Brother Sun

All praise be yours, my Lord,
through all that you have made,

And first my lord Brother Sun,
Who brings the day;
and light you give to us through him.

How beautiful is he,
how radiant in all his splendor!

Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

— St. Francis of Assisi

While the Sun’s eye rules my sight,
Love sits as sultan in my soul.

— Ibn ‘Arabi

The Sun has been worshiped as a divine being by many cultures. It was seen as creator of the world, light, clarity, truth and rational consciousness, vanquisher of unconscious terrors, provider of light, warmth and protection, father, founder of tribe, god of music and medicine, the giver and sustainer of life as well as the bringer of death. From the ancient Egyptians to St. Francis of Assisi, the Sun as a metaphor or actual body of God is widespread. While visiting the Southwest, Carl Jung met a Native American wise man. Sitting outside, Jung was explaining the European notion of the One, Invisible, True God. The wise man listened for a long time to these explanations of such an abstract notion and then stood up, pointed at the sky and said, “The Sun is God. Everyone can see that!”

Without the sun, there would not be life. The Universe dances around the sun at its center and we are utterly dependent upon it, echoing our relationship to the Divine. Everything that is, is by the grace of the Holy. Everything that breathes is by the grace of the sun. The sun is a physical reminder of what supports, nourishes and maintains creation continuously, without a pause. The sun shines like the constant nature of God’s love, blazing without a pause, ever full, ever radiant, ever in love. It is everpresent in all weather, unaffected by circumstances. In our egocentric view, we think God comes and goes, but it is our perspective that changes. There is not a moment where God’s love is not shining upon us.

And yet, we struggle. The struggle starts when we become focused on an artificial conceptual reality that some things in the world are “good” and some things are “bad” and we lose touch with the blessedness of the whole as it is. My mother tells of how “sensitive” I was as a young child. She would say in a serious tone, “Is Jeannie a bad girl?” and my face would crinkle up with grief. Then she would follow it with “Is Jeannie a good girl?” and my face would just as suddenly break into a wide beaming smile. The struggle starts when we imbibe from our culture that not only are some things “about us” not pleasing to the people around us (and therefore “bad”), they are likely under our control and a sign that we need to change ourselves. We begin to set ourselves up in conflict with things as they are in an attempt to become “good.” Yet this “good” is an artificial good, not the good of the whole as it is, but a conditional “good” as defined by the everyday mind in conflict.

As a child I knew where to find this unconditional Sun of God’s love that only lit up my parents’ faces at certain times: it lived without pause in the trees and the wind and the sky. When some sort of injustice would happen in my house and my feelings were deeply hurt, I would run hard through my yard, chest bursting, into the woods to a pair of twin White Pine trees that rose high over our house. I would climb with the steam of one wronged to the top of one of the trees. There I found no judgment, no accusation, no moods, no conflict, nothing cast out of the whole, nothing that did not belong to God– and I would cry my heart out to the tree as the wind swayed me in its arms, returning me to the whole. This was my field “out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing” that Rumi speaks of:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.

— Rumi

When we are split off from this sense of oneness, connection to the whole, and the inherent value of our deep and essential being as it is, we can feel bad enough to self-criticize, abuse ourselves or even to want to end our lives, weighed by the internalized mostly- unconscious accumulation of small and large curses to our being. Life and thriving come from and are fueled by the Sun of the Holy – the connection with the inner sense of blessedness of our existence. With the knowledge of this relationship and the embrace of the Holy, we sing with the radiant Yes! of ourselves as we are. With so much of growing up and school being about learning how NOT to be, or how to be in order to be “good”, the sense of the blessedness of things as they are, and as we are, can be obscured. Then we are vulnerable to the conditioned mind’s interpretation of the weather, circumstances, moods and events as being signs that we are anything but blessed, and enslaved to perpetual efforting to secure our “goodness.”

The return to living in synch with things as they are and the radiant shine of the Sun within is the blessed journey of the mystic. No longer interested in being good, pleasing or a function of external opinion, the mystic wants only to live for God, obedient to an inner sense of integrity, authenticity and vision in every moment that may or may not please others. The mystic turns her begging bowl away from people, events and moods inward toward the Sun of the Holy, no less a beggar, but now utterly dependent on the only source of true light and nourishment, seeking the Love that is unconditional, that blazes no matter what the circumstance.

