Heart White as Snow

The Sufi’s book is not of ink or letters; it is nothing but a heart white as snow.

Rumi, 13th-century Persian poet, Mathnawi, II, 139

The symbolic image of a “pure heart” permeates mystical poetry, fairy tales, and Wisdom traditions alike. Whether we’re talking about Rumi’s heart white as snow, Snow White and her pure heart of immortality, the Sacred Heart of Christ, or an Egyptian heart weighed against a feather at the time of death, a purified or illumined heart has held great significance throughout the millennia. The terms “purified, cleansed, and illumined heart” are being used interchangeably in this blog to mean a heart where compassion and love has usurped hate, malice, fear and other lower vibrational frequencies.

Looking deeper into the archetypal significance of a purified heart from a Sufi perspective can help guide us through challenging times. You don’t have to be a Sufi or even a believer to benefit from their masterful teachings about the heart. At a most basic level, Sufic philosophy teaches that the spiritual heart (qalb) holds deep wisdom and mediates between the ego and higher Self or spirit.

English archeologist and diplomat Gertrude Bell (1868-1926) writes, “The Sufi path is necessarily experiential, and it is possible today for someone to draw upon Sufi philosophy and be a participant in another religious tradition.” Sufis are masters of the heart and their teachings transcend religious notions and are applicable to seekers from all traditions.

As with Kundalini yoga, you do not need to be a believer in a religious tradition in order to receive wonderful benefits from its practices. Similarly, you don’t have to be a Sufi to gain valuable insights into the symbolism of a heart “pure as snow.” Individuals from any walk of life may experience a greater heart opening through engaging with great Sufi poetry. Archetypal images presented in Sufic poems (i.e. Rumi and Hafiz) bypass the rational mind and enter directly into the domain of the heart. 

Sufism is the path of the heart and the job of the Sufi wayfarer is to purify his or her heart through spiritual disciplines. I consider reading the esoteric poetry of Sufi masters to be a spiritual practice in and of itself that has the capacity to purify your heart. Contemplating poetic lines can reveal hidden truths that lie buried within them such as the following line by Rumi where love is our natural state.

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” Rumi.

As your heart cleanses, your awareness shifts from lower states of ego-based consciousness (nafs) to those of a compassionate and “purified” heart. In other words, instead of acting out of fear or insecurities, the evolved practitioner comes from a place of love and compassion. Is not this the goal of most if not all spiritual paths? Like anything else, shifting away from the limiting demands of the ego takes time, patience, and practice.

As we manage our emotional states fear dissipates and we enter states of love and compassion. In these higher vibrational states our heart rhythm patterns become more fluid, more coherent. A heart filled with compassion, love, and forgiveness literally syncs up with the natural rhythms of the earth and enters into a high state of coherence.

From a scientific perspective, when the heart is in a coherent state its electromagnetic field resonates with that of the earth, while the earth resonates with the greater universe. But for now, let’s come out of our heads and shift into the mythopoetic language of the Sufis–the language of the heart.

The Sufi’s book is not of ink or letters; it is nothing but a heart white as snow.” — Rumi

In the above quote, Rumi suggests that beyond the written word of convention lies the most valuable treasure of all, a pure heart. The heart is a common denominator across humanity regardless of national boundaries, race, creed, gender, or other differences. The heart has the power to unite people across all divides through increased empathy and compassion.

The intellect may prepare one for the recognition of spiritual truths, but until the movement from head to heart happens by surrendering egoic tendencies, there may be no evolution of awareness. The ecstatic and inspired poetry of Rumi is designed to entice the lower soul (nafs) by the passionate appeal of beauty and harmony (coherence) to transform and reach the higher state of the purified heart.

Sufis teach that by purifying your heart through contemplation, prayer, and meditation (dhikr), you open your soul to healing and transformation. Such purifying techniques may include the mystical poetry, ecstatic dance, and other embodied practices.

Spiritual purification illuminates the heart, generating the creative power of the heart, himma. Henry Corbin, 20th century philosopher and theologian, describes the purpose of himma as, “. . . the concentration of the heart as the organ which makes it possible to achieve the true knowledge of things, a knowledge inaccessible to the intellect” (Alone 229).  Himma is the heart’s longing; it is an intangible quality of the subtle heart that brings images to life and allows their symbolism to unfold. Corbin describes himma as equivalent to “the Greek word enthymesis, which signifies the act of meditating, conceiving, imagining, projecting, ardently desiring.”[1]Himma can be thought of as the creative power of the heart, the well-spring of a inspired life.

For Sufis, spiritual practice “polishes the mirror” of the heart, cleansing the heart of impurities that veil one from the Beloved, God, or higher Self (terms dependent on your spiritual orientation). Similarly, Eastern Christian Orthodox thinking refers to a “cloud” which obscures God from the seeker.[2] The symbol of cloud conveys an obstruction of the heart where a clearing or cleansing is needed.

In Patanajali’s Yoga Sutras[3], one of the oldest yogic texts, such impurities are called kleshas[4] and settle in the heart. They obscure the inner atman or divine Self from Brahman, the universal consciousness of which atman is a part. Sometimes this is described as a drop of water returning to the sea, the two become indistinguishable.

