A Peek Into a Young Artist’s Days of Fearlessness: Rafiq
-R. Michael Fisher
From time to time I drop out of my philosophical and theoretical fearology work to hone-in on living exemplars (teaching examples and guides), who attempt to practice a life of ethical resistance to the over-determining ‘Fear’ Matrix of everyday life. After all, it is much easier to talk and theorize about liberation in ideal abstractions and through texts of the ‘great ones’ as (s)heroes; yet, so much harder to find examples of those who live it in contemporary North American contexts—that’s where I live. And, especially interesting is to witness today’s younger people, self-critically reflecting on their path, critiquing their own generation and the previous one, in a unique, very clear writing style interspersed with incomplete English sentences that look as they might sound, when they talk to you in person (e.g., “I did again.” or “Our tribe.” or “Not love.”). I also prefer such inquiries into exemplars when the person is not so popular or famous but someone struggling in the margins as a human, artist and cultural worker like myself, who never quite ‘fit in.’
I have just read with intrigue the last four chapters (33 pp. + 12 pp. of endnotes) of Days of Shock, Days of Wonder: The 9/11 Age, the Ways of the Mystics, and One Man’s Escape from Babylon in the Belly of a Whale by Rafiq (2016) (aka Robert Sean Lewis), an eastern Canadian from Montreal. I read it from the back page (177) forward. It seems an efficient strategy in my experience to get to the “guts” of what a book offers without investing a lot of time in something I am not sure I want to. At age 64, an environmental and social activist-educator-radical for 45 years, I’ve read a lot, and my focus of where I put my energy these days is often precise, if not impatient.
No one recommended this book. I found it ‘accidently’ while researching if anyone had written any new book reviews on Four Arrows’ (2016) Point of Departure: Returning to a More Authentic Worldview for Education and Survival—as I am currently writing a book (with Four Arrows), due to be published by Peter Lang in 2018, on his “fearless” life and work, focusing on his original specific theory of fear and fearlessness utilizing general principles from an Indigenous perspective. I noticed immediately on the front cover of Rafiq’s new book the endorsement “A book to ignite a generation” by Four Arrows. I had to check that out, because by the end of this review of mine there will be my view of whether I think Rafiq’s book will ignite anything of such grandiosity.
So you’re learning about me, perhaps, as much as this book by Rafiq. Like him, I won’t pass by a chance to write about myself and promote my work—I am an entrepreneur, with no salaried cheque every month or benefits. I have to self-promote. Ego? Narcissism? Yes, no doubt, and a whole lot more. Anyways, I’ve never been much for the long slow boring intro material—and, not sure I wish to wade through a lot of pages by Rafiq’s hand about 9/11 “facts” at this point—I’ve watched a few 9/11 truthing documentary films). Although, I confess, beginning context material can sometimes be important for understanding what comes later in a book. So, if I misinterpret anything herein it’s my own damn fault. Rafiq or anyone can correct me if I am way off the mark. Frankly, I get a thrill out of the risk of mis-interpretation. I can’t explain it other than it’s freeing to just ‘fly’ and be ‘incomplete’ and not apologetic to those who want a standard book review. I prefer a radical trust that I still can say something important, doing it my way. This is a release for me, as most of my other serious writing tends to be technical and guided by a thirst for completeness in research and accurate interpretations. But in the ‘free-spirit’ of which I sense Rafiq loves to fly, let me proceed likewise going with the flow of the southern west coast waves (California, Mexico) where he and his buddies loved to hang out, according to his story. Oh, I noticed he has had some reviewers on Amazon.com books reviewing it by the genre of a “novel.” Maybe it is, but it is non-fictional.
I don’t do formal book reviews these days but prefer a “review” that lives in some form of an inter-textual intimacy with my own journey of fearlessness, especially when the author of what I am reviewing is clearly opening their life and heart to an exchange with the reader and consciousness itself. I feel ‘called’ by such intimate texts and wish to handle them gently; albeit, honestly as well with critique as skillful means. Near the end, I will address why I chose to frame this dialogue with Rafiq’s text as indicative of someone, riffing along, more or less, on the path of fearlessness (re: the latter conception, see Fisher, 2010). I’ll also suggest where I think that path could be honed, both as a spiritual consciousness explorer, revolutionary and as an artist—each of which I feel comfortable in situating Rafiq and this book.
