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Beyond Religion

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‘Those tender words we said to one another are stored in the secret heart of heaven. One day, like the rain, they will fall and spread, and their mystery will grow green over the world.’Rumi

The mystery that lies within the hidden heart of the human being, and is also the secret heart of heaven, takes us right to the core of creation and the dark wholeness that births what indigenous cultures call the ten thousand things.

‘In the whole of the universe there are only two, the lover and the Beloved.’ And for some, for the mystics of the world, the divine is not father nor mother, but the sweetest, most ecstatic lover that seizes our heart in the most passionate affair of our life.

When the heart is on fire a blaze is created that burns away everything in its path so all that is left is Love. This evisceration, this burning, is the necessary but cruel cleansing that returns us to our self.

‘I burnt and I burnt and I burnt’, says Rumi: ‘I lost my world, my fame, my mind. The Sun appeared and all the shadows ran. I ran after them but vanished as I ran. Light ran after me and hunted me down.’

Al-Hallaj, who was executed for revealing the divine secrets put it this way: ‘When Truth has taken hold of a heart, She empties if of all but Herself. When God attaches himself to a man, He kills in him all else but Himself.’

There is just so much that has to burn in us, so much that has to die, but the destruction of the false self – that scaffold we erected to stave off the wounds of childhood and other incarnations – is consoled.

And it is consoled by the arising of the divine light within, from a small spark to a steady and fierce longing that somehow makes all the pain worthwhile. Just as the pain of childbirth subsides in the memory of the mother as joy takes over, so too are we soothed by sheer wonderment and joy.

But the ego does not go easily. What has to die are all the psychological patterns and attachments that keep us wedded to the world.

Irina Tweedie, who spent several years with her Sufi master in India, said the pain was so bad she thought she was going to die…and the rewards do not come from the world but from the divine. As Rumi says, he lost his world, his fame, his mind.

Everything is given but everything has to be given up. But as Andrew Harvey says, when you no longer want the world, when it no longer matters, it is returned to you on a silver salver. That is the cosmic joke, or one of them.

An emperor had a slave whom he loved immensely and he wanted to know if the slave really loved him. So, into a room heaped with vast treasures, he summoned all the slaves saying they were free to take what they wished. They were over joyed and ran here and there taking what they most wanted. But the slave whom the emperor loved just stood in the corner of the room. When the room was empty, the slave walked quietly over to the emperor and stood by him, his eyes full of love. The emperor said to him, ‘What do you want?’ And the slave said, ‘I want you, just you.’ And the Emperor said to the slave, ‘Because all you want is me, all I possess is yours.’

As Harvey says, in his marvellous book The Way of Passion, it is trust, absolute trust that is the key. And for the Sufi, life itself is the greatest teacher and everything and everyone that crosses our path has the exact lessons we need to learn.

It is what I call having an eye for initiation. The Sufi teacher counsels us to look for the hint in the heart and the wayfarer lives not by the rules and regulations of society nor the covert co-dependent agreements of our culture, but learns to listen only to the still, small voice within.

To hear, and learn to obey that voice, so much rubbish has to be removed. So much that we thought important heads for the shredder! And it is seen that none of it was important after all.

What is revealed is that each of us is unique, that each hair on our head really is known, and that we, as this particular manifestation, will never pass this way again. We are important, vital even, and are here to play our part, large or small, it doesn’t matter.

But this way is not for the sensible, rational man or woman; this way is not for those intent on safety; it is only for those willing to give themselves to an affair of the heart, responding to the call of the moment.

A Persian poem offers this warning: ‘Do not come near to the Lane of Love! It is not a thoroughfare! You cannot sleep, you cannot eat; you don’t enjoy the world anymore.’

As Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee points out, a human love affair can pierce the heart, how much more potent an affair with the divine lover who lives inside your own self.

From Him, from Her, there is no escape, no hiding place. But as Rumi says, if we don’t make this journey within in truth we have done nothing with our life:

‘Desperation, let me always know how to welcome you, and put in your hands the torch to burn down the house.’

When I first started this piece, I wrote a piece called Exile and Longing, which grew out of my own experience of exile from family and society, and the choice to live by my own light come what may.

Often, those of us with mystical awareness, have to live outside the consciousness of the culture which we were raised in, beyond its limitations and judgments, patterns and demands.

As a boy, I was baffled as to why I did not want what others wanted, why achievements, even success, were not important to me, did not satisfy me. What I held to was a small light burning softly inside me, which I finally began to nurture.

Irina Tweedie wrote of her small life, living alone in North London, looking down from her hilltop at the comings and goings of those engaging in the world, and knew that although she had given up everything the world sees as important, she had gained the one thing that matters.

‘Those who belong to the Beloved, carry His curse, which is the memory of His embrace. Nothing in the world will fulfil them,’ writes Vaughan-Lee.

So it is, and if your heart is longing and burning, if you are calling God secretly in the night, if only Love will do, at some point you will be answered. Spiritual processes always begin within before manifesting without.  You don’t find a teacher, the teacher finds you.

‘Light upon light, Allah calls to Him whom He wills.’

When the divine spark is lit within and the Beloved turns towards you the journey of lover and beloved begins. One light calls to the other, the other calls in return. Finally, the ‘I’ that stands in the way is no more and the two merge in an ecstatic union.

If you are seeking, seek Us with joy for we live in the kingdom of joy. Do not give your heart to anything else, but to the love of those who are clear joy. Do not stray into the neighbourhood of despair; for there are hopes: they are real, they exist. Do not go in the direction of darkness – I tell you, suns exist.

Rumi said this because he knew. His meeting with the ferocious wandering Dervish Shams completely remade him. He went from erudite, spiritual scholar to Love’ supreme poet, today the world’s most popular poet. The price he paid was a terrible grief.

