Excerpt from Chapter 7: Recognizing the Signs of God
All the world loves you,
but you are nowhere to be found.
Hidden and yet completely obvious.
THE CONSTANTLY CHANGING CREATION
The mystic experiences this world as a place of divine revelation in which the Beloved comes to know Himself. This is a dynamic unfolding of love, a constantly evolving process of Self-disclosure. All of creation is a part of His Self-revelation, but only humanity has the capacity to consciously contribute to this process. And only someone who has given herself to God, whose heart has been awakened, is able to consciously recognize His signs as they are made known in the world and in herself. This is one of the deepest purposes of the mystic: to be able to recognize the constantly changing face of God. She carries this knowledge for humanity, holding the secrets of His love within the consciousness of her heart.
Through His signs He reveals His secret nature, the mystical truth of life. As life evolves, so this secret expresses itself in different ways, revealing different facets of the One Truth. He who is One and Alone reveals Himself in the multiplicity of His creation, a creation which is constantly evolving. His revelation of Himself is not a static event in time. Just as creation is a dynamic, continual process, so is His revelation, for "God never discloses Himself in a single form twice, nor in a single form to two individuals."(2) Each moment He reveals Himself in a new way; each moment His world manifests His revelation within the infinity of what is possible.
In our own journey of self-discovery we come to know ourself through the diversity of our interaction with life, through our many different acts, thoughts, feelings, emotions. The many different aspects of our inner and outer life gradually reveal to us our essential self, the single face reflected back in life's many-faceted mirror. For our own self, life is a journey of self-revelation, and we learn to read the signs that are within ourself and in our outer life. Catching the thread of our deeper destiny, we come to know the hidden purpose of our life. From the dance of opposites, inner and outer, feminine and masculine, the secrets of the soul become known.
We are made in the image of God and we reflect His process of Self-revelation. "He who knows himself knows his Lord." If we look upon our life with eyes awakened to truth, we discover not only our own nature, but also that of our Lord. For the Sufi, life is the greatest teacher. Through our life, through its constantly changing diversity, we come to know our own self and the divine within us. Oneness reveals itself though multiplicity. The mystic experiences this in her own life; she knows the wonder of Self-revelation.
Through her journey of self-discovery she becomes attuned to the hidden oneness, becomes fixed upon the essence of her being. The image of a wheel with many spokes looking towards the center, or an orchestra always attentive to the conductor, points to a dynamic relationship of the one to the many. The single center supports the multiplicity; but without the spokes of the wheel there would be no motion, without the members of the orchestra there would be no music. The center becomes manifest, reveals itself through the many.
Oneness and multiplicity reflect each other. Multiplicity points us back to oneness and oneness opens itself to us through life. And yet each revelation is unique, as a different quality of His oneness becomes known. "No one knows God but God," but He reveals to us His qualities, His names and attributes. What is hidden within the heart, the names of God, becomes manifest in our life. The mystic is one who has eyes to see this Self-revelation, to catch the thread of His unveiling. When the eye of the heart is opened and our consciousness is attuned to love, we see within the dance of creation. In the words of Ibn 'Arabî:
How can I know You when You are the inwardly
Hidden who is not known?
How can I not know You when You are the
outwardly Manifest who make
Yourself known to me in everything? (3)
A NEW WAY OF REVELATION
We are a part of creation and we carry the name of God in our heart. We are His secret and He is our secret. But in order for this secret to be made known within ourself we need to continually evolve, and in particular our consciousness needs to change. Otherwise we will not be able to recognize His signs, and His secret will remain unknown. Then the world will be starved of the sacred essence of Self-revelation. The divine will remain hidden, His secret unrevealed.
Although in each moment He reveals Himself in a new way, each age also has a particular quality of divine revelation. In each age there is a fundamental shift in the way the Oneness reveals itself. There was a time when the divine was revealed primarily through the ways of the goddess, and the priestesses held the secrets of divine perception. The many aspects of oneness were made known through the pantheon of gods and goddesses, and the initiates of the temples guided humanity by their dreams and visions. Then a new quality of divine consciousness arose, and a monotheistic culture appeared, often using the sword to announce its arrival. The priests of this culture recognized a transcendent divinity, and our relationship to the one God was established. The signs and symbols of this new revelation were distinct from the past, and the oracles of old could not read them. New religions were established to hold the divine consciousness of humanity, religions that embodied their wisdom in sacred texts. Revelation was carried by the word, logos, not just the secrets passed down to initiates.
