Recently in a conversation with our good friend Abdul Hayy, we were speaking about what is most important in our spiritual work. Sometimes people seek knowledge of what they think are high spiritual states. They search the texts for new information, rare esoteric knowledge, secrets of the path, while forgetting to apply the most basic principles. “I tell people,” Abdul Hayy said, “it would be good to read the Masnevi or Gulshan-I Raz and try to understand what is there and what can be applied to oneself.”
Later that day, in reflecting upon a rather difficult and complex situation, mediating between two sides, each of whom was experiencing pain, disappointment, and the inability to forgive, I had one of those insights that is so simple and ordinary and yet catches the essence of the teaching. It is about the highest attainment, the quality that captures hearts and wins trust. It’s about a quality that evokes love and devotion.
And yet, it is very elusive. We can learn languages, perfect the details of rituals and ceremonies, memorize poems and verses of revelation, and still miss this quality.
Without this quality, we react to provocations, nurture jealousies, and are hurt by criticism. Without this quality, we may even do harm to others, and to ourselves; perhaps not in violent or overt ways, but perhaps in subtle, hidden ways.
If you put on the armor of a warrior,
and yet are unable to defend yourself, you’ll die.
Make your soul a shield,
bear what God sends you,
put down the sword.
Whoever is headless saves his head;
the selfless cannot be struck.
Those weapons are your selfish strategy;
a defense that wounds your own soul.
The quality that we need, that any believer needs to develop, that is the true measure of attainment, is to be free of the kind of egoism that gives rise to negativity, resentment, jealousy, superiority, inferiority, blame, and insecurity. To simply be, without a trace of the false self, is to have attained the purpose of belief.
The spirit was made glad by that I-ness without “I”
and sprang away from the I-ness of the world.
Since it has been delivered from I, it has now become I:
blessings on the “I” that is without affliction-
for it is fleeing from its unreal I-ness
and the real I-ness is running after it,
since it saw the spirit to be selfless.
[V, 4139. . .]
So, on the one hand, we sometimes need to drop our ego’s point of view and be virtually without self.
At the same time, there are situations in life that may not be solved with selflessness alone. There are times when we also need to be excellent communicators and problem solvers. Can we learn to solve our problems with love? There are circumstances that demand our wisdom. When to speak, and when to be silent? How much to say, and how to say it?
The heart is comforted by true words,
just as a thirsty man is comforted by water.
Among all the things vying for our attention, what most deserves our care and attention? Family, friends, community, work, our spiritual commitments?
How can we simultaneously be that believer that is free of the coercion of ego and yet able to take action. How can we be fee of self and still notice what truly needs our attention and be ready to respond wisely? These are the delicate and demanding conditions of our life.
Perhaps the answer lies in a deeper understanding of “spiritual intelligence.”
Abdul Kabir Helminski was the publisher of Threshold Books for twenty years, a company which specialized in quality translations of sacred literature, especially those from the Islamic tradition. He is the author of two books, Living Presence and The Knowing Heart, as well as eight translated collections, especially focusing on the work of Jalaluddin Rumi. His books have been translated into Spanish, Italian, Dutch, German, and Turkish.