Excerpt from Chapter One: The Shadow Side of Spiritual Life
The thing we tell of can never be found by seeking,
yet only seekers find it.
~Abû Yazîd 'l-Bistâmî
THERE IS NO GOD BUT GOD.
Sufis believe in the Oneness of Being because there is nothing other than God. This quintessential truth is expressed in the shahâda, the saying "Lâ ilâha illâ 'llâh" ("There is no god but God"). In the depths of our heart we know this, for this is the secret covenant between the Creator and His creation. We know that we are not other than God. The aim of every mystical path is to return to this primal knowledge, to know what we knew before we experienced separation from God.(1)
This truth is hidden like an embryo within us. It is the essence of consciousness. In our normal understanding, consciousness necessitates duality, the separation of subject and object. If there is no differentiation there is no consciousness. We know and identify things by their differences. Everything that has been created is distinct and individual; no two leaves are the same. But the mystic knows that consciousness has another dimension in which things are known not because they are separate, but because they are all one: "In our hall of mirrors, the map of one Face appears."(2) The recognition of oneness within multiplicity is the recognition of the Creator manifest in the creation. It is the real purpose of consciousness, as expressed in the Qur'an, Sura 7:171, when "before creation, God called the future humanity out of the loins of the not yet created Adam, and addressed them with the words: 'Am I not your Lord?' (alastu bi-rabbikum) and they answered: 'Yes, we witness it' (balâ shahidnâ)."(3) The witness (shâhid) is the one who sees God in everything.
Paradoxically, in order to realize this state of consciousness we have to lose it. We have to experience separation from God in order to realize that we are never separate from God. The mystic is one who comes into this world with the prime purpose of rediscovering this state of union and then living it. In being born he surrenders himself to the pain of separation in order that he may come to know God more fully, may come to know God as He has revealed Himself in His creation. In His creation God has manifested both His eternal Majesty (jalâl) and His eternal Beauty (jamâl), and so allowed Himself to be known more completely. At the core of creation He has hidden an innermost secret aspect of Himself. The mystic's purpose is to discover this secret and offer it back to the Beloved. This secret cannot be told in words, but it is contained in the whole mystery of the mystic's return journey.
The journey from God back to God embraces the painful process of separation. Leaving the state of uncreated oneness we come into this world and are engulfed in forgetfulness. In being born we give ourself into this unknowing, this separation from the direct knowledge of God. But at the same time we carry within us the deep bond of the lover and the Beloved; "In memory of the Beloved we quaffed a vintage that made us drunk before the creation of the vine."(4) This bond manifests as the sigh of the soul, the longing which is not only the pain of separation but also the knowledge of Him from whom we are separated. Without this knowledge there would be no pain. At the core of the longing is the knowledge that there is no separation, that the lover and the Beloved are always united. It is this paradox that burns within the heart of the seeker: we are united and yet we are separate, there is only oneness and yet we are caught in duality. This is the same as the paradox that consciousness necessitates separation and yet the highest form of consciousness is that there is no separation.
Those who make the painful journey home do so because they have not entirely forgotten this home. When they came into this world they kept part of the consciousness of union. This is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because it does not allow us to become entirely engulfed in the things of this world, lost in the temptations of Maya. However involved we become in our outer surroundings there is always the feeling that this is not everything, that something more important is waiting for us. But this is a curse because it makes us feel that we do not fit in, we are always a stranger in this world. Often we do not know the reason for this, we do not know that it is because we are inwardly so close to the Beloved that He does not let us forget Him. We think that it is a fault or failure that we want something other than what the world has to offer. It can be particularly painful when we have parents who cannot understand this deeper need, and may even be jealous of what they sense to be an inner connection to something beyond their grasp.
One friend waited till she was over forty before she reconnected with an inner closeness that she had as a child. Then she dreamt a long and complicated psychological dream at the end of which she saw a figure standing in a doorway. Working with the dream she recognized that this figure was her "first love." First she associated her father as this first love, but then realized that it was not he but her relationship to God. As a child she had a very direct relationship with the Beloved. But her father, wanting her love for himself, sensed this deeper love, grew jealous of it and thus caused her to repress it. For many painful empty years she lived isolated from the one relationship that had real meaning. But then her first love returned, standing in a doorway, silently calling her back inside herself. He had always been waiting there, waiting for her to turn back to the bliss and the pain that is love's promise:
The minute I heard my first love story I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all along.(5)
For another friend it was her mother who caused her to deny her spirituality; threatened by her daughter's knowledge of an inner softness that was unobtainable to her, she continually attacked her daughter's inner relationship. Driven by despair into depression, the daughter tried to give up her spirituality in order to live a normal, socially acceptable life. For a few years this seemed to work, but underneath life became meaningless. Life became so empty that there came the point where she would have died if she had not given herself to her inner vision. For those who carry the curse of remembrance spiritual life is not a choice but a deep and painful need, an open wound that can only be healed by the Beloved.
