A Post Script & Parting Shot for Patti Simpson Rivinus

By Doug Marman

Patti's Wedding Picture

August 3, 1933 – May 4, 2011

When I first saw Patti, in 1973, she seemed larger than life. It wasn’t because she was giving a talk to thousands of people. And it wasn’t the fascinating experiences she shared about her time as personal assistant to the founder of Eckankar, Paul Twitchell, and the unique training she went through working for him.

It was the ease in her voice. The simple way she had of saying the most amazing things. It was her honesty, her sense of humor. She wasn’t trying to be anything but who she was, and somehow she made that seem grand.

In other words, she loomed so large because she wasn’t trying. She was just being who she was. In fact, she seemed to enjoy making fun of herself:

“…to my knowledge, I have never made the same mistake twice. Actually, that is not really such a remarkable feat, considering how many mistakes are available to us without our needing to repeat any. And I say, with some chagrin, that while I may not hold the record, I have accomplished a respectable volume of work in that category.”[i]

This only brought her more fans. To which she responded by assuring us that she didn’t deserve it:

“…no matter what I have done, or how often I might have appeared to be in a role of leadership, I have never been anything but a soldier in the trenches. Nor have I lost the sense of wonder, the sense of the miracle, that all this happened to me, a basically average, unremarkable human being.”[ii]

Unremarkable? Hardly. Patti’s life was extraordinary.

She taught a three week course in Beginning Japanese Cooking at Fassero’s International Ecole de Cuisine, only to say that she didn’t intend to repeat the experience because “There were too many things to think about and do all at once.”

She decided to take sailing lessons one day. A friend asked her, “Oh, do you have a sailboat?”

Patti helping Paul Twitchell with his microphone at an early Eckankar seminar

Patti helping Paul Twitchell with his microphone at an early Eckankar seminar

“No,” she said.

“Are you going to buy one?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, then why in the world are you taking sailing lessons?”

Which left Patti speechless. Later she said, “I was dumbfounded at her viewpoint that there had to be a very practical reason for me to go to so much time and trouble.”

She was doing it for “the glory of new adventure; the challenge of pitting yourself against the unknown quality…the learning of a thing‒being aware of what and how it is, is the reason to do it.”

You won’t find more of an adventurer, who loves exploring the edges, the out-of-bounds areas, and the mysteries, with every project she takes on.

Especially now. Nothing’s changed.

* * * * *

When I sat down to write this article about the passing of Patti Simpson Rivinus, her presence surrounded me. It was unmistakable.

This was curious, since I knew she had already moved on to bigger and better things, in the worlds beyond this plane of existence. So, this wasn’t her, they were blessings: A gift wave she left behind. I’ve never experienced this before.

As I followed this wave, I saw it reaching thousands of people, friends, and family. I was amazed at how many Patti touched around the world, from all different walks of life.

Some knew her only from reading the books she wrote, or hearing a talk she gave, or from one of her many articles published long ago. Some knew her from art classes they took with her, or the sharing of a book, or a helping note she sent out of the blue. Or from her free counseling moments that she dispensed regularly, especially for those in need.

Let me give you an example. I got to see one of her unexpected acts of friendship, one day.

She called to say that she had just returned from a trip, and a stewardess on the plane had broken down in tears. Her husband had just died and she was completely lost. She didn’t know what to do. Patti took her under her wing, and asked if Karen and I could help.

We drove over together to spend time with the stewardess, who none of us knew, and to help around the house. We cleaned up, fixed some broken appliances, which her husband normally took care of. But more than anything, Patti just wanted to share some light. The results were unmistakable. You could see the spark coming back to the stewardess, as she started to perk up, feeling a new kind of energy that she had forgotten.

Life. It is so important, and Patti dispensed it like candy.

After the worst of the storm passed, we left the stewardess a little more hopeful than before, feeling that she had received an unexpected gift from people she didn’t know.

That was Patti. She was doing things like that all the time.

So, I shouldn’t have been surprised that she would leave her friends and family with another gift, with her passing.

* * * * *

I’ve never seen anyone who left such a trail of grace behind her, as Patti did. I wasn’t the only one who experienced this.

Fred Foos wrote:

“I was in Portland on business all week and had the experience of Patti’s great golden pillar reaching into the Universal Source of All Being.”

Christopher Rivinus, Patti’s step-son, wrote:

“I am finding a ton of good memories sharpening in my mind. Patti came into my life at a critical time and so much of who I am today is because of her. Somehow over the last few days the big lessons she taught me, the critical lessons, are coming back to me. It’s as if she’s talking to me and reminding me of things I’d forgotten. Good things. Things about how the universe really works and things about who I really am inside.”

