Imaginal Love

[Although I never planned to take this long of a break from WordPress, I have been finding it difficult to make time for writing and reading here. I can’t, not that you are asking, offer any good reason for my prolonged absence. If I don’t find time to make the rounds, please know that you are all in my thoughts. I hope spring beauty finds you well!]

“Everything is what it is because of where it is ‒ its boundaries, its place between the clearing and the darkness. As we are always a clearing of consciousness on the edges of unconsciousness. We are always surrounded by darkness all around. This is what keeps us from freezing up. If we forget this, we die. We become idolators of ourselves.” Tom Cheetham

It’s as if we are the sand at the shore continually mingling with the dark waters. But we are also the dark waters crashing the shore, quickly absorbed through the cracks between the sand. In that place where the broken sand further dissolves through the repetition of ebb and surge of tidal waters, we are most alive.

Readers of Tom Cheetham’s previous works will delight in his latest book, Imaginal Love The Meanings of Imagination in Henry Corbin and James Hillman, where he offers us a more personal glimpse of his journey of understanding, entertaining, reconciling and incorporating the disparity of ideas found in the writings of Henry Corbin and James Hillman. I admire his approach and sympathize with the need to enjoy the fruits of these great writers through what is revealed, not only through their similarities, but also where they differ.

There is a necessary tension between Corbin and Hillman that if allowed to work on us, reveals deeper and more nuanced layers of understanding. Over time, when seen as part of the work we are tending, this tension transforms into a source of resonance in much the same way that string tension on an instrument makes music.

Corbin in particular, focused on the necessity of there needing to be an other; an angel, or spiritual twin, which, in an ongoing relationship fostered through a practice, reveals to us the unknown, or unconscious, so necessary for keeping the soul alive and in motion. By an “other,” I take him to mean any sense of otherness in our lives, of either day world or dream world, which by their difference from us cause a triangulation that reveals another option, or a third dimension. Love often does this. It opens us up to each other in ways that reveal something new. But for Corbin, the angel is not human, but encountered in a contemplative state he referred to as active imagination.

“As an essential correlate of imaginal loving, this Angel also individuates. Meeting one’s angel corresponds to what Jung called individuation. But as Corbin tells us, and Hillman has repeatedly reaffirmed, it is not my individuation that is at stake but the individuation of the Angel.”

This slight revision of Jung’s idea of individuation places emphasis on the process as necessarily a relational one. It takes our care and love for the angel as “other,” something wholly different from ourselves, to open us up, thereby encountering and revealing what we can’t readily see through the singularity of our being. Here is where we can experience Ta’wil, or the lost speech. Cheetham, like Corbin, emphasizes the need for an anamnesis; Plato’s re-membering of what has been forgotten by, or lost to, the world. Through personification of an other the “not me” is revealed. The particular distinctions between oneself and an other serve as a medium of exchange, so necessary for encountering the new and the unknown. It is an essential antidote to counter the cynicism and apathy of one’s personal journey which is often loaded with the perceptual habits of whatever culture one belongs to.

Modern culture places great emphasis on finding love through the similarities between us. Here, Cheetham suggests that in denying the distinctions and differences their place in an ongoing engagement which allows them to work on us, love and feeling become abstracted into generalities which are liable to literalizations and static ideas of ourselves and others. The particularity of the distinctions between us, when revealed, rather than abstracting, ground our experience into storied places, events and persons. The difficulty lies in losing the static sense of oneself and others and in seeking and expecting the new and unknown to appear. The unknown, is after all, inexhaustible.

“The so-called inner world is continuous with the outer. Ideas are not in the head ‒ they are in the world. They change the thinker and they change the world. Emotions are not private ‒ they spill out all around us and manifest in our behavior and our relations with other people.”

We use descriptives like “inner” and “outer” perhaps because we see and experience boundaries between things, places and people. To a large extent our language creates boundaries; a digital paving on an analog world. But, also, so do our individual bodies and the mortality of our finite life span contribute to the sense of boundaries.

