"Bedouin Old Man" - Leszek Gaczkowski

I recently read a story that a friend and fellow writer Dave (who walks the Sufi path) shared on his lovely blog called My Caravan of Dream. Dave posted a story of a Bedouin man who was brought to tears when one day his friend came knocking on his door asking for a large loan to pay off a serious debt:

The friend asked his wife to gather together everything they had of value, but even so it was not enough. They had to go out and borrow money from the neighbors until they managed to get the full amount.

When the man left, the woman noticed that her husband was crying. “Why are you sad? Now that we’ve got ourselves in debt with our neighbors, are you afraid we won’t be able to repay them?”

“Nothing of the sort! I’m crying because he is someone I love so much, but even so I had no idea he was in need. “I only remembered him when he had to knock on my door to ask me for a loan.”

The story is rather nice and seems to speak clearly of man’s self centeredness, of humankind’s egocentricity. The Bedouin man’s sudden awareness of the selfishness of his own thoughts became a source of conflict and thus, pain. Truly it is difficult to see one’s self with an ounce of clarity and not feel struck down by the shocking nature of the human condition as it plays out in one’s own life. These were my initial thoughts and reactions to this story which Dave shared on his blog.

It was almost a day later when I was abruptly struck by the most meaningful layer of the story (which I am calling “The Generous Bedouin”) whose depth had initially escaped my grasp. On this particular morning I found myself lost in thoughts of a very ill loved one. In the very moment I was driving my car this loved one was lying in his death bed battling for his life. Oddly enough, the moment before I began thinking of my loved one I was in an exceptionally good mood, smiling pleasantly, indulging in my own day dreams, lost. But upon the sudden recollection of my suffering loved one I almost immediately began to feel the heaviness of the thought and its after effect which was a mood that was all too ready to weigh me down both mind and body.

Self-portrait - Edgard Mazigi

Edgard Mazigi Art Gallery 

“WAIT Rula, STOP!” This is what I found myself saying out loud because for once I did not jump from one thought with its associated mood to the next thought with its associated mood becoming one and then the other. For once I actually SAW the shift in mood as it began to happen, intellectually, and I refused to let its gravitational pull suck me in and found that rather than following my mood, my mood was compelled to follow ME. Without any further thought, “The Generous Bedouin” story suddenly appeared before me on a completely different level, taking on a completely different and more profound meaning.

On one hand not thinking of others is self centered, but on the other hand thinking of others is just as self centered. In fact, thinking of them is in no way different than not thinking of them! Do you find it strange that this was my realization in that very moment?

Self Centered

In the moments wherein we did not think of our loved ones we had forgotten to suffer alongside them feeling light in thought and mood. In the moments wherein we did think of our loved ones we remembered to suffer alongside them and we felt heavy in thought and mood, but good that we had thought of them, as if this thought of love was itself Love. But is it love, or is it merely a thought pacifying our conditioned mind telling us we are not so self centered and taking pride in being ‘selfless’?

I began to wonder, can love exist as a movement of thought with its associated movement of emotions and moods? I found myself asking, “Who do I Love? Why don’t I love strangers or acquaintances?” Does this seem like an odd question to you? Yet I began to realize the link between this question and my mechanical compulsion to think – think how? The answer is simple Rula, you think subjectively. Can you think from any perspective other than from the center of your own image of yourself? No, my tendency is to think of objects in relation to myself. How can I ever think selflessly when I have a self that identifies itself as the thinker? “I” is a self and this I has certain beliefs about…about whom…about “I”! Hahaha What a strange land is the mind!

Gustave Courbet Self Portrait (The Desperate Man)

So, who am “I” then? Do I not believe that I am my thoughts, my dreams, my ideals, my goals, my hopes? Yes, I separate myself from the object of my thought and yet this separation is what I claim as “me”. But I don’t stop there do I? In fact, I also feel “love” for anything or anyone that I think to place within the periphery of this “I”. My family, my friends, my culture, my country, my ideals, my traditions, my ideas are all part of me, they are all extensions of “I” aren’t they? And I defend these parts of myself with great conviction do I not? Sometimes I defend these parts with my own life, but only so far they remain a part of ‘me’. I will not fight a war for someone else’s country, but I will die for “my” country. I will not give all of my money to an acquaintance, but I may give all my possessions to “my” love.

