Interview with a student, reflecting on their practice

(This interview is from a 2016 retreat)

Salamu alaykum

Wa alaikum assalam

 Can you tell me about your experiences when you first joined the order, and if you’ve been attending retreats regularly, if you’ve noticed any differences in how you feel from the time that you began, to this weeks retreat in London, and reflect on your experiences.

 Okay, so, I joined the Birmingham group in 2011, and one of the reasons I joined was because I did lots of other meditation practises which I found were beneficial in some ways, but in other ways they weren’t – the energies weren’t right, or the feeling wasn’t right in the group.

So I joined the group in 2011 and I found it really peaceful – I was able to meditate, I was able to sit. I think the key thing for me was that it was a practise that was focused on the heart. Lots of other practises focus on your breathing, the mind, the physical body. For me the eye opening thing was just to focus on my heart, to be with my heart rather than anything else.

So I’ve been with the group since 2011, and what I find is just peace. Really, just peaceful. It allows you to live in the world in a very different way. Normally when everything is chaotic and everything is busy, I tend to just focus back onto my heart. I don’t say the intention, but just be with my heart. And everything seems to then just flow. Even in general day-to-day life I find if I just go back to my heart and focus on that, things start to shift.

I think the key thing for me joining the Sufi group also was that I would go to lots of other places and the energy wasn’t right, I would get ill, and things like that. So I find with this practise, the protection is automatically in the practises, I don’t have to do anything.

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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.”

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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