Man On The Moon
by Maira Butt
‘God is manifest, the veil is with us.’
I was told I had Depression in October 2012. It took a severe form which left me unable to leave my bed for 6 months at a time. I denied anything was really wrong even through this debilitating period. After a lengthy healing process which included Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Depression Alliance Group meetings, I saw that I had had a tussle with something tangible and spiritually invasive. I believe coming out at the other side (although I’m not quite there completely) is and perhaps always will be my proudest achievement. I regained the will to live.
I was unable to to be productive or ‘strive’. Unable to envision changes, set goals or grow in the conventional sense. I was paralyzed by almost every meaning of the word. My love for my family and friends evaporated, any concern for my own well being disappeared. Instead I lived alone in a heavy, looming and sinister Void. It carried itself within me everywhere I went; in my skull and in my mouth- like an abusive and needy parasite. Inside my mind, my face was caught frozen in a silent distressed scream. But monotony, apathy and sadness were all I could express.
I experienced vivid and petrifying lucid dreams.The memory of these encounters followed me into my waking hours to the extent that I lived in a state of perpetual fear and anxiety. My own self had turned against me leaving me rootless, without weight and very very lost.
Throughout this period, I wrote hundreds of poems to God. During my illness, I sensed complete abandonment. My poems conveyed my anger, disillusionment, betrayal, nihilism, yearning for any contact from Him, even Hell. Evidently, I felt He had condemned me to it. I felt I had been blinded by His light.
Existentialism and an obsession with mortality have been a part of my consciousness from as far back as I can remember. A small example of this ontological insecurity is in the memory of an event when I was 7 and saw the cartoon Tom being sent to Hell by the Devil for his incessant bullying of Jerry. I was inconsolable witnessing what was effectively entertainment to others my age. I was not raised ‘religiously’ either, it was the finality and responsibility which resonated with me.
Solace was found in music that expressed an element of philosophical anguish and alienation; Kid Cudi was a favourite. On every social media site I signed up to I’d put ‘Man on the Moon’ in my biography. I subsequently found comfort in education and learning, able to channel my confusion and uncertainty about existence into a productive endeavour in which some explanations for my environment emerged. I found my true Home in spirituality and religion, the only community which granted succour to my metaphysical yearnings and instincts to soar.
When I found myself unable to feel or think anymore, I simply existed and could no longer find peace in the rituals and accompanying presence of peace which I had taken for granted. I saw the logic in New Age and Ancient philosophies which state that most of our thoughts come from the ego, and most of us live in a state of almost schizoid insanity latching on to man made interpretations of reality and dogma. Dogma, as Steve Jobs defines, is living with the results of other people’s thinking.
And then finally I knew I could no longer lean on crutches. I had to think for myself. Not in the political or religious sense but existentially, always present in my own being. During this time, I had a lifelike dream in which Kate Winslet, who inspired me as a woman, sat at the bedside of a dying man. I must have been a type of ether because I looked over this set up from the corner of a room. She said ‘Being yourself is easy. It is knowing that only you can see life through your eyes.’ I have often thought about this statement over the last year and a half and have come closer to realizing its truth in my life with the passage of time.
I had to find my own voice, and it was a terrifying prospect. Living each moment uniquely is a breath taking experience in which if you pardon my rhetoric, life and soul expand in a timeless embrace climaxing in the awareness that it is all going to be alright and we are free. Everything is a plus, because we came from Nothing, and yet we are Here.
Once again, it was knowledge that saved me by the Grace of the One who guides us through His Signs. I never doubted that every moment had a purpose. And even during this period of spiritual and psychological death, I simply wanted to know ‘Why?’. Why is this happening to me? Why now? Not out of a victim mentality, but out of an almost sadistic curiosity and interest in my self and my surroundings.
