How the Light Gets In: An Interview with Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee by Pat MacEnulty
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At the age of 16, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee had a spiritual experience that propelled him on a lifelong spiritual path. For three years he delved into any spiritual teaching he could find. He studied sacred geometry with Keith Critchlow, he learned Hatha yoga, and he attended lectures by Zen masters and spiritual teachers such as Krishnamurti. Then at the age of 19, he met an elderly Russian woman named Irina Tweedie. Tweedie was a Sufi teacher in the Naqshbandiyya-Mujaddidiyya Sufi Order and later wrote the classic Daughter of Fire: A Diary of a Spiritual Training with a Sufi Master. Vaughan-Lee recounts that when he looked into her eyes he instantly and unquestioningly knew he had met his teacher. For many years he attended Tweedie’s weekly meditation sessions, which were held in a studio flat beside the train tracks in North London. There he met Anat who became his wife. The couple bought a house in London and invited their teacher to live downstairs while they raised a family upstairs. During this period, Vaughan-Lee worked as a high school English teacher for several years, and then studied Jungian psychology for a Ph.D. His scholarly worked explored Jungian archetypes in Shakespeare. Vaughan-Lee also delved into dreamwork and began integrating the ancient Sufi approach to dreams with the insights he gained from studying the works of Carl Jung. When Vaughan-Lee was 36 years old, Tweedie appointed him her successor. Soon after that he felt called to bring the teaching to the United States. On his first trip to California, standing on the Marin headlands, looking down at the ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge, he felt a strong spiritual connection to this land and realized that his life’s work was here. However, he did not intend to move while Tweedie was still alive. He believed that he needed to stay in England to take care of his elderly teacher until the end of her life. In his autobiography he recalls the day that this conviction was swept away: “One early summer afternoon in London I was standing in my kitchen with Anat, looking out over the back garden, the green lawn, and the flowers Mrs. Tweedie had so lovingly planted coming into bloom.” Vaughan-Lee says that all of a sudden he was hit with a powerful energy blast that almost knocked him off his feet. In the shift that followed, he understood it was time to move to America and that he should start his Sufi center while his teacher was still alive. Tweedie understood and approved of the move. Vaughan-Lee settled with his wife and two children in a community north of San Francisco and established the Golden Sufi Center www.goldensufi.org. He continued to teach around the world. His order now has a following of about 800 people worldwide in the U.S., Canada, England, Germany, Switzerland, South
Africa, Spain, South America and Australia. Groups meet at private homes to meditate and engage in dream discussions. Vaughan-Lee has written 19 books describing and discussing Sufism, the mystical journey, oneness, spiritual ecology, and the feminine nature of the Divine. I discovered Vaughan-Lee through his book Alchemy of Light, in which he describes our role in transforming and healing the world. His autobiography The Face Before I Was Born details his own spiritual journey with humor and humility. For the past decade his writing and teaching have focused on the awakening global consciousness of oneness and the need for a spiritual response to our present ecological crisis. In his book The Return of the Feminine and The World Soul, he suggests that the role of women is especially critical now in healing the anima mundi or world soul and restoring balance to both the inner and outer worlds. I met with Llewellyn and Anat, an artist who creates the covers for Llewellyn’s books, at their home in Northern California. It was a mild October morning. I’d had a brutal case of food poisoning the night before but managed to feel well enough to drive the hour to his home north of San Francisco. After a brief tour of the garden and a visit to the meditation room, which was filled with light from a bank of windows facing the bay, we sat at the family table with a plate of warm scones and tea. I was feeling much better by then. But an odd thing happened during the interview. For some reason, just talking to Llewellyn brought tears to my eyes. There’s a wisdom and a love in his voice and his being that I’ve rarely encountered. I felt I was in the presence of a true master.
MacEnulty: What is Sufism’s connection to Islam? Vaughan-Lee: Sufism is often called the heart of Islam. However, in the early twentieth century an Indian named Hazrat Inayat Khan came to Europe and America and became one of the first Sufis to make Sufism accessible to the nonMuslim West. He stressed the universality at the heart of Sufi teachings. Something very unusual happened in our particular lineage. A Sufi lineage, by the way, is a succession of spiritual teachers stretching back to the Prophet. I belong to the Naqshbandi Sufi lineage, who are also known as the “Silent Sufis” because we perform our practices in silence—we do not use music or dance like other Sufi orders. In the late nineteenth century, a Muslim teacher in the Naqshbandiyya-Mujaddidiyya lineage (an Indian branch of the Naqshbandi order) passed the tradition on to a Hindu family in Northern India. This was highly unusual. There were two brothers in this Hindu family. The son of the younger brother became the teacher of my teacher, Irina Tweedie, who was the first woman to be trained in this tradition. He asked her to keep a diary of her training, which eventually became the classic book called Daughter of Fire, the Diary of A Spiritual Training with a Sufi Master. She was also asked to bring this teaching to the West, which she did after his death in 1966. While the traditional view is that Sufism is the esoteric heart of Islam, another view is that Sufism is actually older than Islam. It is the ancient wisdom of the heart, long before it was called Sufism. The name, which possibly derives from wool (Suf) referring the white woolen garments of the early Sufis, only came centuries later after it was integrated into Islam. Sufism flourished and developed under Islam. Another teacher who helped bring Sufism to the awareness of the West was Idries Shah, an Afghani writer and teacher, who wrote a very influential book called The Sufis. He also held the belief that Sufism is not identified solely with Islam. MacEnulty: A lot of people in the U.S. still don’t know much about Sufism. Vaughan-Lee: But they’ve read Rumi. MacEnulty: Exactly. That’s certainly where I got most of my ideas about it. Vaughan-Lee: You’ve probably read the wonderful translation by Coleman Barks. Coleman Barks did a tremendous job of introducing Rumi to the Western audience and he stresses the universal nature of the divine love that Rumi writes about and that is at the core of Sufism. But there are a also lot of Qur’anic references in Rumi’s writing because Rumi was a theology teacher before he met
