Sunday, June 04, 2006

Spiritual Messiness

”Balance is the keynote of spiritual attainment.”
Hazrat Inayat Khan

     Hazrat Inayat Khan came to the US in 1910 but he did not stay long.  After a brief sojourn in the UK he ended up living in Suressnes France, a suburb of Paris.  For 18 years he lectured and gave spiritual instruction to an ever expanding group of students.  These lectures are collected in a 14 volume set of books called collectively “The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan”   What has always amazed me about his lectures is the astonishingly wide array of subjects that he discussed.  Everything from war to relationships plus of course much instruction in the spiritual life and how it relates to ordinary living.  One of his constant subjects was balance, which always puzzled me.  
     Some forms of balance are obvious.  Standing up is a form of balance.  Finding the balance point of a long object, such as a ladder or a wooden plank, in order to carry it comfortably, is another.  But that is not what he is talking about.  He specifically says, many times, that the object of spirituality is a balanced life.  But what does that mean?  It has puzzled me for 25 years.  I am not sure if I understand completely yet but I do have some ideas.  
     First of all, a balanced life is not necessarily what our culture, whatever it may be, says it should be.   Societies tend to want their members to conform to some abstract ideal which is almost always restrictive.  I do not believe that balance is gained by conforming or restricting.  What I have come to believe is that a balanced life truly does have two poles.   One is living in the world and the other is a calm awareness of our celestial being.   And that is where the title of this essay comes from.  
     People who follow some kind of spiritual path tend to look up to the celestial spheres and to take their clues for living from those realms.  We also tend to accept definitions of how we should live based on the assumptions of the particular spiritual society we happen to be in.  Even though Sufism, to which I belong, is supposed to be without compulsion, still people tend to create cultural assumptions and patterns of expected behavior.  It is a natural tendency of humans to want to know that others around them have the same or a similar response to worldly events.  We also want to know that when we say something the response will be within a certain framework.   Fortunately or unfortunately, people doing real spiritual work also tend to push against these restrictions because their deep experiences often belie their conformity to the restrictions imposed by their culture, be it spiritual or secular.  That’s when things get messy.  

“How did I rise above narrowness? The edges of my own walls began to hurt my elbows.”  HIK

     We are, each of us, restricted in many ways.  And when our elbows begin to  hurt we look around and wonder where the pain is coming from.  If we are totally honest with ourselves, we will not blame those around us for this discomfort.   As it happens however, we do blame others.  It can take numerous forms, from blaming our parents for traumas, real or imagined, to blaming a particular aspect of society for our problems.  That can be anything from governmental restrictions, to religious oppression which we feel is harming us or holding us back.  In almost all cases there will be some element of self worth analysis.  We do tend to demand that the world support our opinion of ourselves so when we begin to look within we get confused.  This is probably because our self image is so wrapped up in external confirmations.  
     The other night I asked my meditation class what was the one thing they each saw as their prime restriction.  I thought at least some would say self worth but each person, in their own way, said fear.  Fear of all sorts of things but mostly fear that what is to be accomplished will not manifest.  In other words, fear of failure.  Fear of failure is an aspect of self worth issues of course.  What is important is that each person was aware enough to realize that this fear was a restriction for them and could be paid attention to.  
     What to do, what to do?

     One thing that has become very obvious to me over the years is that spiritual training might not help much.  Learning to meditate and to reach ever higher planes of consciousness may have a wonderful effect on your over all being but the baggage does not seem to be all that affected.  In fact I believe that it is not all that uncommon for a person who has attained to some kind of spiritual enlightenment to assume that all of their problems are automatically taken care of.  It is like the very common story of some great Guru or Sadhu, who has many followers because of his spiritual purity and who finally decides to come down from his mountain and visit a town.  His followers are delighted that he is finally returning from his decades long sojourn to the inner worlds and follow him all excited to view the great man bringing blessings to their town.  But when the first person to confront him is a filthy beggar, the Guru snarls at him, kicks him and demands that he be removed from his pure sight.  There are various versions of this story but the point is clear.  Spiritual work does not guarantee an even, balanced personality.   Ya gotta get down in there and work on it in a very basic way.  Perhaps the most effective way is to never ever assume that who you think you are is complete.  I have noticed that the people who are most effective in this work are those who never stop working on themselves, the people who are always willing to be the student, to learn from others and to be forgiving of their own and others foibles.  
     It’s a messy world, with all sorts of problems to face.  Maybe that’s what makes it fun, if you let it.

Love & Blessings, Musawwir