The Separate Togetherness

"Hip Hip Hurrah", Peder Severin Kroyer (1851 - 1909), Danish

"You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.

You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.

Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.

But let there be spaces in your togetherness,

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:

Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.

Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,

Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.

For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.

And stand together yet not too near together:

For the pillars of the temple stand apart,

And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow." - "The Prophet", Kahlil Gibran

Many of us have come across the story, coming from Plato's "Sympoisum", about how humans were made of two, male and female, and that in this form they were more powerful than gods. Fearing their power, Zeus split them in two, and so they go on, walking on the earth, seeking each other. This story has entered the mainstream and it has often been interpreted with the idea of soulmates in consideration. While it can be understood in that way, it is important to remember that Plato's writings, usually have their metaphysical and estoric meanings too. In that sense, the split in two, can be understood as the split within the human, within the human's own existence, the eternal conflicts between mind and heart, empiricism and intuition, between life of impulses and life of reason. Yet, despite the confusion or the struggle, humans do not want one to win over the another, rather what most humans seek is the reconciliation between the dualisms within them. There is however, yet another important feeling that appears as a result of separation and that is the feeling of lack, of incompleteness, of alienation. Yet, complete, uinterrupted oneness with everything and everyone is impossible in a life in which we, as individual experiences, must experience this world through nothing else but the "I". This "I", which is always a subject and never an object is crucial for human experience, and yet, so often it is the reason behind existential dread, fear and the already mentioned feeling of being incomplete. What can a human being do, trapped between sense of alienation, his need to connect yet also a deep need to preserve his own spot in the world and take care of the microcosm? The human being can be aware of the both inclinations and find a way to reconcile them.

The Yearning Soul

"The Legend of Willis", Hugues Merle (1822 - 1881), French

As mentioned above, the feeling of incompleteness is a natural condition of human "I" existence. Many fables, many stories, many sages, philosophers spoke of it in many different ways. Very often, ego is unjustly vilified, to the point that many recommend that it should completely die - and yet it cannot die, as this "I", this, not simply consciousness, but self-consciousness, is part of being human. In Muslim Sufi ontology and cosmology, especially the one created by Ibn Arabi the ego is called "nafs", which simply means "soul". The soul in this ontological system is of feminine principle, which means its essential characteristic is that of receptivity. Professor Sachiko Murata, compared principles of activity and receptivity in Sufi Islam and Taoism, and in her book, "Tao of Islam", she points a similarity between Rumi's cosmology and that of Confucius. Rumi says: "In the view of the Intellect, heaven is the man, and earth is the woman. Whatever the one throws down, the other nurtures", and Confucius says: "Heaven is lofty and earth is low... The creative directs the great beginning, and the receptive completes all things." It is important to remember that in cosmological systems, "high and low" are not value judgments but merely ontological principles which exist in everything. In that sense, ego or soul is neither good or bad, soul will nourish whatever is given to her, she will accept any law or rule given to her. Ibn Arabi, in a manner similar to Plato describes this time, the yearning of Adam and Eve for each other. Both on their own are incomplete: "(...) and God filled the place from which Eve was created with a hunger for her, since existence does not allow a vacuum to remain. When He filled the vacuum with air (hawâ), he felt towards her a yearning as towards himself. Because she is a part of him, and she felt a yearning towards him because he is her homeland, from which she originated. So Eve's love is love of homeland, and Adam's love is love of himself." Just like Adam and Eve, just like Plato's god humans, when separated they yearn for either a mirror or home. And this feeling of yearning, of being incomplete itself carries no ugliness. The love encounter first has to happen within us, Adam and Eve, Zeus and Hera, Jupiter and Juno have to make love within us, before we seek an external Jupiter or Juno. If they do not make love within us, and we carry this yearning into the external world, we shall expect, of other human beings to provide us with meaning, with a mirror, with home, with a reason to live and it is a heavy burden to bear. What is thought to be love, under such manic impulses, easily becomes resentment and even hate. Love that turns into resentment and hatred could hardly be characterised as love, it is more likely a mania.

"Let There Be Spaces in Your Togetherness"

"Tannhauser", Fresco inside Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany

I have opened this essay with a narrative poem by a Lebanese author Kahlil Gibran. His book "The Prophet" is well-known, as he provides in this book simple, yet easily understood wisdom. The excerpt which I chose is from the chapter called "The Marriage", in which he, without any harsh criticism, points a finger at what togetherness truly is, and it seems to be very different from what people usually imagine it to be. When he says, that there "be spaces in your togetherness", he does not mean that there should be secrets or alienation, but that simply each is still allowed his or her own personhood, that they are allowed contemplation, reflections and emotions that have nothing to do with our own selves. "Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart," - says Gibran, accentuating what I mentioned above - that the other person should not bear burdens of being the sole provider of meaning in our lives, that they cannot be the reason to wake up in the morning - Life itself should be that. This which Gibran describes, is what I mentioned in the very beginning - the reconciliation between the principles, not one disappearing in the existence of the other. Both the desire for togetherness and desire for maintaining one's own individual sense of "I" have been met. Does that mean that we shall only love the perfection? No, because in humans perfection does not exist, and even in the person in who Adam and Eve have made love, they may quarel from time to time or forget each other for a moment, but in such person they will eventually return to each other, and they will be aware of both the separation and renewed union. However, an individual who has never had them meet will always look for home, meaning, reason outside and will always burden the other with a cross too heavy to carry for any human being. Does that mean, that there is never even a momentum of complete self-amnesia with the lover? There is a momentum, Ibn Arabi speaks that erotic union opens that door and that particulary a man can experience the self-annihilation or "God witnessing" in a woman. But that is a topic for another essay. "When the man witnesses the Real in the woman, this is a witnessing within a locus that receives activity. When he witnesses Him in himself in respect to the fact that the woman becomes manifest from himself, then he has witnessed Him in an agent. When he witnesses Him in himself without calling to mind the form of that which was engendered from himself, then this witnessing takes place in a locus that receives the Real's activity without intermediary. Hence this witnessing of the Real in the woman is the most complete and the most perfect, since he witnesses the Real in respect to the fact that He is both agent and locus of receiving activity "

Links "The Prophet", Kahlil Gibran "Tao of Islam", Sachiko Murata "Fusus Al Hikem", Ibn Arabi