“Follow those who ask no reward of you and are themselves rightly guided.” (Qur’an 36:21)
“Truly by token of time, humankind is in loss; except those who have faith, who do righteous deeds, and who join together in the mutual teaching of truth and patience.” (Qur’an 103:1-3)
“Find someone the sight of whom reminds you of God, The awe of whom moves your heart, Who counsels you not with the tongue of words, but with the tongue of deeds.” ~Ibn Khafif
From a very early age we are all looking for someone to guide and teach us in the ways of the world that we still do not understand. Even more so in the ways of the spirit which are even farther beyond our grasp. How do we know when we have found someone who is “rightly guided” and can give us good advice about important matters? The great sages have given us warnings about who to avoid, and who to follow. In our hearts, we can usually discern who is leading us in the right direction, mainly from the way they inspire us to be our best self, without judgment. People learn best by example, not precept.
One of my favorite activities ever since childhood has been to read biographies of great people. I like to see how other people have lived their lives, overcome hardships, faced and surmounted challenges. No one’s life is perfect, but we can learn from others’ mistakes as well as their successes. Most of our teachers appear in person in our lives. However, many of our teachers we never meet in person, but we benefit from their lives by reading or hearing about their stories. We are inspired by people who show us the way forward when we are discouraged by our own story. Our own ancestors can be a source of great learning and strength, if we are lucky enough to learn their stories.
Nothing is more important than a supportive community, which I call a “Circle of Love.” A supportive community must be built with care and attention. If we can surround ourselves with a diverse group of people who share our values, we can benefit from our association on so many levels. It takes time to find and cultivate these relationships. We can create a space where we can be vulnerable, open to different perspectives, able to explore our interests and questions together. The goal is not to find people who are exactly like us…the goal is to find people who challenge us to think and act in new ways, to learn, explore, and grow together. We all need encouragement, affirmation, and support. Better not to expect this from only one person in our lives. We can also create an “Inner Circle of Love” which consists of people we know from the past, from history, or even from our imagination, who love us and whom we love, people whom we trust and can be vulnerable with, and people who love the Truth. This could be our teachers, friends, spiritual leaders or saints, ancestors or relatives, even creatures from the animal or plant kingdom whom we feel close to. We can visit our Inner Circle of Love during our meditations and spiritual practices when we travel inward to our Sacred Sanctuary, and sometimes in our dreams. As we create a larger and larger Inner Circle of Love, we will find our outer Circle of Love growing as well!