Exploring Identity

We’re pleased to share another guest post by Esraa Mohamed, who previously wrote When Rituals End and Desires, Sex, and Love. Esraa is an Egyptian Muslim and physical therapy student with strong passion for the universe and its mysteries. Today, she shares with us a glimpse of her own black box; with all the things we dare not to dig up and explore. The struggle and reward of exploration in a thought-provoking post!

Perhaps curiosity is the best virtue of man

Generally I consider myself a courageous person. I hold pride in the curiosity to explore everything, to the extent that I recall committing suicide to explore death and delve into its mystery. We all have black boxes, in which we tend to keep the things we dare not to explore, and I’ve got plenty. With each and every box I open, I get to lose a piece of my identity, unleashing another imprint into me that happens to be either compelling or astonishing.
So far I’ve opened many boxes and with each time I had to explore things for the first time; things that clash with my old principles and that’s how I explored the change of principles. Nothing is absolute. As much as there is virtue in exploration, as much as it drives you to struggle, I wonder sometimes who I am between all these personalities I explore throughout the day.  Am I the sociable and outgoing or the aloof and introvert one? Am I the chatterbox or the cistern? I’ve previously believed that by exploring different skins, I would know my identity, but I was abandoned with an identity crisis.

Spiritually, I’ve always wondered whether I am a religious person or an ignorant person who’s convinced with the idea of ethical human beings! An infinite loop of questions persist its roots into my sub-consciousness, perplexing me even more. And that’s why on top of all things I want to explore and delve into the spiritual life. I long for exploring new rituals, prayers and customs. I want to be set free of any boundaries. And there tickles a question: what is the point of exploration if I have no guts to change my religion? Yes, it’s nourishing my soul, but still it’s driving me into an unbearable struggle. Though I am a Muslim, yet I haven’t really explored Islam.

It’s said “Not until you lose yourself that you find yourself.” This saying, in the past, used to piss me off but someone told me that by losing, we’re losing our foolish and immature selves, to finally reach to the core of our real self.

Thus, I have learned not to complain about the struggle and agony of exploration, but be grateful for its long-term imprints.

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Exploring The Places You Already Are

IMG_2266By: Jenni Taylor, Author in Chief

I spent the morning on the top of a high rise apartment building in the middle of Shanghai. We had to sneak up there, and a lock might have been picked, but there we were at sunrise. It was after a night of Japanese food, sake, and roughly two hours of sleep. One of my companions was in the same clothes as the night before, the other wearing batman pajamas.

You really can’t make this up.

Shanghai is comprised of people. 28 million, in fact. A Shanghai sunrise is mostly haze and enough swirls of pink and purple to remind you what a sunrise is supposed to look like. We had a 360 view of- well, apartments. Tall apartments, short apartments, windows galore. We could see laundry drying and teddy bears left on the window sill. There were curtains and no curtains, plants and no plants, bikes and toys and kitchen sinks and washing machines. There were at least a million people a stone’s throw away in any direction, with more apartments stretching as far as the eye could see.

And there was quiet.

Up above it all, with blurry eyes and an over sized t shirt, I saw my city. This crazy, attitude-filled city I have chosen to live in, going on three years. I saw the bits and pieces of lives being lived as strangers right next to each other, piled on top of each other, in this place that I have always perceived as a little bit lonely. I could see the haze lifting ever so slightly and the buildings turning gold under the filtered sunlight. It was magic.

Batman pajama lady and I started to sing, like the sleep deprived giddy people we are.

“Blue skies smilin’ at me
Nothin’ but blue skies do I see
Bluebirds singin’ a song
Nothin’ but bluebirds all the day long”

And as we were singing like fools on the top of the world, I felt all my fears of being back in Shanghai melting away. Yes, it can be a lonely city. But that makes it just that much easier for a little joy to go a long way. Returning to a place does not have to make you feel tired and worn when there are still so many adventures to be had.

So I hugged Shanghai with my heart and waved goodbye to the skyline before creeping my way back down the stairs. I fell asleep smiling, knowing there is still so much left to explore.

Exploring History, Exploring Ourselves

 Today’s guest post comes from Abd Al-Rahman, who formerly contributed to Sophia’s Pockets with the post, Silence is Golden. He explores the idea of finding oneself through the exploration of others and their history.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

George Santayana

Ever since I was a young kid, I always felt this inclination towards history. I always believed that’s where experience truly lies. I guess that’s why I always liked museums and historical places. I couldn’t miss a chance to explore how the folks before us lived. It drove me to long lonely, but yet entertaining, trips. I couldn’t stop at any boundaries, the word trespassing didn’t really matter at the time, and I can’t really tell how many times I got caught by guards for entering restricted areas.