Using the poetry of Rilke, Whitman and others, Cheetham emphasizes the need to see through these artificial and conventional boundaries. When we do, the world’s aliveness opens up to us, as does our sense of identity.  A necessary, but false construct called “me” and “you” are seen through. Our sense of ourselves and others can then expand and extend beyond ordinary boundaries to where one can sense and feel that we are the cosmos; an expression of the totality of the universe and whatever lies beyond.

Moving Forward

The deep parts of my life pour onward,

as if the river shores were opening out.

It seems that things are more like me now,

that I can see farther into paintings.

I feel closer to what language can’t reach.

With my senses, as with birds,

I climb into the windy heaven, out of the oak,

and in the ponds broken off from the sky

my feeling sinks, as if standing on fishes.

From Rilke’s Book of Images, in Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Robert Bly (New York: Harper & Row, 1981)

Cheetham goes on to examine his own personal experience with the ideas of Corbin and Hillman, and how he discovers a symmetry between them. Their ideas, when juxtaposed, can give us a well-rounded view of ourselves, others and the world by giving imagination, myth, soul and spirituality a central place in our day-to-day lives. In summary he says:

“What they share however is profoundly important: a passionate belief in the utterly central place of imagination in the fabric of reality and a commitment to the importance of the freedom of the individual human soul.”

Cheetham, Tom (2015-03-24). Imaginal Love: The Meanings of Imagination in Henry Corbin and James Hillman. Spring Publications. Kindle Edition.

The Holy Birthing 2014

This post is an updated version of a post from Christmas 2013:

What is it that is born, again and again – on Christmas day and in each new life, and in each moment of everyday? Perhaps it is symbolic of another ongoing kind of birth – the birth that brings renewal throughout our lifetime as we spiral our way into the mystery that is life.

I ask myself, what is it that is trying to be born now, in me, in you and in the world?

“He not busy being born is busy dying.” Bob Dylan

“The decision of the future falls to the soul, depends upon how the soul understands itself, upon its refusal or acceptance of a new birth.” Henry Corbin

But not only a new birth, not one time, but repeatedly throughout a lifetime and many lifetimes.

 
File:Matthijs Maris The Bride, or Novice taking the Veil, c 1887.jpg“Insofar as anything is perceived as determinate and comprehensible, to that degree it is a Veil of the divinity. And yet in truth all things are masks of the infinite, and their being is the gift of God. All things are organs by which God contemplates Himself and are not other than He. To overcome the Test of the Veil requires that we not become trapped in the literal face of any being, that we not idolize it but rather see in it a Face of God.” Tom Cheetham

“Masks of the infinite” because who can look into the face of divinity and live? For instance, how difficult is it to look intently into another’s eyes before looking away, or to ponder the depths of either the beauty or horror of this world, or to receive a full presence of true awe? Have you ever experienced a feeling so intense that it literally took your breath away? How difficult it can be to openly and fully receive something not yet known, seen or wordless without turning away and reaching into the safety of the known to identify it and name it. Ah, we say, that’s just…, or that is…which immediately removes the danger and fear of the unknown. “I know, I know,” we say, but do we?

“For if God is known and witnessed by an other than Himself, it is because there is such an Other. However, for there to be an Other, there must be this opacity, this darkness of a being that stops at itself, at the non-being of its pretensions, its ignorance, or even its devotions. If he claims to be an Other, he cannot look at God, as God can only be looked at by Himself.
God can only look at a world which is his own gaze, that is his own eyes which look at him from this world. This is why a world which wishes itself other (either by agnosticism or by piety) is not a world that God looks at. Literally, it is a world that God does not look at.
… [And] there must be a world that God does not look at so that Nietzsche’s tragic exclamation of the last century: God is dead can resound and spread in it. Uttered from the West and since then echoed in all consciousnesses, this cry is precisely what, for a Sufi, is experienced as the Supreme Test, the Test of the Veil , and, facing up to this Test, Sufism opens the way precisely for one who wishes to pass through it.” Henry Corbin

Nietzsche’s freedom is everyone’s freedom, on the one hand to err, ignore and discount the mysterium tremendum and awe of being alive by always knowing, and on the other to bring into expression new possibilities of the numinous. But, in order to pass through the test of the veil, Corbin says we must find our angel, a divine being that is a face of God. Without the accompaniment of the Angel, we feel abandoned, because we are without a guiding presence which creates a vertical connection, curing us of the blindness of literalism, and giving us the second sight to see, at least imaginally, the Face of God in all of creation.

