Extract from a discourse delivered by Shaykh Ebrahim on 30/06/18 – audio available at the bottom of post
What is true for your life, is that you will have gain. Over the period of your life you’ll gain more relationships, you’ll gain more wealth, you’ll gain more knowledge. We view our lives through that perspective and we therefore construct the sense of our lives on the basis of our accumulation and our gain. We make this aspect of our lives the fundamental truth of our lives, our gain.
What is even more true about your life, is that you will lose. You’ll be tested with your wealth, you’ll be tested with your significance, you’ll be tested with your relationships and you’ll get to a point where you know, deeply you will know, that you stand alone in front of your Rabb, stripped of all pretence and stripped of all baggage and accumulation.
Of the two truths, the truth of accumulation and the truth of stripping away, the latter is the deeper truth. There’s no such thing as a wealthy corpse. There’s no such thing as a significant corpse. There’s no such thing as a trustworthy corpse, as a praiseworthy corpse. They all go the same way. It is therefore very important that we dedicate a good proportion of our lives rehearsing not for gain, not for accumulation, but for catastrophic failure.
Who are you, and what are you, when it’s all been stripped away? When all of your endeavours have been proved to be futile, and you are like an ant in the stream of a raging torrent, defenseless. Because that’s your highest nature, that’s your truest nature.
My experience of dealing with this rather indigestible fact, or truth, is that in my life, the only foundation and the only anchor that I’ve found is in my practice. There’s always shade on a musallah, there’s always a coolness in dhikr, there’s always a quietude in dua, and a peace in meditation. So the more we can create the conditions, where our day to day lives are done in the spirit of practice – in other words, do what you’re trying to do as mindfully and as well as you can and to make that the purpose of your life – is the degree to which you are comparatively secured from catastrophe. Fundamentally, the reason for this is that you’re not making your sense of security based on what you get from life and what you get from others, but you make your sense of security what you do, what you give, and the excellence of what you do.
This insight is liberating, but it also comes with a health warning. Because if you get onto this path, the path of the fuqara, know that your Rabb will test you. This is not speculative, this is not a maybe, it will happen. You’ll be tested with your wealth, you’ll be tested with your significance, you’ll be tested with the regard of others, and you’ll get to points in your life where you’ll feel completely desolate and unutterably alone and without recourse. Like a man, who’s spent his last resource and now has his back to the wall, and there’s nowhere else to go. This is going to happen to you, because this is what this path demands.
You cannot call yourself a faqir if you are not a faqir. The word faqir means a poor person.
Our project in this zawia is the project of all tasawwuf, and that project is not gain, but an eloquence in loss. That doesn’t mean to say we’re deliberately going to want to go and lose everything, because the losing that you have to do is not by your will, it is by His. It is what He takes away and what He grants.
How practiced are you, and do you commit to the practice of being the grateful slave in the face of catastrophic loss, catastrophic failure? It’s easy to be the grateful slave when it’s all going your way. It’s easy to be happy and cheerful when the whole of your life is just affirmation and clappy happiness. But when the enemy have breached the walls, the city is under ravish, there’s blood flowing in the streets and all of what you’ve endeavoured is being destroyed in front of your eyes, who are you then? The person who can joyfully maintain the equanimity of their poise and do what is appropriate in terms of what their Rabb puts in front of them, that is the only person who is free. All the others are slaves and all of the others will be destroyed by that event. Whereas the man who can deal with catastrophic failure and still stay enchanted is unconquerable, is beyond manipulation.