It’s after midnight yet still very hot. There’s no moon and it’s really quite dark. There’s a light in the centre of the street but even so it’s hard to see any of the buildings clearly. Except for this one streetlight still burning there’s no light. A man is walking home and under that very streetlight he sees a dervish whom he recognizes as Mullah Nazrudin on his hands and knees searching frantically for something. It’s clear that the Mullah has had quite a bit, probably too much, to drink.

“Mullah, what are you looking for?” his friend asks. “I am looking for the key to my house, I can’t get in until I find it” Mullah responds. “I will help you then” says the friend and then both of them continue to search for the key.

After an hour it’s clear that the key isn’t there. “Mullah, are you sure you lost your key here?” Mullah replies, “No, I lost it outside my house”. Bemused his friend asks, “Then why are you looking here in the middle of the street?” “It’s too dark outside my house, there’s obviously more light here.” Mullah exclaims.

There are many such Sufi stories involving Mullah Nazrudin and while invariably they are superficially amusing there are generally several layers of meaning embedded in each of them. I first heard this story many years ago and it has a funny habit of creeping back into my conscious mind every so often. This happened again to me this morning.

Where is Your Key?

As I reflected on it again it’s clear that many of us may be looking for “the key” in one way or another: the key to success, the key to inner peace, the key to wealth, to health, to happiness or whatever it is we want to unlock in our lives. We may even be quite aware that we are looking in the wrong place as was Mullah and yet we still carry on looking there. How crazy is that?

Looking under the streetlight can indicate we carry on living on the surface of life failing to penetrate below the level of superficiality. We may develop all kinds of avoidance techniques, pursue all kinds of distractions, we lose ourselves in our computers. We continue to look outside of ourselves for something that we know in our hearts is within us. Where it’s dark, where we know we actually lost the key, may represent those deeper aspects of our being that we continue to avoid even though we may know that’s the only place where the key is to be found. Even if others are ready to help us in our quest there’s something in us that needs to be unlocked first. The house, our real home, is the heart.

For Sufis, spiritual awakening takes place through cultivating awareness of the layers and the depths of the heart. The more one explores the heart the more there is to find. The more the heart gives, the more it has.

The Heart Space

There are many techniques that can be used to develop our awareness of the space of the heart. Here’s a simple one you may care to try.

Sit quietly in a relaxed position. Let the hands rest on the lap. Close the eyes. Begin with awareness of an easy breath. Allow the breath to gradually deepen without any strain.

Notice the ease of the body. Begin to watch, as a passerby, the endless stream of thoughts coming and going inside the head. See the spaces between the thoughts and feel the wider space in which the thoughts arise. Let the awareness be above and beyond the thinking mind.

Now feel the space in the centre of the chest, the heart space. You may be aware of the heartbeat. You may even for a few breaths care to place your hand lightly over the heart space in the centre of the chest to feel the beating of the heart more fully. When you get the sense of the heart’s rhythm internally let the hand return to rest on the lap.

Feel the sun-centre of the heart. Feel the pulsing inner radiance of your sun-centre. Actively and intentionally feel a wave of love as you continue to breath in and out. Explore the sensation of the love as you continue to breathe and to feel as deeply and as easily as you can in this moment. Continue for as long as you have time; a few breaths, a few minutes or until it feels time to stop. Then let go of any sense of concentration and open the eyes. Look around you. Before moving enjoy this moment. Then carry on with your day.

Next time you wake up to the fact that you are searching outside of yourself for fulfillment in life remember where you really need to look to find the key to your home.