“The paradox of monotheism is equally the paradox of individualism, for the Angel as a Face of God is linked to the soul of whom it is the Twin in a bond of love that is essential for the being of each. Nietzsche’s cry requires a world that God does not look at, a world without His Face, a world that is, without Angels. But in such a world the reality of the person begins to fade. For if God is dead, then so are we.” Henry Corbin

Not so much through belief, but through the experience of seeking that twin, our guide and angel, do we begin to know ourselves and others as persons, as masks of God.

“On the one hand there is the doubt of the intellect, of the philosopher, who, as Corbin says, demands rational proof for realities to which such proof cannot apply. For rational doubt assumes that human reason can cast its net over everything and extend its reach to capture even God. It is this hubris that drives much of modern culture. We are liberated from it if we can take to heart the words attributed to the nineteenth-century British scientist Lord J. B. S. Haldane: “The universe is not only stranger than we suppose, but stranger than we can suppose.” “ Tom Cheetham
I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone,
Must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now – Amy Grant

Christmas MorningPeace on earth, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!

Cheetham, Tom (2012-07-03). All the World an Icon: Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings (p. 220). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.

Let There Be Dark

As more and more of us, in an increasingly sleep-deprived world lose touch with our dreams, I continue to wonder what it is we are losing. Dr. Rubin Naiman sees our difficulties with sleep and dreaming, driven by “unrelenting motion”:

“We live in a world of unrelenting motion, a world that discourages slowing and stopping, a world that has lost its sense of rhythm and regard for rest. All life is by nature animated or in motion. But in the natural world, all motion is rhythmic, that is, it is tempered by rest. Things come and they go, they expand and contract, they are active and then they rest.” Rubin Naiman, Huffington Post.

But what is it that is lost from a lack of sleep and attention to dreams? In Naiman’s book, Healing Night: The Science and Spirit of Sleeping, Dreaming, and Awakening, he reminds us:

“Night is the shadow of the Earth. It is as nature intended, dark. And unsettling. Since darkness deprives us of vision, our primary means of orienting to and managing the outer world, it dissolves essential aspects of our social, extraverted selves. Most of us are probably less afraid of the dark per se, but more frightened of what darkness might reveal.”

What might the darkness reveal, what do dark, empty spaces provide for us, why should we attend to them, let alone welcome them?

The endless drive towards daylight keeps us active long after the days’ work is over. Even if you do live in a very remote place, it’s no stretch to see that our drive toward activity has huge implications for all life forms, the physical states of our bodies, souls and the planet itself. Our red-hot activity is a global warming.

The dark might not only reveal to us the restlessness of our minds and pains of our bodies, it may also make room for that which we don’t know, but very much need to. Through a willingness to greet the dark though sleep and dreams, we may gain a new perspective from the encounter with images in dreamstates. The lack of our dayworld orientation and control in dream states is what may further our openness to all experiences of otherness. From Robert Bosnak’s book, Embodiment: Creative Imagination in Medicine, Art and Travel:

“What we perceive while dreaming is that we are in a place which is not of our making. We didn’t invent it. It is a spontaneous presentation, an independently alive manifestation. Apparently physical worlds come to life in a flash and disappear without a trace. We stand at the dawn of creation.”

In dreams there is a clear sense that those we meet are not us. It’s an odd circumstance of encountering an objective reflection of our subjective interior. But more than that, dream images, the specific ways in which they appear, engage us in a night world state much differently than our waking selves might.

To gain a better sense of embodied images, Robbie, along with some fellow soul spelunkers, spent time together on retreat in a primitive cave, where over the course of a week or so, they engage the images, their dreams and each other:

Cave of Altamira, near Santander, Spain.

