The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out like shining from shook foil.
—Gerard Manley Hopkins(1)
Sufism is a mystical path of love in which the wayfarer travels from the illusion of separation to the reality of divine oneness that is experienced within the heart. On this journey our relationship to God, or Truth, is that of lover and Beloved, and the essence of the path is a love affair in which our heart is opened and we are drawn deeper and deeper into the mysteries of divine love.
One of the central teachings of Sufism is that God is both transcendent and immanent. Our Beloved is "beyond even our idea of the beyond," and also "nearer to you than yourself to yourself." In our practice we remember the Divine that transcends all that is or will be, and we witness divine presence manifest throughout the created world—the smallest cricket, the wildest ocean, the most beautiful sunset. This is the primal duality of the Absolute—Creator and creation, transcendent and immanent, masculine and feminine.
In the past many spiritual teachings have focused on the transcendent aspect of the Divine, on spirit separate from matter, heaven rather than Earth. But as our present culture spins out of balance, destroying the fragile web of life in an ever accelerating ecological crisis, there is a pressing need to remember the sacred nature of creation and thus deepen our understanding of its spiritual and transformative qualities.
The Creator is alive within creation. The Absolute lives in every atom, every cell.
And just as human beings contain a sacred substance within our soul, there is a substance in the core of life that is real. It is like a seed of Truth, a spark of the light of the Absolute.
This substance of creation can be interacted with. Human beings can engage in a unique dialogue between the substance in our souls and the substance in creation—a dialogue of light upon light. Through this dialogue, the kaleidoscope of life reveals the one essence of the Absolute, and the Absolute celebrates itself.
This is not the same dialogue as the soul's light interacting with the light of the inner planes, a disembodied divinity, which is how most of us understand spirituality. It is the light of the soul interacting with the light hidden within the material dimension—with God incarnate. Through this dialogue we come to know the Divine in the world around us. In Sufism, these different forms of witnessing are acknowledged:
There are two kinds of witnessing: One is to behold the singularity of the Sacred Essence, stripped from the veil of manifestations. The other is to contemplate within the curtain of manifestations. This is what the Sufis call "the vision of Oneness in multiplicity."(2)
Through this dialogue the Creator uses the mirror of humanity to reveal Itself to Itself, as expressed in the hadith, "I was a hidden treasure and I wanted to be known, so I created the world."
The more awake the human consciousness, the clearer is the real nature of creation. As the "eye of the heart" opens, the practices of the path enable the clarity of real perception, the perception of the soul, through which the mystic no longer sees "through a glass darkly." She becomes the eyes of God in this world, echoing Ibn 'Arabi's words that the mystic is "the pupil in the eye of humanity."(3)
Historically we have forgotten this aspect—this feminine, embodied side of God. And we have forgotten the language of how our souls speak to what is real within life, this conversation with creation. Instead, we are entrapped in our individual and collective ego, seeing life only through a consciousness clouded by our desires and our fears, reducing the dynamic divinity of life to "a collection of objects."(4)
But this hidden mystical substance in creation is waiting to be interacted with, and it holds the essence of the work of co-creation, through which humanity can creatively participate in the moment-by-moment revelation of the divine within the world, the moment-by-moment re-creation of the world.
In the past, various traditions have guided this type of work. In the West, the alchemists held the secret of the light hidden within matter, working symbolically to transmute lead into gold. In their retorts and crucibles they were working not just with chemicals and minerals but with the spiritual energies within matter. Carl Jung talked about uncovering the mystery of the lumen dei and the lumen naturae. He identified the lumen dei as the disembodied light of the divine, which we normally associate with a transcendent God. And he described the lumen naturae as the hidden light within creation, referring to it as "the universal and scintillating fire in the light of nature which carries the heavenly spirit within it."(5)
The practice of alchemy rested on the understanding that "as above, so below." The light in creation is the manifestation of the one light, as expressed in the core alchemical text Hermes' Emerald Tablet:
The father of all perfection in the whole world is here.
Its force of power is entire if it be converted into earth.
The "conversion to earth" is the great work of the human being to know, reveal, and honor the Creator in creation, thereby releasing the "force of power" that belongs to the Absolute.
A similar tradition belongs to Sufism. The early Sufi Dhu'l-Nun was "famous for his involvement with alchemy,"(6) and there is a whole hidden alchemical tradition within Sufism that honors this transformative element within creation. This is reflected in the mystical importance of the secret of the word Kun! [Be!], which expresses the mystery of the creative aspect of God that brings life into being. It has been said that between the K and the N of Kun, there is an entire universe.
