You can drive a car while listening to a song, but when you want to see better, you instinctively lower the radio volume in the car. You can listen to a melody while doing chores, but when you want to hear better, you inevitably stop and squint your eyes. The American President Lyndon Johnson once claimed that his political opponent Gerald Ford could not pass wind and chew gum at the same time. Such quotidian observations seem to suggest that there may be some natural constraints in our ability to do multiple tasks simultaneously.
In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates speaks of the four types of Divine madness(ecstasy) – prophetic, initiatory, poetic and erotic – which humans can obtain as gifts from the Gods. The gift of prophecy exemplified by the oracle at Delphi comes from Apollo, the mystic rites which bring relief from hardship are a gift from Dionysus, the gift of poetry is seen in those artists who are possessed by the Muses and lastly, the gift of love, which Socrates calls the best of the four, is derived from Eros. This fourth madness is the universal love manifested by the mystic; it is, according to Socrates, “imputed to him who, when he sees the beauty of earth, is transported with the recollection of the true beauty; he would like to fly away, but he cannot; he is like a bird fluttering and looking upward and careless of the world below; and he is therefore thought to be mad”.
The sudden inflow of energy, the rapture and the sense of release that one feels after a favourable period of meditation is not easy to sustain. The mind mostly misinterprets the experience, the heart seizes and appropriates it, while the physical body feels relieved and exhausted that it has ended. We tend to yawn and eat junk food after a period of meditation because the physical body is tamasic(dull) by nature and not accustomed to the newly attained tranquility. Instead of yawning and dissipating the energy gained during the meditation, the body needs to be molded to become more supple and receptive; the cells of the body have to be made more and more conscious through regular exercise and refined eating habits so that it can sustain longer and greater spiritual experiences. Sri Aurobindo denoted this power of the body as Dharana Shakti or Dharana Samarthya (retention capacity; Samarthya or Shakti = capacity, Dharana = retention).
Shaikh Fariduddin Attar (1145-1221 C.E.) was a mystic Sufi poet of Iran. Born in Nishapur, he was initiated into the Sufi lore by Sheikh Mujd-ud-din of Baghdad. When he was about forty-five years old, he “saw” the future greatness of a teenage boy Jalaluddin Rumi who had come to meet him. He blessed Rumi and presented him with a copy of his work, the Pandnama. Attar was executed by a soldier after Genghis Khan invaded Persia. During his lifetime, he wrote over 114 books on Sufism, the most reputed of which is the Tajkerat al-Awliya (Memoirs of the Saints of Iran, Egypt and Arabia) which documents the lives of about one hundred and forty-two Sufi saints of his era. Selections from this book were translated by Bankey Behari into English. These are a few noteworthy excerpts from Behari’s book (page numbers follow in parentheses)
Napoleon once remarked that a great general must have equilibrium: “The object most desirable is that a man’s judgment should be in equilibrium with his physical character or courage. This is what we may call being well squared both by base and perpendicular. If courage be in the ascendency, a general will rashly undertake that which he can not execute; on the contrary, if his character or courage be inferior to his judgment, he will not venture to carry any measure into effect”.
Children have the preternatural ability to discern elementary puzzles that adults, burdened by their self-importance, are no longer able to unravel. A child once asked the Mother why depression seemed to last longer than pleasure. Before you read her answer, I would urge you to step back and reflect on the possible rationale on your own.