The memory of the beyond is like the grain of sand in the oyster shell that creates the pearl. It causes a painful friction between the outer world and the inner world. The stronger the memory, the greater the friction. Then one day this friction creates a fire that we cannot ignore. It is then that the spiritual quest begins in earnest. It is then that we consciously turn away from the outer world and seek the invisible source of our pain.
TURNING AWAY FROM THE WORLD
Traditionally the first stage on the Sufi path is tauba. Translated literally tauba means "repentance or change of heart." Yet this is misleading because in the religious context repentance means: "If I did something wrong I promise I'll repent, do some penance and promise not to do it again." But in the mystical context tauba is a turning of the heart. It is a spiritual awakening that can be triggered by an outer event or an inner happening, a dream or vision. When I was sixteen I happened to read a Zen saying,
The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection,
The water has no mind to receive their image.
This saying was like a key that opened an inner door, and for two weeks I laughed with the joy of the soul at what I saw. I started to meditate and discovered a reality that was more powerful and more meaningful than an outer world in which I came to realize I had long felt a stranger. Many years later I discovered that this was also a favorite saying of Bhai Sahib, the Sufi Master in Daughter of Fire. He would also often liken the enigmatic nature of the path to that of birds in flight, "Look at the birds in the sky. Can you trace the path of their flight?"
The initial awakening of the seeker is a momentary glimpse of a different reality. It is always a gift and cannot be brought about by the desire of the student. Someone once asked Râbi'a:
"I have committed many sins; if I turn in penitence towards God, will He turn in mercy towards me?"
"No," she replied, "but if He shall turn towards you, you will turn towards Him."(6)
The spiritual quest is a response to a call: because He calls us to Him we turn away from the world to seek Him. Then begins the long and lonely journey home, the "flight of the alone to the Alone."
His call catalyses a spiritual instinct that is within us. Every human being comes into this world with two primary instincts: the will to live and the will to worship. It is this latter instinct that is so dynamically awakened by the Beloved that we are no longer content to worship Him, but we need to unite with Him. The seventeenth-century contemplative, Jeanne Guyon, describes this instinctual awakening:
As soon as God touches a seeker, He gives that new believer an instinct to return to Him more perfectly and be united with Him. There is something within the believer that knows he has not been created for amusement or the trivals of the world but has an end which is centered in His Lord. Something within the believer endeavours to cause him to return to a place deep within, to a place of rest. It is an instinctive thing, this pull to return to God. Some receive it in a larger portion, according to God's design, others to a smaller degree, by God's design. But each believer has that loving impatience to return to his source of origin.(7)
The Beloved has awakened his lover to the deepest need of the soul, to the hunger that is the driving force of the seeker: "Nourish me for I am hungry and hurry for time is a sword."(8) This hunger is the instinctual core of the spiritual journey and is often accompanied by a despair that it will never be satisfied. Spiritual life is a craving that cannot be satisfied by anything which the world has to offer, and its awakening can often be terrifying to the ego. For some people the experience of tauba simply makes sense of a meaningless life and they are only too glad to turn away from a world from which they already felt alienated. But there are also those who have struggled long and hard to realize their own independence and have made a successful life in worldly terms. Hearing His call resonate within their own hearts they know what it means. They know that everything for which they have struggled will be taken away, not just attachments to the material world, but also the sense of being able to determine one's own life. It is this latter illusion of freedom or self-determination, which in the West we value so highly, that is often the most difficult to surrender. Although the only real freedom comes from the surrender of the ego to the Self, the ego resists this with all its strength and powers of persuasion. Thus the seeker is torn between his response to the Beloved's call and his awareness of what this means. Yet the very fact that spiritual life evokes such a conflict and often a lengthy struggle of avoidance arises precisely from the individual's deep commitment, and his knowledge that once he walks through this door he will enter the arena of his own death.
Turning away from the world is embodied in the first part of the shahâda, Lâ ilâha, "there is no God." This is the principle of negation, for every spiritual path teaches that the goal is not to be found in the outer world, but within: "the kingdom of God is within you." Thus when we step upon the path our attention is turned from the outer world to the inner world. From the depths of our heart He calls us and through the spiritual techniques of the path we learn how to come towards Him, how to enter the inner world. Meditation is usually the most important practice, for it refocuses the seeker, first by stilling the outward activity of the mind and then awakening him to inner experiences. Other spiritual practices can have a similar effect. In particular the dhikr, the repetition of the name of God, keeps the inner attention of the wayfarer away from the world and turned towards God.
