• February 11, 2019

    The Sufis are fond of quoting Mohammed: “Wherever you turn, there is the face of God.” There are many ways to understand this. I offer you one. I do this because I wish for you to understand that these sayings may contain not only tremendous depth but also practical directions for our guidance. This inquiry uses logic to penetrate the words but it is provoked by repeated experience.

    Notice that these words do not invite me to see God. Although I may see His creation, I have never seen Him in any sense and I do not expect to do so. It is too great a thing. But there must be an experience of His face or there would be no point in telling me that His face is always there. Also, is it not implied that He sees me? Otherwise, why speak of His face?

    The words invite me to know that my experience of Him is independent of the direction in which I turn. Perhaps He is not to be found in one direction…neither one religion nor one type of practice? It is as if the space in which He can be encountered is not defined by, or contained within, the dimensions of the world.

    Yet, turning is part of my finding His face. I must turn. Is this a turning away from the world? I have inquired into this. It seems to me that it is not a rejection or negation of my ordinary occupations but it is most definitely turning towards something else and there is an immediate feeling of connection that I take to be Him, which I feel in my heart.

    I observe myself as I turn towards Him. What do I observe? As soon as the turning begins, which is seemingly a movement of my attention, I spontaneously have a response of humbling myself. This response is a part of the turning. The response to my response feels like what I know of love. Perhaps this is His face?

    My apologies for the gender-limited nature of traditional English. Obviously, God is not a guy but the contemporary ways of de-gendering seem strange applied to a Being who is outside time.

    Tags: , , , , ,

  • January 28, 2019

    The ancient ones spoke of the prayer of the heart. “Let the prayer of your tongue become the prayer of your heart,” they said, and even more curiously: “May you awaken the tongue of your heart.” Are these just metaphors? Or is there something more to it?

    Perhaps you have noticed that the tensions that arise from your personal strivings and your fears and anxieties are held in the jaw and especially the tongue. Certain kinds of thoughts are associated with a tightening of the jaw and a rigidity of the tongue. When these tensions are released in me, my thinking changes and some habitual thoughts actually become completely unavailable. It doesn’t seem to work in the opposite direction; changing my thinking doesn’t seem to release the tension, at least not for long.

    It is not surprising that my thinking is closely linked to my tongue. I learned to speak as I learned to think; they arose together. Can I be free of my automatic thinking if my tongue and jaw are locked in place?

    Are my unconscious identities held by the habitual tensions of my tongue?

    When I give voice to prayer or zikr, is the sound retained in the throat by the tension in my jaw and tongue? Or by relaxing this tension, can my voice find its way to the heart, resonating the chest like a drum? Perhaps this is the tongue of the heart?

    The tongue is a medium for the voice, and the voice serves either the mind or the heart or, rarely, both. I find that I am able to speak and pray from the heart when my tongue is free of the tensions which reflect the anxieties of my mind and the preoccupations of my personal identities.

    How do you relax the tensions you speak of?

    Just thinking about relaxing has a very limited effect. The musculature quickly bounces back into its previous shape. Commanding yourself to relax is typically quite stressful, is it not? Most of the efforts we habitually make are initiated by tension. Another way is needed that does not trigger the automatic pushing force that we think of as will. There is an inner gesture of releasing, what I think of as an act of submission, which opens the way to another form of doing without tension. It is neither clinging nor averting but a third state between them and unlike the other two. You must look for it.

    Tags: , , , , , ,

  • December 28, 2018

    Perhaps you think that to have a heart means to experience emotion and to sympathize with others…to be an emotional person. Can you consider another view?

    In this work, heart is a faculty, not a metaphor and not a temporary emotional state. Heart is a mirror-like organ of perception able to reflect the finest qualities…of humility, honour, beauty, glorification and truth to name a few…which exist continuously in the realm that is proper to them. Heart makes these qualities directly available to us in their essential formlessness unlike thoughts which stand for and represent something or sensations which vibrate the nervous system in response to a stimulus. Feeling is the nature of the thing itself.

