The Golden Sufi Center

Spiritual Maturity
Published in Sufi Journal, Issue 64, Winter 2004 - 2005

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee


When it is time for stillness, stillness;
in the time of companionship, companionship;
at the place of effort, effort.
Everything at its time and its place.

— NAQSHBANDI SAYING

Around us is an unending revelation. In every instant the divine is being born anew. And yet at this moment in our history we are also at the beginning of a new era; a new pattern of life is coming into being. Our spiritual awareness is central to this birth. In our hearts, in our consciousness, and with every breath, we are midwives to a new awakening of the earth that is taking place now. In order to participate fully in this birth, we have to leave behind old patterns, old ways of walking on the earth and of looking towards heaven. We are stepping into an era of oneness that will bring together matter and spirit, feminine and masculine, and our spiritual practice must reflect this new alignment. We cannot renounce the earth or follow a patriarchal model of spiritual progress. Our soul’s journey is part of the journey of the whole of creation. Our heart is connected to the heart of the world. Our remembrance is the remembrance of the world. Through our awakening the world can awaken.

And yet the individual journey of the soul back to the Source, the lover back to the Beloved, continues as it always has. Everything changes and nothing changes. The journey of a soul going Home is like the spiritual heartbeat of the world. When a seeker turns toward the Beloved, all of creation rejoices, because this is the final journey for all of life. Every atom longs to be united with its Beloved, and as spiritual wayfarers we live this longing with our whole being. This journey is our greatest contribution to life and to the Beloved. We offer ourselves on the altar of His love and live His drama of separation and union.

As we expand our spiritual consciousness to include the whole of creation, it is important to remember the simplicity and ordinariness of the soul’s journey. The heart’s longing for God belongs to the primal essence of life. Just as a sunflower follows the sun, so does our soul look to its Source. To live and breathe this true calling often means having to leave behind many of the illusions that we may have about spiritual life.

THE INNOCENCE OF AWAKENING

At the beginning of the journey a spark of pure love touches our heart and we awake for an instant to the wonder of our real nature and our innermost relationship with the divine. Without this gift of love there would be no journey, no desire to return to God. We would remain within the clouds of forgetfulness, never knowing our true self. This spark brings us alive and turns our attention towards the journey of the soul, the greatest adventure.

Traditionally called “the turning of the heart,” this awakening of love is like a first romance, except that this is no idealized lover, no romantic fantasy; this is the great love affair of the soul with God, bursting into consciousness. And yet it often evokes in the lover a similar quality of adolescent impetuousness, creating spiritual fantasies that, like their romantic counterparts, often spin out of control. It is not always easy to reconcile this awakening to real love with the mundanities of our everyday life, or to contain this innermost desire within our ordinary consciousness.

The turning of the heart awakens a fire within us. Ultimately this is the fire that will burn and consume us, transform our lead into gold. But at the beginning it is just a crazy passion that has no container. We may identify it as “longing for God,” but we have no notion of the real dynamics of the journey, the painful work upon the shadow and the slow grinding down of the ego that belong to the initial years of the quest. Just as the romantic experience of falling in love does not prepare us for the real work of a relationship, the spark that touches us in the heart of hearts does not make us think of the vast and dangerous nature of what is happening. We are thrown into the love affair with God as a blind person into an infinite ocean.

This is the way it has always been. We come with innocence and longing, confused by doubts and insecurities, filled with a desire for something we cannot understand. Nor do we know what to do with the intensity and passion of the soul. What can we do except create spiritual fantasies, images of some spiritual world filled with what is unfulfilled within us?

Maybe the journey will give us the partner we have always wanted, the work we feel we deserve. We so easily project our personal needs onto the unknown potential of the quest, looking for a parent to love us, a lover to embrace us, friends to understand us, work to fulfill us. In the West this natural tendency toward projection is augmented by a conditioning that promotes instant gratification and tells us we have the right to personal happiness. The long hard road of real spiritual training has little place in our collective consciousness.

The difficulty is compounded by the fact that at the beginning we are shown something that is immediate, belonging to the eternal now. We are given a glimpse of what is here always, our eternal Beloved. There is no time in this moment, no long and arduous journey. Instead there is something spontaneously and completely alive. He seduces us by giving us a taste of what is already within us—the gift of ourselves as we eternally are. How can the ego with its restrictions in time and space understand or live this eternal now?

