wouldn’t catch e. Coli or some bizarre infection from it. What surprised me was how much a roll of tissue paper could speak to me.

But I couldn’t quite interpret what it said. Either it suggested that my life had run out of steam, that I was quite literally empty with nothing of substance or use to anyone and a kind of annoyance, as an empty roll in a public restroom might be, or that I had quite literally (again) been used up.

The thing with Severe ME, chronic Neuro-Lyme Disease, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, some sort of congenital myopathy, trigeminal neuralgia, migraines, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity,  Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, Osteoporosis, scoliosis, and whatever else I’m not currently remembering…. is that all of these things sap you to a husk of what one once was. Sure, today I was lucid compared to the last reunion three years ago – thankfully clonazepam helps with brain-fog and spasms to some degree – but there is a kind of emptiness I noticed as I was being wheeled into this public restroom. I remembered Elvis – what would happen if I had gone in and not made it out?

What would have been left of me, and by what would I have been remembered. For a brief moment I pitied myself, yet on the other hand I couldn’t help but consider what kind of relief it might be to others if I was gone. I returned home this evening, was helped into my room after a short rest-period, and helped to change my clothing, and then I said to the person who helped me, I’m in extreme pain.

“I’m off, call me if you need me.” And she shut the door tightly on me. I realised then that I had sucked this person dry to the point of exhaustion, and that my pain levels were really no consideration of hers. That I was unable to eat from exhaustion annoyed everyone anyhow, but what was treacherous was the coldness with which the door was gently slammed (!) on me as I complained of being in severe pain. Ho hum; technically it’s not their business unless I need an ambulance, and in honesty, perhaps I might if this goes on.

However, I have clearly tugged at the toilet-roll a little too much in my years of sickness, having just passed the ten year mark from when it all started, and much like an empty roll, it felt as if I had no purpose other than to be discarded.

And that brings me to the question of meaning; what is it the chronically ill have to do in order to live fulfilling lives? A couple of years ago an aunt of mine said, if not admonished, (to) me -” you know disabled people can still get married, they can still study,” and so on – which in and of it self is true, but of course it cannot apply to me in my current state. I try to read as much as I can, and study what interests me in-between scheduling hospital appointments and trying to sleep, sometimes when no amount of sedation is of any use. A relationship – at least a religiously sanctioned one – is out of the question and that’s fine. It is something with which I can live, but can I live with having to sleep so much?

Chronic illness is isolating in this regard – I’m surrounded by people – yet why do I feel me, or that the likes of me,  are so alone? What difference does any purpose or goal I set for myself, such as a half hour’s study in a day, or making it to the kitchen once a day for a meal, or trying to spend a half hour in total silence..what does any of that have to do with serving another human being other than myself?

Not long ago I found myself nearly paralysed to the couch, unable to move because my heart and chest felt like they were on the verge of explosion; someone said, “I’ve got to go”, to which I curtly responded, “so, I could be dying but you need to go to sleep? Fair enough.” I know I shouldn’t have been snarky, and I was likely not going to die that night (nonetheless afraid of having to call an ambulance), but still, that I needed or expected someone to assist or serve me when I had nothing in exchange to give made me sound like a selfish jerk.

With chronic, treacherous illnesses, where there is no end in sight or no real treatment available, especially where the illnesses overlap (my two attempts at hydrotherapy and the subsequent ambulance visits thereafter resulted in the cancellation of this physiotherapy because I could not just cope, and my doctor considered it dangerous), and very little can be done at a very slow pace, one considers the meaning of life. And of death.

You can’t help but ask, would others be better off if you died, because then they would have one less major burden in their life? I don’t anticipate death would bring sweet relief, and I’m not at all saying it’s an escape. Nor am I encouraging anyone to seek it.

We’ve all had those three a.m conversations with ourselves in terms of “what is the meaning of life?” – yet my existential question is, what could I contribute to make meaning?