his teacher Shams. Rumi was steeped in the Qur’an. Coleman Barks provides a wonderful but edited version of Rumi to make his poetry accessible to the Western reader. MacEnulty: I think a lot of Westerners have a resistance to Islam because of the perception of the treatment of women in Islam or because of the hardline positions of the more extreme elements. Yet Sufism seems to sidestep these issues. Vaughan-Lee: Sufism, especially as it is practiced within some orders of the West, is essentially a mystical path that has to do with the heart’s relationship to God, with going into that innermost core of the self to discover a relationship with God, whom Sufis call the Beloved. It’s really a love affair. There are different ways to reach God. Those who need to experience this journey as a love affair are drawn to this path because it goes beyond identification with any form or any gender and speaks directly to the heart and soul. That’s what Rumi does and why he’s touched so many people in the West. He speaks to the need, the hunger, we have for Divine Love. Sufism is the path that beckons those who have this hunger. MacEnulty: As I understand you, Sufism is not necessarily about a particular dogma. Vaughan-Lee: One of the early definitions is that Sufism is “Truth without form.” A great early Sufi said, “Sufism was at first heartache and only later it became something to write about.” It’s really about this longing in the heart. What is interesting is that longing is traditionally the feminine side of love, the cup waiting to be filled. Sufism speaks to the feminine nature of the soul. In the esoteric tradition, the soul is always feminine before God. There’s a lovely story about the Indian mystical poet Mirabai. She was a princess who left her palace to become a wandering mystic. Mirabai was devoted to Krishna, her “Dark Lord,” and once, when she was wandering in some woodlands sacred to Krishna, a famous theologian and ascetic named Jiv Gosvami denied her access to one of her Dark Lord’s temples because she was a woman. Mirabai shamed him with the words: “Are not all souls female before God?” Jiv Gosvami bowed his head and led her into the temple. This feminine quality of the soul which surrenders and bows down before God is what the Sufis speak to. The lover waits for her Beloved. And when the Beloved comes to us, in those moments of meeting and merging that are so intimate that one can hardly speak of them, the lover is feminine, pierced, penetrated by the tremendous bliss of divine love. MacEnulty: In reading your work, I’m struck by the idea of the teacher-student
relationship. Sufism seems to be rooted in this kind of relationship. Why does there have to be a teacher? Can’t somebody experience an awakening of the soul without a teacher? Vaughan-Lee: Yes, there can be initial experiences. In fact, many people have had them. One thinks of Eckhart Tolle, who had an awakening on his own, from which his teachings came. The difficulty for most people is to actually live that awakening in a grounded way and go deeper into the awakening without a guide, without somebody to help you. In Sufism the relationship with the teacher is central to the journey, to quote the poet Hafiz: Do not take a step on the path of love without a guide. I have tried it one hundred times and failed. My teacher said you can’t cross an unknown land or a desert without a guide. For example you need someone to help you know what to do in relation to an inner world that has very powerful energies. I’ll give you an example. When I was 17, I practiced Hatha yoga. It so happened that my Hatha yoga practice woke up the kundalini energy in me. I went to my Hatha yoga teacher but she had never experienced it, and she had no idea what to do. It wasn’t until I met my teacher when I was 19 -- and it took a while even then -- that I learned how to balance this energy within myself and not go crazy. There are very powerful energies within the unconscious and within our spiritual nature, and most of us need a teacher to help us navigate that inner world. Another teaching says that although you can have glimpse of your real Self or Buddha nature without a guide, the ego cannot go beyond the ego, the mind cannot go beyond the mind. You need a ferryman to take you to what I call “the further shores of love.” You need somebody who understands the inner processes. You can do much of the inner journey on your own, but to bring that process into full consciousness while living in the world, traditionally you need a teacher. MacEnulty: Does everybody at some point have the opportunity to work with a teacher? Vaughan-Lee: There are different levels of spiritual teaching. The Sufi says the outer teacher always points to the inner teacher and the greatest teacher is life itself. The individual spiritual guide is there for someone who wants to experience deep states of meditation, of going deep within their spiritual nature
into what the Sufis call the chambers of the heart. But this is not a journey that most people are really interested in taking. It requires tremendous commitment and perseverance. It is really a lifetime’s undertaking. Now, is there an opportunity for most people to make a step in their spiritual evolution? Yes. And there are many different forms of spiritual guidance. For some people it can be in books. For many years Shakespeare was my teacher. Another teacher of mine was Carl Jung, whom I deeply admire. He had made his own inner journey and then wrote about it. He said this inner world of the psyche is real. This was revolutionary! Studying Jung, I learned that I wasn’t going crazy when I saw these archetypal images within myself or in my dreams. I came to understand their significance. There are many different ways that a teacher can appear. If you are drawn to the Buddhist path, you look for a Buddhist teacher. If you are interested in working directly with the heart, you may be drawn to find a Sufi teacher. If you are interested in working within the Christian tradition, thanks to the work of Father Thomas Keating and others, there are guides who can help you within that tradition. MacEnulty: So someone may choose or find a non-corporeal teacher, Jesus, for instance, or Shiva, or a living teacher such as yourself? Vaughan-Lee: Yes. Remember, there are different sorts of teachers. We have many spiritual teachers in the West who go out and lecture and they touch people, for example, someone like Adyashanti, yet they don’t have an individual relationship with their students. This is not their work. Their work is primarily to make accessible a certain body of spiritual teachings that can help people awaken, to live in relationship to their true nature. To take complete spiritual responsibility for that individual, which is the traditional work of the teacherdisciple relationship, is very different. It is very time consuming and a tremendous commitment on the part of both the teacher and the disciple. It’s also a very intimate relationship. Traditionally it is said that you don’t find a teacher, the teacher finds you, that when you are ready, the teacher appears. I do think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the teacher-disciple relationship in the West. Unfortunately, this is partly because of the Christian Church. In the Bible, there is an incredibly moving account of the moment when Mary Magdalene meets Jesus near the tomb after his death. At first, she mistakes him for the gardener. Then Jesus says, “Woman, why weepest thou?” and she recognizes him and says “Rabboni” which means “teacher.” In those two or three lines, we find the traditional relationship of the teacher and the disciple.
