Sailing Away

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

The universe has puzzled explorers, astronauts, scientists, poets, artists, philosophers, and many others for centuries. What we know about the universe and its known laws are nothing but a grain of sand in an infinitely vast desert of knowledge and imagination, yet to be revealed. It contains billions of galaxies, each of which includes billions of stars and planets. But there is something very unusual at the center of every galaxy: a dark black hole. Now if we look at our own galaxy, the milky way, its 400 billion stars are all orbiting around this very dark and dense phenomenon. A black hole is so dense in gravity it pushes down the fabric of space to the point of singularity. It is a single point of infinite mass and zero volume. It's like a big bang in reverse. The gravitational pull is so strong that even light cannot escape it. Anything that comes close to the event horizon (known as the 'the point of no return') will get sucked in with no way back.

Nevertheless, stars orbit black holes in complete surrender to the laws of physics. And they orbit the same way that electrons orbit their respective atomic nuclei. It is not uncommon to have been presented with this image way before we could look out into the heavens through remarkably powerful telescopes and discern the impacts of black holes.

Have you ever wondered what Mecca's pilgrimage signifies? The theory goes back to Prophet Muhammed's visions during his sleep on a day we now call 'Esraa & Miraj.' He used to meditate on the Mountain of Light (Enlightenment) - Where he received his transcendental revelations that dictated the Quran over 23 years. After all those years of spiritual growth, on Esraa & Miraj, his visions included an ascension to the skies on his horse Buraq, where he met other prophets. He then eventually took on a journey witnessing the creation of the heavens (universe) and observed a black hole phenomenon that he later described thoroughly as the end of time.

At his time, it was almost impossible to make sense of what's beyond the observable sky, but he wasn't the first (or last) to experience visions of space. Many spiritual practices and rituals came about from such insights to relay the analogy of these profound visionary states. Notice the similarity as thousands of pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba during a pilgrimage, the same way billions of stars orbit around a black hole. Tens of thousands of pilgrims all in their perfectly clean and pure white clothes are circumambulating around a stone wrapped in a black cloth. There's an interesting resemblance here, just as a black hole is the center of every galaxy, the Kaaba is the center of life for its believer. This begs the question: what is the connection between a black hole and spirituality?

Stars are the only bright objects in the night sky that we can see with the naked eye. Pilgrims symbolize the bright white stars in the night sky, with the potential to reach their divine presence. The prophet said, "My companions are like the stars in the night sky, follow anyone of them, and you will be guided." In this quote, the prophet compares the seeker of truth, his companions, as stars. Stars are physical objects that emit light in the same way the companions are described, as stars guiding our journey in the night sky, as a source of light, as a source of guidance.

Black symbolizes emptiness, void, and darkness. Darkness is usually something we are all afraid of. We can find a connection between a black hole and the voids inside of ourselves. There's something that we are all scared to face and confront. There is a void within each of us that we are continually trying to fill or run away from. We try to fill that void with materialism and attachments yet still struggle to avoid the emptiness within. We saturate our time with entertainment and distractions, but it's never fulfilling. The spiritual approach across many traditions and the way of the prophet Muhammed to spiritually develop is to face that emptiness within. He always suggested to sit and be still, to reflect on darkness, death, mortality, the annihilation of our temporal being. He denoted this as a point to spiritual awakening and enlightenment.

If we are always aware of death minute by minute, our entire way of life will change because we are always mindful of the inevitable. We will be less focused on chasing earthly distractions, and more focused on developing awareness, consciousness, and awakening to what is eternal. We will be less concerned about the day-to-day drama, and much more concerned with what actually matters.

The remembrance of death is pivotal in the teachings of spirituality. Bear in mind this is not a troubling approach to life, but the contrary, by coming to terms of accepting and embracing our vulnerability, and the certainty that we will die. We are only visitors to this planet. Being conscious of this fact frees us to live. All the meaningless thoughts fade away, and things we fear become insignificant. There's an old proverb that says, "Everybody dies, but not everybody lives." The real test, the real challenge is to live. And to live, we have to conquer fear. To overcome fear, we have to confront the emptiness within ourselves, that void deep inside.