Meaning in this sense seems inherently selfish – if I had meaning, it’d make me feel better primarily, with a service rendered to others secondary. Is the order of priorities wrong? Probably. But what is there about which I can do with regard to it? It seems all we can do in these states is to serve ourselves.

I happen to be a theist, and at some level find myself having to accept that the gift of life is still a gift, whatever the hardship. And that Graces abound – I am not poor, I have friends, I can finally wear my clothes without screaming in pain, I can tolerate lights and sounds to some extent because I have expensive earplugs, ear-defenders, sunglasses at the ready, sedatives to depress my central nervous system. But to whom is the service rendered if not to me?

What I am saying is…well, like the empty piece of cardboard roll, I feel pulled empty; and the longer this illness goes on, I’m pulling on the toilet paper of the lives of those who have to look after me. I saw tonight what happens when I complain of pain when others are running on empty.

I am thankful for the graces that I have, and the humanity with which others are so wonderful at/in serving me; yet my soul feels as if it’s dying and decaying, and that life is somehow passing me by whilst I live this existence of illness. I’d hate to think that this is the reason for which I was created and set into being, it is hard to accept. I don’t want to be a hero and ‘give meaning’ to someone else’s life, the white knight archetype or anything – I’d just like to give back.

Is the purpose of my existence to surrender? To turn almost entirely inwards, to steer into the sickness and its usual limitations and essentially become a hermit who lives a life of prayer. As the brilliant writer/author/theologian Sara Maitland once said (I paraphrase), “The more time for prayer one has, the more interesting prayer gets.” And she aspires to about 80 percent silence, being pulled into religious experience.

I, long ago, gave up on doing advocacy for these illnesses, as alas, I create an echo-chamber; at one point I thought that advocating for this state of illness would serve others; but life is precious, tiring, and busy. Maybe I might lay in bed henceforth, as I usually do, and just contemplate myself at the point of death, because then and then only might I wake up to the fact that I’m a fickle and frail being, or will I perhaps wake up to opportunities I currently cannot see?

But that’s not to say I didn’t realise the same thing, the emptiness, the void of meaning in my life and actions,  when it came to having run out of toilet-paper in that public restroom.

Fear, Pain, Death

(Edit – I was on a heck of a lot of medication when I wrote this, so I apologise for all manner of errors found in this piece, but I hope the sentiments come across as I had intended them.)

I don’t know how they do it. Honestly. Hospital workers, nursing-staff in particular as opposed to doctors who are, by design it would seem, colder and more clinical. Anyhow, this is the second time in four days I’ve been ambulanced (sic) off to the Emergency Room to deal with pain issues that I thought were akin to Satan straddling upon my chest. Satan, and an elegant the size of Satan, too.

Of course, when you have Severe ME, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Neuro-Lyme Disease, and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, no doctor really know what to do with you.

This post isn’t so much about what happened -and not much – the fact that I was writhing around in so much pain despite the fact that I was on enough painkillers to stun one of The Rolling Stones at least twice over was suggestive that there is something going on beneath the surface. But they couldn’t find it, and so here I am, back at home, somewhat tranquilliser and utterly exhausted.

An increasing sensation upon entering a hospital these days, however is one that really does grip me to the core. The impending sense of my mortality, and by extension, Doom. Sure, the Almighty proclaims His Mercy supersedes His Justice, according to Scripture, but yet there is so much for which I need to atone, still. My body is increasingly breaking, the doctors know-not what to do, and the ever increasing chances of a life lived with any sense of normality without battling symptom after symptom after symptom – well the negative possibilities multiply as we speak, to borrow from our friend Griffin, the Fifth-Dimesnional being.