Rosalind Richards wrote:

“My husband and I took a walk tonight fairly late.  A few seconds out  of the house and we heard the train horn blowing a long, low and beautiful tone. It was very deep and noticeable because I don’t remember hearing the train before. After walking down the hill, we heard it again at a distance. It must have stopped and rang the horn again as it went on.  The tone now was at a lower octave.

“I thought to myself that this was Patti’s love. Then the symbol of another octave lower and there she is again as her love continues on into the other worlds. I thought about her, the whole walk. What a happy, loving, generous, bright Soul. What a thrill it was to hear her talk at Seminars with her wonderful humor. How much Paul trusted her and depended on her. How important she was to him.

“If I had any doubts about her sending love to me and others tonight, that was quelled through the Sound of the Train Horn. As I finished  the walk there it was again. Three beautiful whistles of Patti’s love and presence. How lucky we all are to have known her.”

* * * * *

This article isn’t going as I planned.

Patti smiles. “That’s life,” her presence says to me.

Her laugh is infectious.

She doesn’t want me talking about the past. “That old stuff?,” she says. If her death is about anything, she says, let it be about this moment now.

A presence that speaks such wisdom is rare. It can only be found with those who have moved into the universal life. This is a sign of mastership, which is not a title, but a state of being.

Patti is absolutely right, this moment of celebration about her life is about now, the experience and adventure of life. It’s not an ending, but a poignant turning point. It isn’t the closing of a circle, but a spiral that keeps growing.

“However,” I say to Patti, “I have a story that needs to be told. It starts in the past, but brings us something for this moment now.”

* * * * *

I had the pleasure of working with Patti, through the mail, in 1978, when I worked at the ECK World News.

Patti started EWN, an international news magazine. Paul Twitchell, the founder of Eckankar, had talked about his vision for such a publication, and it resonated with her. Patti got it up and running, and ran it for the first two years, from 1972 to 1973. Then, she turned it over to others.

One of her classic trademarks, when she was editor, was the way she ended every edition with her “PS.”

Sometimes PS stood for Post Script, a final comment for the edition, usually a funny quip. For example, she ended the September 1973 issue this way:

“Since last month’s issue hit the streets, homes, prisons and libraries, we have been receiving some interesting mail regarding Black Holes. It seems that readers everywhere have recognized that Black Holes are not necessarily ‘out there’ but right here. Many of us have chucked out forever such ideas as negligence, absent-mindedness, and the other nasty incriminations usually applied to mysterious disappearances. It’s been a great relief to those of us who tend to lose things to discover that we are not remiss after all‒but have just had certain items confiscated by some nearby insatiable Black Hole! I find this explanation very satisfying and much more to my liking than the idea I used to have that I tend to lose things. I personally suspect that I have more than one of these in my general area, but I thought I’d let you know‒that black shoulder strap handbag I usually lug around with me is one that has been positively identified.”

Other times, PS stood for Parting Shot. Such as this beauty:

Parting ShotAnd, of course, PS always stood for Patti Simpson, although she never once said that.

* * * * *

When I was co-editor of the ECK World News, I asked Patti if she would contribute an article. She sent a short piece that has always been one of my favorites. She began The Bombing of a Philosopher:

“One thing we are as sure of around here as death and taxes is that come spring the mockingbirds will reverse the natural order of things and begin dive-bombing the neighborhood cats. It’s one of my favorite things and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it is just the fascination of seeing creatures jump out of traditional molds and do the daring and unexpected.”

This put her into a philosophical mood about the amusement of nature. She laughed at the ridiculous picture of the next-door cat running from the little bird. She ended her article like this:

“I was still musing about the silliness of the powerful cat when I heard the mocker shrieking again. I looked up thinking they both were back and I’d be in for some more fun. But only the bird was back. He was perched on a rosebush about five feet from me and there was no doubt as to whose shiny hair he had his eyes glued on. It was an eyeball to eyeball confrontation. I said, ‘You wouldn’t dare!’ He fidgeted and shrieked again and I suddenly remembered I had some things I should be doing in the house and I quickly disappeared behind the door muttering to myself.”[iii]

The Bombing of a Philosopher, was therefore both about her being bombarded by a mockingbird, backing down from the silliest of threats, and at the same time it was about her failure as a philosopher.

It’s easy to laugh with her, but what I love is the subtle way she hints at something profoundly moving. We love to sit back and observe life from a distance. We look out over the world and philosophize about the craziness of it all. The joke’s on us, since we are part of it. That’s where we belong, in the fracas, not watching from the sidelines.

