Mystics tell us that walking between worlds is challenging. It’s not for the faint of heart. I have not heard them speak of walking between cultures. I wonder what they would say about that. I have been walking this way for more than two decades now.
I wish I can say that it’s been easy because it hasn’t. I wish I can say that it got easier as the years went by because it didn’t. I’ve faced issues in personal relationships because of this dual citizenship, this dual identity. I carry two passports, both of them valid. Each passport comes with its own set of rules. Despite this I have to make my own rules. I have no other option. There’s a feeling of never quite belonging anywhere.
I felt an overwhelming love when I arrived in Beirut recently. It’s been four years since I was here. The last time I visited was shortly before my divorce. Back then I had travelled here wanting to receive my family’s support, and although I noticed some of the things I write about below, I was more immersed in my personal story, and was not in a space to be writing about them.
This visit is different. It was more about seeing if there’s anything left here for me. Maybe there are things, places, and people I still resonate with. Maybe I belong here. Maybe after all those years it’s possible to make a life here. My answers came too quick. Shortly after my arrival the love bubble was burst and I found myself wondering if it was a wise idea traveling to the place that birthed me.
It has been really difficult to breath, and it’s not just the heat wave and air pollution, although those offer a huge contribution. It’s this aura of tension that surrounds everything, and everyone. Maybe it’s the aftermath of decades of war? Perhaps it’s the poverty? It could also be social expectations, and norms. I am unable to pinpoint exactly what it is because it’s been around ever since I can recall. Ever since I was a child.
This is the land of my ancestors. The country I partially grew up in. It is rich with history, culture, and beauty. I feel the kinship to its ancient past, and yet its present feels so foreign to me.
Sometimes I am not sure what kind of language everyone around me is speaking. I speak, read, and write Arabic yet certain sentences, remarks, and comments are sometimes released with gestures, and tones of voice that throw my world off, and I lose my center of power.
I carried a lump in my throat for the good part of my first week here. All I kept hearing were different versions of the olympics of religious athletes. Who is better than who, who is more pious than who. I am past defending, blaming, arguing, judging, and criticizing. Religious, and spiritual practice just like creative practice are personal, and private. No need to defend what I believe in but also no need to expect everyone to believe what I believe. Mostly, I don’t even need to share what I believe in because it’s my own personal private path. Sharing it will not make it any more or less nor will anyone benefit because it is mine, and mine alone. I believe this applies to all of us. Besides, I’m here to reconnect with the land, with the part of me that once belonged here.
Despite some enjoyable moments. A cloud of disappointment has been following me around, well, in addition to the cloud of chemicals that can be seen miles out over the city. I’m disappointed that I can never be heard here. I’m disappointed that there is a lack of basic consciousness that seems to me may never be resolved. I am disappointed that I am not accepted as I am. I am disappointed in myself for thinking anything can be different.
There is an attachment to medieval practices in these parts that has been going on for much too long, that it has become ingrained in the DNA here. Not just here, I realize, it is in most ancient cultures really. Ideas of wrong and right, good and bad have taken hold of every aspect of life. It’s not to say morality must be outdated, it’s just that it’s just the exterior of things that must always look so shiny. As long as society doesn’t see it, it’s cool, just sweep it under the rug. Keep it hidden. It is no wonder I have developed a repulsion to perfection. Superstitious practices, social rules and regulations. Ways of being that disrespect all life, look down on some of life, and are completely oblivious to it. Sometimes even in the name of religion. Other times in the name of nothing really.
Wearing revealing clothes is frowned upon in certain crowds. Not to mention other social rules that one must abide by. There are expectations from family members and traditions that must not be broken. Are you praying the way we pray? I was asked at one point. Why would I answer this question? Why would you even ask me such a question? How is this relevant to anything or anyone? How is my practice relevant to you?
And yet, the garbage is on the street, there is mass chaos in anything you attempt to do whether you are trying to drive somewhere or renew a passport. No one knows about standing in line. People cut in front of you even if you were there an hour before them as if it is their right to do so. They cut in front of you while driving too. Anywhere and anytime they can. They actually change the que in line as you are waiting to get your boarding pass, you suddenly become the last in line. You’d think they would set up the barriers before anyone arrives. No. They choose to wait for everyone to stand in the area and then configure their line. Makes perfect sense if you want to drive your people crazy.
Slavery still exists, the house help is not allowed to eat the food you eat despite that they may have helped prepare it, they are not allowed to sleep in the beds you sleep in. This really made me angry. I was thrown off when I was informed that there is hierarchy that must be adhered to. They didn’t mean just a hierarchy of class they also meant that the young are expected to approach their elders in a certain manner while the elders can just keep being hypocrites. And so it goes the poor and rich, the weak and strong…
If good and bad do not exist, what would you call someone who is evil? I am asked. They are influenced by the devil right? I suppose the answer is yes if you believe that the devil is an outside force but I believe the devil is an inside force… the devil is the suppressed shadow. To learn more about the shadow check out Carl Jung, I suggested …( not that anyone will check out Jung’s work but I thought why not give it a try).
