Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Ascension is any spiritual experience which brings one closer to God. However, because God is always near, ascension involves any spiritual experience that brings one to a realization, of whatever degree, of God's nearness. In this sense, ascension involves a falling away of the veils obstructing the individual's awareness and understanding with respect to the intimate presence of God in our lives.

Since there are thousands of veils of darkness and ignorance and density which obscure our relationship with God, there can be many different kinds of ascension. Just because one has had certain experiences in which some of these veils are lifted, does not mean one has realized the presence of God to the fullest extent possible.

There can be much confusion about this on the Sufi path in particular, and with mystical journeys in general. More specifically, there have been instances in which people have had one, or more, intense spiritual experiences and concluded, incorrectly, that all veils between themselves and God had been removed. These are very subtle matters in which one can be easily led astray unless one clings tightly to the garment of the counsel of one's spiritual guide.

One can be making progress on the spiritual path and still be in considerable ignorance and darkness. Indeed, this is part and parcel of what a path is. It is a way filled with: twists and turns; hills and valleys, as well as dangers and places of relative safety.

One may come to know something of the portions of the path one has traversed or is currently traveling through. Nonetheless, what lies ahead is largely unknown.

There is often a very strong tendency on the part of travelers to believe - due to imperfections such as impatience, pride or arrogance - that they are near, or at, journey's end. Consequently, such people believe they have ascended to the heights of spiritual possibility.

However, as has been said in another context: "It ain't over & #145;till it's over". The spiritual journey is a very long one.

In fact, from a certain perspective, there really is no end to the process of ascension. God is infinite and, therefore, can be engaged through ever-new modalities of spiritual experience.

Some experiences of ascension are short-lived. They are transitory states which descend on the individual in the blink of an eye and may depart just as quickly. Such experiences may range from: the momentary feeling of compassion one may have for another human being, to flashes of insight which may be bestowed on the individual concerning some aspect of one's spiritual life or the nature of existence.

Some experiences of ascension last longer and may mark important way stations along the path. Qualities of: repentance, longing, patience, dependence, gratitude and love, when absorbed into the fabric of the individual's life, can all give expression to significant experiences of ascension.

Sometimes we are raised up to a certain height by the Grace of God, only to be lowered down again. Sometimes this happens as a sort of foretaste of what is to come at a later time in a more permanent manner. Sometimes this occurs in order to motivate the individual to struggle harder. Sometimes it is done to show the individual what might have been but will never be due to some flaw in that individual.

There are occasions in which people are transported tremendous spiritual distances as a pure gift of God's Grace. Unfortunately, people respond to this possibility in different ways.

Some try to make such a gift a function of causality in which they are, somehow, deserving recipients due to their character or devotions or the like. Such people fail to understand that gift's of Grace are entirely independent of considerations of being deserved. One could be a scoundrel and still be the beneficiary of God's magnanimity.

Other people hear about the possibility of what amounts to a "free lunch", spiritually speaking, and become like members of some modern day cargo cult. They just sit and wait for the Grace to descend and do nothing in the mean time, allowing their lives to slip away into stagnation and indolence.

On the spiritual path, one is either ascending, descending or standing still. If one is standing still, the slippery slope of descent is dangerously close by. If one is descending, reversing course may not always be possible.

Sometimes experiences of spiritual ascent are, from a certain perspective, a curse in disguise. This is so in those instances when a person permits his or her ego to assert its acquisitive nature and claim the experience for its own.

The desires of the ego undermine the whole purpose of the process of spiritual ascent. This process is designed to diminish, if not eliminate, one's awareness of the presence of the ego, while enhancing awareness of the presence of God.

This draws attention to one of the biggest obstacles - and some might say the only obstacle - on the path of ascent toward God, namely: our awareness of ourselves as beings separate from God. This awareness disguises itself in many different ways at various points along the path. In fact, we are so good at deluding ourselves that the very quest for spirituality can be feeding our ego rather than our essential selves.

In the foregoing sense, we all are truly our own worst enemies as far as spiritual ascent is concerned. Like golf duffers, we keep wanting to see how far we have hit the spiritual ball and what this says about us as individuals. We would be much better off paying attention to form, technique and discipline, and let the distance factor take care of itself.

Quite frequently, people - even people on the Sufi path, have a very distorted idea about the process of spiritual ascension. We read about the wondrous, reason-defying deeds of some of the practitioners of the path, and fantasize about having such powers and abilities ourselves. Sometimes we get so caught-up in all the talk about miracles, that the idea of spiritual ascent becomes, in our minds and hearts, reduced down to being nothing more than this.

To put the foregoing in perspective, one Sufi has indicated there are at least 100 stages to the spiritual path. The capacity to be a locus of manifestation for miracles weighs in at about the 17th stage.

If one's spiritual horizons are limited to this aspect of things, one will be deprived of the other 83 stages of spiritual ascent. In short, one will have completely misunderstood the nature and purpose of the spiritual path by getting mesmerized by peripheral matters involving miraculous deeds.

The spiritually mature people of the Sufi path consider such powers and gifts to be, at best, distractions, and, at worst, severe tests of one's spiritual character. From time to time, and for various constructive purposes, such powers and gifts may be exercised.

Among Sufi masters, however, the tendency to use the gifts of God is done sparingly. This is so, God willing, one will not become seduced by, and preoccupied with, such activities rather than concentrating on the real business of the path - becoming more and more immersed in the nearness and presence of God in one's life.

Spiritual ascent is about the process of coming to know one's essential self and how that dimension of being is capable of reflecting the Names and Attributes of God. To realize this kind of knowledge, and to engage existence through such knowledge, and to act in the light of that knowledge, is to fulfil the purpose of the quest for spiritual ascension.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009