Everyone will ultimately face death, so when we reflect on black holes and compare them to the voids within us, it's noteworthy looking at how black holes are formed. There are many stars in the universe, and none of them are identical in mass. When a star uses all of its fuel, it explodes, not outwards, but inwards. It cannot keep its intensifying gravity intact, so it implodes. The result is a black hole. Death is an inevitable event that everything in existence meets; it is the one thing we all fear.

And just like the stars implode onto themselves, we have to look inwards to reach that divine truth before meeting physical death. "All things come from one source, and to that source is their return," this is usually said when someone dies; death is the doorway to the divine origin. Ultimately we will depart from this world and return to the divine source, but spirituality is all about awakening before death. "Life is like a dream, and you awaken when you die"- Imam Ali.

Prophet Muhammed explained that it is feasible to awaken in your lifetime, and hence he claimed that you could "Die before you die." Death is annihilation; it's the annihilation of the false self; all that is false. The same way a black hole is the annihilation of everything other than reality. All that we know as reality is absorbed into a singularity. The singularity in itself echoes oneness. It is the point that merges everything back to what caused the big bang in the first place. Through death, the death of the self, the ego, the lower self, it is plausible to return to a state of oneness—a consciousness based on harmony and unity, a transcendent consciousness. Die before you die - such a powerful message.

We get bewildered by the spirit in us. Ultimately everything is nothing: the stars, the milky way, planet earth, all sentient beings you know. The only reality is veiled behind our source, that point of singularity which everything blasted out of. If we can wrap our heads around this, believe in it, and then surrender to this very idea, as everything does around a black hole, that will be our fast track back home. All of life is pushing us towards this. At first gently and later, less subtly.

Suffering is a result of attachment. Not willing to let go of things that we are attached to, physically and psychologically. We can't change reality once it manifests. However, we can either resist what is or surrender to what is. Life is always taking things and people away from us, pulling at us. When we resist, we suffer, we feel pain. On the other hand, if we learn to let go, surrender our attachments, and sequentially of ourselves, we will find peace.

We can awaken to a higher state of consciousness, a peaceful, content, and tranquil self. We spend so much energy defending ourselves, trying to prove that we are right and others wrong. We are trapped in a delusional loop of blame, shame, guilt, and miss the beauty of life; we miss living; we miss loving. We are confined in these dogmatic prisons of our perception and passed on beliefs—the ego-mind, through which everything is labeled good or bad. If we can learn to let go of all these false interpretations that cause division, hatred, and disrespect, we break the loop that causes us pain. We can find comfort here and now, which is a sort of death, the death of that false judgemental ego. It's the awakening of the soul. And it is the awakening to living.

Artwork: 'Burning Bush' by Ahmed A.Lotfy

As Moses was approaching the fire of the burning bush, he started communicating with his source, and he heard his inner voice telling him, 'Remove your shoes' meaning (abandon your ego). You can't take your ego with you if you want to connect to pure divine energy. There's a deeper meaning hidden there. It signifies to leave behind his attachment even to the path that he's walking- this becomes a trap to many people, especially in religion, where people become attached and identify with one path and claim all the other paths as false.

They label themselves as Muslims, Sufis, Sunnis, Shias, Christians, Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and many others. All of these labels are false. They are false idols that we end up worshiping and glorifying, just another example of attachments that we cling to, that we create to protect and preserve the self, the ego-mind, our temporal identity. In the divine presence, there is nothing but one source. There is no you; there is no me; there is no name; there is no label; there is nothing you can hold on to, and there is nothing you can cling to. In that divine presence, there is nothing but absolute and total surrender—complete annihilation of all that is false. And as long as we hold on to these malicious attachments, it causes us suffering and pain. Stars are revolving around black holes that ultimately end in their annihilation. So too, our lives are revolving around the divine presence, which will eventually end in our annihilation—the extermination of all that is false.

