Separation and Union
I want union with Him and He wants separation;
Thus I leave what I want so that His wish can come true.
The Heart's Awakening
The spiritual path begins when the heart is awakened to His eternal presence. The Beloved looks into the heart of His lover and in that instant the lover knows the secret of divine union, that the lover and Beloved are one. The glance of the Beloved carries the consciousness of His eternal presence.
The Sufis call this glance the moment of tawba, the turning of the heart. The inner awareness of His presence turns the heart away from the world and back to God. He calls us back to Him with a momentary glimpse of His face. This glimpse is love's most potent poison that begins our dying to the world, our journey back to God, for "How can I look at the world around me, how can I see it, if it hides the face of my Lover?" (Tweedie 1987, p. 87)
The inner awareness of union awakens us to the pain of separation. When the heart knows that in its innermost essence it is united with God, we arc confronted with our own isolation, with the knowledge that we are separate from God. It is only because we have been given a glimpse of union, had a sip of this divine wine, that we are made conscious of separation. Without the knowledge of union, how could we know that we are separate? Without having experienced the bliss of His presence, how could we know the agony of our own isolation? The pain of longing is born from the glance of God.
From the beginning of the path, the opposing states of separation and union are engraved into the heart and psyche of the spiritual wayfarer. The consciousness of union becomes the pain of separation that reminds us of our real Home. The heart's remembrance of its Beloved is kept awake by the fire of longing. We long for Him whom we love, and the greater the love, the greater the pain of longing. Love and sadness become the substance of our inner existence. In the words of 'Attar,
The pain of love became the
The Polarities of Love
Union and separation, love and longing, sweetness and despair, the polarities of the mystical path leave us bewildered and confused. Why are we left here behind the veils of separation when we know that separation is an illusion? Why are we caught in the prison of duality when our heart knows the deeper truth that 'everything is one'? The more we meditate and pray, the more we remember Him Whom our heart loves, the more alienated we feel in a world that appears to have forgotten Him. Somewhere we know what it is like to be loved beyond measure, and here we are left in a world where love is too often equated with demands and co-dependency. The eternal question of "Why are we here?" has an added poignancy when we have felt the infinite nearness of our real Home.
He Whom we love has abandoned us and only the pain of separation reminds us that somewhere He is 'closer to us than our very neck vein.' We carry the pain of remembrance in honor of our love, yet only too often we feel betrayed. How can such a Beloved desert us? How can such a Beauty veil Her face? Doubts bombard us as the mind tries to convince us of the stupidity of our quest: to look for what you cannot find... to long for an invisible Beloved who has only brought you pain... In many ways consciousness crucifies us on our search. The subtleties of torture with which the mind can torment are known to most travellers on the path of love.
Underlying these difficulties is the fact that while the nature of love is to draw us to union, the nature of the ego is separation. Love comes from the heart, the innermost core of our being which is our connection to the Absolute. Love is "the essence of the divine essence" (Massignon 1982, III, p. 104), and so dynamically pulls us towards oneness. But the ego is born out of separation. The ego's existence is defined by being different: "I am different from you." The path towards union with God takes us away from the ego with its sense of separate existence and individual identity. This is why the Sufi says that the first step towards God is the step away from oneself. Love calls us to come away from ourselves and enter the state of oneness where only the Beloved exists.
The ego and the mind belong to a dimension of separation and duality. The ego exists through its sense of individuality and separation; the mind only functions through duality: through comparison and differentiation. The power of love lifts the veils of duality, threatening the ego and confusing the mind. The ancient path of the mystics takes us back to the source where distinctions and differences dissolve just as "sugar dissolves in water." On this journey the ego and mind rebel as their identity and function are attacked. Love draws us into the gladiatorial arena in which we fight our own liberation and resist the pull towards oneness. But those whose hearts are committed know, like the gladiators of old, that death awaits them. They know that "When Truth has taken hold of a heart, she empties it of all but herself (Massignon 1982, I, p. 285).
We hide from the love which alone can heal us. We run from the Truth which torments us. But like the encroaching tide, the tremendous power of love gradually smooths away the ego's paltry marks in the sand. Slowly we come to recognize the infinite ocean as our real Home, an ocean where, in the words of Rumi, "swimming ends always in drowning" (Liebert 1981, p. 30).
The Axis of Love
Paradoxically, we need the experience of separation to draw us to union. The state of union is the natural state of the soul. The experience of union is the "wine that made us drunk before the creation of the vine." But this secret, hidden within the heart, requires the pain of separation to bring it into consciousness. The pain of love is the effect of the magnetic attraction between the soul and its source. When we feel the heart's pull, we feel the desire of the Beloved to become conscious within the heart of the lover:
Not only the thirsty seek the water,
Separation and union are woven together to form the very fabric of the journey. While the heart knows the secret of union, the ego is stranded in separation. The inner world haunts us with this promise of oneness and the outer world tempts us with so many reflections. These are the twin poles of our existence, what is hidden and what is manifest, the Creator and His creation. The mystical journey leads us along this axis of love, the path from the creation back to the Creator. On this journey we bring the seed of our own consciousness and lay it at the feet of our Beloved. We bring an awareness of separation into the arena of union.