This is my first explicit encounter with Rafiq and his work and I wish to share some of the first impressions. No doubt someday I’ll read Days of Shock, Days of Wonder from start to end, maybe look on Vimeo at some of his films. Why wouldn’t I be fascinated to read about a “conscious” (p. 135) person and his “tribe” and what kind of communities they hung in—and a travel journey of a gen-Xer North American male searching for answers to big questions—searching, for his soul in a harsh predatory capitalist world that doesn’t give a shit about his quest or mine. And, then, a big attraction for me—his searching for “truth” (actually, big ‘T’) with a sincere drive to do so deeply—authentic, ethical, and creative as can be—and, continually coming up (most of the time) self-admittedly a little short, at times losing faith and a lot of grief and lament (and some joyous, even ecstatic highlights too). A few indicative Rafiq phrases caught-up in my net on this theme—I’ll call disillusionment (as he likely would too, p. 137):
“In my days of truth activism, I’d struggled to stay on the Sufi [spiritual] path.” (p. 164)
“I still wasn’t myself [also p. 143]. I’d lost faith in the idea of the new human.... And Montreal was soul-defeating.... I was depressed. It’d been a year since I’d stopped meditating.” (p. 145)
“I wasn’t Taoist enough to work with others [effectively, intimately]” (p. 146)
“More than anyone over the years... [Jody] kept me from losing sight of reality in favour of my high ideals. (p. 147)
“I’d seen the best minds of my generation swallowed up by the system.... The trick was to stay in the world without losing your soul.” (p. 153)
“I was still looking for an alternative to the dominant system [Babylon] [p. 148].... I intended to take what I could from the modern world in order to help create Babylon’s lunar twin somewhere out on its fringes.” (p. 162)
“But I wanted to believe that our [magical and sacred] ceremonies to activate love in the world had meant something.” (p. 142)
[re: resistance to paying personal taxes to the State] “... like me, most people who’d woken up to their enslavement [in Babylon] kept paying them. We weren’t going to risk going to jail over it.” (p. 162) [and he often would show his own contradictions, that he was aware of, for e.g.,] “You couldn’t pay your taxes and be a moral person at the same time.” (p. 161)
“I miss my tribe.” (p. 153)
Gotta luv that ‘rawness’ and vulnerability in the text. Gotta question (I do anyways) How much truth can a human being handle today? Today’s culture really needs to hear these conscious journey stories and what our young people are going through (at least, some of the most aware “conscious” ones). I know he’s not the first in history to write one but that’s beside the point. Now, lest one think this book is a lot of navel-gazing, forget it! I mean it did strike me he’s a pleasure-seeking escape-from-society kind of beach-hugging “dharma bum,” as Wilber (2006, p. 109) calls a lot of the spiritual seekers suffering from “boomeritis” dis-ease in the post-1960s-70s of America. Admittedly, Rafiq’s journey of fearlessness recorded in these pages does often involve a “return to balance” (p. 150) a search and meditation on “some kind of holy union” (p. 155)—either trying to transcend fear in himself and the world or meditating on it and his ego in order to truly understand it and have it dissolve through mastery (pp. 154-55). Yet, what stood out more than anything else in terms of the purpose of this book was his cultural, economic and political critique as an activist-critic. He continually insinuates we have to look both inward and outward to keep whole.