What I cannot get to the root of, however, is my utter sadness every time the ambulance staff decide to take me into hospital. Pure and utter grief. On laughing gas today to help with the pain (the second canister I used-up this week), I was on the verge of tears. Both in resignation that I could not get a transfer to the right hospital nor have anyone manage my pain levels for me, alas, is that the world seems to cave in around me just a bit every time I’m admitted, or offered a new diagnosis. This is what is so utterly heartbreaking. My fear of the Afterlife is rather profound, I admit, but what about the fear I suffer of a life not-yet lived. Ten years have gone by, and we’re closer to no-answers, but umpteen diagnosis. What happens at the next crisis of pain, or the one after that? What happens as I watch the cycle of life and death all around me in a sterile, artificial environment where most professionals have to be detached from the patient in order to survive? Aside from my own sins, why do I fear death so much, when  I have so many friends who have systematically tried to end their own lives?

Why he utter dread upon entering the hospital, a place where I expect to be helped, where most people expect help, too? Is it because I’ve been let-down too many times and am seeing the fires of Doom ahead? Or because dismissive doctors insist that there is no other pain-type medication available to me to take, whilst I writhe around in unholy discomfort begging for them to make it stop?

Anyway, there is something about pain that is so humanising. It’s almost primal. It forces you to interact with a form of yourself so both physical and psychic that has no necessary root cause, nor one that can be treated with any simple solution. But the humanising aspect of it is that you find yourself begging for death during such an episode, or praying, or doing both…desperate for some release, sick to your stomach that you’ve wasted an evening of a relative accompanying you to the hospital to almost no avail, and finally praying that there was ‘something’ that could be done. I ramble here, but I’m trying to get to the root of why this pain has the habit of making me face-down mortality in ways not imaginable.

In years past, when I was healthier, I could easily visit the sick an the frail in hospitals, show something akin to love and make the m comfortable in my own capacity. Now, in severe discomfort and paramedics not knowing what to do with me other than “well we can’t keep giving you gas and air every time”, suddenly my comfort has taken precedent, and my own self has become the locus of my own being – that selfish part of me that only sees me and my immediate pain.

I long to see transcendence and patience, the state of riḍā, yet on the other hand how do you got about it when your immediate physical experience is only competing you to sink into the swamp of despair. Sure, you truly feel helpless, and God Almighty before you with prayers, but otherwise, where is the real semblance, even, of gnosis? Why are there days in such situation when you beg for death so you might not burden those around you, or feel guilty for having called a paramedic to you when there are genuine people dying? Sure, no one knows this for a fact, but equally pain and humility don’t seem to go hand-in-hand for me these days, for all I see is death every time I try to get some help.

Allah is Greater, and I guess I have to make peace with his will. But my life seems so lost to me, direction and purposeless, only battling symptoms and not realising how insular the conditions have made me. Maybe it is a part of a Plan, though to be let in on it might be a pleasure, too…

Every branch reverts to its root, no more in any way than when it sprang forth.

My Arabic is sadly not where I’d like it to be, so I have to rely upon a translation (by Ralph Austin, see here for original link and commentary by Austin).

That said, I hope you enjoy this poem as much as I did. I don’t tend to read much of poetry – the sheer exertion to decipher them can send me spiralling into overthought!

However, in this case, I had to make an exception. This is from the writings of the great Andalusian Sufi master, Abū ‘Abd Allāh, Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad ibn ‘Arabī al Ḥātimī aṭ-Ṭā’ī, better known to most as Muḥyiddīn ibn ‘Arabī (d. 1165) who is said to be among the most sophisticated and original thinkers the Islamic tradition has ever produced, and whose insights into the Divine, received to regular ‘unveilings’ through which he composed some of his most important works.

The following poem was constructed at some point after he buried his seven-year-old daughter, with his own hands, and his reflections on the matter. Often I’ve heard critics level profound judgements on those mystics, perhaps because they have no sense of perspective nor have not suffered, which is why they felt they could always see the Divine, His Beauty, His Love, etc.; ibn ‘Arabī himself writes what is a moving and (for me) devastating piece of poetry regarding his relationship to his Creator on such a tragic occasion . He seems to foray into his perception of the Divine Reality in the middle somewhere (and for someone like me, uninitiated, I cannot dare to comment on the specifics), but I’ve highlighted to you verses that spoke to me, giving this poetry significant poignancy given the occasion upon its composition.

