The prayer first of all reminds me that there is something higher than “me.” That there is an “Above,” a force of intelligence to which I can become receptive. In Islam, this is called “submission,” which suggests connotations of bondage to our Western mind. But in reality, submission, when chosen, is not slavery, but freedom. As Bob Dylan sings, “Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord / But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” In other words, we are always, willy-nilly, submitting to something. Freedom is choosing what to serve.
If freedom is only an exterior action, it is inauthentic. It is the coerced “service” mouthed by corporations that endeavor to make customers feel cared for, so they will spend more money; or even the egotistic work of do-gooders to care for others whilst not truly seeing them. Real service starts with perceiving a need, submitting to it, and leaving one’s ego behind. It is premised on an inner disposition of receptivity, not activity. As Gurdjieff writes in Beelzebub’s Tales, “the higher blends with the lower in order to actualize the middle and thus becomes either higher for the preceding lower, or lower for the succeeding higher.” So by intentionally placing ourselves in the position of the lower, submitting to the knowledge that comes, a conscious middle is actualized in us, and true service may arise.
The middle that is actualized depends on the higher that we choose. For example, I was with my family last evening and my wife commented that our two-year-old was emitting a scent that suggested there was an evacuation in his diaper. She asked me to change it. I told her I was busy and asked her to do it. “You never change diapers,” she said, with frustration in her voice. Immediately, I felt a blend of righteousness and indignation arise, as I thought of the hundreds of diapers I have changed. But in that moment a flashbulb went off and I realized I was serving my own justification. The question arose: Do I want to serve my wife and child, whom I love, or my pride? The answer was implicit in the action—I got up from my “important” work and changed the diaper. The inner result of the event—what was actualized—was love, instead of resentment.
But the “Lord Creator” is eminently mysterious, and perpetually unknown or even unknowable from my current level of consciousness. Truly, it is not something to be known, but rather utilized as a means of stretching my being to receive a more conscious influence. The means of becoming receptive to this higher force is to quiet thought and become an empty cup; to bring attention into the instrument of body, mind, and emotions. The pitfall, and there is always a pitfall, is to become “full” of emptiness; namely, to so fixate on the effort so as to be so still or empty that nothing new can enter.
Avoiding the trap of self-involvement, what arises in the vacuum of emptiness is humility. If I remember that every breath, every moment of “my” existence, is granted from above—from an intelligence on a scale so far beyond my own as to be inconceivably greater, and that without it I would cease to exist in an instant, then I can begin to feel a very tender gratitude, and corresponding willingness, and readiness to serve.
To be clear, I am not talking about “believing in God.” What is above does not fit in any idea generated from below. What is above is only a mystery, and is therefore immune to belief. Instead it is dynamic inquiry that allows us to catch a glimpse of that mystery by eschewing any apparent formulatable answer that arises. We inquire with our whole being: What is it? Or, more, pointedly: Who am I?
I reiterate that freedom is choosing to which master we are enslaved. This choice is renewable in every moment. It is the choice that the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan followers make that enables them to forgive the Chinese for the genocide of their people and the continued systematic destruction of their refined culture. And it is a choice that we can make on our own small scale of life, choosing to become receptive to a higher intelligence, especially in moments of anger and fear, when our most mechanical tendencies are rife.