Yahia Lababidi is a poet and aphorist of Egyptian-American heritage; he is the author of seven critically acclaimed books including Where Epics Fail, his most recent book of aphorisms https://unbound.com/books/where-epics-fail
Hereunder, he answers some questions about his work as a poet and aphorist
- What do you hope people take away from your work?
Broadly speaking, thanksgiving and awakening. I hope that my body of work – essays, poems, aphorisms and conversations – encourage readers to question received wisdom, move past the false idols of popular culture and begin the difficult work of heart purification.
- You have chosen to write aphorisms. Is that connected to a Sufi-informed view of the world?
‘The best words are those that are few and to the point,’ Rumi says in his discourses, Fihi Ma Fihi (It Is What It Is). In that sense, aphorisms are connected to wisdom literature, in general and, yes, Sufism in particular. Ibn Ata Illah, an important Sufi saint and sage of 13th century Egypt, bequeathed us his treasured Kitab al Hikam (Book of Wisdom) composed of aphoristic writing.
I do not feel that I have so much chosen to write aphorisms, but rather that I have been chosen to communicate in this form, that I have been drawn to since I was a teenager.
- What are your poetic influences?
Kindly, find below a link to my readings of poems that have mattered to me over the years: https://soundcloud.com/yahia-lababidi
As a young man, I began with literature that was at the intersection of spirituality, such as: Gibran and Eliot. This, eventually, lead to the prayerful work of Rilke, who I still revisit for its great longing and numinous quality. Lately, I try to occupy myself with Sufi voices, primarily.
- Can you explain a little how the aphorisms form, or come to you? Do they need much editing?
I define aphorisms as ‘what is worth quoting from the soul’s dialogue with itself’. Which is to say that, out of the ongoing conversation I have with myself, occasionally, I’ll overhear a line that I think is good enough to stand alone and represent the subject I’ve been musing on.
These aphorisms might begin as talking back to an author, in the book margins, or be triggered by an observation or incident in my daily life. More mysteriously, they might arise unbidden as a kind of summation of a matter I’ve been preoccupied with for years.
As with poetry, the better the aphorisms, the less of a need to edit them. Also, like poetry, I cannot compose an aphorism on command and, if I find myself struggling too much with phrasing, I sense they are not ready, yet.
My hope in sharing these aphorisms is that the reader, too, might somehow partake in these states of revelation.
- What is the importance of Idries Shah’s work in the world today?
Past the great mystic poets of Persia (Sanai, Attar, Hafiz) Idries Shah was my first proper introduction to the foundation of Sufism — not merely as an art form, but as an art of living. From there, I graduated to Al-Hujwiri’s ‘Kashf al-Mahjub’ (The Revelation of the Veiled), one of the earliest Persian treatises on Sufism. What Shah, Hujwiri and other Sufi guides do is to offer us books on secrets available to all who dare peer behind reality’s persistent illusions — partly accounts of the lives of saints, partly practical guide books to self-transformation.
At a time of unfortunate and widespread Islamophobia, it is important to have teachers like Shah who invite us to consider the beauty and peace that can be found in Islam and its mystical branch, Sufism.
A selection from Yahia’s hundreds of aphorism:
There’s freedom is not needing to have an opinion on everything.
We are captive to what we create.
The divided self is spiritually immature. Divine union begins with self unity.
All the unmet promises that we make, to ourselves and others, will return to taunt us.
A cluttered mind makes for a poor mirror.
Poor rational mind, it would sooner accept a believable lie than an incredible truth.
The contemplative life is not a passive one.
As with any wild animal, it’s unwise to turn our back to life.
Every enmity with another is part of our unfinished work on ourselves.
A free person has no enemies.
Does the contemporary prevalence of ‘life coaches’ mean Life can no longer be relied upon to do her job?
Our eagerness to arrive at our destination – and impatience with ourselves and life along the way – echoes childhood’s mantra: Are we there yet?
Educated is schooled in the ways of the heart; literate is versed in the alphabet of emotions.
Be wary of persons reluctant to assume blame, but eager to accept credit.
The more closely we listen to ourselves, the more likely we are to overhear others.
See the sun, how it shifts the light of its attention, gradually, from one thing to the next. Be like it – don’t fixate.
In life’s exams, it’s no use straining to copy the answers of another, since we are assigned different questions.
Mysticism and occultism might appear similar; the difference is that the latter does not ask whence the Vision is issued from.
Airplane wisdom: ‘Make sure your oxygen mask is well-adjusted, before helping others.’
Part of forgiving is, eventually, forgetting.
Unchecked insecurities become vices.
Patience is not just waiting; it’s also doing while we wait.
As we make peace with ourselves, we become more tolerant of our faults — in others.
Compassion is to recognize the role we play in the creation of our enemy.
The only real borders are those of our compassion.
There are many ways to touch the depths; lightheartedness is one of the most profound.
Watch Yahia recite… HERE.