The Index of One's Mind
Our August theme is a statement from Imam Ali: “One’s behavior is the index of one’s mind.” As I’ve sat with these words, I’ve found myself pondering the three key terms: behavior, index, and mind.
Index of course implies measure, and measure, value. And so, implicit in this statement is an understanding that we live in a universe of value, of meaning and beauty. Existence is not random; or, perhaps better, existence contains both the possibilities of meaning and meaninglessness, and we get to choose the direction we move in. Do we chase after the distractions on the surface of life, or do we go for the depth?
Mind, then, can slide both up and down the scale of value. While I don’t have the Imam’s original Arabic in front of me, I’ve found myself clustering mind with two related words: awareness and attention. What do we give our awareness, our attention, to? Our awareness can become tight and constricted—locked into ego-identification, thought, and emotion—or it can become spacious, non-identified, and connected to Source. As Shaikh Kabir often says, are we the contents or the context of our awareness, our mind?
On the Sufi path, we work to bring the mind into the heart, with the repetition of La ilaha illallah, Allah, or some other Divine Attribute, perhaps coupled with the breath. As mind moves out of the limiting confines of our mental faculty (where we so often stake our center of selfhood) and into the heart, it also moves into spaciousness, and becomes receptive to the promptings of Infinite, Compassionate Intelligence, our Source and Sustainer.
From this perspective, mind is not a faculty located in the head (where Westerners tend to point on hearing the word), but is all pervasive, capable of encompassing our entire being. Nevertheless, when mind is anchored in the heart, a quality of warmth and tenderness emerges. The awakened heart is sensitized to the entire web of life in which we live, and to its proper place in that web. The more the heart is awakened through practice, the more sensitive our being becomes.
And so to come to the Imam’s final word: behavior. If our experience of mind can move from contracted to expansive states, our awareness from head to heart, and life from the meaningless to meaningful, how is this transformation measured? Imam Ali is utterly practical: our behavior (significantly, he does not say our beliefs) is finally the measure of our mind, the measure of our relationship to the world of meaning, value, and beauty. The way we act reveals who we are. Are our actions loving or spiteful, selfish or self-giving?
Perhaps clustered with behavior we might add a final word: adab. The degree of courtesy, etiquette, and sensitivity in our actions and behavior reveals the degree to which transformation is taking root in our being. And what are we being transformed into? Simply put, La ilaha illallah—there is no god but God. Our work, through daily practice, is to become all La ilaha illallah—to become hearts awakened and sensitized to the Oneness of Being.
La ilaha illallah—there is nothing worthy of worship but the One. When we live in sensitive alignment with this truth, our behavior becomes naturally beautiful; we act as parts in spontaneous relationship to the Whole.
La ilaha illallah—there are no isolated parts, only the Whole. When we worship the part (ourselves, our ego), our behavior moves out of alignment with the world of meaning, leaving damage and devastation in our wake.
Our culture teaches us to value the part, the individual, above all. Our path teaches us to submit ourselves to the Wholeness of things, and to find our balanced place in that Wholeness. Living from the heart, we live in conscious relationship to the Oneness of Being—not as an abstraction, but as a refusal to buy products that pollute our environment, as a piece of trash picked up from the roadside, as a loud voice for justice, as a compassionate and tender embrace.
One’s behavior is the measure of one’s mind. Put the mind in the heart. La ilaha illallah.