~ Shaikh Kabir Helminski
The Essence of Our Practice
We place a great emphasis on being—the quality of attention and presence that we practice. Being is our capacity to be awake with full attention and an open heart.
Being is also the source of coherence.
Being is our capacity to connect the transcendent with the concrete. What is going on right in front of us—the interplay of personalities, the requirements of the physical world, and all our thoughts and feelings—seen from the spiritual perspective, seen from the eye of God, known through the mind of God.
What is coherence and why is it important?
Coherence is an aspect of the Divine Reality that we will increasingly embody.
Our tradition offers us practices and ceremonies of coherence: salaat, sema, as well as muraqaba, meditation, and adab. Sometimes, too, coherence is strengthened from being alone, in a reflective silence.
Coherence of community can facilitate the experience of the divine. Like an arrangement of antennas or transceivers in a phased array, our vibration is strengthened far beyond the capacity of any individual. Through this common vibration we are given a taste of the divine that would be very rarely experienced alone.
We do not realize how much we, our souls, are entrapped in a matrix of false reality. Many influences combine to create this false reality: systems of false belief, political propaganda, consumerism, and negative aspects within ourselves.
What we call Islam, Iman, and Ihsan only become real through the marifa of the nafs and al Haqq, the gnosis of the self and reality. In other words, our liberation is through knowing ourselves from the perspective of the Real.
Do not think that this marifa is a merely mental experience. We need a certain ilm (knowledge or science) to prepare us for real marifa, but marifa is essentially of the heart.
Remembrance of God
Our first Murshid, Suleyman Dede, once said, “In order to become human, we need to always be within the Divine Presence—to be aware of God, to hold Him in our hearts. When a human being performs zhikr, their spirit—their heart starts to open. Their intelligence becomes more refined and more expansive. Their bodies become healthier. A beautiful condition comes about—similar to the one that is brought about by good music. The whole being opens up like a flower, and the divine secret—the things you couldn’t understand or know about before—begin to be revealed to you. This is why it’s necessary to make zhikr. For human beings, it’s a very good thing.”
If we learn to deeply observe our own experience, we may more and more recognize those states in which we are incoherent, anxious, distracted. And we may also recognize states in which we are centered, aware, in the state of presence and wholeness.
The origin of incoherence is when the ego, the false self, asserts itself as if it were a god, as if it could bend reality to its will. It thus creates a distortion within the field that produces disharmony and suffering. It does this in small and large ways, on both a trivial and a tragic scale.
Suffering of Incoherence
One of the more common forms of suffering that we see around us, and within us, is the difficulty of attaining wholeness or coherence. An example of this might be: I want this, but I also want that, and I can’t decide between them, because I’m not sure what I really want. Another example might be: I make a decision to do one thing, and then change my mind, and then I’m not sure if I should have continued what I was doing in the first place, or maybe I should be doing something altogether different. This kind of dispersion not only affects decision-making, it also affects our relationships, our beliefs, our work, and in fact every aspect of our lives.
One of the lessons that a true spirituality may teach is the value and possibility of commitment. The essence of it is this: Commit to the Way and the universe will rise up to support you.
But before such a commitment is possible, a commitment requiring sincerity, knowledge, and faith, we would do well to consider some realistic steps that might be more within the range of possibility for us.
The Coherence of Focused Attention
There may be many ways for human beings to become more coherent, but fundamentally they all have to do with single pointedness, a focused attention.
This focused attention is not necessarily a contracted state of attention, in fact it may be an attention that allows openness rather than constriction.
This involves rhythm and harmony. In other words coherence is in a way a musical phenomena – perhaps this is why music has been essential to our Sufi Path.
A further proposition is that Love itself is the most coherent state in phenomenal existence. When we are in a state of love, we are coherent, and bring coherence into the world.
The Incoherence of the Postmodern World
Postmodern culture is a profoundly incoherent phenomenon. It is the result of the collapse of coherence, a coherent sense of truth, and objective metaphysical perspective, and the best of traditional values that were in harmony with such a physical perspective.
What we have instead is a culture without a center, fundamentally cynical toward all propositions of truth. In the postmodern world there is no objective truth, only personal truths and these are believed to be based in prejudices of class, ethnicity, religious affiliation, and other forms of conditioning.
From the spiritual perspective of Sufism, prejudice and opinion is recognized for what it is: the realm of the fragmented ego, the incoherent self governed by personal and social biases. However, true spirituality offers the possibility of awakening from these limited perspectives and personal prejudices.
The first step in this process is to retrieve our attention which has been scattered in both the outer world, and across a myriad of inner preoccupations. This re-gathering of our attention is a countercultural movement, because our postmodern culture consists mainly of a cynical commentary on all perspectives… commentaries on various personas, social styles, cultural artifacts. We take nothing seriously, because we recognize no fundamental truth — only the relativity of all cultural postures. In a way this is a breaking free of all false perspectives, social masks, superficial identities, but without the recognition of any fundamental being or soul.
Coherence in a group is increased by the state of coherence of each individual, by participating in coherent activities (salaat, zhikr, music, ceremony), especially those activities that are harmonized by rhythm, pitch, and bodily expression.
The solution to this societal state of incoherence can only be true spiritual practice. Practices such as meditation and mindfulness can contribute to coherence, awakening a point of observation within ourselves, allowing us to view our incoherence, and eventually resulting in a state of relative peace and coherence. The postures of ritual prayer, culminating in the surrender of sajda (prostration), can potentially unify the individual with a profound sense of coherence. Likewise, zhikr is a powerful practice for unifying all our faculties, capacities, and attributes through a vibrational coherence.
A coherent human being reflects a strength of being, a radiation of blessing, a power of intention. An incoherent human being lives in a state of self-contradiction, doubt, second-guessing, hypocrisy, duplicity, insecurity.
Love is the ultimate state of coherence because it unifies the individual with the ultimate reality of the field of existence. Negative states such as fear, resentment, arrogance, and selfishness represent a disordering of the field. These negative states lead to disharmony in our relationships and, finally, leave us at war with ourselves. Coherence is disturbed by egoistic self-assertion. The humility that love engenders is a divine attribute, erasing the distorting forces of egoism. Practically speaking, love is a magnetism of the heart that engenders a coherent ordering of all our human faculties.