This article also showed her love for the offbeat, especially when it included reversals to the natural order. I think that is why she wrote in such an unassuming way. In the middle of her most thoughtful articles and lectures, you still feel as if you were sitting next to her, having a casual chat.

For example, take the way she begins her book, Hello Friend, written for new students of Eckankar:

“It was one o’clock in the morning, in the Spring of 1980, when I was awakened by you…

“I know a lot about you. You have carried within you a deep yearning to know more about the nature of things. In your quiet moments you have asked yourself strange questions. Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here?

“You have within you the seeds of a revolutionary; a pioneer. You sense or know there is far more to existence than is commonly accepted and you can’t help being curious about the unknown, although there are moments when you wish it weren’t thus; moments when you wish you could be as satisfied and accepting of the safe, traditional forms as others seem to be…

“You didn’t tell me all this specifically when we met in the middle of the night. What you conveyed to me was that we are very much alike, you and I. And so, I have just written for you a fairly accurate description of me as I approach the path of Eckankar. There’s a name for this condition that we have. It’s called ‘Divine Discontent.’ It is the mark of the Seeker. And when I meet one, I call him or her, Friend.”[iv]

When she called you Friend, she meant it. She made thousands of friends down through the years.

This note came from one, the day after word of Patti’s passing got out:

“Many years ago, when I was introduced to Eckankar by my Dad, one of the first names I got to know was Patti Simpson. I really can’t remember how or why it stuck, but when I found her on Facebook, it didn’t matter. She just seemed to have this light permanently in her eyes that is so unmissable. I wasn’t very close to her even on Facebook, but for some reason, that name became engraved in me.

“She was a beautiful Soul…

“Know that from far away, in Nigeria, Patti meant something to someone and we will all miss her dearly.”

* * * * *

“Enough with the old tales,” Patti says to me. “It’s time for something new.”

“Okay,” I answer. “Then it is time to tell the untold story. But, first, let me give everyone a bit of background.”

* * * * *

At the peak of Patti’s popularity, in the mid-1980’s, she made a move that surprised everyone. She resigned from the long list of responsibilities that she held in the organization of Eckankar, and turned away from the spotlight completely.

She and David, her husband, also packed up all their personal belongings and moved, leaving California and all their friends, to live in a small town in Vermont, where Patti knew no one.

Few could understand why she would give up everything. Some wondered if she left in protest over something, but that was never Patti. I never saw her running away from anything, and she never had a problem speaking her mind. She was always moving toward something new.

Patti went radio silent on the subject until a few years ago. An ECKist wrote asking why she made such a change in her life back then. Patti answered in a letter dated, July 2007:

“The time came when my extensive work on the outer path was no longer where I needed to be. This became clear to me in many different ways. I needed to be doing my work on my own, with my own inner life, instead of such a public forum. Everything I ever found myself to be on the outer path, I continue to be, with the added richness that I work quietly and anonymously in the world with people who have no idea what I have done in the past.”

It wasn’t an easy change at all. It was one of the hardest things she had ever done.

She didn’t want to leave all her friends behind, and she loved the work she was doing. But inwardly, the message was getting stronger and stronger that it was time for a change. A big change. But she wasn’t quite ready.

That’s when she slipped on an icy curb and busted her ankle to smithereens, as she described it. Her bones were fractured in so many places that she required four separate surgeries, with pins and plates, to put her ankle back together. Now she wasn’t going anywhere.

She talked about the waking dream “accident” with David, who had been giving talks on the subject. They both agreed that the inner message was clear: It was time for her to make a clean “break.”

A while later, after her ankle healed well enough to get around, she got a request from a long time friend to be guest speaker at an Eckankar seminar. She wondered if maybe she could do this one last little thing, since it was coming from a close friend. So, she agreed. On her way to give the talk, she tripped down some steps and broke her elbow.

Then she knew that there was no choice except to go forward with life and see where it was taking her.

In a letter dated June 2007, she wrote to some close friends:

“You know, on the outer path, most of your friends are ECKists. Most of your work and your identity is that. Then you move into a small New England town and no one knows you and you have to start over, from scratch. David was a tenor and got involved with the music scene. Tenors are always in great demand. I did nothing at first except sit up on my mountain nursing my fiercely wounded ankle. My first contact in the town on my own were my dentist and my orthopedic surgeon. All the music people put up with me because I was ‘the tenor’s wife,’ but in the beginning that was all. It was total anonymity. So, I had to be Patti, pure and simple. I had to share my expertise, my humor, my time and work on very mundane levels.