The themes of the world of multiplicity, the ‘other-ness’ in relation to God, how His Names manifest in a world so relative, and so on are beyond my scope.

If you are unable to read the whole of the commentary, might I suggest you look at just those below verses 19-20, and 21, the latter of which seems to suggest that these profound mystical insights came to him, were triggered by, the demise of his daughter,  which are both gripping and shocking in content. I’ve pasted these below in block quotes. All credit goes to Ralph Austin.

Is it really possible to see His Agency in everything then, when even such a sad happening brings out such depths?I pray this is as edifying for you as (I hope it will be) for me.

With love, and wishes for a thoroughly blessed year ahead, meanwhile. I shall try not to leave it a year before I write again.

1. With my very own hands I laid my little daughter to rest becauseshe is of my very flesh, 

2. Thus am I constrained to submit to the rule of parting, so that myhand is now empty and contains nothing. 

3. Bound to this moment we are in, caught between the yesterday thathas gone and the tomorrow that is yet to come. 

4. This flesh of mine is as pure silver, while my inner reality is as pure gold.

5. Like a bow have I grown, and my true posture is as my rib. 

6. My Lord it is who says that He has created me in a state of suffering and loss. 

7. How then can I possibly hope for any rest, dwelling as I do in sucha place and state? 

8. Were it not for that state I would be neither child nor parent. 

9. Nor indeed would there be any to compare with me as is the casewith my Creator. 

10. It is surely a case of the qualification being one with respect to an essence which is full of implicit multiplicity. 

11. Because I am for my Creator, in our creation like one of a multitude. 

12. Then my God alighted between us, in the very fabric of existence – not merely a figment of belief.

13. All with a firm, well established emergence, to which I may trace my antecedents with confidence.

14. Thus, on the one hand, I can say that I am a mortal like yourselves, while You do vouch for me.

15. Always, however, on the understanding that I am not ultimately a ‘like’, thus to maintain my integrity.

16. For You have banished all ‘being like’ from me in the pre-eternal state; and that is my conviction.

17. See how sublime and lofty is my garden of paradise, secure in the company of matchless beautiful maidens.

18. He speaks of this as we have also in our book the Maqsid ai-Asmā’.

19. Is not created nature His family and people, as also the very
essence of the Unique One? 

20. Consider how He is a consort for her and how they came together
upon my being, so that it split asunder. 

21. These words of mine are not written after long deliberation, but have been a part of me eternally.

22. It was none but the apostle of the Eternal One who activated them within me.

23. He it was who dictated it, leaving me to write it with my hand.

24. Thus is the matter, and none truly knows it,

25. Save a leader of the spirit surpassing in goodness or one of the
golden mean.

26. Indeed, one who is ‘other’ cannot know it now or ever.

27. Every branch reverts to its root, no more in any way than whenit sprang forth.

Commentary to verse 19-20:

Verses 19 and 20 are really quite shocking in the context of Islamic religion. They are extremely paradoxical and are perhaps the most powerful two verses of the poem.

19. Is not created nature His family and people, as also the very
essence of the Unique One?

Nature, as representative of creation, is in this line a feminine word. As Ibn ‘Arabi points out in the last chapter of the Fusūs, the male God or the male element is surrounded by two female elements-created nature and the very essence itself of God which contains all the essences that we are. It is also a feminine word – dhdt. Nature, the creation itself and the sophic basis of that creation – the deep inner wisdom which provides all the material for that creation are as a family, like a wife and family for God, the Reality. He speaks then of His family. His ahl – His household. The creation is compared to a household – a family or a wife to God but, also the very innermost essence. Here we have the union of the two things that were contrasted in the earlier part of the poem – the worldly state and the pre-eternal state are brought together. They are both a ‘consort’ for the Divine One and therefore, very much a part of the Divine. This is a very difficult idea to articulate without causing certain misunderstandings which is rather compounded in the next verse.

