What is Sufi Consciousness? Overcoming Ego and Finding Love
Sufism is a term wrapped in mystery. With its whirling dervishes and romantic poetry, it is often perceived as something different and strange without any deeper understanding of its essence. But the truth is, Sufism might be the single best tool for overcoming ego and finding love that exists in the world today. Continue reading to explore the history of Sufism, the beating heart at its core and how overcoming the ego is a path to finding love.
The beating heart of Spirituality
Although debate still rages regarding the mysterious roots of Sufism, there are two very famous aspects: Rumi and the whirling dervishes.
Rumi was a scholar turned poet from 13th century Persia whose writings have traveled the world, inspiring generation after generation. Today, you’re most likely to see his quotes on social media, and if you haven’t already, we’d recommend checking them out. The whirling dervishes stem from Rumi also. It is said one day while walking through the marketplace he began spinning around with arms outstretched, becoming ecstatic as he spun. This meditative state reached through dance was formalized by his eldest son and still exists today in modern Sufism.
It’s quite fitting that a poet and a dance are the most famous elements of Sufism, as it is a spiritual practice that is all about being present and being in love with life in all of its forms. In essence, Sufism is the beating heart of spirituality that lifts the human soul and unveils a world within that is normally hidden from view.
Anyone can practice Sufism. It is compatible with all religions, transcends language barriers and requires nothing more than a little practice and an understanding that exists already within your own heart. It is not something you achieve, but something you unlock that is present within you already.
The heart at the center
“The real work is in the heart – wake up your heart! Because when the heart is completely awake, then it needs no friend!”
– Rabia Basri, Sufi, 8th century
At its core, Sufism is a way of living involving the heart. The heart here is not the physical organ or the regularly viewed emotional heart, but the spiritual heart. And within the spiritual heart, there is a deeper wisdom that lets Sufis navigate the world in a way that is both peaceful and ecstatic with love. This love is a love that is beyond conditions, and beyond the notion of relational love that is common in our world. It is a deeper unconditional love that pervades all aspects of life and is ripe with a higher form of intelligence.
Kabir Helminski talks about this at length in his book Living Presence. He says “love is the highest activation of intelligence, for without love nothing great would be accomplished, whether spiritually, artistically, socially, or scientifically.” Additionally, this unveiling of the deeper spiritual heart allows the Sufi to be entirely present in life. Abu Muhammad Muta’ish talks about this when he says “the Sufi is he whose thought keeps pace with his foot – i.e., he is entirely present. His soul is where his body is, and his body is where his soul is. This is the sign of presence without absence. Others say on the contrary: ‘he is absent from himself but present with God.’ It is not so: he is present with himself and present with God.”
It is not a requirement of modern Sufism to believe in God in any traditional sense but to instead acknowledge the divine in everything. To Sufis, God exists in all of creation. It is becoming aware of this and being in love with this that is at the core of the Sufi way.
The Sufi path: the divine, the lover and the beloved
Sufism teaches that the divine exists within all there is. Within the clothes on our backs, the water that we drink, the air that we breathe and the food that we eat, it is always there. Even the suffering we feel like a necessary part of life’s journey contains within it the divine. Sufis, through the unveiling of the true spiritual heart, fall in love with this divine presence, and this is where the trinity is born: the lover, the beloved and the divine.
- The lover is the Sufi, with their open heart.
- The beloved is all that there is, everything in this material world.
- The divine is the presence of God within such material forms.
And since even the Sufi themselves are a part of the whole, they themselves contain the divine; the Sufi is both lover and beloved at once. Helminksi says “if there is a central truth (in Sufism) – it is unity of being – that we are not separate from the divine.” This beautiful merging of form runs parallel to the oneness that Buddhists refer to, and is often called the Universal Reality.
Taking this further, if the divine is all there is, and the divine exists within everything, then it can only be that everything exists within everything else. Within each grain of sand, exists the universe. Within each drop of water. Within every single atom exists the Universe entirely, as it contains the divine, and the divine is indivisible.
As the great Sufi, Amir al-Moumenin Ali said,
“You think you are a small body, yet within you is wrapped the greater world.”
Within the heart of the Sufi: the divine. And the divine is all there is. To truly experience this unity, and unveil the true wisdom of the spiritual heart, we first need to look at the biggest obstacle that lies in our path: the ego.
