People must speak the same language to be able to understand each other. Yet sometimes people have a completely different understanding of the same word or term. Detailed definitions are presented in these pages in order to help readers avoid misunderstanding the language used by the Master in his texts. Everyone who intends to read the books written by the Master would do well to familiarize themselves with these definitions so that deeper understanding and great benefit can be gleaned from the text.
- Attention and Being Present
- Patience and Will
- Spiritual and Mystical Practices
- The Mercy of God
- Spiritual Enlightenment
- Ascending Flow and Descending Flow
Whatever people may feel and think about emotions, there are just five of them—no more, no less. Anger, fear, sadness, joy, and anxiety—that’s all. Emotions don’t exist by themselves. Rather, they arise as responses to specific circumstances. For example, anger is a reaction to a situation in which there are no means to fulfill a desire in the moment. Imagine someone talking loudly over the phone while using public transit. You equally dislike the person and the sound of his voice and would like him to stop talking. You realize that eventually he will stop talking, but you want this to happen as soon as possible, which fuels your rising annoyance. In fact, annoyance is anger in its mildest form.
Anger, sadness, and joy are direct consequences of fulfilled or unfulfilled desires; moreover, although anger is the first reaction and kicks in quickly, sadness manifests later and stays with a person for years, sometimes until the end of their life. People can dwell on regrets about their unfulfilled desires forever. Joy, on the other hand, accompanies a fulfilled desire and dissipates quickly, making room for habitual anger and sadness.
Fear is a response toward external alarming events or situations. We can be startled by unexpected events, such as sudden loud sounds. Basically, we are startled by anything for which our mind is not prepared. Fear is a self-defensive and self-protective reaction. Anxiety is a response to fear, and its role is compensatory, prompting action and offsetting the crippling effects of fear. The fear reaction is one of the most powerful motivators in human activities, as is desire.
Each emotion is an energy with its own specific characteristics and sensual reactions in the body. Every emotional response is an energy impulse that is either used up by expressing the emotion or suppressed. In the latter case, the energy is left unspent and accumulates in the body. Emotional responses disappear along with their root cause, but anger and sadness will never go away as long as unfulfilled desires remain.
People confuse feelings with emotions. This happens because any feeling is enhanced by the emotion it brings with it, so lacking a habit for self-observation makes it impossible for most people to figure out their moods. Emotion is as plain as the nose on your face, whereas a feeling is quite complex.
Any feeling is always rooted in a desire, and usually two or three of them. Each desire is accompanied by corresponding emotions that in turn contribute to the overall emotional hue of one’s mood. A desire often has an idea linked to it that adds validity to a person’s feeling and belief that he or she is right. As a result, no feeling is simple and often contains conflicting elements brought together by conflicting desires.
In common parlance, it has become customary to connote “feeling” with “sensing.” For example, “feeling pain” is nothing but a sensation. Examples of such semantic confusion in modern language are numerous. A “feeling of fear,” for example, actually means experiencing a particular emotion—nothing else. A feeling of love, on the other hand, is a true feeling that involves desires, emotions, and certain ideas—that is, all three constituents of any true feeling.
Human feelings are highly diverse: dislike, pity, compassion—you name it. To figure out which one drives you at the moment, you must differentiate the main constituents of your dominant feeling. Nonetheless, desire and fear always remain the top motivators.
The mind is akin to a biocomputer capable of performing multiple calculations and making decisions based on previously acquired information. It has memory and imagination functions that enable humans to make productive use of their experience. The mind does not know the state of here and now because all of its calculations are aimed either at the future, at the moments yet to arrive, or at reevaluating previous experiences again and again.
The mind has “conscious” and “unconscious” parts. The “conscious” part is responsible for processing the routine flow of information, thoughts, and associations. The “unconscious part” is a reservoir of all memories and life experiences, including suppressed desires and feelings.
The mind is associated with intelligence and the intellect, and it can be trained and developed in ways similar to how physical body can be trained and developed. Intelligence refers to one’s ability to rationally evaluate information and make reasonable decisions. Intellect is the mind’s ability to perceive and adopt abstract concepts, as well as how quickly the mind can make calculations and draw conclusions.
Conditioning is the result of collecting ideas that enable the mind to evaluate situations and form opinions. Basically, it is a way of describing what is good and evil, right and wrong, with the world, specifically for each individual. By itself, conditioning is neither good nor bad; however, people conditioned to believe that God does not exist are likely to have a negative attitude toward people conditioned to believe otherwise, and vice versa.
Everyone is conditioned with a set of ideas particular to the country in which they were born. This is a prerequisite for social adaptation and effective survival. With no criteria at hand to evaluate life situations, it is hardly possible to perform in an effective way. At the same time, conditioning presents obstacles that affect one’s ability to perceive reality directly and without bias. Conditioning is also the source of all illusions.
