I appreciate Rafiq's sincere and nuanced long response to my blog (Oct. 9/16) where I "review" his book. He was fine with me publishing his response here, as we both intend to keep the conversation going and invite others to comment and join in. Enjoy. I'll respond soon to this piece in Comments format.
Sometimes Fearlessly: A Grateful Response to Fisher’s Riff on Days of Shock, Days of Wonder
In his blog post “A Peek into a Young Artist’s Days of Fearlessness: Rafiq,” R. Michael Fisher does me a great kindness. He takes my work as a writer seriously and he invites his readers to do the same. At the conclusion of his riff on my memoir 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, Mr. Fisher writes, “Rafiq will be an interesting player of the revolution to come, for I have no doubt of his importance … He and his work are still young and growing toward something more powerful. I’ll be watching, as no doubt will others, for what form it all takes.”
More than that, Mr. Fisher has invited me into a dialogue about my work with a reader who cares about the same things as me: the psychology of fear, the depth of love, the chance for revolution in the face of, as he puts it, “a harsh predatory capitalist world that doesn’t give a shit about his quest or mine.” It is rare for a writer to find a truly kindred reader. It is even rarer to find one who is passionate enough to ask questions whose answers can help carry the whole project of social and self evolution just a little bit further forward. In the interest of that project, then, here are my replies to his comments. I’m grateful for the chance to help frame these important ideas if I can.
But, first, a correction is in order. Although Days of Shock, Days of Wonder is endorsed on its cover by scholars Four Arrows (aka Don Trent Jacobs), David Ray Griffin, and Kevin Barrett, I never was able to find a publisher for this memoir. Like my first book, Gaj: The End of Religion, which I wrote to counter the idea of God or Allah as an individual who could take sides in the “war on terror,” my memoir was published by my own company, Hay River Books, a writer’s cooperative that I set up in 2004, where various artists work on each other’s productions in exchange for similar help. So when Mr. Fisher writes the following, I think he has mistaken Hay River Books for Hay House: “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.” I am happy to see that my book left the impression that it could have been published by Hay House, but it just ain’t so.
[RMF: Oh, you are right. My mistake. But actually I didn't think you'd at all be in the genre of 'new agey' type for Hay House publishers, but I meant Haymarket Books, where Chomsky publishes often]
Also, before turning to Mr. Fisher’s questions about Days of Shock, Days of Wonder, I should explain the context in which he asks them. His blog post, as I say, is a riff, not a review, for it is based on his reading of only the book’s final four chapters. He writes,
“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’m happy to say that Mr. Fisher is not at all “off the mark.” But filling in some pieces from earlier in the book will shed more light on my understanding of the themes he brings up.
On the matter of fear, I should respond to the following: “He skirted around defining ‘fear’ a lot more carefully (maybe, earlier in the book he does so) … I found him a bit of a conformist … in regard to his imaginary and understanding of fear and its management and/or transformation.” In my first book, which is a work of religious-spiritual philosophy, I write that a lack of connection to the greater whole “can give rise only to fear about the outcomes of our lives and to fear of each other. In turn, this fear breeds actual division, discontinuity, and the exaggeration of difference, such that our fears (like prayers) become the means by which we weave our futures” (p. 90). By the “greater whole,” I mean what can be called “God,” and I am writing about the distinction between God as an individual separate from creation and God as an energy that animates all of creation. This distinction is discussed in chapter one of Days of Shock, Days of Wonder, where I tell about how I came to write my first book.
In Days of Shock, Days of Wonder, as Mr. Fisher points out, I am “not trying to write a serious philosophy book.” Unlike my first book, which is all theory, my memoir is all practice. So rather than defining “fear,” it seeks to illustrate the conditions for fearlessness. The primary condition, as I say, is a worldview that is rooted in a holistic understanding of reality, wherein God is already conspiring in one’s favour, so to speak. One can move from the belief that this is so to the knowledge that this so only through firsthand experience of what I refer to in the title of my book as “wonder,” by which I mean evidence of a singular intelligent force at work in all of life.
Examples of such wonder appear in my memoir’s first chapter and form the core of many of the early chapters, continuing to accumulate across the real-life narrative of the book. Their collective effect is that they begin to suggest a grounds for fearlessness. But connection to the greater whole, whether in theory or practice, is not the same thing as absolute knowledge of the greater whole. As Four Arrows emphasizes in his recent book Point of Departure, the inspirited realm should be regarded as the “Great Mysterious.” One’s interconnection with the Great Mysterious is thus based on courage in the face of the unknown. Courage precedes fearlessness, which cannot merely be claimed based on dogma but must be hard-won through experience.