I read multiple interpretations of the causes of neurosis but I must say that this is the one which stuck with me:
When the natural course of a man’s development through life was held up, either by misfortune or by his failure to meet life’s obligations, his libido became turned in upon himself and reactivated the attitudes and feelings of childhood which would normally have been left behind him. Jung believed that there was a natural and proper path of development for each individual; and that neurosis might actually be a valuable signal which indicated when, through intellectual arrogance, a false set of values or an evasion of responsibilities, a person was straying too far from his own true path. Neurotic symptoms, therefore, might be compensatory; part of a self-regulating mechanism whose aim was the achievement of a better balance within the psyche. Jung sometimes said of an individual: ‘Thank God, he became neurotic!’ Just as pain might make a man realize there was something wrong with his body, so neurotic symptoms could draw attention to psychological problems of which the individual was unaware.
Anthony Storr, ‘The Development of Personality’ Extract, The Essential Jung: Selected Writings
Slowly, I found my way out and learnt God had not abandoned me, after asking an Imam I trusted about the Hadith where the One says to mankind ‘I am as my servant thinks of me’. I was concerned that my negative thinking and feeling would have meant God had morphed into a nightmare. He replied that I was a sign of God, as was he. What we saw in the world was a projection of the state of our soul and dependent on our attitude. When we saw beauty or ugliness around us we were able to see more or less of God’s Majesty depending on how much our own nafs were in the way and a part of our perception. He told me that to believe God changed according to our attitude would be akin to believing he was a type of personal slave whose characteristics would fluctuate along with our own- in a nutshell, that I had misunderstood the Hadith. God is who He is regardless of my inadequacies or nafs. I am of course paraphrasing, and unfortunately have lost some of the terminology he used, but this was beauty.
God is not my slave and He does not react to my individual whims and desires or emotions which are ultimately fallible, even biological and certainly ignorant in the grander scheme of infinite intelligence. This is a humbling concept. It reminds me that there is more in existence that is NOT me, than there is matter in the Universe which is me. I am a part of creation. Although I am limited to a locus of consciousness which is centered in my physical body. I share existence with the rest. I do not have the right to demand that all existence bend to my will. Buddha said that expectation was the root of all suffering. Expectation is often a result of material and social conditioning which pales in comparison to the working of the Tao; the countless subtle and super-massive interactions that had to take place for you to be sat where you are reading this, and for me to have written it. It is God’s Will which is always being Done.
My Cognitive Behavioural Therapist was a beautiful woman named Anne. Before I went to Oman she told me to respect the Ocean. She knew that I was looking forward to seeing it for the first time. I asked why? She replied that the Ocean was a body with its own laws. A phenomenon with a unique reality and way of life. In the depths of its massive entirety, I would be a small body of skin and bone and organs. The onus was on me to prove trustworthy and to treat the water and its life with respect and reverence or risk engulfment. To learn its ways I would have to be cautious and loving. The crucial role of reverence is equally relevant to our engagements with the Universe. We are a small speck of the Cosmos, inextricably linked to the entirety of all that exists. We found ourselves here one day, and we are unsure which of our actions or expressions will echo in all eternity or tip the balance of energy in our favour when we die.
I then asked the Imam how one was to remove all their projections to know God as He Is. He replied that this was the purpose behind his teaching. Some people were so restless in this world of attachments that they would have to experience the truth of what the Prophet SAW said in the Hadith ‘Die before you Die.’ This spiritual death would result in a removal of all that was unreal to reveal what was True. I then asked him, that in partaking in this process of spiritual death, was there not a risk that the psyche would implode? That the person seeking to become close to God could lose their mind? I quoted Elif Shafak; ‘There is a fine line between losing yourself in God, and losing your mind.’ I told him I had experienced this first hand. His reply shook me.
He said ‘That is because you did not have permission’. I said ‘Sorry?’. He said ‘When one goes to the Abode of the King, one does not barge in. One seeks permission. Knowing Allah is a reality which unveils according to His time. Not yours.’ I wanted to know how to obtain permission and he introduced me to the concept of Wilayah. To follow those who remind me of Allah. Sometimes Allah would grace an individual with this awareness organically, but it was rare. Most often we would have to approach the people around us as signs to Allah. Then we would come to Know Him.
I learnt God had not abandoned me, that it would be an impossibility. God cannot leave when He is the very Source of existence. He is the One who keeps the stars in the firmament, and our feet on the concrete. ‘Whether called upon or not, God will be present.’