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Catching the Thread
Sufism, Dreamwork & Jungian Psychology
By Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
The Golden Sufi CenterCopyright © 2012 The Golden Sufi Center
All rights reserved.
THE FOOLS OF GOD
The sect of lovers is distinct from all others; Lovers have a religion and a faith all of their own.
Beyond the Mind
Sufis are His most beloved fools, for He has a special tenderness for those who are lost in love. We talk of being madly in love with a human lover, but those who have been embraced by a divine lover are lost in a deeper madness, which is at the same time a secret so intimate that it can hardly be told in words. Love can never be understood by the mind. Those who wish to enter this path must accept that they can never explain either to themselves or to others the mysterious inner unfolding that is taking them home. The dynamics of the heart follow laws so different from those of the mind that the seeker needs to begin by accepting the mind's limitations, and realize that on the spiritual journey rational thought is a hindrance rather than a help. In the words of 'Attâr, "When love comes, reason disappears. Reason cannot live with the folly of love; love has nothing to do with human reason."
The thinking processes of the mind have been developed to help us live in this physical world. They are very important for learning to drive a motor car or writing out a shopping list. But from a spiritual perspective, the mind is a limitation. It is known as "the slayer of the Real," for it stands between the seeker and the Real Self, while its constant chatter deafens us to our inner voice. The mind belongs to this world of duality. It understands through comparison. If you look at the workings of the mind you see that it is constantly comparing (Today is warmer than yesterday, but there is more wind than usual ...). The mind is always caught between the opposites, their opposition largely created by the mind. As Prince Hamlet remarks, "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
Spiritual truth embraces rather than separates the opposites. Truth is not on the level of duality, but the experience of oneness. It is not found in the mind but in the heart, and on the path the wayfarer is thrown beyond the mind into a world that can be explained only in paradoxes. As the rational mind tries to assimilate experiences that belong to a different level of reality, the seeker is constantly left in a state of confusion. In the Sufi classic, The Conference of the Birds, 'Attâr tells the story of how a man's encounter with the path results in bewilderment, robbing him of both his possessions and his mind through the simple word "Enter."
An Arab once went to Persia and was astonished at the customs of the country. One day he happened to pass the dwelling of a group of [dervishes] and saw a handful of men who said not a word. They had no wives and not even an obol, but they were pure of heart and undefiled. Each held a flask of muddy wine which he carefully filled before sitting down. The Arab felt sympathetic towards these men; he stopped and at that moment his mind and heart fell onto the road. At this the [dervishes] said: "Enter, O man of nothing!" So he went in, willy-nilly, just like that! He was given a cup of wine and at once lost his senses. He became drunk and his strength was reduced to nothing. His gold and silver and valuables were taken from him by one of the [dervishes], more wine was given to him, and at last they put him out of the house. Then this Arab returned to his own country, one-eyed and poor, his state changed and his lips dry. When he arrived at his native place his companions asked him: "What is the matter? What have you done with your money and valuables? Were they stolen while you slept? Have you done badly in Persia? Tell us! Perhaps we can help you!"
"I was moving about in the street," he said, "when I fell in with a group of [dervishes]. I know nothing else except that my possessions and I were parted and now I have nothing." They asked him to describe the [dervishes]. He replied, "They simply said to me 'Enter.'"
The Arab remained ever after in a state of surprise and astonishment, like a child, and dumbfounded by the word "Enter."
You too, put your foot forward. If you do not wish to, then follow your fantasies. But if you prefer the secrets of the love of your soul you will sacrifice everything. You will lose what you consider to be valuable, but you will soon hear the sacramental word, "Enter."
The Subversion of the Mind
As the wayfarer travels along the path, the energies of the heart gradually subvert the thinking processes of the mind. Because the energy of love is more powerful than the mind, it secretly slows down the mind, until the mind becomes empty and thus able to experience the inner reality of the Self, which is love. The following dream illustrates this dynamic. It left the dreamer with an experience of love such as he had never known before:
I was in a hall full of men on soapboxes, who were giving political speeches to groups of people around them. However, in the hall there was a small number of men who were subverting all this activity by giving out little slips of paper to people around them. Slowly the hall emptied of people and the men on soapboxes left. When the hall was empty, the five men who had been secretly subverting the whole process came together and there was such a feeling of love between them. I awoke filled with this feeling of love.
Our minds are so often like this dreamer's hall, full of men on soapboxes bombarding us with different opinions and ideas. To consciously confront this dynamic would only feed more energy into the mind, fill the hall with more people. The Sufi path is subversive rather than confrontational. It works from within, from the Self which lives in the very depths of the unconscious, in the secret recesses of the heart. The changes begin far away from the conscious mind, where they cannot be interfered with. Then slowly the energy of the Self filters into consciousness, where it begins the work of altering our thinking processes.