Being part of a spiritual group and sitting in the presence of a teacher can also help to keep the wayfarer focused on the inner direction of his quest. The teacher and the group, charged with the energy of the path, function as a magnet, attracting the inner attention of the seeker and pointing it towards the heart. On a more conscious level the presence of others for whom the inner quest is a real and serious undertaking helps to reinforce the individual's sense of purpose. Sitting with a group in meditation is a powerful reminder of a shared vision which beckons from the inner world. Similarly, the tradition and spiritual lineage of the teacher and the group support the wayfarer with the invisible presence of all those who have travelled this path in preceding centuries. The world's spiritual literature, which is now available as never before, also helps the individual to realize that his own desire for the beyond is a part of mankind's collective spiritual journey, which has always affirmed that Truth is an inner reality far transcending anything that can be found in the outer world.
All this support is particularly important in our Western materialistic culture which collectively denies the value if not the very existence of the inner world. It gives the wayfarer an identity and a sense of belonging which is needed in the most difficult first stages of the path. The initial experience of tauba turns our attention away from the world. We then consciously take up the role of the seeker, the spiritual wayfarer making the journey back to the Beloved. This journey appears to begin with His call that awakens us, and yet He only calls those who already belong to Him, whom He has sent out into the world in order to reveal the secret hidden in creation. Once I attended a conference in which someone asked, "How do you become a Sufi?" A member of the audience who consciously knew nothing about Sufism instinctively answered, "As far as I understand you do not become a Sufi. You always were a Sufi but didn't know it." Three years later the woman who gave this correct reply had a dream in which she was invited to join a circle of white-clad figures. When she told the dream she suddenly realized what she had long suspected, that she had always been a Sufi. But this dream signalled that now was the time for her to fully recognize this.
The journey home began the moment we left the state in which we knew we were not other than He. We surrendered ourselves into forgetfulness in order that He can know Himself more fully when we open our eyes and return to Him. Yet although this return journey begins with the moment of separation, for many years it is unconscious, hidden beneath the illusion of the world. The experience of tauba is the shock that brings this journey into consciousness. When the Beloved calls to us, the bond that exists and has always existed, outside of time and space, between the lover and the Beloved, is charged with the energy of love, allowing the higher consciousness of the Self to break through into ordinary consciousness. This creates a momentary awareness of our union with the Beloved that awakens us to the pain of our separation and forgetfulness.
In the moment of awakening the Beloved is present with us as never before. In this moment we consciously know that we are both separate and united with Him. As human beings we carry the consciousness of God, for our consciousness is part of the divine consciousness. It is His greatest gift which distinguishes us from the other forms of life on this planet. Thus, in this moment of awakening He makes known His purpose to Himself. He reveals to Himself the hidden mystery of creation which contains His experience of the pain of separation. Our longing to be reunited with God is none other than His own longing:
It is he who suffers his absence in me
Who through me cries out to himself.
Love's most strange, most holy mystery—
We are intimate beyond belief.(9)
The lover has this most intimate relationship with the Beloved. In our longing we experience that He too is lonely, for He desires us more than we can ever know. In our desire to go home He shares this secret with us: that although He is perfect He needs us. He needs us because we are imperfect and can share this mystery with Him.
In the world that reflects His oneness all things are different. No two moments are the same and each petal of the rose has a different shape and a different color. In this world created by Him who is perfect nothing is perfect, as the oriental-carpet makers acknowledge when they purposefully include an imperfection in their design. This is the paradox of creation: He who is One comes to know Himself through multiplicity. He who is perfect sees Himself in the mirror of imperfection.
Our awareness of our own imperfection depends upon our deeper awareness of His perfection. It is because we remember the state of perfection when we were not separate from Him, that our imperfection carries the hidden anguish of separation. Our own imperfection is most painfully evident in the experience of love. This energy, which al-Hallâj describes as "the essence of the essence of God and the mystery of creation,"(10) continually confronts us with our faults; it is said in the Kama Sutra that "love without conflict is not of this world." Creation contains the opposites and the conflict between them in which the web of imperfection is woven. Without imperfection there would be no evolution; for the seeker it is the awareness of his own faults that makes him experience the primal conflict of light and dark, good and bad.