 

But why would I put myself into such trouble? Not because it’s always pleasant and happy, but because that’s where the meat of life is, “the juice that we can suck out of our hours and days.” As Ben Saunders says. And also it’s not to explore just the bricks and stones, but to explore people, people like us who had their moments of joy and sorrow, their moments of weakness and moments of greatness. To learn how did they overcome their problems, how they managed to endure when nobody could, to learn not to repeat their mistakes, and how do we live up to their expectations.

 

Well, and I can say that I’m gifted with the gift of feeling the scent of the place. Whenever I visit any place, I always visualize seeing the people who built it wandering here and there, and like to imagine what situations would occur. But finally I came to the conclusion that what I’m really doing is exploring myself.

 

Everywhere I go, I feel a piece of myself react with the place. Right here a soldier stood in defense of this citadel, how did he feel? Would I feel the same?. There, a mighty pharaoh sat and ruled Egypt. This busy square once witnessed a great battle that defined and shaped the world as we know it.

 

Every new place I visit, every book I read and every map I look at they change the way I see the world. I can feel the wisdom pass through the walls of the places, and through the pages of books directly to my heart. Stories of struggles and epics of wars, romance of statues and drama of assassinations, they all affect me deeply to a point I can no more describe.

 

In the end, I always believed that exploring our history not only gives us a chance to explore ourselves, but also marks where we stand from our past, and therefore, sheds a beam of light on the future, so we can predict, plan and welcome it with open hands, and most importantly, with open hearts.

 

#BlackLivesMatter and Crucifixion

By: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief Christ, Interfaith, Christian, BlackLivesMatterI am supposed to be packing my bag for my next big adventure. In a little more than 24 hours I will be moving across an ocean. But I am not packing, my thoughts and prayers are interested in what is happening in the place I am stopping at on my journey. I am speaking of St. Louis, of Ferguson, of U.S. America, and the struggle for justice that is happening there today, and every day.

There are a lot of issues that need exploring on this topic, but I want to take a moment and explore the link between the crucifixion of Jesus and what is happening at this moment in my home country.

With the recent arrests of Johnetta “Netta” Elzie, many of the Millennial Activists United folks, and Cornel West, among other, my mind drifts to my recent trip to the Vatican in Rome.

While I was at the Vatican, I was told that after a terrible fire, early Christians were blamed for this fire and were tortured, burned alive, arrested and crucified by the Roman state. This is of course after Jesus was arrested and killed by the government of the lands in which he was born.

When I see my friends, brave activists, and those who I hold in the deepest gratitude of the spirit, and I see what they endure, the tear gas, the bruises, the beatings and the deaths, I cannot help but recall Matthew 27:30-31:

 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

As an ally, a comrade, a co-conspirator with those fighting for the literal lives of people of color in U.S.America, I cannot ignore the violence that is being perpetrated on those seeking justice, those calling for an end of domination, of racism, of injustice. In the same way I am called to give up earthly comforts to follow Jesus, I am called to give up the illusion that I too have not been steeped in racism, called to not merely observe but to stand with my comrades of color.

Marcus Borg explores the link between the crucifixion of Jesus and the movement to end oppression and domination far better than I ever could.

Jesus was killed. This is one of those facts that everybody knows, but whose significance is often overlooked. He didn’t simply die; he was executed. We as Christians participate in the only major religious tradition whose founder was executed by established authority. And if we ask the historical question, “Why was he killed?” the historical answer is because he was a social prophet and movement initiator, a passionate advocate of God’s justice, and radical critic of the domination system who had attracted a following. If Jesus had been only a mystic, healer, and wisdom teacher, he almost certainly would not have been executed. Rather, he was killed because of his politics – because of his passion for God’s justice.

Jesus fought against the state, the corrupt status quo, and he suffered for it, he was killed for it. As a Christian, I am firstly and most importantly a citizen of the way of Jesus. And as a citizen of such a state I salute everyone working for justice with #BlackLivesMatter. I believe Jesus is with you, I believe you are doing the work of God, and this post is for you.

Exploring The Road Less Traveled

By: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief Deco, Interfaith, Two Roads
                               Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
                                I took the one less traveled by,
                                And that has made all the difference.
                                –Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

I can’t tell you the first time I heard this poem, but I can tell you that I have heard it so often that it may be the only piece of writing that I have passively memorized. This poem is quoted on cards, and oft cited to those of us who don’t follow te traditional roads.

Mostly this poem is read as an exultation of the road less traveled, a song of praise to those who walk against the grain of society. I was lucky enough to have a teacher who once taught me another reading of this poem that has informed my life choices ever since.

