Living Presence cover

Living Presence - Book Summary

A Sufi Way to Mindfulness and the Essential Self

Duration: 27:50
Release Date: April 15, 2024
Book Author: Kabir Edmund Helminski
Categories: Religion & Spirituality, Mindfulness & Happiness, Philosophy
Duration: 27:50
Release Date: April 15, 2024
Book Author: Kabir Edmund Helminski
Categories: Religion & Spirituality, Mindfulness & Happiness, Philosophy

In this episode of 20 Minute Books, we're delving into "Living Presence" by Kabir Helminski, a seminal work that bridges ancient Sufi teachings with the challenges of our modern, often disconnected lives. Published in 1992, this book invites us on a journey to discover the infinite spirit that connects all life, suggesting that mindfulness and presence in the moment can reveal this profound connection within ourselves and with others. Helminski posits that by nurturing this awareness, we can cultivate a more intentional, compassionate, and vibrant existence, ultimately embodying what it means to be truly human.

Kabir Helminski brings over five decades of wisdom from the East and Middle East to Western readers, making complex spiritual concepts accessible and relevant. As an author of significant works like "The Knowing Heart" and "Holistic Islam," and as a translator of the poetry of the renowned Sufi mystic Rumi, Helminski is a respected shaikh in the Mevlevi Order of Sufi Islam. His contributions to spiritual literature and his status as one of “The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World,” as recognized by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre, underline the depth of insight and authority he brings to his readers.

"Living Presence" is a must-read for those curious about the practice of Sufi Islam, individuals seeking a deeper understanding of life's greater truths beyond our immediate perceptions, and anyone in search of solace and guidance through challenging times. Join us as we explore how Kabir Helminski's teachings can offer a path to becoming more alive, more intentional, and most importantly, more human.

Discover Inner Harmony by Connecting to the Infinite Spirit

In a world that seems to move at the speed of light, where technology and global markets blur the lines between nations and amplify our environmental footprints, we find ourselves at a crossroads. The world's fate is interlinked like never before, making the search for life's true meaning more urgent. Amidst this global connectivity, feelings of alienation, neuroticism, and shame are on the rise, underscoring a collective yearning for spiritual guidance and inner peace.

Amid these tumultuous times, the ancient wisdom of Sufism, a mystical Islamic tradition, emerges as a beacon of light. Offering a path to living in harmony with the world, Sufism teaches the art of existing in the present while forming a profound connection with the infinite spirit of the universe. This millennia-old guidance encourages us to shed the confines of our narrow perspectives and the restless discontent fueled by our egos, inviting us into a realm of expansive awareness and tranquility.

By delving into the teachings of Sufism, we embark on a journey of self-discovery, learning to align our actions with our true, essential selves and making our ego a servant rather than the master of our destiny. This spiritual voyage not only promises personal transformation but reveals fascinating parallels between Sufi principles and modern physics, suggesting a universal truth underlying our existence.

Furthermore, Sufism offers a counterintuitive insight into the nature of courage, positioning humility not as a weakness but as a powerful source of strength. In embracing this perspective, we uncover the profound courage that lies within the act of surrendering to something greater than ourselves.

This exploration into Sufism is not just a philosophical exercise—it is an invitation to discover the guide that has always resided within you. Join us on this transformative journey and unlock the secrets to living a life at one with the world, finding peace amidst chaos, and nurturing a living presence that transcends the boundaries of time and space.

Embark on a Sufi Journey: From Alienation to Divine Unity

Imagine navigating through a city enveloped in dense fog, where shadows and a palpable sense of disconnect loom large. The city's residents, despite their achievements, are shackled by a profound sense of failure and estrangement. Venturing beyond this city, you encounter various souls—kind-hearted villagers battling feelings of insignificance, warriors who’ve found courage in the divine essence of life, until finally, you meet the saints. These are beings who not only apprehend the divinity of life but live every breath with this deep awareness, surrendering completely to the omnipresent divine.

The essence of this analogy embodies the journey of Sufism, a practice within Islam that aspires to realize and experience the reality of divine interconnection. For those who walk the path of Sufism, this isn't merely a spiritual expedition nor a lofty philosophical goal. It is a journey that seeks to reconcile the spiritual with the physical, to recognize and embrace the reality where everything is interconnected through an infinite spirit.

In the Sufi worldview, everything in the universe, especially living things, share an essence or what can be described as an infinite spirit. This spirit is not only the source of creation and connection but also of transformation. Thus, every entity exists as both an individual phenomenon and a manifestation of this boundless spirit, culminating in an understanding of reality as a singular, unified existence.

