By: Llewellyn Vaugh-Lee
Mar 17, 2013
Longing is a central note on the Sufi path; it is the feminine side of love: the cup waiting to be filled. Longing draws the wayfarer inward to live the heart’s devotion. Maybe this is why so many who are drawn to the path in the west are women: they are attracted to this mystery of longing, this path of devotion, in which they recognise an intimate part of their own nature. In American culture especially, although there is an appearance of sexual equality, in this very masculine and extroverted culture there is little real appreciation of the feminine, her power and inner qualities; in fact, in America the deeper aspects of the feminine have been almost completely removed from the collective landscape.
Need to Open Up
Perhaps not surprisingly, then, despite this deep resonance of the feminine with the Sufi path, when I first began working in America, I noticed in the women who came to this path a deep-seated fear of allowing their longing, of opening to their heart’s intimacy. They were unsure about sharing dreams and experiences that expressed the inner intimacy of the path and the heart’s love affair. A collective stamp of abuse and dismissal of the feminine had created a wound that held them back. We responded to this by creating a women’s group where women could explore these issues without the inhibitions caused by the presence of men. Gradually, after a few years, the women felt instinctively safe enough to be present, open, and vulnerable, and then there was no longer any need for a women’s group.
Natural to the Feminine
An initial work of bringing this path to America had been completed: a container for women for the real work of the soul had been created. This was an important step, as I became increasingly aware of how qualities that are natural to the feminine are essential to living the heart’s longing for God. For the work of the path to take real root in this masculine culture, the feminine mysteries of love the sanctity of longing, the receptivity of the heart, the way of devotion need to be reclaimed and honoured.
Women have a natural affinity for this work. For women know the wisdom of receptivity, of holding a sacred space. They experience this in their bodies through the wonder of pregnancy; but the sacred feminine also knows how this works within the soul: how the heart is always awake, waiting and longing for her Beloved, for that moment when love comes secretly and sweetly; how within the heart love and longing create a space for the Divine to be born. Then the heart becomes ‘light upon light’, as Rumi describes it: “a beautiful Mary with Jesus in the womb,” which in time can give birth to the Divine as a living presence within ourselves and in our lives.
Busyness Kills Receptivity
Women also understand the importance of stillness, of simply being. For how can we be receptive when we are busy all the time? In the west we are addicted to activity. We think that the problems of the world and of ourselves can only be solved by going out and doing something, not realising that it is this focus on ceaseless activity that has created much of our present predicament. When we are not busy solving our problems, we are caught up in an endless round of distracting activity, busyness for its own sake. In response to everything we automatically ask, “What should I do?” But the feminine knows to ask, “How should I be?” understanding that from a state of still being we can listen, be attentive and aware. We can perceive what life, both within us and around us, is showing us — “We shall show them Our signs upon the horizons and in themselves, until it is clear to them that He is the real.”
Just as a mother instinctively knows how to listen to her children, so does the sacred feminine know how to listen inwardly and outwardly to life, to experience and participate in this sacred mystery of which we are a part. This is the basis of a real relationship to life and to our soul; it is how we can learn to live the life of the soul rather than the illusory life of the ego. Life is a direct expression of the Divine, but unless we listen to this hidden presence, we experience only the distortions of the Nafs or senses with all its desires and anxieties. Listening within, we hear what our Beloved is telling us; we come to know the mysteries He whispers into our heart and soul. We also learn to distinguish between the voice of the ego and the voice of the Self: to become attentive to the hint of the Beloved, and yet vigilant to the deceptions of the ego.
Wonder of Being Alive
Life and the soul are always beckoning us, wanting to share the real wonder of being alive. When we really listen, our outer and inner life can speak to us, and take us on a journey far beyond the limited world of the ego. We can begin to discover the divine mysteries of love within our hearts and in the world around us.
The mysteries of love are feminine in their nature, just as the nature of the soul is feminine as it looks towards God, always attentive and receptive. We need to reclaim these feminine qualities that have been so devalued... and recognise their essential value, and bring them back into the our lives.