By Mehrdad Noorani
The spiritual path is an endless path towards one’s essence. It is also a path that begins and ends within oneself. Yet despite this, all spiritual masters have walked this path under the guidance of someone who had previously traversed the path, as even Jesus took guidance at some stage from his teacher, John the Baptist. Thus, the spiritual journey is a path by which, under the guidance of a qualified and authorised master, one can fulfil the potentials of one’s soul.
Nevertheless, each of us in some way walks a unique path as we all have our own life stories and life experiences that give us our perspectives. Perspectives that are often based on our cultural, social and religious upbringing.
However, there is also a distinct difference in terms of the perspectives and experiences between practitioners who are actually walking the path and those who show no interest in walking the path, or are merely happy to observe other’s journeys or comment on past master’s journeys without ever actually taking a step towards their soul’s untapped potential. The following story, based on Nasserdin Tales as translated by Idris Shah, illustrates this case.
One day, as a sage was sitting discussing matters of a philosophical and spiritual nature with other learned men, the conversation was suddenly interrupted by the thoughtless remarks made by a man outside the circle. After the man’s interruptions continued for a while, in response the sage asked, ‘Don’t you have any other vocation in life other than to interrupt?’ The man retorted, ‘Of course I do, for I am a cobbler!’ Hearing this, the sage removed his shoes and ripped them apart. Handing them to the cobbler, he said ‘If you are what you say, then you will be able to mend these. Bring them back as good as new in an hour’s time and I will believe you!’
This short story has many symbolic teachings, but perhaps the most relevant one concerning the path of our lives is the symbol of the shoe. A shoe is a symbol of a spiritual journey for all seekers who are interested in gnostic symbolism and teachings, especially in regard to the visionary mystical experiences of a seeker. The shoe, in effect, represents many different signs for a seeker as its shape, colour, heel size, and even its texture teaches the seeker a great deal about their metaphysical journey towards the soul.
The colour of the seeker’s shoe, in the context of spiritual experience, can represent the level of the seeker. Its shape gives guidance on the nature of the journey. Its heel the inner balance of the seeker in their path, and its texture gives direction on the nature of their walk, and the seeker’s attachments to the physical world.
Rumi, who is probably the most famous Sufi master in the world, in regard to the symbol of the shoe says:
‘Explaining that the body is as a garment to the spirit, and that this (bodily) hand is the sleeve of the spirit’s hand, and that this (bodily) foot is the shoe of the spirit’s foot.
(I mention this insensibility to pain) that you may know that the body is like a garment. Go, seek the wearer of the garment, do not kiss a garment.
To the spirit the knowledge of the Unity is sweeter (than care for the body): it hath a hand and foot different from those which are visible.
You may behold in dream the (spiritual) hand and foot and their connexion (with the spiritual body): deem that (vision) a reality, deem it not to be in vain.
You are such that without the (material) body you have a (spiritual) body: do not, then, dread the going forth of the soul from the body.’
Given the above mentioned points, what is even more important for a seeker is how they use their shoe in walking the path. We all possess freewill, so we can therefore all travel the path in an infinite number of ways.
However, the difference between a guided seeker and an unguided one is that the guided one will invariably try to walk in the footsteps of their guide, as this is in effect the most optimal path for a seeker. By virtue of being qualified and authorised, the guide has traversed the path and established a connection to the collective consciousness of all the previous guides or masters through their own journey. The guide knows how to lead others along the most optimal path, thereby avoiding the numerous traps, side alleys or dead ends that exist along the way, all created by the ego of the seeker, or their preconceptions and misconceptions.
Therefore, when the sage gives his shoes to the man to go and fix, he is invariably telling the man that before he interrupts the discussion of those who have walked the path, he should go and learn to make a shoe fit for his own journey and take a few steps along the path taken by the sage. Only in this way will he be able to traverse all the misconceptions and preconceptions he has about the path, which give him the tendency to interrupt the sage, or to act like those who often write commentaries on the works of spiritual masters without actually walking in their shoes.
In the introductory verses of his masterpiece Masnavi, Rumi also gives similar advice as the sage gave to the man in the story, for Rumi begins his Masnavi by saying,‘Listen to this reed how it complains, telling a tale of separations––‘
In this opening verse, Rumi is advising all seekers to seek out a guide who has become a reed flute and a conduit of divine consciousness. Later in the same poem he states how the reed has become such a conduit, when he says:
‘This noise of the reed is fire, it is not wind:
Whoso hath not this fire, may he be naught!