Quite often, a person’s conditioned ideas are in disagreement with their needs or they create inner conflict. This sets up an inner struggle leading to contradictory behaviors and eventual suffering. Conditioning of the mind with a set of limited ideas and beliefs that are misaligned with reality is the main cause of human misery.
Illusions originate in incorrect interpretations of sensations, experiences, and information. Illusions always follow conditioning, which basically works as a screen for all incoming information. Illusions arise out of false beliefs and unrealistic expectations.
Beliefs are the fruit of conditioning or lack of relevant experience—for example, when a child first learns about sex, the understanding is 100% false. If the child starts looking to intercourse for some forbidden unearthly bliss, he or she will fall victim to a self-created illusion and may spend the rest of life striving for the experience created by and existing only in their imagination.
Illusions also provide a basis for subjectivity. Illusions and productive thinking generate a constant stream of associations and thoughts and draw a person into a dreamlike state, similar to a trance, such that outward events echo inwardly in the weirdest way, evoking reactions out of tune with objective reality.
Humans can have illusions regarding anything in the world. Losing illusions is often quite painful but also essential for those who want to awaken and see reality for what it really is, devoid of false beliefs and fanciful expectations.
Desires represent the main drivers of human life. They are formed in the mind, but at their core lies the force that urges us to reveal ourselves through action. The more energy a person has, the more desires they can develop.
The heart center receives the impulses of the life force during deep sleep. Each desire is what that impulse becomes once the mind provides it with the subject, target, and direction into which to funnel efforts. In other words, a desire is a charge of energy that, once formed, can be spent only on achieving the target for which it has been set up. Every desire represents a form that has originated in formless energy. Every desire that is formed means that unlimited potential was lost and that a finite and always limited target was formed in its place.
The mind shapes desires based on the existing needs, ideas, and understanding of reality that emerge from those. If a person has an idea of what fairness is, then—whether they like it or not—they develop a longing for life to align with their personal belief regarding how fairness should be implemented. Fairness, mind you, means different things to different people.
A developed desire creates the will to act. The stronger the desire, the more effort one is willing to exert in order to fulfill it. Desires create a constant background for human life that makes this life seem to make sense and have meaning. The state void of desires is seen as no better that being dead.
With effort and intention, one can rid oneself of most idealistic desires and minimize the need-based ones. When following Divine Will, one becomes an instrument for implementation of God’s desires, but it would be incorrect to say that, in the process, one’s own desires are completely eliminated. Even though following Divine Will obliterates desires a good deal (while also helping one overcome many unfulfilled or negated desires), as it does with ego (see the next section), full freedom from desires is achievable and happens during the final stages of the Path, once the transformation of the mind is complete and the entire energy structure of the person goes through restructuring and ceases to depend on impulses of the life force for its very existence.
Ego is established during childhood, practically side by side with development of the mind. To some extent, ego is the mind, as it does not exist anywhere except in the mind. Another term for ego is personality. Personality, or ego, is born out of the necessity to survive among one’s own kind and to communicate reasonably well. It is designed for communication and also to create a sort of smoke screen, considering how important people believe it is to present oneself in the most favorable light to other people. Thus, ego is dependent on people’s opinions, and at the same time it always wants to be liked by everybody, or at least to be liked by those whose opinion matters, as well as to treat with contempt those who are viewed as not deserving to be treated nicely.
Ego is an artificial formation and can present as egocentric or altruistic, spiritual or worldly. Certain professionals—for example, healthcare providers or teachers—develop a specific type of ego that feeds on teaching others how to live life properly. Ego feeds on attention, be it attention from others or one’s own—if a person supplies it in quantities sufficient to saturate their ego—although social acknowledgment is always preferable. This is the reason people seek fame or a certain reputation and respect, at least from their co-workers. The moment one’s achievements are recognized, ego is satisfied and justified, and we think there is some deep meaning to it.
Since ego is dependent on people’s opinions, the latter present a constant source of stress. That’s why ego dislikes people while in theory loving humankind. The outbursts of nonlove happen even toward significant others—this is the way ego works, and these are the rules of the relationships that ego continually enters into and supports.
Because it constantly focuses a person’s attention outwardly, ego becomes an obstacle the moment the person turns toward a spiritual quest. Ego gives incorrect answers to the question “Who am I?”—which is why one of the metaphorical deaths a seeker goes through on the Path is the death of ego.
Ego gets erased in a step-by-step process, partly in the course of spiritual work and partly from receiving impulses of the Higher energies. Ego is completely erased only at the final stages of the Path, following the transformation of mind.
Nafs is composed of a person’s psyche and personality traits. The stages of nafs reflect stages of human evolution. The stages are sequential: the commanding nafs, the self-accusing or blaming nafs, the inspired nafs, the tranquil or at-peace nafs, the pleased nafs, the pleasing nafs, and the perfect or pure nafs.
