by: Joseph Francis
Forty Days refers to an ancient spiritual cycle of renewal and growth, through which an individual refreshes a commitment to evolution and improvement, and extends that practice from one stage to the next. Externally, we can begin to see how this practice is relevant in terms of changing habits, rudimentarily, for instance, with an addiction to chocolate. When the commitment to changing the habit is intermittent, the results of not eating chocolate for a few days and then having it again leaves a person’s system in a state of confusion and usually greater fluxes of behavior. Externally, we can see that a person has not stopped eating chocolate, and the comment may be made that, “that was short lived.” However, anyone who has been within this experience, knows that the greater significance relates to one’s psychology, both by the positive outcome of having achieved one’s goal, and on the other hand, by the damage one feels within oneself when one starts and stops the practice. The instability that is witnessed externally, is more significantly experienced internally, and usually has a side effect of emotional instability (the rise of anger, selfloathing, depression, or emotional projection to identify a few). Science has shown that when the body experiences an imbalance within the system of the self, the pituitary gland (which governs many of the hormones that are signaled as emotions) creates feedback through the secretion of emotional content to signal that there is imbalance. I suspect that many of us accept this as part of human nature, without realizing that it is in most cases an unnecessary out-
Sufism: An Inquiry Vol XVI, No. 4
come of actions that do not build a solid foundation for stability. Similarly, if a person is in the process of upgrading the operating system for a computer but interrupts this process midway through, at worst the integrity of the system may be compromised rendering the computer useless without a skilled technician to make corrections, and at best the installation must be restarted (and the time already committed to the upgrade is lost). Now, if we turn our attention from the external practice of something like eating chocolate or exercising, and instead into the center of one’s self, into the domain of the spiritual, we must admit to ourselves we do not have the necessary perceptual tools with which to navigate. In fact, when a “40 Days” practice becomes something more strictly spiritual or religious, then we must realize that most of us are essentially blind to the terrain. It is not as simple as going from one country to another, where there exists the common landmarks of rivers, or mountains, birds, etc. by which to orient one self. Rather we enter into a landscape in which there is no land. In much the same way, when one has never seen something before, there is no way by which to understand that which is seen. There is a popularized story that says that when the boats of Columbus sat within the bay of a Caribbean island, seemingly in plain site of people walking along the beach, no one was able to discern the existence of this ships, because there was no context by which the local population was to know it to be seen. It was only by the unusual ripples coming to the shore that the elder wise men were able to eventually extrapolate that there was something to be seen.