“The heart is the substance,
and the world the accident.”
Once we enter the world of spirituality, we often hear: “follow your heart“. “Open up your heart”. “Dwell more in the heart”. But very rarely we get any advice on how to actually do it, and what does it really mean. I barely touched the topic recently in my “Prayer of the Heart” article on this blog. But there is much more to understand. And much more to feel.
The heart of a man is indeed special. Did you know that it is the very first organ that is created during the development of the body in the womb of a mother? Whenever we feel really touched, or we want to make a vow, we automatically touch our chest with our hand, as if we subconsciously seek a connection with our deeper Being in these special moments.
Yet, before we start to explore our hearts, rarely we realise how complex they are.
The journey into the heart has many “stations”. We realise that as soon as we start to meditate and our ability to feel our hearts gets refined. Sri Yukteshwar called them “stages of the heart” in his “Holy Science”. Sufi tradition calls them layers of the heart.
Once I had a very touching dream. (You can read the poetic expression of it in my little ebook.) I was standing at he shore of a river Yamuna. I knew it was a river of my heart. Within it’s waters I saw many lights of all the stars of this universe. I saw all the colors from this world and from beyond.
Love, pain, happiness, longing… all emotions that ever existed and those yet to be born – all of them I felt in the waters of this sacred river. All those waves mingled in one ecstatic flow. All united in one cosmic dance.
I wrote later on in my poem about the dream that even each grain of sand on that shore seemed to be made of Love.
I was at first just standing in the sand, on the shore of this magnificent river, observing its beauty with awe and tears in my eyes. And then, slowly, I started to enter its waters. Each step into the river was special. Each was bringing new type of understanding and new type of ecstasy.
It is very similar, when we enter the secret chambers of our heart.
It is not the same, when you stand on the shore of the river, and when you actually enter it. It’s also not the same, when only your feet are submerged in its waters, or when you are covered by it from top to bottom. Similarly, it is not the same, when you just stand on the “threshold” of your heart, and when you actually enter it. And still, after entering it, you will discover so many layers, so many levels inside yourself…
…and soon you will realize that you can always go deeper…
Sufi tradition beautifully classifies these stages of the heart into four layers with 28 subdivisions. I have found this knowledge to be of a huge value, as it offers a deep insight into our own spiritual development and offers a much wider perspective for understanding what it really means to dwell more in the heart. It is also a wonderful tool for self-analysis. Anytime of the day, just stop for a moment, place your hand on the heart, and ask yourself: in which layer of the heart do I dwell at the moment? How does my consciousness behave now?
Al-Sadr: “the breast”. The first layer of the heart.
It is said to be the most external and the most shallow level of our heart, where our ego (nafs) dwells. It is like a shell around the pearl covering the real treasure inside. Depending on how much purified is our ego, it can either obstruct us from going deeper into our hearts, and cover the Divine light hidden within us, or it can actually reflect our inner light, similarly like the Moon reflects the light of the Sun.
The ego is the natural part of our being, yet until it becomes purified and spiritualized, it can be a great obstacle in self-discovery. When we dwell too much on this outer level of the heart, our heart is on the stage of the “dark heart” as Sri Yukteshwar says. By focusing too much on this outer level, we make it stronger and thicker, so the subtle Divine light hidden within can barely pass through it. In result, we get focused only on the outside reality, believing that the matter, which can be perceived by senses is the only reality that is existing. We become blind to more subtle energies and realms.
In this dark state of the heart, we focus too much on the outer reality, and as a result of that we become a very easy prey for all kinds of vices. When we dwell too much in gross consciousness, we become calculative, judgemental, arrogant, and bereft of sensitivity or ability to discern. Our need to control, to criticize, to put ourselves first and to grasp, becomes enhanced. The voice of our intuition, and even the voice of our conscience can be barely heard in that state, as we do not pay much attention to it. And as in this state we pay attention only to the outer reality, it gives birth to lot of attachments, which bind us and make us suffer eventually.
Yet, if this layer of the heart is connected to the deeper layers, and when it is purified and guarded, it can manifest the beauty of our inner light as well. That’s why it’s written in the Bible: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
But how to guard the heart? The easiest way is to chant the mantra regularly. You will find this spiritual practice also in Sufism, and even in Christianity. The mantra purifies your mind and heart, and connects you to your innermost heart, where the Divine dwells. It also makes you more alert and conscious, due to what you can have much more control on which qualities and energies you allow to enter into your heart.
Al-Qualb: “the heart proper”. The second layer of the heart.