"I was a hidden treasure and I wanted to be known, so I created the world" (Hadith qudsi, Sacred Tradition). From His solitary aloneness He created the world and brought into play the opposites of day and night, positive and negative, masculine and feminine. In this world He manifested His attributes, His divine Names, the names of majesty (jalal) and the names of beauty (jamal) or the names of severity (qahr) and the names of gentleness (lutf). These pairs of opposites create the dance of life, the unending dance that comes from the unmanifest, inner world, onto the stage of manifestation. A human being, born onto this stage, is a part of the dynamic interplay of opposites, but at the same time we carry the unmanifest oneness as a memory imprinted into the innermost chamber of the heart, the 'heart of hearts.'
In His world of duality we carry the essence of His oneness. The work of the mystic is to make conscious His oneness and offer it back in devotion. Thus we make Himself known to Himself. Without the stage of separation this journey would not be possible. It is the interplay of opposites that reflects His divine Oneness back to Himself. Without the mirror of creation He could not see His own face.
The Cycle of Love
The wayfarer needs to contain the primal contradiction of separation and union. Born into separation, we all carry the seed of union. But in forgetfulness we abandon ourself to separation, to the world of the ego. We are so easily lost in the maze of mirrors that forms His world. Sometimes, as if by accident, we glimpse a reflection of something other than the ego and its desires, a hint of a reality behind the veils of manifestation. Sometimes in a dream we are shown a different horizon where the sun never sets. The Other, so near and so hidden, haunts us with a memory of oneness that some call paradise.
Rationally we dismiss these signposts because they point in a direction other than the goals of our conscious life. But those whose destiny it is to make the journey Home are not allowed to forget. The eternal memory of the soul has been burnt too deep to be rejected as childish fantasies. The hunger for Truth eventually surfaces, battering on the door of the heart and even affecting the mind. Our world of duality begins to be permeated with a desire for oneness; separation longs for union.
Turning away from the world, we embrace the mystical quest. We respond to the call of the Simurgh, the mythical bird that lives beyond the mountain of Qaf, in the cosmic dimension of the human being. The way there is inaccessible, and only madmen and lovers can make the journey. The Simurgh is so close to us but we are far from him. "Many lands and seas are on the way... One plods along in a state of amazement, sometimes smiling and sometimes weeping" ('Attar 1961, p. 13).
Following the thread of our own spiritual destiny we walk towards union. We seek what cannot be found, for how can duality discover oneness? In the experience of union all duality disappears. There is neither wayfarer nor goal. This is the state of fana', annihilation. The lover is lost in the Beloved. Only the moth consumed in the flames of love knows the true nature of fire, but who is left to know? At the very center of his own existence the lover discovers the truth of non-existence. The manifest returns to the unmanifest and the cycle is completed.
In the journey back to non-existence what had been hidden is revealed. The secret at the core of creation is made conscious. But who or what carries this consciousness? If there is no lover, who knows the nature of love? If there is no longer any separation, how can there be consciousness of unity? He who is One and Alone needed creation in order to become known. He needed to create duality in order to reflect His own oneness. The lover needs to remain in duality in order to be a mirror for her Beloved. This mirror reflects His unity both to Himself and to the world. In order to make conscious His oneness the lover has to remain partly in separation. This is one of the most painful paradoxes of the journey.
We desire union but He needs our separation. Surrendering to the spiritual path means to carry the crucifixion of the two worlds, of oneness and duality. Even when we taste the fruits of union we have to renounce them and embrace the experience of separation. We have to carry the secret of love, the recognition of oneness into the marketplace of duality. Our desire for union is surrendered to His need for separation:
A thousand times sweeter than
The lover longs to be united with his Beloved. But deeper than this longing is the surrender of the lover's soul through which the Beloved can make Himself known both to Himself and to His world. The Beloved needs the lover to carry His secrets of oneness, to be a vessel for the mysteries of love and enable the creation to reflect His hidden Face. The lover is always the servant of the Beloved. In the states of union the lover is lost in the Beloved, and in the states of separation the lover carries His hidden treasure into the world.
The wayfarer walks the narrowest path that runs between the two worlds. In love and devotion we renounce union and embrace separation. But because union is the pre-eternal state of the soul and the essence of love, union can never be lost. In love union is always present. In the depths of the heart lover and Beloved are on©, as Hallaj exclaims:
I saw my Lord
His servant is love's slave, carrying both his own separate existence as lover and the knowledge that only the Beloved exists. Existence and non-existence are bound together in service.
