HJ: What can the always wise and profound philosophy of Sufism teach us about handling life’s ups and downs? Spiritual teacher and author Stewart Bitkoff reminds us that it’s not about resistance — it’s about flow and understanding there is great wisdom in every moment, however pleasurable or challenging it may be…
Tears Along The Way
By Dr. Stewart Bitkoff | Stewart Bitkoff
O my God, what irony it is
That we are at the bottom of hell,
And yet are afraid of immortality.
Recently I had a conversation with a colleague about why there isn’t much offered in the spiritual literature, by advanced spiritual travelers, concerning their trials, physical aches and pains of being human, and general ‘bitch session’ with friends/students about life.
In Rumi’s quote we have a rare presentation by a spiritual master discussing life’s trials. In this short piece Rumi is calling everyday life ‘the bottom of hell’ and noting the ironical nature of human frailty: living in a real mess, yet, fearful of taking the next step; to a more joyful higher plane away from this earthly suffering.
Remember, Sufis are experts at using words and masters of verbal precision. My own teacher never discussed any of his personal problems, doubts or fears or anything that was not targeted at helping the student advance. In Rumi’s poem, we have a teaching instrument—not a general observation or complaint about life.
My own teacher, described life as a series of ups and downs, yet, far below the surface there was a deep, ancient stillness, calling each traveler forward. Daily this was the water we were to swim in- when assailed with life’s trials and difficulties- baptizing self in the Holy Name/Light.
On at least 2 occasions, we had the opportunity to observe our teacher in moments of high stress and presumably inner turmoil. Yet to his students, he showed little outward emotional reaction, turning events over to God/Light.
During one incident, he took a phone call in another office away from his desk, where we were waiting to continue the teaching session; this phone call was about his wife and 2 sons who were involved in an automobile accident in their home country, and it would be hours before he received more detailed information. Hesitantly one of us offered our desire for a positive outcome and observed he must be terribly worried about his wife and sons? He replied, “yes I am, but we are always in God’s Hands and must accept what ever happens." Then he offered a silent prayer and continued with the teaching session; focusing on what each student needed.
Later, when we left the office, we remarked how gracefully he had handled the situation and maintained his balance; continuing with the lesson, trying not to make any of us feel burdened or uncomfortable. The next day, we learned that everyone had survived with minimal injury. Thank God.
Lack of Written Description
In the spiritual literature, this lack of writing emphasizing life’s difficulties, emotional unrest, fear and physical pain, is due to several factors. Here are six of the principle reasons.
Right Effort. These emotional states need to be minimized so the higher consciousness can come forward. It isn’t that these emotions do not exist, but as little time as possible must be spent on them. They are not the goal and often block the higher awareness. Our teacher cautioned, “If we were going to be happy, to be happy with God. Similarly if we were going to be sad, be sad with God/Light."
Negatively Affect the Student. If the teacher were to describe/show his own inner fears and doubts; this might negatively influence the student’s progress.
Submission to the Goal. The outcome of spiritual learning is to submit to all that life offers and become a vehicle for God Consciousness and the will of the Absolute. Acceptance is different than airing out, discussing and working on honoring/getting past emotions. We are to learn from life, bowing to the wind and rain.
O Lord, I surrender myself to You.
As the willow bends to the wind
And the leaf curls to the rain,
O Lord, I surrender myself to You.
God Men/Women. Perhaps there are God Men/Women out there some place who have transcended their own pain, suffering and troubling reactions to life’s stressful events. However these beings are more Godlike than human and for good reasons remain hidden from most of us. We would drive them crazy with all our questions and requests.
World of Opposites. Useful teaching focuses on the goal and how to minimize time in the negative zone. Life is a full-contact sport; lots of bruises, dirty and grimy. Similarly it is beautiful, poetic and glorious. Opposites exist so they may be experienced and at certain times transcended. Higher consciousness is not a fixed state of awareness; it comes and goes depending upon the needs of the situation.
Turn Toward God. Pain and suffering help to teach humility and turn our hearts upward for help from our Friend.
Show me someone whose life has been easy
And I will show you ½ a person.
Recently, in some of my writings, I have begun to discuss the role of pain and emotion in the spiritual journey. This is one such piece.
Finally if God/Absolute didn’t want us to both laugh and cry- God wouldn’t have created chemically different tears for each condition; and wouldn’t be waiting, mercifully, with open arms to love and Guide us Home.
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