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Spiritual Maturity and Service

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

Strive to become the true human being:
one who knows love, one who knows pain.
Be full, be humble, be utterly silent,
be the bowl of wine passed from hand to hand.
    Al-Ansâri


Servanthood

On the Sufi path the highest station is servanthood. We are here for our Beloved. All of our effort, our practices, our inner work, are in order to serve our Beloved better, to be more attentive to the needs of the divine. There is a simplicity and wonder in being of service that belongs to the soul’s relationship with God, with the way God looks towards us and we look towards God. 

At the beginning of the path the Beloved looks into our heart and ignites the fire of longing, the pain of separation that draws the lover back to God. Through this longing we are taken into the mystery of mystical love, the way God reveals divine presence within the heart. We are taken by love to love. Through our efforts and aspirations we work to make a space empty for love. With sincerity and attention we work on our problems, confront our fears, anxieties, and the shadow, the rejected and unacknowledged part of ourself. We discover the light that is in this darkness, how the light of the Self shines in the hidden places of our psyche. Through our practices and remembrance we learn to look towards this light and bring it into our daily life.

As we walk upon the path we discover that the ego and its desires no longer hold us so tightly, that we are no longer so caught up in our conditioning and psychological dynamics. The mind with its continual thoughts no longer possesses us. Slowly, gradually, we become awake to another reality, the light of divine love. The path then opens the doors of servanthood, showing us how we can be attentive to the needs of love. The Sufi practice of “polishing the mirror of the heart” is the inner work that is needed so that we can reflect the light of the Beloved into the world.

In the West we tend to identify “service” with outer activity, and although there are many valuable ways we can be in service in the outer world, there is also a dimension of spiritual service that belongs to the inner world and the light of the divine. This divine light is everywhere, just as divine love is the substance of life. And yet this light is hidden. It is hidden within life just as it is hidden within us. The work of the lover is to reveal the light of love, through which we can see how this world is a reflection of the Beloved and a place of divine revelation—“Wheresoever you turn, there is the face of God.”

We can access this light most easily in our heart and soul. Our souls are made of a quality of light, a light that belongs to God and carries a knowing of its source. Through this light the soul sees its way, the path it needs to follow, the destiny that needs to be lived. Without this light there could be no evolution, no meaning to life.

Spiritual life is a means to bring the light of the soul into the world. Spiritual practices give us access to our light and the teachings of the path help us live it in our daily life. The more our light shines in this world the easier it is to follow a spiritual path and be guided from within. Through this light the inner meaning of the soul comes into our life, and the wonder of God becomes visible. In this light we see the oneness that belongs to God, that is a direct expression of the divine. Without this light we only see the reflections of our illusory self, the shadows of the ego—we are veiled from divine oneness.

Sadly, in the West much of our understanding of spiritual life has been subverted by the values of the ego. Only too often we see spiritual life in terms of self-development, the desire for progress or achieving spiritual states. We overlook the basic principle that the path is never about us, about our individual or spiritual well-being. Spiritual maturity is to recognize that our efforts and work upon ourself are for the sake of service, service to our Beloved and to the whole of life. In the oneness of love there is no difference.

The Work of the Mystic


We are living at a time of transition. Only too clearly can we see around us the debris of a decaying civilization, the pollution and ecological crisis that threatens our survival, the dominance of material values and collective greed, the lack of real meaning and the desecration of much that is sacred. The world is dying and it needs the light of His love to reawaken.

In our own journey we know that any time of crisis is also a time of opportunity. When powerful forces constellate, they carry the potential for transformation as well as destruction. What is true of our individual journey is also true for the world. The tremendous clash of opposites, of light and dark, that is threatening such destruction and seemingly polarizing the world belongs to the birth pains of a global transformation. But in order for this transformation to be successful it needs our attention. It needs the participation of those committed to service, whose consciousness can be aligned to something greater than their personal well-being.

At any time of real crisis our work is to look beyond the plane of action and reaction to where real help and grace are given. Through our prayers and devotion, we align ourself with the love and power of the divine without whose presence we are left alone with our own self-destructive conflicts. Sadly, we have tended to place prayer and devotion solely within the sphere of our personal relationship with the divine, not recognizing its larger dimension which concerns the well-being of the whole.

