The Sufi and the KiteEissa Bougary
Sufism is an esoteric sport of the “nafs,” نفس , best described in Arabic as رياضة النفس, where the main objective is to get rid of the ego and not follow “hawa,” هوا .As any kitesurfer will tell you, going downwind is the easiest part of this esoteric sport. You can’t be a good kitesurfer if you don’t go against the هوا “hawa” and kitesurf upwind. If you follow only the “hawa”, you will not be able to come back to shore and can be lost in the depths of the ocean; exhausted, you can crash and damage your “nafs” and your kite.
In his brilliant book, Introduction to Sufism, the Inner Path of Islam, Eric Geoffrey, describes the journey Sufis seek as this: “Propelled by love, the Sufis seek to know God in this world through the initiatory death they anticipate to encounter.” This journey can’t be still. It can’t not be without همة “himma,” pain, and many crashes. When you are standing upright, it’s not easy to find God. In calm winds, you can lose track of the divine, but through storms and when you kneel down and prostrate, only then can you “unblock human nature from its opacity; just as the sun drives away darkness, this theophany reveals God to the heart of man,تجلي ‘tajli.’” Rumi puts it beautifully: “When the world pushes you to your knees, you are in the perfect position to pray.” Only in high winds do the best kitesurfers come to life, as they use the strong winds to fly high, to rise, to find synergy with the hawa, the kite, and the nafs, a sort of a moment of tajali. However, this occurs only after undergoing many sessions, being an adept of an experienced kitesurfer, a teacher, a kitesurfing master, and after many crashes, pain, and with strong himma. A jump never happens without going against the hawa and only when you pull against the hawa to the maximum. The harder your resist the hawa, the higher the tajali. And your kite has to be in a prostrating position if you want the highest jump. When the kite is upright, at 12, as kitesurfers call it, nothing will happen.
Sufism as Geoffrey describes, is the “Knowledge of hearts or the Knowledge of spiritual states” as opposed to the formal disciplines, such as the law. It is the Knowledge of inner, علم الباطن , as opposed to exoteric Knowledge, علم الظاهر. The exterior of the kite, no matter how beautifully ornamented it is, will never fly you. The inner part of the kite is what you use to resist the hawa so you can propel into an initiatory path, just like a Sufi needs علم الباطن to start the journey to God. If you concern yourself with the exoteric, you will be distracted from the magic that can occur when the inner part of the kite comes in sync with you and the right resistance to the hawa.
What is more horrifying than war and an approaching army? Externally and exoterically it is terrifying, but when the Prophet ﷺ came back from war, he told his companions, as eloquently translated by Geoffrey, “We have returned from the lesser Jihad to devote ourselves to the greater Jihad.” To those who asked him ﷺ , what is the greater Jihad, he answered, “the struggle of the human passion, the hawa”. It is the internal struggle, the inner part of the kite that matters. It’s the hawa’s resistance that matters. Rumi comments on the علم الباطن in this beautiful but controversial quote that is attributed to him: “I searched for God among the Christians and on the Cross, and therein I found Him not. I went into the ancient temples of idolatry; no trace of Him was there. I entered the mountain cave of Hira and then went as far as Qandhar, but God I found not. With set purpose, I fared to the summit of Mount Caucasus and found there only ‘anqa’s habitation. Then I directed my search to the Kaaba, the resort of old and young; God was not there even. Turning to philosophy, I inquired about him from Ibn Sina but found Him not within his range. I fared then to the scene of the Prophet’s experience of a great divine manifestation, only a ‘two bow-length’s distance from him’, but God was not there even in that exalted court. Finally, I looked into my own heart, and there I saw Him; He was nowhere else.”
Beware of the charlatan who will destroy your soul. The abundance of knowledge doesn’t mean you are being rightly guided. A true Sufi sheikh can be the savior of your soul. A charlatan can be a devil in disguise, who will eventually destroy your nafs. In the absence of storms, you are relatively safe. However, once the wind picks up, and the hawa becomes strong, if you learned from a fake, you will be dragged, and your soul will be scratched. And in kitesurfing, your skin will be peeled off of you once you are dragged on the reef. The rocks are sharp, so choose the right teacher. Learn and humble yourself before a kitesurfing master. Choose wisely because your nafs’ welfare depends on it. In life, you will never know when the storm will hit. On the water, gust can surprise you. Observe, learn, and show humility. If the wind drags you too far, don’t be a zealot; walk back to your master and learn some more. Don’t go out in the water until you are ready.
The raisin d’être of Sufism is to rid one of the self, the ego, to resist the hawa, to let go of all attachments, to be free. This is most important when life takes a hard turn. When you find yourself being dragged by the wheels of hardship, it’s time to let go, to have absolute tawkkul توكل. The danger lies in thinking you have control when you don’t. At exactly that critical point, you have to learn how to let go. The number one rule of kitesurfing is to let go of the bar when you lose control of the kite. Leave your ego behind, or you will kill yourself and damage the kite and might even hurt innocent bystanders. These are the lessons I learned from the kite. These are the lessons I learned from life. These are the lessons I learned from all my teachers. To all of them, I owe my life and who I am today. To all of them, I say thank you.
The Sufi and the KiteEissa Bougary