The word “revolution” is the bass drum beat behind nearly every sentence I read. Another reader may say “love” is the beat—he certainly repeated the latter word enough; but I found it less powerful than what was behind his passion for revolution. I spontaneously broke into a smile when he talked about his trip to the sacred temples of Mayans in S. America etc., and wrote, “At each site we would perform ceremonies to agitate for love. To help raise the collective vibration of the human heart” (p. 138). That was some of the most new agey stuff he participated in with his hippie tribe. He also was filming and observing it as a good anthropologist might do. “Agitate for love” is however, in my mind, an perfect indicator of that revolutionary political spirit that was akin to the discourse of a radical revolutionary (agitator)—and, to see that word juxtaposed with love... hmmm interesting! Oh, I also liked how he would critique some of this love-stuff, magical-stuff as well, e.g., the December 21, 2012 end of the world/time according to the Mayan calendar and many new age teachers at that time. I heard about it, watched the various documentaries and wasn’t impressed by any of it. I’ve written critically on a similar “event” that was supposed to be so spiritually transformative (revolutionary) on a grand scale back in Fisher (1987) due to some rare astrological alignment etc. I was disturbed then by the (false) “hope” I saw so many new agers fall into and then face great disillusionment (re: a substantive shift in consciousness/paradigm) as the year and years following that ‘great event’ played out in history in real-time, with real-bodies. Mostly depressing, I might add. I’ve been through several of these campaigns and none of them moves me nor seems very wise. I’m not saying these ceremonies are useless. They do probably help us find some strength and inspiration to carry on against the banal oppressive quotidian reality. Drugs do that too. I merely think they are typically over-hyped, if not ‘dangerously’ so. Hope/Fear are always sliding, colluding, and being sold to us by propagandists of every sort, secular and sacred. That’s another topic for another time—don’t get me started.
At times Rafiq would somewhat subjectively define the term revolution, contemplate on it and then lose its definitional clarity as fast as he found it—all, I think a good thing; because it keeps one always in a healthy questioning of such an important macro-conception as “revolution”—and, at times, he focused rather on “transformation” as a milder term less threatening to the status quo (and our comfortable way of life). I so appreciate that integration of the psychospiritual discourse with the sociopolitical sphere. He wrote, “But any revolution would be meaningless unless it changed our way of being in the world” (p. 164). I appreciated he both respected and at times was critical and disturbed by various revolutions and movements of his time, e.g., “new age” and “Occupy Movement.” I can relate to ambivalent feelings and thoughts about those movements as well. I get very angry at times by “young people” who think they are doing what no other generation had done before. OMG. All and all, his wide-reaching holistic sensibility makes for a strong path, a way to both compassion and wisdom—and, in my mind it makes the way to one that is not just out to be an activist-lawyer pounding out “truth” against “lies” and power and naming culprits—but, a voice speaking with nuance and troubling itself as much as it troubles how the rest of the destructive world is operating in Babylon (i.e., the ‘Fear’ Matrix, in my terms). A welcomed breath of fresh air.
Rafiq gained my respect quickly because of this holistic-integral sensibility of looking at reality from many perspectives not merely an immature righteousness one that spouts from a singular (rebellious, adolescent) perspective. Indeed, I was pleased to see self-healing with social-healing as foundational to Rafiq’s vision (even in all its instability) for revolution—if such a revolution in the Western technological world was even possible anymore. I share his questions and doubts too. In the opening section of my dissertation (Fisher, 2003) I waxed on for 50 pp. of fictional dialogue with (real) revolutionary thinkers in history around the question: “What does it take to make a (R)evolution today?” When my research supervisors, committee members and defense judges asked me to answer the question of what I found, I must admit, I couldn’t answer it ‘straight.’ I waxed on eloquently at the dissertation defense-spin to increasing glassy if not hostile eyes amongst them. No one really got it—well, maybe one out of the panel of seven members.
No wonder he also cites his experiences with Four Arrows and aligns as much as he can with a holistic Indigenous worldview, which challenges the Western dominant worldview—diagnosing it as “ill.” Four Arrows is one of the most holistic-integral balanced activist-educators I know of—and, so Rafiq is in good company and has a good ‘nose’ for sniffing out quality teachers, in my opinion. He searched and found Four Arrows and at times treated him as his mentor, even called him an “elder” in the Indigenous sense in his book review of Point of Departure (Rafiq, 2016a).
