Today we live in hyper-connected world where “mechanical productivity” is a great virtue. Present-day life is described as, using Ziauddin Sardar’s conceptualization, life of “postnormal times”. It is filled with colossal chaos, pollution, distraction, misinformation, obliteration, deconstruction, and reconstruction. Societies and cultures are dismantling the established “normal” traditions. Man’s practical engagements with the real world envisage the incessant process whereby “mechanical references” are replacing the “spiritual/psychological references” at an unpredictable scale. The organized “mechanical modelling” of conditions of time and space have divorced us from knowing the essential meaning of “self”. It disengaged us from the “world inside” (spiritual/psychological existence) by diverting our whole focus to the “world outside” (mechanical existence). Our constant search of contentment and incentives in the mechanical schedules and quantified functions has conditioned our consciousness to delink with the psychological/spiritual reality of our being. Such behavioural transformations have gradually allowed us to internalize a pattern of mechanical attitudes vis-à-vis approaching to “self” and everything associated with the meaning and reflection of “self”. The mechanical ingredients have infiltrated into the spiritual/psychological makeup of human “self”.
Eventually, we have lost the place in the greater order of things. We have lost purposive meaning of life. Unfortunately, we have become sort of beings- I won’t say animals- who are, from head to toe, deeply immersed in a race of mechanical realization and appreciation. We grow mechanically, socialize mechanically, think mechanically, communicate mechanically, and, ofcourse, die mechanically. Everything within and around us, is approached and assessed mechanically, and, finally, accepted or rejected mechanically. We have set mechanical units and standards to measure: life, progress of life, movement of life, and meaning of life. Quite astonishingly, peace, love, happiness and sadness, the aesthetic tendencies that characterize our “psychological/spiritual being” are reproduced, weighted and prescribed mechanically. We have become unmindful of our inherent; sociality, emotionality, spirituality, and, above all, natural tendency of normality. In this context, the critical question is; what is our “original nature”? And, does this disenchantment with the psychological/spiritual nature of “self”, rendering man to an actualized “mechanical unit”, using Schumpeterian theorization of “constructive destruction”, is coherently evolutionizing our relation with our “original nature”- our fundamental humanness- or not?
At the present terribly critical moment of time, when our mechanical life has turned motionless, answering this question might take us “back to normality”- our original nature. Since Covid19 pandemic has, borrowing Arudhati Roy’s expression, “brought the world to a halt like nothing else could”, we are able to wrap off the spectrum of “realties” which we would usually miss due to, applying Ziauddin Sardar’s three Ss – Scale, Speed and simultaneousty of our prodigiously committed mechanical schedules. The panic, fear, anxiety, and frustration exposed our unfathomable human weakness which we would, in otherwise situations, hide under the guise of artificial “mechanical strength”. Unwillingly and unwittingly we realized, a microscopic biology- basically a “life”- is more powerful than technology if not dealt with paramount level of care. We are now hell-bent to fight back and to safeguard our existence; our movement, our meaning, and, in nutshell, our “life”. We are exercising “social/safe distancing” or “quarantine”. Practically, we are forced to break with our regularized “mechanical” schedules wherein all sorts of functions are prioritized as per their “mechanical utility”. Also, we are temporarily breaking with those structures and institutions which manipulate our psychological/spiritual inducements through mechanical hammering to, using Gabriel Marcel’s conception, “fragmentize our personality.” And, eventually, synchronize us in a “universal mechanical design”.
Simplifying the argument, pandemic has pushed us back to our “normal-times”. In the context of “dealing with self”, normal-times refer to a relational frame of time and space wherein exercising the mindfulness is applied as a metacognition method to develop self-knowledge (marifat an-nafs), self-discipline (tarbiyat an-nafs), self-nourishment (tagziyat an-nafs), self-introspection (muhasabat an-nafs) and self-purification (tazkiyat an-nafs). The process of “dealing with self”, according to Wahiduddin Khan, can be only achieved through these “sciences of realization” since “self” is not merely a technical subject. The constructive “dealing with self” depends on the real interaction with “self” and everything associated with “self”. The first and foremost “Being”, as per Islamic tradition, associated with “self” is God- the One who created it and created its inherent requirements too. Then comes the family, relatives, friends, and neighbours- the created being alike man’s own “self”- who are directly and differently connected in giving value to psychological/spiritual/physical “self” of man. And, finally comes every physical constituent of this universe, from celestial to atomic size, which surrounds man’s “self”. Here, it is worth mentioning that man’s equation with immediate “environment” is the most significant element of the relation between man’s “self” and universe. The triangular relational frame between man, God and creation, affirms man’s natural disposition (fitrah in Islamic epistemology). Hence, any negligence in observing this relation would mean discrepancy from the “original nature” and, subsequently, contradictory tensions. Therefore, to strengthen this relation, man has to be in a continual process of “dealing with self” which is not possible without investing “quality time” on engaging with “self”; its essence, its needs and its development.
