Some reflections on relationships within a community of seekers

Kabir Helminski

The Prophet said, ‘The religion is sincerity (nasíhat):
that nasíhat etymologically is the opposite of unfaithfulness (ghulul).
This nasíhat is ‘to be true in friendship’:
in an act of ghulul you have broken a trust.
We are showing this sincerity towards you, without treachery, from love:
do not turn away from reason and justice!”

[Rumi, Mathnawi III: 3943-3945]


Sufis live contrary to “the world” in many ways. Their calculations are different from the calculations based exclusively on the ego’s self-interest. They return hostility with kindness; they meet immaturity with patience; in a world of role-playing, they are guileless.

Be in Love. Behind this simple phrase is a metaphysical principle: The awakening to true Being is the attainment of conscious, objective love. So we emphasize the first word of this phrase: Be in love, but learning to be is a process that involves our being awake and relatively free of the incessant, habitual demands of our false self.

These demands are motivated by illusory motivations based in an unrealistic notion of how things should be. These four basic motivations are:

1. The urge toward pleasure and com­fort, to avoid all pain,

2. to gain attention, to avoid being ignored or rejected,

3. to gain approval, to es­cape disapproval and blame,

4. to gain a sense of importance, to have control over other people, and to escape the sense of inferiority, or the inability to control others.

Furthermore these basic motivations typically lead to counterproductive behaviors.

We have several strategies that we apply in order to actualize this imaginary, unrealistic, non-disturbed state.

1. To complain, which is generally ineffective, or if it may temporarily seem effective, actually produces negative effects in the long run.

2. Feeling victimized and demanding our rights. This doesn’t work so well, either. The circle of lovers is not the place for demonstrations and protests.

3. Trying to (manipulatively) please people. It sometimes works, but it creates inner havoc as we forsake our own integrity.

4. Trying to believe and do as one is told by authorities. This is the sign of a weak mind. It results in dogmatic thinking, fanaticism, and mass suggestibility.

The Path of Sufism is a matrix of transformation, refining, purifying, elevating all relationships. We do not realize, at first, how much we are conditioned by the false self, the egoic perspective, in our relationships, and how our egos are counterproductive to our highest hopes. Whether we realize it or not, these egos may be pushing away what we hope to attract, damaging our relationships, making us less lovable.

If we are to learn to be in love, these motivations and the demands they make of us, and all the strategies we devise, will need to be recognized and released. There really is nothing to lose except the useless suffering engendered by these demands.

Sufi values are precisely the opposite of the four illusory motivations described here.

1. Instead of seeking to maximize comfort and pleasure, the Sufi exercises a healthy discipline, training the nafs to accept hardship and difficulty without complaint. One of the most foolish behaviors human beings indulge in is complaining to get our way. Worse yet, is the misguided belief that expressing anger, in the vast majority of cases, can contribute to a positive outcome, and yet so much of everyday life is characterized by resentment and complaining.

2. Instead of seeking attention, unconsciously or otherwise, the Sufi cultivates modesty and invisibility. He or she may take on servanthood and put others needs before his own, but, while a Sufi may serve others and gain their respect and affection, his or her motivation is to serve Truth (al Haqq) alone, not to manipulate other people.

3. Rather than compulsively seeking to gain approval and escape disapproval, Sufis, especially those who practice melamet, the way of blame, may even flirt with blame and disgrace, though without doing anything blameworthy. Melamis (people of the way of melamet) make no effort to appear as more or better than they are, and may even intentionally make a practice of appearing as less than they are.

4. Anything that engenders self-importance, any kind of self-promotion, is contrary to the basic values of the Sufi path. A Sufi’s humility is a freedom from ego-based needs, not a form of low self-esteem.

Adab, spiritual courtesy, is one of the transforming principles that operates within the Sufi matrix. But adab is not merely excessive politeness, nor avoiding conflict. Sometimes we have to pass through difficulties and disagreements, and yet in the end be saved by adab, in order to know its real value. Relationships that are governed by adab are protected and elevated, while relationships based in ego are unstable and tend to devolve. Rumi warns us:

Know for sure, the friendship of the ego (nafs)
with another ego is reduced moment by moment,
Because his ego is a lingering illness
and soon infects the relationship.

If you do not wish your friend to be hostile tomorrow,
choose friendship with intelligence and the intelligent.
Inasmuch as you are sick from the ego’s hot dry wind,
whatever you may do, you are the instrument for disease.

If you touch a jewel, it becomes a rock;
you start with kindness of heart, and it becomes hatred;
And if you take a fine original saying,
You have a way of making it tasteless and dull.

[Rumi, Mathnawi III:  2690-2695]

But he also reminds us:

When a sincere friendship of intellect with intellect arises,
every moment the devotion is increased;

[Rumi, Mathnawi III: 2689]

When a true friendship exists on a firm foundation, it can endure challenges and honest difficulties. Therefore, as an operating principle we value our relationships within this community of seekers. We seek to practice and deepen spiritual courtesy and to be sensitive to whatever weakens or damages the possibilities of trust, respect, and friendship.

The flow of speech from the heart is a sign of friendship;
obstructed speech arises from lack of intimacy.
How can the heart that has seen the sweetheart remain bitter?
Would a nightingale that has seen the rose remain without a song?

By Khidr’s touch the roasted fish came back to life
and swam home to the sea.
To the friend seated beside his Friend,
a hundred thousand tablets of mystery are made known.

The brow of the Friend is a Preserved Tablet:
to him it reveals plainly the secret of the two worlds.
The Friend is the guide to advancing on the way:
hence Muhammad said, “My Companions are like stars.

The star shows the way through deserts and across oceans:
fix your eye on the Star, for he is the one to be followed.
Keep your eye always turned toward his face:

do not stir up the dust of argument and discussion,
because the Star will be hidden by that dust.
The attentive eye is better than the stumbling tongue.

[Rumi, Mathnawi VI: 2638-2646]

To be present with a friend, and with the Friend, is to be in love. The Dergah is a refuge from the world of hypocrisy, manipulation, and conflict. The relationships that are built in the Dergah of Love endure in a way the relationships of the Dunya (“The World”) never can.

 * * *

As a private exercise we might write down our observations regarding:

What are my ways of complaining?

In what ways do I feel victimized?

How do I seek to escape disapproval and blame?

What strategies do I use to control or manipulate others?

Do I try to resolve problems with anger or with love?

These are personal and for our own enlightenment, not with the idea that we are going to change what we observe, but simply at first to gain more objective information about ourselves.