The world seems to suffer more pain and disorder every day, and we often burn with frustration as we search for some way to help. If the Sufi path has given us anything in our own life – greater understanding of ourselves and of life’s purpose, or greater sensitivity toward others, or perhaps some relief from the self-created miseries we inflict upon ourselves – it is natural to want to share the teachings with as many people as possible.  But how?  

Each person has a sphere of contact and influence, and how we work within it will always depend upon our nature and circumstances.  It may be possible to speak to our friends and acquaintances about the Message, or to give life to spiritual principles through our work or through our pastimes, but in every case whatever we do must begin with ourselves.  We might be able to create a large following on social media, attracting clicks by the thousands, but if we ourselves are unevolved, what we say about spiritual truth will make no meaningful change in the world.

Perhaps this is why Hazrat Inayat Khan laid great emphasis on what he called ‘the art of personality’ – meaning not developing superficial polish in an attempt to conceal the fetid swamp of selfishness, but the mastery that any artist must acquire in order to represent – in whatever medium – our perception of Divine beauty. What distinguishes the art of personality from other arts – painting or poetry or sculpture, for example – is that the medium, our own being, is more living and expressive. And for the same reason, mastery of the art of personality is that much harder to win.

To become a person, since only the real artist of personality merits such a name, there are many qualities that we could cultivate: generosity, tact, hospitality, consideration, modesty, and courage are a few of these.  One virtue that is easy to overlook, but which is rare in our world today, and which could have a very healing influence on all aspects of life, is dignity.

What do we mean by dignity?  And why should we seek to nurture it in ourselves?  It is not stiffness nor solemnity, nor is it a long face nor a rejection of the enjoyment of life.  It simply means a state of being worthy.  Most of us crave acknowledgement and respect, suspecting that others do not recognize our true worth, but the further we go on the spiritual path, the more we discover that any virtue we might display is only loaned to us by the Divine: we come to the banquet as beggars. Therefore, real dignity would mean not the awareness of our own negligible value, but consciousness of that which confers worth upon us.

In Vadan Chalas Hazrat Inayat Khan offers this saying: By learning to think, one develops dignity in nature. The more one thinks, the more dignified one becomes, because dignity springs out of thoughtfulness. A thoughtful person is generally disposed to be a student and willing to learn. Such a one not only tries to penetrate the mysteries of life within and without, but from the habit of reflection learns to master impulses; the rhythm of a thoughtful person is quite distinct from the thoughtless, who are ruled by every whim and sensation.  What is more, in the English language the word ‘thoughtful’ is often a synonym for ‘considerate’.  For example we might say, “It was thoughtful of her to remember his birthday.” Or, “Although she was clearly unable to attend the event, it was thoughtful of them to invite her.”

If we were to cultivate the habit of thoughtfulness, it would obviously help us on our own journey, but it would also be beneficial to the whole world.  It is pointless to dream of telling others what to think about life, but if by our example we could encourage a more measured rhythm and deeper consideration in those around us, that would be a step forward.

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