6 Life-Changing Lessons That My Spiritual Master Left Me
What does it mean to have a Spiritual Master? What does it mean to be a humble disciple? These are two questions that had never even crossed my mind until I met my husband, the man that was the means for me to meet the one man that would absolutely transform my life: Sheikh Aly N’Daw.
Sheikh Aly N’Daw, my Spiritual Master, was the fourth leader of the International Sufi School: a school, or community, that was founded by Senegalese Sufi Saint, Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba, in 1883 as a means of service to humankind. Founded on the principles of peace, Love, service and non-violence, Sheikh Aly N’Daw was the embodiment of these principles, and completely dedicated his life selflessly to the service of humanity. He transitioned quite suddenly from this human life on to the next stage of his journey on 17th February 2021, leaving many of us with what he would call an ‘awakening shock’, the ripples of which I’m still feeling today.
Before finally meeting Sheikh Aly at the age of 24, I’d never really known much about the Sufi path. Growing up in a family and community where religion was taught in a very one-dimensional, black-and-white, right-and-wrong way, I’d always had the impression that Sufism was for the ‘mad’ ones among us. What I’ve come to understand now, especially since the transition of Sheikh Aly, is that the Sufi way is one that embraces all facets of the human being. And that the Spiritual Master is the guide that lights the way and walks alongside you as you journey into the centre of your own Being, and towards God.
Sheikh Aly was someone I was never expecting to meet. Yet, without my conscious awareness, was someone that my heart was probably yearning to meet for my entire life. Through Sheikh Aly, I met God properly for the first time. He took me into the heart of my faith and showed me that God is Love; only Love, the purest Love – a revelation for someone who was brought up to see God as a mean parental figure that punishes and rewards. I still have such a long way to go, but Sheikh Aly was the one that lifted veils for me, opened my eyes and my heart, and helped me to see. I am so overwhelmingly grateful that my life led me to a true Spiritual Master and one that absolutely transformed my life beyond words.
Sheikh Aly’s teachings are countless, timeless and their depth has numerous dimensions, some of which are beyond my comprehension at this stage in my journey. But here are 6 massively important things I have learnt from this great Spiritual Master and am still discovering new dimensions to every single day: things that I believe have the power to transform any seeker who is on the path to spiritual growth.
1. Non-violence is the only way to achieve real change in the world
Sheikh Aly and his disciples of the International Sufi School dedicated a lot of time to studying the lives of those who came to this earth and created real change. These human beings are what Sheikh Aly and the School refer to as the ‘Peacemakers’; ordinary people just like you and I, whose lives led them to stepping out of their socially constructed identities, reconnecting with their being and giving themselves in complete service to humanity.
This selfless service to humanity is service that has created real, impactful and long-lasting change, and all came through the practice of nonviolent alternatives. Such Peacemakers include Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Wangari Maathai and others. Gandhi said,
“Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”
His life and the lives of the other Peacemakers are testaments to this. Change in our world cannot be achieved through reaction and violence. For all of the Peacemakers who created real change, they were able to do so by stepping out of themselves and stepping out of the situation – viewing it from the non-violent consciousness of their Being, and therefore implementing alternative nonviolent practices and methods that actually worked.
“It’s not with budgets of billions of euros or dollars that they succeeded in making the world a better place. It’s because they found their true being, a creation of God, a creation of selflessness.” – Sheikh Aly N’Daw.
2. When we are in deep judgement of someone or a situation, we attract the very same experiences into our own lives
Whenever I would go to Sheikh Aly with a new ailment or complaint, he would always speak to me about judgement and being very, very careful to not judge anyone or anything. He would tell me that doing so would ensure its reproduction.
When I look back over my own life, I can see that I have attracted the very people or experiences that have caused me anguish or distress due to unconsciously having been in judgement of something about a person’s character, or something about a particular situation.
The only way to free ourselves from this toxic cycle is to come to forgiveness and be able to fully forgive and let go. This is no easy feat (trust me, I know!) but this is the only way to break the cycle. As I continue on in my healing and spiritual journey, I am learning this more and more.