Energy is born from opposites, from the dynamic interplay of positive and negative. This is why the awakening is characterized as "repentance," for it is an awareness of our faults in contrast to the perfection of our Beloved that generates the energy that transforms us. Thrown between the opposites, burnt by the awareness of our own darkness and our longing for His light, we experience the birth pain of consciousness: that He created darkness in us in order that we might come to know Him better. He embraces the opposites while we are caught in their conflict. To quote Rûmî, "Everything is good and perfect in relation to God but not in relation to us."(11)
Facing our darkness we struggle towards the light. Finally, worn away by the conflict the ego surrenders and we are taken beyond these opposites. Just as we first awoke to the pain of separation and the darkness of the lover's imperfection, so do we awaken to the higher consciousness of the Self that experiences the oneness in everything. People often have dreams of the teacher acting in an improper way, swearing in a church, smoking in a meditation room, in order to shock them into an awareness of this higher reality. The perfect man embraces both his own imperfection and also that of mankind. This is illustrated in the story of Jâmî who was mistaken for a thief. On being asked if he was a thief the saint replied, "What am I not?"
TURNING BACK TO GOD
The path that begins and ends in oneness confronts the wayfarer with the duality of the world and God. Seeking the Beloved we have turned away from the world and now turn back to God. This is the second part of the shahâda, illâ 'llâh (but God), the affirmation. It evokes an intense struggle as the ego and the mind hold onto the known values and structures of the outer world, resisting the pull of the heart and its deep desire for the formless inner world.
But the affirmation is also a conscious identification with the quest and our desire for the Beloved. To help us in the struggle of turning back to God we give ourselves an identity as a wayfarer, a spiritual seeker. Rather than just confronting the total nothingness of spiritual truth in which the ego is annihilated, we give our conscious self something to hold onto, a ladder of ascent that can take us from the world of forms into the formless. This idea of a spiritual identity is essentially a trick to help the ego to loosen its hold on the world. The goal is to become "featureless and formless," to lose every name until only His name remains. For this reason when Irina Tweedie asked her Sufi Master, Bhai Sahib, about being initiated as a disciple, he replied, "It is not for you." And she realized "it would be in contradiction with what I am trying to do, namely grappling with the gigantic task of learning how to become nothing."(12) But this process of annihilation takes time. It is a gradual death. It is said in the Upanishads that if you want Truth as badly as a drowning man wants air you will realize it in a split second. But who wants Truth as much as that? Before we surrender to the bottomless void that is beyond the mind we have to make the slow ascent that is our own crucifixion.
When the Buddhist scriptures were first taken from India to China it was discovered before they were delivered that the scrolls were blank. These blank scrolls contained the real spiritual Truth, but just as only Ananda understood when Buddha silently held up a flower, humanity needs to approach the great void more gradually. Scrolls with writing were substituted to help the seeker define the inner path.
When we first turn back to the Beloved we think of ourself as a wayfarer traveling a path. Gradually we realize that this pathless path is none other than our own inner being calling out to ourself. Then the wayfarer and the path cease to be a duality. Finally they both disappear. But the idea of being a wayfarer on a path is a necessary illusion to help us cross over to a world beyond the ego.
An essential part of this "crossing" is the focus on the Beloved. We cannot turn away from the world unless we turn towards God. We can only free ourselves from the desires that imprison us in this world through the greater desire that we have for God. We escape from the gravitational pull of the earth by consciously aligning ourselves with the greater gravitational pull of the sun of suns. The affirmation, illâ 'llâh, is a one-hundred-eighty-degree turn in which we realign ourselves with the energy of the Self that transforms us. Part of this realigning is the conscious recognition that Truth is an inner reality. The one-hundred-eighty-degree turn is thus a turn from the outer world to the inner world. It is a conscious commitment to an inner journey. In the words of Saint Augustine, "Return within yourself. In the inward man dwells truth."(13)
ISOLATION AND THE SHAME OF SPIRITUALITY
At the beginning there is a painful period of detachment as old values fall away. We often need more time to be alone and may need to change our style of living. Slowly the outer world loses its attraction and this may also happen with old friends and old habits. Our focus has been redirected, and people and activities that used to interest us no longer hold our attention. Similarly we can appear boring to people who are only interested in outer stimuli. Those whose identity and self-worth are determined solely by the outer world may even be threatened by the silent voice of one who looks elsewhere, who seeks to lose the ego rather than to gratify it. This is why a spiritual group is so valuable, providing a sense of community in a world from which the seeker can feel increasingly isolated.
This sense of isolation is emphasized by our Western culture because it has long denied the mystic. Since its early struggles against the gnostics, the Christian church has rejected the individual quest in favor of social and political power. Where is the wandering dervish or orange-robed sanyasin of our culture? The seeker's tendency towards isolation is even more emphasized in the United States, which, being the most extrovert society in the world, has little sympathy for the introvert path of the mystic.
