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March 6, 2019

The Gardening of the Soul

Reflection by Nick Hobbs

What we are engaged in, is the gardening of the soul.

We endeavour to create the perfect climate and environment in our psychological functioning, from which beautiful actions may grow. If we tend to the soil through philosophical understanding, but also supply the life giving nutrients of regular prayer and remembrance, then our seeds of intent may blossom into beautiful, spontaneous actions, unbidden but for universal Grace.

The gardener does not concern herself with how the seed germinates; she only creates the perfect conditions for it to do so, to the best of her ability.

When one is struggling against oneself in frustration to achieve one’s desire for beautiful actions by one’s own resources, the soil is not yet prepared. Have patience, in my experience you will notice the changes in perception and inner state that have already occurred. This is proof of direction and travel.

Even before this stage, there may be an ongoing struggle to overcome earlier obstacles – a clearing of dead wood and stones. As we have discussed, these obstacles can manifest due to the psychological drive to overcome past trauma; through asserting ones total freedom from any responsibility, or overcoming past fears of inadequacy by becoming overbearing in demanding power and rights over others at all costs. Both of these are toxic extremes, symptoms of a deep internal poverty and malaise.

It is helpful to internalise the philosophical, rational implications of predestination, and consider the implications of this in every aspect of life and ones own conscious engagement with it. Terms like ‘pride,’ ‘guilt’ or ‘envy’ become absurd. But this knowledge is insufficient by itself.

‘We must endeavour in the direction we see fit, be mesmerised and amazed by the process, and then celebrate whichever outcome He produces. Then we regroup and start the process again, and it repeats thousands of times a day.’

This is exactly it. And it is only when we are forgetful of this process, that we fall into inaccurate perception, or ‘kufr.’ We have all had times when this happens, sometimes for a few stressful hours, sometimes for days. And so we must regularly revisit our practice to centre ourselves, to reset.

It is this experiential engagement which proves the rational or philosophical hypothesis, and by which life becomes a path of discovery which one is inexorably drawn down. Going against the tide becomes futile; if we insist on paddling our boat with our own self-aggrandisement, or conversely fear, guilt and self-condemnation, we only cheat and exhaust ourselves. Rather we must become adept at using the immense power of the depths to travel into the whirlpool without fear.

As Nietzsche says succinctly: ‘Art thou a self rolling wheel?’

This allegory contains both the encouragement to freedom and self-transcendence, but also the inherent absurdity of an inanimate object moving by its own devices alone. In a certain sense then, we must unlearn our impulsive tendency to constantly apply the brakes of self-dependence. Instead we focus on attending to our immediate responsibilities with eloquence, grace and nobility, with certainty that any outcome is ultimately outwith our sphere of influence. If it is not a fruition of our own plans, then we have been gifted a lesson, alhamdulillah. Even dead plants further enrich the soil.

This is the state of submission that we seek.

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