From our very first days on the Sufi path, what intrigued us was the quality of human beings we met — their humanity, their capacity for friendship, service and love. Sufism is not about aiming for extraordinary mystical or supernatural experiences; it is about the transformation of character and the realization of spiritual maturity.
If there is one thing I wish I could “teach,” or contribute to people’s lives, it is to escape the domination of the ego patterns that keep us stuck in self-defeating behaviors and attitudes. Sometimes it seems much easier to practice remembrance of God than forgetfulness of self. It is easier to teach meditation than letting go of the false self. The part of us that is self-justifying, defensive, and judgmental can sometimes be extraordinarily well-fortified.
On the spiritual path we travel through various spiritual stages. The tradition calls this sayri suluuk, the journey of the wayfarers. It is a beautiful and perilous journey. It is perilous because the untransformed ego lies in wait like a bandit ready to strip us of whatever spiritual goods we have and bring our journey to an end.
The false self purports to be our ally and protector while it is our own worst enemy. Sometimes it speaks in a subtle voice reminding us of the ways we feel unacknowledged, unsupported, unappreciated; it may feed our resentment, telling us what we are owed, or why we have not been treated fairly. On the other hand, it may also tyrannize us with self-blame, self-doubt, and insecurity, as a result of which we may try to overcompensate by fortifying our false self, criticizing others, or withdrawing from relationship. The web of negativity and self-justification can be so complex that our original essential self is buried under layers of this distorted perception and thought.
I have seen people turn their backs on love, friendship, and spiritual support because some aspect of their egoism was denied satisfaction. So convinced of its right to make demands, the false self will sabotage the soul’s best hope in order to retain control of our lives. Mevlana Rumi warns us in the strongest terms:
Surely your own wicked ego is a prowling wolf:
why are you blaming every comrade instead?
The stubborn, misguided, unquestioning ego
is a cap for a hundred bald heads.
For this reason, O poor slave, I am always saying,
“Keep a collar on the neck of this mongrel.”
Even if this dog has become a teacher, it’s still a dog:
Humble the ego, for it’s nature is harmful. . .
The entire Qur’an is a description of the viciousness of egos:
look into the Holy Book! Can’t you see?
It is an account of the egoism of those like the ancient people of Ad,
who found weapons and did their utmost to attack the prophets.
Down through time, from generation to generation,
the evil of the ego, irrepressible and unrestrained,
was the primary cause of the world’s conflagrations.