Hazrat Inayat Khan more than once described the cleaning of the heart as like the hard labour of digging for water, meaning that we must dig laboriously in the heavy earth until the water comes. If the hardened layers of negative thoughts, selfish feelings and morbid self-absorption have not been broken open and cleared aside, the living heart remains interred in its tomb, unable to fulfil its purpose. As we dig to release the spring water, it is normal to reach a zone where there is mud, and then some people become discouraged. What profit can there be in digging around in this muck, they ask themselves, and, unwilling to become more muddy – or we might say, unwilling to accept responsibility for what they have encountered, they abandon the effort.
If one persists, Pir-o-Murshid Inayat tells us, there will come a time when the pure water begins to flow, and it is that moving current that completes the work, for the water represents the power of love. When the stream of love is flowing through the heart it washes away the selfishness that always threatens to choke the spring.
In order to progress on the spiritual path, then, we need to confront our shortcomings, but there is a way to do this which is helpful, and there are many ways which are not so helpful. Life in the world is stressful; we are constantly pulled one way and the other by duties, demands and expectations, and it is quite common to fall into an obsession with our defects that comes close to hopelessness. With so many flaws, we might say, why even try to improve? It is like sweeping away the sand before the sea, a job we can never accomplish. But we should be aware that this despair is whispered in our ear by the voice of our enemy – whether one calls it the ego or satan – and in order to unearth the spring of love, we must listen to a more inspiring voice.
As limited beings, we shall always show limitations; that is the inevitable consequence of duality. But the Only Being is perfect – the perfection of love, which creates us, and which forgives and embraces us regardless of our errors; it is when we allow our heart to respond to this perfection that we awaken from the dreams that torment us, and life begins to have real meaning. But we need not think that our small portion of the Infinite will suddenly become free from faults; quite the contrary, in fact. As Hazrat Inayat Khan notes in his teaching on the struggle of life, One finds greater faults in oneself as one advances along the spiritual path. It is not because the number of faults has increased; but the sense has become so keen that one regards differently faults which formerly one would not have noticed. It is like a musician: the more he advances and the better he plays, the more faults he notices. He who does not notice his faults is in reality becoming worse.
Faults will always be there, then, but if we face them with despair and self pity, there will never be an end to our suffering. If we take up the shovel with thoughts of the light and life to which we aspire, our hope will multiply every stroke of the spade by ten.