Author Stewart Bitkoff presented his reasoning behind his writing and insights into Sufism at Bowers Writers House on Friday, Feb. 21.
Sufism involves the individual’s reaching toward the completed person through exercises, such as meditation and prayer. The completed person will have an extra level of spirituality added to them, which will help the person in all other aspects of life. “The outcome of all these added capacities is to help and serve others,” Bitkoff said. Sufism has also been referred to as the religion of the heart. “We were taught that the heart was a mirror,” he said. “We were to wipe it clean.” After wiping the heart clean, the inner light would be visible and, according to Bitkoff, the light should be sent out to others.
Consciousness is a primary focus in Sufism. The spirit and soul comprise the consciousness. The goal of Sufism is to master the conscious, thereby mastering the thought processes. Bitkoff explained that people cannot prevent themselves from thinking what they consider bad thoughts, but they can control the length of those thoughts. People can stop themselves from entertaining thoughts for longer than they choose. Instead, individuals learn to open their minds to new thoughts and ideas.
Sufism believes that a person can reach enlightenment; however, this will not come in one moment. Instead, this will be a gradual process. The ultimate goal is to be a person who buys and sells, eats and works in the world on a daily basis, but whose heart is in the other realm. The process of achieving enlightenment begins with exercises, one of which is meditation.
Most individuals have heard of meditation before and attempt it in order to find peace. However, not everyone can meditate. “Some people can’t meditate. I couldn’t meditate,” Bitkoff said. Meditation is not completely essential, though. Bitkoff explained that meditation is just one exercise out of many, and individuals should find exercises that work specifically for them.
Bitkoff did not originally gravitate toward the Sufi lifestyle. He was born Jewish and raised in Manhattan, N.Y. He stated that religion meant nothing to him. However, he studied psychology in college and, while working with those who suffer from mental illnesses, realized that part of any healing and joy involves a spiritual aspect. Bitkoff began studying Sufism at a school in New York and a second school later on, both of which helped him as he began following the Sufi way of life.
While studying Sufism, he realized that he needed to be a writer. He began writing at the age of 19. “I discovered in a very dark moment that I could write poetry,” Bitkoff said. His initial poems focused on teenage angst; however, while studying at his schools of Sufism, Bitkoff began to have dreams in which beings in white robes would read books to him. These dreams became especially significant because, according to Sufism, the majority of spiritual learning occurs during sleep and dreams. Bitkoff said he also felt physical discomfort if he did not write. “It was this urge that kept pushing [me]. I had to write,” he said.
The first topic Bitkoff wrote about was his commute. Each day he commuted one hour and 15 minutes to work, via a highway that many others funneled into each morning. The commute helped Bitkoff realize that thoughts create a person’s reality, and Bitkoff learned to have neutral thoughts toward his daily commute.
“If spirituality was going to work for me, I needed to test it out in that environment,” he said. He learned strategies to minimize the craziness of his morning commute, such as making a checklist when leaving the house. He also followed his training of seeing what was actually in front of him and reacting, rather than facing the commute every morning as a negative task. Bitkoff began praying during his commute as well. Sufis teach that the heart is always praying. According to Bitkoff, he needed to reach the level of consciousness in which he could recognize this aspect of the heart and actively do it. Meditation was also another activity Bitkoff performed while driving. He remarked that his friends had told him he looked like he was in another zone, and Bitkoff stated that he reached even greater consciousness through this morning commute.
Bitkoff’s books include “The Ferryman’s Dream,” “A Commuter’s Guide to Enlightenment” and “Sufism for Western Seekers”. The books address ways to benefit an individual in everyday life and reach a higher level of consciousness.