The caravan of winter

Martin Lings (Abu Bakr Siraj ad-din), in his wonderful little book The Book of Certaintywrites of the ‘caravan of winter’ and the ‘caravan of summer’. According to Sufi doctrine, the spiritual life is a succession of two phases, repeated numerous times, one after the other, in the life of an individual. The two phases are portrayed using the metaphor of the caravan that travels on a long journey to its final destination, a journey that lasts a lifetime.

When it is summer, the sun shines from right above, in the heart of the sky, illuminating the path of the travellers so that there isn’t a moment of doubt about where to step. The caravan steadily progresses towards its destination. When it is winter, however, the sun shines in the far horizon. The traveller sees only a glimpse of it and is left to struggle on the path, unsure whether the direction in which he goes is the right one. It is dark and cold, and the chilly winds offer the frightening possibility of sickness. For days, possibly years, the spiritual seeker carries on on the path. He has a goal in mind – an idea, a symbol, a word – that represents the divine. Yet, this goal is not felt intimately, it is far off in the horizon – in sight but as distant as can be – like the sun for the caravan of winter.

The caravan of winter is left not with the illuminating light of the sun, but with its own desire to reach its goal. It is time then, in the darkness of the winter, to quietly be with this desire and understand it deeply. The traveller may ask if the desire needs to be refined, so that he may change direction and travel elsewhere, where the light of the sun is closer. Or, the traveller may persist in the same direction. The traveller may wonder – who put me on this journey? where are they now? have they been to the destination? should I look for another guide? New guides and new companions might be found, for the solitary traveller is most prone to being lost in the dark winter landscape. The traveller may also ask himself – why am I on this journey? What are my real motivations?

The caravan of summer is a caravan that needs only a certain degree of introspection, for the light is shining and one only needs to follow it. The caravan of summer is, then, a caravan of action. The caravan of winter is a caravan of contemplation. When the outer world is dark, the inner lamp must be tended to so that its radiance illuminates outside.

In the human life cycle, youth is typically an age where the experience of the summer is dominant, while old age is a time of winter. However, every human being at every age experiences both these spiritual seasons. The divine manifests itself in the binaries of winter and summer, night and day, and each has its spiritual meaning.

Martin Lings

Martin Lings

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~ by tdcatss on June 19, 2013.

One Response to “The caravan of winter”

  1. May God bless his soul. RahimahuLlah.

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