Peace, one and all…
I was listening to a recent sohbet of Shaykh Kabir’s recently, in which, amongst other things, he spoke of the different levels of the human psyche/personality. He described the ego (‘I’) as a kind of spectrum, in which we can operate at all sorts of diverse levels. At the base of this pillar, so to speak, is what Shaykh Kabir described as the ‘conditioned soul’ (or the nafs, or Id). At this level, ’I’ is about the fulfillment of all sorts of conditioned desires and more or less automatic responses.
As we grow, and draw towards the ‘middle’, the ‘I’ that moves is that a reasonably well-adjusted and balanced human being. At this stage, we are no longer driven by our former conditioning. That is, we no longer respond automatically to every passing whim. We begin to develop our faculty of conscious choice, of will. We can begin to choose where and how to direct our inward attention.
As we ascend, through struggle, effort and Divine grace, the living ‘I’ becomes capable of direct, unmediated communion with true reality (one of God’s names being al-Haqq, ‘The Real’), of encountering what is truly ‘timeless and spaceless’ to quote Shaykh Kabir.
Looking at the English letter ‘I’ itself offers an interesting insight in this regard. At the base, ‘I’ is anchored firmly in the earth, in the animal nature of instinct and immediate response. The climb towards human-ness can be seen through the letter’s narrow column: the way is hard and long; the path is straight and narrow. But then, if ‘I’ is a difficult pillar to climb, it is important to note that it is also both ladder and rope. There is a way to climb – a way based against all my former expectations, on mercy, compassion and love. This ladder is God’s outstretched rope: it is the reality behind Jack and his beanstalk into the sky. At the summit of ‘I’ comes a new expansiveness, a new overflowing growth, as the soul opens out into the limitless possibilities of infinity. In other words, ‘I’ is a tree, whose roots bite deeply into the earth and whose uppermost branches open out into the stars of heaven’s vault, to the place where angels walk uncloaked.
Those purified I’s, those great souls who have opened out into the light, walk among us still. Indeed, Sufi lore posits the existence in each age of the Qutb (literally, ‘pole’) – the axis around which the spiritual world turns – and poles reach down into the earth and ascend into the heights. In Shi`ite thought too, this Qutb is the Imam of the Age (described variously as ‘Imam al-Zaman’ – Imam of the Time and ‘Sahib al-Zaman’ – ‘Master of the Time’). Interestingly enough, the first letter of Imam in Arabic is alif (ا), which is also written as a simple, straight line.
If the ‘I’ of the Awliya (the Friends of God) is a pole, it is also a rope. Perhaps this is why one of the Awliya’s greatest gifts is the gift of hope. I have certainly experienced this myself. When I reflect on the great ones who have gone before me, I am inspired and reminded that life is not hopeless. This beautiful qawwal by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan really expresses this for me (from 8:25 to 8:55).
Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: Allah, Muhammad, Char Yaar
The title of this song in English means: Allah (God), Muhammad and the Four Friends (4 of the most important Chishti saints).
Allah! Help this ‘I’ in its journey to You, that one day ‘I’ too might gaze out open the stars of inward heaven.
And my last prayer is in praise of God, Sustainer of All Being.