he sad ironic truth about many people who are strongly committed to socio-political causes of the extreme right and left is that the deeply personal experiences of abuse and violation and also the vicariously felt wounds (i.e., the suffering of others) that egoistically power their activism veil them from the often insidious and destructive nature of their own actions (even though they may have worked hard at attempting to become highly ethical people).
Whether they are Muslim militants, social justice warriors, or populist patriots, such wounds and egoism commonly distort their ability to recognize that–in spite of their often noble intentions–they themselves are often worsening the problem of unjust and inhumane violence (such as we are now seeing in the U.S. and in many places worldwide).
Nevertheless, once the “key” to this problem is found then the “work” can begin. So what is the key? The key is the understanding:
(a) that the egoistic nature of most extreme activism consists of a compulsive need to avoid and diminish the pain of one’s own wounds and the vicariously felt pain of others;
(b) that a consequence of the strength of such egoism is a correspondingly distorted assessment of problematic situations and optimal actions;
(c) that just as we have put ourselves in this dangerous situation through our unconscious and lifelong efforts to avoid such wounds, we can ( through our efforts and the Grace of God) increase the likelihood of turning around, transforming, and healing this dangerous situation; and
(d) that the optimal way (tariqa) of such a transformation is to make the effort to “pass away” (fana’) at each moment from one’s egoism and to “subsist” (baqa’) in remembering (dhikr) our God-given inherently human awareness of the unconditionally mercifully loving and all-inclusive Reality, which we refer to as God.
With this key of understanding in hand–which Sufis have called the knowledge of certainty (‘ilm al-yaqin)–we can start the “work” (‘amal) of turning around our egoism and leaving it behind (which “turning around” is the meaning of tawba). Specifically, the work of this transformational tawba, made possible by understanding and dhikr, consists of the following fourfold response:
- Sabr (patiently facing, feeling, and enduring one’s wounds while restraining oneself from immediately orienting oneself to counteract the perceived wounding agent);
- Shukr (facing those wounds with sips of the healing salve of unconditional gratitude, which can become true love at higher levels of gratitude),
- Hikma (the wisdom derived from the enhanced likelihood of non-egoistically influenced awareness of the needs of one’s world and one’s responsibilities to address those), and
- ‘Amal salih (heart-based or humble righteous action less likely to be distorted by egoistically influenced awareness and, hence, action more likely to be implemented at the most opportune time, implementing solutions “out-of-the-box” of the ego, solutions guided by wisdom.
May all beings have the grace of following such a path.