‘Tis the fire of Love that is in the reed,
’tis the fervour of Love that is in the wine.’
Here, Rumi guides all seekers to seek a guide who has become a guide as a result of the fire of love and has the inner state of divine ecstasy running within them.
Also in this poem, Rumi warns of the dangers posed by those who want to interpret his words without their own spiritual experiences, as he says:
‘Each became my friend out of their own surmise,
none sought to discover the secrets in my heart.
My secret indeed is not remote from my lament,
but eye and ear lack the light to perceive it.’
Therefore, through these verses, Rumi guides seekers away from interpretation without personal experiences and instead towards his inner secrets, which is a love for his beloved who, for Rumi, is in reality his master. As for Rumi, his master is the manifestation of divine consciousness, through his connection to the Universal Consciousness.
Towards the end of this poem, Rumi then guides all humanity to become seekers of their own essence by freeing themselves from worldly attachments through walking the spiritual path:
‘O son, burst thy chains and be free!
How long wilt thou be a bondsman to silver and gold?’
At the end of these introductory verses, Rumi – knowing that there are few who are willing to partake the path – before bidding farewell gives a final warning to those who want to interpret his words without similar experiences by saying:
‘None that is inexperienced comprehends the state of the ripe,
wherefore my words must be short; and now, farewell!’
Balance is key. As with any type of evolution, a stepwise progress is key. Sudden jumps can lead to unexpected falls, or incomplete progress. This principle also holds true for the substantial evolution of the body and the soul, which occurs as result of a seeker’s inner journey.
Furthermore, with regard to walking, what is also important in terms of healthy exercise, apart from how long and how fast a person walks, is the concept of step asymmetry. How each person walks in terms of the symmetry of their strides, how long each foot is above ground, how it lands, and how the person’s weight is distributed along each step, provides a physician with critical information about a person’s health. From this information, a physician can tell a great deal about the inner and outer balance of the person’s body as significant stride asymmetry can be a sign of various underlying health issues, like joint fatigue or inner ear balance difficulties.
A similar principle also holds in regard to the pace and symmetry of the spiritual strides of a seeker, and the special information this holds for the seeker’s guide, who Rumi labels as the ‘physician of the soul’, for or a spiritual guide’s focus is always on the inner balance of the seeker.
As Buddha wisely advised: ‘Maintain a state of balance between physical acts and inner serenity, like a lute whose strings are finely tuned.’ That is why Buddha chose the middle way as the path towards his enlightenment. Thus, balance is essential for all those walking their inner journey. However, this balance is something that requires a seeker to constantly keep in mind and make the necessary adjustments, as otherwise a seeker can be caught unware of their misalignment. Such a balance can in practice only be achieved by constant reflection on the way the seeker allocates their time to their life priorities, thereby avoiding surprises like misalignments along the way.
Consequently, even though there are as many paths towards the Universal Consciousness as human hearts or breaths, in order for all of us to walk our path, in practice we must seek a guide like Buddha or Rumi and then walk the path as guided by such a teacher. Moreover, we must also constantly reflect on how we are walking the path – whether it be in regard to our stride symmetry or the type of ‘shoe’ we are using in our journey so that we don’t end up getting lost along the way or walking into a dead-end – and instead keep walking in the footsteps of masters like Rumi or Buddha. Only then would we come face to face with the following words of Rumi: ‘When man and woman become one, Thou art that One; when the units are wiped out, lo, Thou art that (Unity).’
This Unity is the Universal Consciousness, which connects all our souls to each other as a result of the connections that seekers attain on the way to their inner enlightenment by walking their individual unique path. A path that results in each of us becoming a unique majestic flower in the flower garden known as Unity’s pure presence, stripped from all forms or veils! That is why Rumi, in regard to this garden, says: ‘The heart is the abode of security, O friends; (it has) fountains and rose-gardens within rose-gardens.
All Rumi’s poems in this article are from his Masnavi as translated by Nicholson.
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Mehrdad Noorani teaches the method of Heart Meditation and the Alchemy of Inner Silence. He has explored many spiritual paths and studied Gnosticism for 20+ years under the guidance of renowned Spiritual Master Dr Seyed M. Azmayesh. He is interested in bridging science and spirituality, and creating a link between the East and the West.