That One Thing
The mystic Al-Ansari said:
He travels with whoever looks for Him,
and having taken the seeker by the hand,
He arouses him to go in search of himself.
The teachings of this path in search of our true self are very much alive and ready to take us on our soul’s journey Home. Each of us has come to this path and walks it in a unique way because we are all so different, the karmas that brought us to the path had their own pattern. But we are all somehow gathered by the hand of God and invited to enter the landscape of our soul. While some of us may have been seeking all our lives, going from one mystic to another; one church or religion or another; this divine discontent and longing for something we could not name, brought us to the feet of our Master.
That longing, that persistent nagging, was that shadow of the remembrance: that we all come from God. That remembrance that became covered up when we came into this world. Awareness of our spiritual journey began when this latent memory was awakened. Perhaps it was the result of unexpectedly seeing Hazur, of a book falling off a library shelf into our hands, of a friend who shared their rendition of the path over coffee. Perhaps it was the feeling of not fitting anywhere into this world, of dissatisfaction with our jobs, friends, relationships. This moment of awakening was the crack of light in the darkness that allowed us to remember the one thing that we should never forget. Rumi wrote:
There is one thing in the world which you must never forget. If you were to forget everything else and remember this, then you would have nothing at all to worry about; but if you were to remember everything else and then forget this, you would have done nothing in this life.2
What is that one thing? The deepest roots of our being, the Lord. This is the destiny that is stamped upon our foreheads before we are born. We bring this destiny with us when we come into the world, and it is this destiny of our soul that gives purpose and meaning to our lives. Yet it is so easy to get distracted from this ‘one thing.’ Sometimes we go to extremes to fill our lives with the distractions that help us avoid the call of the soul. This is so easily done with the 24/7 constant blaring call of the world. It is like we are dropped into a playground that is set for our amusement, a smorgasbord of delights. Yet, as Hazur used to tell us, the fair is a frightening place when we let go of the Fathers hand.
So by the grace of God we have been drawn to the Master and the teachings. Initially, when we first come to the path, our outer life rarely reflects our true self. It reflects our conditioning, our psychological baggage, and our confusion about reality. But once we have been found by Him, he will forever be with us and we are changed and we know it. To illustrate this point, years ago Hazur said that we could run alongside of the bulldozer that he is driving or be dragged; actually, for years some mistakenly thought that he had given us a third option: that we could sit in his lap. Because each of us comes to this path as we are, the mysteries of the path can’t be described with words that have meaning for all of us, no matter how we try, nor can they convey the meaning that only experience can bring. The inner path is of a different dimension where the mind cannot grasp.
Metaphorically, this path is somewhat like a ride with a taxi driver in Delhi; one never knows for sure where one is going, but one has faith, based upon the experience of others who rode the taxi before us, that we will arrive.
This type of faith grows in the middle of our everyday life because it happens within our soul. The longer we stay on this journey, an atmosphere within and around us is created that reminds us of the world we have forgotten. We are switching our focus to the nourishment of our soul instead of feeding the world.
While all spiritual paths are a unique elaboration on the same theme, the truth is we all just want to go home. In Rumi’s Mathnawi there is a poem that reflects our true desire:
Listen to the reed how it tells a tale, as it laments the pain of separation
Since they have cut me from my reed bed
My wailing brings tears to both woman and man
Those ripped away from their beloved know my song
Having been cut from the source, they long to return.3
The call of this apparent separation is a gift, it stirs us from our slumber, reminds us of what we have lost. If he didn’t take us by the hand and stir that remembrance within us, we would not look for our home. The fact that we are making this journey is a reminder that we know where we truly belong. Great Master said in My Submission, that the teachings of the saints are based on the following fundamentals: the Master and the teachings, satsang, and meditation. Each of these fundamentals has their purpose in sustaining us on our inward journey to that ‘one thing’.4
No one that walks this path can go there by oneself. One needs the Master, like the moon bird needs the moon. In addition to the gift of initiation, the Master helps gain entry into that inner self. He keeps us focused and helps us turn away from everything that is inessential in our life. The journey back to oneself and to the Lord is not always readily apparent to us on the way, it is not a straight line, and because we are human, we take side trips. We become focused outwardly and the Master brings us back to the center where we again can remember that “one thing.” He reminds us of the teachings and clears away the obstacles that we put up. Sometimes it takes tragedy, sometimes success, sometimes rejection, he will give us exactly what we need to regain our balance and to recommit our lives to the way home. We need the wisdom of the Master who has gone before us and speaks to us of simple truths that we can hold onto and awakens us to the direction we must go. He teaches us to learn to read between the lines of our life and become sensitive to the hints that are given to us from the internal world. He keeps us within the boundaries of the teachings. Rumi says he [the Master] will be with you in this world and the next so you may not stray off the path. The poet E. E. Cummings describes the Master beautifully:
Yours is the light by which my spirit’s born,…
You are my sun, my moon, and all my stars.5
Hazur said that when we become initiated, we become part of the largest family in the world. At satsang we are at a place where the value of the soul and the inner journey is preeminent. We are among many whose focus is on that ‘one thing’, no matter where we are at on our spiritual journey, and it creates an atmosphere where for a brief hour or so we can leave the world at the door and let the reflection of our spiritual nature shine. Satsang reminds us of our deep connection to the Lord. It may also support our renewal of energy and provide the nourishment to continue the journey. Satsang draws us back to the center of our real self and holds us closely when we fail; unseen hands will open doors that we did not know existed. Hazur once said that this path is not for the faint-hearted, we need courage to not lose focus and to build a life that supports our meditation.6 He said that even advanced souls attend satsang as a means of building a fence around the crop of meditation. Rumi mentions that this path is a warrior's way and “not for brittle, easily-broken, glass-bottle people”.… AND he suggests [thankfully)] this road is full of footprints! Footprints of those who have struggled in many of the same ways that we do and who have overcome the obstacles that may discourage us. Not everyone has the strength and determination to painfully struggle through these obstacles alone, but we have each other, we have the Master and the teachings, and sometimes even one word spoken during satsang may give us the strength to carry on and persevere towards our goal.
