How happy are we? According to Sufi teaching, our purpose in life is to find happiness, not because it is enjoyable but because happiness is our very being, and until we touch that reality, we remain unfulfilled, or in other words, ‘unhappy.’ But considering the question of how happy we are, most people would hesitate – certainly, some aspects of our life are satisfying, others less so; some parts look hopeful, and others, to be honest, close to hopeless. By working around the unhappy parts, or just ignoring them, by substituting brief flashes of pleasure for enduring happiness, we manage to go from day to day and get on with life. This works, sort of, but is it satisfactory? It doesn’t fulfil our purpose. It is like detouring around the buckets catching the drips from the leak in the ceiling. We may pretend to be oblivious to the situation if we want, but we can be certain that it will not get better. As time passes, and especially when the weather gets bad, it will only get worse.
Many people assume that the source of their unhappiness is outside of themselves, and seek improvements by changing their work, perhaps, or their partner, their home, their diet, their hobbies or the place where they holiday. Such modifications will not have much effect, though, if we have not encountered the real source of happiness, the depth of our own heart.
We associate the heart with the feeling of love, and that is natural to anyone who has loved – but to know the heart well, to really understand its nature, we could think of it as a mirror, the clear mirror of consciousness that will reflect whatever is placed before it. If we focus the mirror on the exterior world, with all its inevitable limitations and frustrations, in time this precious instrument becomes covered with the debris of broken structures : layers of disappointment, resentment, jealousy, anger, and so on. How could it be otherwise? As a consequence, what is reflected in the heart is dim and distorted. But when we succeed in letting go of the outer and turn to the inner, the dust begins to be washed away. There arises from within a continuous flow of light and life and energy – and what could we call this energy? No word is adequate, but we could name it love.
Our life on earth is a school for us, and we first learn about love by loving other beings: our parents, a friend, a sweetheart, a child, and so on. But although the beauty we see in the other awakens us to love, love itself is greater than the beloved. The object is always limited, but the power of love is infinite, and can only be known when we discover the limitless space within.
That is the sense of the following aphorism from Hazrat Inayat Khan: The heart, when it is not living and making its life a life of love, feels out of place, and all the discomfort of life comes from this.
If we feel discomfort in our life, if we feel out of place – and who has not known that feeling of estrangement? – the first place of inquiry for the Sufi would be, “What is the condition of my heart? Is it living? Is it making this life one of love?” And whatever we discover in our examination, we must surely admit the condition could be better.
To help the heart to come alive, we must keep lit the light of our ideal. When we encounter disappointment in the outer life, we can remind ourselves that there is a place where our ideal lives; when our own love falters, we can remember that love itself is perfect. The more we remember our ideal the more brightly will the flame shine, helping guide us to the origin of the ideal.
But since we began by asking about happiness, we should remember that even in the supreme happiness of discovering our true being, the difficulties of life will continue. There is no day off; rain falls on all, the sleeping and the awakened, both It is only that the happiness of the liberated soul is not dampened by the showers of the outer world.