~ Leila Bhr [California, USA]
If left to my earthly means, to my earthly mind, I would be oppressing my poor precious soul all the time. Most days I wake up engulfed in thoughts. My mind is on autopilot planning for the day, reviewing the past, judging and worrying about the ramifications, planning to rid myself from harm, concerned about judgments others may render, protecting myself in my thoughts against those yet-to-be-rendered judgments, feeling scared or stressed – in an agony brought about by the self, going deeper and deeper in a self-woven web of thoughts and worries. Most days, if I am left to my means, I am oppressing my dear soul.
And then, some days, with God’s grace, I wake up and the first thought in my heart is of gratitude – thanking God for a new day, for the breath, for the morning light that appeared again (whether I noticed or not). The gratitude unfolds – thanking God for the safety and security of the house, and for all my loved ones in warm beds. With God’s grace, my soul feels content, accepted, alive, emancipated.
I believe that such days are the baraka brought by the miracles of the path, the teachers, and the friends. Such Mercy may only be delivered by the grace of God, through the light of zhikr. May it increase!
A few years ago, knowing about the way of the Sufis but not yet putting my head down on the Path, this one was contemplating dervishhood for a long while, weighing up whether it was the path for this one. I was still deeply dependent on my analytical mind. I wanted to “know” what to do, how to do it, what to expect as the result.
I wonder now, was I looking for a guideline to follow in order to be able to predict the results? Did my mind look for clear guidance so that in return it would feel acceptance, belonging, alignment? As I was struggling in finding the “what,” I reached out to my dear shaikh. One day he told me something that became the golden beacon for this one on the Path. Shaikh Kabir reminded me that I needed to recognize that any spiritual attainment was not due to my striving but due to Divine Grace. Of course, one needed to show sincerity with one’s heart and mind in alignment with efforts. Yet this mind, these hands and feet, this tongue, could not possibly render the duties.
I did not know You as You deserved to be known and did not worship You as You deserved worship.
~ Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
What would my efforts attain?
Shaikh Kabir also reminded me that the “what” was not to be “known.” One needs to put one’s foot on the Path so that the Path will show itself in return. It needs surrender. It needs sacrifice. It needs love and devotion. I remember that at that moment I suspiciously wondered, could it be that “easy”? To just put my foot on the Path and the Path would show itself?
What did I know?
Oh wine bearer! Stir the wine and pour me a cup!
As Love appeared easy at first, and then it became increasingly difficult.
[Hafez, Ghazal 1]
Shaikh Kabir teaches us the ways we each oppress our souls; by complaining, victimizing ourselves, inauthentically pleasing others, conforming to the authorities, blaming, or self-promoting. Oh, how this one is guilty of them all! How this one is oppressing her poor soul in all these ways every day and even gets upset with others for acting the same! Our dear shaikh warns us to be graceful with others, as they too might be unknowingly oppressing their souls.
How not to oppress the soul then? How to emancipate it?
At the moment, for this one, it may be acknowledging that I cannot possibly offer anything except acceptance of the limitations of my means and loving surrender.
How do I call upon You, and I am I? And how do I withdraw my hope in You, and You are You?
[Imam Sajjad, Herz supplication]
Thank God, that we have God! Thank God, for this Love for us! Thank God, for this Mercy!
Though you are lame and limping, though your figure is bent and clumsy,
always creep towards the One. Make that One your quest.
By speech and by silence and by fragrance, catch the scent of the King everywhere.
[Masnavi, III: 980–81, trans. Helminski]
Our dear Mevlana describes the inward meaning of Surah Al-Nasr in Fihi Ma Fihi, Discourse 17 in A. J. Arberry’s translation:
People think [that] they can drive away evil by great effort and striving. […] Then God says to them: ‘You thought you could achieve this goal through your own power, action, and work. This is the law I have laid down: whatever you possess, spend it in Our Name, then Our grace will supervene. You must journey upon this infinite road with the feeble hands and feet that you possess. We know well that with feet so feeble you can never accomplish this journey.
[…] But even as you collapse and fall, with no strength left to struggle farther, then Our loving breath will carry you on.’
Surrendering to the Divine moment by moment, trusting in God’s grace in every encounter, hoping for His/Her Love amidst the agonies of the soul, may emancipate the soul. May there be Love!
~ Leila has been a friend of the Threshold Society since she learned about them in 2009. She serves in Medical Technology, enjoys translating Rumi’s works, and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and children.