Love vs. Ego: overcoming the nafs
In Sufism, the nafs is a term used to describe the ego-self. This is not a strictly negative term. Instead, there is the understanding that there are different levels of nafs, and the journey of the Sufi is to rise through these levels. In total, there are said to be seven levels of nafs. They are:
- The Commanding Self
- The Blaming Self
- The Inspired Self
- The Secure Self
- The Content Self
- The Gratified Self
- The Complete Self
The commanding self, the lowest level, is controlled by emotions and desires and defined by traits such as bitterness, selfishness, and arrogance. At this level, people tend to blame others for their situation.
As you move up through the levels, the blaming self is where you internalize the blame, and in a sense try to take responsibility for your own life. This is later met with an understanding that blame is not necessary, and an unburdening of emotional baggage that is often carried from the lower levels. As you move further through the levels, the trend is to become more and more accepting of yourself and the greater world, and this acceptance leads to deep love. Love both of yourself, and of the wider world. This process is not without discomfort, as that is why it is often called a mini death. The death of the ego and the false foundations upon which it is built can be very difficult, but to die before you die in this way allows you to be reborn to a life of love and acceptance without the burdens the ego carries.
Love vs. Intellect: overcoming the mind
“I have been a seeker and I still am, but I stopped asking the books and the stars. I started listening to the teaching of my Soul.”- Rumi
The mind exists as an interplay between knowledge and rational thought, and the ego-self. The mind’s job is to rationalize and explain things in terms of what it knows. It exists exclusively within the material world, however, and as such cannot know anything beyond this world. As such it will intuitively discredit or deny anything it cannot explain. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The mind’s role is to understand the material world and to question inconsistencies. Without this, it would be impossible to navigate this world successfully.
What is important though, is ensuring that you do not get lost in the mind and dismiss everything that the mind cannot fully understand. This is where the deeper intelligence of heart comes into play. With the deeper wisdom of the spiritual heart, unveiled by the killing of the ego, the mind can be kept in check and becomes a very powerful tool that can be used when required. Once ego and mind are overcome, the true heart can allow you to become one with everything there is. It can allow you to become the divine.
Becoming the divine: polishing the mirror of the heart
Since it is understood that within each of us exists the divine, it is said in Sufism that we are all simply reflections of each other and the greater whole.
To explain this, the Sufis use the metaphor that the heart is a mirror. This mirror requires continuous polishing however so that it does not get lost in the ego-self. In one of Kabir Helminski’s essays, he puts it most eloquently:
“We continually polish the mirror of the heart so that it will reflect the divine wisdom and guidance of the divine that is present in all there is.
Every reaction, aversion, judgment, desire, entanglement, and compulsion we feel inside ourselves can be transformed by conscious repentance, conscious gratitude, and conscious love. These can be expressed simply by the words: Forgive me. Thank You. I love You. The You, in this case, is the Divine.” Even those who are not yet on the path of the Sufi can attest to the power of these words. In a given situation, if you raise your voice and become aggressive, this is often met with aggression. Likewise, if you act and speak lovingly, this is often met with love. This is not a coincidence, but a manifestation of this nature of the heart.
“Conscious repentance, conscious gratitude, and conscious love polish the heart until what reflects in the heart is the Divine intelligence.
The clear heart is the best guide to living. The state of positive emptiness, equanimity, and peace is a kind of “zero” state, an emptiness that is a plenum of abundance.” This ‘zero state’ is both a tranquil emptiness and a plentiful abundance at once. Empty of all false judgments, desires, emotions, and compulsions, but filled with love and a deep understanding of the nature of existence.
Bringing the teachings of Sufism together, the underlying lesson is this: become what you seek.
If you seek love, you must first become love. You must embody unconditional love for the beloved, so much so that it is impossible for the beloved to manifest as anything other than love itself. You do this on your journey to conquer your ego and reconnect with the essence of life. This is the Sufi path: as the lover, through the beloved, to the divine.
While there are other ways, one common way to begin breaking down the walls of your own ego and begin this reconnection to your essence is through regular meditation. To unlock your own Sufi heart and begin the path to becoming love, join Hub of Consciousness for Sufi Sunday Meditations as well as a beautiful Sufi Workshop on 11th & 12th October 2019 with Sufi Teacher Nirupam Gyan.