There is no way I can do justice to this book and Rafiq’s deep and unconventional thoughts (which most interest me as a radical liberation philosopher and educator). The review here would become many pages if I let myself fully explore it in careful detail and craft arguments and challenge his arguments. Yet, why bother? I want to take his work seriously, but he is also not trying to write a serious philosophy book. Is he? It is more an adventure story—with depth! Okay. Let me finish this dialogic textual interplay with him by doing a really quick and dirty fearanalysis. I’ll then end with my artistic analysis, as a social-engaged artist, raising questions about how he may have done his socially-engaged art practices ‘better’ during his four year journey in his VW van (“white whale”) in specific communities he continually visited. I risk, with humbleness (ha ha) doing all that with knowing only a ‘sliver’ of what he actually had done and does. I’m reading text, analyzing discourse, that’s all. I can’t say anything else about the man-in-real-lived relationship with him nor have I interviewed people who know him. I’m a fool.
The brief (incomplete version) of fearanalysis (for fuller delineation see Fisher, 2012; Fisher in progress) is, somewhat parallel but very different to psychoanalysis, where I ‘read’ the way an author talks/writes about fear and fearlessness. Rafiq doesn’t actually use the word “fearlessness” per se, at least in what I read but he uses “courageous” once (p. 153) among a list of other virtues he holds dear (e.g., balance, unity, wisdom, truth, love). Based on years of scholarly research and my own processes of healing and transformation, I (among others, like the late Rinpoche Chöygam Trungpa) hold the first steps of fearlessness to be vulnerability... a rawness of peeling away conditioned layers of oneself, not just in private but in public space too... and, Rafiq is well on that path—to repeat my own words: Gotta luv that ‘rawness’ and vulnerability in the text. The fact he was continually risking to paddle board on big waves in the ocean, venture into the “truthing movement” (re: 9/11) and live a wild life on the road not knowing what was coming or how he’d survive (e.g., without a lot of money), are all signs to me of the pilgrim of fearlessness facilitating their reality encounters by consistently “jumping into the unknown without a net in sight” (p. 133). Other people might judge him ‘reckless’ and full of bravado (male ego)—even immature. How does one define such labels? I don’t know for sure. The text overall told me probably a little bit of both male bravado and fearlessness spirited him along into these adventures and zones of danger and possibility. These same characteristics I read also in the biography of Four Arrows. Rafiq reminded me at times, somewhat mirroring, how I see Four Arrows operates.
My first fearanalysis (systematic) task is to underline all the uses of “fear” or relatives to it in the text. Having studied many authors’ writing about fear for over 27 years systematically, I get a quick ‘reading’ where someone is coming from relative to all the others I have studied likewise, via fearanalysis. I wasn’t impressed that he skirted around defining “fear” a lot more carefully (maybe, earlier in the book he does so). It would be important except that the concept is as important and as complex as “love” (and, he also didn’t spend a lot of time defining love systematically either). This makes me wonder, what does he actually mean when he writes about these important terms in human existence?
Okay, I’ll let him off the hook a bit because it isn’t that serious kind of a book on contestations of theories and conceptualizations of “fear” from multiple angles across disciplines. Methodologically, my ideal request would be that he treated both love and fear in holistic ways not just everyday discourse and his own fav notion at any moment in the text. Yet, “fear” came up forefront on a few pages, and I suspect his entire trip and his own philosophy is one of fearlessness (at least implicitly,)—and thus, to know fearlessness and master it is to know and master fear (at least, he does more or less bring this forward in his talking about “ego” –arguably, his writing is typically an esoteric and mystical spiritual genre, where “fear” is equated often with “ego” and visa versa; see, for e.g., p. 138). In that sense, I found him a bit of a conformist, lacking originality, creativity and depth around these great meta-motivational forces shaping our lives and his too. I mean conformist in regard to his imaginary and understanding of fear and its management and/or transformation. He might retort to my critique: “Ah, Michael, there you go, it is your ego always looking for what is lacking in someone else, so to make you feel superior and special.” I’ve heard this a hundred times over the past 27 years of my fearanalysis critique work—always raising the question, who is fear-projecting on who?
