In Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, presence is the quality that describes a heart-filled state of mindfulness, an experience of being conscious in the present moment. It is only in this present moment, Sufi teachings reveal, that we can connect with the Divine, and the Divine can live through us.
Kabir Helminski is one of the world's most recognized teachers of Sufism. Named one of the "500 Most Influential Muslims" in the world by Georgetown University and the Royal Strategic Studies Center, Helminski and his teachings are touchstones for the growth in interest in Sufism, and his books have been translated around the world. In Living Presence, Helminski lays out the basic principles of Sufism, and how these ideas can lead to the experience of presence. In this inspiring work, readers will learn how to cultivate presence in their lives through:
* Finding a balance between the outer stimuli of the world and our inner reactions to them
* Harnessing faithfulness and gracefulness
* Learning about the parallels between ancient spiritual wisdom and modern psychological knowledge
* Meditation and contemplation to discover more meaning in daily life
With unique clarity, this book describes how presence can be developed to vastly improve our lives. Drawing on the work of the beloved Sufi poet, Rumi, as well as traditional material and personal experience, this book integrates the ancient wisdom of Sufism with the needs of contemporary life. Completely revised and updated for its 25th anniversary, this edition of Living Presence offers a wisdom that is both universal and practical.
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About the Author
and he is a spiritual teacher (shaikh) recognized by Rumi’s tradition, the Mevlevi Order. While he has been named one of the “500 Most Influential Muslims in The World,” he considers his most important contribution to be expressing the universal and practical aspects of spiritual development. Kabir is also a spiritual activist regularly writing for the Huffington Post, the Times of India, Patheos.com, and Tikkun. His books have been translated into at least nine languages.
Read an Excerpt
The City of Separation
There was a city, covered by clouds. In it were greatoffice buildings, schools, stores, and factories. The city was a place whereraw materials, both physical and human, flowed. It was the center of theeconomy. It was where you had to be to be an important, successful person, butit was also a place where many terrible things happened. The majority of peoplein their own estimation were failures; no person or place was secure fromvarious unlawful acts; and the conditions supported in this environmentproduced an infinite variety of illnesses, including some that were deadly andcontagious.
This city was very dark. Energy had become quite limitedand little light was available. People passed one another in shadows and couldnot easily see each other. Perhaps to be noticed more, they improvised variousextreme forms of behavior and dress.
In this place it was typical for people to live in fearand suspicion. Even so-called friends withheld much from one another. If you askedwho was in charge, you would be told, “We are all free here; we follow our ownselves. No one controls us. This is just the way things are.”
In my childhood I always had an uneasy feeling about mycity, having glimpsed the countryside on road trips with my parents. But by thetime I became an adolescent I had started to take pride in its attractions, itsenergy, thinking that this was the place where the worst and the best ofeverything could be found. I was drawn to walking its dark streets at all hours.I wished to be an observer, but increasingly I was becoming more a part of it.Eventually I began to wish to find some other life, or change something insidemyself, but as often as I thought about it, nothing ever changed. I once askedsomeone, “Am I the only one who feels that something is not right? Or do otherssometimes feel this way?”
“Sure, we all complain,” he answered. “But this is life.We have to adjust to reality. Why whistle against the wind? But there is aneighborhood of this city where you can find people who feel the way you do,the Neighborhood of Remorse.”
Ah . . . The Neighborhood of Remorse, as it was called,interested me. Maybe I could be with people more like me. At least I might notfeel so strange and alone. I did, for a while, make that neighborhood my homeand I came to know the people there. They were in every respect like the otherpeople of this city, except that they felt remorse over some of their actions.Among the population were many arrogant, envious, and insincere individuals whotook pleasure in getting the upper hand in every situation. I came to know themwell—their selfishness and doubt, their obsessions and hesitations, theirremorse, and their inevitable acceptance of their weakness.
I asked, “Why don’t people change? Why do they only thinkabout it and never do it? Why don’t we consider how all this will end?”
By some chance a few of the people of this neighborhoodfound their way out of the city and came to the village of Sharington. Theyfound it either through real desperation or by accident. A sign at the villagelimits reads, spirit in us all. This village was the home of Lady Affection.The people here enjoyed many forms of togetherness. They had many occasions forcelebration, and they sang songs together and danced. Their children wererespected and allowed plenty of playtime, and they were also given useful work.Travelers were always welcomed and cared for. Family members did not feargetting old and useless. When one of them might fall sick, others took this asa special opportunity to visit. Married people did not fear judgment orabandonment. Lovers were guiltless and pure. Each person valued his or her workbecause of how it fit into the whole, and everyone had something to work atbecause all were needed by the others.
But more than anything, what kept them happy was thetotally irrational and immeasurable love they felt for their Lady Affection.Once people had met her there was little chance of their ever returning to thecity.
