Excerpted from The Knowing Heart, A Sufi Path of Transformation
A spirituality adequate to the times we live in must first of all be centered in the reality of human completion itself. If it is based instead on any partial version of humanness, it will be insufficient. No matter what is sought to supplement this insufficiency, if the starting point is less than human wholeness, the result will only be a distorted version of humanness.
Sufism can be considered a path of completion in two important senses: First, it is a way that proceeds from and leads to human completion, the Completed Human Being (Insani Kamil). Second, it is a complete way that uses every possible effective means to orchestrate the transformation of a human being. Both of these facts–the completeness of the method and the completeness of the result–are of the highest significance.
The Completeness of the Method
The completeness of the Sufi method proceeds from the completeness of its apprehension of human nature. The means by which the human being will be transformed depend on our understanding of what a human being is and is designed to be.
The Completed Human Being is not glimpsed from the eye-level of the average human being; nor is it successfully theorized or described by science, sociology, philosophy, or psychology; it is offered from the Creator of the human being. It is a proposal that comes from the Heart of Nature through its revelatory action. When Nature bears its final fruit, it is the Completed Human, who speaks with the voice and intelligence of Nature itself, describing the attributes of Completion. What we can know about the Human-ness comes from those who have been completed and who have had an ear capable of listening to the voice of the Creative Power.
There cannot be a complete method without the pre-existing possibility of the Complete Human. The human being implies its own completion, as a plant implies the existence of the sun, as a man implies the existence of woman. Sufism received the implicit knowledge of Completion first from the Qur’an, which describes itself as “a mercy and a guidance for humanity,” a “reminder” confirming and clarifying of previous revelations to humanity, revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him. Sufism also draws upon the ever more explicit understanding of this completion as witnessed in the lives and teachings of its numerous completed exemplars, beginning with Muhammad and continuing over fourteen centuries.
The Methodology of Completion
A shaikh is like a conductor of an orchestra. A conductor is responsible for harmonizing the various members with their instruments in the present moment. He is also responsible for maintaining the classical repertoire as well as introducing new elements into the orchestra’s repertoire. He is thus both the guardian of tradition and the continuing creator of it.
As I began to ask myself, “What are the various principles and methods of the Sufi process?” there emerged the following list:
Zhikr: Remembrance of God under all circumstances. Remembrance implies two dimensions: the state of presence in which a person is whole and self-aware; the state of being within the presence of God, known, held, guided, and loved.
Worship: Integration of all one’s faculties in the act of expressing love and respect to the Absolute. In its most specific sense worship is complete human action intended to harmonize ourselves with Divine Being, including the ritual and ceremony. In its general sense, it is the purpose of our life on earth.
Submission: Allowing the Divine–not our ego–to be the Center of our reality, the effective result of which is self-transcendence and a capacity for sacrifice. Submission is from the conditioned to the Unconditioned, the finite to the Infinite, the compulsive self to the essential Self.
Ethics: Right relationships and boundaries, especially those straightforward and self-explanatory moral principles revealed in the Qur’an apprehended by a loving heart.
Brotherhood: The Sufi chivalry that acknowledges the centrality of love, interdependence, and heroic sacrifice.
Conversation: A joining of minds for a spiritual purpose in which an active receptivity is sustained, energy is exchanged, and realization of meanings is deepened.
Reasoning: Conscious reflection; the intelligent ordering of Ideas. The work of the conscious intellect to decondiiton, recondition, and finally uncondition the whole of the mind, including the subconscious.
Reading; Meta-Language: Apprehension of the Word of God and the inspired language of God’s friends.
Work with the Heart/Unconscious/Unseen: Opening to the Unconscious/Unseen through finer faculties of perception, including dreamwork and imaginal perception.
Fasting: The principles of purification and emptiness applied to the body.
The Complete Human Being
The attributes of the complete human being are the attributes of God appropriately reflected in the human context. In the Qur’an it is said that God has innumerable qualities, ninety-nine of which are mentioned in the Qur’an itself. Some of these qualities are the everyday qualities of a human being: seeing, hearing, speech, will, life, awareness. The Sufi is one who recognizes that these qualities are reflected through the human being from the Absolute. Becoming completely human is being able to reflect more and more of the divine qualities in life.
This world is viewed as the mirror of divine qualities, the site of their manifestation. The human heart is even more so a site of their manifestation. Recognizing these qualities in the heart is at the same time recognizing them in life. There is no separation in the field of Oneness, which in Sufi terms is called Tawhid. There is, therefore, no antagonism between the human life and the spiritual life. Only when human life has become shaped by the demands and illusions of the isolated ego is human life reduced to a caricature, a particularized distortion of its wholeness. Otherwise, to be fully human is to fulfill our spiritual destiny.
Just as egoism can reduce our humanity, various distortions of spirituality can produce impressive human attainments which are incomplete, restrictive, imbalanced, or even pathological.
What Essential Sufism is not
Essential Sufism is not a specialization apart from life that requires the renunciation of human interests and desires. In other words, it does not aim at the absolute transcendence of the human condition.
Sufism does not primarily focus on a single-pointed inner concentration on the Divine through which all the created world falls away.
It is not concerned with developing a micro-attention focussed on the minutiae of consciousness in order to deconstruct the ego.
Nor is it concerned especially with altered states of consciousness, soul travel, shamanic ecstasies. Although a mature human being may incidentally have the facility to enter other realms of consciousness and states of being, one’s submission and trust in the Absolute Compassion significantly reduces the need for and preoccupation with such explorations.
Nor is Sufism necessarily characterized by bewilderment and intoxication, although one may pass through such states before attaining the sobriety that embraces and transcends all intoxication.
Sufism is not a way of making the ordinary seem miraculous, but of integrating the truly miraculous into ordinary human life.
Sufism is the reconciliation of all opposites: the outer and the inner, the material and the spiritual, the finite and the infinite, the here and the hereafter, freedom and servanthood, the human and the divine. The enlightenment of the Sufi does not prevent him or her from functioning in a practical and humble way in life, does not entitle one to special treatment, does not exclude one from the inevitable joys and griefs of life. The Sufi’s union with God does not cancel servanthood.
So many people have been engaged in a search for a spirituality adequate to the times we live in. This means, first of all, that it should be able to offer some orientation to the psyche after the doors of perception had been opened through the organic spiritual emergence that so many people have experienced in recent decades. Furthermore, a spirituality adequate to the times would have to offer a way of living in harmony with human nature itself, in a partnership of man and woman, and within the ecological balance of this planet. What I found through Sufism far exceeded my hopes. Perhaps, it is consistent with the idea of Divine generosity that it should exceed in actuality the gift we had foreseen in our imagination. The Source is not only infinitely generous, it is infinitely creative and its gifts surpasses human imagination. As an example, one poet said to me: “All of my reading, study, and creative writing could not have prepared me for the poetry of Rumi.” And Rumi’s poetry is just the wave on the surface of the ocean of Sufi spirituality.