We can fight, resist, or we can surrender and seek the wisdom inside of us. And understand who we indeed are beyond time and space, beyond appearance, beyond identity, and form. Who are you? You are not your name; you are not your identity; you are not your body, and you are not your mind. But only by diving inward into that emptiness can you explore who you are or what truly is. Stop resisting within what's happening without, accept what is because it is. Fighting, kicking, and screaming against the universe's will won't change anything; it will only create suffering.

Ask yourself, what am i resisting? What is it I refuse to accept? Or to allow to be? There's a beautiful prayer called 'serenity,' it says, "Lord give me the strength to change the things that i can change, accept the things that i cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference." This prayer is a perfect summation of the principles of spiritual surrender. To accept doesn't mean to forget about it momentarily, to accept means to let it be because it already is.

We all resist living in the present moment. Time is always an issue here. We're either anxious about the future, or we live in the past. The only thing we have control over is the present moment because it is the past of the future. Time inside of a black hole doesn't even exist. It's warped, distorted, then collapses entirely after the event horizon. It doesn't even matter.

Time is eternal; therefore, the concept of a timeline is irrelevant. Religious scriptures never referred to timelines beyond death. The verses were timeless. Hence all references to suffering, punishment, heaven, hell, demons, and angels exist within our known world, our current existence until we return to that singularity - that infinite fountain of love, knowledge, and imagination. A point where everything initially expanded into fragments of stardust and created a progressive timeline ever since, and to that point is our return. There have been theories that the universe is expanding, but will eventually reach a halt, and then accelerate backward. It could refer to stars collapsing and forming black holes that suck everything back to the point of singularity, or it could mean something else, who knows?

Our limited understanding of the universe, and our knowledge of life and what will transpire in the afterlife, such as heaven and hell... are all within us. Duality suggests that a whole world is unfolded within us, good and bad. That we are here to learn and grow until we find our way back to that source again. So, we have to keep an open mind when it comes to interpretations of hell, punishment, or judgment in religious scriptures. Identifying there is no timeline essentially means there is no destination. No point A or Z. You'll be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Therefore punishment and hell are possible references to suffering in life, dealing with our inner demons, not a place we'll be going to. This is not absolute, but so is any other interpretation.

Blasphemy is not infidelity; it's resisting our inner light, resistance to surrendering, and seeking division, ignorance, hatred, arrogance, pride, and greed. Being ungrateful will cause suffering as well. Basically, all the things that prevent you from awakening, growing, and returning to that source peacefully. We can believe in the miracles the prophets possessed, or we can see them as analogies. We can assume that Jesus walked on water and healed people, or we can see past the meaning and believe the similarity of him being so spiritual and filled with light that he was lighter than air and water, and used the power of love to heal.

Whatever we believe, does it really matter? Does it really make us better believers? or better individuals? or just divide us even further by labeling ourselves based on the different notions of our beliefs? We tend to miss the point frequently- the sole message is love and unity. But we focus too much on details that won't make a difference in our lives and how we act daily. We should stay focused on the original message, not immortalizing mortal messengers and making Gods out of them - because that's when division occurs.

Be careful what has been interpreted, and for what reason we aren't allowed to question unless it's to limit our understanding, control, and confine our inner light. The first word in the Quran is 'Read.' Educate yourself, question life, existence, and God. That's how you'll reach Him. Anything that turned you away from religion goes back to the scriptures, so reread it for yourself and try making sense or interpreting it your way, and not what was ordained on you. You'll find the discrepancies lie in the way it was translated, not in the actual meanings. The disciplinary actions are for your guidance, not for your judgment or punishment. They're never meant to be limited to one meaning. They're intended to resonate with what enables your heart and directs it towards the light and love.