“But gradually I emerged from my cocoon and became a person to them (and if you can do that with New Englanders, you’ve really done something.) I like to think of that time, in that small town of 13,000, as giving birth to myself. A new self, with all the experience and talents and insights I developed in Eckankar, but without the ready made audience of folks who loved and listened to me in the past. In ECK I was very known, very visible. In Brattleboro Vermont, I was no one. But when we left, people were crying, over both of us. 70 people came to our going away party.

“And since I’ve done this once, I have no reticence about doing it again. Every one of us have things to say, and to give, and we need to do that without tying ourselves, in any way, to an organization. That just helps us grow. Because we need to come from our own authority. We are co-creators. And we need to move into the freedom and joy and service of that space.

“All this is to say, I think Paul waited a long time to see us realize this.”

I agree completely with Patti, that this is indeed one of the lessons Paul hoped we would learn. But it is one of the hardest lessons to leave our old paths behind to find where life is taking us now. Yet, this is how the path of life works. We can’t be so caught up in our path that we miss The Path of life itself.

Paul put it this way, as captured by Patti’s trusty tape recorder:

“…the majority of ideas that go on in these fields of religion and philosophy have narrowed themselves down to a very narrow path. I can be a Christian or I can be a Moslem, I can be almost anything, but then I’m put into a strait jacket…

“So, what we have to begin to think about‒and I’m guilty of this point myself‒is that we can’t really say that ECK is even a path. It embraces so much of life because It is life itself. The only thing we’re doing is using certain exercises and certain ideas in order to open ourselves to this flow‒or whatever you want to call It, that is coming into us‒or we are traveling out to It. So we find that we are embracing the whole of everything and not a small, narrow path. And the minute that we begin to put ourselves into this narrow path, we have failed, because we then put ourselves on another path.”[v]

That’s “another path” because it is no longer the path of the whole of life.

* * * * *

Patti was a pioneer, always exploring. So, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone when she suddenly left the spotlight, to lead a life of anonymity.

In the middle of her most serious writing, she would often say something like this, from her book, Hello Friend:

“…these are great and important things we are discussing. And I’m feeling neither great nor important. Such things are better left to the big guys. But just between you and me, I find small, simple things work the most profoundly.”[vi]

That is indeed where the spiritual path strikes gold. Not in the shining lights of fame, but in the small and simple things. It isn’t about finding glory, but the glorious moment of now, here, filled with the fullness of being.

You can see it in her artwork, during her anonymous years. Both the Dalai Lama and African Lady paintings show her upmost respect for the strength of individuality, facing truth in daily life.

Dalai Lama by Patti Simpson RivinusAfrican Lady by Patti Simpson Rivinus
The piece she liked best, however, is also the simplest, and one of her most recent. A red truck, in the stillness of a field. You can hear the quiet, far from the spotlights.

She wrote this note about her truck paintings, just a year ago:

“Living for many years in rural Vermont where almost every farm has at least one old truck and/or cars tucked away in the nearby forest or in a weedy forgotten place, I developed a deep love for this interesting phenomenon of rural America. The old trucks seem to be like old grandfathers, once strong and dependable, hardy workers, who can no longer produce, but remain beloved.”

Red Truck by Patti Simpson RivinusFor Patti, the painting was also autobiographical, showing her the completion of a good life: An old work vehicle put out to pasture. It wasn’t being used any more, but was filled with too many good memories to be sent to the junk yard. The telephone pole is a bit off kilter from the weather and years, symbolizing old communication lines that are now out of date, but were once used on a daily basis.

* * * * *

To understand fully the magnitude of what Patti was working on, when she turned to an anonymous life, we need to hear a personal story that no one knew. She never told anyone, outside of David, what had happened, until about a year ago, when she pulled me aside, in her home.

She said, as best as I can remember:

“Paul asked me if I would be the next Living ECK Master, but I had to turn him down.

“He told me that I had the ability. I could do what he was doing. But he didn’t ask his question directly. I was too much in shock at what I was hearing. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized he was asking me if I would be his successor.

“I still had four kids growing up, at home. I had Pete [her husband at the time], who had already sacrificed too much for my work. I couldn’t abandon my responsibilities as wife and mother.

“I had to say no, but I hated doing it.

“I knew I had to give Paul my answer in person. The next day I saw him, and I saw what a letdown it was.”

This happened after Paul had been poisoned. He knew he needed to find a successor. Even Gail, his wife, told him to pick someone, before it was too late.

I asked David if he would share his memories about this untold story. He wrote me the following, and gave permission to include it in this article:

Doug,

Patti being offered the position of the Living Eck Mastership by Paul was an incident that haunted her until only a few years before she died.