Unlike the people of that city, who acted solely andpredictably from their own self-interest, these people of Sharington wereunpredictable. They acted irrationally, giving away the best they had andexpecting nothing in return. These people lived in a vibration of love. Theywould not have survived well in most other places, but here in Sharington onefound rich and poor together. The most educated were humbly teaching those whowished to know more. Those who were served respected those who served. Iimmediately felt relaxed and at home, even joyous. My life went along smoothlyfor some time before I began to feel something unsettled in my heart. When Isaw a certain old man whose face was radiant with life and compassion, I toldhim, “Maybe you can help me. I cannot seem to remember what it is I reallywant.”
“What do you deeply love?”
“When I was in the city I had forgotten about love. WhenI came to this village, I realized that there was nothing I wanted more than tobe here with these people, but now I am not sure.”
“Beyond this village, my son, is a region you mightvisit,” he said. “Don’t worry, I can help you find it. And if you spend sometime there, you may meet, God willing, four kinds of people.
“First, there are the Pretenders. You will see themreading and talking about the Truth, even doing the postures of meditation andthe forms of worship, but their minds are often somewhere else. And yet theyare practicing the ways of love, the fruits of love, as if they really knowlove, and this will save them in the end. They are learning that the One hasmany names. May their imitation become reality.
“Then there are the Warriors. They practice the GreaterWork, the struggle with the ego. They are quiet and gentle, thankful andcourteous. The activities they love are the simple acts of living, prayer, andspontaneous service. They have shed the artificialities of the ego and its manydistractions. Their egos have been tamed by love, found submission, and learnedto serve their great Self. If you find them, stay with them long enough tolearn patience and real contentment.
“Third, you may meet, God willing, the People ofRemembrance. They remember the Real inwardly in all they do. They eat little,sleep little, and speak little lest they distract one another’s attention fromthe presence of the Real One. They are the easiest people to be with—light asfeathers, never a burden on anyone. If you spend many years with them, Godwilling, you might overcome your doubt and forgetfulness. But even when you do,you will still have the hidden contradiction of I and He.”
At this moment I was overcome with such sadness, and thetears were flowing before I knew it. I wanted to drown in this sea of sorrow,because I felt so far from anything real—so lost—but the sight of the radiantface of my old friend took away my sense of hopelessness.
“Oh, dear one,” he said. “Slave of your own ego, beggar,orphan living in exile, the fourth group you will meet, God willing, are thePeople of Total Submission. They are speechless. They undertake no unnecessaryaction on their own, but there is no obstacle to the will of their great Self,no hesitation, no second thoughts, no bargaining. They have reached the mostsubtle state of themselves. They are transparent as if they are nothing, becausethey recognize their own nothingness. These people ask nothing for themselvesbecause they are identified with the Creative Power itself. You may live amongthem for many years until you know of their state and your actions appear astheirs, but you will not be inwardly one of them if you still suffer fromseparation, if you are still yourself, if you still feel lover and beloved. Ifyour experience still comes from the well of your own subconscious, by your owninner faculties—as long as a trace of you remains in you—you have not attainedyour purpose. Know that there is a knowledge and a certainty that comes throughSpirit alone. Spirit plus nothing: That is your highest destiny.”
This story is based on a nineteenth-century Turkishsource that I have freely interpreted and elaborated upon, in hopes that thoseof us who are searching will reflect on where we live, and where we are going.
Soul Work, Reflecting Spirit
Abundance is seeking the beggars and the poor,
just as beauty seeks a mirror.
Beggars, then, are the mirrors of God’s abundance,
and they that are with God are
united with Absolute Abundance.
Rumi, Mathnawi I: 2745, 2750
Education as it is currently understood, particularly inthe West, is primarily a process of transferring information to the intellect,or training in a particular skill set. But let us ask the question: What wouldan education of the soul look like? What essential attributes of our humannessare most in need of development?
Most education ignores the human soul, or essential Self.This essential Self is not some vague entity whose existence is a matter ofspeculation, but our fundamental “I,” which has been covered up by socialconditioning and the superficiality of our rational mind. In today’s world weare in great need of a form of training that would contribute to the awakeningof the essential Self. Such forms of training have existed in other eras andcultures and have been available to those with the yearning to awaken from thesleep of their limited conditioning and know the potential latent in the humanbeing. We are made to know ourselves; we are created for this self-awareness;we are fully equipped for it. What could be more important than to knowourselves?
The education of the soul, or essential Self, isdifferent from the education of the personality or the intellect. Conventionaleducation is all about acquiring external knowledge and becoming something inthe outer world. The education of the soul involves not only knowledge, but therealization of a presence that is our deeper nature, and that is capable ofvoluntary attention, will, and self-transcendence.
What is most characteristically human is not guaranteedto us by our species or by our culture but given only in potential. A spiritualmaster once expressed it this way: A person must work to become human.
What is most distinctly human in us is something morethan the role we play in society and more than the conditioning, whether forgood or bad, of our culture. It is our essential Self, which is our point ofcontact with infinite Spirit.
