O son, know that the heart of the matter is the heart.
'The Knowing Heart - A Sufi Path of Transformation' is a book by Kabir Helminski on the prime role of the heart as a mirror that enables true reflections of the divine world. Helminksi together with his wife directs the Treshold Society promoting the undertsanding of Sufism. He has authored several books on the subject with special emphasis on Jalaluddin Rumi's teachings on Sufism.
The author begins the early chapters of his book quoting Abu Hamid al-Ghazali saying: 'Human perfection resides in this, that the love of God should conquer the human heart and possess it wholly, and even if it does not possess it wholly, it should predominate in the heart over the love of all things.' As one is quick to realize when studying Sufism, there are countless ways to approach it and explore its depths. According to Helminski, 'to be a Sufi is to be a lover, but not just any kind of lover.'
So what or who do we love, and how? While this may seem petty to some people, the subject of love is a serious issue to be understood as far as Sufism is concerned. One is expected to know the dynamics of the relationship between creations as lover and the Creator as Beloved and possibly the reverse too. Perhaps at a more subtle level, the relationship may appear to diffuse in the background. Helminski quoted Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273 CE) as saying, "There is no greater love than love with no object." This certainly points to the aspect of unconditional love. That is to love even when there is no being, nor any selfish motive in loving someone or something. How do we then become so selfless in love? It might not be that easy because in the post-modern situation, a big majority of souls are restless in the kingdom of the I. Anyone will testify that it is extremely difficult to see beyond one's I-ness. The world is constantly putting pressure on man to satisfy his ego through material possessions and everything that is detrimental to the soul.
Abu Said in his book 'Asrar al-Tawhid' was quoted as saying:
Seven hundred masters have spoken of the Path, and the last said the same thing as the first. Their words were different perhaps, but their intention was one. Sufism is the abandonment of affectation. And of all affectations none is weightier than your 'you-nes'."
Before one even start to contemplate what is wrong with one's I-ness and consider the possibility of removing it, it is crucial to understand one's relationship with the bigger picture. As often is discussed in Sufi circles, it is the reality of one's being as a drop in the ocean and also as the drop that contains the ocean. Sufism has all the necessary ideologies, principles and methods to train a person to be rid of the I-ness and yet become a complete human being. However, mere understanding of the qualities of a spiritually complete human is not sufficient without getting proper guidance from an authentic guru. The task is really beyond philosophy or theology. It requires practice and devotion.
Indeed, to leave one's I-ness is to become a wholesome man. In explaining his hypothesis, Helminski devotes a chapter called 'The Map and the Psychology', detailing the structure of the self within Sufi psychology. A seeker will need to learn the three elements that make up the structure of human individuality from the Sufi perspective: ego or nafs; heart or qalb; and Spirit or ruh. Together these form the person. In essence, when one talks about traversing the Sufi path, what it actually means is to transform the ego, purify the heart and activate the Spirit.
The heart's true function is a mirror reflecting the Divine. It therefore needs polishing. It cannot reflect unless it is thoroughly purified from the rusts in the form of lustful desires and countless unworthy thoughts. Strictly speaking, there is no place for anything other than Allah in the heart. Thus, a salik's most critical exercise is to occupy the heart with remembrance of Allah (zikrullah) by silently or loudly chanting His Name.
Unfortunately, it is not as easy as it seems because the ego always want to take control of the heart, resulting in a constant struggle, forcing it to be preoccupied with unwarranted noises. Helminski quotes Ibn al-Arabi from his book on 'Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom':
"The conflict between reason and the evil-commanding self is caused by their very nature, which includes each of them trying to dominate the whole of human being and to be the ruler of it. Even when one of them is able to conquer the whole realm, the other still strives to regain what it has lost and to repair what has been destroyed."
- E Ismail, University of Stirling, 2006