A Sufi story conveys that one day the sun and a cave were having a chat. The cave didn’t really understand light and bright and the sun had trouble understanding things from a dark perspective. So they decided to change places. The cave went up to the sun and seeing from there said, “Ah, this is beyond wonderful! Come on down and see where I have been living.” The sun went down to the cave and seeing from there said, “Hmmmm, I don’t see any difference.”

To see with the eyes of the Sun! When our hearts and eyes are filled from within with the Sun of the Holy, there is no struggle, no problem, nothing to solve, nowhere to go. Though there is nothing denied, there is a light that shines through it all, and things are seen through this clarity simply, without embellishment from the mind, blessed as they are. The heart is filled with a blaze that deeply nourishes the soul and body and there is nothing to do but scatter this joy at every turn. Within this light, the dark of any cave can be brought to evaporate and return to Oneness.

For many wayfarers, the attributes of God can be seen, felt and related to through a teacher or spiritual friend who embodies those qualities. When such a one is living in submission to God, she holds a torch that can guide the wayfarer when he is lost in the dark, and point toward the lamp of his own inner knowing, listening to it, hearing it, and allowing it to flower into a full expression of the greater Lamp.

For the Sufi poet Rumi, his master Shams was his Sun (“Shams” in Arabic means “sun”), the Spiritual Friend who carries the light of the Sun in his eyes, and the love of the Sun in his heart, who can point to the reality of the Holy and tenderly guide one through the awakening of truth within and accompany one through the burning of illusion to the embodying this light of Truth. In Rumi’s poetry, “Shams” not only refers to his master but also to the many aspects of the Beloved embodied by Shams: sweet grace and mercy, the power that awakens the truth in us, and the inner light of consciousness of one’s own soul and its awakening. Rumi writes:

O my soul, where can I find rest
but in the shimmering love of his heart?
Where can I see the pure light of the Sun
but in the eyes of my own Shams e Tabriz?

(as translated in Jonathan Star, God’s Breath)

One who sits with an empty heart, gazes with clear sight. In the gaze of emptiness, the sun of the Holy blazes like a fire, lighting up the far corners of whatever heart it falls on. There is no need, expectation, judgment or evaluation in such a gaze – simply an invitation to the heart of Love. When this gaze falls upon us, it ignites a fire in our own human heart – we are drawn to this deep, intoxicating Love. We also can want to run or shield our eyes from one who can see into our hearts, feel the impurities, and who invites us to burn through them and join her in an empty blaze. Excruciating self consciousness can ensue, as can mistrust and fear.

But realize this: just as dust-grains shine
in the sunlight coming through this window,
so there’s a light of reality,
within which ideas, hidden hypocrisies,
and the qualities of every action become clear.
All you’ve done and will do will be seen in the light of that sun.

— Rumi

To be entirely burned in the light of the Sun is to be willing to be transparent, to desire everything in the heart that is not Love to be burned in the full contact with this radiance. The purification process hurts. The one focused on by the Spiritual Friend can feel the pains and caverns of the aching heart and can be frightened to follow. To accept this invitation into Love is to allow everything to burn that is not this everlasting Sun of the heart. To say “Yes” is to be the moth toward the flame that knows of its certain death and yet loves the light beyond its own life. This is the devotee who is filled with a passion for the Truth and for Love and is willing to experience any and all discomfort on the way to knowing this in her own heart as her own Self.

When we are full of fear, we refuse the love of the Sun: we hide, suffer or withdraw from this blaze, and refuse to sacrifice our lower selves to our own light and feel the fullness of the pain of separation. We arrogantly think that we can avoid the pain and difficulty we have, and insulate ourselves in a conceptual reality where we are in charge, thinking we can escape the call of our own inner light. The Guide knows of the ever-existing Sun, embodying it, pointing to it through gaze and voice and word, supporting us to open, feel, and go through whatever is necessary to sacrifice for the embodiment of Love. Only when we find the Light of the Sun within do we grow to be the microcosmic sun that we are.

This is the path of learning to be love under all conditions, to surrender to things as they are until we are one with them, until there is no argument left in us. The Sun in its unfailing blaze melts away our refusal, burns away our willfulness, until we become a complete sacrifice to love and are able then to know and live this burning love no matter the condition. As human beings, we fall down again and again, yet as mystics, we rise and keep our constant approach to the one Sun that nourishes all in its radiance.

Come, come whoever you are–
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times,
Come, come yet again, come.

— Rumi

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(c) Copyright 2009, Jeannie Zandi, all rights reserved.
Originally published in The Sun Monthly, April, 2009.