The spiritual dynamic is a process of being speeded up. To quote St. John, "It is the spirit that quickeneth," and as we travel along the path, we tune into, or are infused with, the higher frequency of our spiritual nature. The energy of the Self is far quicker than that of our physical or mental bodies. As we meditate and aspire we create a deeper bonding with our Higher Self which allows its quicker energy to be integrated into our consciousness. It is this energy which transforms us. In the dream of the men on soapboxes, slowly the people leave the hall and the room is left empty except for the five men who secretly instigated the process of subversion. The energy of the Self gradually speeds up consciousness and in so doing throws out the slower, denser thought patterns. Then, when the ordinary consciousness is empty, the individual is able to experience the inner reality of love. This is the dreamer's final experience; he tastes the substance of the Self.
This transformation is a gradual process because the inner energies are so powerful that the structure of consciousness needs to be attuned slowly in order to be able to integrate them. In the words of T. S. Eliot, "human kind cannot bear very much reality" ; this is because ordinary consciousness would simply be shattered by the higher vibrations of the Self. Our mental hospitals contain many people who have had an experience of an inner reality which their consciousness could not contain. Just a glimpse of our true nature is awe-inspiring, "awful." Sometimes, when an individual begins on the path, when he begins to meditate, he may be given such a glimpse. This can be an encouragement, but it can also be frightening, because it points beyond the ego and the mind, beyond the known into the unknown. Then a teacher is needed, one who is a few steps further along the way and speaking from experience can say: "No, you are not going mad. What you have experienced is not unusual. You have just touched an inner dimension that is very different from the external world. It is a good sign."
However, there can also come the time when the higher energies are necessary to shatter the rigid patterns of our ordinary consciousness, to break our self-imposed boundaries. This only happens when the teacher knows that the seeker is ready, usually after years of meditation and spiritual practices have silently prepared a new inner vessel. This inner work makes the seeker both finer and stronger, and thus allows him to live in the world of everyday consciousness and at the same time in tune with the inner dimension of the Self.
Such an experience of inner transition can be both dramatic and disturbing. It can be triggered by an outer situation or specifically by the teacher. Something happens, often a shock that throws the individual off balance. Sufi teachers often use shock tactics, even accusing the devotee of something totally unjust, to deliberately bring about this unbalancing. When our consciousness is totally "balanced" there is no space for the higher dimension to come through. As a Canadian psychiatrist observed:
When a human being is standing with both feet firmly on the ground, with both legs on the earth, and is "quite normal" as we medical practitioners call it, spiritual life is very difficult, perhaps impossible. But if something is not quite right with the mind, a little wheel not working properly in the clockwork of the mind, then spiritual life is easy.
When the mind is thrown off balance, the higher, faster energies are able to come through, and it is their vibrations that break up the barriers of consciousness, the patterns of conditioning. At this moment it is vitally important that the seeker surrender to the process, however painful or unjust it may seem. Yet, because the values of the Self are so different from those of the ego and the conscious mind, the seeker is presented with every reason to reject this process of inner destruction.
The values of the ego are a limitation, and for the sincere seeker the teacher or life itself will present the opportunities that will bring about both inner destruction and freedom — if they are unconditionally accepted. But in these situations of pain and inner panic, there is the danger that the seeker will try to hold onto the wreckage, to find some security in the patterns of the past, in parental or social conditioning. Bombarded by the energy of the Self, the wayfarer can find no security except in total insecurity; yet still the ego, frightened by the limitless horizons of the Self, clings to the world of reason and the limited values of the past. It clings to the wreckage of a ship that can no longer take us on any journey, and yet this wreckage prevents us from realizing that we can swim, naked and alone. In time the wreckage will decay or float away and the final result will be the same, but it will have been a longer and more painful journey. Spiritual life has its cycles and there are moments that must be grasped and totally surrendered to. Often these moments of greatest opportunity are disguised, appear "unspiritual" or cruel. It is said that the teacher puts all appearances against himself, and then tests the disciple. Life does the same. It is best never to reject what life brings, and often the most difficult circumstances hide something of infinite value. The light is hidden in darkness, but the darkness must be fully accepted before the light reveals itself. When the Sufi Abû Sa'îd ibn Abî-l-Khayr was asked what Sufism entailed he replied: "Whatever you have in your mind — forget it; whatever you have in your hand — give it; whatever is to be your fate — face it!"
