By Tabassum Saba
“Is this all there is?” Many people of my age are asking this.
Why this has become a nagging question for many of us? I think it’s because we were prepared to fulfill the goals of first half of our lives and now that those responsibilities are somewhat out of our way and we are still alive (thanks to medical science that is prolonging our lives) and wondering what to do next .We were not prepared for the second half of our lives. In order to get ourselves ready for that we will first have to let go of the first half and the things and goals which were important have served their purpose and may not help at this stage of life.
We have to come with new ideas, tools and goals for the second half. We seldom had the clear concept during our childhood of who we would be on becoming an adult. However, as we grew older things were unfolded for us one by one. If we allow that the same will happen for the later years, we first have to examine the earlier years. We can look back and rejoice or can go in despair when we examine our youth in our middle years.
If we can rejoice our youth then it’s great, but getting stuck in glory of the past can make us stagnant. If we feel despair then the acceptance of and coming to the conclusion “it is what it is” can help us step in the second phase of life, because the second phase is not less important than the first one and we have to participate in this with as much vigor and enthusiasm as we did with the first half of life.
We have to let go of our role of being a follower and assume the role of a wise elder and leader. A leader is a person who has a better control of his or her emotions, is wiser, and mature. The true leaders know that they can teach only by setting an example and in a way life is giving us another chance to straighten up our acts before it’s too late. The wise elders are those who can understand the dilemmas of others especially of the youth and should know when to guide and when to step back. The exceptions to this rule are those chosen ones like prophets who have to convey the message whether the ground for it is prepared or not.
Ashfaq Ahmed in his masterpiece play “Man Chuley Ka Soda” describes a state when a student is scolded by his Sufi master about being stuck in the role of seeker and wants to stay in that role forever. The master informs him that he can’t be a student all his life he has to step up and assume the role of the teacher. The seeker is afraid of taking this step because, in a way, it’s much harder than the first half because it brings more responsibility and personal accountability. Yet it’s now his responsibility to pass on the wisdom which he has learned over the course of years, no matter how incomplete this wisdom sounds. Ashfaq Ahmed himself assumed the straightforward role of a teacher at the end through his last work “Zavia”. Mumtaz Mufti, a malamti Sufi, could not find the courage to teach like Ashfaq Ahmed and would not even take any credit for his writings, saying that SOMEONE else was writing behind him, but at least he let it flow through him and did his duty faithfully till the end.
The fear of becoming a leader in our personal, professional and spiritual lives (all of which are inter-related) can be paralyzing. Sarfraz Shah gives hope that the teacher in the process of training his or her students evolves with them. Anyone in the teaching profession will agree with this. Actually there are always students who would graduate from the level of their teacher to the next level and it happens all the time. “Mun Chuley Ka Soda” ends on that note.
The fear of assuming the role of a leader is a common phenomenon especially among women. Teresa of Avila (1515- 1582) was allowed to be a nun, but as a woman she was not allowed to study theology and was required to take constant guidance from the theologians, all of them were men, many of them much younger than her. They would often tell her that her spiritual experiences and ideas were work of the devil and she believed them until she was in her late 40’s and had an epiphany that she was fully capable of understanding what was happening to her. The turning around of a woman around this age and finding a new confidence in herself is not uncommon and Dr. Northrup has explained its biological basis in her book “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom”. When Teresa of Avila found that inner strength a human validation also came (as it often happens) from Peter of Alcantara whom she met in 1560 in Toledo, Spain.
She let her fears go and wrote “Not a fig do I care for all the devils in hell. Its they who will fear me! Oh, the devil!! The devil we say, when instead we would say, God! God and make the devil tremble. I am sure I fear those who are terrified of the devil more than I fear the devil himself.”
Having confronted her fears, a different woman emerged. We now know her as Saint Teresa of Avila. The one who was a now a leader of her spiritual order for her remaining years, which were the most productive years of her life.
(1) Mun Chuley ka Soda (in Urdu) by Ashfaq Ahmed
(2) Fakir Rung (in Urdu) by Sarfraz Shah
(3) Dark Night of The Soul by St. John of the Cross, Explanation by Gerald G. May, MD
(4) Sacred Contracts by Caroline Myss
(5) Falling Upwards by Richard Rohr
(6) My Years with the Qutb by Sharon Marcus
(7) Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christiane Northrup