Twenty years ago I wrote a book about my wanderings in the Arab world called The riddle of hiking (1999). The image of a camel caravan meandering in and out of a few exposed desert bushes helped set the writing in motion. The sound of the Muezzin calling for prayer always made me stop. Here was a sound, a voice that makes things stand still, the city, the mosque, the sculpture, all the while the sound receded. The muezzin will not stay. The muezzin does not travel. The muezzin makes himself invisible. Forever. The words are the Algerian author Mourad Bourboune. A Sufi monk greeted me out in the desert. And introduced me to the ancient wisdom. To the dance, to the sound, the movement and the connectedness. I wrote my book, but also had family and children and felt closer to the words, to the writing, to life in the city. But as the years go by, I have now and then wondered if I might have missed something?
The English painter Brian Flynn is on holiday in Egypt in 2005. At one point, he visits the Sultan Hassan Mosque in ancient Cairo. Its architecture grabs him. But there is something more. It dawns on him that the principles of its geometry are the same as those of the king's chamber in the oldest pyramid. A sacred geometry that shows a deep connection with light, elements and the four corners of the world. When he later on the same trip visits the Temple in Karnak near Luxor, he discovers that the stories told by ancient people are inscribed in the surrounding walls, not only as external signs and hieroglyphs, but through the resonance of forms and matter.
Flynn takes the time to incorporate the architecture of temples and sculptures. It will be an encounter with an art that has worked unchanged for thousands of years. A disciplined handling of the material that is not driven by beauty, but by what happens to the creator – an open transformation. But it will also be an encounter with the wisdom of the heart. Because there are things that only the heart knows, that the mind knows nothing of.
Just to spin, to circle, continue without falling.
The circuit we ourselves are children of
Back in California where he had lived for nearly 20 years, Flynn had a feeling that something was missing in his life. All the time this feeling of running after something but never getting there. Move from one project to another. Like a hamster in a wheel, where the wheel moves while he himself stands still. That very well sums up how many people in the West experience their lives. A feeling of emptiness, as if something is missing…. I feel our whole way of life is trapped in the linear time, as Flynn puts it. Like the ancient Pythagoreans, Flynn discovers that ancient Egyptian art and later Sufi tradition have access to insights that modern man has gradually forgotten. That our daily linear time is subject to a different and larger time that has its own way – and has its way in us. In linear time, we are no longer associated with the change of seasons, which has now been shown to undermine the cycle of which we ourselves are children.
The secret behind sacred art is its sense of diversity. Eros is this continuity of creation, the openness of the infinite. Art, whether it is architecture, painting or dance, is only there for you to interact with the material. To be receptive to the energy of the stone and the colors. To absorb the multiple field of action of Sufi dance. The Sufi dance teaches you to nurture confidence to just spin, to circle, to continue without falling, as it is said in the film. Eventually you will slip into this vortex, into another time, a connecting time.
For Flynn, the Sufi dance opens a window to the wisdom of antiquity: it activates and connects the sound we already have in us. He discovers that love is not just love for another, because to love is to be gripped by the incomprehensibility and generosity of the world. Because love is a way of interacting with the world, things, matter, life. A generosity in the way you eat together, sense, talk, listen.
There are things that only the heart knows, that the mind knows nothing about.
Devotion: But we lack time
In modern life we are caught up in constant chores, self-administration, a life marked by a reflexive distance to the world. Almost like a way to survive. Love is time made palpable in the heart, writes Marcel Proust somewhere. Today we live at a distance from the devotion that time has made sensitive to the heart. Emphasizing devotion, like Flynn, requires practice, focus, and discipline. Happiness takes time, says Camus. Patience. What requires time, this nourishment for the soul, which is so difficult. Because everything goes too fast. Because a lot of the time is taken from us. The busy work life that steals our time. To dare to let go of control. Because the truth about the world, it turns out, not through mastery, but through attention. We need both, the reflexive distance and the closeness of devotion. But the first one has taken over and may end up suffocating us.
It is a beautiful, intelligent and thoughtful film that shows that there is probably a reason for the lifelessness and emptiness that grips so many people today. That we have access to so much, but we are not really alive. For it to live is about being inspired, that the heart paves the way for us to be any form, as Ibn Arabi writes. Not through a sermon from a higher place, but through the forces that release our creative connection with things and the world. The film also shows how little we need to be able to live a rich life.