    Sensation, thought and feeling…body, mind and heart…interacting together, make a real human being. Thought and sensation are freely given to each of us but feeling…what some call higher emotion…is not so easily accessed because the heart required for it must be uncovered.

    What covers the heart? The counterfeit of feeling….sentiment. Sentiment, literally sensing-mind, is, like all ordinary emotion, a combination of thinking and sensing. Both are valuable but they cannot substitute for the perceptions of the heart. The thought of love is not love. The sensation of sadness is not deep sorrow. The sentiment of friendship is not the mutual reflection of two open hearts.

    We have learned to indulge in the easy satisfactions of ordinary emotion, seduced by its habit-forming cycle of charging and discharging our biological organism. The undesirable must be relinquished before the desirable can be attained.

    The heart is traditionally thought to be in the center of the chest and is often experienced as if it is located there. But higher emotions are not produced in the body. Feelings are frequencies outside body and mind, although they may be describable in words and gestures which can be used objectively to invoke them if the heart is open. Sometimes the heart reflects the cold clear light of truth, sometimes the exquisite fire of love. For the heart, there is no right or wrong.

    Tags: , , , , , , ,

  • March 24, 2018

    There are times when it is correct to feel pride in what one has been given, knowing that you have been asked to bear a burden for the benefit of others. The blessing is in bearing the burden with pride, not born down or broken by the obligation. This is not self-pride but nobility, a quality of great beauty both denigrated and forgotten in our time.

    And there are times when the correct posture is one of submission.

    What is meant by correct? Please, no rules. Correct is that which meets the current need without deviation. It is the discernment of deviation that matters. Deviation is always about serving one’s own interests first.

    When is submission called for? Personal failure certainly comes to mind. When something I worked for and expected fails to happen, I can panic and imagine all the dire consequences. Or when I fear that something important depends entirely upon me.  There is another, deeper challenge…when the heart is unresponsive and unfeeling, seemingly isolated and frozen.

    Submission is a wonderful response, a correct response to these problems. The reality is that I cannot myself be correct without the feeling of being corrected, that I cannot decide myself without the feeling of being guided, that my aims and purposes must be surrendered in order to be redeemed. This is not easy. My first thought is usually that I can fix the problem myself, whatever it is. To submit is to relinquish, to give over, and that rarely occurs without suffering.

    How can I then submit? In my experience, the process begins with an act of letting go, a full body sensation of releasing tension. It then moves to a posture, inner and outer, of lowering myself, bowing head and heart. In imagination and in fact, I yield the center…where I do not belong…and acknowledge higher powers. This posture invokes humility and that saves me from myself, at least for a time.

    Humility is not defeat, not humiliation. In fact, it has an immediate inner complementary feeling of being raised up. We bow and we are raised. This complementarity is not from my intention. It is like a teeter-totter, all part of one movement, of which my part is to humble myself and submit.

    Tags: , , , , , ,

  • December 21, 2017

    The Sufis have an expression: “To be in the world but not of it.” What does this mean?

    This sounds simple but it’s a complex question. First, you need to know who you are, what you are capable of.

    There are actually a handful of people who do not need to be in the world and who have real work to do because they are not in the world. This is the way of the renunciate and it is a very hard way. If you are one of those, then this Sufi expression is not for you.

    The Buddha comes to mind. He renounced his family and his life as a prince to take up a spiritual path of discovery. Do not imagine that you have this nature and that you would like to retreat from the world because you find it to be difficult and harsh. If the path of renunciation is yours, you will not be able to do anything else. Otherwise, here you are, in the life you have. You will have to make the best of it. You must learn to use your life, beginning with the simple fact that it already has exactly what you need for your evolution.

