The parable of the stream and the desert

desert creek“ There was once a stream that flowed through many lands until it came to a desert. It could go no further. There was no way for it to cross the desert. Its waters just disappeared into the sand. Yet the stream felt in the depths of its being that it was to cross the desert. Faced with what seemed an impossible situation the stream was on the point of despair, when a still, small voice whispered in its ear: ‘in your present form you will never cross the desert. But although to you it seems an impassable barrier, the wind crosses the desert, and so can you. If you surrender into the arms of the wind, and lose yourself within it, you will be lifted over the sands. Then you will fall as rain, and become a stream again.’

 But the stream did not like this idea. It had never lost its own identity before. And once this was lost, could it ever be found again? Would the stream not simply disappear forever? Again the voice spoke to the stream: ‘I know that you have doubts, but do you have any alternative? If you remain in your present form you can go no further. You may think of yourself as a stream, but that is not your true essence. If you surrender to the wind your essence will not be lost’.

 These words echoed within the stream, and awoke distant memories that long, long ago, some essential part of itself had been borne in the arms of the wind. With this memory came the realization that surrender to the wind was the only thing to do. Its true self would not be lost. It could never be lost.

 And so the stream surrendered into the welcoming arms of the wind, which lovingly absorbed it, and carried it over the desert and far away, until it reached some distant mountains, where it fell as rain. And because it had had its doubts, the stream was able to remember this whole experience, and in doing so it realized its true identity.”

Am I fit to follow the Sufi path?

(Notes from listening to Hazrat Asad Rasool ( circa 1996)

Mosque ceiling, Uzbekistan1. Do not believe Shaitan (or your doubts) when he says, “you are not fit for this”. Use will power to sit regularly in meditation.

2. We are separated from Nature and from Truth and therefore from God.

3. What are the needs of people? They wish to be relieved from mental tension (suffering).

4. There are two kinds of cure (as in medicine), symptomatic and causal.

5. The cause of our suffering is estrangement from God.

6. Overcoming this estrangement requires the development of true spirituality. This is not the same as “spiritualism” or the cultivation of “cultic” practices or beliefs.

7. True spirituality is hard to define. In this Sufi path it is attainable via transmission from the teacher. The teacher is able to transmit the means of receiving blessings from the Almighty just as the transmitter enables the broadcast of TV programs.

8. Just as the TV receiver needs to be “tuned in”, in the same way the student of the Sufi teacher needs to be able to receive the blessings.

9. The aim of this is not the gaining of spiritual “powers”. The aim is only to achieve closeness to God.

10. God is merciful, and if we take one step towards him he takes 10 steps towards us.

11. This closeness can also be achieved by the love of the student for the teacher.

12. The teacher “offers up” the love received from the student towards God. In this way the teacher acts as a sort of channel by which the student can get closer to the Almighty, or the Holy Essence.

13. At the first step of the meditation the student turns their attention to the “heart”.

14. The heart then itself turns towards the Divine Essence (the Centre of the universe, the life spring of the universe, the essential energy of the universe).

15. There is something in the heart, which knows how to turn towards the Centre, just as a flower turns to the sun.

16. But we have first to turn towards the heart for this second stage to happen.

17. There is then a softening and an expansion of the heart which takes place.

18. This is both literally and metaphorically true.

19. The softening and expansion generates what we call “light”. The light imparts a lightness of being, and it can also enlighten.

20. The softening enables greater sympathy and empathy for others.

21. The softening also involves a vulnerability to others. This vulnerability can open a point of weakness, which relates to humility, when we consider ourselves “unfit” for this path, because we become aware of our failings and inconsistencies.

22. We need at these points to remind ourselves that we are “fit enough”, and capable of overcoming obstacles in our path. Because as we desire closeness with God, God responds by moving closer to us.

Sufism attempts to light candles in the darkness

candle“Dedicated practice of Sufism makes for an increasingly integrated and transformed human being. Such a person can only benefit his or her community and society as a whole. There is, I am sorry to say, a pressing need for such people – for people who, while fulfilling their outer responsibilities, are also inwardly attentive and refined. Our societies need people who act from their hearts, with hearts that are refined and loving.