The commanding nafs (or the commanding self, according to Idries Shah) is the first and primitive stage of human development. At this stage, personal desires and passions are placed ahead of everything else, and although a person follows the interests of a community or clan to which they belong, their compliance is based on fear of punishment. In societies of people with predominantly commanding nafs, harsh discipline is always imperative, and punishment in the form of the death penalty keeps this vehement nafs at bay.
All early human societies were organized around the principle of strict subordination to the leader, which is similar in structure to a wild animal pack. Without punishment and external authority imposed by a leader or a group of elders, a society of commanding individuals would have failed to survive. Criminal groups are formed under the same principle, as the people they draw together are exactly at the commanding stage of nafs evolution.
Self-accusing nafs is different from commanding nafs in that it encompasses an already established inner discipline and the notion of morality. The commanding-self can be turned into the blaming-self during one’s upbringing, bypassing the values of right and wrong, guilty and virtuous. While transitioning to the stage of self-accusing nafs, self-criticism is the driver. Progression by the majority of people into self-accusing nafs was facilitated by the emergence of the Abrahamic religions—namely, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Paganism did not prompt people to develop self-criticism, which is a prerequisite for progressing to the blaming-self nafs.
Transition to the inspired nafs is executed through rejection of one set of beliefs and taking on faith a set of different ideas with a more “liberating” message. To take inspiration from the idea of spiritual liberation, from changing one’s perspective and gaining new opportunities, from a chance to live differently—this is what brings and fuels life satisfaction during the third stage of nafs. Transition into the inspired nafs does not need to be part of a spiritual search. One can draw inspiration from the bright ideas of humanism, moral rectitude, and accepting people for who they are, with a firm belief that all people have something good in them. One can discover the world of fine art and philosophy. However, a mature inspired nafs must have an eye on the development available ahead—a hope for obtaining Divine Love, enlightenment, or something like that—since lesser targets, such as to double gross domestic product (GDP) per capita would hardly be inspirational. An ultimate goal is needed, and, given that there is proper and practical support in place, the goal will bring them to the next stage of nafs. The latter becomes possible once a person decides to stick with one single teaching or Path and to follow its practices, rather than constantly moving from one source of inspiration to another, and to be consistent in spiritual pursuits as is common in people with inspired nafs.
Transition from the third stage to the fourth stage of nafs is associated with a phenomenon known among Christian mystics as “the dark night of the soul”—that is the first profound transformation. Minor transformations happen prior to the dark night of the soul, but the dark night is the one that becomes a dividing line between the inspired and tranquil nafs. Between the inspired and tranquil nafs, there lies a discontinuity that is impossible to overcome without bringing significant effort to it. Inspiration can feed on any ideas that override self-blame, yet tranquility comes as a result of liberation from a majority of the ideas one used to truly believe. As such, there is no way one can make it to the fourth stage of nafs without prior cultivation of awareness, and this is why the Sufi say that without external guidance, without having a teacher, seekers, for the most part, never make it to the fourth nafs. The power of spiritual aspiration, which is attraction by the Light of the Ascending Flow of Creation, is well established and steadily present in a person of the fourth nafs. It enables one to be independent of the desire of achievement and thus brings stability to one’s psycho-emotional state. Many repressed desires and emotions are realized and dissipated through the practice of being aware; living a life completely devoid of any desires is not yet possible, but it is already possible to have a needs-oriented life with a minimum of desires. This, basically, is what brings tranquility to the nafs at peace, where state of mind is no longer subjected to mood swings. Although this process can take some time, at the stage of the tranquil nafs, the opening of the Heart happens, and the person uncovers direct connection with the Creator. Once the Heart is opened, the nafs’s transition to its next stage begins to take shape, which also is not a quick process. In any case, a path toward true acceptance of Divine Will starts with the opening of the Heart.
The fifth nafs, the pleased nafs, is born at the moment the seeker surrenders his or her own human will and accepts the Will of God. As with the progression of the preceding stages of nafs, transition to the fifth nafs does not occur in a split second, and it takes time to learn to distinguish between personal desires and the impulses of the Will of God, as well as to “get adjusted” by working off unfinished desires, conditioning, and ego issues, which will not let one start serving God instead of habitually serving one’s own interests. If any direct Path to God exists, only God knows it. By following the Will of God, a person gets an opportunity to take a shortcut, but here their own lack of readiness is an obstacle. More times than not, the Will of God leads a person into situations where they have to push to the limit in order to first realize this limit and then to go beyond it. Not until they become at peace with whatever the Will of God brings about will they be able to move on to the next stage of nafs.