Only the divine that can heal and transform the world—the forces of antagonism in the world are too powerfully constellated for us to resolve on our own. But the divine needs our participation: we are the guardians of the planet. Working together with the power and light of the divine, we can help turn this moment of crisis into a time of global awakening. And what is the nature of this work? In our masculine culture we identify work with “doing” and activity. But to hold a space for the divine requires the feminine quality of “being.” Through the simplicity of living our inner connection to the divine, we link the worlds together.

Central to this transformation and awaking is the uniting of the outer and inner worlds. Much of our present predicament comes from isolating ourself in the outer physical world, to such a degree that we have almost forgotten the presence of the inner worlds. And yet it is always from within that divine grace and healing come. Those who have committed themselves to spiritual work have turned inward, and through meditation, prayer, dreamwork, and other practices, have begun to reclaim the inner world.

Sufis are known as “soldiers of the two worlds,” living in the outer world of daily activity and the inner world—“outwardly to be with the people, inwardly to be with God.” Through real attention to daily life we bring the awareness and the light of the soul into the outer world. This is described in the Naqshbandi Sufi practice of “Attentiveness” (nigah dasht)—“Be always attentive to what you are thinking and doing so you may place the imprint of your immortality on every passing incident and instance of your daily life.”

Through the simplicity of our daily life we make our contribution; through being true to our self and our lived connection to our Beloved, we bring divine presence into a world that for too long has suffered from the experience of divine absence. Bringing the worlds together we can help the heart of the world awaken and the world become transformed.

Working Between the Worlds

Sufis are also trained to work between the worlds. Between the plane of the soul and the physical world of the senses is the intermediate realm of mystery, the imaginal world of symbolic and archetypal images. This is the world of our dreams and desires, of symbols and sacred images. It is the ancient realm of the gods. The energy from the source of life flows through this intermediate realm where it begins to take on form and become an image of what will be in the outer. It is the realm of meaning, and the sacred foundation of outer life.

What we do not realize is how we have polluted and desecrated this inner realm. We think of pollution as belonging only to the outer world of nature, not understanding how our inner nature has also been filled with debris. Psychology may show us how our personal unconscious becomes full of the rejected and abandoned parts of our self, and how our patterns of denial can cause us problems. But we do not realize how this has happened on a collective level. A culture that works creatively with the symbolic realm helps the energy of life to flow freely, and keeps clear its connection to its natural and divine source. In contrast, our rejection and denial of the sacred and its values, in particular our patriarchal rejection and oppression of the sacred feminine, the Great Mother, has had disastrous inner consequences. Our connection is polluted to such a degree that we can hardly be nourished from within, but depend more and more upon external stimulus to give meaning to life.

Entering and working in this inner world is no longer a joyous reconnection with our symbolic and sacred nature. Here the forces of greed and domination whose effects we see in the outer world do not attempt to hide behind the disguise of economic progress, but can be experienced tramping over the inner world with boots of exploitation, trying to destroy our remaining values and corrupt everything that remains sacred.
This has become a murky world, and often individuals are now drawn into it out of greed, using the imagination and manipulating its images to manifest their desires, using this ancient “secret” for personal gain. There used to be shamans working with the inner for the benefit of life; now their techniques are sold in the marketplace. Much of the new age has just created a new level of inner corruption, a further desecration, where people enter the inner for their own sake, for power or personal well-being.

God’s servants work to keep open pathways of light in this realm, to keep places of joy and sacred values protected. And they work to free the inner world from the negative energies that hinder the flow of the light of the soul of the world. The light of the soul of the world is like the spiritual life-blood of the planet. It nourishes the spiritual body of the planet and all of life. It flows where it is needed, bringing inner nourishment and healing to life. But at the end of the patriarchal era it cannot flow freely or directly. There are blocks that impede its movement, places of negative energy so dense that it cannot flow. Here the spiritual body of life becomes sick, life loses its meaning. Through their practices, devotions and ethical way of living, the Beloved’s servants work in these places, dissolving the blocks before they become fatal, helping the light to flow. They bring light and remembrance to the places of darkness and forgetfulness.

