Do you have trouble balancing the outward world of work, relationships, and life with your inner world of thoughts and feelings? Does the former constantly outpace the latter, sweeping your sense of self away in a barrage of responsibilities and busyness? Are you desperately unhappy, but can never quite figure out why?
It may be time to tread the Sufi path to mindfulness.
Sufism is the mystical Islamic practice of seeking to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through a personal experience with God. 14th-century Arab historian, Ibn Khaldun, described Sufism as “…dedication to worship, total dedication to Allah most High, disregard for the finery and ornament of the world, abstinence from the pleasure, wealth, and prestige sought by most men, and retiring from others to worship alone.”
The Sufi movement developed out of early Islamic self-discipline that served to balance out the increasing materialism of the growing Muslim community. Kabir Helminski, in his book, “Living Presence: The Sufi Path to Mindfulness and the Essential Self,” shows readers how to use elements of Sufism as a “spiritual training system” that can help us navigate our similarly chaotic and materialistic contemporary world.
If you’re interested in taking this journey in examining the elements of Sufism that can help you both know and transform yourself in a positive way, let’s take a look at a few lessons from Helminski’s book.
Defragment Your Worldview
Our postmodern age struggles with meaninglessness. Because we’ve cast aside the grand narratives that describe reality in favor of our own individual stories, our reality—and thus, our worldviews—are often fragmented.
“The world,” as Helminski writes,” is seen as a panorama of things that have somehow assembled themselves through an entirely random process.” The idea that reality is united into a spiritual whole is no longer widely accepted, and even those who do believe in an underlying spiritual order often see it “as a concept, not as an experience,” as Helminski says.
Because our ideas shape our worldview, which, in turn, defines how we see reality and react to it, a fragmented worldview means a fragmented life.
So what does this mean for you? It means that you’ll miss out on the beauty of what reality is really like. It also means that you’ll lack the intrinsic hope that comes from believing that there is a purpose to life.
When you realize that there is order to the universe, you realize that you have a purpose. You realize that you, above all, have value. You become complete.
Whatever your beliefs are, focus on the unity of the world around you. We’re all a part of the same, big story, and we all have a part to play. Life is not meaningless, and you are not insignificant.
Realizing your own value in a purposeful world is one of the most important steps you can take if you want to regain your happiness and sense of self. Try to get past the surface and get in contact with the deeper reality of the world in order to defragment your worldview.
Balance Your Outer and Inner Worlds
“The personality is our superficial identity,” writes Helminski,”our learned behavior and attitudes; it is tied to the conditions of outer life, to approval and disapproval, like and dislike, praise and blame…the personality, which is absorbed in the external world and forgetful of the possibility of an inner life, is governed by the external world.”
This disconnect between your inner and outer worlds, as described by Helminski, is a major source of unhappiness and self-neglect.
As a remedy, he recommends exchanging your multitude of daily care for one overarching one: the care for simply being present.
This simply means that you free your inner thoughts and emotions from your external circumstances. When you gain independence from comparison, craving for material possessions, and wishful thinking, you will be liberated from your own compulsions.
Imagine a life where you aren’t worried about having as big a house as your neighbor, or where you can simply let go of the negative events you cannot control. This life is, according to Helmiski, at your fingertips.
Balance your inner and outer worlds, and you’ll be able to become your most authentic self.
“How difficult it can be to simply pay attention,” writes Helmiski. “The moment we notice something, our attention is captured; there is no effort. Effort enters when we try to sustain attention.”
We are that which we pay attention to, and so it’s vital that we don’t’ simply drift through life allowing our attention to roam and wander. We must take control and direct it.
To do this, you’ll have to ask yourself a few questions you’ve probably never asked before. What attracts your attention? Why does it draw you? What distracts you from that which you’d rather focus on?
If you can answer some of these questions, you’ll go a long way toward “waking up.” Most people “sleepwalk,” so to speak, living without ever analyzing why they do the things they do. They just do these things because this is where their lives have taken them.
If you’re reading this, it’s time to wake up. Examine yourself, and determine why your attention is fixed on certain things. You’ll be able to notice when and how things catch your attention, and you’ll be able to free it at will.
Don’t allow yourself to be controlled by circumstances—or worse, by industries, such as advertising, which rely on you remaining asleep to their manipulation. Pay attention to where your attention goes, and you’ll be freed to live the life you truly want.
Finding Your True Self
The elements of Sufism can help you discover a deeper identity—not only this, but it can help you live it, as well. You’ll be empowered to reclaim your identity in a world that is determined to take it away.
If you want to continue your journey to self-awareness, check out “Living Presence.” Within its pages, you’ll find yourself.