Sunday, 31 July 2011

Rule 18: The Whole Universe is Contained in Us

The whole universe is contained within a single human being – You. Everything that you see around, including the things you might not be fond of and even the people you despise or abhor, is present within you in varying degrees. Therefore do not look for Satan outside of yourself either. The devil is not an extraordinary force that attacks from without. It is an ordinary voice within. If you get to know yourself fully, facing with honesty and hardness both your dark and light sides, you will arrive at a supreme form of consciousness. When a person knows himself or herself, he or she knows God.

The holographic secret which was announced by mystics of all time could create fear. All, which is, this vast universe, this endless amount of information, this huge range of feelings, motivations, ideas and attitudes, should be inside of me? How should I ever deal with that universe and find myself in it? There are so many things I would like to get rid of and forget about, there is so much as burden on my shoulders from my soul and my mind, all I finally want is rest and nothing more than my own affairs to take care of.

The mystic is not interested in theories about the world and humankind. She wants to influence the practical life of people: How to free them from suffering and how to create a better way of shared living among people.

For us, as we went through the age of enlightenment and post-enlightenment, it is easier to cope with mystical statements when we see them as working hypothesis: We adopt the concept experimentally as if it were true and keep the possibility in the back of our heads to revise it when it does not work. What would it mean for our social interactions and for our social perception if the whole social universe would be contained inside of us?

So when all phenomena and variations of interactive behavior can be found in us, when according to Cicero “nothing human is foreign to me”, we can see that the others are presenting us a mirror by behaving in a disturbing way. What annoys us about others demonstrates to us, what our problems with the world are and with what we cannot cope. We see our own imperfections when we get angry about someone. When we despise the avarice in someone else, it means that we know about avarice, and we only know about things which are represented inside ourselves. As something inside of us causes our chagrin, shows that we cannot cope with this experience productively or creatively but only with rejection and damnation. Without noticing, we direct this defense against ourselves.

Again, our opportunity to grow is in creating awareness. We use the working hypothesis that others present a mirror to us as soon as we get angry at them or decline their behavior. Thus we can redirect our perception from the outside to the inside and find still undiscovered aspects of ourselves there. And at this point, the devil comes in as a help.

All too long, the devil has been demonized: As a power hidden somewhere in the dark and bringing misery to the life of people from an ambush. All evil must have its root in an ultimate evildoer. This is how we create an excuse and a scapegoat: The goat legged horned satan. Almighty as he is, no wonder that we get weak over and over again.

The mystic is not interested in theological questions about the origin or the source of evil. He points at people and their inclination to act in an evil way and to forget about doing good things. For this, a devil as origin is of no use. As soon as bad actions happen, the genuine devil is at work, our imperfection, our daily voice of self entanglement, not more and not less.

This means that the true power lies in us. Is it up to us, to decide in any moment whether we follow love or the devil? When we look closer into ourselves, we might realize that we never intentionally and consciously chose for the devil. More so, that there is something inside ourselves which is seemingly not under our control, directing our actions. Afterwards, we wake up and tell ourselves that we should have reacted differently. For instance, we get an attack of rage because we were treated unfairly and become even more unjust as we were treated before. Looking back later, we might think that we overreacted and hurt the other person even more as they had hurt us. And we realize that there was no conscious intention to do so.

The part of us which we cannot control and which possesses us in certain dark moments and causes evil actions then is no entity outside of us but a pattern which has taken root inside of us as a fear directed mechanism of reaction which can be activated at the push of a button from outside and can change us from a loving to an abhorrent being in the next moment.

Again, we are challenged to look inside, into the depth of our heart, to explore the den of darkness. Eventually, we are encountering no one less than the devil there, and he is not one to joke with easily. But this inner devil just lives by his skill to hide and camouflage. As soon as we are able to fearlessly meet him and confront him, he and his dark power fade. With every victory we decide for is in this struggle, we win in terms of consciousness and expand the free land inside of us where milk and honey flow.

The rules are taken from Elif Shafak's novel “The Forty Rules of Love” (Viking 2010). They are inspired by the Sufi tradition and worded by the autor's imagination.