Working with the Light of the World

There is also a work that is done from the plane of pure being. The mystic who is surrendered to God is inwardly present in this dimension of light upon light. This is the light of the soul of the world, the essential inner dimension of pure light that is present within every cell of creation and yet hidden, veiled from ordinary consciousness.

Mystics are a “brotherhood of migrants who keep watch on the world and for the world.” Working in the inner world we look after its well-being, keeping it aligned with the highest principles of creation, with divine love and power. We keep the balance between the worlds, and at this time of transition are working to bring the light of the soul into the outer world so that it can act as the agent of transformation that is needed at this time. This light is the pure light of God and the simplicity of His essence. It alone can heal and transform the wasteland of our present civilization and awaken us from a sleep of more than a thousand years. Without this light we will remain in our present self-destructive cycle.

Because His servants have given themselves in spiritual service they have direct access to this light and are allowed to work with it in the world. Living ordinary lives, they often pass unnoticed, but they carry this quality of pure being, this essence of love. They weave it into the fabric of their everyday life, nourishing the web of life with His essence.

At this time those in service are being linked together. Some of these connections are made in the inner worlds and some in the outer. Only when we are connected together can we support each other and effectively counter the denseness of our present material culture and its dominant power dynamics. Working together we can create a consciousness that is about unity rather than divisiveness, about “we” rather than “me.” We can celebrate the interconnectedness of life and the oneness that is its foundation and true nature. Together we can bring the light of the divine more directly to where it is needed. We can help the world to awaken from its present materialistic nightmare to an awareness of the unity and sacredness of all of creation.  This is the future that is being offered.

Spiritual maturity means to stand in the midst of life holding the light of the soul in one’s heart, and living this light in one’s ordinary everyday life. Working together, each in our own way, we can participate in a real spiritual alchemy: how through our divine light the heart of the world can open and the whole of creation experience a global transformation—the rebirth for which it is waiting.


© 2010 The Golden Sufi Center

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee is a sheikh in the Naqshbandiyya-Mujadidiyya Sufi Order. Born in London in 1953, he has followed the Naqshbandi Sufi path since he was 19. In 1991 he moved to Northern California and became the successor of Irina Tweedie, author of Chasm of Fire and Daughter of Fire. In recent years, the focus of his writing and teaching has been on spiritual responsibility in our present time of transition, and the emerging global consciousness of oneness. He has also specialized in the area of dreamwork, integrating the ancient Sufi approach to dreams with the insights of modern psychology. Llewellyn is the founder of The Golden Sufi Center and author of several books. workingwithoneness.org, goldensufi.org

Read more about Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

Comments (20)
  • Thank you for the article that speaks from within and out.  May I ask when will the words come to an end, when they will no longer be needed.
    Sincerely with love

    — Deborah on October 6, 2010

  • Thank-you Dr. Vaughan-Lee for a beautiful article .… stating a simple mystical truth that there is no greater blessing and freedom for a soul than to be used in His service… may each of us be inspired to be emptied and used.

    — Anonymous on October 6, 2010

  • Wanting less; being more; reflection and service… remembering… ‘A condition of complete simplicity (Costing not less than everything)’ [T S Eliot, “Little Gidding”] ...  Unless we become as little children… Matthew 18.

    — Gillian on October 7, 2010

  • This clash of opposites, of light and dark that seems to be polarising the world.This clash certainly has seemed to constellate itself in my own life in the past few years. It has made concious a desperate need to surrender and put myself aside and bow down to the beloved and practice, something I am beginning to do thank God! A great talk , thank you very much

    — Gino on October 7, 2010

  • It is always a joy to read the beautiful expressions of LLewellyn Vaughan-Lee. Greetings from my heart, love, Sonia

    — SONIA GILBERT on October 7, 2010

  • here we are, knights of divine light, joined together through the heart. thank you for articulating the many ways we can contribute to the re-awakening.

    — dilawar on October 7, 2010

  • Many years of growing up gay in a homophobic world has covered the mirror or my heart with the dust of humiliation, and internalized homophobia. As a gay man, my spiritual path involves dusting off the mirror of my heart through psychological inner work so that it can reflect Beloved’s beauty.
    Thank you Dr. Vaughan-Lee for this beautiful article.