The metaphors of the “dusty mirror” and  the “cloud” refer to mental states that obscure the mind. Sufis and Orthodox Christians believe that the continual remembrance of God through prayer cleanses the mirror, pierces the cloud of unknowing. Prayer is not an intellectual endeavor; rather, heart-felt prayer elevates the vibrational frequency of the practitioner. Christian mystic Cynthia Bourgeault describes this as a “homing frequency” to which one can continually fine-tune oneself.[5]

The Eastern Orthodox Church centered on Constantinople, and the Roman Catholic Church (Rome) became two distinct and separate branches of Christianity as a result of the East-West Schism (or Great Schism) of 1054. While both traditions mention the importance of the heart, the Eastern Orthodox tradition places a central importance on the role of the heart (Greek: kardia) and has its methods for believers. The Eastern Orthodox tradition teaches that the heart has a three-fold nature; the physical organ, soul/psyche, and its spiritual aspect, where upon sacrifice and death, the divine and human is consummated (Philokalia Vol 2 383). Theophan the Recluse[6], for example, asserted that the heart is the inner [hu]man and that “the heart is life, and you must live there” (The Art of Prayer 184) and that one must pray with the “mind in the heart” (The Art of Prayer 276). Accordingly, there is oral prayer (bodily), prayer of the mind, and prayer of the heart (The Art of Prayer 21) used to purify the heart.

The purified heart produces psycho-spiritual coherence with the Divine or cosmos where multiplicity becomes unity. Corbin described “[. . .] the heart as the organ which makes it possible to achieve the true knowledge of things, a knowledge inaccessible to the intellect.”[7] I am using the terms purified heart and coherent heart interchangeably as it is important to remember that non-believers have access to the same phenomenon as believers when considering heart frequencies. A chaotic heart rhythm pattern can be “cleansed” into a coherent pattern through breathing and non-sectarian techniques (i.e. HeartMath practices).

 When the heart is in a state of physiological coherence it creates a strong energetic field that resonates with the greater fields of the earth and cosmos. From a Sufi perspective, in this state the heart becomes a “mirror” whereby one gains access to a higher plane of reality and encounters the Divine.

 When in resonance, the heart “sees” into subtle realms through the “eye of the heart.” This can be directly experienced through a heightened sense of intuitive abilities. When illumined through purification, the heart becomes a portal to infinite realities beyond our everyday life. Swiss-born Islamic philosopher and scholar Frithjof Schuon suggests that this hidden eye of the heart is a two-way conduit between humans and God[8] or Great Spirit. This perspective is not unique to Sufis. Schuon also spent considerable time with the Ogallala Sioux, where he encountered a similar idea:

I am blind and I do not see the things of the world; but when the Light comes from On High, it illuminates my heart and I can see, because the Eye of the heart (Chante Ishta) sees all things. The heart is the sanctuary at the center of which is a small space where the Great Spirit (Wakan Tanka) lives, and this is the Eye of the Great Spirit by which He sees everything, and with which we see Him. [. . .] The [hu]man who is pure in this way, contains the Universe in the Pocket of his Heart (Chante Ognaka, Sioux term for Pocket of his Heart).

Again, we hear the term “pure” in relation to the heart. In the Sioux tradition, there is an implied association among the illumined heart, increased awareness, and Universal order.

And one more example to close, I just love this one. The ancient Egyptians taught that at the time of death the person’s heart was weighed by Anubis against the feather of Maat, the goddess of harmony, justice, and truth. If the heart was pure and lighter than the feather, then all was good and the person’s journey into the afterlife was favorable.

A Section of Plate 3 from the Papyrus of Ani. The Papyrus of Ani is a version of the Book of the Dead for the Scribe Ani. 

As we approach 2021 what ways can you think of to purify your own heart? It is a way that you can accelerate your own awareness and the evolution of humanity. Please do not underestimate your personal power. You have the potential to improve your life and change the world through the power of your heart–himma.

As our heart purifies so does our capacity to evolve and rise up to meet our challenging times with a new understanding of our self and others.

Ways that I work to purify my own heart:

HeartMath practice (heart coherence training)

Kundalini yoga

Meditation

Breathwork

Mystical poetry

Icon gazing

And in 2021 maybe I’ll work on ecstatic dance!


[1] In his analysis of the works of Ibn ‘Arabi, Creative Imagination 224.

[2] The Cloud of Unknowing

[3] The Yoga Sutras are a collection of 196 Indian aphorisms (sutras) on the theory and practice of yoga. Patanjali systematized the central tenets of yoga and organized them in one text, prior to 400 BCE.

[4] In Hinduism and Buddhism, kleshsa are mental states that cloud the mind causing suffering.     

[5]  (The Heart of Centering Prayer, p. 69)

[6] 1815-1894 Theophan contributed to the editing of the Philokalia, sacred texts from 4th and 15th centuries. He was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1988.

[7] Corbin, Henri. Alone with the Alone. 229

[8] Schuon, Frithjof. The Eye of the Heart 9

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