3. We must first BE, in order to DO, in order to HAVE – and not the other way round
In a world that constantly pushes us to do, do, do; to accumulate as much as we can in terms of possessions; to follow the socially constructed order of doing things, and in doing so, tells us that only then we will be able to be happy and just be, Sheikh Aly taught the opposite.
He told us that before anything else, we must first BE, or come into our Being. That is, to be still, to be present and to understand we have all that we need inside of us in this very given moment. We do not need to do anything or have anything to be enough. We always are enough. Simply as human BEINGS, we are enough.
Reaching this state of Being helps us to free ourselves of the pressures and constraints of the social order. When we come into the state of Being, everything we do and think leads us to truth, and therefore culminates in inspired action which goes far beyond just the self.
We do not need to live in a way where we have to do, in order to have, in order to be. Instead, in this way of consciousness, we must learn to be first, in order to do, in order to have. This is what will set us free.
4. We can be in the social order but we do not have to be a product of it
On becoming a disciple of Sheikh Aly’s, one of the main things that blew me away was becoming aware of just how much we are conditioned from the very moment we are born.
As soon as we are born we are given a name, a family, a heritage, a culture. We then enter the education space and then the work space. We are constantly being conditioned by our families, our societies, our heritages and so much more. And through this conditioning, we are continually being moved further and further away from the Being present within us all.
What Sheikh Aly showed me was that it is possible to be a part of society, to even be integrated into it, but to not BE it. He showed me how it was possible to be in society, but not be of it. And he did this by showing me that it is possible to liberate ourselves of all our conditionings, to live from our Being and to allow ourselves to be Divinely guided through life. And he showed me all of that because he lived it.
I, on the other hand, am still working on it!
5. Only through our own personal liberation, can we go on to truly liberate others
One of Sheikh Aly N’Daw’s most important teachings was that of ‘Liberation Therapy’ – a self-development method for personal liberation and inner transformation. He said,
“The therapy of liberation is a way to help people, through the experience they have had, to find their way back to God. The focus is on the transformation, not the elimination, of any aspect of the personality. The question is how to transform. It is based upon our very own life experiences and comes through the exercise of forgiving, as opposed to judging and finding fault.”
However, in recent times, he expanded on this significantly, explaining that each of the afore-mentioned Peacemakers were only able to create real, lasting change in our world because they were able to liberate themselves first. That means to say, that they were able to free themselves of their conditionings, transform their pain and struggles and forgive fully, and come completely into the state of Being that allowed them to serve humanity from a state of pure selflessness.
If we are able to undergo the personal therapy of liberation, then we too will be in a state to truly liberate others.
6. The Prophets, Messengers and Masters all came with the same message: LOVE.
Growing up, I constantly questioned why followers of particular faiths saw themselves as the saved ones. I couldn’t understand why people believed that only followers of their religion could enter Paradise (or what I believed Paradise to be, back then).
Sheikh Aly held the answers for many of my lifelong questions and he helped me to see that there is no one true religion – not in the sense that we see it. He showed me that the Prophets, Messengers and Masters from all backgrounds all came with the same religion: the religion of Love. Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, Mohammad and the many, many others… Each and every one of them came with the message of Love.
In more recent times, he described the only religion as being that of the ‘human being’ – that the human is at the centre of religion. He told us that all of the Beings of Peace that have graced this earth have demonstrated so clearly through their lives that the religion of God is the religion of the human being.
To know one another, to serve one another and to serve humanity, is to be in service of God. And isn’t that what religion should really be about? It makes complete sense to me.
“If people understood the true meaning of religion, we would meet and interact a lot with those who are different from us, knowing that through differences we can have access to what is missing in us and that which we do not know.” – Sheikh Aly N’Daw.
Although on some level I still can’t believe that this truly incredible human being has physically transcended the planes of this earth, I am just so incredibly grateful that life led me to him and to this treasure trove of teachings that have the power to absolutely transform anyone’s life. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. To find out more, please visit internationalsufischool.org where you can find out more about Sheikh Aly’s service and his teachings.
Sheikh Aly’s life was his message. He lived it fully. And at the same time, he was so astonishingly humble. For me, there is no better way to describe him than through the term that he coined himself: he was a true Peacemaker through and through, and I pray that his message and his work for the betterment of humanity continues always.