    Now, what is the difference between being in the world and being of the world? I am haunted by a saying of Rabia, an early Sufi saint: “I am eating the bread of this world, and doing the work of that world.” There is a world of bread and there is a world of meaning.

    Concessions are required to live in this world. You must obtain the wherewithal to support yourself, to eat and clothe yourself. Can you do this while minimizing the hurt to yourself and others? Observe that everything has consequences. At the same time, can you find meaning for your life that does not depend on worldly approval?

    The question you must face is ‘who do I serve’? Do I serve the ambitions and desires of the world around me? Do I act from the need to play a role that satisfies my sense of self-importance? Or have I uncovered other reasons to be here?

    To be in the world but not of it is a continual exercise of discernment. I must know, factually, not theoretically, what offends my conscience in real time and I must learn to avoid it.

    If you have accepted that you have obligations to family, to friends, you must find a way to meet them. Concessions are required, effort is needed, to obtain what is necessary and do what you have agreed to do.

    But you must also take great care not to assume unnecessary obligations. Do not agree to things that offend your conscience or waste your time and energy. Do not accept burdens that are not yours to bear. Know objectively through observation of self what your motives are.

    Conscience is an action of the heart that is also expressed in the body, as sensation. Its enemy is rationalization, whether adopting rules that do not apply to you (but you think maybe they should) or justifications that are meant to over-ride the signals of conscience so you can do what you want. The more you practice acting according to conscience, the clearer conscience becomes.

    Conscience is unique to each individual. What is allowed to some may not be allowed to you. Better to follow conscience, make mistakes and learn from them than to follow the rules and conventions of others.

    If you offend your conscience, you will surely know afterward.

    Learning in real time to act according to conscience is what it means to live in the world but not of it. You could say it is ‘listening’ to the heart. Of course, this is not listening with the ears but rather it’s a quality of attention that quietly attends to the feelings and sensations of the heart. If you follow the inclinations of the heart, the world will lose its power to determine the meaning of your life, as it did for Rabia.

    Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

  • December 8, 2017

    A ruler is a measure for the physical world. Logic is a measure for the mind world. Are these the only worlds you live in?

    Where is the world which contains love and beauty? Where is truth to be found? Are these qualities simply a manifestation of the physical and mental worlds?

    Each of these qualities has a physical and a mental expression. Love is attraction in the physical. Perhaps beauty for you is perfect symmetry in the mental realm. Truth is a repeatable observation in the material realm, an axiom of geometry in the mind. But the essence of these qualities is not found in these spheres alone.

    Each of these qualities is whole and complete, more than an expression. Each feeling is itself a phenomenon of another kind, which exists in a third realm of existence. This third realm is different from the other two. A ruler is a measure of dimension but it is not dimension itself. Thought is the content of the mind but it is not the mind itself. Feeling is itself the third realm; it is its own measure and its content is itself. Thus it has an immediacy which announces itself as…itself.

    The feeling of truth cannot be separated from falsehood because they were never intertwined; they exist in different and separate universes. Falsehood is in the physical and mental realms where the expressions of truth can be contradicted, where opposites exist. In the realm of feeling, truth always rings the same note. And feelings are like notes, each with its own vibration or frequency but in a continuum of varieties…hundreds of types of roses but all roses just the same…such as love, sympathy, compassion, fidelity, admiration, glorification, honour…

    It is remarkable that we have so many different words, each with subtle shadings of meaning, for qualities that have no factual existence. It is disturbing to see so many of these words disappear from common use.

    How is feeling perceived? Who enters this third realm of existence? The organ of perception is the heart. It is the heart that enters. If you cannot see in the physical world, you are blind. If you cannot follow the laws of logic, you are unintelligent. If you cannot feel then your heart is asleep.

    We have talked about the awakening of the heart. We can do so again. But first, let us be clear. The yardstick of one world is not suitable for another. Do not take a ruler to measure the mind. Do not use logic to measure feeling. Inquire of the heart.

    Tags: , , , , ,