This perspective finds a surprising parallel in modern physics, which posits reality as an electromagnetic field where subatomic particles vibrate, drawing elements together in transformative ways that give rise to life as we know it. Take the rose, for example. It is through this energy that sun, water, and minerals converge to bring the rose to bloom. The same energy flows through humans, powering our minds and allowing us to become conscious of this very force. In contemporary teachings of Sufism, this energy, observable through all matter within the electromagnetic field, is seen as the infinite spirit making itself known across the cosmos.

However, it's important to note that Sufism is not primarily an exercise in proving the nature of reality. Instead, it is deeply invested in the concept of experience — with the most crucial experience being that of presence. For Sufis, the path from feeling alienated and detached in a metaphorical city of fog to achieving a state of divine surrender alongside the saints is a transformative journey. It's an invitation to not only understand but to live within the profound interconnectedness of all things, an endeavor that transcends the need for scientific validation in its quest for spiritual enlightenment and unity.

Unlocking the Infinite Spirit Through the Power of Presence

On the nascent steps of his spiritual quest, the author found himself under the tutelage of a Sufi master, or shaikh. One of his early assignments was far from what he'd expected—brushing a horse. For a young man from New Jersey, this task was as unfamiliar as it was daunting. Yet, he dedicated hours to it, meticulously grooming each part of the horse from mane to tail and hoof to ear. As he labored, a profound sense of awareness enveloped him, extending from his own physical being to the horse and the very environment around them.

Despite his efforts resulting in what was objectively a sloppy job, the shaikh, upon returning, noticed something far more significant than mere grooming skills. He observed the total absorption and presence the author had invested in the task. This acknowledgment carried a profound lesson: Maintaining awareness in the present moment is a gateway to the infinite spirit.

This experience of presence, of complete immersion in the moment, allowed the author to connect deeply with the horse, with himself, and with the pervasive spirit that binds all entities together. Sufism, with its rich tapestry of fables and poems etched by figures like the thirteenth-century Persian sage Jalaluddin Rumi, emphasizes not just the mystical but the practical aspects of faith. Sufis navigate the everyday world just like others—working jobs, building homes, and engaging in mundane activities. Yet, they do so with a constant mindfulness of the present, a practice that cultivates a connection to the infinite spirit that pervades reality.

Developing this presence isn’t relegated to moments of spiritual practice alone but extends into everyday activities. Rumi describes meditation as "polishing the mirror of awareness," a metaphor for the process of clearing our mental clutter to reveal the clear reflection of existence. Our minds, cluttered with thoughts, feelings, and external stimuli, often lose sight of the mirror itself — the pure awareness that is our connection to the infinite spirit.

By finding moments to sit quietly, focus on our breath, heartbeat, and senses, and observe our thoughts and emotions without attachment, we start to clear this clutter. It's in these moments of clarity that our awareness shines brightly, empty and expansive, revealing itself as a vibrant conduit to the infinite spirit which binds the fabric of reality.

Thus, the act of grooming the horse was more than a chore; it was a doorway to understanding and experiencing the profound interconnectedness of all things through the simple yet powerful act of being present.

Embrace Liberation from the Ego Through the Infinite Spirit's Love

Diving deeper into the teachings of Sufism, we uncover a profound truth about the nature of our existence. We find that just as we are embodiments of the divine, hosts to the infinite spirit that connects and manifests through all, we also harbor an adversary within — the ego.

The ego operates as our compulsive self, primarily motivated by self-preservation. It feeds on fear, resentment, judgment, and envy, lacking the capacity to maintain focus or see beyond its own survival. The ego interprets the world through a lens of threat or opportunity, leading us down a path of compulsions, guilt, and pervasive fear.

Our conscious minds, often overrun by the ego, become battlefields where insecurity reigns supreme, and intellect is wielded more as a weapon than a tool for understanding. Such is the dilemma that faces us, but thankfully, not one without resolution.

The essence of overcoming this inner tyranny lies in an act of surrender — surrender to the love of the infinite spirit. Sufism teaches that all creation, inherently good due to its divine origin, includes the ego. This understanding illuminates the ego not as an enemy, but as a part of ourselves developed to navigate life's adversities. It equips us with aspiration, self-respect, and the diligence necessary for survival.

Nonetheless, the true balance is struck when the ego is relegated from ruler to servant. This transformation is achieved through developing presence, an acute awareness of the infinite spirit's intentions for our highest good. Trusting, surrendering, and submitting to this benevolent force requires not just a momentary decision but a continuous practice, especially in the face of life's relentless challenges.

Our journey through existence will inevitably activate the ego's defense mechanisms, propelling us into conflicts and straining our connection to the divine. However, the path back to peace lies in the conscious effort to return to presence. By acknowledging the divine essence within, we allow ourselves to be enveloped in humility, reassurance, and unconditional love. This act of surrender diffuses the ego's urgency and loosens its grip on our perceptions and actions.