[Imagine, ‘I’ was not born in a place or time or circumstance or family by any willful means, it’s all a kind of accident, a happening. By essence ‘I’ remains the same, self-centered, though parents, family, ideals, and country will change. Each is born helplessly into his own circumstance. So what? Do I realize that nothing is actually “mine” or “my doing”? No, ‘I’ will still fight and give my life for any one who ‘I’ identifies as “I”/”Me”/”Mine”.]

"I, Me, Mine"

Yes, what one thinks is relative to one’s own belief system, relative to one’s own self image. The Bedouin man valued his friend more than he valued his money, but if that man had not been “the friend I love” the Bedouin might have prioritized differently. Which is more important “my” money or “my” friend? Well the fact is that both are within the periphery of “I” and one will have a conflict and will be compelled to choose. But if I ask you what is more important “my” money or that stranger’s debt what will you say? Would there be any hesitation, any conflict in choosing “my” money?

“My Loved One”

I come back now to the thought of my loved one who was fighting for his life. I wonder, can I Love him by thinking about him? Can I Love anyone by thinking about them, by feeling emotionally sad or happy for them? Isn’t feeling sad or happy “for them” actually feeling for myself? Isn’t this projection of “love” just a projection of my self? If I talk of my loved one’s suffering with someone else but tears don’t come to my eyes should I feel guilty? Will the other person not think I am cold? When I speak to someone else about my loved one with tears in my eyes do they not think I am moved, that he is loved by me, that I am sensitive and kind?

Is this what Love is? Is Love a thought about the ‘other’ which changes my mood, which makes me cry or laugh, which makes me feel guilty or peaceful, which projects to others an image of my love, a measurement of my love?

No, Love is not self centered, and the irony of this story is that it attempts to reveal our self centeredness by revealing the man’s sensitivity to his self centeredness…but can you see the contradiction? Is it not true that in thinking that he didn’t think of his friend the Bedouin man was really thinking of himself, of his own feelings, of his own guilt? The man cries precisely because he is self centered, precisely because he is thinking in terms of his own self as a ‘bad’ friend which pains no one but himself and harms no one else’s image but his own.

If his beloved friend had an affair with his wife would that friend remain a friend? Would the Bedouin still feel guilty for not having thought of him? Will that man remain in the Bedouin’s inner circle of those “I love” or will love soon turn to hate?

Van Gogh Self PortraitThis kind of ‘love’ is not absolute but conditional. It is given to those who are an extension of one’s self and not to those who are not. This kind of love, therefore, can very easily turn to hate. This kind of love is one side of a coin with hatred being on the other side. But I ask you, if you are filled with Love can there ever be room for even a pinch of hatred?

No, I cannot fathom Love to be an idea or a thought followed by its associated mood or emotional feeling which is nothing more than a reflection of my own self love. Love will leave no one behind. Love will not discriminate. Love will not say “this person is within the periphery of my Love and that person is without.”

I want to know what Love IS. I want to Love self-less, without prejudice, without boundary, without thought, without choice. I want to Love as only One could Love who is beyond division, beyond self, beyond conflict.

Can we ever learn to LIVE completely (image) FREE and simply LOVE? In fact, are FREEDOM and LOVE not one and the same state of Being? When there is nothing left to lose – no self to lose – isn’t this true Freedom without fear of loss or gain – leaving no room for any thing except LOVE?

Can I? Can you? Can WE ever learn to Love without our selves getting in the way? Can we do away with love as a projected image of our own prejudices? Can we love without identifying ourselves in any way, shape, or form?

Can I do away with love as a portrait of myself?