20. Consider how He is a consort for her and how they came together upon my being, so that it split asunder.

‘Her’ is Nature on the one hand and the Essence on the other. In this verse, the Arabic word ba’al is used meaning a husband or a consort. (The Arabic word ba’al is the same word as ‘Baal’ used in this way in the Old Testament.) God is seen here as the consort of the double but single feminine. Therefore, the rest of the line is concerned with how ‘they’ consummated their union ‘… upon my being’. Here ‘my being’ (wujudi) is the material which provides the wherewithal for a birth to result from this union of God the Divine al-Haqq and His inner/outer consort. The Hindu concept shakti gives a similar taste of what is indicated by this idea for without the shakti nothing would happen and thus, God would be alone and undivided. It is only the shakti –  the female energy (expressed here by Ibn ‘Arabi in terms of the inner essence and the outer world) which can bring about the whole drama of creation. In this respect then, ‘my being’ is ‘my inner essence – my divine pre-existent being’. The words ‘… so that it split asunder’ refer to the fact that because of the coming together of these two elements, the difference between them became apparent. In many ways, this situation is similar to the vivification of the egg in the womb – splitting, dividing into the eternal and non-eternal.

Verses 19 and 20 are very powerful and central forming the actual conclusion of the poem. In the beginning we had the difference between the two things, then the linking of the two things by the worshipped God and finally the identity of the two things in a union which itself again produces the difference once more so that it is really a cycle that is being discussed here. These two verses are concerned with what is known in religion as hieros gamos – the sacred marriage.

Commentary to verse 21:

21. These words of mine are not written after long deliberation, but
have been a part of me eternally.

This verse harks back to the constant theme of eternal subsistence in this poem. He is saying, in effect: “I have not sat down and thought: ‘What sort of poem can I write? What has my daughter’s funeral conveyed to me?.'” Ibn ‘Arabi is declaring that this rich and difficult poem that he has written has always been there in his heart of hearts, in his deepest depths – from all eternity. His daughter’s death and funeral simply served to trigger the release and articulation of these thoughts, images and ideas into writing.

What Mastery of the Mystical Sciences…

Stillness and motion do not apply to Him. How can a thing occur in Him which He has Himself made to occur, and how can a thing revert to Him which He first created, and how can a thing appear in Him which He first brought to appearance? If it had not been so, His Self will have become subject to diversity, His Being will have become divisible (into parts) and His reality will have been prevented from being deemed eternal. If there was a front to Him then there will have been a rear also for Him. He will need completing only if shortage befell Him. IN such case, signs of the created will appear in Him and He will become a sign (leading to other objects) instead of signs leading to Him. Through the might of His abstention (from affectedness) He is far above being affected by things which effect others.

Below, I have typed up Sermon 28 from  the Peak of Eloquence, the vast repository or  collection of Sermons, sayings, letters Imam Ali  (a.s), compiled by Sharif al-Radi.

This version is published by Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, New York.

I’ve included sections from others that are utterly awe-inspiring (emphasis mine, mostly!)

Sermon 28 – About the Transient Nature of this World and the Importance of the Next World

What a truly edifying, (perhaps terrifying) words of perennial wisdom and admonition; how easy it is to forget the life that is to come; too easily do we live as if we will never die, that we’ll repent tomorrow – yet in whose mortal hand does the power exist to guarantee his tomorrow? Sharif al-Radi, the compiler of this great work,

“So now, surely this world has turned its back and announced its departure while the next world has appeared forward and proclaimed its approach. Today is the day of preparation while tomorrow is the day of race. The place to proceed is Paradise while the place of doom is Hell. Is there no one to offer repentance over his faults before his death? Or is there no one to perform virtuous acts before the day of trial?

“Beware, surely you are in the days of hopes behind which stands death. Whoever acts during the days of his hope before the approach of his death, his action would benefit him and his death would not harm him. But he who fails to act during the period of hope before the approach of death, his action is a loss and his death will harm him. Beware and act during a period of attraction just as you act during a period of dread. Beware, surely I have not seen one who covets Paradise asleep nor dreads Hell to be asleep. Beware, he whom right does not benefit must suffer the harm of the wrong and he whom guidance does not keep firm will be led away by misguidance toward destruction.