Only too often the outcast carries the shadow of the culture, which in this case is the unrecognized longing for something beyond the material world. Those who belong to the Beloved carry His curse which is the memory of His embrace. Nothing in the world will fulfill them. But when this curse is combined with the collective shadow it can easily become a feeling of shame. How many children are silently worried because they see a world invisible to their parents? How many adolescents bury their spirituality because it has no echo? These feelings fester in the darkness. They become the secret shame of the shadow. We sense the emptiness of material values. We see that the emperor has no clothes. But without an outer context to contain or help us understand this insight we are left only with the primal guilt of consciousness. Spirituality thus carries a double curse.
A friend who was confronted with accepting her spirituality had a dream in which she let a cat out of a bag. She revealed her secret which had been contained in guilt. At the same time an unconscious feeling that she would be punished surfaced, for the collective shadow carries the danger of persecution; and our collective history is only too full of persecuting true spirituality. During the period of owning one's inner aspirations the support of a spiritual group is invaluable, for then the shameful feelings are shared and taken away. The seeker is accepted within a circle of friends, within a peer group of souls.
Wayfarers are always attracted to those with whom they have an inner empathy. This is the hidden resonance of a Sufi group which is recognized by those who belong. It is a collective memory of the Beloved, a shared silent longing. Abû Sa'îd ibn Abî'l-Khayr describes the origin of these groups of friends:
Four thousand years before God created these bodies, he created the souls and kept them beside himself and shed a light upon them. He knew what quantity each soul received and he showed favor to each in proportion to its illumination. The souls remained all that time in light, until they became fully nourished. Those who in this world live in joy and agreement with one another must have been akin to one another in that place. Here they love one another and are called the friends of God, and they are brothers who love one another for God's sake. These souls know one another by smell, like horses.(14)
When we find such friends we are like the ugly duckling who saw the swans and then recognized his own reflection. The sense of relief can be tremendous. We have found a support that we need to help us on the inner journey. We can confront our own wounds without being overwhelmed by them. We see God's curse for the blessing it is. We recognize our longing as the song that will take us home.
THE JOURNEY IN GOD
Our face is now turned towards the Beloved and He calls us to Him. He begins to share with His lover the mysteries of love. In the tenderest, innermost places of our heart He touches us. He opens us to Him, slowly lifting the veils that separate us. In these moments of intimacy the world disappears. Human lovers experience the passion and tenderness of union in privacy. Closing out the clamour of the world two people give themselves to an ecstasy that takes them into the beyond. But human passion is just an echo of the passion of the soul for the Beloved. It is here, on the inner stage, that the real ecstasy is experienced, as lover and Beloved merge without the separation of bodies.
We learn to long for the night, when the distractions of the world disappear and there is time for silence and the communion of lovers: O God, the stars are shining:
All eyes have closed in sleep; The kings have locked their doors. Each lover is alone, in secret, with the one he loves. And I am here too: alone, hidden from all of them—With You.(15)
Each moment that we can withdraw from the world is precious, for there is the possibility of meeting. We look for Him everywhere, but in the world He is so hidden. In the moments of meditation He comes closer. This is the secret of the lover, that when we look within He may be waiting. What do we want of the world when we know His touch, the gentlest of butterfly wings on the edge of our heart? Even the memory of such tenderness can incite passion. In a moment He can fill us to overflowing and make us forget that we ever left His arms.
But these meetings make the world a cold and empty place. We wait for nightfall, hoping that He will be there again. In the intervening hours we live as best we can, remembering Him. Driving on the freeway, working in the office, we perform our worldly duties but they seem without purpose. We feel we are caught between the two worlds, often unable to reconcile their opposition: the endless expanses of the heart with the restrictions of time and space. We live and work in a world that carries preoccupations about money, but what does the soul care about such things?
THE CONSTELLATION OF THE SHADOW
The journey towards oneness emphasizes the opposites and we are caught in their conflict. We live in this world and have work and responsibilities, families and mortgages that demand our attention. Yet we long for something else. This tension between the opposites creates a painful but transformative dynamic. It involves living the primal contradiction of incarnation: that we are both divine and human. As the inner experiences intensify so this contradiction can be more painful. We glimpse the dimension of the soul and are then thrown back into the world. This only increases our longing, the feeling of separation that burns us and pulls us to the Beloved.