“Along the wall I see, shimmying on his belly along the cave barely two feet high, our ancestor on his way to be initiated into the world of the great spirits, the massive mammoth. He crawls on to the great hall, half a meter high, where, lying on his back, he draws the great spirits among whom he lives, the alien beings, greater, swifter and stronger than he on the ceiling in order to capture and venerate their spirit and become initiate to their powers. Unable to take distance he draws the ceiling animals life size, in perfect proportion, as if by entering their body he can feel along their contours as he draws. Lit by a tiny grease lamp, spooking the cave around him, I see him in a face-off with dark fears, and his awe of the Great Ones. Encounter, meeting, face-off, opposing directions, the Great Ones show the way.”

Can we imagine seeking out such places for their darkness, in which we open ourselves to the power and wisdom from creatures who, although we must fear, must also cooperate with for survival? Does not our technology, with its ability to destroy the night, insulate us from feeling, instinct, intuition and what Robbie calls, embodiment?

Without advocating an impossible return to the past, there is yet something the darkness offers us, especially the more insulated and artificial our environments have become.

In embodied dreamwork, Robbie uses waking imaginative states to move the dreamer’s subjective identity into the figures of the dream. By embodying the images, they come to life, moving in a way that embodies us in their felt experience. Perhaps it is the movement itself that we fear. If so, how can we hope to move that which needs moving in us?

“It is as though through a medium of Paleolithic wall painters the animals have charged into the wall, waiting in static polychrome for a next observer to embody, who again will feel their energetic charge, and change them back from stasis to ec-stasis (out-of-stasis).”

1024px-GuaTewet_tree_of_life-LHFageAlthough Westerners, and perhaps others, are not accustomed to giving weight to images, Robbie, in the tradition of Henry Corbin and others, sees images as having their own substance. Substantive images weigh on us and live through us, even when we ignore their reality.

“This book is a passionate attempt to contribute to the restoration of an awareness of alien intelligences perceived by creative imagination—embodied images with a mind of their own—while comparing it to our current, what I consider to be impoverished, perspective which views intelligence as singular. If I succeed in sensitizing you to the existence of an inbetween reality—neither physical body nor mental allegory—of alien embodied intelligences, without expecting you to believe in flying saucers, you will catch a glimpse, as did I in my conversations with Corbin, of a place outside the body-mind conundrum.”

He has succeeded in sensitizing me, especially towards seeing embodied imagination as one more way to practice living the unity that exists between body, mind, soul, spirit – angels and ancestors, and to recognize the unity between all living beings, especially those encountered in non-ordinary states.

All quotes as noted from, Bosnak, Robert (2007-09-12). Embodiment: Creative Imagination in Medicine, Art and Travel (p. 11). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

All quotes as noted from, Rubin R. Naiman. Healing Night: The Science and Spirit of Sleeping, Dreaming, and Awakening (p. 21). Kindle Edition.

 

 

The Names of God

In reading Henry Corbin’s book, Alone with the Alone, I am being introduced to Sufism in the writings of Ibn Arabi. I can feel its influence seeping into the layers of my being, radiating with joy for yet one more way to understand the nature of myself and the Cosmos. Tom Cheetham says in a lecture on Corbin, that his work is dense (and it is), but to just keep reading because even bit by bit an understanding of the work will appear. The book is probably too dense for me to write about, for the time being anyway, but…

I found a fairly brief, yet very concise article on Ibn Arabi and wanted to share a few quotes with you:

“What we experience of the One Being, which is Absolutely Real in Itself, are the various modalities of It’s expression. In other words, there is only One Presence throughout the Cosmos and that is God, The Absolute, but this Presence makes Itself known to us in different ways, which are called the Names of God.”

Can you see the world as God’s mirror and that God’s pathos (here meaning a sadness, or burning desire to be known) necessitates a creation into an infinite array of parts, the Names of God, whose purpose is for God to know God through the repetition of physical manifestation? I think I can.

File:Night Sky Stars Trees 03.jpg
Courtesy WikiCommons

Years ago, I experienced one of those magical moments that comes while staring out into the starry night. I wondered if it might be that God had created us to know Himself. Heresy to some, I suppose.

