An up and coming young judge came under the spiritual influence of a Sufi master and began to pass through the first stages of a personal awakening. This led him in time to renounce his position and status and to become a dervish, resident in the Sufi Lodge as part of a community gathered around the sheik. He was blissful. He had no doubts about his decision and was filled with generous enthusiasm and hope.
Then slowly, subtly at first, his ego resisted and complained. ‘You were very noble to renounce everything and follow this path. People admire that’. He was happy to following such an illustrious path -  this ‘way of love’ as the sheikh called it – under a highly regarded teacher. ‘But,’ his ego whispered, ‘you are different from these other disciples. You are educated, well-connected, a good leader. You deserve to be recognised for that’. When a legal issue concerning a property was brought to the sheikh to arbitrate the new novice proudly offered his services remarking that this was his specialised field of training which he ‘knew everything about’ . He could not repress the smile of self-satisfaction and pleasure at being able to use his talents. The sheikh looked at him, lovingly but shrewdly, and told him there was a special work in the Lodge that the former judge could fulfil better than anyone else. The smile on the novice’s face broadened. The sheik led him to the back of the Lodge and showed him the dog, handed him the dog’s bowl and said ‘your work is to feed and look after our dog.’  When the sheikh turned and re-entered the Lodge the novice exploded with angry shame and threw the bowl on the ground. The sheik returned and looked at him.
He fed the dog obediently every day and endured the ensuing struggles with his ego, in his room or when he met people from his former life who were amused by his new lowly status. He was helped by the special attention of his teacher and made progress with his mantra. This however led another member of the Lodge, a young senior official, to feel envious. This grew into an uncontrollable jealousy of how the sheik was treating the newcomer and how the other members of the fraternity were growing in respect for him. Viciously he invented a slander about his rival and the sheik’s daughter and spread it.
The victim of his jealousy suffered intensely, for himself and the young woman. He was outraged, furious and determined to confront it; so he went to tell the sheik what was happening. The sheik listened and then told him he had failed. He should have borne the trial silently. He looked at him and told him coldly he should leave the Lodge. In tears, broken and devastated, he left to go out into the world again a wanderer in the desert with nothing.
Of course, this isn’t the end of the story. But it casts light on the process of confronting and wrestling with the ego that every meditator passes through as we move from the surface to the deeper levels of the ‘way of love’. As Lent is a time especially to reflect upon that journey this might be a story to help us understand where we are and what challenges we are facing at this time.

Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2021