On the other-hand, I was glad he interacted some with Four Arrows around the fear concept and phenomena (e.g., Four Arrows’ theory of CAT-FAWN). However, in the pages I read (e.g., pp. 154-55) I did not see an intricate synthesis that convinced me Rafiq was utilizing the best of what Four Arrows’ work had to offer him in this area. It made me question how his “style” maybe quite like the dragonfly skimming along the surface grabbing what it can and running (flying) off to the next pond to fulfill the addictive zeal of “learning” from everyone and everything(?) Potentially, such a “style” I see in a lot of young people these days and their digital short attention spans and endless glut for information. Luckily, I missed a lot of that being a boomer.
I would guess Rafiq had read some of the metaphysics, by many writers throughout history and across cultures, that Love vs. Fear is the primary task of liberation work. These theories (philosophies, religions) claim, in some forms, that such meta-emotions (motivators) are not compatible (see Fisher, 2012a)—that is, not able to be complementary “twins” in the mythic sense as in say solar and lunar forces (that Rafiq was learning from Howard Teich and Four Arrows) (p. 154). My conversations with Four Arrows and interpretation of his writing over a decade, indicates the Indigenous worldview (love-based) and Dominant worldview (fear-based) are opposites of a very different kind than “twins.” I think this would be worthy evidence and theoretical argument to make the case of Rafiq’s own strong stance in the book re: that there cannot be (healthy) complementarity between “Indigenous ways... [and] Western [“modern tech”] society without losing their [Indigenous] essence” (p. 152).
This ends my ‘cheap’ fearanalysis, lest I forget to say, that because of his lack of depth into understanding fear, theorizing fear, and helping the reader be more clear how he was using that term, I believe this indicates that he had not thought a lot about fearlessness either up to that point of writing this book. My own integral-holistic theory (Fisher, 2010) of fear and fearlessness claims that one only truly reaches a stage of fearlessness (Wilber’s integral consciousness level) when they are seriously interested in fear at all levels of existence from multiple perspectives. It requires disciplined study, standing back and witnessing, what archetypally can be called the path of the Sacred Warrior. I surmise, from reading his text, Rafiq is definitely on that path, albeit, in the early to mid initiatory levels.
Now, to conclude, I have made it clear this is a good book to help understand what “conscious” and sensitive young people may be going through in having to confront the Western modern tech world and predatory capitalism and its lies—of which the 9/11 debacle perpetrated by some corporate and governmental elites, is but one symptom. It is a good book in which to witness how “revolution” may or not be carried out in our times. It is a good book to examine the limitations of human beings too—and, their wounds and inabilities to hold existential, spiritual, economic and political truths. There’s no one to blame, really. Is there? I think Rafiq and his tribe got lost at times into a lot of blaming of this scapegoat or that one. It’s part of the grief cycle, so experts tell us. Hmmm....
My view, from the start of reading a brief bio of Rafiq was that he was an independent filmmaker and artist (writer, musician, etc.) with great social concern and wants his art to help make the transformation to a new and better (more sustainable, healthy, sane) world. He referred to as the “new human” (one with a soul)—living in the world but not of it.’ I too work as an artist in this context and struggle, in the Anthropocene, as some are calling this period of history today with cascading extinction-driving imperative forces (like global warming). Of many questions stirring in my mind about his “artist” in the world, from what I read, I continually asked what his methodology overall was, as a socially-engaged artist? He seemed to care about people and communities, but I didn’t get a sense he really utilized a clear understanding and foundation to stand on based on the long documented history and practices of socially-engaged artists.
