Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Union and separation, love and longing, sweetness and despair, the polarities of the mystical path leave us bewildered and confused. Why are we left here behind the veils of separation when we know that separation is an illusion? Why are we caught in the prison of duality when our heart knows the deeper truth that 'everything is one'? The more we meditate and pray, the more we remember Him Whom our heart loves, the more alienated we feel in a world that appears to have forgotten Him. Somewhere we know what it is like to be loved beyond measure, and here we are left in a world where love is too often equated with demands and co-dependency. The eternal question of "Why are we here?" has an added poignancy when we have felt the infinite nearness of our real Home.
He Whom we love has abandoned us and only the pain of separation reminds us that somewhere He is 'closer to us than our very neck vein.' We carry the pain of remembrance in honor of our love, yet only too often we feel betrayed. How can such a Beloved desert us? How can such a Beauty veil Her face? Doubts bombard us as the mind tries to convince us of the stupidity of our quest: to look for what you cannot find... to long for an invisible Beloved who has only brought you pain... In many ways consciousness crucifies us on our search. The subtleties of torture with which the mind can torment are known to most travellers on the path of love.
Underlying these difficulties is the fact that while the nature of love is to draw us to union, the nature of the ego is separation. Love comes from the heart, the innermost core of our being which is our connection to the Absolute. Love is "the essence of the divine essence" (Massignon 1982, III, p. 104), and so dynamically pulls us towards oneness. But the ego is born out of separation. The ego's existence is defined by being different: "I am different from you." The path towards union with God takes us away from the ego with its sense of separate existence and individual identity. This is why the Sufi says that the first step towards God is the step away from oneself. Love calls us to come away from ourselves and enter the state of oneness where only the Beloved exists.
The ego and the mind belong to a dimension of separation and duality. The ego exists through its sense of individuality and separation; the mind only functions through duality: through comparison and differentiation. The power of love lifts the veils of duality, threatening the ego and confusing the mind. The ancient path of the mystics takes us back to the source where distinctions and differences dissolve just as "sugar dissolves in water." On this journey the ego and mind rebel as their identity and function are attacked. Love draws us into the gladiatorial arena in which we fight our own liberation and resist the pull towards oneness. But those whose hearts are committed know, like the gladiators of old, that death awaits them. They know that "When Truth has taken hold of a heart, she empties it of all but herself (Massignon 1982, I, p. 285).
We hide from the love which alone can heal us. We run from the Truth which torments us. But like the encroaching tide, the tremendous power of love gradually smooths away the ego's paltry marks in the sand. Slowly we come to recognize the infinite ocean as our real Home, an ocean where, in the words of Rumi, "swimming ends always in drowning" (Liebert 1981, p. 30).
(Llewellyn Vaughan Lee)
The spiritual path begins when the heart is awakened to His eternal presence. The Beloved looks into the heart of His lover and in that instant the lover knows the secret of divine union, that the lover and Beloved are one. The glance of the Beloved carries the consciousness of His eternal presence.
The Sufis call this glance the moment of tawba, the turning of the heart. The inner awareness of His presence turns the heart away from the world and back to God. He calls us back to Him with a momentary glimpse of His face. This glimpse is love's most potent poison that begins our dying to the world, our journey back to God, for "How can I look at the world around me, how can I see it, if it hides the face of my Lover?" (Tweedie 1987, p. 87)
The inner awareness of union awakens us to the pain of separation. When the heart knows that in its innermost essence it is united with God, we arc confronted with our own isolation, with the knowledge that we are separate from God. It is only because we have been given a glimpse of union, had a sip of this divine wine, that we are made conscious of separation. Without the knowledge of union, how could we know that we are separate? Without having experienced the bliss of His presence, how could we know the agony of our own isolation? The pain of longing is born from the glance of God.
From the beginning of the path, the opposing states of separation and union are engraved into the heart and psyche of the spiritual wayfarer. The consciousness of union becomes the pain of separation that reminds us of our real Home. The heart's remembrance of its Beloved is kept awake by the fire of longing. We long for Him whom we love, and the greater the love, the greater the pain of longing. Love and sadness become the substance of our inner existence. In the words of 'Attar,
The pain of love became the
medicine for every heart,
The difficulty could never be solved
(Schimmel 1975, p. 305)
By Llewellyn Vaughan Lee