The Songs of Kamal by I.B. Fandèr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
With all the palaver going on right now – as it always has, I guess – over organised religion; with people being murdered in the name of The Truth; with global splits characterised by faith divides; it’s little wonder that atheists are becoming increasingly strident and ever-more dismissive of spiritual paths. Meanwhile, for those advocating a specific faith, there seems an increasing inclination to seek a path within it that is unifying, which does not divide the world into the damned and the saved, the believer and the infidel, the follower of the One True Faith and the apostate. As this book asks of those hidebound by religion, why do you always show the cross but hide the rose under a dark cloth?
It is my own belief that the root of all spiritual experience which, in its turn, lies at the inception of all organised religions – whatever they may later become as they are corrupted – is mysticism. It is that which lifts the cloth and shows the rose.
At this point, I hear the pattering of footsteps as people flee for the hills, but hold up; you don’t even know what it is yet. Just come back. Give me a moment. I’m not about to go boggle-eyed and start chanting or wave a magic wand. To quote from this work, They asked me what I was, and I replied: “Mystic.” Then they asked me to do some card tricks… but it’s not like that at all.
If you’ve ever watched a sunset, walked through a forest, seen snowdrifts on a sunny day and had what is called a ‘peak experience’ wherein all seems well with the world and you are a part of something greater and truly wonderful, then you have experienced mysticism yourself. The mind stops clamouring, and what is simply is. The mystic’s quest is to delve into that experience, to consolidate it, to make it one with his or her life and… well, that’s about it, really. Sorry about that. However, if you’re disappointed, if you wanted runes and cryptograms, pointy-hats and mandalas sure, go for it. They’re an option if you find they help. If not, I’ve got a deck of cards around here somewhere and I know a trick or two. I’m not sure any of it will help, mind.
The problem with mysticism is it cannot be explained, as any peak experience you may have had cannot be explained. It’s about a frame of mind, (or no mind); an attitude, (or the absence of an attitude); about seeing the world around you from a new perspective; or, to be more precise, from no perspective at all. And yes, as that last sentence suggests, it’s confusing upon any initial introduction. As with the wind bending the trees and rustling the leaves, it is experienced through its effects, not seen in itself.
The problem with mysticism in the 21st century is that the source texts are to be found in dusty tomes of other cultures, other times. It is out there somewhere, alien and somewhere else. The newcomer may find it difficult to relate the modern world in which he or she lives with these works from otherwhere, so what is needed is modern works to show the path is here and now no less than it was there and then. The Songs of Kamal may not bring us bang up to date written as it was in the 1940s, but it does make a passing reference to motor racing, and that’s not something you see in too many mystical tomes.
Fander’s work takes the journal entries of a mystic in the (relatively) modern world, his glimpses, experiences and insights, and does no more than present them to us. We see our world from this new perspective, (or absence of it), backed by this new attitude, (or absence of it), in the everyday, the commonplace, the frustrations, the friendships, the beauty and yes, even the unpleasantness of it as we hear our diarist respond. That is all there is here, because that is all there needs to be. There is no philosopher’s stone, this is it. Look around you. No… not like that, cut it out. Try again… and… yes. You’re getting it. Nothing spectacular, I know, and yes, you’ve always known it… but have you ever lived it? That’s what our diarist does, and he’s worth a visit from time to time, the odd reading here and there, just to remind ourselves. This is not a book to read start-to-finish, this is a book to dip into when the need is there to be grounded yet again in the knowledge that our frustrations are not the be-all and end-all of the world in which we live and that they are, indeed, nothing at all.
This English language translation by Erik Istrup is beautifully illustrated in dozens of paintings by Natalie Key Öberg. The simplicity and innocence of her work with blocks of flowing colour depicting nature and the world with people and animals, small yet significant, placed within the whole evoke the mood of the work, and looking at them is a relaxation in itself, there to be appreciated and accepted rather than analysed and assessed. If some of the words puzzle you, just forget them and look at the pictures. Their meaning will come in due course.
In considering the work, I am not entirely without reservations. The focus of our diarist is largely placed upon Another – call it a spirit, call it God, call it what you will – something I do not myself find helpful. Posit a Creator and it leads to the question ‘Why?’ as when our diarist says he blames this Other for all wars and evil in the world, or when he questions him about natural events that have had damaging consequences. I personally find that all a little distracting and would have preferred our writer to have been agnostic rather than to be in a personal relationship with a personified Truth. There’s also an occasional tendency towards smugness – ‘I know, they don’t’ – suggesting our diarist has a way to go in that department, but let’s give the guy a break on that. He’s got it more than I ever have and, given my own impatience and a tendency towards distractions I’m loathe to sacrifice, more than I ever will. This will be a good book for me to pick up from time to time when that impatience, those distractions become too pressing.
If you’re an ordinary person as I am, as most of us are, with a sense that things could be better, should be better, and there’s something out there that can help you to see the world as it ought to be and to sort yourself out within it, then this work is a good place to start looking.
The Songs of Kamal may be purchased from here if you’re a Brit, here if you’re an American and well… um… somewhere else in there if you’re neither.