The relationship of the light of human consciousness with the light within creation—the human soul with the soul of the world—is at the foundation of our shared evolution. This mystery used to be understood in our collective consciousness; our daily lives were a reflection of this dialogue. In the past, when women ground corn as they chanted sacred songs, they were developing and honoring a profound relationship of inner and outer, of women and corn and the whole mystery of fertility. The Earth that is planted with the sacred seed, the man who harvests the corn with reverence, the woman who grinds the corn, the family or tribe sustained by corn, the corn who is known as a goddess—all are nourished within a sacred communion.
The Christian rite of communion with its emphasis on the bread and the wine as the real flesh and blood of Christ retains a hint of this recognition of the spiritual reality within the material world. The physical bread contains a spiritual bread; the wine contains a spiritual wine.
For many centuries we shared our evolution with the Earth and all that belongs to the Earth; both our evolution and the Earth's depended upon that connection. But today this is lost. The understanding of the magic of creation that belonged to those eras is forgotten. In today's materialistic society we have separated ourselves so far from the Earth and the simple realities of life, controlled so many of the ways we interact with nature, that this relationship to the spiritual mysteries of Earth has been severed.(7)
What we don't understand is that this separation means that the whole of life can no longer evolve. Nor can humanity, as separate from that whole, evolve. We can only evolve as One—as a single, living whole.
The next step in our collective evolution is to recognize the divinity of life with a consciousness that sees and knows the One at the heart of the many, to reclaim an ancient knowing of life's sacredness.
THE SACRED NAMES OF CREATION
There was a time, long ago, when the friends of God—the masters of love—worked together with humanity to awaken the world. This was the time of naming, when all of the multiplicity of creation was named for the first time. Through the power of its names creation came alive to its higher purpose. Each thing that was named—each flower and tree, each animal and insect—became conscious of its true nature and purpose in the web of creation. This knowing, quite different from conscious knowing as we understand it today, is rather an instinctual, innate knowing belonging more to the spirit of each life-form. Through it, the world came alive with the magic of naming.
The sacred names of creation were also used to make a relationship between humanity and the created world. Every plant, every animal on Earth had a name, and humanity knew these names. The names of animals evoked their power, the names of plants revealed their healing properties, the names of rivers and mountains ensured that the world was kept in harmony and balance. Humanity's knowing of the power and purpose of Earth awakened Earth to its own power, its magic and sacred meaning.
Knowing the real names of creation has tremendous impact, in the same way that recognizing an individual for who she really is can change her life. Something deep and real is confirmed and energized. Many indigenous traditions still carry an understanding of the names of creation, even if the names themselves have been lost. Australian aboriginal traditions recognize the "dreamtime" beyond past, present, and future, in which ancestral beings wandered over the land singing out the name of everything that crossed their path—animals, plants, rocks, waterholes—and so sang the world into existence.
In this time before the beginning, before the great Fall when the Earth was still pristine, humanity engaged with the power of the names and created a new relationship between the Creator and the created world. There was a purity of intention in this relationship between humanity and the Earth and all its myriad creatures; it honored the sacred energies of life. The partnership had a divine meaning—it helped awaken the light hidden within the physical world, which could then fulfill its highest purpose of reflecting the Absolute back to Itself. And through it, magic was awakened within the created world, and the seeds of consciousness were sown.
From this communion between humanity and creation were born the daily rituals that honored all of life—the rituals of planting and harvesting, the rites of hearth and home, death and birth, chanting, singing and dance—all providing ways to honor the energies within creation, ways for the light of the soul of humanity to interact with the soul of the world.
The soul of humanity and the soul of the world were bonded together, and the Earth showed her generosity. It was a communion, now only remembered in myth and scripture as the time when God walked in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve hid themselves from Him, before they knew they were naked, before they were ashamed.
This was the time when, as told in the Bible, Adam, the archetypal first man, gave creation its names, forming this sacred bond (Genesis, 2: 19-20). In the Qur'an it is told as when "God taught Adam the names." (2:31).
This was the beginning of the covenant between humanity and creation.
So much was given at this time. The Creator had so many ways to love creation, to give to creation. The human heart and consciousness were a vehicle for this abundance, and in turn, the heart of the Earth reciprocated.
In this primordial time, the power of the Word, the logos principle, and the names of creation brought light and consciousness into creation. It was the awakening of the Earth, when after millions of years of unconsciousness, the world began to know its purpose as an expression of God, and each created thing began to awaken to its unique expression of sacredness:
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.(8)
The world known as it is is quite different from the world created by our desires and projections, by the endless patterns of our mind and the recycling of our memories that we call existence. Those who for an instant have awakened, had a glimpse of what the Zen masters call satori, know this simple experience of truth—when the butterfly is glimpsed as a butterfly, when the sweetness of plum is truly tasted. It is a reality without comparison or contradiction that communicates its true nature to us directly rather than as interpreted through our mind or psyche. In such moments we are really alive, awake rather than dreaming.