For over two thousand years masculine consciousness has determined our collective relationship to the divine. It gave us a new way to come to know our transcendent nature, establishing a spiritual relationship to a reality that is beyond the physical world. Humanity's eyes and hearts were opened to a different quality of divine perception in which His oneness was celebrated. At the same time the masculine established its hierarchies and power structures, and a certain light gradually became distorted. His revelation lost its brightness. A magic essential to life became lost.
As we stand at the end of an era the old ways of relating to the divine no longer hold their promise. To create new forms is never the answer, nor can the past answer our need. Even though the secrets of the priestesses have a deep meaning, the ways of the goddess belong to a previous era. Our divine consciousness continually evolves, and we need to allow for something new to be born.
In each age there is a fundamental shift in the way the divine reveals itself. This shift has already taken place. His signs no longer reveal themselves in the old way. T.S. Eliot prefigured this in The Wasteland when he wrote:
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.(4)
If we look in the old ways we will not be able to recognize the signs of God, nor will we be able to read them and be nourished by them. We will be left with a "dead tree" and "stony rubbish." What is being born within the soul of the world is a quality of consciousness that comes from a union of masculine and feminine. We need to reclaim the feminine so that it can unite with the masculine in a new way, through which a new consciousness can be born, a new way of relating to life, enabling us to have a fuller understanding of our true nature and purpose. Then the deeper meaning of the feminine can become visible, the hidden purpose of the masculine enacted.
This new integration of masculine and feminine will affirm the direct perception of the heart, the mystical ability to see the Truth as it is revealed. What does this mean? The difficulty is that we cannot describe something new in the terminology of the past. We cannot define what has not yet been lived. We can only recognize our need. If we do not awaken our new-born ability to recognize the signs of God, we will miss this moment of transition and remain in the desert of our impoverishment which will only grow more desperate and arid. If we recognize His signs, then a deep joy will return to life as its spiritual essence is affirmed. What this means we cannot even imagine.
The mystic, living in the moment, is always open to that which is as yet unrealized, to what is in the process of becoming. Free of conditioning, we are receptive to what is new, both within ourself and within life. And the mystic always carries an affirmation of what life gives, of how our Beloved manifests Himself. We are awake to what is hidden and what needs to be revealed. His lovers have always kept open the gates of spiritual transformation, through which He is able to remember Himself within the hearts of those who love Him.
The work of the mystic is to discover this new quality of divine consciousness within, and then establish it both in her inner and in her outer life. This new consciousness needs to be lived if it is to take root and flourish. Mystics have always stood at the forefront of consciousness, at the borders with the beyond where what is new comes into being. Because they are not attached to form, they can embrace what is as yet undefined, what carries the fragrance of the future.
And yet many mystics are reluctant to take their place in the world, to live the seeds of this change. Mystics are often by nature reclusive, introvert, looking inward towards the source. They are distrustful of collective activity, knowing how easily the collective perverts and distorts, how easily the subtle truths of the heart become contaminated, lost. Often they have paid the price of persecution, or carry this experience in their ancient memories. They would rather live their truth inwardly in the solitude of their own devotion, where the power structures of the collective cannot reach, where their knowledge is not condemned as heretical.
To establish a mystical consciousness within the collective is a dream that belongs to idiots and fools of God. The power structures of the present appear so solid, so successful. Lovers walk down the by-ways of life, where their love can be shared without the danger of discovery. They would rather cry in the wilderness of their own longing than in the desolation of the marketplace. But there is a need for something to be made known, for the secrets of the heart to be made public, for the music of the soul to be played.