The wayfarer does not initially understand that the real work on the path is not to have access to spiritual or mystical experiences; these are given through grace. The work is to create a container for them, so they can come alive in our daily life. An aspect of this container is the ability to discriminate between a real inner experience and a spiritual illusion created by the ego. Without a container of discrimination the wayfarer easily becomes lost and wastes the energy and potential of her awakening.

SPIRITUAL ILLUSIONS

This does not mean one should dismiss the excitement and fire of one’s awakening. Traditionally this is one’s spiritual rebirth, the moment the real life of the soul begins. The “yes” that until now has been hidden within the soul comes to the surface, sometimes exploding into our outer world. There are a joy and intensity that belong to this moment, that need to be lived. Real love has arrived; real light is present. Something tremendous has begun. There can be a sense of “coming home,” for the first time in one’s life, of being where one truly belongs. Every phase of the path has its place; “there is a time for everything under the sun.”

I remember the intensity of my own awakening, the world suddenly sparkling with a hidden light, the joy and wonder of it all. I remember my first experiences in meditation, my first experiences of an inner reality beyond the mind. I was given something I had always longed for but did not know existed. I was given a taste of what is real in the midst of a world of illusions and lies. The desire for Truth was ignited and I knew what I wanted. I had no container for the crazy passion that possessed me: it drove me almost to madness; I fasted beyond what my body could bear. But for the first time I was completely alive.

Hopefully one finds a teacher or a path to begin the work of creating a container, of channeling the fire in the right direction, so that one can live a balanced life. It was three years before I found the path that would take me Home, and I arrived there in a state far from balanced, hanging on through will and determination, thin, hungry, and with my feet hardly touching the ground. But we are each given the experiences we need, and I do not regret the craziness of those initial years, even though I know now that much of my energy and most of my actions were misplaced. For example, I had to realize that one cannot fast the body into perfection, or reach reality by force of will.

One of the dangers of the early years is spiritual illusions. We are gripped by a longing, a primal hunger for something we cannot name and do not know. We are awakened for an instant to a reality that has little echo in our outer life or inner thought patterns. We have no context for what is actually taking place, and so naturally we create images and expectations of the path. The moment I saw the light in my teacher’s eyes, I wanted to be in that space beyond the limitations of a world that I found increasingly alienating and problem-filled. I imagined that spiritual life was to live in that formless dimension of presence and love. I little imagined how the path would force me back into this world of limitations.

Many seekers fall into this illusion of escape from ordinary reality at the beginning of the journey. As one friend describes it, “I thought that I would be taken out of life. That ordinary, outer life would fade away somehow, that I wouldn’t have to be responsible in life. I thought I would be lost in love. That I wouldn’t have to exist as a ‘separate’ individual any more, that I would always be swept away in love. I thought I would be taken deeper and deeper into states of love and bliss. That it would be like going farther and farther into meditation. I really didn’t think I would ever have to come back into normal life, or normal awareness.”

Another friend thought that her problems would no longer exist, that they would fade away or she would rise above them to exist in a higher reality. Other seekers create the illusion that they will acquire special spiritual knowledge, or even spiritual powers. The promise of “enlightenment” is a common delusion, one that overlooks the basic truth that the ego does not have any higher experiences and that in the dimension of the Self there is no “I” to realize anything. So many illusions, so many ways we use images of the path as a way to escape from life and from ourselves. The real path takes us back to ourselves and into life. If we do not come back into ourselves, the important psychological work—the confrontation with our own darkness, the shadow, and other inner dynamics that help create the container of a balanced psyche—would never be done.

As we work upon ourself, we begin to see that many of the initial illusions of the path have to do with our experience of the ego as the sole actor in our life. One friend understood that her illusions “are all born from the obvious fact that a ‘person’ comes to the path, so everything I initially expected referred back to the ‘personal.’ For example, I thought ‘I’ or the ‘personal self’ would be in love all the time. I didn’t realize that love just is. That it has nothing really to do with ‘me,’ but it just exists.”

