According to the Sufi tradition, nefh comes before nefes.
Nefh means “to blow”.
God blew Her soul into Prophet Adam. In the Qur’anic Surah Sad (38:72) we find the expression “when I … breathed into him of My [created] soul”. Sufis believe that all creation is the manifestation of the Divine on different levels. Therefore, the foundation of creation is tawhid, unity. If we think there is a separation between the creator and the created one, we create duality. However, this does not mean that God, the Divine Being and Her creation are the same and equal. Creation is like a drop in the ocean of Divine Being. Chemically, the drop and the ocean have the same nature, while quantitively they differ from each other. To give another analogy, if God represents water, the created ones are the different phases of water, such as liquid, vapour or ice.
Sufis ground the story of creation on tawhid. By saying “I was a hidden treasure, I wanted to be known (and loved), that’s how I created everything” (Hadith Qudsi), the Divine Being positioned the human being as a mirror into this realm to actualize Her potentiality and Beauty. The Divine witnesses Herself in this mirror and experiences Love through the human being. Therefore, all of creation is based on Love. The act of creation is not linear and is not over; it is an ongoing process which deepens in a spiral movement. This is how Love moves.
The fact that God is breathing Her soul into the human being shows the intimate relationship between the lover and the beloved. In the imagery of Ottoman classical literature, the beloved gives life to her lover through her lips and sometimes she is called “the one who has the breath of Jesus.” Jesus is believed to heal people and even bring the dead back to life. Therefore, God infuses all of creation with love through Her breath. The most natural state of a human being is loving kindness and the most basic need to be loved. In a Sufi dictionary the act of breathing is explained as the closeness of the loved one to the lover. Another dictionary states “The lover needs breath, otherwise s/he would be ruined by losing power in the face of love.”
May all lovers have abundant breath and may their intimacy with their beloveds be everlasting. Surah Al Nahl (16:40) says: “Whenever We will anything to be, We but say
unto it Our word ‘Be’ – and it is.” The command “Be!” is the word of God which comes from Her divine breath. According to Ibn Arabi, the great Sufi philosopher, as letters are formed with human breath, creation emerges through divine breath. All of creation is the embodiment of this breath. This makes duality impossible.
Kenan Rifai, a 20th century Sufi master, explains in his commentary on Rumi’s Masnavi: “A human being has two kinds of soul. The first one exists in the other sentient beings, which is the life force that keeps them alive. It is called the animalistic soul. However, in a human being exists another soul which is unique to him and this is the divine essence. This soul is not impermanent like the first one but it is permanent. The second soul is a kernel made of divine light and potency and it is not visible to the eye. This essence can be also called the breath of God manifested in the human being. The famous Sufi poet Yunus Emre says ‘There is another me inside me’ and this is the divine soul we are talking about.”
Sufis generally use the symbol of wind for the Divine Breath. The Prophet Mohammad said: “Do not curse the wind because it is the breath of God.” Of course this means we need to respect and honour nature and its forces, while on a deeper level we can understand the wind as the breath of creation. It helps flowers to be pollinated in spring and wakes nature up from deep sleep. Therefore we can say that winds are the breath of God giving life to nature.
Other than that, when a human being breathes in and out, wind is blowing through his/her body. Sufis define breath as a mildly blowing wind. If we keep in mind that Sufism is the art of becoming a real human being by realizing our true self, the wind circulating in us serves spiritual growth.
In that case, what is the nature of this wind?
When this breath moves in us freely without being limited or held back, it opens space and gives us relief. Surah Al-Inshirah helps us understand this better by saying: “Did We not expand for you, [O Muhammad], your breast? And We removed from you your burden which had weighed upon your back and raised high for you your repute. For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease. Indeed, with hardship [will be] ease.” (REFERENCE)
If the Divine Breath is indeed creating every second and manifesting itself on different levels, it means that when I am receptive and willing to host these manifestations unfolding in me, through me and all around me, I am aligned with the flow of things. I expand. My life expands. However, when I resist to the manifestations by trying to impose my own scenarios of how things should unfold, then I feel a burden on my body. My breath is restrained and challenges follow.
Inshirah, the name of the above-qouted surah, means “to expand, open up, to rejoice.” When the winds of life in us can move around freely and when we are connected to our breath, we open ourselves to the Divine as It manifests itself every second. I re-connect with my divine essence in this way and an intimate love relationship is founded on this ground. From this space, I am able to love every creature with each breath I take. Then it is not “me” anymore who loves, but the Divine loving through me.