In the “mechanical framing”, we grumble time constraint when it comes to dealing with emotional/spiritual/psychological needs of “self”. This quarantine period, basically self-confinement, provide us a circumstantial window to appreciate the psychological/spiritual significance of life. Although, the subjectivisation of “self” through “mechanical framing” has led to cessation of man’s spiritual thinking and left him(her) incapable of experiencing meaning of values, truths and realities. Nevertheless, quarantine time might excavate the deeper layers of psychological/spiritual reality of “self”, enabling man to experience an empathic intersubjective relationship with “self”, with God and with creation. This particular goal, approaching from Islamic spiritual tradition, is achieved through the artistic exercising of the psycho-spiritual methods such as contemplation (muraqabah), reflection (tafakkur), observation (tadabbur), remembrance (tadhakkur) and realization (i‘tibaar). Through these experiences man heightens his(her) grasp of reality of “self”- the embodiment of his(her) being. Moreover, man learns to tune-up the spiritual and emotional demands of “self” despite being bonderized by the modern techno-centric framing of life, time and space. It enables man to rise above the mechanical predilections and, resultantly, ending up with unresolved thoughts, artificial beliefs, irrelevant choices, and mechanical temptations. Hence bringing back tranquil normality (al-sakinah) in man’s thought (fikr), action (‘amal), and inner refinement (tajrid). Specifically, man learns to develop the balance with mechanical speed. That is, managing it positively-on spiritual conditions- instead of being managed by it- on mechanical conditions.
The quarantine period also provides us an opportunity to do “deconditioning”- I won’t use deconstruction- of our “self”. Undoubtedly, deconditioning is a powerful organic stimulus to undertake the process to a next level, which is “reconditioning” of “self”. Methodological tools of “deconditioning” and “reconditioning” will be the same as mentioned in the previous section. The great human potential will be actualized only through this dynamic training. Eclectic implications of the process of “dealing with self” will “reform” individual from “mechanical” to “spiritual”, from “machine energy” to “emotional fluidity”, and from “limited structure” to “limitless soul”. It will empower him(her) to see the “inner corruption” through the transparent currents of mindfulness. Significance of every single particle of existence will powerfully circulate through man’s consciousness. He(she) will feel imbedded in the “whole”. The “whole” of which he(she) is a “fragile part”. Man will benefit from beholding the “wholeness” of existence. And, in return, “wholeness” will expose to him(her) the hidden treasures of life and ring of spiritual/psychological meanings. Family, friends, neighbours and all people around will entangle with the orbit of meaning of “self”. Similarly, in a metacontext, all living and non-living constituents of universe will find a relation with the social dynamics of man’s “self”.
To conclude, “dealing with self” during this quarantine period will make life balanced. Spiritual/psychologically speaking, balanced between “inside world” (‘alam al-dakhili) and “outside world” (‘alam al-khariji). Socially speaking, balanced between “office time” and “home time”. Similarly, balanced between “calculations” and “emotions”. And, balanced between “real” and “virtual”. Resultantly, family interactions will become, at least, as much important as virtual interactions. Checking “family updates” will, at least, become an equal concern as checking “software updates” for social-feed gadgets. Meaning of sharing “real emotions” will replace the artificiality of sharing tech-based “emoticons”. “Lived time” will replace the “mechanical time” in terms of giving value and meaning to life. In short, “real profile” will become more meaningful than “Facebook profile”. And, “real life account” will become more meaningful than any “social media account”.
Bilal Ahmad Malik is research scholar at CCAS, University of Kashmir.