In chapter nine, as I begin my retreat from Babylon in a camperized Volkswagen van, I write, “Driving out of the city, I turned on the radio in the middle of the Beatle’s Hey Jude to hear a joyous refrain. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ crooned McCartney. I told myself that I wouldn’t” (p. 67). What follows is an account of nearly killing myself while cliff jumping with my niece and nephews. The rally cry that day had been “no fear.” But they were just words, and when it was all over, I reflected, “I’d summoned enough fearless calm to come through with nothing but scrapes and bruised heels. But I was humbled. I’d been running around half-cocked. A city boy in nature. Real fearlessness was measured and patient. I would have to make it a practice on the road” (p. 68).
And that is what I did. The latter half of Days of Shock, Days of Wonder is an attempt to illustrate that process. After a week volunteering at a Buddhist retreat centre on Canada’s west coast, I write, “Each day before breakfast and dinner, I meditated with the group for thirty minutes. I was calmer than I’d been in my life. The world seemed ephemeral and simple. More than feeling fearless, I saw that there was nothing to fear after all. I vowed to keep meditating” (p. 73). Here, the link between fearlessness and an increased connection to the greater whole through meditation is key. This inner experience of God is a companion to the outer experiences of God that I narrate in terms of wonder.
After my van gets stuck on a beach, with its rear-mounted engine buried in a pit dug by my unsuccessful attempts to get it out, I write,
“If the tide came in, the engine would be flooded with salt and sand. It would be the end of the road. My pulse started to race. Was I truly fearless? I was about to find out … I lay awake and listened to the waves lap the shore … The waves seemed louder. All suffering is just thought, I told myself. The Buddhist stance … I turned out the light and slept fitfully” (p. 76). “At five-thirty I saw a thread of yellow in the clouds low over the ranch lands. Morning at last. I got out of the van. The tide was coming in. I started walking. I told myself that if all went to shit, I would catch a bus to an airport and get on the next plane to Montreal. I would leave the van behind, the solar panel, most of my stuff. But I didn’t really think it would come to that” (p. 77).
And it didn’t. My van was pulled out of the sand by a farmer with a tractor. We crossed paths on the road, and he managed to free the van before the tide was even getting close. Experiences like this one made it possible for me to keep on “jumping into the unknown without a net in sight” (p. 133). So although it may appear that there was little method to my madness, particularly given my professed preference for aligning with the flow of the Tao and letting its current carry me where it might, there was indeed a well-conceived basis for my fearlessness.
Mr. Fisher writes, “I was glad he interacted some with Four Arrows around the fear concept … However, in the pages I read 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.” Mr. Fisher is correct that at the time of writing Days of Shock, Days of Wonder, I had not moved from theory into practice with respect to Four Arrows’ ideas about how fear impedes rational reflection by making one susceptible to subconscious input from figures of authority.
Yet in chapter twelve I recount numerous experiences of Four Arrows that show how this aspect of fear works, all drawn from his memoir Primal Awareness. I have included that part of my book in an article entitled “Indigenous Wisdom Explains Hypnosis of the 9/11 Lie” because understanding the psychology of fear is a necessary first step toward liberation from fear. To be fearless in confronting authority, we must cultivate inner authority, and to do that we must confront past lies and discard subconsciously accepted nonsense. An ongoing project, to be sure.
As for the matter of love, I should respond to Mr. Fisher’s observation that I “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 [i.e., fear and love] in human existence?” As with my attempt to illustrate the conditions for fearlessness, my book’s real-life narrative is intended to illustrate an opening of my heart and the factors that made this lived experience of love possible. And because no journey is linear, but instead a spiral that brings one back around to the same themes and awakenings again and again as it tightens, I structured my book as a double journey into love. That is, both the book’s middle and final chapters conclude with a surrender to love.
In the case of the middle chapter, it ends soon after a German mechanic I met while living in my van on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico tells me about his part in setting up a murder. I write,
“I watched the German sweating there on his back in the gravel and ground-up seashells of what was once an ocean floor. Like he was lying at the bottom of the world. And I felt only forgiveness. Love. Something I’d never felt for the killers in high places who’d done the [9/11] attack. Those misguided faces of the One. My days on the beach had opened my heart” (p. 81). Before the chapter’s end, I add, “I recalled what an American man had said to me in Nizamuddin. How the important thing was to choose one path and follow it to the end. At the time, I’d scoffed. That would be like reading only one philosopher. I’d forgotten what the Hindu thinker had said about all religions being a finger pointing at the same thing. The unifying, indwelling quality of God … [I felt] like I’d followed the path of Sufism to its end. Love for all in All. And I’d found my heart again” (p. 81).
