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Main » 2013 » December » 12 » Spirituality is Intoxication
2:27 PM
Spirituality is Intoxication
Spiritualism has been metaphorically considered to be a form of
intoxication throughout history. As with any metaphor, this
overshadows a large portion of what true spirituality actually entails.
Many famous poets have referenced wine and drunkenness to express
how one feels when in a spiritual state. Shouldn’t one feel beside
oneself when in a state of spiritual wonder? Shouldn’t one feel
intoxicated when they connect to the divine?
I remember volunteering for a group of students visiting the Shrine of
Imam Musa bin Rida (a). The students traveled from the United
Kingdom all the way to the Middle East in order to visit this shrine.
They were typical young English Muslims, using weird British slang
(which took some time to get used to). Since they did not fit into the
“ultra-religious/spiritual” box, I wondered what effect visiting the
shrine would have on them.
The students put their heads down in deep thought as we rode the
bus to the shrine for the very first time. To my astonishment, when
we reached it and they exited the bus with their eyes fixated on the
golden dome, they started to weep. This turned out to be an incredibly
strong emotional experience for the young boys and girls. Then, when
we returned to the hotel, one of the students said that he felt as if he
was on “a spiritual high.”
He used the term “high” to explain how he felt spiritually. Spirituality
can be described as the strong feeling that one experiences when one
connects to the divine metaphysically. This intense experience creates
a sense of extreme internal satisfaction which is compared, through
similar metaphors, to the feeling that one experiences when he is
intoxicated by wine, or even narcotics. It is a state of true
This is not a modern metaphor, though it is used contemporarily, it
has also been used throughout history. Many poets have tried to
express their feelings when they enter a state of spirituality. Such
metaphors are found in the poems of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi,
popularly known as Rumi. Many of his poems mention wine and
drunkenness, even though he, as a devout Muslim mystic, never
drank any form of alcohol. Take the following poem as an example:
“The God-Intoxicated are not sobered by old age,
They remain beside themselves ‘til the last trump.” (Rumi, 176)
Rumi uses phrases which support the metaphor “spirituality is
intoxication.” First, he states “God-intoxicated.” This is a significant
phrase because it tells the reader which “drug” intoxicated the
characters of his story. The drug is God. Thus, becoming intoxicated
with God produces this intense feeling which cannot be sobered, or
depleted by old age. Becoming “sober” here means breaking the
strong metaphysical connection that they have with the divine.
It is interesting that he also uses the phrase “They remain beside
themselves.” This points to the out-of-body experience that many
claim to have experienced. The poet does not mean that they are
literally souls outside of their bodies, watching themselves.
Rather, he again uses the “spirituality is intoxication” metaphor.
Many forms of narcotics produce hallucinogenic effects. One of these
effects could be the imagined sensation of witnessing one’s body from
outside. Furthermore, the sensation of “not being oneself” is common
amongst intoxicated people. While intoxicated, when someone says or
does something that he normally would not do, he usually apologizes
by saying that he “wasn’t himself” or “that was the whiskey
By stating that “they remain beside themselves,” Rumi tells us that
they are not in their normal states; they are in a spiritual or elevated
state, intoxicated with God. He also mentions that they will remain in
this state “’til the last trump.” “The last trump” refers to the trumpet
which will be blown on the Day of Judgment, summoning everyone to
the court of the divine. Thus, he tells us that, unlike wine, the
spiritual high does not wear off. Believers do not have to come
down. They can remain in this elevated, spiritual state until the end
of time.
Metaphors are useful linguistic tools. They allow us to express our
opinions in an eloquent and imaginative way. But, just as a metaphor
explains one aspect of a concept, it overshadows other aspects. Lakoff
and Johnson explain this dimension of metaphors: “The very
systematicity that allows us to comprehend one aspect of a concept in
terms of another [e.g., comprehending an aspect of spirituality in
terms of intoxication] will necessarily hide other aspects of the
concept. In allowing us to focus on one aspect of a concept [e.g., the
intoxicating aspects of spirituality], the metaphorical concept can keep
us from focusing on other aspects of the concept that are inconsistent
with that metaphor.” (18)
This metaphor is no exception. Defining spirituality as a form of
intoxication only points to the mystical side of spirituality. It allows
the concept of spirituality to become an abstract goal, but it
overshadows another, more important aspect of spirituality. Unlike
drinking or drug use, the goal of spirituality is not to feel all warm
and fuzzy inside; it is not to become “beside oneself.” Rather, the
connection to the divine is the goal. The sense of well-being, or the
“high,” is a byproduct of the divine connection, not the point of it.
When someone treats spirituality to be a form of intoxication, he will
chase this high just as a drug addict chases the highs of cocaine or
heroin. Just as the drug addict will do whatever is necessary to get
high, this mystic will do whatever he can – even if it means
disobeying the laws laid out by the divine—to achieve the high of
spirituality. For instance, a Muslim once told me that he smokes
marijuana in order to prepare himself for his nightly spiritual
journeys. However, marijuana is prohibited by Islamic law. Hence,
this person is disobeying the laws of who he perceives to be God in
order to become spiritually connected to him. This is absurd.
Therefore, Islamic scholars, such as the poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad
Balkhi mentioned above, believe that there are stages to Islamic
spirituality. The first stage is piety, which, in Islamic terms, is a state
that a Muslim obtains when he sincerely intends to perform all
religious obligations and refrain from performing all religious
prohibitions. The Quran describes a spiritual journey whose
provisions should be piety: “And take provision, for indeed the best
provision is piety. So be pious towards Me, O’ you who possess
intellects.” (2:197) The Islamic tradition holds that as long as one fails
to reach this level of piety, he will be unable to benefit from the
higher levels of spirituality that are mentioned in the poems of
mystics such as Rumi.
Thus, although the metaphor of spirituality as intoxication has been
used throughout history, it can be misleading for one who does not
look at other dimensions of the lofty concept. If one does not look into
these overshadowed dimensions, he can mistakenly perform actions
which would sever his spiritual connection with the divine – the very
connection he is trying to achieve. One must therefore take care in
accepting the truth or value of metaphors because important
dimensions of the concept are invariably overshadowed every time a
metaphor is used.
Category: Motivational/Spiritual/Inspirational | Views: 177 | Added by: Redeye | Rating: 0.0/0
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