Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Harboring expectations can be a major source of difficulty. This is true both for people who are considering initiation, as well as for those who already have stepped on to the path.

These expectations generally can be subsumed under roughly five categories. More specifically, one can have expectations in relation to: (1) God; (2) the spiritual guide; (3) the nature of the mystical path; (4) the conduct and character of other people on the path; and, (5) oneself.

One of the problems most of us have, in one form or another, is we try to stuff God into our theories and conceptual frameworks. On the basis of these perspectives, we develop a series of expectations about what God should be and how God should be.

Furthermore, we often set trials and tests which God is expected to ace if Divinity is to pass muster. For example, we may say to ourselves: "if God is to be a God worthy of our praise and worship, then God must do this or that and, thereby, meet our expectations of how God should act".

Alternatively, we may think to ourselves: if God wants our spiritual business, then God must be able to satisfy our carefully prepared 15-point diagnostic check list. We, then, proceed to try to hoist God up on the examination table and check for weaknesses, defects and warning signs.

Different people draw up different kinds of diagnostic check lists to run God through. However, all of these lists are rooted in expectations we have of how God should be.

We believe, for instance that God must be good, or God must be a loving God, or God must be just. In addition, we have our own incompletely worked out and, often inconsistent theories of goodness, love and justice. We, then, proceed to set up expectations which require God to conform to the structural requirements and values embedded in our thinking.

Rarely, do we stop and seek to discover what goodness, or love or justice mean to God. Rarely, do we ask ourselves what, if anything justifies our theories of goodness, love or justice.

Our opinions and beliefs are not justified just because we hold them to be so. Where is the reality check in all of this?

From the perspective of Sufi masters, we distance ourselves from God in direct proportion to the weight of the baggage of expectations we try to impose on God. Indeed, expectations are one of the ways through which veils of ignorance and darkness are generated on the path.

Furthermore, Sufi masters suggest we have the cart before the horse in this matter of expectation. If we wish to realize what can be expected from God, then, first, come to know God as God and not as a function of our theories about God. Let us open ourselves up to the reality of God and let God show us the errors in our various expectations.

People also can have strange sorts of expectations about a spiritual guide. Upon meeting a teacher, we often expect: a spiritual version of fireworks; or, a dazzling, ethereal floor show; or, a display of beautiful, other-worldly lights and auras to be radiating from the countenance of the shaykh; or, breathtaking discourses which probe into the inner sanctum of metaphysical truths.

If we don't experience these, we are disappointed. Our expectations have been violated.

We begin to have doubts about the authenticity of the teacher. After all, if this person were truly a spiritual guide, then, surely, this individual would be this way or that way.

The irony of the situation is this. All of the things we, however unfairly and unjustifiably, may expect concerning the nature of a spiritual guide could be occurring before our eyes, ears, and minds, but we are too blind and ignorant to grasp the reality of what is in front of us.

Notwithstanding the foregoing considerations, one should keep in mind that there are spiritual charlatans who will mention such possiblities in self-serving ways. In other words, they will either use the expectations of seekers to mislead them about what the future holds in store, or such spiritul frauds will use these kinds of expectation as part of a "spiritual lesson" about why a seeker ought not to expect such a guide to be required to live in accordance with ordinary principles of morality.

God is not under any obligation to disclose spiritual secrets to every Tom, Dick and Mary who comes along. Similarly, spiritual guides are under no compulsion to share their secrets either.

In addition, we are being presumptuous to suppose our condition is sufficiently worthy to be permitted access to such realities. Although, sometimes, even when we are not worthy of such participation, spiritual generosity comes to our rescue.

In any event, the absence of perceived mystical "signs" in the being or demeanor of someone who may or may not be a genuine spiritual is neither here nor there. A person could be an authentic teacher, and, yet, we might not sense anything "special" about that person. At the same time, the absence of visible marks of grace does not necessarily permit us to conclude the individual is a genuine teacher who is merely veiling herself or himself from others.

The fact of the matter is, if we really knew what was what, spiritually speaking, we wouldn't be in the predicament of having to find a teacher. In the mean time, we tend to thrash around in the dense jungle of our expectations of things.

In concert with the foregoing kind of expectations, there is a tendency on the part of many people to confuse the purely human side of a teacher with the spiritual side of a teacher. For example, we may meet someone who is, let us assume, a genuine teacher.

Perhaps, we see this person eating, and we think to ourselves: Gee! This person eats more than a guide should eat; or, the way the teacher eats somehow doesn't sit right with our expectations of how a spiritual person ought to eat - whatever way that is.

Maybe the guide watches television or goes to movies. Again, this may jar our spiritual sensibilities.

Maybe the teacher has interests or activities which are inconsistent with our expectations concerning the nature of a shaykh. Maybe the guide does not exhibit as much: patience, tolerance, laughter, and so on, as we feel is appropriate or in the way we deem to be proper.