As with the fourth stage, transition to the sixth stage of nafs starts with a profound transformation—this time deeper and more extensive—which is called disappearance in God. The perseverance of a seeker in following the Will of God brings to completion the process of obliteration of personality traits and desires, in preparation for entering the stage of disappearance in God. The transformation of mind is initiated and will be completed later at the stage of the sixth nafs. Actions of the pleased nafs mystic are called for by the Will of God. The situation changes for a mystic of the sixth stage or pleasing nafs, though, where the mystic is granted a way to a higher degree of freedom of action and a more robust ability to influence people. The rationale for people to be pleased with mystics arises here, for the mystic of the sixth nafs is able to exert powers that are recognized as attributes of saints. The union of the mystic with God, which is developed in the sixth stage of nafs, reveals itself, particularly through God starting to act directly via the mystic.
A transition to the seventh nafs begins with a constructive transformation of the mystic, which is executed by the Creator and is called creating anew. At this stage, the mystic discovers perfect action, abiding with God, and unity with God.
Repression is a result of the mind’s control over the body, emotions, and the mind. The very first controlling activity of the mind is initiated early in childhood during motor learning. The earliest self-control skills are built around basic physiological events, such as learning how to use a toilet instead of a diaper. At later stages of development, other physiological needs become subject to control, including hunger, libido, sleep, and so on.
Around this time the child’s self-control broadens to include emotional reactions, such as coping with a parent’s annoyance with their squealing and crying. Parenting starts with rewarding the desirable behaviors and discouraging the undesirable ones. That results in certain emotions, desires, and feelings becoming forbidden, and learning that related topics are never to be discussed or thought about. This goes hand in hand with the fear of incurring parental disapproval and others’ judgments related to the risk of doing something forbidden.
Thus, inhibition control is established over all three domains: mind, emotions, and physical body. Exercising restraint over emotions, desires, and feelings always impacts the body because a suppression of mental and emotional energies precipitates tension in the physical body. The mechanism for suppression of emotions is rooted in the mind and is triggered the moment the mind recognizes that a forbidden emotion or desire starts to unfold. Usually, this process happens too fast for a person to realize subjectively what has just happened.
Most people are so used to keeping their feelings under control that they cannot believe they are experiencing reppression in the moment, even if it is brought to their attention. Constant repression leads to depletion of and stereotyping in emotional and behavioral responses.
Psychotherapists educate people in the ways of self-expression and sometimes achieve good results in the treatment of neuroses caused by the underlying repressed emotions and desires. Practicing self-expression is not enough, though, to overcome self-control. In order to stop repression, one has to surpass the control of mind, which becomes possible only upon reaching a certain level of awareness. Becoming aware of one’s inner prohibition sets one free from repressed reactions and allows for adequate responses.
Compensation is a tactic to help with feelings of frustration and the need for changes. Unlike repression, which is a direct denial of inner reality supported by efforts to prevent free expression of thoughts, emotions, desires, and reactions and force them into the unconscious, compensation is a more sophisticated, implicit, and often hard-to-recognize strategy for avoiding inner problems. In addition, compensation always happens simultaneously with repression to a varying degree, with both targeting the same object.
For example, an inferiority complex and fear-driven insecurity as the aftermath of traumatic events can be compensated for through an ego boost, mental rigidity, fake confidence, dominant behavior, feelings of a more subtle intellectual and spiritual superiority, or simply a feeling of being right. Some unfulfilled desires can be compensated for in somewhat the same way. Examples include getting a new sexual partner to help compensate for the loss of a previous one; the desire for self-realization in life can be compensated for by spiritual accomplishments; mental tension from pent-up emotions and unsatisfied desires can be counterbalanced by sports activities or alcohol use; increased anxiety (which offsets fear) is compensated for through nervous and useless pulling of oneself in all directions rather than resolved by taking proper actions; sadness can be “dispelled” by spending time in good company; and so on—examples are abundant. Aside from regarding themselves as spiritual, which by itself adds to compensation more than anything else, spiritual people tend to indulge in unordinary sensations and states, be it merely meditative tranquility or the emptiness of the mind put on pause. They develop attachments and cherish them for the sake of not letting sickeningly familiar unsettled internal and external problems trouble them, as if hoping that the latter will eventually go away by themselves.
The worst thing about compensation is that a well-compensated problem is effectively concealed from its owner, even more so if a selected compensatory approach has proven to be efficient over a long time and has become integrated into a “one of a kind” personality or lifestyle. For someone who is not engaged in a spiritual search, such a situation is a blessing, but for a seeker it is always a misfortune, because whether it is realized or not, any inner situation that stays unresolved turns into a barrier that holds back and sooner or later freezes one’s progress along the Path.
Therefore, the only way to get down to and tackle internal problems is through decompensation, which can be activated by stress or a life crisis or induced intentionally through interrupting one’s own compensatory reactions and actions (if one is capable of identifying them on their own, or if brought to their attention) and letting whatever was fully or partially hidden reach the surface.
Acceptance is an important prerequisite for advancing along the spiritual Path. Acceptance becomes possible only if there is no desire present. For example, people who want to become smarter and more handsome will not be able to accept themselves for who they are. It is the same with God: If you are looking for His “right” actions, such as higher justice or reward or revenge, then you will never be able to accept this world and will keep holding a grudge against the Creator.