Rule 17: Outer and Inner Filth

Real Filth is the one inside. The rest simply washes off. There is only one type of dirt that cannot be cleansed with pure waters, and that is the stain of hatred and bigotry contaminating the soul. You can purify your body through abstinence and fasting, but only love will purify your heart.

We live in a culture which is strongly shaped by cleanliness and this has doubtlessly beneficial aspects. What is difficult to bear in less developed countries is the disorder, the garbage on the streets, the smell and the dirt. Sometimes we overlook the radiance of people in these countries which shows a way of relaxation and daily humor which is rare in our regions. This indicates that the outer filth is just one side and not the most important. Behind the cleanest outside there can easily hide a filthy personality.

Sometimes we hear, the inside is like the outside. To tidy up on the outside is not a big thing, not more than overcoming our laziness. Outside cleansing includes our own bodies, e.g. by fasting. In this case, discipline helps to limit the ego. In any form of consistent training, inner resistances have to be surmounted. The ego has to step back, and its neediness is no longer the only guidance for action.

The cleansing of the heart is enhanced by practices like that, but not completed. Mere self discipline and self mastering do not automatically create more consciousness. The opposite can happen, when discipline and mortification start to serve a part of our ego which feels better and superior with the successes of self control and adds to one’s pride and arrogance. An further aspect of self control can be found in the rejection of anything which is dirty or unpleasant which leads to stick to cleanliness in any aspect of life in a compulsory way. By despising anything which is not clean we reject a dimension of reality and condemn it even if it belongs to it like the shadow to the light. Looking at nature can teach us how relative our ideas of cleanliness are. Pigs enjoy different forms of tidiness than cats.   

The inner cleansing is so difficult because we usually do not realize what has to be cleaned. We are so attached to our peculiarities and quirks that it hardly occurs to us that they should be changed. We nourish our common self image and justify our action with great skill in front of ourselves even if they neither serve ourselves nor the others. In the same way we cultivate the images of other persons, especially those who have disappointed, deceived or hurt us. So we predominantly circle around inside ourselves and assume that this is the only possible reality.

The rule draws our attention to two forms of inner contamination: Hatred and bigotry. They represent all aspects of unkindness which we inflict on others (hatred) and for self arrogance which lead to blindness towards ourselves (bigotry).  In both cases we refuse to look: at the other how he/she really is – instead we gaze at our projections – and at ourselves how we really are – instead we indulge in our cantankerousness and self glorification.

In the case of hatred we are caught in a narrowed view of the other by which we constrict ourselves – is it possible to breathe freely when we hate? Seemingly hatred makes us stronger because it bears a deathly power. Hatred wants to destroy the other person in the ultimate consequence. But it is a power which we direct upon ourselves. In reality, we extinguish the flame of love in us and cut ourselves off the energy which nurtures our growth.

When we bathe in self-approval we stretch out above ourselves. And in this pose, we cannot breathe freely either. We somehow hold the air inside of us in order to be able to float above the others. The power we can feel then is loaned from our reserves and can only last for a limited amount of time. In our egomania we tend to collapse quickly when the turns of life provide unpleasant challenges for us. The bigot likes to flee from real and authentic contact with people who could show him his weaknesses.

We act as the characters in Stanislaw Lem’s novel “The Futurological Congress”. Lem describes a world in which everything is rotten and decayed but the government has spread a drug with a fragrance which causes a shift in perception so that all the degenerated objects look wonderful and beautiful. In regard to ourselves, we tend to whitewash our distorted character traits, and in regard to other we do the opposite and oversubscribe their distorted character traits and ignore their real inner being. The drug which constantly defeats us is our pathological tendency of self relatedness and self deception as well as our deception about others, either in hatred or in idealization.

To purify our hearts requires the consistency of the inward search: To accept our weaknesses and to take them to our hearts, where they transform into strengths by the use of the power of love. The inward search never reaches an end because every new challenge of life activates our shadow aspects. But it can be improved and enhanced by exercise. The pleasure of a successful step of healing lies in the deepening of the power of our hearts when we experience it.