No-one can change the world single-handedly. Each person can change himself or herself and, having done so, influence others to do the same. Sufism is not now, nor has it ever been, a mass movement. It operates on an individual level. It attempts to light candles in the darkness. In this way, Sufism yields a particular harvest within society. Today, more than ever before, society needs the fruits of that harvest.”

(From Hazrat Azad Rasool, Turning toward the heart, 2002 p.20.)

I could not have imagined Jerusalem

Jerusalem archwayI could not have imagined you, Jerusalem.

The colour of your stones, and of the land

And of the terraced hillsides, and of the desert,

Was yellow ochre tinged with white,

With lemon yellow, and vermilion.

But that was just the detail.

 

The essence was the might, the mightiness,

The peacefulness, the power,

The deep and hidden majesty,

Of four eternal spirits mingled.

Of Adam, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad.

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Interview with a student at the 2016 London retreat

What were your first impressions of a sufi retreat?

I’m lost for words… very blessed, serene, almost like returning to my family.

When was your first retreat?

Two and a half years ago.

How many have you been to since then?

I’ve been to one, two, three, four… about seven.

Were they all in London?

I’ve been to Scotland, Wales, Turkey, and again the London ones.

Do you find the retreats vary a lot depending on location?

Yeah I think so, London is more that you can dip in and out, it’s a bit more social, but also you have to prioritise your work, and also come here at the same time, whereas other retreats you know you are at a retreat and so you can focus more on the practises… it’s trying to find the time to come to London, but if anything that makes it even better.

London is nice to come to because it’s almost an escape from work. I’ve come from Birmingham.

How has your perspective of Sufism changed since coming to the retreats?

I’ve seen the authentic side of Sufism. There is cultural Sufism which a lot of people practise, but to actually practise regularly in the presence of the Shaykh, and really see the difference between what it’s like to meditate in a big group with the Shaykh and on your own.

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Reflection on the London retreat, February 2016

The London retreat is always, in my mind, a special kind of retreat. Instead of leaving our busy lives and retiring from the world for a few days as we do on the residential retreats, we are called to make space in the midst of our busyness. Great light pours into our everyday lives if we do so, and London, of all places, harbours a sanctuary. Our Shaykh Hazrat Hamid spends the week with us, meditating, leading the prayers and meeting all who need to see him for advice.

The effect of the retreat builds over the week as the blessings accumulate. There is a quality of ebb and flow, as the serenity of the day-time prayers and practices deepens to the powerful quality of the evening meditation and prayers. The retreat is open every day throughout the day, and every evening, giving great opportunity to all students to deepen their practices and refine their adab (spiritual courtesy).

The other joy of the retreat is catching up with each other, our fellow travellers from across the country – as many students from other parts of the UK travel down to meet with the Shaykh. There is a festive feeling in the social spaces, open smiling faces.

This year I was only able to attend for a few days, and every hour felt precious. The contrast with everyday life can be stark at times – particularly if you are working. It can be hard to leave and return to daily responsibilities – but the light returns with us, illuminating our way and granting fresh strength to persevere with our practices.

This February retreat was held at Sukaina’s house and went smoothly thanks to the tireless generosity of Sukaina and everyone who helped with organisation, donations, cooking food and housekeeping.

“Everyone
who comes into this world
brings a reason for living with them.
Those who strive not
with deeds towards it
are among the living dead.

Drench this universe
with the rain of your actions.
Only those who sow the seeds
of action
reap the fruit of bliss.

The destination is reached only
after suffering the hardships
of the journey.
Those who know the reality
of suffering are the ones
who will know joy.

Each suffering
carries a message of joy,
just like winter
holds out the promise of spring. He who flows on
like a river
is oblivious to the plains and mountains.

There is a treasure
that is distributed with abandon, in
the late hours of each night.
He who is awake, receives it
and he who sleeps,
loses it. ”

(anon)

[from Hazrat Azad Rasool, The search for truth (2010) p xx.]

I remember

I remember the trees of my childhood,
Elm trees that are no longer there -
I remember how they made me feel good
When now I fall into despair.

I remember my school and its teachers
As a place that was happy and kind -
I remember the summer sun breezes
In a world that now seems to go blind.

I remember the fields and the hillsides,
The butterflies bright patterned wings -
I remember the wind on the bike rides
And how I would play on the swings.

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