In class one day, Mr, Hoelscher read this poem, and then told our astonished class that it wasn’t a poem that praised the road less traveled. Indeed, Mr. Hoelscher pointed out that the speaker of the poem never says that the road less traveled was better. In fact, Mr Hoelscher drew our attention to the last stanza which starts,

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
He pointed our that it is entirely possible that the sigh indicates regret at taking this path, that perhaps the road less traveled was hard, exhausting work.
I can tell you that after 30 years of exploring what life has to offer, after years of obstinately choosing the road less traveled, I have to agree with this reading of the poem. Taking the road less traveled has also made me sigh–sigh with frustration, with exhaustion, and even with regret.
I have found that those of us who take the road less traveled don’t like to admit to the hard parts of our journeys. In fact, often even from the outside the difficulties are hidden, and sometimes I am not likely to remind the world that my life is not all glamorous french cafes and visits to the Louvre. The road less traveled remains less traveled because it is difficult, because the path is not clear.
Yet despite its difficulty, my exploration of this road has been beautiful, profound and rewarding. It may have made me sigh, but taking the road less traveled has indeed made all the difference in my life.

Exploring Immortality And Time

Today’s post comes from Matheus Yuhlung, a Christian blogger who is pursuing an M.A. in Philosophy and currently lives in New Delhi, India. Matheus’ post today reflects the same philosophical spirit as his post on inspiration, but this time Matheus explores the concepts of immortality and time. This is a post that will make you think, and urges us all to explore these concepts on our own journeys.
Time, Philosophy, India, Prague, Travel, InterfaithIn the morning I was reading George H Morrison’s sermon entitled The Springs of Endurance where he quoted St. Augustine as saying: God is patient, because He is eternal; and it set me off thinking, can that be the same for us human beings as well? So I went off exploring the idea.
Things standing shall fall, but the moving ever shall stay.–Basavanna
 
This quote from an ancient Indian poet,  offers a contemplation on the temple of God as a state of being rather than a thing built with bricks and stones. These lines are the concluding verses of a poem where he is singing of how his soul is going to live forever (housing his God in the depth of his heart) while the temples that are standing now shall fail in the test of time.
 
Though originally written to a fictitious and formless god call Siva, those two sentences from the poem quoted above reminded me of what Apostle Paul wrote: Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?
  
Once, we had a pastor visit us from the Bible Society of India; and though he was young, he looked old as he was extremely thin and had an impoverished figure. He spoke in a low tone, in broken English with a heavy rural accent, yet, it was such a blessing to hear him speak.
 
The breath that God breathed into Adam’s nostrils, he said as he waved his shaky, skinny hands back and forth from the pulpit as if he was trying to contain his uncontainable ardour for Christ, that breath, he said again, still runs through, and inside, you and me and that is what that makes us cry with an upward longingness.
 
I believe anxiety and impatience gets us only when we limit ourselves under the matrix of time and space. The fact that God is always on time (though it may not seem like it to us) is because God is eternal, and is outside of time. The old Indian philosophers were very much aware that their souls were eternal, so much so that Sankara ended up saying: Brahm satyam jagat mithya – which can be loosely translated as: “Only Brahm is real and everything else is an illusion.”
 
For them ‘Brahm’ was an eternal-world soul, while ‘jagat’ meant the world. They believed the latter to be a complete illusion, a consequence of human ignorance. Hence, they ignored its existence in complete totality. Interesting, isn’t it?
 
Truly speaking though, time is real. This world is real and so is eternity. I sometimes like to think our bodies became mortal (and so did time and space) only when Adam and Eve ate that forbidden fruit. If that is true, we’re living simultaneously both in eternity and in time, only separated by a thin delay of mortality.
 
Anyhow, if we’re immortal beings, eternal,  shouldn’t we be patient with our lives as well, in the same way God is patient with us? Should we seek to believe and live out our faith and let God take care of the rest?
 
This whole exploration, these deep concepts are complicated, but I love it how Hermann Hesse puts it in his book Siddhartha, writing:
 
But the world itself, being in and around us, is never one-sided. Never is a man … wholly Sansara or wholly Nirvana; … This only seems so because we suffer the illusion that time is something real. Time is not real, Govinda. I have realized this repeatedly. And if time is not real, then the dividing line that seems to lie between this world and eternity … is also an illusion.

Seeking Submissions: Exploration

Explore, Interfaith PatternThis month at Searching Sophia’s Pockets, we are focusing on the theme of EXPLORATION. On many spiritual journeys there is a time a exploration. Exploration is often at the heart of our various journeys. So look deeply and tell us what you are exploring on your spiritual journey right now and how has exploration defined your spiritual experiences.

If you are lacking inspiration for your submission, here are a few questions to get you started:

  1. What/Where do you wish you had time to explore on your journey?
  2. What spiritual, faith, or religious journeys of others are you interested in exploring?
  3. How might exploration change your faith?
  4. What small things are you exploring in your daily life? What deep concepts are you exploring?
  5. How has exploration lead you to struggle? How has it helped you through a difficult decision?

With Wisdom, Love …and Lint,

The Searching Sophia’s Pockets Team