The Legacy of Aso

My name is Aso , yes, do laugh please. The way you Dutch people pronounce it, I don't even recognize my name, with a long aaa and a long, deep ooo , and yes, I know what that means in your language.

The Legacy of Aso

In Farsi [1] it’s pronounced differently, with a short a and o, a bit like in ‘sun’ and ‘short’, and when my wife calls me, it sounds simple and warm, like the Iranian winter sun.

My grandfather, a man of a loving heart, decreed shortly after I was born that I should have the same name as him; it is quite an old name in Iran. I have a few Dutch colleagues who now consciously pronounce it correctly because they have gotten to know me well, and so have I. They’ve kind of become my friends, at least I think they see it that way too. But just going to visit them, that is not possible, then the agenda must first be looked at. I find that something difficult about the Dutch, what is meant by hospitality here cannot be compared with how Iranians deal with it. One of the first Dutch expressions I learned was:

‘s lands wijs,’s lands eer.

I looked up the word ‘wijs’ in my dictionary, but it didn’t get me much further, I didn’t see much of wisdom in the behavior of the Dutch around me. Later, when I discovered the correct meaning of the proverb, that is

the honor of a country lies in the way they behave. [2]

I still couldn’t quite place it. Actually, disappointment is the best word to describe my first experiences here. But of course I looked at everything new from the perspective of my origin, when in fact you have to learn to observe all over again if you settle in a country with a different culture. With unbiased openness. Fortunately, the disappointment at my meeting with the Netherlands was temporary.

I fled Iran when I was 25, after having finished my engineering studies. It was no longer safe for me; as a student I had been at the front of demonstrations a little too often, quite coincidentally. I have never been particularly politically involved, but I was very fond of my freedom and at that one demonstration there were many photographers. The arrests started suddenly, and very randomly. When a boy next door of my age and shortly after that a cousin disappeared unexpectedly, my father and grandfather told me to leave, it was getting too dangerous.

My family and friends’ farewell party was one of the most difficult moments before my departure. The future felt lonely, uncertain and difficult, but at the same time also full of expectation, which was very contradictory. The whole family had raised money and so I could buy a trip to freedom, to Western Europe. I’m talking about the mid-nineties, when it was still fairly affordable and you could also enter somewhere relatively easily as a refugee. Unfortunately that has become a lot more difficult. But even then it was an uncomfortable and dangerous journey.

Once in the Dutch asylum seekers’ centre I met my wife, a wonderful coincidence. The special thing about it was that we came from the same region in Iran and had studied in the same university city. She also told me that her grandfather and father belonged to the Sufi community, as were my grandfather and his sons. That community was very important to my grandfather and father and they would have liked me to join it. As a boy I sometimes went to meetings, but I didn’t understand much about it, although I thought the dancing was very beautiful.

During my student days, the Sufi philosophy completely faded into the background, and my family released me into it. But shortly before I left, my grandfather handed me two booklets, one with verses by Rumi and one with poems by Hafez. He added,

Son, you’re going to a land of freedom now. But here are verses that talk about true freedom, a loving freedom that you will always carry with you, deep in your heart. Whatever happens, don’t forget!

It awakened something in me, I think, though I didn’t recognize it yet. But I started to think more about the how and why of everything on the journey to the West, despite the arbitrariness and disinterest with which the people smugglers treated us. Or maybe because of that, who knows. When I look back at how I was unconsciously searching for the meaning of life all this time, first in Iran and later here in this cold, grey and wet country with that difficult language, a country where I initially found so little love and warmth … I didn’t see any meaning anywhere at first. Not in the often superficial and distant attitude of neighbors and colleagues, not in their sometimes shockingly direct reactions to my wife and me and our young family, not in the way in which we were almost completely left to ourselves after the first good reception. Until I stopped searching and it suddenly seemed to be thrown into my lap.

After I had been working for a while, my boss sent me to a Dutch writing course. He apparently thought I needed that and it was okay by me. One day we read a short text from Rumi as an introduction to a homework assignment, I will never forget it. After class, I asked the teacher, “Do you know of any other works by Rumi?” That was the case, and when I asked, “Do you understand it?”, it turned out that she belonged to a group that, among other things, deals with the writings of Rumi and Hafez, as well as those of other ‘wisdom teachers’, as she called them, from other times and cultures. And she said something else that I did not immediately understand, namely that we humans departed from our original unity at a stage far before our birth, because we wanted to go on a journey of discovery in the material world.

And now we’re all refugees in our own way, looking for a way back,

she said.

I told my wife about this special event and about the other new meaning of the word ‘refugee’. She looked at me, smiled briefly and nodded as if in recognition. The special thing is that since then, at unexpected moments, memories of conversations between my grandfather and my father have surfaced. It happens, for example, when I’m on my bike or when I’m at home just staring straight ahead. For example, I remember my grandfather once saying to my father,

Why the self-pity? You should not see your difficulties as a punishment but as an opportunity. We have to learn from what happens to us, and that happens when you start looking at it in a different way, from your heart.

And another time:

But you shouldn’t expect that your life will suddenly go smoothly if you go this way, if you understand and comply. Your perspective changes while events in your daily life continue. The trick is to keep looking from that perspective, at others but especially at yourself.