Liberation from the ego's tyrannical influence allows us to approach life's trials with clarity and grace. In the silence of the compulsive self, we find not weakness but strength, not surrender but victory—a serenity anchored in the infinite love that forms the very fabric of our being.

Transforming Through Suffering: A Lesson in Humility and Change

Imagine a king, revered for his generosity, but with one peculiar stipulation for his subjects: they must maintain a moment's silence to receive his gifts. This king, in his benevolence, extended his generosity to various groups—widows, the blind, and poor students, among others. Yet, one poor student repeatedly failed to receive the king's generosity, for he could not suppress his whining each time the king drew near. In a series of disguises—from feigning illness to masquerading as a widow or a blind man—the student attempted to trick the king, only to leave empty-handed each time due to his inability to remain silent.

In a final, desperate attempt, the student wrapped himself in a death shroud, playing dead by the roadside. The king, upon passing, placed gold coins on the "corpse" for burial expenses, only for the student to triumphantly reveal himself. The king's response was profound: "Yes, but first you had to die."

This parable underscores a vital lesson: Suffering presents an invaluable opportunity for personal and communal transformation. The student's real suffering was compounded by his resentment, a byproduct of his ego's unmet demands. It was only by "dying"—by letting go of these ego-driven expectations—that he finally received the king’s grace.

The essence of human suffering often mirrors this tale. To address our sufferings effectively, we must first untangle them from the imagined grievances of our ego. This demands recognizing our limitations and confronting reality as it is, opening a pathway to change not just our circumstances but ourselves.

Consider the legacies of change agents like Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Malcolm X. Their profound humility, a humility that acknowledged history, the gravity of their causes, and their own human fallibility, was instrumental in their strength. This humility drew people to them and allowed them to become catalysts for the transformation they envisioned in the world.

By cultivating presence, it becomes possible to transcend the imagined sufferings imposed by our egos and to instigate real, meaningful change. Furthermore, such a journey into presence and humility doesn't just result in personal growth; it allows us to become conduits of the infinite spirit's love. Through embracing the lessons inherent in our sufferings, we step into a greater realm of influence, capable of transforming both ourselves and the world around us in profound ways.

Finding Oneness in the Infinite Love of the Spirit

In the quiet shade beneath a tree in a bustling park, a poor man dedicated his days to whispering prayers to God. "Oh God, God, God..." he murmured, lost in his devotion. One brisk afternoon, a stranger breezed by, chuckling at the man's earnest appeals. "God's not answering you," he jeered. These words struck a chord of profound solitude in the poor man's heart, leading him to tears—until an angel appeared before him.

"Brother," the angel gently conveyed, "the Lord wants you to know that your calling him is his answer to you."

This encounter, at first glance, might suggest the universe's aloofness. However, it profoundly underscores the exact opposite — the boundless love the universe offers.

The core insight here is the realization of unity when immersed in love with the infinite spirit. This vignette of the poor man and his divine affirmation frames a larger paradigm of how love entwines beings into a cosmic tapestry.

Consider the dynamics of love. It starts with an attraction, a spark ignited by the recognition of something extraordinary in another, a quality perhaps invisible to others. If fortune smiles, this recognition is mutual. The initial attraction evolves into a connection, characterized not just by mutual fascination but by an earnest desire to know and share oneself with the other. In love's zenith, the line distinguishing self from other blurs, ushering in a sensation of being truly, vividly alive.

This concept mirrors the love for the infinite spirit. Throughout life, we encounter moments that arrest us, signaling the presence of something far beyond the mundane, beckoning us past our sensory veil to a profound essence. This spirit, having breathed life into our existence, reciprocates our affection.

However, love for the infinite demands more than mere acknowledgment. It calls for devotion, a yearning to understand and be part of it, to dissolve into its immeasurable vastness. Achieving unity with the spirit transcends intellectual comprehension—it's an experiential revelation where personal boundaries evaporate into oneness.

What then, does it truly mean to merge with the infinite spirit? At its heart, it signifies a deepening love for the world and all its inhabitants. It catalyzes a profound self-love, far removed from egoistic conceit, characterized instead by compassion, benevolence, and forbearance. This enlightenment reshapes our existence, transforming how we perceive ourselves and our connection to the cosmos, embodying the essence of true love's power to unify.

Channeling the Universe's Creativity Through Presence and Passion

Imagine the ethereal beauty of a Balinese dance. The stage is set, the audience seated, a silent anticipation hanging thick in the air. Then, as the dancers glide onto the stage, a palpable exchange of energy begins. This energy, borne of the audience’s rapt attention and the dancer’s meticulous craft, manifests as a dynamic, pulsating force between them. Shaped by the dancers’ movements and the audience’s reactions, this energy morphs—now exhilarating, now serene, embodying sorrow and joy in turn. This dance, this act of creation, is not just for the performers or the viewers but is an offering to the world itself, a manifestation of shared human experience.