Without, in any way, wishing to maintain that a spiritual guide has license to do anything and everything he or she pleases, and without wishing to say there are no constraints of propriety within which a teacher is bound to operate, nonetheless, there are degrees of freedom available to a teacher. Through these permissible degrees of freedom, the teacher can give expression to the purely human side without compromising the spiritual side of things.

The friends of God come in many shapes, sizes, colors, temperaments, and capacities. They are not all the same, nor do they need to be.

The operative words in the above are "friends of God". A friend of God makes sincere, heartfelt efforts not do anything on the human side which might undermine, or adversely affect, the spiritual side. God, on the other hand, permits friends to have some discretion in how they conduct their human lives.

However, sometimes, even friends make mistakes. When this is brought to their attention by the Friend, they repent and seek God's forgiveness.

Most of us, are not in any position to sort out possible spiritual mistakes of the friends of God, from the degrees of latitude which God has permitted to those same friends. To be sure, one ought not to abandon one's capacity for critical reflection in relation to such issues, nevertheless, one is entering very dangerous and tricky territory when one establishes a set of expectations to which the teacher must conform in order to be adjudged an authentic teacher.

Almost everyone who is contemplating stepping onto the mystical path or who already has done so, has many expectations about the nature of the spiritual path. For instance, one may have expectations about how easy or difficult the mystical journey is going to be.

One also may have expectations about what one will receive from pursuing the path, such as mystical powers, spiritual gifts, visions, insights, goals and so on. In addition, one may have expectations about how and when and where and why mystical experiences take place.

One reads or hears about some of the mystical experiences of others. As a result, one builds up expectations concerning the arrival of such experiences in one's own case.

Sufi masters point out there are a number of things one can do to help make the spiritual journey go more easily and more quickly. One of these beneficial actions is to throw overboard, without a life preserver, one's expectations about the nature of the Sufi path. The sooner one does this, the better off one will be.

Every spiritual journey is unique because everyone's relationship with God is unique. While there are shared themes and concerns from one journey to the next, one should just let the path unfold of its own accord and in its own way.

If we look after our responsibilities, the path will look after its responsibilities. Expectations only delay and complicate matters.

In addition to our expectations concerning God, the spiritual guide and the nature of the mystical path, we also frequently tend to have expectations with respect to other people, both those on, as well as those outside of, the Sufi journey. For instance, we may have expectations about how they ought to, or will, behave or what they will and will not understand.

We also may have expectations about their interests, commitments and values. Alternatively, we may have expectations about what their lifestyle is like and so on.

Quite often, people who are not on a mystical journey, at least in any discernible sense, will surprise one with the depth of their understanding about spiritual matters. This surprise is the result of an expectation concerning such people.

One could run into people outside of the path who may exhibit a variety of spiritual qualities, commitments and interests that one might have thought would only be found by someone who had taken initiation with a spiritual guide. The unexpected dimension of such an encounter is, once again, the sign of an expectation which is being rebuffed.

On the other hand, one may meet with people who have become initiated into a mystical tradition, and, yet, they don't seem to understand anything of a spiritual nature. Moreover, such people may not be leading the sort of lifestyle one thought would be second nature to a wayfarer of the mystical way. Here, too, expectations are being exposed.

According to the Sufi masters, the best policy is not to have any expectations at all, either with respect to people on, or outside of, the mystical path. If one does this, one will never be disappointed, and, more often than not, one will be able to appreciate people on their own terms.

We all have spiritual potential. We all have spiritual problems. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. We all have dimensions we hold in common, and we all have our unique qualities.

Sufi masters suggest we should not meet others with expectations. Instead, we should meet them with friendship.

Finally, we all carry expectations concerning ourselves in relationship to the mystical path. Some of these expectations are rooted in low self-esteem. Other of these expectations are embedded in high self-esteem.

The masters of the Sufi path suggest we dispense with both kinds of expectations. The practitioners of the Sufi path indicate that if we get rid of these kinds of expectations, then, God willing, we will become receptive to truths about our essential self which will put to shame both our sense of low-esteem as well as our feelings of high-esteem.

Anab Whitehouse


kevin said...


a very nice piece, I have probally turned not a few people away by mentioning that my teacher enjoys watching Jerry Springer and the Price Is Right...

Bilquees said...

Salaam, Kevin,

While we're on the topic of TV shows, I've always thought it would be great to have a show modeled after the old show To Tell The Truth only sufi shaykhs and imposter shaykhs would be on the panel!

Perhaps you're too young to remember the show, but there would be three people, all claiming to be the REAL Mr. (or Ms.) So-and-So. They would tell what their name and occupation was, and the contestant could ask a limited number of questions to the panel, and the object of the "game" was to decide who was telling the truth.

Maybe someday we can do a streaming video spoof for entertainment as well as education purposes. Any ideas who could take the place of Bob Barker or Jerry Springer from the sufi/mystical world?

I have a few ideas. :)

Peace and blessings,

Immortal Beloved said...

It seems each time I pay a visit to your blog I not only learn something new about the spiritual, I also learn something new about myself.

I've realized I've been carrying too may expectations. I think it's time to "throw them overboard".

Thank you.