Sufism & The Eleventh Hour
by Kabir Helminski
There should be little doubt about it: We have arrived at a defining moment for the human race. Science is telling us that Nature, the web of life on which we depend, is suffering from fever and infection, that the current industrial consumer society is a virtual cancer killing its host, the planet we live on. People everywhere are waking up to this fact; the means may even be available to do something about it, but we seem to lack the strong will needed, especially in the form of clear political leadership, to quickly change our unconscious, wasteful, and selfish ways.
The question arises: What is the significance of Sufism in what could be the last minute of the last hour of human life on this planet?
If we restrict our attention to issues of past centuries, ignoring the moment in which we live, we will have ignored the application of traditional wisdom to the realities of our lives. If we allow Sufism to be only an esoteric past time, a private, academic, or sentimental preoccupation, we will have failed in the necessary Work.
There are politicians who try to manipulate and control us with the fear of terrorism. Many business and corporate leaders obsess about the economy, focused on short term profits. Too many advertisers, oblivious to environmental degradation, attempt to hypnotize us with desires. And many religious leaders have reduced their notion of morality almost exclusively to issues of the flesh, while global militarization and social inequities go unaddressed. And many of us, conditioned by the noise of all the above, wind up demonizing and scapegoating some “other.”
Having recently viewed Leonardo diCaprio’s “The Eleventh Hour,” the global environmental crisis is much in our minds. The film’s strength is that it graphically and convincingly presents the problems of our world ecological crisis and offers some hope for solutions. Its weakness is that it presents humanity in purely scientific terms, as just another species, and a latecomer to the world at that, and yet a species with an enormous propensity for destruction through our technological powers.
Perhaps not enough people would accept the spiritual significance of nature and the role that human consciousness and love must play in our own physical and spiritual survival. Perhaps the global crisis must be portrayed in these merely scientific terms because few know how to present the spiritual perspective without devolving into sentimentality and sectarian beliefs.
But the crisis we are in is the result of a state of mind that sees the physical world in quantitative, scientific terms. Much of the world has lost the idea of nature as sacred, as the “Book of God,” and as a necessary source of spiritual healing.
Yet we are all essentially spiritual beings longing for real connection with each other, for some core experience of truth we can trust, and for a sustainable and truly human way of life.
To say that the human being is “the crown of creation” is not to claim the right to exploit nature for our own purposes. To say that we are made in the image and likeness of God is not to deny that we have an intimate and integral connection with the natural world. Human consciousness is something of profound value and significance on this planet and to lose it will not be to lose just another species, but to diminish the possibilities of the Divine in Nature.
Sufism matters because it grasps the Oneness of existence and recognizes the interdependence of Life. It understands that all levels of reality form a coherent and compassionate whole.
Sufism matters because it understands that the human being has a unique responsibility as servant (`abd) and caretaker (khalifah) within the realm of nature.
Sufism matters because it offers a profound understanding of the tangle of human egoism (nafs) and how it can be transformed into servanthood by Love. Nothing less is needed today. It is now a matter of spiritual and actual survival.
Kabir Helminski is a Shaikh of the Mevlevi order and Director of the Threshold Society. The Threshold Society, rooted within the traditions of Sufism and inspired by the life and work of Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi, is a non-profit educational foundation with the purpose of facilitating the experience of Divine Unity, Love, and Truth in the world. We welcome people of all faiths and cultural backgrounds as we seek to apply the essential principles of spiritual development. In Sufism we inevitably move to transcend much of the conditioning of our culture and religion, but we use certain traditional forms as a way of practice. The Society is affiliated with the Mevlevi Order, and offers training programs, seminars and retreats around the world. These are intended to provide a structure for practice and study within Sufism and spiritual psychology.