Life has two aspects, of which one is known and the other unknown except to a few. This unknown aspect of life may be called the immortal life, the eternal life; and the known aspect may be called mortal life, as it is the experience we have through our physical being which gives us the evidence of life. The immortal life exists but most of us do not know it. This is because of our lack of knowledge, and not because the immortal does not exist. Everything we have in this life, whether an object, a living being, a thought, a condition, a deed, or an experience, breaks up and dies away. Every one of these things has its birth and death; sooner or later what is composed must be decomposed, what is made must break, what is built must be destroyed, and what is visible must disappear.
This shows that there is a struggle between what we call life and the life which is behind it. In Sufi terms we call these two aspects of life Qaza and Qadr: Qaza, the unlimited aspect of life, and Qadr, the limited aspect in the background. Qadr draws upon the life of Qaza for its existence, and Qaza waits, its mouth open to swallow whatever comes into it. Therefore the adepts and the wise, those who are called mystics or Sufis, have discovered the science of how to withhold the experience of life from the mouth of Qaza, the ever-assimilating aspect of life. If we do not know how to withhold it, it will fall into the mouth of Qaza; for Qaza is always waiting with open mouth, just as an illness awaits the moment when a person is lacking in energy. So in all different forms Qaza is waiting to assimilate everything that comes, which is then merged in it.
The question arises: how can we withhold, how can we keep something from falling into the mouth of Qaza? And the answer is: by controlling our body and our mind. In the East I have seen a man lifting a heavy stone on one finger. One might wonder how that can be possible, but it is the power of will alone which sustains the heavy stone; the finger is only an excuse. I have seen those who experiment in the field of spirit and matter, jumping into the raging fire and coming out safe, cutting the muscles of their body and healing them instantly. It is not a fable that the mystics know how to levitate; it has been seen by thousands of people in India. I do not mean that this power is something which is worth striving for, I only wish to point out what can be accomplished by the power of will.
To establish the reign of will power over the physical body the first thing necessary is physical control. The scriptures say that the body is the temple of God, but this means that the body is made to be the temple of God; a temple cannot be called a temple of God if God is not brought and placed there. So naturally when a soul feels depressed there is something wrong with the vehicle. When the writer wishes to work and the pen is not in order, it annoys him; there is nothing the matter with the writer; it is the pen which is not right. No discomfort comes from the soul; the soul is happy by nature; the soul is happiness itself. It becomes unhappy when something is the matter with its vehicle, which is its instrument, its tool with which it experiences life. Care of the body, therefore, is the first and the most important principle of religion. Piety without this thought is of little significance. The soul comes into this world in order that it may experience the different phases of manifestation and yet not lose its way, but regain its original freedom with the added experience and knowledge it has gained in this world.
Among the various kinds of physical culture known to the modern world there is nothing that teaches the method or the secret of sustaining an action. For instance to be able to sit in the same posture without moving, to be able to look at the same spot without moving the eyes, to be able to listen to something without being disturbed by something else, to be able to experience hardness, softness, heat, or cold, while keeping one's vibrations even, or to be able to retain the taste of salt, sweet, or sour. Ordinarily these experiences come and go, and man has no control over the extent of his pleasure or joy; he cannot enjoy an experience through any of his senses for as long as he would wish. He depends upon outer things and he does not know how to sustain any experience he may have; he does not realize that the only way of sustaining an experience is by control.
There is another side to this question. Being unconsciously aware that every experience which is pleasant and joyful will soon pass away, man is over-anxious; and instead of trying to retain the experience he hurries it and thereby loses it. For instance the habit of eating hastily or of laughing before an amusing sentence is finished, is caused by the fact that a person fears that the pleasure or joy will pass away. In every experience man loses the power to sustain it because of his anxiety about losing the pleasure it gives. To give another example: the great joy of watching a tragedy in the theatre lies in experiencing it fully, but people are sometimes so thrilled that already at the beginning of the tragedy they begin to shed tears, and then afterwards no tears are left. When once the zenith has been reached, there is no more experience to be had; and so instead of keeping every experience from being swallowed by the mouth of eternal life, man throws it into the life behind him without discovering its secret.
The mystics, therefore, by sitting or standing in different postures have gained control over their muscles and nervous system, and this has an effect on the mind. A person who lacks control over his nervous and his muscular systems has no control over his mind; he eventually loses it. But by having control over one's muscular and nervous systems one gets control over the mind also.
The means by which life draws its power is the breath. With every breath one draws in, one draws the life and power and intelligence from the unseen and unknown life. And when one knows the secret of posture, and draws from the unseen world the energy and power and inspiration, one gets the power of sustaining one's thought, one's word, one's experience, one's pleasure, one's joy. When one asks what is the cause of every tragedy in life, the answer is: limitation. All miseries come from this one thing, limitation. Therefore the mystics have tried by exercises, by practices, and by studies to overcome limitation as much as possible. There is no worse enemy of man than helplessness. When a person feels that he is helpless, this is the end of his joy and happiness.
Furthermore, in order to gain physical control one needs thought-power as well as both posture and breath. One must get above one's likes and dislikes, for they cause much weakness in life. When one says, 'I cannot stand this', 'I cannot eat this', 'I cannot drink this', 'I cannot bear this', 'I cannot tolerate', 'I cannot endure', all those things show man's weakness. The greater the will power the more man is able to stand everything that comes along. It does not mean that one has no choice; one can have one's choice, but when one gives in to one's ego then life becomes difficult. There is a false ego in man, which the Sufis call Nafs, and this ego feeds on weakness. This ego feels vain when one says, 'I cannot bear it, I do not like it'; it feeds the ego, the vanity. It thinks, 'I am better than others' and thereby this ego becomes strong. But the one who can discriminate, distinguish, choose, while at the same time having everything under control, and who although enjoying sweet things can yet drink a bowl of something bitter, that person has reached mastery.
Also, impulses weaken a person when he gives in helplessly to the impulse. For instance perhaps he has an impulse to go to the park, but instead of waiting till it is the right time to go to the park he quickly puts on his hat and goes along. By following his impulse immediately he loses power over himself. But the one who subordinates his impulse, controlling it, using it for the best purpose, attains mastery. Besides, indulgence in an impulse towards comfort, towards one's own convenience; always looking for the path of least resistance brings weakness. However small the work may be, if a person takes it seriously and finishes it with patience, he gains much power over himself.
Patience is one of the principal things in life, although sometimes patience is as bitter, as hard, as unbearable as death. Sometimes one would prefer death to patience. But it is of the greatest importance for the human race to develop patience in all conditions of life, in all walks of life. Whether we are rich or poor, high or low, this is the one quality that must be developed. Besides it is patience that gives endurance, it is patience that is all-powerful, and by lack of patience one loses much. Very often the answer to one's prayer is within one's reach, the hand of Providence not very far off, and then one loses one's patience and thereby the opportunity. Therefore impatience, in whatever form, is to be avoided. It makes one lose one's equilibrium, and when that is lost nothing can be accomplished. There is no gain to be had from impatience; yet impatience does not necessarily mean sloth, negligence, or laziness.
In conclusion, physical control makes a foundation for the character and the personality, a foundation upon which to build spiritual attainment.
Hazrat Inayat Khan