Thirsty Fishes

Attentive readers of the Inner Call may have noticed that by a happy coincidence the image of the fish looking for water appeared in two successive posts recently. In her poem, the Punjabi mystic Mira bai speaks of the futility of going on pilgrimage to find that which is already within us, as pointless as a fish searching for water, and in the conclusion of his teaching about illusion and reality, Hazrat Inayat Khan relates the Indian tale – a tale which was quite likely well known to Mira bai – that a fish asked the queen of the fishes to explain about the mysterious ‘sea.’ The queen explained, in words that echo the words of Jesus, that the little fish lived and moved and had its being in the sea; that the fish was not separate from the sea, and that the sea was its origin and its destiny.

For those who are treading the inner path, this clearly illustrates our own situation: we seek the Divine Presence, but we are unable to recognize it. We are told that God is omnipresent and all-pervading, and yet we feel alone and incomplete, and to find peace we search outside of ourselves in different ways, looking to other people, or places, or sacred objects, or rituals of various kinds. We also impose rules upon ourselves in an effort to compensate for our imperfections and thereby qualify for the realisation of truth. But if Truth is already there, within and around us, does it mean that no effort is required? Should we just relax and not worry about searching for ‘the answer’ to the mystery of life?

The answer is that if we are truly happy, then of course no effort is required, for to be truly happy is the aim of the spiritual path – but few would dare to make such a claim. If, like the vast majority of humanity, we are restless, uneasy, dissatisfied, then the question is: what can we do to become aware of the unseen water that will satisfy our thirst?

Water may also be a symbol of love, so let us shift the metaphor a bit: we can think of ourselves as fishes swimming not in water but in love; love surrounds us; love is our substance; love has made us; love is our destination. Now imagine that you find yourself a guest in a magnificent home; love has invited you there, and with infinite care love provides you with all that you need – not only your food and clothing, but your body and even the capacity to feel love, your heart, were specially made for you. The more we become aware of this unlimited, extraordinary kindness, the more we will wish to behave in a way that is harmonious with that ever-flowing love. We will look for ways to show our gratitude and our appreciation, and we will make more and more space in our mind and heart for this unceasing generosity.

There is an important difference between this kind of attunement and the imposition of dogmatic rules. The mechanical observance of some discipline will have a mechanical result, whereas what is offered with living awareness will have a living result. And when we become truly living, we will find that, as Hazrat Inayat Khan has said, our heart is no longer ours ‘since Thou has made it Thy dwelling place.’

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