The deeper the experiences with the Beloved the more painful the separation. The world seems the cause of this separation. It distracts us from our inner quest. In the early centuries of Islam some Sufis sought to avoid any such distraction by taking the path of the ascetic. With a brick for a pillow and a worn-out straw mat for a bed, they despised this world, which they considered a dangerous snare on the way to God. Even work was a distraction from their inner attention. The path of the ascetic does not belong to the present time (see pp. 24-25) and in fact many Sufis have stressed the importance of inner detachment, the poverty of the heart rather than outer poverty. However, the ascetic's attitude can be seen today reflected in the way seekers easily despise the mundane activities of life, and would like to escape from the time-consuming concerns that are a part of living in our present world.
Yet there is a psychological law that states that every stance of consciousness constellates its opposite in the unconscious. The moment we turn away from the world and look towards God our shadow falls behind us. Our view of the world then becomes contaminated by our own shadow. What we despise is our own ordinary self. When we turned towards the Beloved we left part of ourself behind, the part that we did not associate with the quest. At the beginning this is necessary. It is an effect of the process of negation and affirmation. We negate the aspect of ourself which we identify as worldly in order to affirm our spiritual nature. As I have mentioned this new spiritual identification is a crutch to help free us from the attraction of the world and focus our attention on the Beloved. But the price that we pay for this crutch is the projection of our shadow onto the world.
In fact our ordinary, worldly self can be helpful on the path. In the ninth century the Sufis of Nîshâpûr realized the danger inherent in becoming identified as a wayfarer, for this very identity strengthens the ego. Many Sufis of that time could be recognized by the special patch-frock garments that they wore, and so the Nîshâpûr Sufis only wore ordinary clothes. This attitude became integrated into the Naqshbandi tradition, which stressed the idea of "solitude in the crowd"—"outwardly to be with the people, inwardly to be with God." Naqshbandi Sufis do not dress differently from others and externally live ordinary lives within the community. Irina Tweedie told me that the greengrocer who lived at the end of Bhai Sahib's street did not even know that Bhai Sahib was a Sufi teacher.
The less visible and the more introverted the spiritual path, the less easy it is for the ego to become over-identified and thus interfere with this journey. Thus, while other Sufi orders often chant the dhikr, or practice their meditation with music or dance, the Naqshbandiyya has no outward rituals. They practice the silent dhikr and the silent meditation of the heart.
The Sufis of Nîshâpûr also realized that the less the wayfarer knows about his own spiritual progress the better. A friend had a dream in which she was with a group of people and a teacher figure was going 'round telling each person how he or she was getting on. But when the teacher came to her she was made deaf and never heard a word. Only when the teacher passed on to the next person could she hear again. In the journey towards annihilation and nothingness it is best not to know where we are. Irina Tweedie always said, "We are just disciples of God; sinners trying to do better."
However, we cannot escape the fact that as we progress along the path and have spiritual experiences the ego can identify itself with these experiences. Although our meetings with the Beloved belong to the level of the soul, as we taste their sweetness it is only too easy for the ego to think, "I had a spiritual experience." Then the ego becomes inflated. Thinking you are progressing creates moments of elation, of greatness, fleeting feelings of divinity. Then you become unbalanced. At these moments the conflicts and difficulties of our ordinary everyday life are invaluable. How can you be a spiritually advanced person when you get angry about a parking ticket? The world continually confronts us with our failings and inadequacies and thus protects us from the dangers of inflation. It presents us with our worldly shadow that we need for balance.
Through the shadow we learn the wisdom of humility. This allows us to live in the presence of God. A disciple asked a learned rabbi why it is that God used to speak directly to his people, yet he never does so today. The wise man replied, "Man cannot bend low enough to hear what God says."(16) Humility helps us to keep out of the way, for it is only the ego that separates us from the Beloved—in the words of Abû Yazîd, "The way to God is but one step, taking one step out of oneself."
EMBRACING THE SHADOW
The shadow also carries the transformative potential of our own wholeness. As we embrace our worldly shadow we embrace the paradox that we are both human and divine. This is expressed in the Sufi saying, "He who has realized his humanness has realized his divinity." But what is important to realize is that accepting the shadow does not mean becoming identified with it. Jung once said that you do not have a shadow but the shadow has you. Most people are possessed by their shadow. In our journey along the path we have been touched by the greater wholeness of the Self which allows us to accept the shadow without losing ourself in its darkness. In accepting our worldly self we do not have to lose our spirituality and become caught in the world's desires and illusions.
In turning away from the world we gradually break the patterns of ego-identity with worldly values and instead identify with the Beloved. The Self calls to us and we respond, turning our attention inward. This creates a conscious link with the Self and the energy of the path. Our desire for Truth, which had been hidden in the depths of the unconscious, slowly manifests its energy in our daily life, making it more difficult to keep our attention focused on our everyday duties. This energy, this deepest desire of the soul, dissolves the bonds that tie us to this world, allowing us to journey into the beyond.