It is like Rafiq hasn’t yet claimed the “territoriality” of that postmodern artist cultural worker role. Maybe he doesn’t agree with me on that ‘peg’ I would hang his work upon overall. My wife just this morning read me a text on this issue, of which I leave here as a “resource” perhaps of some use to Rafiq and others like him. It is from a book by an ecological and socially-engaged art collective (Compass) in Chicago and area, where my wife (also an artist) spent time engaging them in person recently. Anyways, the quote from their collective’s book (cited in Pentecost, 2012, p. 18) brings forward there can be critical pedagogical and methodological clarity brought to artists/teachers/activists who want to ‘walk’ (journey) and ‘work’ in the world and help solve its problems:
Celestin Freinet established the Modern School Movement in 1926.... He developed three complementary teaching techniques: (1) the ‘learning walk,’ during which pupils [or anyone] would join him in exploratory walks around town, gathering information and impressions about their community.... Afterwards the children would collectively dictate a collective ‘free text,’ which might lead to pretexts for direct action within their community to improve living conditions... (2) a classroom printing press, for producing multiple copies of the pupil’s writings and a newspaper to be distributed to their families, friends, and other schools; (3) inter-school networks: pupils from two different schools exchange ‘culture packages,’ printed texts, letters, tapes, photographs, maps, etc. (Pinder and Sutton, in Translator’s Note to Felix Guattari’s The Three Ecologies).
It was 1926... long time ago... when that kind of progressive educative action was being systematized, and it is only one type of activist work among so many since, and even before. I really never had a sense in my reading of Rafiq that he was drawing on such sources for his own activism, and I think often because of his total fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, and other factors, he “missed” the boat of doing effective good work that could have been accomplished on his four-year journey. Who am I to judge? I’m sure he’ll at least consider my thought. It seems he was so compelled to ‘huddle’ and find comfort with his “tribe” and, I feel somewhat the loss and missed opportunity. Yet, clearly, I have no idea what impact he did have on all the places he describes he stayed at on this journey Days of Shock, Days of Wonder.
Rafiq will be an interesting player of the revolution to come, for that I have no doubt of his importance. Will he or his book “ignite a generation”—I don’t think so, for many reasons, some of which I have given, not the least of which, he and his work is still young and growing toward something more powerful. I’ll be watching and no doubt as will others, for what form it all takes. The fact that there are 16 book short ‘book reviews’ on Amazon.com alone already, tells me his book does seem somewhat popularly inspiring. It is an impressive feat for anyone to get a book like this published by an official publisher the quality of Hay River Books, as I believe they have published many of Noam Chomsky’s political tracts. Good for him. Many will like his style. It’s not my style but I feel akin to his overall undertaking. I’m curious what happened eventually to the white whale? In the 80’s I bought a 1973 VW and well... a kinship with Rafiq’s spirit is inevitable. Today, I lament, no more cars, nor more vans—I’ve used up my oil and gas quota and supported excess CO2 for one life-time.
Fisher, R. M. (in progress). A general introduction to fearanalysis: Putting the culture of fear and terror on the couch.
Fisher, R. M. (2012). Fearanalysis: A first guidebook. Carbondale, IL: In Search of Fearlessness Research Institute.
Fisher, R. M. (2012a). Love and fear. A CSIIE Yellow Paper, DIFS-6. Carbondale, IL: Center for Spiritual Inquiry & Integral Education.
Fisher, R. M. (2010). The world’s fearlessness teachings: A critical integral approach to fear management/education for the 21st century. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
Fisher, R. M. (2003). Fearless leadership in and out of the ‘Fear’ Matrix. Unpublished dissertation. Vancouver, BC: The University of British Columbia.
Fisher, R.M. (1987). Life after Harmonic Convergence. Erospirit, October, 13-16.
Four Arrows (aka Jacobs, D. T.) (2016). Point of departure: Returning to a more authentic worldview for education and survival. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
Pentecost, C. (2012). Notes on the project called Continental Drift. In R. Borcia, B. Fortune and S. Ross (Eds.), Deep roots: The midwest in all directions by Compass Collaborators (pp. 16-24). Chelsea, MI: White Wire.
Rafiq (aka Lewis, R. S.) (2016). Days of shock, days of wonder: The 9/11 age, the ways of the mystics, and one man’s escape from Babylon in the belly of a whale. Montreal, QB: Hay River Books.
Rafiq (2016a). Indigenous worldview and the art of transformation: A book review by Rafiq. Retrieved from https://truthjihad.blogspot.com/2016_09_01_archive.html
Wilber, K. (2006). Integral spirituality: A startling new role for religion in the modern and postmodern world. Boston, MA: Integral Books.