As you know, masters, when they really have something to say, rarely speak their minds directly. So Paul broached the subject indirectly to test the waters. Patti was anything but spiritually blind and she was certain enough of Paul’s “hint” that it put her into a near panic.

It was a double-edged sword. One blade of that sword was that she was forced to confront the possibility that she HAD understood Paul correctly. She imagined herself in the role that was‒she felt reasonably certain‒being asked and expected of her, namely, that she was to take over the leadership of Eckankar in the responsibility of its Living Eck Master. She saw herself, still in her late thirties, married and with small children, and with all the accompanying responsibilities that this role entailed, being suddenly catapulted through a series of intense initiations‒then being obliged to take over the guidance of a young spiritual movement with its growing number of chelas, each with his or her intense spiritual needs. (Can you imagine?) She knew almost immediately that she could not do this, certainly not at that juncture in her life; that her responsibilities on the physical plane‒her marriage, her children, her role as mother‒had to take precedence. There had already been one broken marriage in her young adulthood and she would not put her children through that experience again. She knew she had to refuse Paul.

That led to the other blade of the sword: What if she had misinterpreted Paul? What would this do to their close working relationship, now oiled like an exquisitely running machine, if she went to Paul and openly, directly (arrogantly?) turned down an offer that he had never actually made?

She was beside herself. But, as we all know, Patti was no shrinking violet. She mustered every ounce of her courage, went to Paul, and told him that she could not accept the role of the Living Eck Master; it was simply impossible for her at that time in her life.

If there had been any doubt at all in her mind up to that point as to whether Paul had actually made the offer, his reaction put it to rest. She told me that he said nothing, simply nodded his head in understanding and resignation and then she watched as he VISIBLY, PALPABLY, GRAVELY took the entire burden of the path back onto his own shoulders.

Her decision broke her heart. Paul was the individual on earth whom she respected and loved the most and she felt that, in that moment, she had profoundly let him down.

Until a few years ago, when you approached her with questions in regard to your writing of “The Whole Truth,” the only person she had related this incident to was me. She repeated the story several times during our marriage and never once did she alter a single detail. And always, there was the sense of misgiving, the fear that, especially in light of what happened during the Darwin years, she had made a decision that was horribly, horribly wrong.

The first relief she got was during our Vermont days. Patti was now in her 60s and she attended a workshop by an author and spiritual teacher named Richard Moss. He’s not associated with the Eck movement and Patti was there as much out of curiosity as anything else. But as we all know, sometimes the Mahanta speaks through unexpected sources and something Richard said struck home so deeply that Patti knew it had come directly from Paul. I wasn’t there so I will have to paraphrase the words, but the message was this: The first and most supremely important spiritual prerequisite to mastership is to be absolutely and uncompromisingly true to yourself.

Patti said that, as the meaning of Richard’s words began to sink in, she felt a burden lift off her own shoulders that gave her immense relief. She knew, at last, that she had acted correctly and that Paul had understood and had accepted her decision from the moment she had made it. That allowed her, finally, to share it with you a few years later and, at that point, she completely let the responsibility go. For her, it was a colossal weight removed.

Yet for me, sitting safely out of the line of fire, her decision, from the moment I heard of it, was nothing shy of awesome: I cannot imagine a more courageous act, done by a young woman exploring completely uncharted territory, and doing so leagues and leagues away from being in sight of any shore. What a blindingly bright light she was–and still is for that matter, in that even more vast arena in which she is currently working!

As this story would come up from time to time during our Sunday pillow talks, my own curiosity would lead me to ask any number of questions, the most puzzling of which was, “What about the Eck doctrine that claims only a male can be the L. E. M? Patti would raise her palms and shrug her shoulders, the message being crystal clear: “I know what it says and I also know that Paul asked me‒a woman‒to accept the job. So you go figure it out, then tell me and we’ll both know.” It was one of those wonderful, rich paradoxes of being married to Patti that made life so frustratingly and profoundly beautiful.

David

When I asked Patti if she would contribute to my book on Paul Twitchell, The Whole Truth, she jumped in with both feet. She dug out her old notes and recorded an audio tape for me on her thoughts.

She told me that this allowed her to finish a promise she had made to Paul, to write his biography. She felt her book, Paulji: A Memoir, was a personal account, and something more was needed.

I was thanking her for her help, while she was thanking me.

After we were done with the book, she got serious and said something almost identical to what she wrote in her book, Hello Friend:

“More than once, as Paul was talking to me, teaching me, sharing his life history and his visions, I would ask myself, ‘Why is he giving me all this? Why is he spending so much of his physical time and attention on me?’ Sure, he needed me to help free up his time to get his books written. But that was too obvious. And there was too much more going on for it to be only that.”[vii]

When she spoke with me, she still had this feeling that there was some other purpose that Paul gave this to her, and she felt the need to pass it on.

