Exploring the Sufi Concept of Nafs

Many religious beliefs address the discrepancy between the ego and the unconscious mind, although not all of them fully understand what they are dealing with. Sufism’s adherents claim that the sect represents the inner mystical dimension of Islam. As in so many mystical belief systems, the aim of the individual Sufi is direct experience of God, or as the Muslims say, Allah.

A Turkish Sufi in Traditional Garb

The Sufi sect represents the inner mystical dimension of Islam. The nafs is a sound psychological concept. (Photo: Wikimedia)

One of Sufism’s key concepts is an aspect of the psyche referred to as “nafs,” which is confusingly translated as either the self, psyche, ego, or soul. In English, a similar confusion surrounds the word “self,” with some people using it to mean the psychological concept of the self (the definition of which also varies), while others are merely referring to the conscious “I” or ego. For the sake of clarity, let me say that I use the word “self” in the psychological sense that includes the unconscious mind.

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The Purpose of Consciousness Is Language

The sense of loneliness and yearning for something beyond personal needs, something lost or forgotten, some Eden is the longing to return to a state of unconscious union with the world, an abolition of fretful ego in favour of carefree unknowing, a state like that of crocodiles basking on the river-bank with a belly full of fish. All is well! All is right with the world! We hunger for sheer, unadulterated, unexamined contentment. In short, we want to regain the childish condition Jung so aptly called the “participation mystique,” the situation where, as small children, we could not tell what was “us” and what was the world.

Painting depicting people in conversation

The purpose of consciousness is language which enables us to communicate and co-operate. (Photo: Wikimedia)

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Second-Hand Worldview

Explorer Sebastian Cabot with Globe

Most folks just buy into the consensus worldview of their time unquestioningly adopting it as they grow to maturity, but this means we have a second-hand worldview made by others. (Image: public domain.)

Human beings have an inborn need to make sense of their lives and the world around them. The drive is stronger in some (such as artists and philosophers) than in others, but generally, we all want to know what things signify. Knowing the meaning of something means knowing how things fit together. To make sense of our lives, to give them meaning, it is essential that we possess a comprehensive, consistent, unified worldview.

Worldview is defined (by COED) as “a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world.” At first glance, this suggests an objective view of things, something you could study in a book and learn, either by rote, or by understanding. Ideologues do just that, adopting viewpoints like the cultural Marxism currently so popular with the left. Religious people do the same, converting to one sect or another’s standard declared creed. Most folks just buy into the consensus worldview of their time unquestioningly adopting it as they grow to maturity.

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Human Beings Are Always Half-Asleep

Young Charles Darwin

Evolution recognizes that humans are a work in progress. We are not yet, and perhaps never will be, completely conscious. (Image: public domain.)

In spite of our fond beliefs to the contrary, we Homo sapiens are not yet a fully conscious species. Perhaps our need for sleep reflects this reality, for the old argument that we must slumber while our bodies repair themselves does not withstand the verifiable truth that there are those who get by on just thirty minutes each “night.” These alert folk also demolish the idea that sleep is necessary to facilitate integration of the day’s experiences.

What purpose then, do our somnolent ways serve?

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