The rules are taken from Elif Shafak's novel “The Forty Rules of Love” (Viking 2010). They are inspired by the Sufi tradition and worded by the autor's imagination.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Rule 16: Loving God in the Neighbor

It’s easy to love a perfect God, unblemished and infallible that He is. What is far more difficult is to love fellow human beings with all their imperfections and defects. Remember one can only know what one is capable of loving. There is no wisdom without love. Unless we learn to love God’s creation, we can neither truly love nor truly know God.

Why is it so difficult for us to love our neighbors? It is our own imperfection, distortion, self entanglement. Permanently we tend to take our view of the world as the only possible and meaningful and so any other idea about the world irritates and agitates us. Immediately we feel threatened and react with rejection and anger. Then we draw ourselves back and cut our channels of loving energy.

We spend a lot of time on the surface and stay hooked there. Many of our daily procedures run superficially: Shopping, taking part in traffic, meeting people, greeting colleagues etc. On the surface, everyone is different, and easily we notice something disturbing or distorted. In addition to that, we are often under time pressure, tensed and stressed. By this, our empathic potential is suspended to a big degree, and the other person easily becomes an enemy who is just blocking my way and hinders my moving on.

How about friends and lovers? With them, it is easier to reach more depth. But there are also many pitfalls which send us back to the surface again as soon as we encounter them. We are often more sensitive and easier to irritate and to hurt as with strangers. We think that there is more at stake and so we cannot let the other get away with that. We become experts in pressing the sensitive buttons in the other person and are heavily affected when the same happens to us.

When we see ourselves as seekers, as pilgrims on the way then we should not miss any opportunity offered to us when we realize that we reject someone else. Then we can ask ourselves the question what it has to do with ourselves, which part in ourselves we reject in the other person. As soon as we start to accept this shadow part in ourselves, it will stop to irritate us on the outside and we can open up ourselves even deeper towards the other person. What we have got to know and learned to love about ourselves will help us to get to know and love the other person more.

This is the exercise: To meet people in depth who cross our way in daily life. This is meant by loving God’s creation and thus loving God. It does not mean to hug everyone in blind trust and superficial attraction but to meet them with respect and appreciation whether with words, gestures, looks or simply with the inner attitude. When doing this, we realize that the other people are not imperfect in reality but that it is just our perception which is obscured. Our projections and preoccupation prevent us from seeing the obvious truth. When we can free us of them, we gain a lot: Just wonderful friends around us.

The rules are taken from Elif Shafak's novel “The Forty Rules of Love” (Viking 2010). They are inspired by the Sufi tradition and worded by the autor's imagination.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Rule 15: We are a Work of Art

God is busy with the completion of your work, both outwardly and inwardly. He is fully occupied with you. Every human being is a work in progress that is slowly and inexorably moving towards perfection. We are each an unfinished work of art, both waiting and striving to be completed. God deals with each of us separately because humanity is a fine art of skilled penmanship where every single dot is equally important for the entire picture.

God is working on the evolution of consciousness. Or He himself is the driving power in the center of evolution however the theologists decide on this question. So we can relax: It is not only about ourselves struggling and endeavoring day and night, but for this task there is a higher power working inside of us. And: We, the elements of the creative process do not only have to rely on the driving powers inside of us, but also in our companions on the way and in humanity as a whole.

Why should God want that it is just us, the chosen ones, and not all equally to progress? We simply do not notice the progresses others make on their way because we think they would behave similar to us and only this would be a sign that they are on the road to perfection.

When we see someone sitting on a park bench with legs crossed and blissful gaze, we presumably guess that he is being worked on by higher powers as the old lady who scolds her dog. But why should not also work an inspiration from above inside her and show some miraculous effects which are only hidden from our eyes?

The goal of evolution is not the production of single people to excel by special achievements or talents. This is the illusion of the personalistic level of consciousness. The goal is reached when every human being has developed fully and wholly, that means that everyone has worked off the inner fears and won inner freedom to use for himself and the world.

God has started a gigantic project with the rise of man in the whole of nature (at least in our perspective). Nature carries perfection inside and performs it in all its processes. Somehow, it moves from one moment of perfection to the next one. It does not have to be different to what it is. It is in the same way part of perfection when new species of plants come into existence and old ones disappear, when there are animals which hunt the others and kill them, when earthquakes and volcanic eruptions extinguish huge landscapes and change the whole vegetation.

