We live in a material age, in which everything is weighed and measured according to its commercial value, and it is not at all surprising that spirituality also seems to be spread by mercantile means. The number of spiritually oriented (and of course, paid) workshops, retreats, courses and conferences that one can find on the internet is truly astonishing, and the quantity is probably increasing daily. We might hope this means that the world is becoming more spiritual, but it is more likely that this is the result of market forces – there is money to be made in ‘meditation,’ for some people, at least.
When there is an abundance of different brands on the market, one way to attract customers is through novelty. Spiritual ‘producers’ look for unconventional techniques to package, labelled with exotic terminology, and create pedagogical structures that give the impression that one is advancing in one direction or another. Presumably this strategy must meet with some response, and it also generates expectations – ‘how can we be advancing on the path if the scenery doesn’t change?’ Amongst students of Sufism, especially beginners, it is not uncommon to believe that the more personal practices one is given, the more one is advancing (although the opposite is the case), and if the hunger for novelty is not satisfied, there is a feeling of disappointment. Not long ago regarding a Sufi retreat that was being planned, someone who had participated in similar retreats in the past was asked if they would attend, and the response was, “What for? It’s always the same thing.”
Hazrat Inayat Khan said that there is always opposition to the Message; it has been so in every age. In the past, any new presentation of the Truth provoked active resistance and even violence, but today, he said, the opposition is in the form of a lack of response. The call from Above is often met with a shrug of indifference. If we wish to receive the blessing of the Message, therefore, we might ask ourselves if we have been truly responsive. In spirituality, the model of conflict need not apply; we don”t have to jump from one system to another to find the winning – or most profitable – team. That is the style of the mercenary soldier, ready to go to battle on the side of whoever will fill his pockets. In this case the manner needed is that of the lover, the one whose heart is open and tender, and who has hope but no expectations.
And how do we cultivate such a quality? One way to begin is by expanding our horizon. In the moment of reading these words perhaps we are also thinking about an upcoming appointment, or the shopping, or how to pay the bills, or a difficult conversation that we see coming. If we pause to look at any one of these concerns, it can easily grow to fill our consciousness, leaving no space for anything else. But if we expand our horizon, the context changes. If we take a moment to think of the beauty of the sunrise, or the light of the moon and stars at night, of the dignity of a snow-covered mountain or the tenderness of a blooming meadow, we start to feel a change. And if we also expand our inner horizon, making an effort to remember any kindness that has been shown to us, and the blessing of any happiness we have known, the privilege that we have in simply living and breathing, the heart begins to awaken from its heavy sleep.
The Message, the Divinely inspired communication that we are all part of the One Being, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, is life itself, and therefore is in constant flow. When our heart opens to this call, we can begin to hear the ever-playing, intoxicating music of life. If, on the other hand, it seems that we are always hearing the same boring thing, it only means that we have not yet heard what is being said to us, and we need to listen with more of our heart.