Khidr, the Green Man
We all have free will, and to surrender to a painful experience that can appear unjust, even cruel, is never easy. This is why Sufi teaching emphasizes the importance of unconditional surrender, surrender to the teacher and surrender to life. It shows how one can never judge by appearances, as in the following story of Khidr and Moses as told in the Qur'an:
At the place where the two seas meet, Moses met Khidr, one whom Allâh had given knowledge of Himself. Moses asked Khidr, "May I follow you so that you may guide me by that which you have been taught?"
"You will not be able to bear with me," Khidr replied. "For how can you bear with that which is beyond your knowledge?"
Moses said, "If Allâh wills you will find me patient; I shall not disobey you in anything."
Khidr said, "If you want to follow me, you must not ask any questions about anything, until I myself speak to you about it."
The two set out. They embarked on a ship and immediately Khidr bored a hole in the bottom of the ship.
"What a strange thing you have done!" exclaimed Moses. "Have you bored a hole in order to drown the ship's passengers?"
"Did I not tell you," he replied, "that you would not bear with me?"
"Pardon my forgetfulness," said Moses. "Do not be angry with me because of this."
They continued on their journey until they met a young man. Moses' companion killed this young man, and Moses said: "You have killed an innocent man who has done nothing wrong. You have committed a wicked crime."
"Did I not tell you," Khidr replied, "that you would not bear with me?"
Moses said: "If I ever question you again, abandon me; for then I would have deserved it."
They journeyed on until they came to a certain city. They asked the people for some food, but these people would not receive them as guests. Finding a wall on the point of falling down, Moses' companion repaired it. Moses said to his companion, "If you had wanted, you could have asked payment for your work."
"The time has now come when we must separate," said Khidr. "But first I will explain to you the meaning of those acts which you could not bear to watch with patience.
"The ship belonged to some poor fishermen. I damaged it because if it had gone to sea it would have been captured by a king who was seizing every boat by force.
"The young man was a criminal, who would have committed many crimes that would have brought sorrow to many people, including his parents.
"As for the wall, it belonged to two orphaned boys in the city whose father was an honest man. Beneath the wall their treasure is buried. Allâh decreed in his mercy that they should dig out this treasure when they grew to manhood. What I did was not by my own will.
"That is the meaning of my acts which you could not bear to watch with patience."
Three times Moses judged Khidr by the appearance of his actions. Three times he failed to remain silent and accept that one to whom God had revealed Himself sees and acts from a different perspective. What Khidr did was not his will, but the will of Allâh. Moses represents the rational, outer law, the exoteric. Khidr, one to whom Allâh had revealed Himself, "endowed with knowledge of Our Own," represents the inner, esoteric path of the mystic. He is the archetypal figure of the Sufi saint, or wali, who has direct inner communion with the Absolute, and follows the inner law, the divine hint, regardless of outer appearances. The Sufi master, Bhai Sahib, stresses how one should never judge by appearances:
Saints are like rivers; they flow where they are directed. ... If a Hint is there, I have to do it, and if I don't, I am MADE to do it. Divine Hint is an Order. Sometimes the Saints have to do things the people will misjudge, and which from the worldly point of view could be condemned, because the world judges by appearances. One important quality required on the Path is never to judge by appearances. More often than not things look different from what they really are. There is no good or evil for the Creator. Only human society makes it so. A Saint is beyond good or evil, but Saints are people of the highest morality and will never give a bad example.
The teacher may act with seeming coldness, even inhumanity, but he acts from the level of the Self. He follows the laws of a world very different from the physical plane and is concerned with the real freedom of the seeker, freedom from the ego and the duality of good and bad, just and unjust. In this world of illusion all that matters is our relationship with the Beloved. The eighth-century Sufi saint, Râbi'a, expresses this in her usual straightforward manner:
O God! if I worship Thee in fear of Hell, burn me in Hell; and if I worship Thee in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise; but if I worship Thee for Thine own sake, withhold not Thine everlasting beauty.
While the religious man avoids evil and strives towards good, seeking a reward in heaven, the Sufi sees the opposites of heaven and hell as a limitation. Furthermore, there is a danger in performing good deeds for the sake of the hereafter:
It would mean that the self would reappear on the higher level. We may plant a huge weed, and to eradicate it would be practically impossible.
The wayfarer believes only in oneness and seeks the total annihilation of the ego. Inwardly he seeks to embrace and thus transcend the duality of good and evil; yet, as he travels along the path, he instinctively avoids actions that are morally bad, and tends towards the good. Evil is denser and slower than good, and as the wayfarer "speeds up" he is actually unable to enact evil. This does not happen through moral choice, which divides, but through a state of being.
Excerpted from Catching the Thread by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee. Copyright © 2012 The Golden Sufi Center. Excerpted by permission of The Golden Sufi Center.
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