The beauty we are so moved by gives a clue about the heavens we ascribe as elsewhere because we are so used to thinking geographically. The Sufis prefer to say that the physical world is made of clues, called ayat, that give some sense of the reality that is trying to transpire through it. Wherever there is a touch of beauty, our mind seems to engage in what the Sufis call tawil, that is to proceed from the actual experience to the attempt to attune oneself to, or grasp, that splendor which can never be grasped and which is beyond any attunement in its infinite regress. Yet there is a capacity in the human being to imagine that one can reach beyond what one has been able to encompass thus far. This longing is expressed, in the words of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan as “a passion for the unattainable.”
This nostalgia is based upon bewonderment, the wonderment of the sky at sunrise or sunset, or sharing in the miracle of people coming together in search of their ideal. Bewonderment of what is coming through. The universe is, as scientists say, not just intelligent but elegant. An ascetic value arouses our emotion. We are bewondered by the intelligence, but even more so by the elegance with which this intelligence is adorned. It awakens in ourselves a kind of innate sense of beauty.
Remember this: In order to bring out the light that is within you, or to discover splendor within each of us, we need to experience it. Therefore, we are seeking for it in some kind of concrete expression in a person, or in a beautiful sunrise. First encounter light from outside. Then discover that when you look at a beautiful dawn, this is your own being. It makes your light burn more brightly.
If it could be attained! You know that is what we are doing all the time. We are trying to attain things. But this is like the horizon. The further you advance the further it recedes. So it’s not as though you can say I’ve got it now, I’m an illuminated being. Now I’ve got illumination! I put it in my pocket! No, it’s always beyond.
The Sufi’s use the words consternation of intelligence. There is no way the mind can make sense of it. So bewondering becomes glorification. One can’t account for it in one’s understanding. Ibn ’Arabi says it well: Knowledge is veil on the known.
These words of Pir Vilayat were extracted from retreats led by him on March 16, 1995 and March 7, 1999 and edited by Amida Cary.