The Prison of Doubt
In one of Rumi’s stories, Mark, whose friend Joseph has been ‘killed” by his brothers, wanders aimlessly over the face of the earth, doubting, despairing about a world in which the best of human nature is butchered by greed and jealousy. And indeed, this makes all of us doubt and question the world we live in. It is food for sorrow. But move beyond this we must. Joseph miraculously survives, becomes a governor through a series of tragedies, meets Mark again, and says to him, ‘if you do not have the faith (in the promise of being God’s guest some day and dining with Him in His bounty) then you will get only dust and ashes from his kitchen.’
How many of us eat dust and ashes from lack of faith and trust! The only one we harm is ourselves. We cling to our doubts and sorrows as if they could comfort us when they only vitiate and embitter us. Joseph is the archetype in Rumi’s stories of the person of faith who uses all his troubles as grist for his transformation.
We need to trust the workings of the universe, to develop what Joseph calls “the senses that behold the light of the Unseen world;” the world that works its magic from within us, through our highest, most hopeful thoughts, feelings, and intuitions.
Being steadfast in our faith involves conscious striving, a constant remembering to remember the Mystery that has bestowed upon us the bounty of breath that sustains us; that can teach us, if we open ourselves to it, to look past the apparent truth of our senses and circumstances to that which lies beneath and beyond. Remembering the Mystery, connecting with it in tiny ways, for just a few seconds before we go to sleep and upon waking, deepens our connection with it. Islam has institutionalized this remembering to five times a day. Doing it just once or twice, not mindlessly, but with total presence, suffices to confirm and increase faith.
Doubt cannot be extirpated once and for all. It will and does return. Doubt is an in-house phenomenon, inevitable and necessary. It is born from our God-given gift of reasoning. If we didn’t have it, all the tyrannical forces both within and without that try to control and subjugate us would lead us terribly astray. Without doubt, without a healthy exercise of our reasoning, without wrestling with this demon, we would never achieve the power, strength, confidence and trust to continue on the Way. Doubt tests us, gives us blessed choice, and each time we choose the Way again, our path becomes easier.
Remembering doubt’s inevitable return prepares us for it. If we have been steadfast when we could, our faith will return stronger when we realize that without it we become like Mark without Joseph. Joseph lets nothing interfere with his faith: not his brothers’ betrayals and cruelty, not his sojourn in a deep, dark well, not his subsequent imprisonment in a dark dungeon. Joseph can do this because he lives the examined life; because he examines and interprets dreams, harbingers and reflections of the state of our souls. It is his faith in the basic all rightness of existence, his trust in Being that helps him get out of the prison and become Pharaoh’s governor. All his suffering only becomes fuel for greater faith.
We have to drink the dregs of doubt before we can arrive at the crossroads that force us to make a conscious choice to either stay with doubt and paralysis, or take the ‘leap’ of faith. And it is a leap, a mighty, muscular leap from the sunless to the sunny side of experience, from our small egos that isolate and alienate us to something more transcendent of which we are an indissoluble part.