She was his favorite disciple apparently. Their meeting at the tomb, and the fact that she was the first person to see the risen Christ, could never be dismissed by the Church. But because she was a woman it’s significance was never fully explained either. So we have a glimpse of this relationship of Christ as a spiritual teacher who had disciples, with Mary foremost among them. But sadly, the whole tradition of the teacher-disciple relationship was buried, and instead we have this male-dominated hierarchical church. This very intimate, personal, and at the same time very impersonal relationship full of tremendous love and devotion was ignored. MacEnulty: But this type of relationship is still very strong in other traditions. Why haven’t we learned from them? Vaughan-Lee: In the 60s and 70s spiritual teachers began to come from India to the West. The West didn’t have an understanding of that relationship, and it became personalized and misused which resulted in a lot of confusion. A lot of people had negative experiences. This type of relationship is not part of our culture, which has caused a lot of difficulty for people. MacEnulty: What was your religious upbringing like? Vaughan-Lee: I went with my father every Sunday to church. We were members of the Church of England. We used to go to beautiful cathedrals. He loved cathedrals. But spirituality was never even mentioned. The idea of an interior spiritual reality or relationship to the divine was not part of his consciousness or his religious practice. MacEnulty: Would you describe how you came to be on your spiritual path? Vaughan-Lee: I had a spiritual awakening at sixteen. Then in college I studied sacred geometry. MacEnulty: At sixteen? Why weren’t you out smoking dope like the rest of us? Vaughan-Lee: In the late 60s, Zen was just becoming popular. A boyfriend of my sister gave me a book on Zen and I read a particular Zen saying, “The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection, the water has no mind to receive their image.” That was the key that opened the door inside me and I found myself in a completely different world. It was as if color, light, joy, and laughter were everywhere. Everything started to sparkle with light. In Zen practice one can meditate on emptiness. Through this meditation practice I started to have very deep experiences of an inner reality of boundless emptiness. Suddenly I was in a very different world, very different from the boarding school environment around me. So I went deeper into that world. I
didn’t find a mediation teacher, but I met Krishnamurti. I went to a couple of his talks, which were very illuminating. I also studied sacred geometry with Keith Critchlow. One time Keith gave a workshop in a house in the country. It was February, and it was really cold. I had hitchhiked down there, and I was sitting by the fireside when a couple of young people walked in and triggered my kundalini energy. Suddenly my whole body was flooded with energy. MacEnulty: Would you explain kundalini? Vaughan-Lee: This energy which is mostly dormant, sleeping at the base of the spine, can be awakened by spiritual practice. Then it can start to flood you with currents of energy. In my case often it was dormant, but when these two young people walked into the room, my kundalini suddenly woke up. So I wanted to know more about them. We went for long walks in the countryside. At the time spiritual teachings were often kept very secret. But I began to sense there was something that brought us together. When I went back to London, I met them for tea in the afternoon and they invited me to a talk on the esoteric dimension of mathematics. I went along to the Kensington Library in London. Sitting in front of me was an old woman with white hair tied up in a bun. At the end of the talk, I was introduced to her and -- this moment is still completely present in me -she gave me one look with these piercing blue eyes and I had the physical experience of becoming a speck of dust on the floor. Later, when I sat in her small apartment and looked into her eyes I knew that she knew—I knew she had what I wanted. For the first time in my life I encountered somebody who knew. When you really encounter this reality, something in you recognizes it. It bypasses the mind. Something in me just knew that this was the right place for me. When her book was published many years later I discovered the old Sufi saying: the disciple must become less than the dust on the floor at the teacher’s feet. MacEnulty: Why? Why must the disciple must become less than the dust at the teacher’s feet? I think that’s a difficulty for Westerners. At this point, Anat joined us. Anat: Submission is very misunderstood, and it’s been misused. Vaughan-Lee: It is an ancient tradition, it’s called annihilation. The Sufi word is fana. The ego bows down, but it doesn’t bow down before the personality of the teacher. Irina Tweedie used to say, “Look, I’m just an old woman.” The ego bows down to something within the teacher which is eternal. Gradually one becomes empty, one becomes nothing. In the Sufi tradition one becomes “less than the dust at the feet of the teacher.” I was very grateful that it was my destiny
at 19 to encounter that tradition and to know that’s where I belong. There is a story that when Hallmark went to Coleman Barks and wanted to put some of his translations of Rumi on their cards, he said, “This isn’t the kind of love you want to put on your cards. This love is about annihilation.” One of my favorite poems by Rumi is, Love is a madman, working his wild schemes, tearing off his clothes, Running through the mountains, drinking poison, and now quietly choosing annihilation. This annihilation in love is not “feel good spirituality”. It’s not for everybody. MacEnulty: And yet aren’t we all spiritual beings? Vaughan-Lee: There is a difference between spirituality and mysticism. We all carry within us the light of the divine. For most people this appears as their conscience that guides them through life, and if you’re drawn to any form of spiritual practice, the spiritual work makes that light shine more brightly and gives you more direct access to it. There’s a Sufi story about three moths. One day the moths saw a fire in the distance. The first one said, “I’m going to find out what it is.” So he flew near the flames and then turned around and flew back. He told the others, “I don’t know what it is but it’s very warm.” The second moth thought there must be more to fire than this so he flew even closer to the flame and his wings got singed. He went back and said, “It’s not just hot, it burns.” The third moth said, “I think there is more to fire than that,” and it went straight into the flames and didn’t come back. That to me is the difference between spirituality and mysticism. Spirituality means you make contact with that light of the soul, you are warmed by the fire. Mysticism is about losing yourself to that light, about being the moth going into the fire. It is in the end the path of annihilation. MacEnulty: Are there just a few people who can become mystics? Vaughan-Lee: It’s said mystics are born not made. My teacher had this expression “branded by God.” She said she’d noticed that there are some people who belong to God. Whatever they try to do with their lives, they can’t get away from it. At some point in their life, it calls to them and they begin to find a way to get back to where they belong. Why are some people like that? I don’t know. Is it easy? No. it’s both a blessing and a curse. The Sufis talk about a longing of the heart. It’s a poison that makes the things of this world that normally give people satisfaction completely unsatisfactory. Mysticism is a calling. In a real
sense you have a calling to go deep within your heart. The Sufis say two masters cannot live in one heart. It’s either you or the Beloved. Rumi tells the story of a man who knocks at the Friend's door. "Who is it?" "It's me." “There is no room in this home for two,” came the reply. The Friend [Friend is a Sufi term for the Beloved] sends him away to suffer and be purified –When he returns a year later and knocks again, he responds to "Who is it?" with "It is you." The reply now comes, "Since you are I, come in, myself" The voice opens the door and says, “Welcome home.” It’s as simple as that. Your ego doesn’t go away, but it does bow down before a greater power, a greater authority. MacEnulty: That sounds like predestination. Vaughan-Lee: It’s a destiny. Some people are called to be musicians. Some people are called to be doctors. Some people are called like Mother Theresa to work with the sick. Some people are called on this mystical journey. Personally, I don’t think you would do it unless something very powerful called you to do it. There’s a Persian saying: “The ego doesn’t go with laughter and caresses. It must be chased with sorrow and drowned in tears.” It is unbelievably painful to surrender. It’s the most difficult thing to do. I don’t think you would do it unless something within demanded that you do it. It’s not for everybody. Just like meditation is not for everybody. It’s a specialized subject. Not everybody wants to be an archaeologist or a mountaineer. It’s a calling and it’s up to you how you live that calling. MacEnulty: What happens when someone realizes that they have a mystical calling? Vaughan-Lee: Traditionally, once you are awakened to it then you look for a teacher. Nowadays you can go on the Internet to learn about spirituality or find a teacher. My teacher had to go to a town in northern India. It is said that you can’t do it on your own. You need a guide. Rumi said, you even can’t get to the first way station on your own. Essentially Irina Tweedie and the inner presence of her teacher, the Indian Sufi master Radha Mohan Lal, whom she refers to as Bhai Sahib (elder brother), have been my only teachers. MacEnulty: Why was it so important for you to have a teacher? Vaughan-Lee: I’d had my own inner awakening but there was no context for it. Yes, I’d meditated and experienced a different inner reality, but I did not know how to live this other reality in everyday life. Also I had no sense that these inner experiences were part of a tradition or a path, or that one could go deeper
