I’ve always been interested in Sufi practices of detachment, asceticism, and all forms of spiritual tools that can help us reach higher spiritual stations.
Asceticism (or zuhd in Arabic) is a common practice in Sufism, and it’s about abandoning from the world and not getting too consumed by “the show” or worldly desires. It’s about detaching ourselves from the ongoing narratives and the noise, and tuning inward and remembering that God is higher and bigger than all those things we think are so important.
When I say abandoning the world, I don’t mean abandoning it in an unhealthy way where we neglect our responsibilities or give up everything in order to achieve inner peace. In Sufi terms, abandoning the world means not letting the flashy things in life occupy a space in our heart. It means not chasing worldly desires and not comparing ourselves to others who have more luxury. It’s a metaphorical departure from the world while alive, so that these material things don’t consume us and create anxiety.
Islamic mysticism is beautiful like that. It encourages turning away from what doesn’t serve us, so we can be humbled in remembering that our spiritual devotion is our anchor in this world.
Imam Ali was the cousin of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, and was an early Islamic leader. He had a lot of wisdom to impart, including this beautiful quote:
“Aim to live in this world without allowing the world to live inside you, because when a boat sits on water it sails perfectly, but when water enters inside the boat, it sinks.” ~ Imam Ali
Reading this, I could feel like a weight dropped off my shoulders. Almost as if I was carrying the world and my lofty ambitions so close within my heart and justifying it as ambition, whereas what this quote made me see was how much I enveloped my ambitions deep within my heart and my identity to the point where my life depended on it rather than me depending on a higher love—the source of all love.
In this world, it’s important not to get too caught up in our own story and the stories of others—we need to remember that we are protected and loved, and to nurture that spiritual connection. I often find that my anxiety comes back when I lose sight of that and I begin measuring my success and achievement as though my value as a person rests solely on what I can offer this world. But when I remember this analogy, that when a boat sits on the water it sails, I remember not to let water into my boat when life feels overwhelming. I remember not to let the whole world by default into my boat; there isn’t much room anyway.