Seven Pillars House of Wisdom > Articles > The Iron Rules, Number Seven

The Iron Rules, Number Seven

Pir Zia Inayat-Khan

My conscientious self, do not spare yourself in the work you must accomplish.

I can imagine this might not be what you want to hear. None of us wants to work ourself into the ground. But before recoiling, consider closely the implications of the words. What one must not spare oneself in is specifically the work you must accomplish.

Not every work is the work you must accomplish. As it is, we might be over-exerting ourselves in all kinds of efforts that do not ultimately contribute significantly to our life’s purpose. But when it comes to one’s life purpose, one must pursue it with complete resolve.

To pursue a task with resolve does not mean violating nature’s law. If it is to be successful, action must always be balanced by repose. On the path of accomplishment, the rheum of sleeping eyes is as necessary as the sweat of laboring limbs.

What matters is the life-force behind an action. If you look back over your life, you will see that certain courses of action, undertaken with clear determination and enacted with the sum total of your being, have built you up, brick by brick, to be the person that you are today. By contrast, other sorts of actions, lacking resolve or keen awareness, have contributed negligibly to your becoming.

It is one of life’s ironies that that which tugs at our appetites most temptingly in the short term often proves least satisfying in the long run. Yes, there are times when ease of body and exaltation of spirit are of a piece. But just as often we are faced with a choice: the cozy comfort of base-camp or the transcendent glory of the hard–won summit. By freeing ourselves from the compulsion of paltry gratifications we are made ready for the attainment of great and soulful joys.

From a Sufi perspective, the whole universe is a phenomenon of desire. The Divine desire pervades all things and beings, empowering each according to its capacity. For the mystic, the truest education is the education of desire. By means of this education the indwelling Divine desire is liberated from the constraints of the ego and becomes a force for the transfiguration of the world.

Desire incarnates and accomplishes its purpose in three stages. The first stage is pure desire. Here one experiences desire in and of itself, without object. This is one’s share in God’s own infinite longing. Lord Shiva instructs in the Vijnana-Bhairava: “When a desire appears, the aspirant should, with the mind withdrawn from all objects, fix his mind on it as the very Self, then he will have the realization of the essential Reality.”

The second stage is wish. Here, out of the swirling vapor of the Cloud of All-possibility, beauty reveals itself, an ideal to be attained. Desire now has a direction. This is the moment to set one’s goal and to envision the steps leading to that goal.

The third stage is will. Will is the soul-power that translates thought into deed, rendering inspired visions into tangible accomplishments. When one’s limbs, one’s tongue, and one’s glance heed the call of one’s will, immense power is the result.

Every attainment is possible when the will is focused, when the blazing light of one’s true purpose outshines every distracting temptation. Then the desired object is sure to be obtained.

Once obtained, it too must be transcended, for as the horizon recedes, a still greater goal comes into sight.

Pir Zia Inayat-Khan is a scholar and teacher of Sufism in the lineage of his grandfather, Hazrat Inayat Khan. He received his B.A. (Hons) in Persian Literature from the London School of Oriental and African Studies, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Religion from Duke University. Pir Zia is founder of Seven Pillars House of Wisdom, and also of Sulūk Academy, a school of contemplative study with branches in the U.S. and Europe. His most recent books are Saracen Chivalry: Counsels on Valor, Generosity and the Mystical Quest and Caravan of Souls: An Introduction to the Sufi Path of Hazrat Inayat Khan, both published by Sulūk Press, an imprint of Omega Publications.

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14 January 2010

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responsibility, purpose, work, will,
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