As the Wayfarer travels along the path, the energies of the heart gradually subvert the thinking processes of the mind. Because the energy of love is more powerful than the mind, it secretly slows down the mind, until the mind becomes empty and thus able to experience the inner reality of the Self, which is love. The following dream illustrates this dynamic. It left the dreamer with an experience of love such as he had never known before:
I was in a hall full of men on soapboxes, who were giving political speeches to groups of people around them. However, in the hall there was a small number of men who were subverting all this activity by giving out little slips of paper to people around them. Slowly the hall emptied of people and the men on soap boxes left. When the hall was empty, the five men who had been secretly subverting the whole process came together and there was such a feeling of love between them. I awoke filled with this feeling of love.
Our minds are so often like this dreamer’s hall, full of men on soapboxes bombarding us with different opinions and ideas. To consciously confront this dynamic would only feed more energy into the mind, fill the hall with more people. The Sufi path is subversive rather than confrontational. It works from within, from the Self which lives in the very depths of the unconscious, in the secret recesses of the heart. The changes begin far away from the conscious mind, where they cannot be interfered with. Then slowly the energy of the Self filters into consciousness, where it begins the work of altering our thinking processes.
The spiritual dynamic is a process of being speeded up. To quote St. John, “It is the spirit that quickens,” (5) and as we travel along the path we tune into, or are infused with, the higher frequency of our spiritual nature. The energy of the Self is far quicker than that of our physical or mental bodies. As we meditate and aspire we create a deeper bonding with our Higher Self which allows its quicker energy to be integrated into our consciousness. It is this energy which transforms us. In the dream of the men on soapboxes, slowly the people leave the hall and the room is left empty except for the five men who secretly instigated the process of subversion. The energy of the Self gradually speeds up consciousness and in so doing throws out the slower, denser thought patterns. Then, when the ordinary consciousness is empty, the individual is able to experience the inner reality of love. This is the dreamer’s final experience; he tastes the substance of the Self.
This transformation is a gradual process because the inner energies are so powerful that the structure of consciousness needs to be attuned slowly in order to be able to integrate them. In the words of T.S. Eliot, “human kind cannot bear very much reality”;(6) this is because ordinary consciousness would simply be shattered by the higher vibrations of the Self. Our mental hospitals contain many people who have had an experience of an inner reality which their consciousness could not contain. Just a glimpse of our true nature is awe-inspiring, “aweful.” Sometimes, when an individual begins on the Path, when he begins to meditate, he can be given such a glimpse. This can be an encouragement, but it can also be frightening, because it points beyond the ego and the mind, beyond the known into the unknown. Then a teacher is needed, one who is a few steps further along the Way, and speaking from experience can say: “No, you are not going mad. What you have experienced is not unusual. You have just touched an inner dimension that is very different from the external world. It is a good sign.”
However, there can also come the time when the higher energies are necessary to shatter the rigid patterns of our ordinary consciousness, to break our self-imposed boundaries. This only happens when the teacher knows that the seeker is ready, usually after years of meditation and spiritual practices have silently prepared a new inner vessel. This inner work makes the seeker both finer and stronger, and thus allows him to live in the world of everyday consciousness and at the same time in tune with the inner dimension of the Self.
Such an experience of inner transition can be both dramatic and disturbing. It can be triggered by an outer situation or specifically by the Teacher. Something happens, often a shock that throws the individual off balance. Sufi Teachers often use shock tactics, even accusing the devotee of something totally unjust, to deliberately bring about this unbalancing. When our consciousness is totally “balanced” there is no space for the higher dimension to come through. As a Canadian psychiatrist observed:
When a human being is standing with both feet firmly on the ground, with both legs on the earth, and is “quite normal” as we medical practitioners call it, spiritual life is very difficult, perhaps impossible. But if something is not quite right with the mind, a little wheel not working properly in the clockwork of the mind, then spiritual life is easy.
When the mind is thrown off balance, the higher, faster energies are able to come through, and it is their vibrations that break up the barriers of consciousness, the patterns of conditioning. At this moment it is vitally important that the seeker surrender to the process, however painful or unjust it may seem. Yet, because the values of the Self are so different from those of the ego and the conscious mind, the seeker is presented with every reason to reject this process of inner destruction.
The values of the ego are a limitation, and for the sincere seeker the teacher or life itself will present the opportunities that will bring about both inner destruction and freedom–if they are unconditionally accepted. But in these situations of pain and inner panic, there is the danger that the seeker will try to hold onto the wreckage, to find some security in the patterns of the past, in parental or social conditioning. Bombarded by the energy of the Self, the seeker can find no security except in total insecurity; yet still the ego, frightened by the limitless horizons of the Self, clings to the world of reason and the limited values of the past. It clings to the wreckage of a ship that can no longer take us on any journey, and yet this wreckage prevents us from realizing that we can swim, naked and alone. In time the wreckage will decay or float away and the final result will be the same, but it will have been a longer and more painful journey. Spiritual life has its cycles and there are moments that must be grasped and totally surrendered to. Often these moments of greatest opportunity are disguised, appear “unspiritual” or cruel. It is said that the teacher puts all appearances against him, and then tests the disciple. Life does the same. It is best never to reject what life brings, and often the most difficult circumstances hide something of infinite value. The light is hidden in darkness, but the darkness must be fully accepted before the light reveals itself.
When the Sufi Ab Sa’d ibn Abi’l-Khayr was asked what Sufism entailed he replied: “Whatever you have in your mind-forget it; whatever you have in your hand-give it; whatever is to be your fate-face it!”