Acceptance leads to relaxation and inner peace. It is acceptance that underlies the Divine love for His children to which the saints refer. Acceptance is what differentiates higher love from earthly love full of passion and desire. It is through acceptance that one becomes truly content.
By gradually letting go of one’s desires, a person develops deeper acceptance of the world and the self. As acceptance grows deeper, one becomes more perceptive and insightful about things previously veiled by illusions and longings. Through acceptance, a person enters into a deeper connection with the world, God, and self.
It is impossible to accept anything out of one’s own free will as long as the desire exists for things to be different, the way you want them to be. If you try to force yourself to accept a situation while ignoring the desire, you will end up repressing it. Acceptance is born the moment you cut loose of the desire along with the ideas that nurtured it. Acceptance is the symbol of liberation, as you cease longing for what you do not have in your life and can finally celebrate what you do have, taking it as given.
It is hard to find a more accurate short definition for openness than the opposite of being “closed off.” The topic of openness would not be as relevant as it is if not for the problem of psychological shielding common to everyone to varying degrees.
First and foremost, one type of shielding occurs at the level of mind and results in resistance against new ideas, opinions, and topics. Mind shielding can be “cured” by addressing one’s ego, conditioning, and fears, as well as by critical assessment of one’s own mind. Another type of shielding is energy shielding, which counterbalances or weakens the effects of outer influences regardless of them being “negative” or “positive,” including the higher energies. This can be coped with by addressing fears, traumas, and control of the mind. In further regard to control, shielding works the other way around as well: Consider emotional repression or being generally insincere, which, in order to be addressed, require the same day-after-day work on the issues of self-blame, self-image, behavioral patterns, and, of course, an inferiority complex.
One more aspect of openness is essential for understanding growth and maturation of the human essence. Once children start building their internal guards, development of their essence is put on hold, resulting in them growing into childlike adults: immature in their desires, mental responses, emotions, and sometimes even physical appearance. An inner mismatch created by this situation generates constant tension between the yearnings of essence and personality. I am not sure how the development of human essence and personality were perceived a hundred years ago, but today the balance between the two is missing in most people. Personality overtaking essence in grownups makes them act like children.
A person deploys their shields and opens up of their own accord, the only difference being that shielding oneself is an unconscious act, whereas opening up is quite a conscious decision. Of course, it is dangerous to be open. You can get hurt emotionally or sense the pain of another person, but on the flip side you can experience a sense of the Divine Presence and the infinity of Reality.
Attention is a function of consciousness. It is similar to light, without which the visible world would perpetually stay in the dark. The analogy is pretty spot on, because what a person sees, hears, or senses directly depends on the object of their attention. Attention is a vehicle for bringing the energy of attention to the outer world. By means of attention, consciousness is present in one’s inner processes.
Attention can wander spontaneously—for example, when drawn by noise or physical sensations. Also, a person is able to control attention while focusing on reading or addressing a challenging problem. In all such cases, attention is controlled by the mind, which operates to continually adjust where we focus our attention.
Usually, the energy of attention is directed onto external objects. If a person starts seeking awakening and spiritual transformation, they will have to work on controlling their attention and redirecting it. One has to split one’s attention, with one part left to illuminate whatever happens externally and the other part directed inward to be present with internal processes. Turning one’s attention inward to observe the mind’s reactions and the emotions and sensations arising within the physical body is called “being present” or “being aware.” By dividing one’s attention, identification of the self with external and internal processes is diminished and free attention and the level of awareness increase. By practicing being present, one gets down to the roots (or reaches the heights, if you will) of being, thus discovering and actualizing the full potential of one’s consciousness.
Awareness is often interpreted as clarity of mind, where the thought process occurs in a sequential and controllable way. An individual may think about a subject of choice without getting distracted by externalities, and here he or she gets caught with the impression that such control over the mind is genuine awareness. It is conventional to think that control by the mind over the flow of thoughts and associations is awareness. This is one of the most harmful delusions imaginable in spiritual practice. From that standpoint, clarity of mind and thought control are understood as awareness, whereas losing such control and being in a state of mental chaos are the opposite. Awareness of this sort never goes beyond the boundaries of the mind—the term awareness is used only to name certain states of mind.
True awareness has nothing to do with the mind. It is difficult to conceive of this, and it is only through expanding experiential awareness of the activity of the mind that the difference between thought processes and awareness becomes evident. Being continuously aware develops one’s awareness, where the process of being aware is a continuous presence of unidentified attention in human lower bodies. Identified attention nourishes emotions, the mind’s reactions, and other processes, whereas unidentified attention involves also observation. A gap is created between the subject of observation and our attention directed toward it, and through that we “withdraw” a portion of the energy of attention from whatever is happening, and by doing so we weaken our unconscious reactions and inferior energies and eventually get the chance to discover their roots and causes.