At the beginning all that we know is the ego, and so we imagine the path and its experiences through the eyes of the ego, with all its desires and images of fulfillment. Even if we have read or been told that the ego “has to go,” that you have to “die before you die,” we cannot imagine a state in which the “I” is not at the center. When we think of the Self, we imagine a spiritualized ego. We are rarely prepared for the simplicity of what is. The Self may have a cosmic dimension, but it is also the most ordinary and simple essence, a quality of being that is present in everything. And the states of non-being that exist beyond the Self we cannot begin to comprehend with a consciousness that is centered on its own sense of existence. How can we imagine a state in which we are where we are not?

While some illusions center on an inner spiritual state, others reflect a desire to manifest something in the outer, for example becoming a healer or even a spiritual teacher, having a “destiny” that we think reflects our unique spiritual nature. While some wayfarers may be called down these paths, the wish for them is often just a new form of ego-gratification in which the ego gets hold of a pure energy or intention and uses it for its own purposes. The ego loves to inflate itself, make itself the central actor on every stage. It can be disillusioning to realize that the Self often does not need any specific outer form or role to manifest, that it is a state of being rather than a “manifest destiny.”

Another common form of spiritual illusion is the idea of living a “guided life” or being in a state in which actions simply arise by themselves without the need for us as the “doer.” Although there are such states in which the Self or our divine nature lives through us, they require far more conscious discrimination than we realize at the beginning. Except in rare instances of highly evolved spiritual beings, our higher nature needs to manifest through our ego and lower nature, which likes to divert the higher energy for its own purposes. “The ego lurks around every corner,” seeking to subvert our true nature. We must learn to distinguish between the real need of the moment and a hidden desire or a pattern of self-protection that has taken on a spiritual form. Often the illusion of being guided is an avoidance of real responsibility for our life and actions. It is a perfect excuse for someone who does not want to fully embrace everyday life with its difficulties and demands. Patriarchal spirituality may have stressed the transcendent nature of the Self, but the Self is also an intrinsic part of life, and it can only be fully incarnated and lived when we take full responsibility for life as it is. One can only realize the Self with the full acceptance of one’s life and destiny. In the words of the Sufi master Abû Sai‘îd ibn Abî-l-Khayr, “Whatever is to be your fate, face it!”

Finally, the path takes us to a place where the ego surrenders and the Self becomes the ruler. Then life takes on the quality of a blank sheet of paper for the Beloved to use as He wills. But by the time we have reached this stage, we have taken full responsibility for our life, for the ego and its needs and demands. We have become mature wayfarers who do not use the path to avoid life’s difficulties. We have learned the value of common sense, and learned how to live in both worlds. And we have developed constant vigilance against the ego and its cunning ways of self-deception.

ORDINARY LIFE

Perhaps no illusion is more common or more insidious than the illusion that spiritual life will take the seeker away from ordinary life. Ordinary life will always be included. In fact, we become more and more immersed in the ordinary: we “chop wood and carry water.”

Often it is the mundanity of the path for which we are least prepared. After a taste of the passion of the soul, which initially seems so “other” to our common experience, we tend to expect the banality of life to fade away in the excitement or ecstasy of the inner journey. We may imagine a spiritual life filled with dramatic challenges and spiritual states. But that is simply the ego yet again co-opting the experience for its own ends. Just to be an ordinary wayfarer walking a dusty path home is not so gratifying.

The true uniqueness of our nature often appears most ordinary and simple. As one friend describes her experience, “I am always shocked by how ordinary things are, how I keep coming down into the ordinary. I really expected things to seem extra-ordinary.” Another friend who came to be with my teacher expected to live a simple life of meditation, but within a few years she found herself teaching in an inner-city primary school, with thirty children demanding her attention all day long. It was not what she imagined!

Often the attachment to the “extra-ordinariness” of spiritual life is another way to protect ourselves from life, or from ourself, just as a romantic fantasy can protect us from the vulnerability and demands of a real relationship. True love makes us naked and vulnerable, as the patterns that protect us are dissolved or burned away. Unlike most illusions, the real nature of the path is about becoming emptier, having less rather than more. While illusions often inflate the ego with images of being special, on the real path we become more ordinary and simple.

