In one of the Sufi prayers, after reminding ourselves who we are – which is to say, recollecting that we are children of the Divine family (…take us in Thy parental arms…), we pray to be lifted above the denseness of the earth. In a thoughtful moment we might ask, why should that be important to us? If God is the Only Being, and is omnipresent and all-pervading, then He will be present in the dense earth just as He is in the infinite heavens. So, why are we making this request? What is the point? Is there something ‘wrong’ or sinful about the earth, as some religious opinions might suggest?
The problem, of course, is not that earth is morally flawed, but that when we are conscious of the earth, it is difficult to experience the Unity that will satisfy our sense of incompleteness. You may pick two stones up from the earth and squeeze them together with all your strength, but they will stubbornly remain separate. Even though they might be of the same geological composition, nevertheless they will refuse to unite. Water is less dense, and we can see some traces of unity there, for it easily flows together, but water can be turbulent, and once agitated, its waves will thunder and tear at riverbanks and stone cliffs until they collapse. Even the fine element of air, although subtle and ‘all-pervading,’ is dense enough to be subject to distinctions and differences that will sometimes produce the destructive violence of a hurricane. It is only when we journey along the axis from denseness to fineness and reach the stage of light that we experience something different. Rays of light do not dispute among themselves; sunlight will not accuse moonlight of being the wrong colour. If a ray of sunlight needed to think about the matter, it might simply laugh and say, “Well, you are me in another form.”
Just like the landscape outside our window, we are all a complicated mixture of denser and finer elements, but always animated by a fundamental longing for the still place where all becomes One. That hunger attempts to find fulfilment in various forms of expression – mountains thrust toward the sky, waves reach upward, trees stretch their branches to the sun, and humans strive to overcome the limitations of their bodies in various ways – but we have to leave form behind us entirely to know real freedom. If, as sometimes happens, we feel disappointed by our spiritual quest, asking ourselves in frustration and even bitterness, ‘Why does God keep apart from me? Doesn’t He know that He is all I want?’ the explanation is most likely that, though driven forward by our thirst for Reality, we are still carrying too much – a suitcase full of heavy concepts and expectations. But our disappointment, and the knocks and blows of life are opportunities by which we might help ourselves, for they give us the chance to open the suitcase and see what we are carrying, what is holding us back and what we can possibly discard. And when we let go of everything, when ‘we’ die (before death, that is) then we may encounter the all-pervading light and life we have been seeking.
From that celestial vantage point, of course, it is possible to see the Only Being in all names and forms, in the dense earth as in all else. Then everything that has been abandoned may be returned to us, but in a new state, for now we can perceive and experience the One even in limitation. That is perhaps one of the lessons in this Alapa from the Gayan : Give Us all you have, and We shall give you all We possess.