A Cushion For Your Head

“Just sit there right now
Don’t do a thing
Just rest.

For your separation from God,
From love,

Is the hardest work
In this
World

Let me bring you trays of food
And something
That you like to
Drink.

You can use my soft words
As a cushion
For your
Head.”

This poem is by the 14th century Persian sufi mystic, Xāja Shams-ud-Dīn Moḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī, know by his pen name Hafez. Hafez means the safe keeper and is a title given those who have memorised the Quran. Shams-ud-Dīn is also an interesting name meaning sun of the faith. Hafez’s work is considered a pinnacle of Persian literature and it contains many love poems that are considered by many to be mystical in nature.

It is a common theme in Sufism to use the metaphor of a love affair to describe awakening to, and becoming intoxicated by one’s inseparability from God. Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee summerises Sufism as a way of being with God, and this is typically achieved through Dhikr, or remembrance, which often involves the continuous recitation of the names of God as a way of seeing past the veil of the self.

When I read this poem I am reminded of concepts that I am familiar with from Mahayana Buddhism. The fact that we all have an awakened nature, but that our function of self keeps us blinded to it. One of the most profound practices of Buddhism is to do nothing, to stop getting in the way of one’s awakened nature. In Sōtō Zen this is practiced as Shikantaza, JUST SITTING! – some part of this word adds great emphasis but I forget which. To rest is also echoed in Tilopa’s six words of advice as translated by Ken McLeod:

“Don’t recall. Let go of what has passed.
Don’t imagine. Let go of what may come.
Don’t think. Let go of what is happening now.
Don’t examine. Don’t try to figure anything out.
Don’t control. Don’t try to make anything happen.
Rest. Relax, right now and rest.”

So there is this idea of stopping doing. We can let the activity of the self diminish until something else that was always there can be known. The rewards are love and intimacy with the world around you, just as it is. You may or may not equate this with God as is your freedom.

This is not to say that the self is unimportant. A healthy, functional sense of self is necessary to survive, relate, have fun, and be of benefit. To quote Daniel Ingram “We awaken to the actual truth of our life in all its conventional aspects, so make sure that yours is a life you want to wake up to.”

Thinking back to the Sufi love affair with the divine I am drawn to the idea of intimacy. It can be so painful to be intimate, to allow yourself to be comforted and cherished. Depending on one’s past it may have been much safer to erect barriers to intimacy because of the very real physical and psychological dangers held there. This could manifest as discomfort with eye contact or physical touch, or avoiding sexual relationships, keeping people at bay with insults or humour, or humorous insults. You may find yourself being prickly with people who get too close, even though, deep down, you want to feel a connection.

Or you may find yourself seeking intimacy in inappropriate ways. There may be a void left over from your early life where love was scarce. It can lead to seeking affairs, or not yet fully knowing the language of intimacy, and how to have a balanced relationship with a partner.

To be able to rest and open and be with others relies on feeling safe, and of having experiences of safe, supportive and caring relationships. This is one place where counselling can really heal a person. In my counselling room one of the most important factors that is present is what Carl Rogers described as unconditional positive regard, UPR.

We reside with things as they are with support, care, affection and with no judgement. It is often with admiration that I sit with clients as they stop separating themselves from their problems, as they just rest with what is. And I am there providing the reality and reciprocation of a safe relationship, something that lets the client know, at a very deep level, that they are good. This allows the client to meet a very fundamental need to be accepted however they are.

This is one of the reasons I find spiritual practice and mindfulness so helpful. Practicing as often as I remember to be with what is now, with acceptance, not wishing it to be other than it is. To quote another sufi poet:

“If I adore You out of fear of Hell,
Burn me in Hell!
If I adore you out of desire for Paradise,
Lock me out of Paradise.
But if I adore you for Yourself alone,
Do not deny to me Your eternal beauty.”

I really love these poems for their loveliness. The love affair with all of creation, with all that is, without demands and preferences. It makes a great platform for personal growth and healing. Counselling has so much to do with this spiritual love, and the way its endurance can bring wellness to those who experience it.

If you have enjoyed this post please leave a comment or check out the rest of my blog. I would love to hear from anyone who feels strongly about this topic, especially if you can point me towards your own favourite poems.

If you find you are interested in exploring your own sense of intimacy, with a counsellor, then please get in touch for a chat and I will do my best to help you.

All the best.

Will.

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