His lovers know that the path is not about self-improvement, that there is no ten-step program to God. They know the intensity and passion of their own heart, the windswept vistas of the soul. They have lived the price of longing and despair, have smelled the fragrance of His presence. And they know how easily this wonder can be corrupted, how subtle are the ways the ego fabricates an image of the path. And yet their natural inclination is to remain silent, to withdraw within their own devotion. No one can be converted to love. It is too free to be packaged, too potent to be forced.
But the need of the time is pressing. For centuries His lovers have held the secrets of divine love within their own hearts, shared only with initiates. But this knowledge needs to be made public, the song of His oneness to be heard. If the music of divine love is not played in the marketplace, life will lose its meaning, and the collective despair of the soul will be too terrible to imagine. Already there are signs of this happening, of an anguish that cannot be placated. And everywhere there spreads the cold fog of forgetfulness, the haunting desolation of a world that has forgotten its pledge to remember Him.
Without the signs of God we cannot find our way back. But who is here to discover the signs and then to read them for us? The priests of the established religions are no longer initiates, and their concern is often social welfare rather than awakening to the sacred. The oracles are long closed, the ancient temples just a memory. The signs are all around us but we do not know how to read them. Our attention is so caught in the grip of the outer world and its tangible results that we do not know where to look or how to see.
We need this new quality of consciousness in order to recognize and read the signs of God. Without the co-operation of His lovers, this new consciousness cannot be born, cannot be established in the collective. His lovers may look only to their Beloved, but they are also pledged to humanity, "slaves of the One and servants of the many." They are needed now to work together.
What does it mean to work together? It means to consciously recognize a purpose beyond one's individual path. Mystics do not proselytize, because they know that one of the greatest gifts of love is freedom. And yet we live in a world that has forgotten this freedom, this clarity of consciousness, this knowing born of devotion. Humanity has forgotten its place in the mandala of creation, in the great wholeness of life. It has lost its dignity, and instead of looking towards God, thinks only of material well-being.
His lovers are here to help redeem what has almost been lost. They have walked through the desolation of their own darkness and know the perils of corruption. They have been betrayed and ignored, isolated and made desperate. They know the hunger for what is Real because they live it. And they know the wonder of grace, the miracle of transformation through which He reveals Himself to Himself within the heart. And they need to work together to give humanity what it needs, what the soul of the world is crying for. It is no longer enough to work in isolation, to claim the inner secrets behind the closed doors of seclusion. While the path will always be walked in solitude, its meaning needs to be shared. His lovers need to create a collective affirmation of the ways of love, and of a consciousness that can recognize His hidden face.
The inner silence of love takes us beyond ourself, beyond every pattern, beyond every form. In this silence we are remade, reformed according to His will. We have experienced the seed of divine consciousness being placed within our own heart, and how it awakens us to the knowledge of His presence. As the eye of the heart opens, the mystery of Self-revelation takes place. He has said "We will show them our signs on the horizons and in themselves, until it is clear to them that He is the Real" (Qur'an, 41:53). What we have found within ourself we need to give to humanity—a new quality of consciousness to recognize the Reality that is always present around us, to realign us to the changing nature of His unchanging Self. Only then can humanity read His signs and come to know who we really are—once again see His face reflected in His world. It is for the mystic to make this new quality of consciousness accessible to herself and to humanity. This is the need of the time.
When we recognize the signs of God, the divine can manifest, can make itself known in a new way. Our conscious participation in this process is paramount. Consciousness is the catalyst for evolution, and a consciousness attuned to the signs of God has unknown potential. Consciousness is His gift to humanity, and when it is used in relationship to the higher frequency of the divine, the possibilities for our evolution are beyond our imaginings, because they belong to the hidden secret of life.
The idea that "what you think so you become" is based upon the relationship of consciousness to life experience. Serious spiritual students and "positive thinking" practitioners know that our inner attitude becomes reflected in our outer life. But we have little understanding of the possible effect of a consciousness that is aligned with the divine, that consciously gives space for Him to manifest His will. Only the lover who has surrendered to love, the wayfarer who has given herself to God, knows the miracle of His will enacting itself in her life. To experience His grace as a tangible reality is one of the wonders of the path. To be surrounded by divine providence that directly answers our need is to awaken to a quality of life that can hardly be imagined.