When we feel we are living in the passion of the soul, torn apart by love, we can easily dismiss the importance of paying our bills on time, of taking care of our human needs and responsibilities. We can go through life with little attention to how we treat others, and how we treat ourselves. But without a firm ground in the ordinary, without learning how to relate to life with the attention and respect it needs, we cannot fully live the energy of the soul here.

A focus on ordinary life grounds the energy of the path, and also makes it more difficult for the ego to create spiritual fantasies. This is why traditionally when a young man first came to a Sufi tekke, or khânqâh (Turkish and Persian for 'Sufi center or hospice'), he was given the most mundane or debasing tasks, for example cleaning the latrines, sweeping the courtyard. For the first few years he might be given no spiritual practices at all, only simple tasks of service.

It is important to not reject the ordinary dimension of our experience, because the nature of the soul is ordinary and simple, and often expresses itself in what is most ordinary. The soul is a quality of being in which things just are. Here peace is, love is, even power just is. We will never notice, let alone really live, these qualities of the soul if we follow our desires to escape the ordinary, if we create unnecessary dramas or fantasies. Zen haikus often reflect this simplicity. The dew on the grass is present in the moment without any drama. The full harvest moon on the water is both simple and profound. The container we are creating on the path is a mature relationship with life. We will never be able to live the paradox of how the ordinary and extraordinary come together if we are not willing to accept life as it is.

The real work is to stay true to ourself with all the demands of everyday life, to keep the inner attention, even for five minutes a day, when there are so many distractions. Remembrance is no longer performed in seclusion, but in the office and the supermarket. The path may be the opposite of what we expect; it may be paradoxical, confusing, and contrary to our conditioning, but it needs to be lived in this world, to be part of everyday life.

And at this particular stage in the evolution of humanity, the ordinariness of life has a new meaning. In the era now dawning, it will be able to reflect the numinosity of the soul in a new way. But in order to allow life to reflect the richness and eternal nature of the soul, we must let go of patterns both personal and collective that turn us away from the ordinary. We need to learn to discriminate between a Disneyland fantasy of spiritual life, full of roller-coaster rides and cotton candy, and the real way He is revealing Himself.

LEARNING DISCRIMINATION

We cannot avoid having illusions about the path. The power of longing and of the desire for Truth uses our imagination to draw us into a deeper experience, just as the energy of physical desire creates sexual images to attract us. The imagination creates spiritual fantasies that we later have to reconcile with the reality of our experience, just as we have to reconcile romance with a real relationship, but these fantasies pull us beyond ourselves. In fact, the energy of sexuality is part of the same kundalini power that pulls us towards Reality; certain spiritual and sexual fantasies have a similar quality of love and bliss, of being enraptured and taken. We cannot escape the potency of the imagination that takes a nameless desire and creates images of its fulfillment. We need the desire to draw us out of ourselves into the vaster ocean of real love; the illusions the imagination creates out of it can provide the lure. To quote Ibn al-Fârid:

For in illusion’s drowsy dream
the phantom shadow
leads you to what shimmers
through the screens.

We project our desire for the unknowable through our imagination. We create images that can entice us along the journey. The danger arises when we mistake the images for the real goal, when we take what is relative to be what is absolute. Then we are trapped by our fantasies, rather than being led beyond them to their real source, the innermost desire of the heart.

At the beginning we don’t recognize the real qualities of the path—what we should cultivate or aspire to and what is illusion. We can’t discriminate between the imaginings that draw us further in the heart’s love affair and the ego’s ploys to waylay us. We are so easily caught by the subtle mirages of the ego and the mind. The unconscious, which can collude with the ego, also has its powerful and seductive means to stop us from becoming more conscious, to keep us under its spell and patterns of dependencies. This is one of the reasons that it is necessary to have a teacher, to help us through this self-created maze. Gradually we develop our own discrimination; we learn how to distinguish between the voices of the ego and the Self. But at the beginning we are naively deceived by the many illusions the ego creates, the many false images of the path. We do not realize how easily the ego can masquerade as our spiritual nature and trick us again and again.

There are tools that we can develop to help us discriminate, to look beneath the surface of these images of the path. For example, we can ask ourselves, does this really help me to gain or lose something, or is it just going to make me feel good? Who is it really who wants this? Does it feed into my psychological patterns, my defense mechanisms, or does it take me beyond myself, make me more free, maybe more vulnerable, help me to participate more fully? Often it is useful to discriminate between a need and a desire. Is this something I need, either for my life or the path, or does it belong to the desire-creating nature of the ego?

