Hazrat Inayat Khan said that “The Message is a call to those whose hour has come to awake, and it is a lullaby to those who are still meant to sleep.”
Perhaps when we read these words we silently congratulate ourselves; we are ‘Sufi,’ touched with a yellow cloth so to speak, so we must be among the wakeful. Just to be reading the thoughts of an inspiring teacher like Hazrat Inayat Khan, the bringer of the Sufi Message, surely proves we are no longer asleep. What is more, we might have felt our life undergoing changes from our contact with these teachings. Maybe we attend some Sufi classes, and find time to do some daily exercises; it could be that some of the dark clouds have lifted in our life, letting in more light.
And perhaps most importantly, the saying also gives a thrilling promise: the Message is a call, we are called, which means that we have a special purpose in the universe, a destiny. We are known and we are wanted.
When the warm glow of self-satisfaction begins to fade, though, we might find ourselves asking: what next? There is a pattern often seen when someone enters the Sufi path: a period of euphoria followed after a time by a let-down, a growing sense of frustration. In spite of the visible changes, many of the same difficulties in our lives persist. “Everything looked so special,” a person might say, “but nothing really has changed. Perhaps I need to look for another path.”
Of course, there is always a possibility that one stumbles into Sufism only as a preparation for something else, but there is no inherent flaw in Sufism as a path. Hazrat Inayat Khan recounted that sometimes a mureed would come to him and make a complaint: ‘That practice you gave me doesn’t work.’ And the Murshid would feel sad, and say to himself, ‘It is not the practice that does not work. For centuries it has helped bring deep illumination to many who performed it faithfully. The fault is not with the practice.’
The saying presents two possibilities, to be awake, or to sleep, and each has its purpose If one needs sleep, then of course one should sleep. In the east, it is considered a misdeed, one could say a sin, to waken someone who is sleeping, because sleep is natural and a blessing, as anyone who has difficulty sleeping will confirm. And remember that the saying describes the effect of the Message on the sleepers as a lullaby; what is more gentle, kind and loving than a lullaby? The parents take great delight in a child who is sleeping happily.
Then what is the difference between waking and sleeping? When we sleep, we are relaxed and passive; when we are awake, we are active and our will is (possibly) engaged. Spiritual awakening, in other words, whatever else it means, implies the activation of the will. Of course, it is understood that the will is potentially dangerous but like children, we must learn to master it before we are given greater responsibility. We hope, through the acquisition of wisdom, to wield the will for a good purpose and not for own selfish desires.
Therefore the mureed who asks, “Should I look for another path? Another method?” might better ask, “Am I awake? Or am I still dreaming?” Or in other words, “Have I sufficiently focused my will on the manifestation of the Message in my life?” Sufism is not a magic balm that cures all with a daily application; on the contrary, the further one goes on the spiritual path, in some ways the more difficult life becomes – but also more rewarding. If we hope that Sufism will confer on us a life like a happy dream, then we have not begun to stir; if we are willing to forsake the comfort of our blanket for the fresh air of truth and the bright light of dawn, then indeed we are called.