Saturday, July 16, 2011

Balance - A Sufi Perspective

One of the most sought after, yet elusive, qualities in life is balance. We are besieged with a plethora of problems and issues which are demanding our attention: finances, family, career, education, meaning, desires, spirituality, friends, politics, health, fears, love, pollution, identity, crime, purpose, death and so on.

How do we budget our time and set our priorities to do justice to these issues? Furthermore, even if we could find the time and energy to delve into these areas with something more than superficial commitment, what should we do? What exactly does doing justice to these issues entail?

How we view death often has a huge influence on how we go about living life. Our attitudes toward death affect our system of values, goals and choices.

Who we believe ourselves to be, has ramifications for education, family, career, politics, crime and love. Are we animals? If so, what kind of animal are we?

Are we rational beings? If so, what does it mean to be rational?

Do we have a soul? If so, what, if anything, follows from this with respect to the question of identity?

What does being healthy mean? One can be physically fit and, yet, be emotionally crippled. One can be emotionally and psychologically well-adjusted to a given set of societal norms and, nonetheless, turn a blind eye to injustice, abuse, homelessness, poverty, hunger and corruption.

Some might say the ability to shut out the world and stay focused on only the things one can control is the key to emotional and psychological stability in a complex world. Yet, how many times do we discover, much to our chagrin, that the world we have shut out has the capacity to radically affect what we can and cannot control in our own lives?

No one is an island because it is in the nature of the world to refuse to leave us alone. Even if we do not go seeking the world, nonetheless, the world will come looking for us.

We may be convinced we are, in some sense of the word, spiritual beings. We may even be very much involved in spiritual activities of one sort or another.

We may prioritize our lives as a function of spiritual values, orientation and the like. Yet, in our heart of hearts, in the stillness of the night, we may wonder about: why we still have doubts and why we feel so empty and estranged from everything - especially God.

We are constantly borrowing from Paul to pay Peter and, then, borrowing from Mary to pay Paul, and so on. More specifically, we devote time to our career by borrowing, if not stealing, time from our families. We borrow money in order to buy things in order to try to make up for what we have borrowed from our families. We steal time and energy away from the pressing social issues of the day in order to work to pay back the money we have borrowed to give to our families.

We borrow time from spiritual pursuits to devote toward satisfying various sorts of physical, emotional and psychological desires we have. We go to weekly religious services as a kind of down payment on our intention to do more spiritually in the future.

We borrow time from a whole set of activities in order to have the opportunity for an education to prepare for a career and, possibly, to learn the meaning of life. When our education is completed, we borrow some more time and energy in order to go fishing, or whatever, and reflect on why we always seem to be running behind on our payments to life.

Juggling is not taught in the vast majority of public schools, secondary schools, universities and colleges of the world. There are no post-doctoral programs in the art of juggling.

If you want to be a juggler, then join the circus or go to clown school. However, many of us feel very much like clowns because our lives appear, in so many ways, to be circus-like. Our lives are filled with: animal acts; high wire feats performed without a net; death-defying stunts; fast-foods; showmanship; a lot of moving from place to place, and, finally, a fairly substantial mess to clean up before we fold up our tents and silently steal away into the night.

We have a sense in which, as card-carrying circus performers we ought to know how to juggle the different parts of our lives. Unfortunately, most of us are unable to do so because no one has taught us the necessary skills.

The Sufi masters are very accomplished jugglers. They have dedicated the better part of their lives to learning the techniques, discipline, concentration and aesthetics necessary to be artful practitioners with respect to meeting the extraordinary challenge of keeping all the components of life in harmonious movement.

In order to be a proficient juggler in the mystical sense, one needs to learn when and how to grab hold of a component of life. Furthermore, in order to ply one's craft competently, one also needs to know when and how to let go of the various aspects of one's life. One also needs to know where to place these features as one releases them.

In addition, one needs to know how to simultaneously focus on what is at hand, as well as to be aware of what is going on around one. To be capable of juggling excellence, one must be prepared to improvise, on the spur of the moment, as unforeseen contingencies threaten the harmonious movement of the different components of one's life.

To be a Sufi juggler, one must learn to trust one's inherent capacity to juggle. However, before one can learn to trust oneself in this regard, one must learn how to trust the individual who is helping one to develop juggling skills.

Without trust of this latter sort, one will never find one's way to realizing one's inherent capacity for juggling. Without trust in one's teacher one will never come to understand, with any clarity or intensity, that learning how to juggle is a fundamental part of the calling and purpose of human existence.

To be a Sufi juggler, one has to have a deep, sincere and abiding desire to commit oneself to all that becoming a juggler presupposes. One must be prepared to make sacrifices and to accept the rigors of the training program. One must be ready to patiently deal with, and persevere through, the frustrations of protracted periods of juggling incompetence, before one experiences the joy and exhilaration of being, if God wishes, a successful participant in such an art form.

Ultimately, to be a Sufi juggler, one must understand that one is not the juggler but the jugglee. One is the object being juggled. One's life, in all its myriad aspects, is brought into harmonious movement by the Supreme Juggler. As such, learning to be a Sufi juggler involves giving oneself over to that process and not interfering with it, and, thereby, permitting the forces of balance and harmony to flow through one in an unimpeded fashion.

To be a Sufi juggler, one must abandon one's desire to be a juggler. To be a Sufi juggler, one must be content with being a witness to, and servant of, the acts of the one and only true juggler in existence.

To attain this station of understanding, may seem to be a rather dubious, if not trivial, achievement. Nevertheless, those individuals who have been permitted to bring this process to resolution, are deeply satisfied with the result and prefer it to all other possibilities. They indicate that all lasting and non-illusory meaning, purpose, identity, significance, direction, value, and balance are derived from, and through, such an understanding.