Nafs and Resistance to Personal Practice
There is a big idea is Sufism known as Nafs. Resistance to practice is entwined there. Nafs, in brief, are self-destruction. More gently put, they are the aspects of self that undermine core soul hungers of Self. They can show up as fear, doubt, or lack of self respect. They can be laziness and self-indulgence. They can be a sense of overwhelm, of incapacity. They can look like abject loneliness, or being lost in the void, or helplessness, abandonment, irrelevance. We each have our flavor. They ruin regular worldly life, of course, but for spiritual aspirants, nafs go farther. They are little personal devils that impede communion with the Divine. They starve us of spiritual sustenance. Nafs are serious business, and the niggling resistance to practice is their handiwork.
Why is personal practice so important? A naf would whisper in our heads that it isn’t, that we are fine without our practice. Go ahead, eat that donut, crap out in front of internet TV, FB the evening away…But practice is solace to our pain. In practice, we recall and re-experience crucial learnings from retreat training periods together. We bring the group, the teachings and the teacher into our daily flow.
At Dancemeditation retreat, we learn many teachings. One core teaching is to approach ourself without tyranny. We practice steady, centered, calm self-witnesses. We move and breathe and chant and explore with a generous dose of compassion for our selves and our small human predicaments. We learn to know we are safe, that we can trust. Our training time is the act of taking our young terrified selves by the metaphorical hand and being the good parent, the good guide, the nurturer, healer, loving deity, the Lover. We work to become not only the person riddled with darkness but also the person who knows that these darknesses will pass and that we will be okay, that we are fine, that we are lovable and Beloved. When we return home and do daily practice, we integrate the depth of experience we’ve initiated during retreat. In daily practice, we continue to knead the compassionate space we have learned into our flesh.
A practitioner of a Path is one who practices the practices of the Path, but it isn’t just practicing that makes the practitioner. It is also knowing, and remembering why practices are being done. A Path is an awakening. A transformation. Blind adherence is not enough. We need also to turn willingly into the awakening.
When you resist practice, you stand on that threshold. Your foot is lifting to step. Will you crossover? Will you wake? Pat the naf on the head and step in.