Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim.
Our base condition, our root condition, our normative condition, is ecstasy. That’s what we’ve been designed to experience. An ecstasy of such a profound character and nature, that to experience it even for a moment, is to fulfill a life. It is to have achieved the purpose of a life.
The question is do we experience that ecstasy? Mostly, we don’t. Mostly, we experience our lives as exactly the opposite. We are somewhat fearful and discontented and feeling somehow at the mercy of forces that are outside of our control. You cannot describe that experience as ecstatic at all. If this euphoria is therefore our base condition, how is it that we don’t experience it? Why are we then so alienated from our own core truth and our own core reality?
We’ve coated our beings with a film that makes it impossible for us to experience the reality.
It is as if we are people who are in a tropical climate, in parkas, feeling cold. From one point of view, its unutterably bizarre that we do not experience that which is the core condition of our being. Euphoria and ecstasy is what blood is made out of. It is what metabolizing is constituted of. It is the essence of breathing, it’s the essence of looking, it’s the very essence of being.
So why don’t we experience it?
If you can imagine coating your tongue with plastic, and then drinking a sweet sherbet, and surely afterwards you’d say, “I can’t taste the sherbet, I can’t taste anything.” That’s what we’ve done. We’ve coated our beings with a film that makes it impossible for us to experience the reality. The film that we’ve coated our beings with is that which repels experience, just like the plastic coat on your tongue repels the sherbet. The coating on your being that repels experience is not appreciating. It is being ungrateful.
If you have in front of you the most stupendous bouquet of flowers, but your attention is on the other side of the room, hoping that something beautiful would appear on the wall, you don’t see the bouquet of flowers that is in front of you. Without appreciating what’s in front of you, your attention wanders somewhere else. We don’t see what’s in front of us. We don’t experience that which is immediate because we have somehow convinced ourselves with this idea that we’re owed something else, something else that is better. The desire to have better is based on resentment, the assumption that we deserve more than we have.
Without appreciating what’s in front of you, your attention wanders somewhere else.
Resentment has a twin brother called guilt. They have the same effect. Both guilt and resentment work on the self in the same way. We can describe guilt as resentment aimed at the self, whereas resentment we would normally apply to the other. The problem with both of those impostors is that they force you into a competitive relationship with life. As soon as you’re either guilty or resentful you’re playing angels and devils, you’re saying “better than” or “worse than”. You’re either putting yourself above or you’re putting yourself below.
As soon as you’ve done that you’ve made yourself distinct, and that making yourself distinct makes it impossible for you to be penetrated. For me to taste the sherbet, I’ve got to absorb it into my body. I’ve got to put to into my mouth, allow the chemicals to go into my tongue, and swallow it in. I’ve got to absorb it, otherwise I don’t experience the sherbet. But if you keep on saying, “This is beneath me,” you’re not opening yourself, you’re closing yourself off. You’re saying, “I’m separate from it, I’m not connected to it.” Of the two resentments – the resentment against the world and the resentment against the self – the more difficult and pernicious one to work with is this resentment against the self.
In a sense, we are least forgiving of our own failings. I’m not suggesting to give yourself license to carry on like a maniac. However, you have to understand that a man who deems himself unworthy cannot fully savour what he’s been gifted with. If I say I am unworthy then everything I receive is like stolen property.
Our sense of guilt and resentment towards ourselves produces a discourse of unworthiness. and that theme of unworthiness is deeply toxic to ourselves. It is the key thing that perpetuates our suffering. It is true that an arrogant man is really hiding his inferiority. Similarly, a resentful man is really hiding his deep sense of unworthiness. Because if you’ve done me in, then I must be a lesser being worthy to be done in. Then I’m not worthy. I’m not significant enough to not be done in.
So I might be articulating resentment towards the world, but what I’m actually articulating is my own sense of inadequacy and unworthiness. This indulgence in your own sense of unworthiness is an immense affront to your Rabb, Allah subhana wa taala. It is the greatest ingratitude. Imagine this: your Rabb has this indescribably intelligent foresight and genius orchestrated every single event since the Big Bang to produce this miracle of your life and your comment on the miracle is that you are unworthy.
Surely the appropriate response to the One who granted you something wonderful is thankfulness.
When the Rasul (peace be upon him) groomed himself, he used to thank Allah for having made him handsome. This is how it is. Surely the appropriate response to the One who granted you something wonderful is thankfulness. And what greater boon do we have to be thankful for than the extraordinary gift of our life. You cannot be thankful if you consider your life to be something demeaning, of no significance or dismissible.
You aren’t unworthy. You are absolutely the pinnacle of existence. Now that doesn’t give you license to be arrogant. It does give you license to stop the competition. The humility of the fakir is not the humility of the slave. The humility of the slave is that he grovels in front of the one who dominates him. At the same time the slave dominates the one who grovels in front of him. That’s not a free man.
The humility of the fakir is that he grovels to no one and nobody grovels to him. He is so sure of this extraordinary miracle of his own life that he no longer needs to compete. He doesn’t have to show anybody that he’s superior to them or inferior to them. He is no longer having an argument with life. He is at peace.
So we must guard ourselves from the jealousy because we have to understand that we do not actually exist as individuals. We exist as part of something far bigger than ourselves, and that which you harbour in yourself spills out of you. It is like thinking that you can put sawdust laced with arsenic in a potato sack and then toss it into the river, and you won’t poison the water!
You have to understand that your sense of of unworthiness and of resentment is not a private affair. It is the most public affair. It is the first crime. Absolutely all our misbehaviour is the product of that view. Why should anybody steal anybody else’s stuff, if he doesn’t somehow feel that he’s been done in? Why would you do anything harmful to anybody else unless you were suffering from an illusion that you’ve been done in, that your life is miserable and that you’re miserable? So you have to understand that at the root of our criminality is the conviction that we’re not worthy. By this criterion every human being is a criminal.
At the root of our criminality is the conviction that we’re not worthy.
You have every right to revel in wonder at your own talent and this extraordinary thing of your own life, as long as its truly “MashaAllah, Alhamdulillah.” As long as it is not, “Look at how clever I am, how I’ve made myself.” That is not gratitude at all. To congratulate yourself because you’ve made your own life is not gratitude, it’s something else. You’re exceptional not because you’re self-made. You’re exceptional because you’ve been made by a Genius far bigger than you. How can you dream to reproduce your life? That’s crazy. Consider what it implies to re-invent your life, from the biological foundation up, all the systems involved – the chemical systems, the skeletal systems, the muscular systems, the mechanical systems. And then on top of that all the meaning, all the people. You take all of this, an extraordinary bundle of stuff that has made your life, and then you say, “I’m a self-made man.”
That’s just astonishing beyond belief. No wonder you feel unworthy. You will feel unworthy if you claim that as a product of your own genius, because then you are the thief. Then you are taking that which isn’t yours. Your ecstasy is rooted in the realisation that your life is extraordinary not by your genius, but by a Genius far greater than yours. The genesis of this ecstatic euphoria which is our birthright is gratitude, and it’s outcome is awe. Its beginning is gratitude, and its outcome is awe.
May Allah grant us nearness to Him.
May He grant us annihilation in Him.
May He grant us death before we die.
This discourse was given by Shaykh Ebrahim after a dhikr session on the 2nd of February, 2013.