I attempt to explain my beliefs but I am not sure anyone can understand my language. The concept of owning your shit does not exist in these realms. It’s always someone else’s fault. Everyone else is responsible for my misery and so I must be careful around every person. I will socialize in anxiety. I will be so tense so as to ruin my experience and the experience of everyone around me.
I was put on the spot several times while here. Questions and comments that I felt gaslighted by. Gas lighting has been quite a theme in my life. Random questions I would never dream of asking anyone. I just resorted to my childhood techniques of zipping it up, and throwing out the key. Ha!
There’s a feeling of helplessness which seeped into my being unwillingly. I’d rather be practicing yoga, writing or even dancing and yet could only get myself to paint. The heat has not been helping yet it’s not the heat, it’s this feeling of helplessness that has been taught by the social rules and religious beliefs and in the case of this country was solidified by endless years of war. Life was uncertain, unpredictable, and disastrous. The instinct of freeze became ingrained in the psyche of everyone here. And it’s contagious. Especially for an empath. How can I help? Can I even help?
I can literally feel this in my bones, the idea that we must wait for our saving grace instead of taking action and becoming our own saving grace. Feelings of helplessness within helplessness are hell in and of themselves. If you ask me what evil is I would say this helplessness within helplessness that everyone around me is feeling. No where on earth have I felt this way except here and this will be the last time I am willing to feel it. That is the hell that humanity has created. Many do not realize they have choices. They keep hoping for a savior outside of themselves and never knowing that savior is within.
After grappling with all these ideas and feelings for a good ten days I kept asking: what is it I need to see? What is it I need to know? What is it I need to do? And finally a few breakthroughs…
The medieval perspective is as valid as any. Especially if past, present, and future exist together. There is a reason for being so attached to the details that we lose the bigger picture of things, and that’s ok. I personally think life on earth may never fully make the leap to more expanded consciousness because there is always a need to see the details and to be immersed in them, and that helps others access the larger field. Two different perspectives, two opposite poles.
As much as at times we wish it was non existent we need this primitive lens.
It’s part of the prism of life reflecting life. Any piece of this prism that goes missing will render the prism defective.
When I booked my trip I had completely forgotten that my return date was a few days prior to Eid al adha, the feast of the sacrifice, and that the season of Hajj is upon the Muslim world. Those are auspicious days. Some are in Mecca for the pilgrimage around the Qabaa and all are preparing for the great big feast where each family must slaughter a sheep, in a safe and non harmful manner, as a commemoration of Abraham’s sacrifice. Yes it sounds cruel to all my vegan and vegetarian friends. I know. I have struggled with this too. Most of us are concerned with the suffering of animals and I have always had solace in knowing that when slaughtered in this way the animal will not suffer. It will die, yes, however, it will not suffer before it dies. That is what halal means. It is the same as Kosher for Jews. That is why Muslims do not eat other meats. In America, they put live chickens through a machine to make chicken nuggets. There is something redeeming about a culture and religion that wants to make sure it’s source of food is not suffering.
A level of poverty exists here that will bring anyone to their knees. People are willing to take your scraps if you give them. They will eat your leftover whatever, and so when you slaughter a sheep the poor can eat because every family is obliged to give a share of their sacrifice to the poor. In this part of the world, it is a necessary source of sustenance for many starving families.
There’s a hospitality about the Lebanese that I’ve never seen anywhere else in all my travels. They love to feed guests, they offer their best to their visitors and expect nothing in return because that is a social rule. Life revolves around food, and community. There is very little room or time for self care or privacy. I can’t help but notice that on the other side of the spectrum one of my passports belongs to a society that praises its members on being independent, self sustaining, and alone for the most part of their life.
My dear Lebanon, if I’m back to visit you in the future, please promise me you will not expect me to change the way I look, dress, think, and act. Please accept what I believe as I accept what you believe. Please don’t expect me to be anyone else other than who I am because really non of us belongs to a creed or a clan. We only belong to the One infinite source of all life.
Every single human being deserves this acknowledgement: that they belong to the one infinite source of all life. This is a basic human right. To all humanitarian gurus of the world, dear Amnesty International, and any humanitarian out there, please add this to your basic human rights list.
Respecting each others cultures and religious paths is important for humanity to survive.
It would be wise for us to continue to look for what unites us what makes us similar instead of what separates us. So much activism and activists have tried, but in reality it is up to each individual to take it upon themselves. Until then we will always revert to disconnection.
We are here on earth to offer up our lowest nature and attempt to move into our highest. The symbolism of sacrificing the sheep is about that. While the pilgrimage to Mecca is symbolic of an internal pilgrimage. Going inward is the way we rise up.
Islam is the basis from which I understood other larger mystical, and spiritual concepts. Other paths maybe the basis for others. This does not make them less valid. Islam is a path of metaphor, and rich in non-dual philosophy if one is able to dig deep enough. I have read the Quran, in Arabic, over thirty times, from cover to cover and have always found a gem there. I understand Islam from a global perspective. What I mean by this is, I have an insider view, and an outsider view, and I realize they are both valid. Such is the paradox of my life.
There are multiple spiritual teachers I currently follow and adore, non are Muslim, but their messages resonate with my core beliefs. Their teachings resonate with my being. The reason I share this within this context is because I want to send the message that you can believe what you want, and still be a valuable part of all life. Every perspective is valid.