On this stage we enter “the proper heart“. Al-Qualb means “that, which is turning”. It is the subtler, emotional layer of our hearts, which undergoes constant changes, while sending and receiving different signals. Different changes of the heart, decisions, emotions and choices happen here. It is a subtler reality of feelings, which can either lead us to a more refined perception, or confuse us with its multitude of colors and feelings. When this layer is connected to deeper layers and turned towards the Divine, it can lead us to many life-changing decisions inspired by true intuition.
Our sensitivity comes into being in this layer of the heart. It is here that we experience expansive feelings of love, empathy, joy, prayerfulness, gratitude, appreciation of beauty, serenity and contentment. Yet, it is also here, when we can experience the deep pain from the past.
First layer of the heart can be compared to the shore of the river of the heart. When you stand on the shore, the only thing you perceive is river: but you do not notice its subtle waves, you don’t experience its depth, neither you are aware of the treasures hidden on its bottom.
Second layer of the heart is when you slowly enter your inner river, and you realize that it is full of waves and different experiences. You start to notice the subtler reality and you discover that it is a whole new reality.
This layer of the heart is very unsteady by nature. Sometimes it turns more towards the outside, sometimes it turns inside. Sometimes it gets too affected by outer reality, and sometimes it can be completely in tune with the Divine. Sometimes it expands, sometimes it contracts. Sometimes we feel full, sometimes we feel empty. If we want to proceed further, to deeper layers of our heart, this part of our beings needs to become more steady first.
The heart becomes steady through chanting of the mantra, or through regular practice of meditation, like Atma Kriya Yoga. Such spiritual practices allow us to calm the waves of our inner river, so we can go deeper and perceive the treasures hidden on its bottom. As long as the waves of feelings appearing in this layer of the heart are too fierce, as long as we identify with our temporary emotions, we cannot go further, as our mind is not still enough then, to perceive what is beyond.
Al-Fu’aad: “the inner heart”. The third layer of the heart.
“There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled.”
“A heart is called fu’aad, when there is a sense of kindling or burning.” Sri Yukteshwar calls this stage of the heart a devoted heart. This layer is beyond the limitation of the ego present in the first layer, and beyond the noise of feelings found in the second layer. In this layer we start to perceive the world, as it consists not of matter, not even of ever-changing energy, but of “magnetic attributes, electricities and poles”. Sri Yukteshwar describes it as a “nearly perfect state”, in which our perception is enlightened by our inner light. And since this layer is the closest to our heart’s very core, where the Divine resides, it naturally awakens within us devotion and other godly qualities. It is on this level that we experience true unconditional Love, forgiveness, stillness, patience and righteousness, and hence our heart is “kindled” by these divine qualities. On this level we are no longer human – we become divine. And so our perception of the world around us becomes divine, too.
In this layer an intimate connection with the Divine within us awakens. We start to feel warmness in our hearts, which is the warmness of the fire of the soul within us. Any person, who practices meditation, experienced that at least for a moment. It is a sacred moment of deep connection with your true self, which in a fraction of a second puts your entire life into the right perspective. And in the presence of the magnificence of Love, problems cease to be problems. Everything smaller than Love seems too small to bother about. Solutions appear naturally.
When a person chants the mantra regularly, with faith and concentration of the heart, this layer opens itself more and more. And with the help of Atma Kriya Yoga the outer layers of the heart can be purified even faster, so we can reach this inner layer more easily, regardless of the outer circumstances. Such spiritual practices are true gifts to humankind, as they allow us to gradually evolve from a human into a truly Divine being.
Al-Lubb: “the Secret”. The fourth layer of the heart.
Al-Lubb literally means “the core”. It is not even the innermost layer of our hearts. It is the very core of our beings.
I am wondering if anything can be written at all about this particular “layer”. It is something beyond all words and beyond all understanding. It is the purest state of our being. Sri Yukteshwar calls it “the Clean Heart“:
When we reach our heart’s very core, we perceive the Divine Light as the only real substance of All That Is. At this stage we realize that all is perfect and we start to perceive the Divine in everything. It is also on this level that we receive the Divine guidance and hear the Divine voice of our intuition.
To reach this innermost space of the heart is a grace. I am wondering if it is possible at all without a blessing of the spiritual master. But without any doubt entering this inner kingdom is possible with the help of spiritual practice, which is empowered by the blessing of the true master. Atma Kriya Yoga is one such beautiful spiritual practice, which cleanses the outer layers of our heart, so we can establish a daily connection with our heart’s very core. Firstly it gives us the experience of connection with our innermost Self, even if for a few second a day only at the beginning. But then it helps us to gradually bring this higher consciousness into our daily lives, so the Divine light hidden within us can easily shine through all the outer layers of our hearts. It’s a challenging path and the way may seem long. But it’s such a path, which brings undescribable contentment to the heart with even the smallest step made.
Because each such step brings us closer to who we truly are.