But the project man is of a different size and caliber. It is about a being equipped with a surplus of reflection and creativity, so there is no innate perfection. Every human being becomes a work of art only when he makes himself to that, or better, when he lets himself evolve what is genuine part in the game. This happens in an intimate conversation and accordance between the upper and the lower part, between the master and his piece of art.

A piece of art gains its shape of perfection only in the process of creation. Whatever was the idea or the plan of the artist in the beginning, will not be what comes out in the end. The piece of art is in permanent dialogue with the artist by asking questions and posing claims, till the stage of perfection is attained in a mutual process of endeavor, and this is similar to the process of creation of man and humanity – in dialogue with the artist who only by feedback realizes how perfection can be and what is still missing.

There is an ongoing exchange happening between man and God and between mankind and God, and this exchange is open-ended. Only during and by this process of communication clarity about the outcome arises. We know about an abstract idea of it (all human beings free of fear and open to love and to the world), but the specific gestalt of this idea has to be refined in every individual process of creation. And it is also the creation which takes part in its own development by sharing and contributing.

Our striving for improvement and the support we receive from the divine power interact and cooperate inseparable. So there is no need to boast about our part in the achievement but a further opportunity to exercise gratitude. 

The rules are taken from Elif Shafak's novel “The Forty Rules of Love” (Viking 2010). They are inspired by the Sufi tradition and worded by the autor's imagination.

Rule 14: Accept your Resistance, Let Go of Habits

Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better  than the one to come?

Life is change, and this way it will be up to our death. At that point, a certain range of changes terminate while other processes of change happen to the remnants. There are changes in our lives we like and others we don’t. We have the natural impulse to reject what does not fit to our expectations and to want more of the things we like. But change has already taken place without asking us whether we approve of it or not.

The weather has turned bad as I wanted to have a walk. I am annoyed and blame the weather for my bad mood instead of being able to enjoy a nice walk. I press the wrong button on the computer and the work of an hour is gone. To blame is this stupid machine which reacts so senseless.

Immediately, as soon as something happens which breaks our expectations we react with stress, with inner tension. We have to organize and orientate ourselves anew, sometimes under pressure of time. This is an effort which our system has to provide. Next come our feelings which have been a joyful expectation of a walk or a creative phase of work. They change all the sudden and give way to unpleasant feelings like disappointment, anger, frustration. They cause an extension and enforcement of the inner stress, so we cannot relax. For this to happen, we would have to return to our pleasant feelings. But as the circumstances have changed to the worse, this is not possible.

So it is the circumstances which cause the way we feel – the weather, the silly machine etc. We are the victims of higher and uncontrollable powers. When we cannot turn this causality around, we have no alternative to opposing life and its circumstances.

Our tendency to keep resistance against life does not disappear by building up a resistance against the resistance by fighting life. Resistance against resistance is useless. “When you fight God you always lose,” is a wise saying.

It is clear that we cannot escape the trap of resistance with this strategy. On the contrary, we feed it even more and give it more importance. Perhaps it allows us to get rid of our aggressions when we start to bluster and curse. But the resistance will reappear as strong as before at the next opportunity.
Why do we use the term “creature of habit”? Because habits are not genuine human. The special aspect of humanity starts where habits end and creativity starts, with new ideas and energies.

Expectations are just extensions of habits: Every expectation is tied to something already known, something which has already happened before. I remember the taste of a certain wine and expect the same pleasure as before. In this expectation I order the glass of wine and two options are there: The expectation will be fulfilled or disappointed. The expectation story overlays the experience of tasting and enjoying the wine.

The only way to weaken our resistance thoroughly and permanently is acceptance. Usually well informed sources say that accepting one’s resistance leads to melting it. And as a profit from this change of attitude, we find important resources behind the adverse circumstances.

So: When resistance appears (and this happens all the time), it is worth the experiment to take on the role of an interested host. There comes an unannounced guest and he does not look the way I would have liked him to look, but when I greet him in a friendly way he will sooner or later turn into a nice guy.