into this inner reality. Then I was invited to become part of Mrs. Tweedie’s small meditation group that met once a week in a small room beside the train tracks in North London. There were about ten of us for meditation, and there was this energy present in the room -- and every time the train went by the room would shake -- there was a living tradition. I just stayed there. I was an architectural student, and I gave it up. I became a literature student, but all that mattered was making it Friday to Friday to go to those meetings because it was real, because it made sense and I began to experience a love which I had never experienced before in my life. MacEnulty: In our culture today, it is difficult to fathom someone of so much power living in such an impoverished state. Vaughan-Lee: She was actually quite well off when her husband died. Her teacher made her give it all away -- not to him but to others who needed it. She was left with nothing. She had a war widow’s pension. At that time it was ten shillings, or about 50 cents, a week. Later it was increased. But she never took any money for her teaching. MacEnulty: Do you have disciples? Vaughan-Lee: Yes, this is a central part of my work as a Sufi teacher. It is a relationship that is from heart to heart, from soul to soul. In the Naqshbandi tradition, there is an inner bond of love, called rabita, that supports and nourishes the disciple on the journey. Without this bond he or she cannot cross safely from the illusory world of the ego and mind to the inner reality of divine love. MacEnulty: Are your disciples the 800 people who belong to your order? Vaughan-Lee: Some of those are just warming themselves by the fire. (Laughter) And some have made an inner commitment. It’s really a commitment you make to something within yourself. On this path, we don’t have initiations. When that commitment is made, a door is open. It’s that way with any relationship. If you commit yourself to a relationship something opens. It’s not all roses -- it’s hard work at times. MacEnulty: Would you describe the relationship between the teacher and his or her disciples? Vaughan-Lee: The teacher makes sure that the disciple is living in a way that doesn't interfere with this inner process, so that he or she can develop, get in touch with and awaken to their higher consciousness. Essentially the teacher
watches over the disciple, helping to keep the fire of aspiration burning within the heart and their focus on the inner journey. The teacher also helps them not to be deceived by the ego, by its subtle distortions and power dynamics. It is the most intimate and yet also impersonal relationship one can have, which can be very confusing, especially to our Western consciousness which associates intimacy and love with a personal relationship. But this relationship belongs to the soul, to our divine nature, and not to the personality. There is a deep sense of fulfillment and gratitude when I see individuals make the most of the spiritual opportunity that they have been given, and travel through the stages of the path, when they come to know their deepest nature. Similarly there is a sadness when I see people miss the spiritual opportunities that life and the path offer to them, when they remain caught in old patterns or ego dynamics, and are not able to receive the love and light that is present, the yes of life that is all around us. This relationship with the disciple is on-going, until the individual is inwardly prepared to take the final stage of the journey in leaving this world. Sufism is often described as learning to “die before you die,” to be able to die to the ego and the attachments of this world and experience the inner world of light and love before making the final journey of physical death. It is a real blessing to experience an individual wayfarer consciously saying Yes and making this journey into the light. MacEnulty: How does the Sufi concept of discipleship compare to that of other traditions, such as Christianity and Buddhism? Vaughan-Lee: In Christianity there is the central image of the teacher disciple relationship between Christ and his disciples, but this esoteric relationship was not continued within the Catholic Church, especially due to its focus on worldly power rather than the inner spiritual world. I sense that it has been present to some degree in the Eastern Orthodox Church. In Tibetan Buddhism there are similar qualities in the disciple relationship with a lama. The particularity in the Sufi tradition is the focus on the connection from heart to heart and the bond of love between teacher and disciple. The disciple progresses through love, and in our tradition if there is not enough love present within the heart of the disciple, love is given from the teacher directly into the heart of the disciple. This is the real nature of the spiritual transmission which comes down through the lineage, or “Golden Chain” of spiritual succession. Without the grace of this transmission, there can be no real progress on the path. Also the work of the teacher and the spiritual community is to create a space in the inner and outer worlds that can enable the disciple to come closer to what is
Real within themselves. While we often look for guidance and direction, it is this empty space that is one of the most potent qualities of the path, as it allows for real inner transformation to take place. My teacher often just called herself “the caretaker of her apartment.” MacEnulty: What do you see as the particular challenges and obstacles in Western culture to forming and upholding that kind of relationship? Vaughan-Lee: I do not think that this type of relationship has taken hold in the West. The very nature of our Western culture with its focus on the individual and the idea of individual freedom is antithetical in many ways to the idea of surrender, or submission, to the teacher. This esoteric tradition of surrender to the teacher is very misunderstood. This surrender is never to the outer form, or personality of the teacher, but to the inner essence of the teacher and the tradition in which the teacher is merged. But sadly in the West there has been misuse of the image or position of the teacher, and this relationship has been seen to be corrupted. Many people suffered a lot of heartache because their teachers weren’t as pure as they should have been. Part of my work has been to try to explain what is the real nature of the relationship between the disciple and the teacher. The teacher of course needs to be surrendered, either to their teacher, in the Sufi tradition, or to the divine within. Otherwise there is the very real danger of the teacher and disciple being caught in the drama of projection, of transference and countertransference, which the analyst and therapist know only too well, and which is even more potent when there is a spiritual projection. The teacher should not in any way be attached to the role of being a teacher. Otherwise, the disciple is not left free. Freedom is an essential quality of the path and the grace that is given. MacEnulty: If someone were drawn to the Sufi path, what would be the best way to pursue it? Vaughan-Lee: There are many different forms of Sufism, called tariqa or Sufi orders. In the broad spectrum, some Sufi paths use music and dance. For example, the Mevlevi path developed by Rumi’s son is characterized by whirling dervishes and the beautiful ney flute. There are other Sufi paths, such as the Jerrahi Order – which practice a powerful and intoxicating dhikr, or chanting, calling out the names of God as they go into a deep almost trancelike state. Other paths use poetry and music. The path to which I belong, the Naqshbandi order, is traditionally known as the silent Sufis. We don’t use music or dance. We use a silent dhikr, a silent repetition of the name of God, and a silent heart meditation.