As the old patterns of ego-identity break up so the deeper identity of the Self begins to surface. We do not identify with the Self—the ego cannot grasp this greater dimension. But the ego is contained within it and is slowly transformed. Eventually the ego does not battle the Self but surrenders itself into being a vehicle for the Beloved to experience His world: "My servant ceases not to draw nigh unto Me by works of devotion, until I love him, and when I love him I am the eye by which he sees and the ear by which he hears."(17) This hadîth qudsî (extra-Qur'anic revelation) outlines the process through which the conscious aspirations of the wayfarer, "the works of devotion," attune him to the bond of love that has existed between the Beloved and His lover since before the beginning of time. The recognition of this bond of love is the most powerful transformative agent on the path. It gives the wayfarer the inner security to surrender the ego and become absorbed in the Beloved.
This bond of love is the essence of the path. It is expressed in the Qur'an by the simple statement, "He loves them and they love Him" (Sura 5:59). Although this bond is between the Beloved and the lover it is reflected in the relationship between the teacher and the wayfarer, which is a bond of love that exists on the level of the soul and is therefore also outside of time. The relationship with the teacher allows us to recognize our bond with the Beloved and integrate it into our everyday life. The physical presence of the teacher bridges the gap between our eternal and temporal self, making it easier for our higher Self to manifest. As I have discussed in detail in The Call and the Echo,(18) this relationship also allows the wayfarer to project the higher Self onto the teacher and then reclaim this projection.
The wayfarer is contained within the heart of the teacher who is contained within the heart of the Beloved. The bond of lover and Beloved is an embrace that contains everything within it. At the beginning the wayfarer supposes that only the spiritual aspects of himself are accepted. Later we come to realize that the Beloved loves us in our entirety. This is when we glimpse life from the dimension of the Self.
Grounded on the rock of the Self the wayfarer begins to be turned back to the world to reclaim what had been rejected. The journey towards wholeness demands that this shadow be integrated. In the alchemical opus there is the process of separatio as the opposites are constellated and made conscious. But this is followed by the coniunctio, the union of these same opposites. The world is not other than the Beloved, and the bond between the Beloved and His lover is also the bond between the Creator and His creation. It is the wayfarer's recognition of his bond with the Beloved that enables him to see this secret hidden in creation. In our own ordinary everyday self we feel the pain of the Beloved's separation from Himself. Through our experience of this separation we glimpse the deeper mystery of His unity, that "everything is He" as Jâmî exclaims:
Neighbour and associate and companion- everything is He. In the beggar's coarse frock and the king's silk—everything is He. In the crowd of separation and in the loneliness of collectedness By God! everything is He, and by God! everything is He.(19)
THE INTEGRATION OF THE SHADOW AND THE BIRTH OF JOY
The last two thousand years, the Piscean era, have been dominated by the process of separatio. The sign of Pisces is two fish, a duality which in the West we have experienced as the separation of spirit and matter, mind and body, conscious and unconscious. The separation into opposites evokes the constellation of the shadow; thus the physical world, which since time immemorial has been identified with the feminine, has carried both the darkness of the rejected feminine and the shadow side of the spiritual quest.
The collective drive towards separation, together with this double shadow projection, has emphasized the outer dynamic of turning away from the world in the spiritual life of the last age. This can be seen in the Christian and Islamic ascetic movements of the first millennium, whose despising of the world clearly points beyond a simple negation to the activation of the shadow. Later the same shadow is evident in the way the Christian Church became possessed by the desire for wealth and power. In both instances, whether in the drive to reject the world or in being possessed by it, it is this shadow that has claimed our attention.
If the age of Pisces was concerned with the separation into opposites, then the coming age looks towards their reconciliation:
If, as seems probable, the aeon of the fishes is ruled by the archetypal motif of the hostile brothers, then the approach of the next platonic month, namely Aquarius, will constellate the problem of the union of opposites.(20)
The first step towards the union of opposites is the integration of the shadow. We can no longer afford to let the outer world carry our shadow. Not only has our greed almost destroyed the planet, but in our Western culture life needs an infusion of spirit in order to make it meaningful again.
The integration of the shadow is an act of love that unites the opposites on a higher plane. It activates the Self, which is symbolized by the coniunctio. The drive that is surfacing within our collective psyche is the integration of the opposites and the birth of the Self. The work of His lovers is to infuse love into this union, so that the child of the future vibrates with the higher frequency of the Self.