This Spirit is not to be understood as a metaphysicalassertion requiring belief, but as something we can experience for ourselves.What if you, as a human being, represent the final result of a process in whichthis Spirit has evolved better and better reflectors of itself? If the humanbeing is the most evolved carrier of the Creative Spirit—possessing consciouslove, will, and creativity—then our humanity is the degree to which thisphysical and spiritual vehicle, and particularly our nervous system, canreflect or manifest Spirit. That which is most sacred in us, that which isdeeper than our individual personality, is our connection to this Spirit, thisCreative Power.
Whereas conventional religious belief has the tendency toanthropomorphize God/Spirit, this process consists of the human being becomingqualified by the attributes of God. It could be called the “sanctification” ofthe human being. Our human nature is realized through the understanding andawareness that the essential human Self is a reflection of Spirit. To becometruly human is to attain a tangible awareness of Spirit, to realize oneself asa reflection of Spirit, or God.
The education of the soul is the Great Work. The beginningof this Work consists of awakening a transcending awareness, a presence of willthat can initiate and sustain the activation of our latent human faculties. Acertain knowledge, help, and practice is called for in order for us to knowwhat we are and to become more fully human. We are in need of such a Workbecause many of our human attributes have atrophied. Through disuse they havebecome latent faculties rather than functioning ones. Most human beings in thecontemporary world have neglected fundamental spiritual attributes ofawareness, will, and compassion. The human being has not only the faculties ofsense, emotion, and intelligence that we already know, but other subtlefaculties or senses as well: volitional, psychic, intuitive, magnetic, and ecological.A purified and energized nervous system with all these faculties functioningharmoniously would lead a person to experience an intimate relationship withthe Source of Life. We would then experience how our most precious humanqualities are reflected through us from that source, the divine Creative Power.
To attain this intimate communion with the Divine, ouressential Self must be awakened from its latent state. For this a balanced andcomprehensive program of spiritual education is necessary. This essential Selfis not an absolute, a fixed thing, but a direction on a spectrum ofpossibilities. At one end is the false and artificial self-construct of theperson who has not known him- or herself, who has not made the inner journey ofself-knowledge; at the other end of the spectrum is a more natural, spontaneousSelf without artifice. As we become relatively free of the identification withour social programming and conditioning, we come to know the purifiedsubjectivity or awareness that is our innate nature. This essential Self willbe found to have the attributes of Spirit, including the capacity for consciouschoice, unconditional love, and fundamental creativity.
Realization, in its fullest meaning, is not merelyknowing something, but making it real in oneself. We come to this essentialSelf through a process of deconditioning, reconditioning, and unconditioning.This can also be described as minimizing what is negative, increasing what ispositive, and, ultimately, opening to Spirit. The West offers few traditionalmodels for this kind of intentional human development. Neither in ouruniversities nor in our churches has this work gone on in a systematic way.These institutions have yielded little beyond the development of a manipulativeintellect focused on the outer world. Our churches emphasize beliefs ratherthan experience, emotion rather than transcendent experience, conventionalreligious behavior rather than inner transformation. We are starved for thefood of the soul. Occult and initiatic societies in the West, with fewexceptions, have offered little more than ritual, symbolism, and psychicdiversion. Our technologized culture, ignorant of the work of awakening ourlatent humanity, has become a dangerously unbalanced “civilization.” Our technologicalmeans far outstrip our understanding of life’s purpose. Consequently many soulsare lost in a wasteland of proliferating distractions.
Excerpted from "Living Presence (Revised)"
Copyright © 2017 Kabir Edmund Helminski.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Presence ix
Chapter 1 The City of Separation 1
Chapter 2 Soul Work, Reflecting Spirit 7
Chapter 3 Self, Heart, and Spirit 14
Chapter 4 Creative Energy and Human Capacities 21
Chapter 5 Balancing the Outer and the Inner 30
Chapter 6 The Power of Being 37
Chapter 7 Voluntary Attention 43
Chapter 8 Meditation: The Refinement of Attention 52
Chapter 9 The Tyranny of the False Self 60
Chapter 10 Care of the Soul 73
Chapter 11 Conscience 79
Chapter 12 The Essential Self 86
Chapter 13 Befriending the Ego 93
Chapter 14 Polishing the Mirror of Awareness 98
Chapter 15 Listening Within 106
Chapter 16 The Dance of Personality 112
Chapter 17 Gathering the Fragmented Self 119
Chapter 18 Mysteries of the Body 128
Chapter 19 Faithfulness and Gracefulness 138
Chapter 20 The Alchemy of Effort 145
Chapter 21 Aim and Self-Knowledge 150
Chapter 22 Emancipation from Fear 156
Chapter 23 Suffering: Imaginary and Real 163
Chapter 24 Overcoming Self-Centeredness 167
Chapter 25 Die Before You Die 171
Chapter 26 Freedom of the Soul 175
Chapter 27 What We Love We Will Become 182
Chapter 28 Love the Transformer 188
Chapter 29 The Religion of Love 195
Chapter 30 Worship: Contact with the Infinite 199
Chapter 31 Refining the Psyche 204
Chapter 32 Service Within the Divine Milieu 216
Chapter 33 What Sufism Is 222