Three Questions with Ali Ahmad Felhi

How can we reconnect with our deeper selves, our essential nature? 

I think the answer is in the question posed: stating that we need to (re)connect with our deeper selves presupposes the preliminary existence of a ‘connection’ to an essential nature, and that this connection was ‘lost’. This reading imposes a specific chronology of first an authentic, created, primary human truth, then a moment of loss, and finally a phase of recovering. To use a more platonic terminology, What we are required to adopt here is a simple act of ‘remembrance’. The truth to be remembered is a simple one: there is nothing in you to be known, you only exist in the other, and if there is a reconnection to be made, it is not through an inquisitive look towards yourself but through a loving gaze towards those surrounding you.

How do you feel and live your connection to the earth? 

Earth is an interesting word because of its modern polysemy. Earth goes from the cosmic level to indicate the planet itself, to also describe a little handful of mud or sometimes simply a color or a perfume. with this multiplicity of uses, the ‘spiritual’ meaning of the word has been eroded ( to remain within the same lexical field). The scientific modern hijack of language makes it difficult today to understand earth as a ‘spiritual matter.’ And I think we are very much in need today of a ‘re-spiritualization’ of earth ( we are, should we remind ourselves, at the brink of an ecological catastrophe). For that matter, the Abrahamic use of earth is interesting. The three monotheist traditions understand it as the origin of all life (Quran describes humans as made of mud) but they also consider it as the perfect locus of death (these traditions requiring their adepts to burry their dead in the ground). Earth is where all starts ( the cosmic material constituting humans is brought from earth) and where all returns ( dead bodies come back to what they have all always been; dust). Monotheisms offer a perspective where earth is the Locus of both the ‘eternal return’ and of the ‘eternal restoration”. Earth, in that understanding leaves the realm of the ‘commodity’ and enters the sphere of the sacred. and it is this linguistic and conceptual sacralization of earth that will, I think, start a new and much needed ‘ecological imaginary.’

How can we create or reimagine a more compassionate world from within the current structures? 

I don’t think it is possible to do it within the current structures. A system built around an intensive commodification of human relations and an emphasis on ‘competition’ as the major social engine cannot be more compassionate. Today, it sadly appears that the only way for the existing system to be more compassionate is to transform ‘compassion’ into a commodifiable item ( Buy a Starbucks cup of coffee and we will help the Colombian lady in the picture have a better life ). You then buy a brief and joyful moment of good conscience with your espresso. Placebo. A radical, all encompassing and revolutionary reconstruction of our social relations is, I think what is needed. What I am stating here is not meant to be sheer nihilism. I just wanted to recenter the ‘political battle’ within the humanitarian project. The noble act of compassionately helping the other should also be paralleled with a healthy struggle against existing political systems that reveal themselves to be an obstacle to a more compassionate world.

Ali Ahmad Felhi. Architect, author, and Sufi adept

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