The level of awareness grows in response to daily efforts in attention splitting, which means directing one part of our attention outward, usually at whatever we are busy doing right now, and the other part inward, primarily at the sensations in the physical body. By doing so, we harness the whole span of the attention channel and gradually progress to the widening of the attention channel, which occurs in discrete steps. The volume of attention free from identification with one’s actions is the game changer—it is an actual indicator of one’s level of self-awareness.
Being aware is a process that varies in strength and intensity from moment to moment, whereas awareness is a status, or a state that characterizes one’s level of being. Once a certain level of awareness is reached, one cannot lose it. There is more than one level of awareness on the path of transformation, but all of them have a quality of consciousness: Awareness, no matter how minor, remains steady. You can advance to the next level of awareness but cannot fall below the one already attained.
Self-observation and breaking free from identification bring a person’s consciousness into the realm of manifested being, and the degree to which consciousness is present within one’s actions is exactly equal to the degree of self-awareness. As consciousness becomes more and more present in one’s inner self, the mind gradually loses its position as leader and becomes something to observe and study. Full awareness means full presence of consciousness in one’s actions as well as full presence of consciousness in the human being.
Consciousness is one of those terms surrounded by as much confusion as possible. Consciousness is often used as a synonym for the mind, and the phrase “consciousness expanding” describes altered states of mind, leading to a completely incorrect understanding of the subject matter. What happens in reality is that one experiences altered perception, which has nothing to do with consciousness per se. That’s how the term consciousness adopts meanings that covertly replace the very essence of consciousness, diminishing it to reactions of the mind and physical body.
Consciousness is constant, hence eternal. Consciousness is always passive and, unlike mind, is not involved in active inner processes. It is a different matter, though, that consciousness is crucial for the very existence of humans. To clarify further, let’s use the light as a simile again. The Sun radiates heat and light because of the processes happening at its core. It is due to this solar heat and light that life exists on Earth in all its diversity. Consciousness plays a similar role in human life, by making alive the “lower” bodies—namely, mind, emotions, and physical bodies. Just like sunlight nourishes all life forms, the energy of consciousness catalyzes processes within a human being. Consciousness remains passive, but the attention that radiates from it affects any process toward which it is directed at a given moment. Attention is a vehicle for the energy of consciousness both inward in a human being and to the outside world.
Consciousness is not something that can be developed; it cannot grow larger or expand. Awareness is what grows, provided a person performs the relevant practices; consciousness, however, remains invariant. Consciousness can be evinced, or discovered, if you will. It can reveal itself in the being of a human in all its glory and spirit.
Contemplation is a practice that uses the power of attention to learn the truth, from the true causes of certain life situations and problems to the higher-order truths pertinent to the reality of and interaction with God.
When practicing contemplation, you direct your attention toward a certain question or a problem with the intention to realize, for example, an underlying cause of your current state or a bigger picture of the situation and its possible developments. At the same time, another part of your attention is held within your sensations, primarily the sensations of your heart center. In contemplation, the heart center works like a tuning fork. The more your inner space is purified and the stronger the heart center becomes, the more keen and precise the tuning fork will be. —And of course, the more experience you have using your heart center in this role, the better. Sensations can be experienced in areas other than the heart center, so it is better to avoid focusing on it too much.
Your mind is another instrument used in contemplation—but passively. You are looking first and foremost at the situation, and your mind is holding your attention within the subject framework, retrieving a series of associated images or memories, and verbalizing the results of contemplation. Attention should not be absorbed by the mind, and the mind should not actively turn contemplation into speculation.
As self-awareness grows, contemplation becomes one of the main tools for self-mastery. It enables one to discover the roots of one’s desires, fears, and response patterns, and at the same time it is the means for getting to know the Truth and interacting with God, thus unfolding the Transcendence for you step by step.
Patience is a measure of a human’s capability to endure unpleasant and painful experiences. The better this capability, the more patience one has.
Patience is essential for mastering any type of skill. It straightforwardly affects the pace of a seeker’s advancement along the spiritual path. It may be said that the greater the seeker’s patience, the shorter their path. With infinite patience, one can reach enlightenment very quickly. Another matter is that patience of such caliber is developed precisely by going through ordeals befalling a seeker along the Path. In any case, if you lack patience, it is impossible to succeed in self-mastery, just as hardly anything can be achieved in life without patience.
Willpower directly correlates with patience in situations in which a person has to act regardless of their reluctance, physical discomforts, and such—for example, working in the cold or controlling your bladder until you get to a bathroom. The situation in which one sticks with a practice despite experiencing repressed emotions and feelings arising from within is similar.
Human will always work around desires and becomes idle without them. As such, the ability to put in significant effort in order to reach a desired goal is what is usually meant by willpower. There is another aspect to this: People are believed to have a strong will if they can successfully restrain their urges—for example, in sticking with Lenten fasting, staying loyal in a relationship, or quitting tobacco cold turkey.
