Polishing your heart
By Lynn Larkin MSW, ACSW
"Dear friend, your heart is a polished mirror. You must wipe it clean of the veil of dust that has gathered upon it, because it is destined to reflect the light of divine secrets." -al-Ghazzal
"Everyone sees the Unseen in proportion to the clarity of his heart, and that depends upon how much he has polished it. Whoever has polished it more sees more--more Unseen forms become manifest to him." -Rumi
The above quotes by two great Sufi masters describes the concept of "polishing the heart" which can provide valuable information on working on both personal and spiritual growth. Sufism uses the analogy of the human heart being like a polished mirror that reflects the light of the divine. The more polished ones' heart is, the more of the divine can be reflected. Unfortunately our hearts are usually covered with dust and rust so not as much of the divine can be reflected through us. This dust and rust is our lower unconscious, our shadow side, all those parts of ourselves that we'd rather pretend do not exist. Our job is to polish our hearts so more of the divine attributes can shine through us.
There are two ways of polishing the heart discussed in Sufism: remembrance of God, and recognizing and gaining control over the lower self.
Remembrance of the divine:
Sufism stresses the importance of remembering and experiencing the divine throughout the day. Muhammad said,"There is a polish for everything that takes away rust; and the polish of the heart is Zhiker, the invocation of God". Zhiker consists basically of the repetition of certain aspects of God over and over again. This is either done in groups or individually throughout the day. A common Zhiker is "la illa ha il allah" which is translated in different ways to mean "there is no God but God", "there is nothing but God", or "there is nothing but the divine". This, or a similar phrase, is repeated over and over throughout the day, always bringing one's attention back to the divine.
You might find something similar that helps to bring you back in touch with the divine inside of you throughout your day. Quoting Arabic might not fit into your path but perhaps prayer of some sort (following the advice in the Bible to "pray without ceasing") would suit you, or the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, staying aware throughout the day no matter what you are doing. Another way to remember the divine could be noticing the beauty in your life or constantly expressing gratitude throughout your day. Whatever method you choose, remembrance of the divine allows more light to shine through and be reflected in your life.
Working with the Lower Self:
In addition to remembrance of God, the Sufis also stress the importance of recognizing and gaining control over the lower self. The lower self is the dust and rust on the mirror that blocks the divine. It's all those parts of us we'd rather pretend we don't have. It's our selfishness, judgementalism, pride, jealousy, envy, laziness, dishonesty, etc… Our lower self are all those parts of us that don't fit into our concept of who we are as a loving person. Pushing these parts out of our awareness, they become what Jung referred to as our shadow side, so it is essential we look at these parts rather than ignore them. If we ignore the shadow it will pop up in our lives when we don't expect it. Also, when we suppress a part of ourselves, we put a lot of energy into blocking that part off and it can cause fatigue and various physical or emotional problems.
Bringing these parts into awareness, recognizing the dust and rust on the mirror, is the first step in cleaning up the lower self. It is important to realize that noticing these "not so nice" parts is a positive step in personal and spiritual growth and not an indication that you are backsliding. Many people become discouraged as they move down a spiritual path, feeling close to enlightenment, and "bam" something occurs which reminds you that you are still very, very human. The fact is that as we progress down a spiritual path it gets harder and harder to ignore these parts. It's similar to the analogy of not being able to see the dust in your home until the sunlight is streaming in the room causing every speck of dust to become much more obvious. The more light in out life, the more aware we become of the darkness.
Once we have begun to notice these obstacles that act as barriers to the divine reflection, it is important to look at them with courage and compassion or we might be tempted to push them out of our awareness again. It takes a lot of courage to do this work. Having compassion for yourself is essential in this process. Often people feel tremendous guilt and shame as these parts are exposed and beat themselves up. Criticizing yourself is not helpful and usually pushes the parts back into denial because it is too hard to look honestly at oneself in an atmosphere of self-judgment.
Exploring the positive intention of the part, what it is seeking, what it needs from you can help one stay in a place of compassion for this part we really would like to get rid of. In my experience I have found that most often this original intention is either to protect us in some way or to help us gain love. Of course the actual behavior never gets the need met but the original intention is important to consider. As a child someone may feel she needs to please others in order to obtain love and bring this hidden belief into adulthood. She may find herself being dishonest or manipulative in order to please others and obtain love. It is important to note that the intention of wanting to obtain love is not bad but the behavior, how this person goes about trying to obtain this love is distorted and must be understood and worked through to clean it off the heart.
Psychological growth and spiritual growth go hand in hand. As one grows spiritually more light comes in and more of the dust and rust on the mirror of the heart become evident. As one does their psychological work they polish more and more of the dust off their heart and more of the light of the divine can be reflected through them.
Lynn Larkin MSW, ACSW is a psychotherapist in private practice who believes that personal and spiritual growth are intimately connected. Lynn can be reached at (206) 322-4188.
This article was previously published in "The New Times", Seattle, WA
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