Some lovers lost in ecstasy have cried like Bayazid, "Under my garment there is nothing but God" (Rumi 1981, in Mathnawi IV, 2125). They have tasted the truth that the outer world is a shell. But when they return from absorption they encounter both their own individual existence and the limitations of this world of forms. Ultimate union is only encountered in physical death; only then was Majnun fully united with his Layla, only at the gallows could Hallaj finally realize the oneness his heart desired: "Here I am now in the dwelling-place of my desires" (Massignon 1982, I, p. 608).
Whilst we live in the physical world we need to surrender to separation. If it were His will that we always remain in a state of union we would not wear the clothes of creation. The path of the mystic is to embrace the two worlds, as the Christian mystic the Blessed John Ruysbroeck describes: "He dwells in God and yet he goes out towards all creatures in a spirit of love towards all things... And this is the supreme summit of the inner life" (Underbill 1974, p. 437). Inwardly we are the slave of our Beloved, outwardly we are the servant of His creation.
The Shrine Of Divine Mystery
The journey Home begins when the soul leaves its state of union with God. Born into this world, we learn to look for our true being and find the way back to our Beloved. He Whom we love is veiled by His creation, which both hides and reveals His face. What we usually seek in the outer world is a hidden aspect of our own self, brought to life through the drama of projection. The Sufi learns to use His creation as a mirror, reflecting back both aspects of our own psyche and the beauty and majesty of our Beloved. Rather than rejecting the creation we use it as a means of returning Home, for He has said, "We will show them Our signs on the horizons and in themselves" (Koran 41: 53 in Schimmel 1975, p. 188).
The Koranic verse "He taught Adam the names" means that God gave Adam the knowledge of the divine names reflected in creation. These divine names give man the ability to recognize the essence of creation, the divine aspects of himself and the world. Looking at the world with the eyes of devotion, with the knowledge that only He can fulfill us, we are able to sense His signs. When the heart is awakened it seeks the real Beloved both hidden and revealed in the play of forms. To quote Hujwin:
We embrace the creation as a reflection of the Creator and as an environment in which we can come closer to Him Whom we love. For the Sufi life itself is always the greatest teacher.
The creation is a mirror of the Creator. When the heart is awakened, the eye of the heart opens, and with this eye the lover is able to read the Signs of her Beloved, to see His face reflected in the world around. The eye of the heart is the organ of direct perception, through which we can see things as they really are and not as they appear to be. When the eye of the heart is closed the world appears to have an autonomous existence, and we are caught in the wheel of life, from birth to death. When the inner eye opens, the mirage of the outer world changes and we begin to see the hand of the Creator at work. Sensing His presence in the outer world frees us from the world's grip, as we become inwardly aligned with the Creator rather than the creation.
Inwardly the heart turns towards God; outwardly we feel what is behind the dance of forms. Sometimes we see His light in the eyes of a friend, lover, or stranger. In the glory of a sunset we see not just the beauty but the hand of the painter. We catch a whiff of His perfume and know it to be His.
Gradually His signs become visible and we are able to glimpse the thread of our own deeper destiny woven into the outer events of our life. The destiny of the soul is the path that leads us to freedom as we learn the lessons of our incarnation. One friend had a dream experience in which she was lifted up, away from the world, where she was shown that this world is just a play, a stage on which we all enact certain parts. But she was also shown that before we are born we are each given a card of destiny to play, which is also a problem we have to solve. When we have solved this problem we are free to leave, or to stay and help others. There are many clues, signs to help us solve our problem, but we can only see them when we live in the moment. If we live in the past or the future these clues are inaccessible. She awoke from the dream experience with a profound sense of awe.
If we live in the past or the future, in our memories or expectations, we are firmly caught in the illusion of time and the dance of shadows. Only in the present moment do we have access to our eternal Self, which is outside of time. In the intensity of each moment there is no time, as lovers know only too well. Love does not belong to the world of time, but to the dimension of the Self. For the Self, the pre-eternal state of union, the bond of love between lover and Beloved, is eternally present. This is the axis of love that is at the core of creation, at the center of every moment. When we experience love we are in that instant attuned to this core. What we feel in our heart is a reflection of His love for Himself.
The path of love takes us away from the web of time, as Rumi celebrates: "Come out from the circle of time and into the circle of love" (Liebert 1981, p. 16).
In love there is only the eternal moment. When we say "yes" to the heart's desire we step 'into the circle of love'. Then, through our devotion and spiritual practice, the energy of love is activated and we go beyond the limitations of the mind and the illusion of time. In moments of meditation we can experience the infinite space of the heart's eternity. Returning from beyond the mind, we may find that we have been meditating for a few minutes or a few hours.