The ecstatic union that he enjoyed with Shams came after Shams struck a deal with God, the price of which was his life. The old sage, despised and feared by many, knew that he must pass on what he knew to someone worthy of it and capable of transmitting it to many.

He found Rumi in Konya and their great spiritual love affair began, a union so intense that it roused jealousy and anger among Rumi’s family. Shams disappeared once sending Rumi into paroxysms of grief and longing.

He was found and returned and they were reunited in joy, but Shams disappeared for a second time, finally murdered, probably by Rumi’s younger son.

It was this final pain that Rumi transformed, as he united on the inner planes with his beloved master, spending the last 30 years of his life working to bring the divine light into the world.

There are many different Sufi groups with differing practises, but the work on the path is similar: meditation, chanting the names of God, working with dreams, facing the shadow – all those qualities we have buried and not loved , facing the contra-sexual aspects within, what Jung called the anima and animus, and working with archetypal energies.

And what is right for one aspirant is not right for another. Each of us is unique, yet the practises of the path keep us on track in single-pointed focus on our heart’s devotion.

This is polishing the mirror and when the heart is free of blemishes, the divine sun can be reflected in it. Here the mind is drowned in the heart and as we return to the unmanifest world from when we came we sacrifice ourselves on the altar of love.

Finally, the heart is made as soft and as warm as wool, and the alchemy that was started within you way back when is over……for now.

Last words.

A lover does not figure the odds. He figures he came clean from God as a gift without reason, so he gives without cause or calculation or limit. A conventionally religious person behaves a certain way to achieve salvation. A lover gambles everything, the self, the circle around the zero! He or she cuts and throws it all away.

This is beyond any religion.

Can You Get on Your Knees?

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‘Go you, sweep out the dwelling room of your heart; prepare it to be the home of the Beloved; when you go out He will come in. Within you, when you are free from self, He will show His Beauty.’ Sufi

I notice I have never been good at bowing. It usually takes a large piece of wood – or at least the emotional equivalent – to get me on my knees.

Even then I tend to get up too quickly, my ego returning, stronger than ever, like some tumour determined to spread to another, as yet unaffected corner of my being.

True surrender only seems to happen when we run out of road, our own defences, plans and trickery finally exhausted, defeated by a power greater than ourselves.

Self-preservation can do it. I discovered that when, aged 25 and a determined atheist, I found myself begging God to save me from the painful consequences of my drinking.

I was on my knees, and I should have stayed there.

But I didn’t. I got up and although I gave up drinking, my mind was most definitely going to stay king if not emperor of other important areas, not least sex and relationships. 

Although in truth, it was anything related to pleasure. Fear will only humble a man for so long. After all, I was only 25 and I needed to swagger a while longer.

Luckily, however, somewhere in the depths of me lurked a mystic who secretly longed for love and with it the sense of wholeness and completion that is our birthright.

The human task is to become divinised, to remember who we are beyond name and form. To upgrade has become urgent. Without it, we will almost certainly destroy ourselves.

The mirrors are now flashing endless reflections: Trump, Grenfell Tower, Isis. The world is dying and so our sacred task, what Rumi called the one thing, is pressing.

And the work is personal and calls us to stop looking in the world and turn within. This world, for all its glamour and show, is a realm of reflected light.

The light of pure consciousness is within the heart. The Sufis understood it and yet it is an understanding that lies beyond the mind:

‘The heavens cannot contain me, or the void, or winged exalted intelligences and souls: Yet I am contained as a guest in the heart of the true believer.’

This is the divine secret. The whole universe lives within the human heart. Our destiny is to realise it, to discover powers we cannot even begin to imagine.

But we only receive the powers of mastery when we no longer want the world. We only get them when we have been purified enough in the divine flame, passed through rings of fire and proven that all we want is love.

To be the lover, the Beloved, and finally Love itself.

How few of us are ready to give up all our secret longings, to become empty enough to receive the jewel the divine has for us. There is always something else to play with so, like me, we miss the opportunity to stay down, be humbled enough for grace to enter.

And we have no idea how tragic it is.

But then life presents us with another opportunity, if we are lucky. (I have seen many people who thought they could indulge their poison one more time leave this planet.)

The mystic Andrew Harvey describes wonderfully what he calls our addiction to stage two culture, where the rewards of the prevailing culture keep us smug and satisfied.

He goes on to recommend a nervous breakdown sometime in your 20s to catapult you out of it. As Rumi says, leave safety for in truth it is final danger. Complacency kills.

The difficulty is most of us do not want the work of purification, what the Sufis called polishing the mirror, so the divine sun can be reflected in it.

Yet that work is inevitable. We all have to do it and we have to do it willingly. If not in this life, then another.

But as I know from my own life and in working with clients, resistance is often dogged. Submission and obedience to a will other than our own takes collapse or the threat of the loss of something we are not prepared to live without.

And it is the smartest people, the intellectuals, those with a head filled with knowledge, who find humility so hard. But humility and its bedfellow gratitude, are qualities the ego-driven westerner need to assimilate.

Structures by their very nature carry a weight of unconsciousness that is often impenetrable and more so when combined with intellect.

The mind sits on the throne of consciousness and hoodwinks mainstream culture into accepting its dominance, despising the spiritual.

I’m also not in the business of martyring myself before the mob so I can only say I am a penitent man, after recent events.

I am in touch with my shadow, that which remains in need of integration. It does not make me bad, although others might judge me as such.

But it does mean there is more work to do on a road less travelled. (I will save my confession for a more private vessel.)

You can stay entranced by the rewards of stage two culture if you like.

I will do the work of wholeness, As Rumi put it:

‘Heart be brave, if you cannot bear grief, go. Love’s glory is not a small thing. Come in if you are fearless. Shudder and this is not your house.’

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