One time my son went to a yoga school, and somebody had heard his father was a Sufi teacher. The man said, “How wonderful, how exciting to be part of a Sufi group and to do this wonderful dancing.” My son said, “We don’t do dancing.” The man then said, “But the beautiful music and chanting?” “There is no music or chanting.” “Then what do you do?” My son answered, “Nothing. We sit in silence.” “How boring!” the man said. So it depends what sort of Sufism you are drawn to. Thanks to the Internet you can learn about the different orders and watch videos and get a sense of the tradition. Then you would approach a teacher to see if you could be accepted as a student. Different teachers have different ways of discerning whether someone is suitable to join, or be initiated into their particular path. MacEnulty: When someone becomes a student in a Sufi order, do they have to give up their jobs and leave their families? Vaughan-Lee: No. Sufism is not a monastic path. The Sufi tradition is “to be in the world but not of the world.” Sufis are family people. They have children and jobs. The outer life often continues as before. But the focus is on the inner life, the opening of the heart. One of the maturing aspects of Sufism is how to balance this inner mystical journey with the demands of everyday life. MacEnulty: How does someone know if they are ready to embark on a spiritual path? Vaughan-Lee: Everybody comes to the path differently in my experience. Some are drawn because they are longing for something. Rumi says, “Don’t look for water, be thirsty.” This longing within the heart, which is often in the West misunderstood as depression, draws people. It’s like a pull, a tug within the heart that they have to look for a journey home. They are drawn by their soul to find a path that suits them. Some people feel they don’t have a choice. This is something they have to do. Others can spend a few years, wondering if this is something they want to commit to. After about five or six years, however, they have to make a commitment. On some Sufi paths they have a formal initiation, you may even get a different name, a Sufi name. On our particular path we don’t have initiations, and you don’t get a new name. My teacher, Irina Tweedie, asked her teacher about that, and he answered, “Why try to become something when you’re trying to get rid of the self, when you’re trying to be nothing.” We each have our own way of being with God. This particular path I belong to is free with very few constrictions. Our teacher said, “Leave a human being alone. They will find their own way back to God.” That means really trusting that divine spark, the divine nature within the human being that will decide where to
go and what journey to make. MacEnulty: What role does your Jungian background play in this practice? Vaughan-Lee: When different spiritual paths came to the West over the last decades, they brought powerful techniques, for example meditation, that can give one access to inner states, to transcendent levels of consciousness. But it was soon discovered that these states can easily unbalance the practitioner, and they need to be combined with psychological work that grounds the practitioner within their own psyche. Sufism has always had a strong psychological dimension. Since the ninth century it has developed a system and language of psychological transformation. Much emphasis is given to the purification of the nafs, which can be interpreted as the lower self, or ego. But this psychological system is described in terms, often in Arabic or Persian, that are unfamiliar to the Western practitioner. Also the Western psyche is different to the Eastern psyche, which is closer to the collective. It is best to have a psychological system that comes from within one’s own culture. The processes of inner transformation experienced on the Sufi path are very similar to the Jungian concept of individuation which leads the individual from the ego to the Self. When my teacher went to India she had studied Jungian psychology and was amazed to find that her teacher’s process of spiritual training had similarities to Jung’s process of individuation, although he knew nothing of Western psychology. When she returned to the West she incorporated a Jungian model of psychological transformation to help the wayfarer understand the inner-work of the path. For example the first stage of this inner-work, what the Sufis call “polishing the mirror of the heart,” is usually confronting our inner darkness. When Irina Tweedie went to India to study with a Sufi master, she said, “I hoped to get instructions in yoga, expected wonderful teachings. But what the teacher did was mainly to force me to face the darkness within myself, and it almost killed me.” Every wayfarer has to face the darkness within, what Carl Jung called “confronting the shadow.” Unless you face your own darkness you cannot purify yourself, you cannot create a clear inner space for your Higher Self to be born into consciousness. When I was 30 and I was teaching high school, I had a dream telling me to read the works of Jung. So I read the entire works of Jung and grounded myself in Jungian psychology. Part of my initial work was to adapt the teachings of Jungian psychology with the inner processes experienced on the Sufi path. In particular I focused on dreamwork. Dreamwork has always been part of this
particular Sufi path. We use dreams as guidance. The founder of this tradition, Baha ad- Naqshband, who lived in the 14th century, was renowned as an interpreter of dreams. In the initial years of my Sufi teaching I worked to integrate the Sufi approach to dreamwork with the insights of Jungian psychology, to create a framework for spiritual dreamwork. MacEnulty: Would you give me an example? Vaughan-Lee: Beginning when I was thirty-six I traveled all over America giving workshops and seminars on dreamwork. One time when I was in northern Minnesota, a woman shared a dream in which she was taken into a room. Inside there were these long tables, and around these tables were these old men carding wool. They were masters of carding wool and they ran their fingers through their long white beards as they worked. This was a woman who ran a hardware store. She had no conscious knowledge of the dream’s symbolism, but I remembered my favorite definition of a Sufi, “You are a Sufi when your heart is as soft and as warm as wool.” The dreamer had been taken into the inner space where this work is always being done, where the masters of the path accomplish their work of carding wool, of softening and transforming the heart. From the depths of her being this woman had an ancient Sufi dream, which showed that in her soul she had an inner understanding of what Sufism meant. This was a dream that couldn’t be interpreted from a purely psychological dimension but which had to be interpreted from a spiritual dimension. MacEnulty: And yet not all dreams are spiritual, are they? Vaughan-Lee: Part of the work I’ve done is to help people differentiate spiritual dreams from psychological dreams. It’s important to know from where the dream comes. MacEnulty: How do dreamwork and meditation work together to help us become aware of the shadow? Vaughan-Lee: Any serious spiritual work brings up the shadow, the rejected parts of your own psyche, which have to be faced and accepted. It’s the process of inner purification. Other spiritual paths may focus on purification through diet or yoga or good living or correcting bad habits. Our particular Sufi path has a very strong psychological element, and the purification is analogous to Jung’s “shadow work” in which the rejected parts of one’s psyche come to the surface to be confronted, loved and accepted. This begins the process of transformation. As Jung said, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” Then he humorously added, “The latter process, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.”