By learning to accept our resistance to life makes it easier to accept life and its circumstances, so we more and more come into an attitude of equanimity. We take what life offers to us with ease whatever the circumstances are, and stays in an inner serenity even when there is nothing to be amused about. If the consciousness is more focused on the moment, it is no longer dependent on expectations. Expectations constrain our inner world and block our creativity and flexibility, key elements of the growth in nature and in humans. By expectations we want to rule the future in an absolutistic way. We imagine how something has to be, and react with indignation when life has different plans for us and we do not like them.

We also feed our negative expectation, our fears and anxiety of the future. Sometimes our mind uses such projections into the future to anticipate the worst which could happen by assuming that the worst would be less bad when anticipated.

The most difficult situation for the mind is being confronted with anything without preparation, with no strategy at hand. This is when our minds would have to render its control, and keeping up control is the main task and the mere reason of its existence. So it is often with surprising situations, that our mind pretends it had anyhow expected what has happened. Our minds do not like surprises as they represent the unknown and the unknowable. So our minds tend to exclude miracles from our experience.

Miracles exceed our control patterns. When the expectations vanish we do not move through life according to a plan – now I take my breakfast, kiss my beloved, go to the train, get on etc. Instead, life flows as it flows just as described previously, but differently as it is full of wonder: how tasteful the breakfast is, how sweet the kiss, how marvelous the flowers on the way and how interesting the sky – such new and unique impressions become significant and not the planned processes. This is not a life of chaos, all proceedings have their logistic and follow the rules of reality but this aspect is less important. It steps back and gives way to the experience of miracles and uniqueness.

The rules are taken from Elif Shafak's novel “The Forty Rules of Love” (Viking 2010). They are inspired by the Sufi tradition and worded by the autor's imagination.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Rule 13: True and False Teachers

There are more fake gurus and false teachers in this world than the numbers of stars in the visible universe. Don’t confuse power-driven self centred people with true mentors. A genuine spiritual master will not direct your attention to himself or herself and will not expect absolute obedience or utter admiration from you, but instead will help you to appreciate and admire your inner self. True mentors are as transparent as glass. They let the Light of God pass through them.

When you have found what you were looking for, you want to share your discoveries. This is part of how we are. Even a gold digger who has made his fortune after years of hard and frustrating work wants to share his joy even when he has to be afraid of the envy and greed of his companions. We want others to participate in what is precious for us. They also should participate with the profit. We want to teach what we have learned. For every piece of valuable knowledge and wisdom there is someone who can take advantage of this insight.

And at this point we reach a crossroad which we tend to overlook all too easily. Do we leave our fellow men who have built up trust in us, the freedom to choose from what we can offer to them what they value or do we start to put them under pressure, even in subtle ways, to take more as they like? Is there a point where the ego gets involved in our sharing which wants to know better what is good for the others? Would we need our friends to move on just the way we benefitted the most?

Maybe we have already taken the way and chosen the street of the complacent teacher without noticing. We have students who read from our lips and quote our insights, ask humble questions and follow our guidance while constantly showing gratitude and recommending us to other people. Successes like these tend to dazzle us with a seductive light. This is not our light we assumingly spread over our students. It is their light which beams from the honest wish for truth, realization and love which we swallow and return it to them as if it were ours. Now we are already on the path of pedagogical and spiritual exploitation.

The next step of the blinding can be observed in the way we handle critics and complaints: “That you cannot deal with this clearly shows that you cannot accept this as a shadow part of yourself. Look at this and work with it, then your critic will end.” “What you experience is a choice of yourself, and as you project it towards me shows that it is unconscious to you. Be glad that you have the chance to gain insight into that.” Cunningly we mirror every feedback we get back to the student which helps us out of the trouble. The student may learn about his inner part of the critic but also that his teacher is not transparent and open at this point.

Every teacher has a shadow as part of who we are as humans. It is not necessary for the teacher to offer all her shadows and shortcomings in front of her students, because in this way she puts herself in the center and the students in the periphery; but it is harmful when she presents herself as perfect, because thus she takes herself much more important than the student and puts herself in a position out of reach.