That’s when I realized what she was asking me: Would I take this from her? It was a subtle question, more on the inner than the outer, but I could see her need to fulfill this final task for Paul, to pass this on.

Outwardly, she asked if she could give me all of her files from her notes with Paul. I said that I would be honored, seeing the full meaning of the gift she was giving, and that I could help in some small way for her to let it go. It was the last bit of Paul’s mission that she carried with her.

She may have turned down Paul’s question about her being the next Living ECK Master, but I don’t think she ever turned down mastership. That was what she was working on during her years out of the spotlight, away from all the things that came so easily to her, thanks to Paul. To see what it meant to be ruthlessly true to herself, and to live from her own inner authority.

That is a sign of mastership, as I see it. And so is this gift wave she left behind, the trail of grace.

One week after word got out about Patti’s passing, David had already received an avalanche of emails. He showed Karen and me the stack. It was over two inches tall. Over a hundred messages from around the world, in three different languages, from Israel, France, The Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Nigeria, Argentina, Mexico, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Columbia, Switzerland, South Africa and the US.

Thank you Patti for your presence, right now, and the way you encourage everyone to be themselves. You’ve made the meaning of it grand, indeed.

But, of course, it is only fair to let Patti have the Parting Shot. So, I’ll end with the last words she used in her book, Paulji: A Memoir. It seems even more appropriate now:

“The hour grows late. The story has been told and … well, Paulji, I think we ought to take off …”[viii]

 


[i] Patti Simpson, Paulji – A Memoir, published by Eckankar, 1985, page 74

[ii] Patti Simpson, Paulji – A Memoir, published by Eckankar, 1985, page 64

[iii] Patti Simpson, The Bombing of a Philosopher, The ECK World News, May, 1978, page 7.

[iv] Patti Simpson, Hello Friend, Illuminated Way Press Publishing, California, 1981, pages iv-vii.

[v] Patti Simpson, Paulji – A Memoir, published by Eckankar, 1985, pages 292-293.

[vi] Patti Simpson, Hello Friend, Illuminated Way Press Publishing, California, 1981, pages 113-114.

[vii] Patti Simpson, Hello Friend, Illuminated Way Press Publishing, California, 1981, page 171.

[viii] Patti Simpson, Paulji – A Memoir, published by Eckankar, 1985, page 306.

Cultivating Our Spiritual Purpose

By Doug Marman

Recently, I was invited to be opening speaker at an Eckankar retreat for Washington State. The following is from my talk:

Rumi's Tomb

Rumi’s Tomb in Konya, Turkey, with Mevlevi Dancers

The theme of tonight’s program is inspiring: Consciously Walking Your Own Path. As I was preparing for this talk, I wondered, “Who are the best examples of people who consciously walk their own path?” I immediately thought of spiritual teachers down through time. So, I thought it might be interesting to hear what Shams-i-Tabriz and Jalal al-Din Rumi had to say about God Consciousness.

Rumi says in his discourses:

“There is one thing in this world that must never be forgotten. If you were to forget all else, but did not forget that, then you would have no reason to worry. But if you performed and remembered everything else, yet forgot that one thing, then you would have done nothing whatsoever.

“It is just as if a king sent you to the country to carry out a specific task. If you go and accomplish a hundred other tasks, but do not perform that one task, then it is as though you performed nothing at all. So, everyone comes into this world for a particular task, and that is their purpose. If they do not perform it, then they will have done nothing.” 1

Rumi is talking about our spiritual purpose and the importance of carrying it in our life. However, the way Rumi and Shams explain it, it really isn’t “our” purpose, as if it was something that belonged to us. It is more as if it owns us. So, this raises the question: How do we gain God Consciousness and a spiritual purpose?

Shams said this:

“Beyond these outward spiritual leaders who are famous among the people and mentioned from the pulpits and in assemblies, there are the hidden saints, more complete than the famous ones. And beyond them, there is the sought one that some of the hidden saints find. Maulana (Rumi) thinks that I am he, but that’s not how I see it.” 2

The “sought one” is of course a term that Shams used for the people of his time. Every religion has its own name. However, it is clear that what he is referring to is what ECKists call the Mahanta. But, does this paragraph mean that Shams is saying he was not the Mahanta? No, that’s not what he meant, and Rumi understood this.

What Shams is saying is that from the state of God Consciousness he cannot look up to himself as a Master. Attaining mastership means surrendered to the God state. In other words, it doesn’t come from him, but only through him.

