Ninety-Nine Pathways of the Heart for the Modern Dervish:
- Don't start by reading this book from the beginning. Instead, open it at random a few times and read what you find. If something strikes you, stay with it. You will likely discover some things you can identify with immediately and others that seem like they are from another planet. If you first try to read the book from start to finish, you may not be able to face so many seemingly paradoxical corners of your heart all at once.
- Don't worry about "getting the point." The Sufi teaching stories scattered throughout the book work on many different levels. The obvious meaning or moral shows only the surface level. The rest of the story works "below ground," so to speak, in your subconscious. If you get a chuckle or even a "humph!" from a story, it's probably having its effect.
- Browse consciously. Read the preface, "Setting Out on the Journey." Then take some time each day, perhaps before bed, to familiarize yourself with some of the pathways. Each one presents a quality of feeling, sensation or experience. Some may be familiar to you, some not. Many pathways seem to contradict each other. Some pathways connect to others, as I have indicated in the "Roots and Branches" section of each chapter (for instance, themes of work, love, power, relationships and so forth). Do any of the qualities or challenges speak to your situation in life right now?
- Forage. When confronted by a situation in life in which you would like some guidance, take a breath or two with your hand placed lightly over your heart to calm yourself, then open the book at random, as you would an oracle. This may be the best way for the new user to experience the pathways. If you use the book this way, you might also want to read the pathway both before and after the one to which you've opened. The Sufis have used lists of the pathways of the heart this way for more than a thousand years. The "Meditation" section of each pathway suggests ways to contemplate or experience the quality. The default meditation is simply to breathe in your heart with the feeling of what you have read.
- Cut up the book. Or photocopy and enlarge the table of contents, snip the list of pathways apart and place them in a bowl. Take a breath and pick one out. This is another way to use the pathways as an oracle, as mentioned above. Alternatively, a list of pathways that you can easily cut up is posted at www.sufibookoflife.com. This site will also link you to other sites where you can hear various traditional pronunciations of the practices.
- Hunt. Perhaps you are consciously working on an issue in your life or psyche, or supporting other inner work such as counseling or psychotherapy. Check the table of contents or index for a topic that seems relevant and, still breathing in the heart, find what you need.
- Read this book. When you have done all of the above for awhile, then begin to read the book from the beginning to the end. Take a break and put the book aside occasionally, before you get indigestion from meeting too many different facets of yourself. Just as wine tasters need to frequently clear their palates, you may need space from tasting the wines of your soul. To help you create this space, you will find several unnumbered chapters entitled "Bathing in Unity" interspersed throughout the book. Use them to dive into the pure ocean of the Beloved before looking down another pathway.
- A Note About "Bugs." The book's "program" has not been debugged. Actually it has been re-bugged. Paradox and foolishness are built in as well as what is deeply serious. Sufism is a living 21st century tradition with many different approaches. Expressions in the book like "a Sufi would say…" or "the Sufis…" should not be taken to imply that there is one unified Sufi way of being or acting. The program is incompatible with any attempts to use it to find a consistent philosophy, metaphysic or history that can be called "Sufi." The programmers take no responsibility for your rational system crashing under these circumstances.
Your heart is the browser.
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The pathways are the search engine.
The universe is the real internet.
And there are many addresses to the Beloved,
whose server is always online.