The mystery and power of the names of creation remains; the primal magic woven between the world of light and the world of creation still lives. The Earth is calling for us to awaken and remember this primal bond with Her. This bond was never severed, despite the many ways we have tried to destroy it, despite all the stories of separation we tell ourselves. But it has weakened, like a gossamer thread buffeted by a terrible storm. It is time to remember this bond, to honor this relationship, to know that it is the only true foundation of our shared future.
THE POWER WITHIN MATTER
The light within the Earth, what the alchemists called the lumen naturae, is a primal source of energy and power that has yet to be fully accessed by humanity. It belongs to our natural relationship to life, to creation and its sacred nature. This energy source can once again become accessible as humanity remembers its place in the whole and relates to all life with an understanding of oneness—of unity and multi-dimensional interdependence. We cannot work with Earth's light, nor will we know the real names of creation, through a consciousness of separation or duality. We need to claim the consciousness of oneness that is waiting for us.
As we awaken to this sacred unity at the core of the world, life itself awakens, because we are not separate from the whole. This power within life gradually becomes available, and we can learn how to use it. It belongs to the magical nature of life, life's ability to change and evolve. It carries the ancient wisdom of the archetypal world, an understanding of the energy patterns within life, the grids of power within the Earth. Working with this power within creation, we can reclaim our heritage as guardians of the Earth, of its sacred and mysterious ways. We can once again be initiated into the deeper levels of existence, the now-hidden ways that energy flows within and around the world.
The patterns of power within the Earth are an ancient secret, part of the knowledge we have lost over the centuries.(9) As we have blinkered our consciousness into seeing only the outer appearances of the material world, we have lost our understanding of its inner, hidden dimensions. Our ideas, beliefs, and attitudes have silenced the song of the Earth and closed the door on her light.
In our current collective unconsciousness we carry a strong sense of being at war with matter, of needing to overcome or conquer all that is of the Earth. We are trapped by ideas about the constrictions of matter, and still fight against its apparent limitations. Our attitudes and our actions are killing life; our stories tell us we are separate from the Source. And so we are caught in a cycle of self-destruction.
The physical world needs to be re-aligned with its own energy source, with the life force within it. The quickest way to align anything or anybody is by recognizing its true nature. Through humanity's recognition of the sacredness of life, the divinity of everything on Earth, through our reverence, the consciousness of our light can interact with the light in matter. The highest principle can come alive again within creation and release the energy waiting there.
This energy that comes from the very core of creation can heal the Earth and the psyche of humanity. It will reveal the unity and "interbeing" of all of creation, as expressed in the numinous image of Indra's Net from the Mahayana Buddhist tradition:
Here the universe is seen as an infinite net; wherever the threads cross there is a clear shining pearl that reflects and is itself reflected in every other pearl. Each pearl is an individual consciousness—whether of a human being, an animal, a plant, a cell or an atom—so a change in one pearl, however small, makes a change in all the other pearls, each one both singular and responsive to the whole.(10)
As matter becomes aligned with its true nature, it begins to vibrate at a higher frequency. It begins to sing. This song is one of the ways it will heal itself. Song has always been a magical way of healing, and the song of the world has tremendous power. In it, all the names of creation are remembered and awakened and celebrated. This song knows the name of God and sings of God in every leaf and every lake and every human being.
The song of the world belongs to the primary nature of all that is. It is life's sacredness expressing itself, remembering its Source. But we need to listen for it; we need to hear it. We need to celebrate the song. Our ancestors' knowing that everything they could see was sacred was not something taught but something deeply, instinctively heard.
The "sacred" is not something primarily religious or even spiritual. It is not a quality we need to learn or to develop. We all have within us a sense of the sacred, a sense of reverence, however we may articulate it. It is as natural as sunlight, as necessary as breathing. It belongs to our connection with the original Adam.
We each carry this primal knowing within our consciousness, even if we have forgotten it. It is a fundamental recognition of the wonder, beauty, and divine nature of the world. When we sense that our world is not just a physical, mechanistic, or chance-driven reality but that there is a deeper mystery within and around it, we are sensing the sacred nature of creation; we are hearing its primal song. If we remember the sacred we will find ourselves in a world as whole as it is holy. However we may call this mystery, it permeates all of creation. It may be more easily felt in certain places, in ancient groves, beneath star-filled skies, in temples or cathedrals, in the chords of music. But this is a mystery that belongs to all that exists—there is nothing that is separate from it. As such it celebrates the unity that is within and around us, the oneness of which we are a part. Our sense of the sacred is a recognition that we are a part of this deeper all-embracing mystery.