At present our collective consciousness is caught in a rational framework of cause and effect. We see life primarily from a temporal perspective. In the West we do not give divine providence its central place in our everyday activities. The divine has been pushed to one side of our frame of reference. In the midst of our frenzied activities we do not realize the effect of this attitude. We do not know how our stance of consciousness determines the whole of our life. More significant, we seem unaware that there are other attitudes of consciousness that can have very different effects, that can create a different experience of life. One of the aspects of Western hubris is to consider our present rational-material consciousness the only sensible way to live. Even in our sincere desire to redeem some of the problems our culture has created, we use the same approach that has, in essence, created the problems. And we remain remarkably unaware of the effect of banishing the divine from its central place in life and in our consciousness.
It is necessary and urgent to redeem this condition. Our consciousness is the vehicle for the divine to reveal itself in this world, for what is hidden to become manifest and known. If our collective consciousness can become re-attuned to the divine, the divine can become manifest. We are aware of the absence of the divine in our daily life, how collectively we are no longer nourished by the presence of the sacred. But our culture has no frame of reference to envisage the effect of divine presence. Part of the result of the patriarchal era was to banish God to the heavens and thus starve the material world of the sacred. What could be the effect of the divine returning to matter, of the heaven and earth uniting?
When we acknowledge the presence of the divine, its power and love have more direct access to our lives. The mystic knows this from her own experience. But until now this happens only to individual seekers, and is often at variance with the collective experience. What would happen if the divine manifested within the collective? If His presence became a normal part of our everyday life? What could be the effect of a collective consciousness that acknowledged His continual presence?
We tend to associate collective spirituality with imposed dogmas or ideas. But the lover knows that real spirituality is freedom, a freedom that embraces and yet is beyond every form. Ibn 'Arabî celebrates this when he writes the beautiful lines:
My heart has become capable of every form:
it is a pasture for gazelles, and a convent for Christian monks,
And a temple for idols, and the pilgrim's Ka'ba,
and the tables of the Tora and the book of the Qur'an.
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way
Love's camels take, this is my religion and faith.(5)
Lovers live the freedom that belongs to the heart, in which every atom of creation is a manifestation of the divine mystery. This quality of consciousness is a seed within the heart of every human being, because we all carry the stamp of our Creator who is absolute love and freedom.
If this secret can be made known, if this potential of the human being can be made public, then the heart of the world can open and recognize that it is made in His image, that there is nothing other than God. For so long we have forgotten Him, abused Him and abandoned Him. Do we need to continue this collective misery, this alienation from our divine and human nature? Or can we look to a future born from the eternal present in which that which we love is no longer a hidden secret, but known and honored as the sacred substance of everyday life—the mystery of the divine made manifest? Then humanity can consciously play its part in the dance of the divine, in the celebration of His oneness.
When the heart of the world opens it is like spring returning after a long winter, like the song of one's first love becoming alive. The mystery and wonder of life are around us, no longer just a forgotten memory of childhood. We all long to recapture this eternal present, this completeness of our essential nature. But our culture points us down a different road, towards the gods of materialism and the demons of alienation. Do we dare to reclaim what belongs to us, to return to our first love? Or is our collective forgetfulness too painful to be faced?
What can be born is a state of being in which life is present in all the chaos and beauty of its contradictory qualities, joy and sadness, love and fear. But this dance of life is steeped with the presence of That which is the eternal substance of our own self, the oneness to which we belong. The light is all around us, and the darkness is permeated with the softness of a lover's touch, the fragrance of what is real. What we long for has already been given, if we would only recognize it. The signs of God are alive and are calling us by our real name.
Notes from Chapter 7 Excerpt:
(1) Trans. Coleman Barks, "The Bright Core of Failure," The Glance, p. 89.
(2) Hadîth, quoted by William Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge, p. 103.
(3) Quoted by Stephen Hirtenstein, The Unlimited Mercifier: The Spiritual Life and Thought of Ibn 'Arabî, p. 157.
(4) "The Burial of the Dead" ll. 19-24.
(5) Quoted by Hirtenstein, The Unlimited Mercifier: The Spiritual Life and Thought of Ibn 'Arabî, p. 203.