Although satsang is of immense value to us on the path, the path is ultimately a solitary one. It is a one-on-one relationship that we build with the Lord through our meditation. It is the method that is given to us to return to the Lord, our one thing. Our heart has been awakened. And the Master has given us the tools to make the journey and helped us pack our bags. It is a long journey, but we have our companion now. Abu Said ibn Abi l-Khayr says:
The perfect mystic [disciple] is not an ecstatic devotee lost In contemplation of Oneness, nor a saintly recluse shunning all commerce with mankind but the ‘true saint’ goes in and out amongst the people and eats and sleeps with them and buys and sells in the market and marries and takes part in social intercourse and never forgets God for a single moment.7
We are drawn to this path, and we are asked to remember; our work is remembrance; two and one-half hours a day is only the beginning of this remembrance, this returning to ourselves, to and to the Lord. Kabir said, we must repeat the Name of God over and over and over. The breath that does not repeat the name of God is a wasted breath. Why? Because each repetition of the names is a moment of remembrance and a step toward Him on a staircase leading up to the Lord’s mansion. The way has been stamped on our soul at initiation and we have been awakened to our natural state of being, of belonging to God. The spiritual journey is now a work of bringing into consciousness our inner connection with the Beloved.
The purpose of meditation is to help us still the mind so that the audible life stream can pull us into it and that connection can be experienced. Through our meditation the mind eventually becomes stilled, and we are no longer prisoners of the stories of our past and of our future.
The minute we step onto this path of meditation, the world and our life work differently. We no longer belong to the past or the future, we belong inside. Because the battle to still the mind is an epic one, we still have questions and doubts that may bombard us – especially during meditation, some of those doubts may undermine our resolve and our effort. At those times it is better not to argue with the mind, it will only resist, instead perhaps we can accept that there are things that the mind does not yet understand because it is limited; and remember that what we are seeking is unlimited.
It is at these very times when we need to make every effort to turn our attention from these problems and meditate. Sitting still for even one minute repeating our Simran will help remind us that everything here in the world will change: our circumstances, our emotions, our karma, and we may realize that the only option we have is to surrender to his will and sit. Our meditation continually can right the ship in the storms of our life. For us now on this journey, it is the best option we have. It is our safe harbour, it is the only thing in the world that is ours. There is a poem by Rumi that describes this human experience beautifully.
This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival
A joy, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows.…
Still treat each guest honorably
They may be clearing you out
For some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes
Because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.8
How amazingly like life Rumi’s poem seems; remember, our karmas are not going to wait for us until we become holy or can always respond with balance, but if we understand that we have the tools– our meditation – simran and bhajan – to endure our karmas with grace and equanimity, then perhaps we can also begin to realize that we are totally dependent on the Beloved and learn to turn to him in everything and develop gratitude all that comes our way: the good, the bad, the ugly, because it brings us one step closer to Him. We can surrender and relax; everything is from him. He’s got us.
Our meditation is our mainstay. Without it, we are lost. While we may not have a sense of where we are going, or not going in our meditation, it does not matter. A true lover doesn’t figure the odds and live with the illusion that if I give two-and-one half hours, I will be holy and attain my goal. We no longer need to run from street to street knocking on strangers’ doors to make sure this is the right path. Our meditation, whether we see or hear anything for 50 years, will awaken us, often imperceptibly, to the truth of this path, but we must listen to the quietness within ourselves that only happens when we sit and repeat the names. We are so conditioned that we have forgotten that time is only a mental construct. Fifty years does not matter as long as we are doing our meditation, two years doesn’t matter as long as we are doing our meditation.
Angela of Foligno, in the Book of Divine Consolation, says, p. 25
When a soul feels the presence of God more deeply than is customary, then it knows with certainty that He is within.9
Meditation opens us inwardly and with each and every round of Simran we are attuning ourselves to the Beloved “that one thing”. Eventually we can learn to live where the inner and outer world meet, and the soul becomes the driver within us. Because of our meditation we may become more conscious of a “somewhere else” and devote ourselves to the awakening of our soul. Our focus shifts. We stop seeing the world through our ego and we come to know Him reflected in all of his Creation. Our painful days of separation are over and become a distant memory. Everything becomes a mirror of him, and we will never again forget that One thing, our beloved, that we came here to remember.
Amanda Gorman, Junior poet laureate wrote:
There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.10
- http//awakening-together.org/June-26-1026 daily quote, accessed November 2022.
- Coleman Barks, The Soul of Rumi, p.150
- Masnavi, Book I, “The Song of the Reed”, p.13
- Maharaj Sawn Singh, My Submission, p. 97
- ee cummings, Complete Poems (1904-1962), Poem 38
- Many Voices One Song, p.112
- Quoted in Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Love is a Fire, p.143
- Rumi, The Essential Rumi, p.109
- Angela of Foligno, in The Book of Divine Consolation, p.25
- Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb” Inaugauration Speech, Jan 22, 2021.