Ibn Arabi saw the cosmos as emanating from and filtering down from God through very distinct modes of being. From the indivisible Whole that God is, through intermediaries; the angelic beings can be experienced by us here in the physical manifestation through visionary states experienced through the practice of prayer.

It would take some time to delve deeper here, but this is not as some suggest, a simple pantheism, but is a way to understand, or perhaps as Sufis do, experience the modes of being emanating down from the Undivided Wholeness of God into the physical manifestation that we inhabit. The cosmos is expressed at four levels or modes of being, the highest level being God who is all levels at once; an undivided whole that we can never completely reach from the level of physical manifestation that we experience. Leveling up from the physical manifestation are angelic beings which are both our guides and a truer more purer form of ourselves whom we meet through the imagination and the heart. Our relationship to these angelic beings reveals to us deeper and deeper meanings of what we experience in the physical world always pointing us to modes of being beyond themselves, and ultimately to the ever mysterious beauty and love of the undivided wholeness of God.

For me, the different ways we humans have found to understand the world, speak to an intuition of mine that ultimately there is a unified whole that each of us not only participates in, but can directly experience for ourselves. The more directly we can experience this wholeness, for ourselves, in spite of seemingly irreconcilably conflicted religious and spiritual practices, or cultural differences, the more likely we are to move away from literalizing these differences into claims of unquestionable dogmas and truths, choosing instead to participate more fully in the embodied life we all share.

The article is really good and will do a much better job than I at presenting an amazing vision of the nature of the cosmos.

File:Ibn Arabi with students.jpg“For Ibn al-`Arabi, this fana and baqa, this death and resurrection, is endless. It never ends, because the Sufi must give himself up every single moment, which is the true meaning of Islam, surrender to God. It is state of perpetual bewilderment or perplexity, because the Sufi surrenders everything known about himself and the world, so to awaken to the reality as it reveals itself in this unique moment. It is a continual loss and re-discovery of identity. This parallels Ibn al-`Arabi’s view that the universe is annihilated and re-created every moment in time. Man does not become God, nor does God come into man, but man realizes God immanent, or God reveals His Immanence through man. There is no coming or going to, because there has never been a separation. This is why Ibn al-`Arabi speaks of the unveiling of God and the awakening of man.”

And he also wrote wonderful poems:

A garden among the flames

O Marvel,
a garden among the flames!

My heart can take on
any form:
a meadow for gazelles,
a cloister for monks,

For the idols, sacred ground,
Ka’ba for the circling pilgrim,
the tables of the Torah,
the scrolls of the Qur’án.

I profess the religion of love;
wherever its caravan turns along the way,
that is the belief,
the faith I keep.

The Holy Birthing

If Christmas is about a birthday, and the Holy birthday of the Christ child, what is it that is trying to be born in the repeating of this holiday each year? Why do we celebrate birthdays or Christmas? What does the ritual want with us? What is it that is born, again and again – on Christmas and in each new life, or even in each moment of everyday? Perhaps it is symbolic of another ongoing kind of birth – the birth that brings renewal throughout our lifetime as we spiral our way through to another new year.

I ask myself, what is it that is trying to be born now, in me, in you and in the world?

And isn’t is so fitting that Christmas is celebrated between the Solstice, the longest night when the darkness nearly overcomes the light, and the birth of the New Year? Is Christmas then a twilight moment?

“He not busy being born is busy dying.” Bob Dylan

“The decision of the future falls to the soul, depends upon how the soul understands itself, upon its refusal or acceptance of a new birth.” Henry Corbin

I was so struck by Tom Cheetham’s remarks on what is called The Test of the Veil in Sufism and also the coincidence of being at this point in the book on Christmas Eve, that I wanted to share some of his words and quotes by Henry Corbin here with you.