Unfortunately there are no exact rules; we are each unique and the path will reflect this uniqueness. There is a time to struggle to achieve what we want and a time to give up any desire, a time to be strong and a time to surrender one’s strength. Sometimes what seems spiritual is the greatest deception, while what might seem a worldly illusion, for example the longing for a successful career, may help us to claim what belongs to our real nature. Sometimes even the desire for a holiday or a new car is what we actually need. Maybe we are tired, need a change, or cannot continually put energy into a car that is always breaking down. Simple common sense is often our best guide.

PATIENCE

Gradually the path and the teacher strip away our illusions, leaving us with ourself, what T.S. Eliot calls:

A condition of complete simplicity
Costing not less than everything.

The ego remains, because one cannot easily live in this world without an ego, any sense of a separate “I.” And with the ego remain our bundle of psychological problems, the difficulties of life, the conflicts of this world. Maybe we glimpse another reality where these problems do not exist; maybe we sense the eternal presence of a dimension where there is no conflict, only all-embracing peace and love. But just as in this world we remain in the physical body with its aches and pains, so we remain with an imperfect ego. The real work on the path is to balance the ego with this vaster reality that is within us and all around us.

The path helps us to develop the qualities we need for this work, qualities that give us the strength and compassion to live in a world that is imperfect, where His presence is often veiled. Patience, along with similar qualities of tolerance, endurance, and constancy, is central among the qualities required to cross the endless deserts of the Path. The Sufi stresses the value of patience; the acquisition of patience, sabr, is a station on the Sufi path. The station of sabr is associated with the spiritual maturity that we need for a long journey during which we have to bear the burdens and difficulties of a life of seeming separation. A story told by the tenth-century Sufi master, Sarraj, illustrates this as the most difficult form of patience—the patience of enduring His absence:

A man stood before Shiblî (God’s compassion upon him) and said to him: “Which act of patience is hardest for one who is patient?”
Shiblî said: “Patience in God.”
“No,” the man said.
Shiblî said: “Patience for God.”
The man said: “No.”
Shiblî said: “The patience with God.”
“No,” he said.
Shiblî grew angry and said: “Damn you, what then?”
The man said: “Patience without God Most High.”
Shiblî let out a scream that nearly tore apart his spirit.

Are we prepared to wait the endless days, months, even years when He veils Himself from us? Are we prepared to carry our devotions through this desert? Are we prepared to want nothing for ourself, knowing that He will come to us when He wills? Or do we remain caught in patterns of self-gratification, knowing only our own desires, our own dynamics of control?

One friend found it very hard to accept that even if she had found a teacher and worked to develop all the correct attitudes, there was no guarantee that He would reveal Himself, that the doors of union would open. The love affair with God is very different from pleasing a parent, where the correct behavior will bring love or attention. The path is not dependent upon our own efforts; He takes us to Him in His own way, as He wills. But to accept that we are so vulnerable and dependent upon Another, that “Allâh guides to Allâh whom Allâh will,” can be hard, especially for a Western consciousness that is conditioned to value individual effort above surrender.

For many years on the path we have to learn to wait, knowing only our ego and its inadequacies. This can be a very painful and testing part of the journey, for which we need patience and perseverance. Sometimes it is easier to stay focused on the path and one’s practices when there are obvious challenges in the inner or outer world to face. The endless monotony of days without Him, when there is just ordinary life that has little seeming spiritual content, can be more difficult. But it is during this time that many of our early illusions fall away, as there is little in the outer or inner to sustain them.

THE REAL WORK

The real work of the path is to be able to live the energy and higher consciousness of the Self in everyday life. Initially the Self with its energy of self-realization bursts into our ordinary consciousness, sometimes creating psychological imbalance. The ego and mind respond to this influx of energy by creating illusions, often ungrounded images of spiritual life. Gradually the ego ceases to be inflated by this new energy; the path and psychological work of confronting and integrating the shadow and other inner dynamics provide a balanced psyche, a container for our higher consciousness.

