by Dr. Amina Wadud
All the great spiritual traditions have a warning against attachments. And so we who aspire to some consciousness, like to think we know what that means and like to think we are practicing non-attachment.
The first time I left the US to live abroad was more than 35 years ago. I had a small baby and with my husband we had lots of dreams. Those were the days when all one needed was a chance to go to the Arabic speaking world in order to be “transformed” into a “true Muslim” (yeah I had those days too). My husband and I were strict vegetarians and moving into the pre-organic age of purity of life by purity of life style. We were headed for Libya by a series of events I don’t think helps with this story much, so I will omit them here. What’s important was that sense of wonder and expectation, based of course on a fantasy that step by step gets dispelled. What to do then is another blog another day. This one is about attachment.
A trip abroad can either enhance or complete break you free of certain attachments in a way that philo-spiritual ponderings of the matter can never do. Most of us still think that non-attachment means driving a hybrid instead of a Mercedes, or baking your own bread or making peanut butter and such. I would have said that our lives were simple. We lived in a very low class neighborhood so that we could be next door to the mosque in dwelling that had no furniture. I did indeed bake my own bread. When we were granted the chance to move abroad we probably thought of it as an addition of everything that would transform our lives as recent converts without the loss of any of the choices we so freely exercised.
We made our way to el-Beida in Jabal Akhdar, the Green Mountains and began our lives with my husband as a student. Every day the electricity would go off and the water would stop running through the pipes. This created havoc. How could people go on with their lives without these basics I wondered, but I noticed my neighbors continued to function no matter what. It took some time for me to understand that the water was pumped to the roof of the apartment building and needed electricity for that. At about the same time I learned that people would store water, in various ways for various levels of usage during the outages. Gas top ranges supplied energy for cooking,so any camping type light source would make it possible to just about go on as if nothing was happening.
Imagine, life in an apartment that simulated camping out in the open? That was the least of my attachment worries, if you really wanna know the truth of it. I was attached to this perfect Islam that I aspired to,which involved perfecting my lifestyle, including fresh, organic vegetarian foods and supplements. Loving my Muslim neighbor as I did myself and praying in the mosque. All of that had to go out the window. We lived 200 kilometers from the closest city and if there were green beans in a can I was lucky. But how do you GIVE up on the things you have vested so much energy into thinking were good and necessary? That’s where the challenge of attachment comes in.
What if you discover, really, that your IDEA of goodness is itself a trap and illusion and an attachment? It is not so easy to give up what you think is good in order to achieve good. And so the lesson of attachment is not just material. It is also conceptual, because the ego will be even more attached to our thinking patterns and will defend its right to THINK that way, to the death, fortunately it is only the death of the ego. The “Die before you die” behest means give up your preconceptions, your “notions of good”, ideas about “Islam”and turn your face to Allah, Who is everywhere.
I had to work at arriving at the place where a meat eater was as good as a vegetarian. To do that and still be a vegetarian is the place of non-attached contentment. Traveling outside my comfort zone ALWAYS brings me back to that original challenging situation in so many ways.
Everywhere I travel (even in my comfort zone) there is an advertisement on the tv for travel to India. It shows various scenes across the lush green countryside some temples, local lovelies and a jingle playing in the background with the words, “India…incredible India.” So these days, I sing that jingle whenever I face a paradox.
In order to get my own apartment, I had to show residency papers, the kind you get when you register as a foreigner on whatever kind of visa you have, usually at the local police station. But in order for the police to finalize my residency status, they needed proof, like a lease from where I would be staying. Time for the jingle.
Why these stories are important is because they ALWAYS work out. Somehow, the matter is resolved,and LIFE goes on. The only thing that cannot, cannot… go on, is my attachment to HOW things should work. This does not mean I give up making an effort, this does not mean I compromise on my basic principles, but it does mean that I accept the route to water is not just one way. So if a tree falls across the path, I can still arrive there. I just have to find another way round, over, or under.
It is interesting that giving up attachments really does FREE you up for a more intensive daily encounter with life and its fealty. This becomes more difficult for most people as they get older. There is a rigidity that simulates security or at least offers comfort; and thus one becomes way to accustomed to things being just so, and thereby miss the boat of opportunity. I came to India specifically because I too am inclined towards a comfort level that blocks my ability to grow to learn, to live, really. I still have my preferences. Imagine my happiness at finding the earl grey tea, some (albeit packaged) muesli and soy milk in the local food store. Had it not been there, I still would have had breakfast, but at least I can say I did NOT force things to happen according to a preconceived script. So the pleasure ofthis simultaneity is mine to enjoy. Because,just around the bend, there will be the unsynchronized paradox again, and all I need do is remember, incredible… India.
Dr. Wadud has a FaceBook page - Amina Wadud Supporters at https://www.facebook.com/groups/50243792068/ She will be writing more observations on her time in India.