As long as she knows about her shadows and cares about clearing them up, she is a good teacher. As long as she can keep her shadows apart from the work with her students, so that her teaching is undiluted, she is on the right path. The teacher should always assure herself that she will stay a student, a student to the bigger wisdom to which she owes everything she is able to teach. And that this bigger wisdom is also revealed by the students and by the field created in meeting them, especially when critical questions or comments are shared. The teacher should always be aware that teaching is grace and responsibility. Good teachers can also be seen in the way the deal with others and especially with themselves in a humorous way.

As there are relationship partners for certain phases is life, there are also appropriate teachers for different phases in life. The true teacher can become a false one when the phase of the way is over in which the teacher can guide the student, and when the relationship is kept to a point where the teacher is overstrained and unable to cope with the task. It is part of the job of the teacher to notice at which point to release the student and send him onto his own path. When this is missed, the teacher is blinded. Then it can become difficult for the student to find her own way, sometimes painful and loaded with conflict especially when the free teacher-student-relationship has become a dependent one.

The claim for a teacher to be totally transparent is high, and it always is addressed to a person. When we are looking for a totally transparent teacher it can happen that we never succeed. So it is better to carefully feel inside what a certain teacher we feel attracted to, can offer us and where the limitations are. We do not need a perfect teacher but a teacher who can helps us to overcome those points we cannot master without help, up to the point where we are independent. A good teacher makes himself disappear at the right point for the student to become a teacher himself.

The rules are taken from Elif Shafak's novel “The Forty Rules of Love” (Viking 2010). They are inspired by the Sufi tradition and worded by the autor's imagination.

Rule 12: The Quest for Love

The quest for Love changes us. There is no seeker amongst those who search for Love who has not matured along the way. The moment you start looking for Love, you start to change within and without.

Any quest changes. The goal rules the direction and influences the seeker even when he has not yet reached the destination. The clearer the goal appears to the inner eye the more energy flows into every phase of the search.

Love as the goal of the search is not a minor one but the essential human one. For the whole evolution of consciousness, as we can understand it, grows towards this goal, and also the life paths of us can be read according to this script. Of course people strive towards different aims, and many among them have seemingly nothing to do with love at all. In our society, many searches are directed towards material goals. Wellbeing and quality of life should be enhanced by the augmentation of available goods.

Still the genuine hope of people is not in the heaping of as many material objects as possible or to find impressingly high positive numbers on the bank account; the hope is to have a happier life with the help of these objects or figures. With such and such an amount of money I can afford this or that travel, and I want to travel because I would feel happier then. With this new bath tab I can relax and feel better. This new car gives me a better feeling of live etc.

Our inner hope is not limited to self enjoyment, to the satisfaction of our own needs and desires but includes other people as well. We want to share our pleasure of driving a new car, we want to communicate our impressions of a journey etc. Being connected to other people, feeling understood and trusted gives rise to states of happiness which can never be reached with the help of objects or substances. Happiness can hardly be imagined without people who are with us. It is trivial and yet permanently forgotten: We cannot buy love. We should never forget the fate of King Midas.

Finally, our hope enlarges beyond the interactive sphere as seen in the love from person to person. When deep love can be experienced it is not limited to one or more persons but expands and expands till it comprises and embraces everything. So most mystical seekers are not fulfilled with the love to persons which they always see as an important part of their way. But in every kind of love they always strive towards the love to God or another transcendent wholeness.

Even if we are no mystics we understand the connections but tend to forget about them. Yet as soon as we fail with our conditioned searching movements in our world of consumption, these insights become vital – when the newest mobile phone, the house of dreams, the prettiest girlfriend and the most beautiful dress cannot give us comfort in our suffering. The materialistic world of products offers us an infinite amount of consolation goods but sooner or later we realize that we just buy them as means to an end. Our self deception consists in getting lost in the world of means and in forgetting about the end. For the end which justifies the means is nothing material but resides inside without measurement: Happiness, wellbeing and love.

Only when we move into these realms in a conscious quest, a real change happens inside of us, and the end, love, penetrates us more and more, sometimes even when we are not looking for it.