This sort of willpower is connected to desires, too, just not as obviously. One person wants to gain God’s favor, hence he keeps the commandments and fulfills designated rituals. Another one wants to prevent lung cancer, therefore she quits smoking. Whichever desire wins out over the other—be it the urge for affairs or the inclination to abide righteously to fidelity—the respective will is reflected accordingly in that person’s actions. In other words, an individual’s will to act is strictly limited to a set of personal desires that is restricted by conditioning. So, we must bear no illusions that there are any options to choose from other than those described above.
At the later stages of the Path, an individual gets a chance to surrender their will to the Creator and turn into an agent of the Higher Will. There are practices that help one to perceive and transmit the Will even prior to Surrender. Upon Surrender, seekers subordinate their still-present desires to those of God, which are essentially the Will of God. The practice of following the Will is supreme and the most efficient among all practices.
There are all kinds of practices. There are exercises to enhance memory and intellectual skills. There are psychological techniques for improving attention and focus and controlling them in the most efficient way. There are practices that induce altered states of mind—for example, holotropic breathwork—as well as numerous techniques aimed at developing self-knowledge. Alas, all these techniques have nothing to do with spiritual practices.
Whether a practice is spiritual or not is defined by one’s goal—that is, the reason one bothers to perform it. The goal to establish a connection with God, to experience the Divine Presence here and now, is a truly spiritual goal. Everything else is useless other than for ego boost and entertainment. If learning one’s own nature is the only goal and the person starts making efforts to achieve it, the person can get stuck in this “self” because the goal is shallow and, in fact, egocentric.
Spiritual practices employ the energy of attention to help an individual develop self-awareness. There are quite a few practices of various kinds for improving perception or establishing a connection with God—for example, prayer and dhikr. These practices have one goal: to bring a person to a state of being in which he or she will be able to constantly experience the Presence of God and learn His reality.
Once the state described above is achieved, a person gets an opportunity to engage in true mystical practices that cannot be executed outside the established connection with the Divine. The goal of mystical practices is of a higher order—namely, to experience the Truth, or the state that the Sufi call Baqaa, which means “complete unity with God.” Whereas in spiritual practices seekers spend only their own energy, in mystical practices support of the higher-order energies is required, so prayer and dhikr become their essential elements. In contrast, fake mystical practices use magical rituals as a substitute for prayer and dhikr.
Certain spiritual movements do not use mystical practices, and that slows down the advancement of their aspirants. In other movements, mystical practices are introduced while prerequisite spiritual work is skipped, which often causes more harm than good. Spiritual practice is a fundamental stage that, if missed, makes a true mystical practice hardly feasible or even dangerous to perform. Another type of movement asserts no need for spiritual practices whatsoever. This approach is very appealing to those who are reluctant to do anything at all.
Neither reading books, nor pondering the nature of consciousness and the elusiveness of the world, can make the energy of attention flow inward rather than outward. These are the laws of this world, and based on them, mystics create their practices to achieve their goals.
The Mercy of God can be approached as a subject from two different levels of meaning. In one meaning, Mercy is the impulse of energy converging upon an individual from the non-manifested Absolute to induce transformation to a varying degree. It is impossible to draw closer to God on one’s own simply because a human and God exist on different planes of Reality, immeasurably distant from each other. Mercy is a means to cross this gap. It is something that takes a person beyond his or her personal limits and reveals the Infinite.
At the stage of the inspired nafs, a seeker can sporadically receive impulses of Mercy that induce transcendental experiences as they enter their not-yet-clear inner space. As the nafs matures and one persists in working on one’s self, the person becomes more ready for a true transformative effect of Mercy rather than its side effects. Impulses of Mercy are experienced multiple times along the Path, and each changes a person. Certain features in a person change the moment they are exposed to the flow of Mercy, and other changes occur later. The process is multidimensional and develops over time.
Aside from “Mercy for the chosen,” there is “Mercy for all.” It has its source in the Divine Presence and is received by all people. From Mercy for all, each and every one of us eventually gets the life we’ve always truly wanted for ourselves and the things to which our essence has been appealing. Those who have been urging activity in life eventually acquire it; others who have been cultivating an idle life find sooner or later that their secret dream has come true. We all possess exactly what we long for deep inside of us, and it is the hustling mind and certain disapproving ideas about a particular lifestyle that won’t let us see this clearly. Mercy for all equally affects seekers, and it supports their progress along the Path, given that progress becomes their innermost desire. Later on, they receive the Mercy that turns them into mystics. Yet even after that happens, Mercy for all continues to define their lifestyle and the way of service.
Many mystics say that the main quality of God revealed to them on their path toward Him is Love. Earthly love is a sexual longing and attraction toward someone you love. This is a feeling filled with passion and sexual desire. Love elevates, prompts to self-sacrifice, and brings inspiration to life. The same love can take you down—for example, when a person’s mind gets hijacked by jealousy and he kills his loved one.
