Gathering Oil

Some days ago, a question was posted asking how, in a very practical way, we can work to awaken the God ideal in our life.  This was an essential theme for Hazrat Inayat Khan, who said that ‘the God ideal is necessary for the attainment of life’s perfection,‘ and that the tragedy of our present age is the obscuring of the God ideal by the clouds of materialism and commercialism. In modern culture, the ideal of the divine is widely neglected, but ideals of worldly success —wealth, prestige, power or comfort, in their many variations — will not serve us on the inner path;  one cannot come to a spiritual goal without aiming at a spiritual ideal.

The dilemma for many people, though, is that the concept of ‘God’ is considered to be old-fashioned, and has been pushed aside along with the ancient forms and conventions of religion that no longer seem to correspond with our view of ‘reality.’ If the discarded image is one of an old man with a long white beard, sitting on a throne far away amidst the clouds, then it may indeed belong in the museum, but blaming the past without understanding it won’t help us, and if we cannot come up with a better, more living and present concept of the divine than that, we are not working very hard.

To serve our purposes on the spiritual path, an ideal cannot be borrowed; the journey out of the valley of limitations is arduous, and we will only win through all the difficulties if we are motivated by something from deep within our own heart.  Therefore, an ideal cannot be imposed from without, from a book or some authority; it can only be discovered within.  In other words, our ideal already exists within us, but it is not always visible.  It stirs us sometimes and shapes us to a certain extent, but because of many impurities—’impurity’ meaning that which is in a place where it does not belong, whether it be a thought, a feeling or something physical—the ideal does not always do its work.  We could think, for example, of a seed or some fruit, such as an olive, that bears oil; the oil permeates the olive, but if we want to have the oil in a pure state, to put in a lamp and give us light, we must crush the fruit and filter the oil, removing the impurities so that it can serve our need.

To speak of crushing may sound rather dramatic, but life itself supplies the mill stones; we only need to know how to work with them.  With every disappointment, with every blow that life deals us, we have an opportunity: to ask, what is the source of my disappointment?  What did I hope for?  What would perfection have looked like?  Suppose, for example, that we have a disagreement with someone and the disagreement has left us with a sore heart. We could ask ourselves, what was I looking for in this person, in this relationship?  What is the reason for this pain?  With patient examination, looking for the cause behind the cause, maybe we will come to the conclusion that we are longing to know someone who is trustworthy.  This hope for trustworthiness, then, is a glimpse of our ideal, a drop of the oil, so to speak, and having found it, we must now guard it in a safe place by offering it to the divine.  We cannot hope for something that is alien to us; trustworthiness is in us, however imperfectly we manifest it, but for us—in this example—that trustworthiness finds its perfection in the Divine, in the ideal of God.

Every time we analyse our disappointments, we can encounter another drop of the oil of our ideal, and if we steadfastly offer each drop to the Divine, in time it will become for us something truly radiant, with drops of many qualities. To continue the example, suppose that we find we are also disappointed in ourselves; perhaps we say, ‘I knew better.  Why did I not listen to my intuition?’  We might conclude that awareness or insight is also part of our ideal, and therefore our divine ideal must also contain a drop of perfect awareness. Or perhaps we discover that we are distressed because of a lack of beauty in our exchange with someone; then clearly beauty must be part of our ideal, and for us, the Divine must be beautiful.

This patient work need not be restricted to the difficulties in life.  We can also look for the oil of our ideal in the things that make us happy or satisfied; the only difficulty is that usually when we are satisfied, we are too comfortable to think about such matters.  But whether one analyses the difficulties or the positive experiences, or both, it is in the offering of different qualities to the divine that our ideal is made clear to us.  And as it becomes more clear, it becomes more real, more living, and life begins to change. As Hazrat Inayat said, ‘Make God a reality, and He will make you the Truth.

My heart, hold closely the oil which keeps the light burning.

Seeking after that which is beyond one’s reach
is the oil which feeds the flame of hope.


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