 
File:Matthijs Maris The Bride, or Novice taking the Veil, c 1887.jpg“Insofar as anything is perceived as determinate and comprehensible, to that degree it is a Veil of the divinity. And yet in truth all things are masks of the infinite, and their being is the gift of God. All things are organs by which God contemplates Himself and are not other than He. To overcome the Test of the Veil requires that we not become trapped in the literal face of any being, that we not idolize it but rather see in it a Face of God.” Tom Cheetham

He is discussing nihilism and confronting it head on. This speaks to a nagging sense that I have had since childhood which perhaps many of us experience. Why be there anything? Have you ever stared out at the vastness of the night sky, or looked at child’s face, struck by awe for what can’t be known or understood and thought to yourself, where and who are we? Why is there anything at all? And more amazing than the fact of our existence, we know we’re here, or somewhere anyway.

“For if God is known and witnessed by an other than Himself, it is because there is such an Other. However, for there to be an Other, there must be this opacity, this darkness of a being that stops at itself, at the non-being of its pretensions, its ignorance, or even its devotions. If he claims to be an Other, he cannot look at God, as God can only be looked at by Himself.
God can only look at a world which is his own gaze, that is his own eyes which look at him from this world. This is why a world which wishes itself other (either by agnosticism or by piety) is not a world that God looks at. Literally, it is a world that God does not look at.
… [And] there must be a world that God does not look at so that Nietzsche’s tragic exclamation of the last century: God is dead can resound and spread in it. Uttered from the West and since then echoed in all consciousnesses, this cry is precisely what, for a Sufi, is experienced as the Supreme Test, the Test of the Veil , and, facing up to this Test, Sufism opens the way precisely for one who wishes to pass through it.” Henry Corbin

In order to pass through the test of the veil, Corbin says we must look to our angel, a divine being that is a face of God. Without the accompaniment of the Angel, we feel abandoned, because we are without a guiding presence which creates a vertical connection curing us of the blindness of literalism, giving us the second sight to see the Face of God in all of creation.

“The paradox of monotheism is equally the paradox of individualism, for the Angel as a Face of God is linked to the soul of whom it is the Twin in a bond of love that is essential for the being of each. Nietzsche’s cry requires a world that God does not look at, a world without His Face, a world that is, without Angels. But in such a world the reality of the person begins to fade. For if God is dead, then so are we.” Henry Corbin

“On the one hand there is the doubt of the intellect, of the philosopher, who, as Corbin says, demands rational proof for realities to which such proof cannot apply. For rational doubt assumes that human reason can cast its net over everything and extend its reach to capture even God. It is this hubris that drives much of modern culture. We are liberated from it if we can take to heart the words attributed to the nineteenth-century British scientist Lord J. B. S. Haldane: “The universe is not only stranger than we suppose , but stranger than we can suppose.” “ Tom Cheetham

Peace on earth, Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday everyone!

Cheetham, Tom (2012-07-03). All the World an Icon: Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings (p. 220). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.

Ta’wil and the Ideas of Henry Corbin

“Ta’wil, the archetypal act of hermeneutics, that primary human activity overseen by Hermes who carries messages between the gods and mortals, is life lived at its highest pitch of intensity. It is the archaic and primordial experience of enacting meaning in the world. It is life lived in the full blaze of reality.” Tom Cheetham

Philosopher, theologian and professor of Islamic studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, Henry Corbin was also an acquaintance of James Hillman and C.G. Jung. All three had lectured at the Eranos Foundation Conferences during the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s and were familiar with each other’s works. Their influence on each other can be seen particularly in their writings on myth, symbol and archetypes, and although I am familiar with Jung and Hillman, it has been more of a challenge to find Corbin’s works.

I did however, recently discover a book devoted to Corbin’s ideas written by Tom Cheetham titled, All the World an Icon, Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings. This book is perhaps the best book I have read this year, and will forever remain near and dear to my heart. I would still love to read Corbin’s works, but Cheetham nicely condenses his ideas, adding his own insights that in no way detract or interfere with the complexity and beauty of the ideas presented.

Corbin was a Parisian, fascinated by what he saw as an underlying ecumenical thread between the religions of the Book; Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He was particularly interested in the similarity of the direct experience of the divine found in the mystical and contemplative traditions of all of these religions but particularly within the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi, Rumi and Avicenna.

