From Barcelona: Why do we like differences?

We find ourselves once again in Barcelona, visiting members of our Sufi family here, the second visit in less than two months.  When we came the last time, the political situation in Catalonia had just tipped over into a nervous, unanticipated crisis, and our friends were concerned that we might not even be able to arrive: perhaps, they feared, the airports might be closed if events should become still more agitated. In this visit the city appears normal, although we are told that below the surface the tensions remain, with no obvious way to resolve them. And yet, compared to many places in the world, this seems like an orderly, peaceful and prosperous community. Why should there be anger? As one friend puts it, “How can people who agree about so much not find a way to work together?”

It would be unwise to comment on a current dispute; a Sufi sees reason in every reason, without feeling a need to partake in any of them.  Nevertheless there have been many cases in history that in retrospect appear to embody an incomprehensible exaggeration of differences, a making of distinctions into something apparently sacred, and therefore beyond discussion or negotiation.  In 17th c. Russia, for example, there was a bitter religious division that focused on the way in which Christian believers held the hand when making the sign of the cross.  Only a small change in the placement of the thumb – on the ring finger or joined together with the index and the middle finger – was sufficient excuse to denounce and vilify fellow Christians, to exile them from their homes and communities, or even to kill them.  No doubt those involved in this conflict would have said this is an over-simplification of the matter, but if we seek to find harmony, we have to step away from rigidities, and allow some softening of concepts and boundaries.  The world of manifestation is complex, and the more closely we look at the details, the more division we will find.  Our problem is that human beings at a certain stage of evolution like differences, because they support our claim to be ‘me,’ to be distinct from anyone else–although, paradoxically, this makes us smaller, not bigger.  Hazrat Inayat Khan observed that even on the same rose bush, no two flowers are the same.  But does it mean that we should find just one rose that we like and put the others in the fire?  That would make the abundance in the garden very small indeed.

The world of creation is a world of differences, and will always be so, but if we look for harmony, we must look beyond these divisions.  Behind the infinitely vast dance of atoms and molecules and forms and beings executing a cascade of complex interactions, there is One single Truth; that is where we meet.

When we recite the prayer Khatum, we ask the Divine Presence to “raise us above the distinctions and differences” that divide us one from another.  Such an elevation does not happen without our own participation; it comes when we look upward with trust, hope and admiration, and forget thereby our own self-assertion. It is a natural transformation, but it comes because we want it.  As Hazrat Inayat Khan says in the Vadan,
How did I rise above narrowness?
The edges of my own walls
began to hurt my elbows.

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