While living on the Baja, I had come into the possession of a fat book of poetry by the Sufi poet Hafiz, who lived during the 1300s. Along with my immersion in nature and practice of meditation, this book played an important part in my orientation toward love. Having read it through twice, I write, “Not Shakespeare in his sonnets nor the Old Testament in its psalms built a greater monument to love than Hafiz. Love of self and love of God. The two entwined” (p. 78).
At the end of the book’s final chapter, I write that a true revolution required that we “ignite our inner fire and illuminate our hearts. We had to love. This was the teaching of Quetzalcoatl, Jesus, and Hafiz. It was what Gandhi had meant when he told us to be the change we wanted to see in the world … Love for all in All had to be the elixir” (p. 165).
From these passages, we see that I understand love, like fear, to be a factor of our connection to the greater whole. Love for God as a part of ourselves is the path to love for both ourselves and others as part of God. In a truly holistic understanding of God, all is God, so all grounds for distinction, all grounds for hate, fall away. When Four Arrows writes on the cover of Days of Shock, Days of Wonder that I have written “a book to ignite a generation,” he is referring to my memoir’s potential to ignite people’s hearts by illustrating through narrative how the workings of the inspirited realm testify to our unity, which is the grounds for our mutual love. Mr. Fisher is right when he says that my book is unlikely to ignite “anything of such grandiosity” as a revolution by my generation. Before that can happen, we need a reorientation as individuals toward a love-based rather than fear-based cosmology.
So what does fearless love look like in action? Mr. Fisher writes, “I think often because of his total fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, and other factors, Rafiq ‘missed’ the boat of doing effective good work that could have been accomplished on his four-year journey.” He wonders whether I could have done my “socially-engaged art practices ‘better’” in the communities I frequently visited in Mexico. He is talking about actions on the ground in response to the lived experiences of actual people. I am not surprised that he should look for this type of practice in his assessment of what he calls a “a socially engaged artist,” a category that I am happy to occupy. In this respect, as with many others, his thinking and mine are aligned. As the following account will make clear, to quote a poster on the door of my Grade 2 classroom, I believe that “love isn’t love until you give it away.”
In chapter one of Days of Shock, Days of Wonder, I explain, “I was living in a one-room apartment above an all-night diner in a seedy part of downtown Montreal. A lot of people asked me for spare change. I usually gave them some” (p. 6). What follows are two anecdotes about how face-to-face generosity illustrates that giving and receiving are links in a single chain – the source of reciprocity. In chapter three, I tell about two homeless Inuit men for whom my apartment became a kind of drop-in-centre where they got warm, cooked on my stove, and occasionally slept on my floor when the winter turned bitter cold. I would end up making a documentary with them so that they might have a voice. It’s called Be Smile: The Stories of Two Urban Inuit.
Later, when I settled in the town of Sayulita on the west coast of Mexico, a similar situation arose with a teenage girl from Mexico City who was sixteen when we met and had been living on and off the streets for three years. She ended up staying with me or using my camping gear to set up home on the beach. Eventually, I helped her get a job at a friend’s shop, and she worked there for two years, living with me whenever she needed to. I thought about including her story in Days of Shock, Days of Wonder, in which case it would have been there in the final chapters that Mr. Fisher read, but I didn’t have any distance from that experience at the time. In fact, she and her punk rock friends from Guadalajara were crashing in my living room as I pounded out the book’s final pages.
There is one final comment to which I should respond. Mr. Fisher writes, “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.” The white whale, Ballena Blanca, is what I came to call the van that took me out of Babylon. In chapter fifteen of Days of Shock, Days of Wonder, after three harrowing months stuck in Belize with mechanical problems and after a week of daily vehicle breakdowns of various kinds as I drove north trying to get back to Canada, the van died in Austin Texas. The engine was blown. I write,
“I could rebuild it for about four grand. I could replace it for a lot more than that. Or I could sell the van for parts and walk away … I walked away. It was 2011. Two years to the week since I’d bought my home on wheels … I kept my drum, a backpack of clothes, a knapsack with my laptop, video camera, and hard drive. And one of the younger mechanics gave me a duffel bag for my books and some odds and ends. That was just about all of my possessions” (p. 130).
True to what I told myself the night that my van had gotten stuck on the beach with the tide coming in, I walked away with no more than I could carry. And I continued on. Sometimes fearlessly. Sometimes with love in my heart. Always in search of the authentic.
 Four Arrows, Point of Departure: Returning to Our More Authentic Worldview for Education and Survival (Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, 2016), 62, https://www.amazon.com/Point-Departure-Returning-Authentic-Worldview/dp/1681235900.
See also Rafiq, “Indigenous Worldview and the Art of Transformation,” review of Point of Departure by Four Arrows, Truthjihad.com Blog, 28 September 2016, http://truthjihad.blogspot.mx/2016/09/indigenous-worldview-and-art-of.html.