By Sharon Marcus from her book, The Sufi Experience
As babies we were fed milk, the only food we could tolerate, the only food we needed to nourish our bodies and make us grow. As we developed during the first critical months of life a few simple foods were added, things we did not need to chew, things which did not require the complexity of a fully mature digestive system. Later we acquired taste and preference, accepting some things while rejecting others, then much later we made choices based on circumstance and availability, sometimes learning to cook for ourself and sometimes not. This progression of food and our capacity to assimilate it is matched by a progression in prayer; usually we start with the basics, the recitation of a few simple prayers out loud, all we need and all we can understand. Later we are taught to read and write, sometimes even in a foreign language, words and concepts of increasing depth and mystery. With the light of wisdom shining in clarity we begin an ascent to the silence of the One, a meal we have to cook for ourself and eat in solitude.
Prayer is purity, the qualities, thoughts and actions that culminate in union, the return of the soul to its beginning. Our whole life is a dedication to this, our intention is to be one with God, our thoughts are of God, everything we do is a prayer to Him manifesting in acts that are His. We set out with the longing for God He has already awakened in the heart, the inner heart, a place of light we are to investigate, just as we are to investigate all the dark places of the world and the mind also concealed in the heart. Everything is here, everything we postulate and see, hear or touch out there exists here, within, a formless form. Our prayer then, begins with a deliberate transformation, the ability to differentiate between right and wrong, good and evil, the transcendent inclination for good and simultaneously, the active elimination of bad. If we want to know God we have to nourish that place of light which is not separate from God, not other than God, meanwhile canceling everything which belongs to the world of darkness.
This is the work we have to do in the brief span we have in the world, to be in it but not of it, to learn from the things placed on our path but not be consumed by them or try to take them along with us. We observe, we learn and we let it go. Letting go of the things of the world, the things valued by the world is not easy: we are surrounded by advertisements urging us to buy into the world, surrounded by propaganda belonging to the lower levels of consciousness, by ties to family, the pull of blood, of nation, language and religion. Learning to see things as they are, not as they are promised, advertised or thought to be is part of learning who we are, part of the understanding locked in our connections to the world which constitute the obstacles, the succession of diversions that keep us from the truth. The intervention of a guide who is both compassionate and a teacher of wisdom is essential now, such a wise being has the capacity to change our inner landscape and our response to it, changes we will find retrospectively mysterious yet immediately acceptable.
The teachers who are truly great, who illuminate all the dark places, do not offer instruction in the usual way, like a course of study progressing from grade to grade, from class to class, the truly great teachers are masters of total immersion, plunging us into the deep end before we learn how to swim, supporting and holding us up as we pick up the slack, learn how to stay afloat and use the first easy strokes. Teachers endowed with the license to dispense knowledge of the divine show us how to deepen our faith and open the wings of wisdom, both necessary for the voyage as we sail these seas of light and dark. (There is a profound mystery in this adherence to the master, the teacher—weren’t we always his disciple, weren’t we together in the world of souls, didn’t he choose us in that realm of the divine kingdom, won’t we always be together, here and beyond?) These teachers who teach in a way which lights up whole worlds, before and after, can put a hand on our heart, squeeze it, and then we know what we have not known before. They also impart knowledge in more ordinary ways with stories, examples and explanations based on their sometimes astounding experience and the wisdom illuminating each particle of information.
This transformative phase of our voyage to the depths of prayer is a time of amazement; everything seems miraculous, paradisal, as we move between the ordinary and the extraordinary with ease, as we begin to penetrate the secrets of the heart, the sanctuaries where God and His truth preside. We acquire the understanding concealed in the experiential nature of wisdom; we look at the open vaults of hidden treasure and hidden garbage, examining the mystical letters constituting the inner book of our life.
About the Author:
Toronto based poet and novelist Sharon Marcus has written nine books of poetry, four novels, a collection of short stories, three works of non-fiction and a scattering of miscellaneous pieces, book reviews and the like. For the most part, the poetry is lyrical, ecstatic, searching for revelation, always with a passionate obligation to guard the gates of language, to protect rhythm and preserve substance; each of the four novels investigates a different form, all very lyrical, all incorporating extensive use of verse one way or another, the fourth novel in alternating sections of verse and prose; the non-fictional works, whether political or personal, describe events too odd for fiction.