Friday, October 12, 2012

The Normalcy and Necessity of self-Annihilation

“All things in creation suffer annihilation (fanā) and there remains
the face of the Lord in its majesty and bounty.” ~ Qur'an, Sura 55:26–27

The Arabic word fanā means “to pass away” or “to annihilate," referring to the often painful obliteration of the individual human ego that keeps one from experiencing the majesty of the infinite God. Fanā is one of the necessary steps taken by the Islamic Ṣūfī adept in pursuit of union with the pure love of God, often through unceasing contemplation on the attributes of God. Most Ṣūfīs view fanā as a negative state or a first step in preparation for the positive state of experiencing the revelation of the divine attributes and union (tawḥīd) with God. This is not an easy step. It requires the dissolution of the ego-self while remaining physically alive.
I am struck by this Ṣūfī notion of fanā as it relates to James Hillman's archetypal psychology, specifically his idea of pathologizing. Hillman describes pathologizing as "the psyche's autonomous ability to create illness, morbidity, disorder, abnormality, and suffering in any aspect of its behavior and to through this deformed and afflicted perspective... necessarily...central to the soul" (Re-Visioning Psychology 55-57). Elsewhere Hillman discusses the therapeutic process and the troublesome pathologizings which sometimes lead analysands to suicidal thoughts and urges: “Where the death experience insists on a suicidal image, then it is the patients ‘I’ and everything he holds to be his ‘I’ is coming to its end” (Suicide and the Soul 75). In other words, there is something native to the human psyche that requires the fanā or obliteration of the current "I" before new life may emerge. This suggests that all of life's experiences, especially the so called "negative" and painful, contribute to the making of a soul. The Ṣūfī poet Rumi states it beautifully:

This human soul is like a hotel.

Every morning there is a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a nastiness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain all of them!

Even if a mob of mourners arrives

who violently sweep the rooms

and destroy all of the furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He or she may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The depressed thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them all at the door warmly,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.


If you feel like you are dying, or that an old quality or relationship is eroding, remember that such experiences are normal and necessary. Take a lesson from the Sufis--cooperate, assist and let the death take place without a struggle.

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