MacEnulty: Would you explain individuation? Vaughan-Lee: Individuation is the journey towards wholeness in which you discover your true nature, not the personality or conditioned image you have of yourself that’s been imprinted by your parents or your surroundings. This is your true self. Individuation is the psychological journey towards wholeness. There is a beautiful saying by Jolande Jacobi, a follower of Jung, “in the course of the individuation process a man arrives at the entrance to the house of God.” MacEnulty: It seems that in many spiritual traditions your true self is your divine self. Vaughan-Lee: One of Jung’s great contributions was to give us back a tradition where the spiritual and psychological processes meet. For example, he showed us how the divine expresses itself in mandalas and has done so through centuries whether imaged in a Tibetan tangka or the rose windows of Chartres Cathedrals. In my late teens I went to Chartres Cathedral for two weeks as an architecture student and studied the maze. We were allowed the run of the cathedral before it was opened in the morning. My job was to actually measure the maze, which is a very powerful archetypal symbol. There are two sorts of mazes or labyrinth. One is “multicursal” with dead ends and a number of routes to the center. The other is “unicursal” in which there is only one path from the outside to the center. The Chartres maze, which is “unicursal,” is both a model of the universe, with the different circles representing different planets, and also an image of the psyche. The pilgrim enters from the west and goes through this circuitous route, and when he or she reaches the center turns around and there is the rose window that is directly mirrored into the heart. This is part of the Christian symbolism of the inner journey towards the heart, the home of the Self. The maze is a very ancient symbol of this journey. MacEnulty: You said earlier that surrender is a very painful process. How so? Anat. There are seasons -- summers, springs, rains, winter. MacEnulty: Describe a winter. Vaughan-Lee: You feel disconnected—a bleak sense of separation, as if life has no meaning. That’s one of the primary experiences. Anat: You feel depressed. You feel nothing moved, nothing happened. You feel lonely. You’ve done this hard work, but you still feel nothing. Vaughan-Lee: There is a tradition not just in Sufism but in mystical Christianity as well, in which you feel abandoned. St. John of the Cross called this the “Dark Night of the Soul.” He felt abandoned by his Christian tradition. He was
imprisoned in a monastery by his brothers and wasn’t even allowed to take mass. That’s when he experienced the Dark Night of the Soul. This state of abandonment is something that all mystics have to cross, a desolation beyond belief. It strips you of any attachment to outer or inner form. If you surrender to this state it throws you into the formlessness of real love. Surrender takes you into the reality of unconditional love, but it is not easy. (Laughter). That’s rather an understatement. MacEnulty: Will you describe your own personal devotional practices? Vaughan-Lee: I practice the silent meditation of the heart and the prayer of the heart, a receptive inner prayer of listening to the Beloved, for two to three hours a day. In my meditation practice, my individual consciousness is absorbed within the heart, while in prayer there is a more conscious inner relationship and receptivity to the Beloved. I also practice the dhikr, the silent repetition of the name of God, and when I am able, a walking meditation. I also just like to laugh —we tend to take ourselves far too seriously! MacEnulty: You’ve written a lot of books and articles. Is writing part of your spiritual path? Vaughan-Lee: I find writing very helpful. I think it was E.M. Forster who said, “How can I know what I think till I see what I say?” I believe any form of real creativity that allows the soul to speak to you is of infinite value whether it’s dance or music or painting or writing. It gives voice to the soul to express its deepest longing. That’s why many Sufis have been poets. They wanted to articulate what the soul had to say. For me, my own writing has been a way to articulate my experience of the mysteries of the path. To really understand this I have to go deeper into myself. MacEnulty: How did you begin writing? Vaughan-Lee: I was 35. I had just finished my Ph.D. and was invited to a talk by an American gentleman who was giving a lecture on active imagination, which is part of Jungian psychology. I’m the kind of person who asks questions, and at the end of the talk I went to meet him and he asked, “What are you?” maybe thinking I was an analyst. For the first time in my life, I said, “I’m a Sufi.” He replied, “That’s very interesting because I’m compiling a book on Jungian psychology and Sufism. Would you write an article?” So I wrote my first piece of writing about Sufi dreamwork. My teacher said, “This is good. You should write a book.” So I wrote my first book, The Lover and The Serpent, Dreamwork within a Sufi Tradition. Then she jokingly said, well you should
write a book a year. I wrote ten books in the next ten years, focusing on the psychological and inner processes of the path in order to make Sufism more accessible in the West. The last book in that series is Love is a Fire. Most of my early books are about the Sufi tradition, but then in the year 2000 something very strange happened. I am by nature a traditional mystic. Ever since I had the mystical experience at the age of 16, what really mattered to me was meditation. The outer world, apart from being married and having children, never held much attraction for me. What really moved me was the inner journey, that you can go deep in yourself and you can discover other states of consciousness and have a relationship with your own deepest self and states beyond that which are called emptiness or nonbeing. Suddenly in the spring of 2000, it was as if somebody rebooted a computer in my consciousness. It just wiped out of my mind all this focus on the inner journey and replaced it with a focus on oneness. MacEnulty: What were the circumstances? Vaughan-Lee: I actually first experienced oneness when I was walking in the hills here beside the coast. It was February and in California spring has arrived. I saw that every leaf on the tree, every tree, the clouds, the birds, were all one. The first time I saw it here in the hills and I thought that this could only be experienced in nature. But then I went into the town, into supermarket, and I saw it there. I saw that everything in life is one. And yet at the same time everything in life is also separate and unique. It was a profoundly simple and beautiful experience. Many mystics of all different traditions have had this experience. Ordinary people have also had it. They look up at the sky at night and they see this immensity and they suddenly realize it’s all one. William Blake described is as “To see the world in a grain of sand.” Then I started to be given these teachings about oneness. Where they came from, I didn’t ask. I just started to write. First I experienced them inside of me and they had a very different energy than was present before. There was a quality of joy, of fun, and rather than about inner experiences they were about of life. I began to have visions in a way that I hadn’t had before about the future and what oneness means to humanity. MacEnulty: How do you see this as relevant in a country where we have killer hurricanes and corporations that run roughshod over people in their quest for profits and power? Vaughan-Lee: It’s a very grounding mystical realization that everything is one. To see this simple truth all around you. Traditionally mystics keep those
experiences within themselves. You’re deeply grateful that you have them. But I began to see that this understanding of oneness had an important part to play in the outer world. I began to see that the next step in human evolution was an awareness of oneness. One of the most iconic images was when the first astronaut saw the world from space as one single sphere -- very beautiful. MacEnulty: Do you see us heading in that direction? Vaughan-Lee: I was recently on a panel for World Oneness Day talking about that very question. In some ways we are. People everywhere now talk about interdependence and interconnectivity. They talk about oneness. It’s become an ecological term, an environmental term, even a financial term. We’re all connected. Before, it wasn’t so much part of the common vocabulary in nonspiritual dialogue. And yet at the same there are global corporations exploiting and destroying the world at an unprecedented rate. They are using the “global market place” and the technologies of today to create a environmental disaster that is pushing the planet towards a “tipping point” with unforeseen circumstances. There is a light and dark side to us being “one world.” Yet in the early 2000’s when I wrote Working with Oneness, it so excited me. I saw its potential. I presumed everybody would get it. It was so simple. Of course, we’re one. We waste so much energy with competition, with duality, with fighting each other. Oneness is much simpler and more efficient, more cost-effective! It is a way to work with the real nature of life which is oneness. And there’s this powerful tool, which is the Internet. One day in the early ‘90’s, when my children were on the internet and it seemed to be mainly just AOL and chat rooms, I saw it’s potential. I saw that it had a similar quality and energy as the mystical awareness of oneness. But you don’t need to be a mystic to access this global interconnectivity and oneness. You just need a computer. You can see that potential now, twenty years later. You can access the Internet in a cyber cafe in Kazakhstan or in a hotel in South America, or nowadays just with a smart phone. Everybody’s connected. We have this interconnected web of oneness. There’s no hierarchy. It’s an organic structure that’s been given to humanity. It’s very efficient. There’s a generation that can hardly imagine how we could function without the Internet. And yet we can also see the shadow side, how many corporations have used the structures of oneness to foster ego-driven greed. In fact, they are the ones who have profited most from interconnectivity in its technological sense. They’ve built these global corporations that are destroying the planet at an ever faster rate.
