Friday, October 12, 2012


The modern Sufi writer, Idries Sha, notes that most modern spiritual programs determine the success and enlightenment of the spiritual student by her/his mystical experiences and feelings of bliss. To put it mildly, this is dispiriting to those who have no such experiences, or to those who have such experiences and can’t seem to find them again. Shah says this about that, “...according to Sufi ideas and practice, it is precisely those who do not feel subjective states, or who have at one time been affected by them and no longer feel them, who may be real candidates for the next stage [of spiritual development].”

In other words “spirituality” is not necessarily measured by “feelings of numinous connection”. This is a profound Sufi teaching, suggesting that advanced Truth and “spirituality” are most often experienced in the times of disconnection and feelings of ordinary daily life, or times of feeling distant from the divine Presence. Junaid of Bhagdad, a Sufi teacher who lived in 900 A.D writes: “Truth comes after ‘states’ and ecstasy, and takes its place”. Some mystics call this the “Presence of Absence,” suggesting that Absence is a living Experience that takes us more deeply into soul-making than any ecstatic sensation of bliss. The Hebrew psalmist wrote:

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me

and the light become night around me,”

even the darkness will not be dark to you;

the night will shine like the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

~ Psalm 139:11-13

This Psalm recognizes that the divine knitting or weaving together of one’s soul takes place in the light and the dark, in moments of numinous light and moments of murky absence. Divine activity takes place even in the darkness of the womb--every mundane moment forms a divine womb where we are being fashioned into the image of God.

Remember this next time you wish you had more mystical experiences or numinous feelings of divine Presence. Remember this when a guru or teacher tells you that ultimate spirituality is a feeling of divine bliss. Like romantic love, feelings come and go, but the Presence of the Divine and opportunities for Truth-knowing are in every moment of the day. Make yourself a little sign like the one Carl Jung had carved in Latin above the door of his house in Kusnacht, Switzerland: "VOCATUS ATQUE NON VOCATUS DEUS ADERIT," which says in English: "Called or not called, the deity will be there." Jung said he placed it there for his clients to see each time they came for therapy—reminding them that the divine usually does not show up in the way one expects.

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