Lose Yourself. The closer we come to God, the less we are identified with our egos. The converse is also true; the less we are identified with our egos and our sense of separate, personal identity, the closer we come to God. Only when we lose our sense of separateness can we experience the state of unity with the Beloved.
The great Sufi master Ansari writes,
Know that when you learn to lose yourself, you will reach the Beloved.
There is no other secret to be learnt, and more than that is not known to me.
In our inner journey, we travel from the ego toward the Self. The act of turning away from the ego is also turning to God. One classic Sufi practice to reduce our identification with the ego by avoiding words like “I” and “mine.” We talk and act as if we own everything in our lives. We say, “my children,” “my house,” “my job,” “my spouse.” The saints remember that they have nothing, that all things are God’s.
Practice. Sit down with a friend for thirty minutes and try talking about your life without using words like “I,” “me,” or “mine.” This is a difficult exercise, because we find it difficult to express ourselves without our favorite pronouns. Traditionally, Sufis would say, for example, “This fakir is hungry” instead of “I am hungry.” As you talk about your life, notice how it feels to speak in a way that is less identified with ego.
Talk about your life from a different perspective, from the perspective of unity instead of separateness. Instead of thinking of yourself as a separate individual, operating only from your own inner drives and desires, think of yourself as an integral part of the universe, always in connection with the larger whole. How does this change your “life story”?
Love and Acceptance. One day the Sufi saint Rabia was asked, “Do you love God?” She answered, “Yes.” “Do you hate the Devil?” She replied, “No, my love of God leaves me no time to hate the Devil.” Hafiz illustrates this attitude of unconditional acceptance and love:
I rarely let the word “No” escape
From my mouth
Because it is so plain to my soul
That God has shouted, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
To every luminous movement in Existence.[i]
Practice. Once again sit down with a friend for half an hour and talk about your life, especially some of your most interesting and challenging experiences. Discuss your disappointments and frustrations from a perspective filled with love of God and loving acceptance of whatever God has sent you. From this perspective there is only room for love, gratitude, and acceptance.
How does this account of your life differ from your usual life story? What can you do to keep this perspective?
Unconditional Love. Your soul is in a state of constant union with God. It has always been that way and will always remain in that state. Your soul is deeply in love with the Beloved. It is content with whatever happens in life, just as two lovers are so delighted to be with each other that outer circumstances really don’t matter.
We taste real love when we “fall” in love, but romantic love rarely lasts very long. All too often what passes for love is more like a business arrangement—“I will continue to love you as long as you love me,” or “I will love you as long as you meet my needs.”
Carl Rogers insisted that the central element in all counseling and therapy is the counselor’s “unconditional positive regard” for the client. Rogers writes this is “caring which is not possessive, which demands no personal gratification. It is an atmosphere which simply demonstrates, ‘I care,’ not ‘I care for you if you behave thus and so.’”[ii]
Unconditional acceptance of the client means unconditional of their divine inner nature, not either positive or negative judgment about their behavior. This attitude provides a supportive atmosphere that allows for self-awareness and self-transformation. It is particularly powerful because most people have so rarely experienced unconditional love or acceptance.
I have experienced this attitude most powerfully from my Sufi guides. They loved and accepted me unconditionally, and they also saw me more clearly and deeply than anyone else. The growth and development of my spiritual life has been founded their unconditionally loving acceptance of me for who I was. The only more powerful element in my spiritual life has been God’s love and grace.
Practice. Make a list of those you love. Make a commitment to try and love each of them unconditionally. Think of your relationship with each loved one as a gift from God, a God-given chance to practice loving and opening your heart. The more we love, the closer we come to our soul, and to God. Ask yourself what can you do to enhance this attitude of unconditional love?