That’s why Shams later said this:

“Which arrow is it that strikes you? These words.
“Which quiver do these arrows come from? From the world of the Real.
“Whose bow do they fly from? God’s…
“These arrows will take you to the world of the Real. They are in the quiver there, but I can’t shoot them. The arrows I shoot all go back into the quiver from where they come.”

Shams-i-Tabriz

A painting of Shams-i-Tabriz, circa 1503

Once again Shams’ words are a bit obscure, but contain valuable insights: Why can’t he shoot the arrows? Why does he mean by this?

He is saying that the arrows that fly from the Master, and the arrows that strike us and pierce our hearts, do not come from him. God shoots those arrows. All that Shams does is shoot arrows back to God.

This is fascinating, because it means that our spiritual purpose comes completely from God and belongs wholly to God. We can’t take credit for what comes through us. All that we can really do is shoot arrows that fly back to God, for the sake of all reality.

This is another way of saying that the role of the Masters is to return those who are ready, back to Soul’s original home. The arrows they shoot show us the way, because they fly straight to the heart of God.

Shams makes another interesting comment: Everything in all the books we’ve ever heard about describes the path for seekers. This is not the path of the God Conscious – it is the path of seeking. Nothing has ever been written about the path of God Consciousness.

“The story of the sought one cannot be found in any book, nor in the explanations of religion, nor in the sacred treatises – all those are explanations for the path of the seeker. We’ve only heard about the sought ones – nothing more has been said.”
“In the whole world, words belong only to the seeker.”
“The sought one has no mark in this world. Every mark is the mark of the seeker.”

Why has nothing been given out about the path that the God Conscious follow? Shams gives us a hint, once again in is cryptic way:

“Some of God’s servants are ‘active,’ some are ‘speaking.’ You need an active leader more than you need a speaking leader.”

What Shams means by “active” is the inner action and work they do. In other words, what he is saying here is that true Masters work both outwardly, with spoken words and teaching, as well as inwardly. And it is their inner action that is most important.

Rumi tells a story that explains this further. He uses the example of a spiritual leader widely known to the people of his time:

“When Uthman became caliph, he stepped up into the pulpit. The people waited to see what he would say. He was silent and said nothing. He looked steadily at the people, and a state of ecstasy descended upon them so that they were unable to move and could not tell where they were. Not by a hundred preachings and sermons could he have shown them such an excellent state. Precious lessons were imparted and secrets revealed. Until the very end, he only looked at them like this, not saying a word. Then, just before leaving the pulpit, he said, ‘It is better for you to have a working Imam than a speaking Imam.'”

Anyone who has had this experience knows exactly what Rumi means. Inner experience is more valuable than a thousand books. It is the inner Master and direct spiritual experience that reveal precious secrets of the path. However, this is all still for the sake of the seeker.

What about this inner action? How do we learn the path of action, which means finding our spiritual purpose? A student of Rumi’s asked him this same question. Here was his answer:

“I am looking all over the world for students of action so I can teach action. I am looking all over the world for anyone who knows action, but I find no students of action–only of words. So, I occupy myself with words. What do you know of action? Action is only known through action. There is not one traveler upon this road–it is empty–so how will anyone see if they are on the true path of action?”

In other words, God Consciousness is not about seeking; it is only action. Not the outer acts that people think of as deeds, but pure inner action. This means being a co-worker with God. Only a small fraction of pure action is ever visible in this world, because such arrows all fly back to the original source. If we are fortunate, we catch glimpses of those hidden arrows.

Now it becomes clear why no one can describe the path of God Consciousness; because it is something you live. There are no followers of inner action because there is no way to follow. It is only something you do. It is not something you can follow.

If we step back and look across history, we see that western religious teachings generally tell us that illumination comes like a bolt from the heavens, similar to what St. Paul experienced on the road to Damascus. The lesson is to surrender and be humble, to prepare ourselves for the light of God. Eastern religions, on the other hand, generally teach that we need to reject the outer world and give up our outer desires to withdraw within, where we will find the treasure.

When it comes to God Consciousness, however, Shams and Rumi say that neither is the path. While we cannot possibly attain such a state by our own power alone, we must be bold enough and trust in God enough to take that step. We must give up everything we know and risk everything, to begin acting as a co-worker with God. It is the most humbling of experiences.

How could we ever be worthy? We can’t. Of course, we’re not worthy! But we must be able to surrender all concerns, including our unworthiness, in order to work from a state of consciousness greater than Soul, Itself. Of course it is beyond us, which is why we must leave behind doubts and fears to work from the God state. This means giving up seeking for our own personal spiritual growth and taking up growth for the sake of all Life. The needs of all Life become our needs.