The complete surrender of the ego to the Self takes many years, and not everyone achieves this state. Rather, its structure is changed so that it learns to co-exist with the Self. It no longer constantly fights or undermines our true nature, nor is it so influenced by unconscious patterns. It ceases to be an autonomous center of consciousness, but begins to live a life of service in relation to the Self. We learn to listen, discriminate, and be guided by what is real. The ego also subtly changes as it is permeated with the light of the Self, becoming more transparent, able to transmit rather than obscure our higher consciousness.

The mind also adjusts to a higher center of consciousness. The Sufi work of “hammering the mind into the heart” describes a process in which the mind learns to work with our higher consciousness within the heart. For example, the mind learns to be attentive to, rather than rejecting, its hints. No longer so dominated by rational thought patterns, we become more receptive to intuition. True intuition does not follow sequential thought processes, but comes from the higher Self where all knowledge exists as in a state of oneness. Spiritual dreamwork helps in this training, teaching attentiveness to images and messages that come from beyond the lower mind. As we learn to listen to these dreams, we move beyond the restrictions of the ego and rational thought.

Our physical body and our instinctual nature also change, as they too become permeated by the light of the awakened Self. Sometimes processes of purification are necessary, changes of diet or habits; for example, it is important not to indulge in indiscriminate sex or more than the occasional drink, or to frequent bars. But too much purification—for example excessive fasting, or even too much meditation—can also be an obstacle, as it can make one too sensitive to be able to fully participate in the dense material world of the present time. Spiritual maturity is learning to live a balanced life.

Hopefully, we have the life experiences and learn the outer skills the Self needs in order to manifest in the world: we learn our worldly craft. For example, if the Self can be of most service in the field of psychology, we study and train in this discipline. Or if the Self needs us to work in business, we might need to pursue an MBA or an apprenticeship in business. The Self does not need a vehicle full of spiritual fantasies but one grounded in a practical discipline that it can use, whether this is as a banker, musician, or therapist. It is a misunderstanding that fulfilling one’s spiritual destiny requires an outer form that is “spiritual.” The Self is not limited by our perceptions of what is spiritual. It embraces all of life and draws us towards the correct vehicle for our higher nature.

In the midst of life our ego, indeed our whole nature, changes, becoming subtly permeated with the presence of the Self, with an energy not full of demands and desires but of another quality altogether. At the beginning we may not recognize this other, because it is so simple and ordinary. This is our true nature alive in every moment. Often it is others who first notice a change. They might see that we are more at peace with ourselves, that we are not so gripped by conflict or negative emotions. It happens so gradually that it can be a while before we even realize that something fundamental is different. So many expectations of the path have fallen away. Others we have had to surrender painfully. And then the real path comes alive within us. We have developed a sense of who we are that is founded not upon the ego, its fears and insecurities, but upon deeper, realer qualities.

At times we may miss the impetuousness of the early years, the intensity and excitement of waking up, the dreams of spiritual states. And after losing so many illusions, what have we found? It is for each of us to discover what we have been given, what is real within us, to know “who we are, from where we have come and to where we are going.”

BEYOND THE EGO

Through the grace of the path and our own efforts, we create a container that enables us to live in relationship to our higher Self. The ego and Self come into balance. Although we may still have inner obstacles, resistances that need our attention, we are living the life of the soul rather than just the ego. We have accepted the limitations of life, and know that real service is in responding to the need of the moment, not in living some imagined spiritual destiny. We have given up our visions of enlightenment, to become grounded in everyday life. Maybe in meditation, or in the midst of life, we have occasional glimpses of a different reality, a sense of overwhelming peace, or a deep joy that is present. Occasionally our heart is filled with an inexplicable sweetness; we see the love that is in every leaf on every tree. But then the veils fall again, and we are back in the world of the ego.

Is this the whole journey? When Dhu’l Nun asked, “What is the end of love?” he was told, “O simpleton, love has no end, because the Beloved has no end.” The states of love continually change. When we have finally accepted the ordinariness of the path, sometimes He laughs and bewilders us, turning our world upside down, opening us to His grandeur and majesty. Once again our image of the path is destroyed, and we are thrown beyond ourself. Once again we realize that a deeper degree of surrender and not knowing is required. One friend described how this happened to her:


In a dream I was told that I have to prepare to die now. Quite soberly, and there was no reaction in me. It was just what it was, and when I recollected the dream, it still was like a sober thought.