MacEnulty: How would the world look if collectively we had an understanding of oneness? Vaughan-Lee: It would be incredibly beautiful. Oneness is actually simpler than duality. Oneness belongs to life. If you ask an indigenous person, they wouldn’t ever question that everything is one. If you could ask the butterfly, it would say of course, there is one whole being. We’ve lost this basic connection with life. I firmly believe there is enough to go around. I don’t think we have to live the way we do. Oneness is not just a mystical idea. It can also be very practical. Life is an interrelated web of oneness. We just have to learn how to work with it. That’s why I called my first book in this series Working with Oneness. MacEnulty: Can we actually achieve that? Vaughan-Lee: Sadly we are not aware of the potential of oneness, whose very nature is organic and non-hierarchical. We have been conditioned to function through hierarchical power structures. We’re not really taught how our consciousness is conditioned, how we have been blinkered. We see certain things, and there are certain things we do not see. For example, there is a story that when the Western people first went to Hawaii, they didn’t understand the indigenous people, because in Hawaii, the mark of a person’s worth was how generous they were, how much they gave away. The white traders thought your worth was defined by how much you kept for yourself. So there was no understanding of a different way to live. We are beginning to understand how European settlers failed to recognize the sophistication of many indigenous peoples whom they dismissed as “savages”. How for example the Australian aboriginal people had a very developed social structure and spiritual relationship to the land thousands of years old that enabled them to live in such an apparently inhospitable environment. While the Spanish conquistadors could not recognize the cosmology and spiritual understanding of the cycles of time that belonged to the Mayan people, and so destroyed their invaluable library. Sadly we have a strongly conditioned way of looking at the world. We see through this dualistic way of thinking, for example the idea that we are separate from the environment. The wisdom of people who live in harmony with their natural surroundings, who understand its sacred dimension, is something that we desperately need to reclaim at this present time. MacEnulty: So it’s our conditioning that keeps up from realizing oneness? Vaughan-Lee: Until we step out of this blinkered conditioning that belongs to
separation and hierarchical power structures, we will not see the possibilities for our individual or collective evolution—the possibilities that belong to oneness. Because of our way of thinking a lot of knowledge is presently inaccessible. On the spiritual path one of the first processes you go through is a deconditioning. In order to be awakened to your divine nature, you have to become free of the conditioning of the ego. Unless you become de-conditioned, you’re going to find it very difficult to embrace the bigger spectrum of the Self, or how to live according to its very different quality of consciousness. Once you’ve had a glimpse of your divine nature the idea of being competitive doesn’t function anymore. Instead you want to be supportive of other people. You want to be cooperative. It’s not because you’re a better person. It’s because you realize that’s how things are, how they are all one and interconnected—how nothing is separate. You awaken to a different way of being. We’re surrounded by collective values that say you should be thinking of yourself. That what matters is the ego, how much money you can make or how many possessions you can have. On the spiritual path you learn how to live with less, not because it’s better but because it’s easier—just to have what you need. People do not realize how their attention is taken up by their possessions, how it gives them less energy for life because everything you have or you accumulate carries a bit of your energy. If you have a lot of possessions, then parts of your energy are caught in it all. MacEnulty: I know. I recently moved to a smaller place. It was quite freeing to get rid of so much accumulated stuff. Vaughan-Lee: You realize when you’re free of it, you have more space, you can breathe. They’ve now discovered scientifically that giving makes you happier than getting. These values you discover on the inner spiritual journey also belong to the whole. There is an ancient teaching of microcosm and macrocosm. What happens to the individual happens to the whole. We need to shift our consciousness from this very conditioned ego-centered “me” consciousness to an all-embracing “we” consciousness that includes not just humanity but the whole ecosystem—all the myriad living beings on the planet. MacEnulty: There are many people on this planet who are deeply concerned about what is happening to our environment. Aren’t they making a difference? Vaughan-Lee: Most actions that comes from a place of real respect for the environment are by their nature beneficial. But sadly part of the sustainability movement has become derailed or subverted in that we’re no longer talking about the sustainability of the whole eco-system but the sustainability of our
present way of life. This is a very subtle but highly subversive switch. At the first environmental conference in Rio, the declaration referred to the sustainability of the eco-system. But at the recent Rio conference, the wording was changed to refer to sustained economic growth. I do believe that there is a way we can live in harmony with the earth. Once we become awakened to oneness, we will discover there are better ways to live as a global community. MacEnulty: I have had that experience of oneness and then it goes away, so how do you propose that an entire culture should make that shift? Vaughan-Lee: When I first wrote these books, I saw there was an energy present to help us shift, and it was terribly exciting. But also I saw that there are forces resisting this change. I call them forces of darkness. They do not want humanity to make this shift to oneness because then they would lose their power. I have heard people who work in big corporations say these corporations have actually changed in the last five years, the energy there has become much harder, much more brutal, much more resistant to real change. They have become more souldestroying. MacEnulty: That surprises me. If spiritual people are working there, don’t they have influence? Vaughan-Lee: These are big, powerful corporations which are not very easily influenced by spiritual energy. Sadly the energy that was present to help with the shift got countered by a darker energy that wanted us to keep the status quo, which is divisive and ego-centered, which does not care about the earth. Instead of moving towards oneness we now have a more divided society. There are two possibilities culturally. Either our civilization can make a shift or we can enter a dark age, as happened after the end of the Roman Empire. For example in Europe we didn’t have roads like those the Romans built for another 1000 years. What will happen when we pass the “tipping point,” when the temperature increase reaches or passes 2o C? MacEnulty: Are you saying we’re facing that fork in the road now? Vaughan-Lee: Yes. The world cannot sustain us physically in our present consumer-driven capacity. The figures don’t add up. It is said that it would take seven worlds if everyone lived in a Western materialistic life style. We can’t live the way we’re living on a global scale. Millions of people in India and China are aspiring to live the way we do. Why shouldn’t they? But something’s going to give at some point. What will happen when it does? Will there be another dark age or can we make a transition into a more sustainable way of living for the