In previous centuries the external focus of the wayfarer on turning away from the world often lasted for many years. Abu Sa'îd ibn Abî'l Khayr spent decades in the desert before he returned to the world and founded one of the first Sufi places for retreat and seclusion (khâneqâh). But, as I was once told in a dream, "the desert is no longer a spiritual place." Today the whole inner process of negation and affirmation needs to take place within the marketplace. From the moment of tauba, when the heart is turned towards the Beloved, the Sufi's work is to reflect His love into the world. This means containing within the heart the opposites of the inner and outer world, so that the shadow is no longer projected but transformed. Inwardly the wayfarer will look towards the Beloved, outwardly he will look towards the world. As the wayfarer polishes the mirror of the heart, cleansing the psyche of the attachments of the ego, so the outer world will begin to reflect the face of the Beloved, for, in the words of the Qur'an, "Wheresoever you turn, there is His Face" (Sura 2:115).
As we silently work upon ourselves, the energy of our devotion becomes a point of light within the world. At the present time a map is being unfolded made of the lights of the lovers of God. The purpose of this map is to change the inner energy structure of the planet. In previous ages this energy structure was held by sacred places, stone circles, temples and cathedrals. In the next stage of our collective evolution it is the hearts of individuals that will hold the cosmic note of the planet. This note can be recognized as a song being born within the hearts of seekers. It is a quality of joy that is being infused into the world. It is the heartbeat of the world and needs to be heard in our cities and towns.
The primordial covenant in which humanity, in response to God's "Am I not your Lord?" replied "Yes, we witness it," is not just a conscious recognition of the divine, but a song of celebration, "Glory be to God," that sings in the blood as well as in the innermost recesses of the heart. This song is the manifestation of the bond between the lover and the Beloved. It is the affirmation of love, the primordial "Yes" which His lovers remember and witness. Until now this "Yes" has been a hidden secret shared silently in the hearts of those who know Him. But the time has now come for it to be heard in the marketplace as a passionate participation in life. This is what Molly Bloom exclaims at the end of James Joyce's Ulysses:
O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the fig trees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and rose gardens and the jessamine and geranium and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was flower of the mountains yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
The whole world is His lover and it longs to be reunited with Him. Every atom unknowingly sings the song of separation and the affirmation of union. But in the hearts of His lovers this paradox is a burning passion. They have tasted the wine of separation and the cry of their hearts affirms this. They know the pain of separation and they know that He is One. It is this knowledge that is needed to attune the whole planet.
The world has experienced separatio and is now turning towards union. It is turning back towards God and needs to know its direction. It is for this reason that His lovers who for so long have mainly kept themselves hidden, so that their work would not be interfered with, now need to come into the open. Although they may be unnoticed, their hearts will be heard; their "Yes" will resonate and open others to the mystery of belonging. It is this sense of belonging that allows the joy of the soul to flow into the world. This joy is the affirmation of life as it turns towards God. At its deepest level it is the joy of the world becoming conscious of its true purpose as a mirror in which the Beloved can see His own face.
(1) Dhu’l-Nûn was asked: “What is the end of the mystic?” He answered: “When he is as he was where he was before he was.” Quoted by A.J. Arberry, The Doctrine of the Sufis, p. 152.
(2) Ghalib, trans. Jane Hirshfield, The Enlightened Heart, ed. Stephen Mitchell, p. 106.
(3) Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, p. 24.
(4) The Odes of Ibnu ‘l-Fârid, trans. R.A. Nicholson, Studies in Islamic Mysticism, p. 184.
(5) Rûmî, quoted by Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams, Meeting the Shadow, p. 80.
(6) Quoted by R.A. Nicholson, The Mystics of Islam, p. 31.
(7) Jeanne Guyon, Spiritual Torrents, p. 1.
(8) Rûmî, Mathnawî, 1:132.
(9) Rûmî, trans. Andrew Harvey, Love’s Fire, p. 77.
(10) Quoted by Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, p.72.</p
(11) Discourses of Rûmî, trans. A.J. Arberrry, quoted by William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Love, p. 54.
(12) Irina Tweedie, Daughter of Fire, p. 227
(13) De Vera religione, XXXIX, 72.
(14) Quoted by Nicholson, Studies in Islamic Mysticism, p. 56.
(15) Râbi’a, trans. Charles Upton, The Doorkeeper of the Heart, p. 52.
(16) Quoted by Zweig and Abrams, p. 128.
(17) Quoted by Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, p. 133.
(18) See Vaughan-Lee, The Call and the Echo, pp. 132-138.
(19) Quoted by Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, p. 283.
(20) C.G. Jung, Collected Works 9ii (Aion), para. 142.