A particle of light travels at quite a high speed. It's moving so fast that it's stuck in one eternal moment at all times. Time is something that we have created conceptually as part of the ego's survival. In this age, our lives are governed by time; we're enslaved by time. What will happen tomorrow? What's my plan for the future? In pilgrimage, circumambulating around the Kaaba is done in a counter-clockwise fashion. In this analogy, 'clockwise' indicates the way the world revolves around time and materialism. Spirituality is the opposite direction; it's going counter-clockwise. It's countering materialism, and going against the flow of time, to go back towards our source, not away from our source. To not try to run away from singularity, but to surrender to it. And since we'll get there anyway, we should strive towards transcending time altogether and awakening to the present moment.

The ego keeps us from living in the present and reminds us of past pain, or fears of what may happen in the future. Both of these are indications of a lack of trust and surrender to what is. We are driven by fear in society and modern life. Jesus said, "Look at the birds, they leave in the morning with their bellies empty, and they return in the evening with their bellies full. And they thou not plan for tomorrow." Of course, our lives are a bit more complicated, and he was not suggesting that we do not plan. But the point is to learn to live in the present moment. We may have a direction, and we are supposed to have a path, meaning you know where you're heading in life, a line of sight, bearing to waypoint, and distance to waypoint, but you've got to be living each step of the way. Make mistakes. Learn from them, and if things don't go as planned, then take a step back, accept what is, make peace with what happened, and keep on going.

No matter how much we accumulate in this world, we will never fill that void if we resist living in the present moment, and constantly worrying about filling the emptiness within. Real suffering doesn't happen in the mind; it occurs in the heart. The heart is our source of life; it is beating every second with purpose. It's a constant reminder of a hidden mystery that is within yourself. We have to pay close attention to the heart and remove the layers accumulated over it to reach a calm, contented state, and meaningful purpose.

It is the heart suffering under the tyranny of the ego-mind, we oppress it to give way to 'logic' created by our egoistic minds. The heart is the gateway to our source; it should lead the mind to alignment, not the other way round. It is the only way back. God's sanctuary is your heart. His shrine is deep within your own being. When Rumi realized the reality of the divine presence is within his being, he began to whirl around his own axis, around his own soul, around the center of his being. He began to spin around himself, the essence of who he was, the essence of what is, the divine presence within- this is the origin of the dervish dance that takes place, particularly in the Mevlevi Order, which traces it's lineage back to Rumi. Prior to the dance, they take off a black robe which denotes death (ego), and then they begin whirling in a white gown, symbolizing that access to heaven (state of mind) is through enabling the mystical function of our hearts. Through dancing, music, and poetry, you'll rest in peace, tenderness, and love. The important thing to remember is that God's essence is your heart, the spirit that pumps it with life.

It is known amongst the Sufi masters that the heart has five layers. These layers are referred to as the heart, the secret, the secret of the secret, the hidden, and the most hidden. These five deepening layers within the human heart indicate heightening awareness, consciousness, mental, physical, and spiritual health. The deepest level is expressed by the color black, showing the void and darkness within, this level of the heart is the most hidden. It's the most hidden region of our beings and the most challenging to reach, confront, and resolve. The threshold of that is like the event horizon of a black hole, the point of no return, once you make contact with the most hidden secret, the doorway to the divine presence is revealed. And there is no going back from there.

When we face the emptiness within us, we feel alone. When we are quiet, and still, we can feel. It can be frightening; it can be scary; it is difficult to sit in that presence because it will suck in everything false. Usually, when we feel afraid, we leave. That's the end of the meditation session. But if you can sit in that deep, deep stillness and face the emptiness within, you will come out on the other side free from all that is false; awake, and alive.