It is obvious why Sufi mystics always speak of love. It is the way to provide one with the key on the Path. After all, if you are unable to think of anything but God and develop constant longing as a result of being separated from Him, then the progress in your work will be as fast as possible. However, Love as a quality of God and human lust cannot coexist with each other.
Love as a feeling always has a desire as part of it; however, knowing God occurs only when desires recede. Desires are obstacles, including the one to get to know God or experience Truth—they are like manacles restraining those who seek Transcendence. It should be clearly understood that love as a feeling and Love as an attribute of God are two very different things.
It is also necessary to understand how limited and approximate language is when it comes to conveying the higher experiences. Odds are that the word love was originally a symbol of the highest experience possible for a human in common life. In the later stages of the Path, love reveals itself to a mystic as autogenous energy produced by the seeker’s etheric body under certain conditions, as energy not directed at anything or anyone in particular, as all-embracing genuine love without an object.
Today, enlightenment is what is most often sought on the spiritual Path. The term is conventional and was borrowed from Buddhism and Hinduism. Still, enlightenment is currently the most popular spiritual brand, and it has accumulated quite a few tall tales around it, quite predictably in pop culture. Enlightenment is most often identified with eternal happiness experienced hand in hand with infinite Divine Love, but this cannot be called anything other than rubbish.
Obviously, most people start their spiritual search from and because of the permanent state of suffering in which they live. They seek an escape from suffering through attaining happiness, which is a legitimate goal. However, if their priorities do not change along the Path, they will remain tethered to and limited by the practices that induce altered states of mind in them—it doesn’t matter the practice, be it dynamic meditation or holotropic breathwork or something else. Those fleeing from suffering always discover a relatively effective painkiller but never reach enlightenment because they fear the pain preceding it. Therefore, those who chase enlightenment as a way to get away from suffering never find it. The same happens with seekers of happiness because enlightenment has nothing human about it.
Those who started their search while suffering but realized later that liberation from suffering is a limited and shallow goal move on to a higher goal, which can be expressed as a goal to learn God or experience Truth. Gradually those seekers come to realize that the highest goal requires the highest sacrifice, and in order to transcend one has to sacrifice ordinary life. This way, a seeker becomes ready to let go of their attachments and desires. If you are not ready to lose everything, you won’t be able to experience Truth. Enlightenment is impossible without the willingness to gradually wean oneself from delusions and all the darkness that conditioning brings about.
All beliefs formed by a seeker around enlightenment while searching and prepping for it have very little to do with reality. All theories around enlightenment fail to convey the essence of the process. Enlightenment or transfiguration draws a person beyond human nature—therefore, it is impossible to understand it without respective experience. All enthusiasts lacking such experience are left with nothing but daydreams about the subject, usually indulging in them, thinking they know for sure the way an enlightened person should behave, what food to eat and how, and so on. This activity is the bread and butter for individuals who mimic enlightenment. It is propagated in the 21st century much more than needed.
Enlightenment does exist—that is a fact. Still, another fact is that it is impossible to properly describe the state of enlightenment. All one can do is point out what is not enlightenment. For example, the Path does not end with enlightenment, and intense happiness is hardly the most desirable sensation in the enlightenment state but is rather low-grade in terms of energies. Such information is of little help because, although it destroys a previous set of beliefs, it creates a new set instead.
You must walk the Path to the end to make it, doing whatever it takes. Then you will experience enlightenment of your own, which is impossible to describe but quite possible to live in.
Ascending Flow is the flow of creation, the energy coming in from the Creator. Due to the pressure of the Descending Flow, an individual’s Consciousness bonds to the physical and other bodies. The power of Descending Flow is pressurizing, active, calling to procreate, support life, be active, expand into new territories. Due to this power, all people are put into a sleep state and the darkness of the unconscious. Descending Flow is the source of a life force for humans; impulses of Descending Flow take residence internally through the heart center while we sleep, and there the mind shapes them into desires. In turn, desires lie at the very core of inner life, including emotions, responses, and self-expression of all types.
However, energy cannot flow only in one direction—away from God—as this leads to lack of stability in Creation: Creation will proceed, and sooner or later it will be disrupted and unsustainable. For that reason, Ascending Flow exists as a counterbalance, as an attraction field, and it brings the energy back to the Source of being. Ascending Flow is a movement toward disincarnation, and at the moment of one’s death one’s individual consciousness separates from one’s other bodies, being drawn by Ascending Flow. For seekers, Ascending Flow becomes a source of aspiration, the power of which gradually frees them from the dominance of Descending Flow.
Descending and Ascending Flows modulate the life processes, and thus they affect living beings, all of whom live under the control of both Flows, although the effect of Descending Flow is usually dominant. The balance between the Flows is maintained by the laws that govern the way the world exists.