Stilling the mind in meditation, we train ourself to be able to step out of the circle of time. We learn to become conscious in a space where there is no time. But when we return to our daily life we are surrounded by the demands of time, which cannot be ignored. We have appointments to keep, schedules to run. Then through the practice of the dhikr (God's remembrance) we keep our connection with the eternal moment. Repeating His name, we keep awake the memory of when we are together with Him, the memory that is eternally present within the heart. The first dhikr was at the moment of the primordial covenant, when in answer to God's question "Am I not your Lord?" the not-yet-created humanity responded, "Yes, we witness it" (7:171). The dhikr is the affirmation of His presence within His creation.
His presence frees us from the knots that entangle us here. When the heart affirms that He is One, the chains of duality dissolve. In recognizing that He is Lord we become bound to the Creator and not to the creation. We become His bondsmen, and as Hafiz exclaims, "Only the bondsmen are free." When we see His signs in our daily life, when we glimpse His face mirrored in His creation, we automatically look to Him and not to the world. He attracts our attention back to Himself.
In the silence of meditation we go beyond the dualities of the mind into the uncreated emptiness where the ego dissolves and the lover ceases to exist. Coming out of meditation we return to the world of separation in which, repeating His name, we evoke His presence, for He has said, "I am the companion of him who recollects Me" (Prophetic tradition, quoted in Schimmel 1975, p. 168). The lover carries the dual consciousness of union and separation. Knowing our essential non-existence, we also welcome our existence so that we can affirm His presence.
The work of the lover, the one who has surrendered to one's Lord, is to be His representative here. Mirroring Him within the heart, the lover brings His light and love into the world. This light is an inspiration and guidance to those who want to find the way Home, who need to know where they belong. From heart to heart the secret of divine love is silently told. Words, so easily bring confusion and misunderstanding, belong to duality and are easily caught in the complexities of the mind. The light within the heart communicates directly from essence to essence. Silently, hiddenly, His lovers work in the world, sweeping away the dust of forgetfulness, the darkness of disbelief. Sufis are traditionally known as 'sweepers,' because they clean the hearts of people. In the words of Shabistari, "If there were no sweepers in the world, the world would be buried in dust".
Living an ordinary life in the marketplace, His lovers are indistinguishable from the crowd. But within the heart, longing and remembrance create a space for His work to unfold. He needs us here to help keep the world attuned to love, to keep alive the consciousness of His presence. The lover surrenders even the desire for union because the Beloved needs us to embrace separation. In the depths of the heart we come to know the truth of union, but in order to live and work in the world we need to retain consciousness of separation. The seventeenth-century sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi says that the state of servanthood is higher than the state of union, and that the Sufi "chooses separation over union at the command of God" (Ansari 1986, p. 241).
The Mirror Of Separation
His lovers are those who tasted the wine of union before they were born. Yet in that pre-eternal moment of the primordial covenant we surrendered to separation in order to witness Him as Lord. Born into creation, we make the journey of forgetfulness, the journey from God. Then, in the experience of tawba, the heart is awakened to its innermost state of union and the lover becomes conscious of the pain of separation. Without the knowledge of union there would be no awareness of separation. These opposites are at the core of the mystical path. The longing for union draws us from the world of duality back to our Beloved. Yet at the same time we feel the soul's surrender to servanthood. We know that we belong to Another and ask that "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
The desire for union and the need for separation co-exist within the heart of the wayfarer. The mystical path is not a linear progression from separation to union to servanthood. It is a spiral in which opposites turn into each other. From duality we turn towards oneness, and in oneness we embrace duality. Thrown between these opposites we experience the 'yo-yo syndrome', the swing from nearness to separation that cleanses the heart of the lover. He holds our heart between His two fingers, and sometimes He turns it towards His face and we feel intimacy and awe. Then the heart is turned away and we feel the anguish of abandonment, or the haunting memory of His beauty. Gradually the opposites merge in the center of the heart which is also the still center of the turning world.
Through meditation we come to know that our individual existence is an illusion. In the emptiness beyond the mind we taste our own non-existence. Returning to duality and the ego we feel the pull of remembrance and come to realize that our need to remember Him is a reflection of His need, our prayer is His prayer. To quote Hallaj:
I call to You... No it is You
Our individual existence is just a manifestation of His oneness. The ego's sense of individuality is a reflection of the fact that He is one and alone, Through our 'I' we worship Him as one.
Those lovers who have lost themselves in union know even when they return to separation that separation is an illusion, just as they know their own ego to be an illusion. Separation is a play of light on the waters of oneness. When the lover knows that there is nothing other than Him, separation is a servant of union. Separation, born out of union, makes known His unity. When the ego is surrendered, it becomes a clear mirror for the light of His oneness. Surrendering to separation for His sake, we bring this light into the marketplace of the world, In the world of duality the lover reflects the hidden face of unity, and the Beloved comes to know His own Beauty:
ISSUE NUMBER 27/ 1995
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