And this is why, in this new age, in this materialistic world, distractions are perfect for the ego. Social media, fashion, capitalism, consumerism, tv, and trends, continually keep us distracted from confronting ourselves. We don't have time for ourselves anymore. We feel lonely in meditative states, and when we feel this way, we dissociate ourselves from that void. So we make Gods for ourselves, external Gods somewhere out there, things that we continuously associate with, attach to, and worship to fill this void. But there is no God out there; he is in the deepest core of your being. And if we can sit in that stillness and surrender to it, we'll discover that divine presence within, and we'll need never be alone again.

This egocentric way of life has turned each of us into individual Gods, and we reached the lowest state possible in human history: to the point where humanity is worshipping itself. That's the furthest thing one can be from a unified source. Now initially, there is a struggle. There is some kind of fear or anxiety surrounding the idea of confronting oneself. The best approach is a period of seclusion or isolation, almost daily, if you can manage it. It's a spiritual exercise that has been practiced ages ago on which the student is a seeker, hence spends time alone. Traditionally, they would be alone for an extended period of 40 days, four months, or even years to sever their attachment to life distractions completely.

Have you thought about your life and where it will lead? Do you want to graduate college, find a job, buy a big house, get married, bring kids to the world, and retire? Is that it? Doesn't it sound a bit plain and repetitive? There's more to life than following a robotic system enslaved in a way that prevents you from truly enjoying it and reaching your maximum potential. There's a reason why outliers break out from this system. Don't succumb to conformity that pressures you into expectations like graduating college at your 20's, having to figure out your life by 30, or expected to be married or have kids by the time you're 40.

Artwork: 'Sailing Away' by Ahmed A.Lotfy

There's more to life than these preset objectives. Does it sound more appealing to give in to societal expectations, which probably makes us feel miserable? Or break free and go live on an island? Or sail the world on a yacht, maybe travel and learn about different cultures? Or see if you can survive in the mountains, oceans, or the forests? It's challenging, if not impossible, to do in this day and age. It's because it's forbidden to dream; society can't afford such losses.

So perhaps a fair reward is to spend an hour alone, every day. The ideal times are early morning or deep at night when the rest of the world is sleeping. Set the stage for yourself, light a candle, or an incense, have a glass of water ready, create an intimate space where you can be alone with your source. Feel that divine presence free from life distractions, from all the noise that continuously arise in our lives. That's your time, which is going to nourish your soul and your being and give you the energy to get through your day- when you spend time alone like that, you are strengthening the connection between you and the divine presence. Consistency is crucial. That's the essence of remembrance. Remembrance of the 99 healing names of the divine is of utmost importance (being compassionate, forgiving, thankful... to name a few). That reality we were once part of before we came into existence and grew away from it.

Transcendence is a reality; it is not science fiction. Muhammed attained this, Jesus attained it, Moses, Noah, Abraham, Buddha, and hundreds of thousands of prophets and lightworkers connected with a divine presence, transcended time, space, and made the journey of billions of years in a blink of an eye. On that journey, the past, present, and future were the same. Rules of time, space, and physics were bent. Contact was made.

We are here to evolve, and we can never learn the truth of reality or ourselves when we are lost in heedlessness and life distractions. This time alone is of utmost necessity of utmost importance—everything around you, whether it's a star or a human being, is but a dream. We hear many scientists often say that we are all stardust. We understand the analogy of the universe being created in six days or rather six stages: The Big bang, the bright flash, the universe cooled, stars were born, galaxies formed, and then planets created from which we came. Everything in this universe, whether it is a planet, an asteroid, or a cloud of dust, ultimately originated from a mysterious light blow, and to it we return.

It is safe to claim that we do resemble the stars physically and metaphorically, in an attempt to study itself. None of it is permanent though. The only eternal thing is a point of singularity. The Divine presence from which all life sprouted. He was, he is, and he always will be. We have to discard the erroneous idea that we are in control. None of us are. Accept, surrender, and be present to live in the moment. Remind yourself every day that transcendence is a reality for everyone. The divine wants his creation to know Him. To seek Him. So seek yourself.