“Beware, you have been ordered insistently to march and have been guided as to how to provide for the journey. Surely the most frightening thing which I am afraid of about you is to follow desires and to widen the hopes. Provide for yourself from this world what would save you tomorrow (on the Day of Judgement).”
The Last Portion  of Sermon 83 – The Lesson to Be Learned from Those Who Have Passed Away:

“O servants of Allah!! Where are those who were allowed (long) ages to live and they enjoyed bounty? They were taught and they learned. they were given time and they passed it in vain. They were kept healthy and they forgot (their duty). They were allowed a long period (of life), were handsomely provided, were warned of grievous punishment and were promised big rewards. You should avoid sins that lead to distraction and vices that attract the wrath (of Allh).

“O people who possess eyes and ears, health and wealth! Is there any place of protection, any shelter of safety, or asylum or haven, or occasion to run away or to come back (to this world)? If not, how are you, then turned away (Holy Quran, 6:95;   10:34;   35:3;   40:62) and whither are you averting? By what things have you been deceived? Certainly, the share of everyone of you from the earth is just a piece of land equal to his owns stature and size where he would lie on his cheeks covered with dust. The present is an opportune moment for acting.

“O servants of Allah! Since the neck is free from the loop and spirit is also unfettered, now you have time for seeking guidance. You are in ease of body; you can assemble in crowds, the rest of life is before you; you have opportunity of acting by will; there is opportunity for repentance and peaceful circumstances. (But you should act) before you are overtaken by narrow circumstances and distress, or fear and weakness, before the approach of the awaited death and before seizure by the Almighty, the Powerful.”

*”Sayyid ar-Radi says the following: ‘It is related that when Imam Ali ibn Abu [sic] Talib delivered this sermon people began to tremble, tears flowed from their eyes and their hearts were frightened. Some people call this sermon Brilliant Sermon (al-Khutbatul-Gharra’).

A Portion of Sermon 184 – on the Creation of the Universe

“In His creation, the big, the delicate, the heavy, the light, the strong, the week are all equal. ** So is the sky, the air, the winds and the water. Therefore, look at the sun, moon, vegetation, plants, water, stone, the difference of this night and day, the springing of the streams, the large number of the mountains, the height of their peeks, the diversity of languages and the variety of tongues. Then woe unto him who disbelieves in the One who ordains, who denies the Ruler! These believe that they are like grass for which there is no cultivator nor any maker for their own sundry shapes. They have not relied on any argument for what they assert, nor on any research for what they have heard. Can there be any construction without a constructor, or any offense without an offender?

The Wonderful Creation of the Locust

“If you wish, you can tell about the locust (as well). Allah gave it two red eyes, lighted for them two moons like pupils, made for it small ears, opened for it a suitable mouth and gave it a keen sense, gave it two teeth to cut with and two sickle-like feet to grip with. The farmers are afraid of it in the matter of crops. Farmers cannot drive the locust away even though they may join together in their effort. The locust attics the fields and satisfies its hunger although its body is not equal to a thin finger.”

The Glory of Allah

“Glorified is Allah before Whom everything in the skies or on earth bows down in prostration willingly and unwillingly, submits to Him by placing his cheeks and face (on the dust), kneels before Him (in obedience) peacefully and humbly and hands over to Him full control in fear and apprehension.

“The birds are bound by His commands. He knows the number of their feathers and their breaths. He has made their feet stand on water and on dry land. He has ordained their livelihoods. He knows their species. This is the crow, this is the eagle, this is the pigeon, and this is the ostrich. He called out every bird by its name (while creating it) and provided it with its livelihood. He created heavy clouds and produced from them heavy rain, spreading it on various lands. He drenched the earth after its dryness and grew vegetation from it after its barrenness.”

**

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