Rumi tells a story showing the difficulty of taking such a step. The story is about a lion that became famous around the world, in his day. He says this lion had a special quality: Those who approached him boldly, and rubbed their hands upon him with love, were never harmed. But if they were afraid or approached timidly, the lion would be enraged against them. Sometimes he even attacked, as if to say, “Why do you have such a bad opinion of me?”

Rumi tells the rest:

“A certain person, marveling at the rumor, traveled from far away to see the lion. For a year this person endured the rigors of the road, travelling from town to town. After finally arriving at the thicket and spying the lion from afar, this lion-seeker stood still and could advance no closer.

“People said to this person, ‘You set forth on a long road out of love for this lion. For this creature you have struggled on for a year. Now that you have come so close, why do you stand still? Advance one more step!’

“But none of them had the courage to take a further step. They all said, ‘The steps we took up to here were all easy. Yet this one step is beyond us.'”

Paul Twitchell told his story about pulling the Tiger’s Fang in his book of the same name, which was also about the step of God Consciousness. It is easy to talk about God Consciousness, but something altogether different to take that step. That is something rare, indeed. That’s why Paul said only the bold and courageous would succeed. We must step beyond anything we know. It takes far more than faith, says Rumi, it takes a knowingness that nothing can shake.

I used the word “cultivate” in the title – Cultivating Our Spiritual Purpose – because from everything I’ve seen, God Consciousness is not something we can find, and it is not something that just comes to us from out of the blue. It is something that grows. It is a living reality.

We need to care for the seeds of love for truth that come our way and water them with our attention. They are living gifts planted in our hearts by God. Then, like a garden we need to weed and pull out negative emotions. We need to dig out the roots of all such thoughts of unworthiness and doubt. But we can never take credit for what a garden produces, since it is all an expression of life.

There is one big difference between tending a garden and cultivating our spiritual purpose: Watering and caring for living things outside ourselves is nothing like our own being becoming transformed into something beyond anything we know. Our Self is no longer our own. Actions that spring through us suddenly come from a Universal reality.

Rumi describes what this change means is in the following discourse, where he talks about hidden Masters who work directly for God:

“There are certain lovers of God, who, because of their great majesty and fervor for God, do not show themselves openly, but they cause disciples to attain important goals and bestow gifts upon them. Such mighty spiritual saints are rare and precious.

“Someone asked Rumi: ‘Do the great ones come before you?’

Rumi answered: “There is no ‘before’ left to me. It has been a long time since I have had any ‘before.’ If they come, they come before an image they believe to be me. Some people said to Jesus, ‘We will come to your house.’ Jesus replied, ‘Where is my house in this world, and how could I have a house?'”

In other words, God Consciousness means gambling away Soul, Itself, for the sake of God. This step means nothing to this world. It is an inner step made alone. There are no followers. It is a step of pure action. But as strange as it might seem, it can also be often found in the smallest of things.

One of Rumi’s students was prince of the local area. He came to Rumi’s classes, and was berating himself for not spending enough time on a high spiritual purpose, being so occupied with worldly matters. Rumi said to him:

“Those works, too, are work done for God, since they are the means for providing peace and security for your country. You sacrifice yourself, your possessions, and your time so the hearts of others will be lifted to peacefully obeying God’s will. This, too, is good work. God has inclined you towards such noble labor, and your great love for what you do is proof of God’s blessing. However, if your love of work were to weaken, this would be a sign of grace denied, for God leads only those who are worthy into the right attitudes that earn spiritual rewards.

“Take the case of a hot bath. Its heat comes from the fuel that is burned, such as dry hay, firewood, dung and the like. In the same way, God uses what to outward appearance looks evil and nasty, yet in reality is the means to cleanliness. Like a bath, men and women fired by the efforts of work become purified and a benefit to all people.”

In other words, don’t underestimate even the smallest of things done well. Love for the work we do transforms even the lowliest things into pure action. Love for our work is one of the signs that Spirit is filling our life with true action.

Whether raising a family, working for a business, or helping teach about the path, enthusiasm for what we do, and doing it with care, shows us that currents are flowing from the spiritual hierarchy through our work and giving it life.

Our spiritual purpose cannot be found, it finds us. But we must care for it as a living gift. If we can give up our whole life to it, then it turns everything it touches into gold.

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1All quotes of Rumi are from: It Is What It Is: The Personal Discourses of Rumi, translation and commentary by Doug Marman.

2All quotes of Shams are modified quotes from: Me and Rumi: The Autobiography of Shams-i Tabrizi, translated by William C. Chittick, Fons Vitae, Kentucky, 2004