Finding One’s Path
Rumi says that every person is born for ‘some particular work’ and I think that this is true; it’s all too evident in the way some people do certain things with an unconscious fluidity and naturalness that other people can only seek to imitate. For some it is the instinctual ability to nurture – whether it’s their own children or friends they take under their wing, providing them with warmth and comfort, a present heart and a listening ear. For others it is an uncanny brilliance in learning, for whom conversation is less about sharing experiences and instinctively a means of sharpening their ideas against another mind. Some have a gift of the eye and can make anything visually pleasing. In a cursory glance they see what is visually discordant in a setting, and in moving a lamp or choosing a different shade of clothing can immediately find the most beautiful aesthetic in a way that is almost subconscious. There are those who are naturally disposed towards the spirit, for whom the company of other people is naturally abrasive, and for whom comfort is found only in mention of the Divine and divinely related matters.
There are some who don’t even realize the special gift they are given, or seem to be forcing themselves into another mold, but for an observer it is an evident reality as clear as the rising sun. They were meant for a certain work, a certain path. Perhaps it is easier to see in others than in ourselves.
I’ve always had a special relationship with words. I could never seem to acquire or read fast enough through books, especially in my adolescence. A particular turn of phrase, a new word, an especially eloquent passage would be as delicious as some sumptuous sweet, to be savored and appreciated slowly. I would write feverishly at night, in bursts in the day, in class, on the margins of my notes, feel, think and dream about writing.
The closest description I have found to these feelings is in the words of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, describing when he wrote his first lines of poetry. He says,
I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.
Even as I have matured and often find it more difficult now to bare honest parts of myself to others through words, I still want to write, try to write, and dream about writing. Even when I find difficulty in it, staring at a blank screen and a blinking cursor or a blank page, there is a sweetness and comfort in trying to bring together an order to the words swimming through my mind. There are times still when the words course so strongly through me that they seem almost physically palpable, times when if I were cut I feel that I would surely bleed ink before blood. This is why I think sometimes that this path was meant for me.
In my time abroad I have visited many places of historical and spiritual significance (alhamdulillah) – but two of the most poignant, intense and deeply personal of these experiences have been visiting the maqams of people who had deep relationships with words. These are the authors of the Hikam (Ibn Ata’illah) and the Burda (Imam al-Busiri), respectively.
These writers produced works difficult to describe in their depth, eloquence and brilliance, works clearly manifest from an illumined inner state and a heart connected with God Most High.
It is something incredibly moving to consider how blessed such people were, who were granted a special gift, used it for His purpose, and were honored with His favor. They used the abilities they were granted to produce something of remarkable spiritual beauty. I can’t think of a better life for anyone who has been moved to put words to paper.
I struggle on many levels with writing, but when I contemplate on such people I am at turns tremendously inspired and anxious. My mind turns, by and by, to hope and to fear: Is this a gift? Is this an opportunity? Is this a passing fancy or a self-seeking inclination? Or is this nothing at all?
I can think of no better way to live one’s life than to do what one was meant to do and be blessed in it. May God help us find our path, our ‘particular work’ and reach its ultimate, noble objective, which is a deeper knowing of our Lord and gaining His nearness. Ameen.