At the time, I shrugged my shoulders at these kinds of statements, I thought these were the outdated ideas of an old man who had not moved with changing times. Now I’m starting to recognize things, like the advice to observe from your heart. It has a calming effect and puts things into perspective, which is very special.

At the beginning of my working life in the Netherlands I was dissatisfied with my tasks, the way my supervisors treated me, overloaded me with work. I learned to accept it and unexpectedly I got a new opportunity with another employer, a job that suited my education level much better and where I also had more time for myself. This allowed me to delve into literature about the major world religions, about their origin, their beginnings and about the myths associated with them. And then it seemed as if a light went on, as if I recognized something that had been lying in me all this time, waiting for me to start paying attention to it. The poems of Hafez and Rumi now also have a different meaning for me.

It’s amazing that I had to go through so many experiences and disappointments before all this came  over me. Yes, that’s how it feels, that all this has come over me without me having a hand in it. I wonder if maybe I needed all those disappointments to discover that true freedom is something very different from the superficial freedom I was first looking for. Maybe it just had to be this way.

Fortunately, in addition to the usual news, we have recently received beautiful stories from Iran, from people who, despite all the oppression, still lead a life of loving attention there. My uncle, a very down-to-earth man, said on the phone,

Political rulers come and go, let them exercise their power, this is their moment. We take their assertiveness into account. Within the limitations they set, we enjoy the freedom that remains and especially the freedom we experience deep within ourselves. We are happy with every day we can spend together. And you gain experiences in the so-called free world, and discover that not everything is ideal there either.

What profound wisdom.

Recently we had one of my fellow friends with his partner at our house for dinner. We talked about freedom and what my uncle had said about it. He understood me immediately, told me that in the western world it may seem free but there are other kinds of captivity here. He talked about prejudice, something that had bothered him as a colored Dutchman, until he decided to take it as little as possible.

True freedom is within,

he said,

hidden deep in our hearts

and yes, he and his wife also knew various schools of wisdom. I was amazed that we had so much in common in terms of background, experiences and interests. For a moment I had the feeling that we were together in an Iranian rose garden, our meeting felt so special.

I don’t know what awaits us, but I do know that there seems to be a door opened in my heart that can’t be closed anymore. There’s something waiting for me there, as if I’m being invited to come closer. By what or who I couldn’t say exactly, but it feels good. There is freedom, light and love behind that door and that attracts me. My wife recently said that since we met, I have gradually become more serious, but recently I have also sudden moments of being cheerful and ordered. In Dutch there is one word for both a happy and ordered mood: opgeruimd.

Unfortunately, we recently received word that my grandfather had passed away. It felt like I was experiencing an earthquake. I was very sorry that I hadn’t been able to go back and say goodbye to him. But my wife said,

Don’t worry. He knew you loved him, and he trusted that you were able to find your own way. You still have his books, I see you reading them regularly.

Recently an insight flashed through my mind unexpectedly; I became aware of the multiple meaning of the Dutch word ‘vermogen’, which can mean fortune, power and ability … Isn’t it special that we, but also all those other refugees, have paid a fortune to be able to travel to freedom, to discover that we carried that freedom within ourselves all along? And that we have been given the ability in our own person to realize that freedom: our own deepest heart consciousness. We all carry that legacy  since birth, wherever we live or come from. I feel grateful for that and for the loving gift of my grandfather when he passed on his name to me. Aso, that’s Farsi for Aurora. The first, promising morning light.

 

Pious with your beautiful heart,

don’t point an accusing finger

to the inspired free thinkers.

You cannot be held accountable for the sin of others.

 

It doesn’t matter if I’m good or bad,

you just look at yourself.

In the end everyone will harvest

what he or she has sown.

 

sober or drunk,

everyone is looking for the Friend.

Mosque or temple, every place is the home of love.

Hafez, excerpt from Ghazal 78

 


Remarks:

[1] ‘Aso’ means in Dutch ‘anti-social’.

[2] ‘The honor of a land is in its (social) conduct ; ‘wijs’ means both wise and way to behave.

Sources:

[3] Unlike Rumi, the fourteenth-century Sufi poet Hafez is less well-known in the Western world, although Byron and Goethe were inspired by the translation of his Ghazals (verses). His verses contain multiple layers. As a result, they can be interpreted profoundly but also very literally, which can lead to misunderstandings and cause him to be labeled as hedonistic and unorthodox by some religious leaders. For example, he speaks of pub, wine and drunkenness, while drinking wine is prohibited in Islam. But at a deeper level, his poetry can be read as referring to the rapture that a light-seeker experiences when, quite apart from matter and form, he is filled by the love force from a life field of higher, finer vibration. Den Boer writes: “Hafez refers in his poems to a spirituality that is called fitra in Islam. This is our innate sense of religion, a kind of “primordial religion” that every human being has. In essence, all religions are an approach or a way to accept that innate primordial religion.”

[4] Den Boer, Sipko A., De kroeg van Hafez, (Milinda Publishers 2012, ISBN978-9062710942), a Dutch translation and interpretation of a selection of poems in The divan of Hafez, translated by H. Bicknell

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Date: July 4, 2022
Author: Winnie Geurtsen (Netherlands)
Photo: Mohammadhosein Mohebbi on Unsplash CCO

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