Then a few days later I had an experience in which I was told: “You will be dying soon. Be prepared.” Again there was no reaction, no emotion. I took it seriously. I thought, I have to arrange some things, so I don’t leave too much chaos. I have to clear things, papers... soon. It felt like being sent on a journey where you just have to go, because you have to do something there.

But the next day I had this experience. I was moving at an unbelievable speed through space. Extremely fast. Who was I? “I” was not I, but an energy or a kind of consciousness I participated in. I moved towards a black sun that was radiating so intensely. It was the innermost, the absolute center, and it just pulled me. I realized that it was the intensity of this pull that made the speed, that was moving me so fast. I came closer and closer, I began to dissolve. There was just this endless sweetness of a burdenless “weakness,” and then even this feeling was being absorbed, everything was absorbed. But—I don’t know how it could happen—at the same moment “I” was being broken, blown up, exploded in thousands and thousands of pieces. I kind of fainted, lost consciousness, and then coming back found “myself”—this consciousness that I could feel— everywhere. Really everywhere, in each drop of the ocean, in every human face, in stones and stars.

I was shaken, also physically. In the following days I found myself trembling. Feeling very dizzy, I hardly could keep balance. I had to hold on to the counter when I was buying food; everything was turning around for days. And it is not only the physical balance. I am thrown between extreme states of feeling so totally vulnerable—and there is incredible pain—and the ecstatic feeling of joy, of coming home, of freedom... Sometimes I think now definitely I am mad, I am going crazy. But there is nothing that wants to change it. Like in the experience, I feel being pulled and pulled, and it is where I want to go.

It is impossible to think about what I experienced, to think with the mind—I tried to, in order to understand what is not to be understood, this all-breaking thing that in the depth of union, of oneness, of finally nothing, there was this bursting into pieces, the nothingness exploding into creation, it is such a shock...

Everything seems to be different. The whole of existence is something so thin, such a thin veil, similar to this physical body that I sense as so fragile... I don’t know why I try to write it down—whatever I put into words it isn’t the real.


This is not a spiritual fantasy, but a real experience that leaves you with nowhere to stand. Everything you know, all sense of self and stability, is destroyed in an instant. Without all the years of preparation, of learning to be grounded, without the subtle but strong container that has been created, one would go completely crazy. Then the experience could not be lived, but would just spin out of orbit, throwing you far beyond the stars, unable to return to any balanced life. This friend has a family, children who need her attention. She could not retreat to a cave to sit immersed in non-being, in the bliss of complete absorption. She has to get up in the morning, take the children to school, cook the dinner and help them with their homework.

The path prepares you for such an experience, which comes when you least expect it. When the teacher or a superior on the path knows you are ready, that you are able to bear it, you are completely drawn out of the ego, pulled towards the real center and beyond. Is this death or life? You return dazed and unknowing. But something fundamental has changed. The dark core of non-being, the “black sun,” has absorbed you. The ego as the center of consciousness has been forever annihilated, and you realize the fragility of its existence, of life as you knew it.

Is this the end or the beginning? These are just words. To be where you are not is a paradoxical statement until you have lived it, and then it makes complete sense. And still you return to “everyday life,” and although the ego is changed, it also remains. Spiritual maturity is to live as a mystic in the world, being fully responsible in our everyday life even though you know the world is a fragile illusion. And in the inner worlds, other currents are flowing, powerful forces that come from beyond the stars. Sometimes these currents bring sweet fragrances, sometimes they are cold and desolate and howl through you. There are vast darknesses and oceans of light. But we have been trained to stay centered, holding onto the thin thread that is suspended between the worlds. The eleventh-century master Al-Kharaqânî was asked,

“Who is the appropriate person to speak about fanâ (annihilation) and baqâ (permanence)?” He answered, “That is knowledge for the one who is suspended by a silk thread from the heavens to the earth when a big cyclone comes and takes all trees, houses, and mountains and throws them in the ocean until it fills the ocean. If that cyclone is unable to move him who is hanging by the silk thread, then he is the one who can speak on fanâ and baqâ.”