On the Dilemma of Separation
Philosophical Reflections
March 2024

Kam Zarrabi

Listen to the reed flute as it laments;
Lamenting of the agony of separation:
"Ever since I was cut off from the reed bed,
Man, woman, young and old
Have shed tears of sorrow,
Hearing my cries of desperation.
Oh, where is a heart pained in abandonment,
To comprehend my tormenting nostalgia?
Ah, the agony of separation from one's essence;
And the eternal search for repatriation."

The Persian mystic poet Rumi, 1207-1273, begins his epic masterpiece, Masnavi, with these haunting lines – my translation. He was certainly not the first, nor was he the last, to rebel against the established orthodoxies that were forcefully denying the free-spirited believers the right to practice their faith and seek connection with their Divine privately and independently of the prescribed channels. The Gnostics, Sufis and other "seekers after the Truth" considered themselves as the true and honest faithful, unlike the popes, sultans and imams, whom they regarded as the self-serving pretenders to the faith.

Human instinct to gravitate toward the metaphysical or the spiritual is so powerful and all pervasive in our psyche that its abandonment might create a vacuum so dark as to render the mind hopelessly empty of life's meaning and purpose. The instinct that opened the mind's eyes to the light of an eternal, divine prominence, illuminating the path of human purpose and direction toward ultimate salvation, was as important for the survival of the thinking species as his tool making and language abilities.

In the realm of the spirit mankind found a caring, protecting father where none existed for him on earth; a loving, nurturing, mother where his own was no longer around. He found hope in overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. Even though, unlike other competing species of predator and prey around him, he knew about death and dying, he found comfort in the thought that, when his time came, he would travel to another realm where his ancestors before him resided, and where his descendants after him would follow; he was not going to be abandoned, forgotten and alone.

This inner light, this innate knowledge, told him that there were rights and wrongs that he could somehow identify. He had discovered that if he and those around him did right and avoided wrong, their kind would prosper and their numbers would increase. But, most of all, he knew that he was personally and independently connected to his guiding light, the source of his knowledge and wisdom that showed him how to distinguish right from wrong, the ever-present one to whom he could pray for favors, reach for answers to troubling questions, and in whom he could find the ultimate companion in his solitude. This gift that his unique human consciousness had given him had such a profound effect on his life, and indeed on the course of human civilization, that its position and authority had to be elevated and sanctified heaven high, never to be challenged or even questioned: Necessary Illusions?! Illusions – of course; necessary - absolutely.

But man was already losing his individual connection to his spiritual essence long before Christianity and Islam began to dominate the civilizations of Europe, Middle East, and North Africa.

Even in the ages past, there were shamans, medicine men and the magi, who were trying to convince him that without their intervention he could not access his own spiritual roots or achieve salvation.

For any clan or tribe to survive and prosper, relinquishing some rights and individual privileges in exchange for communal solidarity was indeed unavoidable. And, deviation from the prescribed methods of worship and paths to salvation constituted countercultural behavior. Although individuals could, and often did, and still do to this day, instinctively follow their private esoteric channels to their sources of higher inspiration, social pressures continue to drive them toward participating in communal prayers or worship within the grandeur of a temple, church or mosque.

The interest in Eastern traditions, first in Europe and later in America, was symptomatic of a great vacuum that was thus created in man's heart and mind, while expanding technology and industrial progress gradually narrowed the perspective of life into a more focused and one-dimensional direction - productivity.
Modern man thus entered through this narrow gate and found a vast world of seemingly limitless possibilities; limitless, at the expense of what had to be abandoned and forgotten outside before entering that narrow gateway. Entering into the electronic games world of virtual reality, the virtual soon become indistinguishable from the real, and the player and the game blended interactively and became interchangeable. But there was a real world outside, and there was even a larger world long before we were herded through narrower and narrower gates into an enchanting technological realm of smoke and mirrors, where the commercially fabricated versions of success, happiness, and a meaningful life prevailed.

For those, however, who wanted to regain access to the abandoned treasuries of the past, much had to be given up or sacrificed now. The instinctive craving is there in all of us. For most, however, modern life leaves indeed little time or opportunity to worry and wonder about such aesthetics or intangible values; they die never having consciously missed anything.

We see these days an increasing number of better educated adults, particularly among the more affluent middle-class in Western societies, who do find leisure time and have the intellectual inquisitiveness and the disposition to care about their diet and exercise, as well as their philosophical or spiritual nourishment. Far too many, perhaps the majority, simply follow the relatively recent alternative trends in spirituality to broaden their intellectual vistas, a highly fashionable addition to the treasury of one's intellectual possessions, it seems.

For the few who are more serious in their pursuit of meaning and purpose in life, and are not satisfied with the pablum of sermons at the pulpit or the profound-sounding yet hollow teachings of the carpetbaggers of soul, the search is arduous and often disappointing. The dedicated, serious seeker starts out with the presupposition that there's got to be some true meaning and purpose in life, and the effort is aimed at finding this meaning and purpose. Neither the supposed revealed words of gods of various religions, nor the teachings of the scientists, sages or the mystics, are convincing enough for the honest seekers to satisfy their inner quest in search of answers to life's greatest puzzles: Where did I come from, where am I going, why do we die, and what is the meaning of this existence?

They are looking for the headwaters of wisdom where they believe the answers to their questions could be found. Many travelers along this path succumb to fatigue and reach the end of their patience and endurance. Not able to struggle on to reach the fountainhead, they satisfy their thirst by drinking from the muddy stream on the roadside and return.

The few who are persistent enough to reach their destination bend over to quench their burning thirst from that cool, glistening spring, where they see their own reflection looking back at them. They then might hear their own voice, as though coming from above, asking them: "Now what?!"

They might then look around and see the deer, the ant and the eagle carrying on as they have for millions of years with no concern about any meaning or pre-drafted purpose in their lives. These creatures are indeed fortunate that they have not been afflicted with the sapient species' kind of self-awareness and overindulgent inquisitiveness that make illusions of specialness a necessary supplement to their runaway intellect.

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