An appointment for a meeting had been made, and in preparation there was a request: please, could you say something to us about commitment? The group had talked among themselves and agreed this was a topic they wanted to hear about.
When we need to examine such a subject, of course, the implication is that there is some doubt behind the need. It may mean we have expectations of ourselves, and we doubt somehow that we are fulfilling them; or perhaps it means that we have some expectations of the Sufi path that are not being fulfilled, and we have consequent doubts about our commitment to continue.
But questions about commitment are not confined to our efforts on the path. Questions about commitment to relationships–with partners, friends, parents, children–are very common, as are questions about commitment to a profession or vocation, and even doubts about commitment to living in one place or another.
Certainly every such question comes with its own puzzling set of circumstances, but behind the confusing screen of details is every person’s two-fold doubt: about the reliability of life and the reliability of themselves. From infancy, we learn about the world around us by trial and error, with the errors teaching us more than the successes. A fascination with a candle flame, for example, may provide us with the painful but necessary lesson that fire demands respect. While learning about the world we develop caution toward a sometimes unreliable playground. And if this is true of the physical world, where things are fairly straightforward (‘sharp things cut’, hard things can hurt,’ etc.), it is even more true when we look at the complex and ever-shifting world of human relations and emotions. A person who seemed like a friend one day may turn to something else the next day. Even the most harmonious love affair involves disappointments and discoveries of human failings in the beloved.
But throughout life we are also involved in a trial and error exploration of ourselves and our capacities. Hopefully we discover abilities and learn to accomplish many things, but we also encounter limitations, and by necessity become resigned to an ever-lengthening catalog of imperfections. Shoved in the back of our mental closet everyone has recollections, some more painful than others, of efforts that came to nothing, of projects that weren’t completed, of good intentions that were not realised.
When we embark on the Sufi path, therefore, notwithstanding the beauty of the teachings and—hopefully—the supportive companionship of the group, we may also carry with us shadows of doubt about this new experience, and about our own ability to follow it through to the end. In time, for whatever reason we may start to waver, and then as a reaction, to wonder how to strengthen our commitment.
One part of the answer is, to learn to discipline oneself and maintain a regular practice. Our spiritual exercises are given to us as medicine, and if we are ‘good patients’, we have every hope of improvement. If we neglect our care, the resultant state is not due to a defective prescription.
Another part of the answer, more fundamental, is to realise that we do not ‘need’ commitment, because the necessary commitment was made even before we came on earth; we only need to uncover it. Hazrat Inayat Khan often quoted the poet Saadi as saying that the purpose of every soul is a light kindled before one is born. Similarly, a sura of the Qur’an states that before mankind was brought forth into Creation, God asked, “Am I not your Lord?” and the spirit of humanity answered with one voice, “Yes!” Of that moment, Mahmud Sahbistari says:
Recall the state and condition of your original nature
and regain the source of God-contemplation.
Why did God say, “Am I not your Lord?”
Who answered in that moment, “Yes!”?
On that day when Man’s clay was mixed,
the lesson of faith was written within his heart.
If you would read that script just once,
you’d know everything that you desire.*
We should take heart, then—literally, since the answer is written there for those who will read it, written in our original nature, telling us all that we desire, all that we need to know. No matter how many times we have fallen short, we should remind ourselves that each effort–incomplete, half-baked or misguided though it may have been–had at its foundation that ‘Yes!’ Mevlana Rumi said, “Though you’ve broken your vows a thousand times, come!”
If we would only dedicate ourselves to discarding all that does not belong to that affirmation, there would be nothing at all remaining except commitment, pure commitment.
*Garden of Mystery
The Gulshan-i raz of Mahmud Shabistari
tr. Robert Abdul Hayy Darr