Underlying the religions of the west and perhaps in human nature itself, is a move toward finding or creating a bridge from the individual to the divine and back again. It is through our work and our devotion that we experience glimpses of the divine and move toward becoming our true nature. Corbin says that whether we are aware and attentive or not to the presence of the Divine, there’s an angelic function that connects us to a divine image of ourselves as a whole and true but individual being. Through the repeating themes and desires within our hearts we can sense this image, but it is always remembered and kept by our angel. Reading about this idea reminded me of Hillman’s Acorn Theory described in his book The Soul’s Code and spoken of here:

“It is a worldwide myth in which each person comes into the world with something to do and to be. The myth says we enter the world with a calling. Plato, in his Myth of Er, called this our paradeigma, meaning a basic form that encompasses our entire destinies. This accompanying image shadowing our lives is our bearer of fate and fortune.” James Hillman

We are then, as the title of Cheetham’s fourth chapter of his book says, “in search of the lost speech”, and the Ta’wil, as Corbin says, involves an ability to hear language as one hears music:

“The ta’wil, without question, is a matter of harmonic perception, of hearing an identical sound (the same verse, the same hadith, even an entire text) on several levels simultaneously.”

File:A Sufi in Ecstasy in a Landscape LACMA M.73.5.582.jpgThe prophet, Cheetham reminds us, is not one who foretells the future but a messenger just as angels are understood to be. So perhaps a prophet is one who hears their angel, and in the religions of the book, the Word is then the voice of the Divine which comes to us and speaks through us when we are able to perceive and understand this mode of language. Fragmentation, literalism and Fundamentalism hinder our ability to open up to receive the messages of the divine without which our experience suffers from the “lost speech” where hearing becomes reduced to that of one voice, one truth. In the drama of lost speech an ear for harmony, metaphor, symbolism and poetics is devalued, ignored, forbidden or forgotten. Says Corbin:

“from the instant that men fail to recognize or refuse this interior meaning, from that instant they mutilate the unity of the Word … and begin the drama of the ‘Lost Speech .’”

The symbol in particular carries a message for each of us as we privately experience the power that comes from its numinous quality. We know it’s important even before we can say anything about it as we sense interiority and depth from the way in which we are touched by it. Cheetham writes:

“The encounter with a symbol is essentially an individual experience. This is the kind of meaning that Corbin calls “interior.” It cannot be made public. You can describe it, but only someone who has had a similar experience will know what kind of event you are talking about.”

Inner meaning is perhaps fragile, elusive and susceptible to our doubt or inclination to ignore it because of the fact that it is unverifiably your experience alone. Cheetham, in the quote below, nicely states our apprehension and our struggles with these events, but also pleads for the importance of the understanding of a speech as containing the depth and richness that is transformative when we can hear it.

As this post is getting long and there is much more to the Ta ‘wil to ponder, I’ll end here with this wonderful quote:

“The interior meanings are necessarily plural and in perennial conflict with every social and political will to power and domination. But whether we refuse it out of fear or ignore it out of inattention, willfully suppress it in the interests of political power, or miss it for some other reason, the interior meaning is hidden under the public meaning, and it is easier to leave it there. And yet the literal meaning is only the shell of reality, and in the long run it is not enough. For with only that public meaning available, the world loses its depth and mystery.

We lose contact with our individuality and are prey to totalitarianisms and fundamentalisms of all kinds—intellectual, spiritual, and political. And once totalitarian domination— the reign of Terror, and the dominion of Death— has obliterated the inner meaning of the word , once access to the heart of language is well and truly lost, its recovery, its re-creation, lies at the very limits of human capacity. We are fated to be actors in the grand drama of the Lost Word, the lost speech.”

Except otherwise noted, all quotes from Cheetham, Tom (2012-07-03). All the World an Icon: Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings . North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.

A link to Cheetham’s website dedicated to the works on Corbin:

http://henrycorbinproject.blogspot.com/

And an interview here:

http://www.commonweal.org/new-school/audiofiles/podcast/150_t_cheetham_ssu_longcut.mp3