    — Payam Ghassemlou on October 7, 2010

  • Merci Sheikh Llewellyn and, a big hug to you Payam.

    THOUGHTS IN THE SISTINE CHAPEL


        There, on the ceiling, God’s finger reaching out
        Nearly touches Adam’s finger, yet
        Why the distance?  Why did he hesitate?

        In that instant, it came to me in a flash:
        Geometry, Epistomology—
        The folding and unfolding of the flesh
        As things pile up in the backwash of the sea.

        In that instant, a narwhale came to rest.
        A dinosaur unfurled its length of bone.
        I saw a cathedral rise out of the ribs of a beast
        That would, in time, give birth to another one.

        Nothing is impossible.  The least is most.
        And most of all are the swallows that perch on stone—
        Build their nests, and nestle bone to bone.

    —David George

    — Lisa on October 7, 2010

  • so many of us feel helpless in the face of our decaying civilization and feel the pain of the earth and its creatures and wonder how we can truly be of service.  Thank you for helping me understand better the deep meaning of servanthood

    — arlan on October 8, 2010

  • It is always a relief to see the Truth outside of ourselves, in world where there is so much corruption and confusion. Thank you, dr. Vaughan-Lee for holding such purity with such strength in the world.

    — Stone on October 9, 2010

  • I always love your books and articles,you had a beautiful teacher to guide you,as mine always says as quoated—we all are spritual beings going through a human expereince.Thank you keep up the good work.

    — reshma jethmalani on October 10, 2010

  • Thank you Llewellyn for your good, insightful words. May the work between worlds continue until we have whirled peas!

    — Tamam Kahn on October 12, 2010

  • As a survivor of extreme childhood sexual and psychological abuse in my own family and community I grew up in, I want to give voice for all those children who didn’t survive, all those who barely survived, and those of us that have chosen to be conscious and alive through a lifetime of sometimes tortuous inner work:

    From a dissociative solitude
    void of loving words or faces
    from the turbulent waves
    of the tortured internal places
    more children have joined the ranks
    of those who came out long ago
    became so boldly unafraid
    of such a conscious state
    to find some hope for peace
    that wars will finally cease
    and in those sacred regions
    within and in between
    where Divinity exists so personally
    keep listening in the darkness
    awaiting the whispered secrets
    most divine of Love’s power
    still surrender to exquisite ecstasies
    within conditions of our darkest hour
    from behind the winds and under the waves
    from above the clouds and before the suns
    from within that deepest center
    beyond forgetting, and remembering
    that place in which no homage is due
    where no being is left out
    or mirrors required
    when there is nothing left
    to grieve or to forgive
    in deepest desire and greatest need
    realized in the shattering and the strife
    crossing parallels when souls are freed
    within, that sacred Source of life
    made known and felt in time apart
    when that divine Beloved becomes the flame
    of a dark and empty heart.

    — Zahira on October 14, 2010

  • once again , your words touch my heart with clarity.i am inspired, thank you mr. vaughn-lee.

    — chris on October 15, 2010

  • Thank you Zahira for a beautiful and wise poem

    — L.A. Larrabee on October 21, 2010

  • Upon reading this article, I had a vision of a stream. Each drop of water in full surrender flowing toward the One. Where there was an impediment, the stream did not cease to flow. It continued onward, flowing another way, its movement effortless. Yes, to be that drop of water in full surrender to the Beloved!

    — waterwaysoflight on October 26, 2010

  • Thank you so much for deepening our understanding of all that service is.

    — Lucy Yanz on December 7, 2010

  • I am not a sufi, yet you describe beautifully here what I long to do in friendship with Christ.
    Thank you!

    — Claire Blatchford on December 31, 2010

  • as always, what is before us reminds us that in each moment , we can strive for the world and for all of us,
    in peace,

    — friend on March 1, 2011

  • thank you for giving voice to the only real meaning our lives may hold; may we heed these words for His sake

    — J.D. on March 30, 2011

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4 October 2010

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