ecosystem and all of its inhabitants and reclaim our role as guardians of the planet which we have forgotten? MacEnulty: What can someone do to shift the consciousness? Vaughan-Lee: This is a question that comes from a masculine, action-driven mindset. We’re a culture of problem solvers. We need to value “being” as well as “doing.” Unfortunately in the West, we think “being” means being passive. Being is a very dynamic place. Being is not passive. Inner listening is not passive. These are feminine qualities which we need to reclaim. This is the ancient wisdom of the Tao, the wisdom of non-doing, the wisdom of life itself. MacEnulty: Then I’ll rephrase the question. How should we be? Vaughan-Lee: First of all, you need to have an awareness of how you have been conditioned. To quote Leonard Cohen, “There’s a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in.” Find out if there is a crack in your conditioning through which you can see a different light, a different way to be. We each need to find the way to reconnect with this way of being that belongs to our deeper nature. For you it may express itself through creative writing. Suddenly you’re in that space where something else speaks to you that is not from the outside world. We also have forgotten to listen. Everybody wants to talk. People need to learn to listen, to listen to life, however life speaks to you. I feel that there is a deep wisdom within us that is also the wisdom of the earth. The earth has been through many changes. It is said that this is the seventh mass extinction of species in its history, although the first that is caused by human beings. We are an integral part of earth, part of this living organism. We are not separate from the earth. We need to consciously reconnect with the earth and its natural wisdom, its way of being. Then we can work together with the earth. If we can learn to listen, maybe life will tell us how it needs to regenerate. In the ancient ways, the leader was not the one who told people what to do, the leader was the one who listened, watched the signs, was attentive to the inner world. Sufis talk about the “ear of the heart.” This is something you learn in the relationship with the teacher. I spent 20 years sitting at the feet of my teacher listening. You learn through listening. You learn how to listen to what is between the words. You learn to listen to the heart, to the soul. You listen to people’s dreams, the signs in their lives. And similarly one can listen and watch the signs in the world around us. The earth is calling to us, sending us signs of the extremity of its imbalance through earthquakes and tsunamis, floods and storms,
drought, and unprecedented heat. These are what Thich Nhat Hanh calls the “Bells of Mindfulness” awakening our awareness to where it is needed at this moment in time. MacEnulty: You mentioned a darkness coming but in your talks you also say you don’t believe in prophecy. Is this idea of darkness from your observations of what is going on with the planet or the political situation? Vaughan-Lee: There are two aspects to this darkness: what is happening in the outer world and what is happening in the inner world. While our outer attention has been drawn to the ecological crises, the darkness in the world that belongs to our treatment of this living, magical being, the earth, there is also an inner darkness which comes from our desecration of what is sacred within ourselves and within creation. I’ve noticed particularly in the past ten years there’s been a certain darkness growing in the inner world. It’s as if it takes away what is of value, what is precious to the individual soul and the world soul, the anima mundi. It takes away what gives real meaning to our lives. I believe that this darkness getting more and more dense. I see it as a mirror of the ecological situation, the species depletion and ecocide our way of life is committing. But it is difficult to recognize because the culture we’ve lived in for the past centuries has said the inner world doesn’t exist, that only the outer, physical world is real. Yet one of the results of the recent economic crash has been a sense that maybe the American dream is over and there’s a deep sadness and even anger in the American psyche that this dream of constant material progress is now over, has passed its sell-by date. Maybe our material life will not continue to get better. There’s also an unacknowledged anxiety in the American collective that something has been lost, some hope that used to be there is gone, and there is nothing to replace it. People have a sense that things are not as they should be or could have been. But we have no collective dream or story to replace that of material prosperity. Instead there are just countless outer distractions. MacEnulty: Do you believe that the darkness of the inner world is growing? Vaughan-Lee: Yes, I sense that the darkness of the inner world is growing, partly due to our materialistic culture and its forgetfulness of the sacred nature of creation. The darkness is also fueled by our ego-centered greed and focus on fulfilling our desires, together with the power and manipulation of corporate global forces. Sadly I also think that much Western spirituality with its focus on individual fulfillment is not as strong a resistance to this growing darkness as it could be if it focused more on the central spiritual principle that it is not about
“me.” There is a beautiful Sufi saying which expresses this: “Take one step away from yourself and behold the path.” I personally think that the self-development and self-empowerment movements have subtly corrupted much true spiritual intention with their focus on the individual self, creating a quality of spiritual materialism. As a result a certain spiritual light has been lost. MacEnulty: Is that what is missing from American spirituality today? Vaughan-Lee: As I mentioned there is deep misunderstanding in that true spirituality is not about self-fulfillment or living one’s dream, but making a relationship with what is sacred and divine within oneself. This relationship may give one a more fulfilling life, but the focus should be on the sacred rather than the individual or personal self, the soul rather than the ego. Sadly spirituality often also involves money, and then its light and purity of intention easily becomes caught in our culture’s web of materialistic and financial illusion. Although there is a growing spiritual awareness of oneness, and how humanity is a part of an interconnected ecosystem, there is still a sense of spiritual practice having an individual focus—that it is about our individual well-being. We have yet to fully embrace the awareness that spiritually we are all interconnected and that our spiritual practice belongs to life itself—nothing is separate. Our spiritual practice affects and is affected by the inner and outer state of the world. And at this time of global crisis that we call climate change, there is a urgency for our attention both physically and spiritually to be directed towards the earth and its real need. Then our spiritual practice will include the whole of creation, either in our meditation or our prayers and devotions. If we remember that the world is a living spiritual being in distress we will hear that it is calling to us. Then we will naturally respond both inwardly and outwardly. And our response will come from a place that recognizes its sacred nature and unity, of which we are a part. The ecological situation is not a problem to be solved, but a wake-up call to a different way of being and relating. As the Zen teacher Susan Murphy describes it, the whole world is posing us a singular koan, forcing us to make a shift in consciousness. MacEnulty: Is there any reason to be optimistic about the future? Vaughan-Lee: I am a mystic and have experienced the grace and the miraculous power of the divine, especially in the darkest hour. In this sense I am optimistic about the future. But I have also learned to be a realist, and it is possible that we may have already passed the “tipping point” of irreversible climate change and global imbalance. We can see only too clearly the results of our addiction to
consumerism in global warming, in creating the first ever man-made mass depletion of species. We need to take real responsibility for this ecocide which we are committing, to feel the grief at what we have done and are continuing to inflict on this beautiful and suffering planet. And to recognize how this is creating both a physical and spiritual crisis, as the outer destruction is reflected by an inner desecration of the sacred within creation and within our own souls. There is a very real possibility that we are approaching a global “dark age,” with unforeseen circumstances. At the same time many people are articulating a “new story” that is based upon cooperation rather than competition, upon oneness and real sustainability rather than separation from the earth. For example Joanna Macy speaks of the “Great Turning” as the next step in our collective evolution. But the spell of consumerism is very powerful, and has a dark seductive magic that is not fully recognized. As Thomas Berry remarked there is a need for “a creative entrancement to succeed the destructive entrancement that has taken possession of the Western soul in recent centuries.” We need to be open to a magic or power that is strong enough to break this spell and enable this new story to be written. For many years I have had a vision of the future as a child waiting to be born, a magical child with stars in its eyes. I know that this child is the archetype of a new age both for the earth and for humanity, and I sense what this future means to all of us. What it will take for us to midwife this child into life I do not know, whether it will be born in my lifetime or that of my grandchildren. But if we can open our eyes, the seeds of this future are all around us, and that gives me hope.
In this interview with writer Pat MacEnulty, Sufi teacher and mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee discusses his Jungian philosophy, the teacher-dis...
Published on Jul 11, 2015
In this interview with writer Pat MacEnulty, Sufi teacher and mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee discusses his Jungian philosophy, the teacher-dis...