Can you imagine how your problems might look from God’s point of view,
or envision how God might resolve them? Do you ever ask yourself what is the
reason for the circumstances of your life? Have you ever considered the notion
that those vexing dilemmas that plague your daily life are challenging you to
open to new ways of thinking? Can you sense how these difficulties are the means
through which something mysterious, perhaps even great, is struggling to be
born through you?
One reason many of us have difficulty reconciling the spiritual dimension
with the worldly stems from the misguided notion that the drama of life itself
— the frustrations of earning a living, the suffering caused by ill health or
the emotional roller coaster of intimate relationships — make it difficult to
attain, or sustain, illumination. Yet it’s just in the midst of such difficult
situations that one can find illumination. Rather than prevent unfoldment, such
stresses challenge us to develop heroism. Instead of permanent roadblocks on
the spiritual path, the obstacles we face are creative catalysts for spiritual
evolution. What had seemed a defeat avers itself in our new realization to be
a victory. For as wonderful as meditation is, the true test of spiritual realization
lies in how well we manage to deal with our day, and whether or not there is
a difference in how we handle our problems.
For myself, I find that when faced with the onrush of urgent, compelling
activities, it helps to keep in mind the deeper reality that lies concealed
by overt appearances. In order to prevent overlooking my dedication to fulfilling
higher ideals in order to meet my day-to-day commitments, I continuously ask
myself, “What are you doing in life? Have you forgotten what it is all about?”
Even more important, I question what is really at stake behind the drama that
is being enacted.
According to the teachings of the ancient Sufis, what is at stake is giving
birth to the Universe’s unborn qualities. Like Divine genes that are latent
within the psyche, attributes such as compassion, mercy, truth, power, forgiveness,
and many other qualities are the fruits born of life’s struggles. The crucible
within which this alchemical process occurs is the arena of everyday decision
making and problem solving.
Those difficult situations that we struggle to be free of are in reality
the birth pangs through which God is being born in everyday life; and the means
through which our soul evolves.
Whatever those deeply embedded habits and conditions are that prevent us
from changing — whether our ancestral, educational, or cultural upbringing —
they can be overcome only through a vision of how one “could be if one would
be as one might be.” That’s spiritual creativity – seeing how the problems in
our lives can be re-framed as catalysts for Divine artistry.
In Sufism, there is a strong sense of the uniqueness of each person. The
body and the personality are important inasmuch as they are able to accurately
reflect this being-in-the-process-of-becoming. Thus, rather than trying to escape
life because you are nothing more than the victim of circumstances, through
your meditations you begin to discover instead that you are indeed a significant
part of the overall plan — with an important mission and purpose to carry out.
You are descended from levels of reality other than the one you normally
take for granted.
The first step in reclaiming our Divine heritage is to question those conventional
conceptions of reality that close our eyes to the luminosity interlacing all
As transcendently blissful and peaceful as the state of samadhi may be, however,
awakening beyond life can never be the final goal of spiritual practice. It
has to be followed by awakening in life. This means seeing life through the
eyes of God – the Universe – casting the light of your realization upon the
intractable problems and emotional sufferings of a human being on planet earth.
By realization, I mean the knowledge and innate wisdom that is already written
into what is called your soul but which has been obscured by your reliance on
circumstances in the outer world. It is the difference between what the Sufis
describe as acquired knowledge and revealed knowledge.
It is through the insight conferred upon you by your spiritual realization
that you are able to see the difference between those relationships and activities
in everyday life that bring you in harmony with the Universe, and those things
that cause you to fall out of step. And that is why it is so important to bring
those insights gained from awakening beyond life into everyday life.
It is by learning through countless mistakes and wrong turns that individuals
fulfill the Divine purpose for which they were born, thereby contributing to
the ever-evolving destiny of all humankind.
Our private struggles are inextricably connected to our participation in
the grand drama of the universe, and the setbacks and defeats we suffer are
a reflection of the broader issues of our unique time and place in history.
If you want to know what your qualities are, ask yourself what your defects
and problems are. Behind the everyday drama of life, deeper issues are being
enacted — and these issues always have to do with an archetypal quality that
is trying to manifest. Problems are devices that can lead to what is behind
your problem — the goal is to unmask them through meditation. For if you judge
your problems only at face value, then you’re not listening to what they are
trying to communicate to you.
Sufism’s way of dealing with life’s problems is to attempt to see the quality
underlying the situation in them that is struggling to be born.
You can help a person only if you’ve gone through the same problems that
they have gone through, and even if you have not solved them, you have found
a way of living with them. Thus, what you find in the end of searching for solutions
to your problems is really love, because love breaks your heart — and that is
the only power that can truly expand your consciousness.
This kind of breakthrough in perspective cannot happen either through your
will or your realization but through your emotional attunement. This means first
allowing yourself to open up to the miracle of life, to be overcome by wonder
at how extraordinary and amazing the phenomenon of existence is.
The inner work of meditation and reflection must be followed by an outer
action that reinforces your commitment to a certain quality. Like a knight who
kneels within a sacred sanctuary and who then places his left hand on his heart,
his right hand forward, and proclaims aloud his vow to serve the people of his
ailing kingdom, so too, can you make a solemn pledge to adjust the standard
of your behaviour so that it manifests the Divine Quality that is seeking to
come into existence through you.
Every time you make a move to break old habits and move forward into the
future, you are created anew. Like the mythical phoenix reborn from the flames,
your new being has emerged out of the fiery pit of life’s difficulties.
In order to contribute to the self-organizing faculty of the Universe, however,
you must be able to let go of your old self.
As the Sufi mystic al Hallaj uttered, “O take away this ‘I am’ between Thou
and me that so irks me.” In Sufi mysticism this is called fana, which means
annihilation, as there can be no rebirth without a dark night of the soul, a
total annihilation of all that you believed in and thought that you were. It
is similar to the stage in the alchemical process called solve et coagule, dissolve
and coagulate. On the most day-to-day level, it corresponds to a time of complete
breakdown when everything goes wrong: your relationship ends; you have an accident;
your health breaks down; you lose your job. Locating these seemingly horrendous
events within the context of a spiritual transformation helps you to know that
you are not just a helpless victim at the mercy of random forces, but that the
Universe is guiding you through a mystical process of rebirthing. By trusting
in this transformative process, aligning yourself with it rather than forcefully
resisting it, breakdown can become breakthrough. Or, as Hazrat Inayat Khan says,
“A defeat can aver itself to be a victory.” It helps to keep this in mind whenever
you are going through a crisis — because in the end, you will see that what
you had thought was a complete reversal of fortune turned out to be the dawn
of a new self more aligned with the purpose for which you were born.