The essence of this interaction reveals a profound truth: When you mirror the spirit in each moment, you become a conduit for its creative power.

Energy, as we know, is the force behind action, whether it’s binding the atoms in a wooden stage, fueling the dancers' movements, or focusing the audience's attention. This energy, a facet of the electromagnetic fabric of existence, is a creative force available to all. The Balinese dancers, through their dedication to craft and presence, show us how to tap into this force, transforming it into an art form that resonates with the spirit of creation.

But, to effectively channel this creative energy, a few principles must be embraced. Firstly, while this energy flows within us, it doesn’t belong to us; instead, we belong to it, and our highest aspiration should be to serve as clear vessels through which it can manifest. Secondly, mastering our craft is crucial. Hours of disciplined practice are required to refine our skills and heighten our awareness, turning us into more effective instruments of the creative spirit.

Moreover, even as we achieve mastery, the essence of our creativity cannot be claimed as our own. Doing so would allow the ego to sever the connection, halting the flow of creative energy. Lastly, the creation born without love lacks vitality. True creativity reflects the spirit’s boundless love for creation, and it is this love, coupled with our dedication to craft and presence, that allows us to channel the universe’s creative energy effectively.

Just like the Balinese dancers who transform an exchange of energy into a mesmerizing performance, we too can become channels for the creative force that binds the cosmos, provided we approach our endeavors with humility, dedication, and, above all, love for the act of creation itself.

Service Illuminated by the Infinite Spirit

Sufism opens a window to a practice deeply rooted in mindfulness, guiding its adherents beyond the superficial curtain of appearances and the relentless chatter of the ego, towards the loving embrace of the infinite spirit, or God. This profound connection isn't about transcendence for its own sake; it fosters a dismantling of barriers, not just within oneself but also between oneself and the broader expanse of creation. It cultivates an enhanced sensitivity to the needs around us, be they human, other creatures, or the environment itself, and steels our resolve to meet these needs.

Yet, the journey to serve through an awareness of the infinite spirit presents its own set of challenges.

Central to this path is the realization that awareness of the infinite spirit compels us to serve others. Despite the noble intent, the act of opening ourselves to the world's suffering—its hunger, its violence, its environmental woes—can be daunting. Such reluctance is the ego's last stand, a mechanism to shield itself from the overwhelming tides of global despair. Yet, embracing the spirit means embracing the truth, however uncomfortable, and finding in it the grace and strength to act heroically.

The ego, resilient as ever, might attempt to usurp your service to others, making it crucial to discern whether your actions stem from genuine spiritual inspiration or mere egoic impulse.

Herein lies a litmus test: an acknowledgment of our interconnectedness and the understanding that exploitation brings no lasting fulfillment. True service, often arduous and necessitating sacrifice, is an outgrowth of love and an aspiration towards the greater good. If your efforts leave you bitter, resentful, or puffed up with a sense of superiority, it's the ego speaking. Conversely, service imbued with true presence is an expression of patient, kind, and generous love. It leverages your intellect, sharpens your focus, and strengthens your resolve, though it's not immune to error. Yet, errors made in love carry more value than any detached, ostensibly 'correct' action.

In moments of uncertainty, the key is to return to a state of presence, the sanctuary within which the infinite spirit's guidance becomes unmistakable. Through this practice, the journey of service transforms into not just an act of doing but an expression of being, imbued with the infinite love and wisdom of the spirit.

Embracing the Infinite: Lessons from Sufism

Sufism, a mystical Islamic tradition, presents a path toward realizing a profound connection with the infinite spirit, often recognized as God. This spirit, permeating all of existence, forms the fundamental essence of the universe. By cultivating presence and honing mindfulness, individuals can transcend the limitations imposed by a fear-driven ego to discover an expansive love for oneself and others. This love, once realized, can be expressed through creativity and acts of service, enriching both personal and communal life.

In conclusion, let your spiritual practices flow from the heart.

Sufism, with its long history spanning thirteen centuries, encompasses a wide array of practices, from the mesmerizing dances of the whirling dervishes to more introspective meditations. Yet, at its core, Sufism advocates for flexibility in expression, emphasizing that true worship and right action emerge naturally from a state of presence. Developing this profound sense of being in the moment, surrendering to the flow of love, and dedicating oneself to the service of others, encapsulates genuine devotion. Ultimately, Sufism teaches that worship is not about adherence to ritual but about a selfless acknowledgment of a reality far greater than ourselves.

Similar Books

12 Rules For Life
The Gap and the Gain
Man’s Search for Meaning
The Power of Regret
Daniel Pink
Things No One Else Can Teach Us
Humble the Poet
From Strength to Strength
101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think