Once we allow our consciousness to touch into this greater mystery, we will find that life will speak to us as it spoke to our ancestors. It will remind us of how to live in harmony with creation and how to restore the balance that is intrinsic to life. And it will give us the energy, the power, and the knowledge needed to heal and redeem our wounded world. It will help us to break free from the nightmare of materialism that is strangling us, so that together with the Earth we can give birth to a story of real global transformation.
INSTANT BY INSTANT
The transformation of the world is a science. Just as the spiritual transformation of a human being needs to follow a precise and careful course, so does this global evolution have specific guidelines. For example, there are specific ways to work with the energy within creation, just as there is a science in the reflection of light from the inner to the outer. This knowledge is part of our heritage even as it is at times hidden from us. As Ibn 'Arabi describes this mystery,
God deposited within man knowledge of all things and then prevented him from perceiving what He had deposited... No one knows what is within himself until it is unveiled to him instant by instant.(11)
A dynamic blueprint of how life truly is—how the inner worlds relate to the outer and how the human being mediates between dimensions—exists within us. This blueprint accords with specific laws, known by many indigenous traditions as "the original instructions." These laws are the spiritual guiding principles of humanity and all life-forms on the planet. They are part of the cellular structure of creation, part of its DNA.
The work of the mystic is to be part of this transformation, to add the ingredient of spiritual consciousness as life starts to know Itself and sing its sacred song. This note of divine consciousness is a catalyst to the next cycle of revelation. Our journey is not to return to the indigenous consciousness of our ancestors, or to a purely transcendent consciousness, but to combine the two, above and below. We need to reclaim an understanding of the spiritual dimension of creation, of its living oneness, from the perspective of the individualized consciousness that we have claimed over the last era. Consciousness is the most vital ingredient in the process of transformation, and it is the combination of the light of individual consciousness with the light within the Earth that will help awaken the world and humanity to our next cycle of shared evolution.
But it will not be as easy. Collectively humanity has put up tremendous barriers to the conscious awareness of life's sacredness. We have allowed attitudes of separation and isolation, together with a concept of matter as "dead," to keep us from real awareness of life's depths where oneness waits to work its magic, where the archetypal energies are waiting for our conscious participation.
Spiritual seekers, sadly, have often woven into these collective attitudes the energy of an aspiration that focuses on their own individual well-being, their own "awakening," forgetting or dismissing the larger dimension of the whole. Some seekers have traditionally turned away from life, while others have become, in recent years, caught in the illusions of self-development. For many seekers it will feel that there is much to lose by giving our longing to life, by recognizing that only as a part of a living whole is there any real purpose to transformation. They have forgotten the wonder of the moment in the garden, the spider's web caught in a ray of sunshine, dew sparkling with light.
Many of us will need to work hard to let go of past attitudes and attune our attention to the instant-by-instant revelations of divine beauty and presence. So much has to be given up in order to return to a purity of intention, to that moment when life is simple and sacred.
The mysteries of the future reside throughout this reconnection with the living Earth, which will enable spirit and matter to combine in a new way. Then we will know above and below as one and reawaken to the magic and wonder within life. We all have access to the knowledge of Adam, the first man, the knowledge of the names of creation, which belong to the divine "secrets of heaven and earth" (Qur'an 3:33). And this reawakening will give us new understanding of these secrets, as the signs of God reveal themselves in a new way. This is the shared evolution that is waiting for us, a return to what is sacred and sustaining both for the soul and for the soil, for humanity and for the Earth—for the oneness to which we all belong.
Adapted from For Love of the Real, A Story of Life's Mystical Secret,
by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, published November 2015.
(3) "He [Man] stands to God as the pupil, which is the instrument of vision, to the eye; and for this reason he is named a Man. By means of him God beheld His creatures and had mercy on them." Quoted by Bhatnagar, Dimensions of Classical Sufi Thought (Delhi: Motilal, Banarsidass, 1984), p. 94. In this sense man's coming into existence makes the process of creation complete. Meister Eckhart makes a similar statement, "the eye in which I see God is the same eye in which God sees me. My eye and God's eye are one eye and one seeing, one knowing and one loving." Robert J. Dobie, Logos and Revelation: Ibn 'Arabi, Meister Eckhart, and Mystical Hermeneutics, (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press: 2009) p. 215.
(10) See Jules Cashford, "Gaia and the Anima Mundi" Spiritual Ecology, ed. Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee (Point Reyes, CA: The Golden Sufi Center, 2013).