Bismillahi Rahmanir Rahim
This evening is a coming together of old friends, the reconnecting of hearts, and so it occurs to me that it would be appropriate to explore and remind myself of the key assumptions of our path, of the pursuit we are busy with here.
The simplest way of describing the reconditioning of experience is that it is about forgoing what you want, and committing to what Allah wants.
This endeavor is about the divine encounter. It is possible to have an experience of arrival, or of connectedness with the Rabb, which in the deepest sense transcends all your insecurity. It provides, at a stroke, an experience of fulfillment, of harmony with the world around you, and of a deep sense of power. In short, it is possible to experience the highest of your aspiration, the fruit of the highest of your aspiration, which is to disappear into the folds of the Rabb, Allah subhana wa taala.
Saying that, we need to commence by reminding ourselves that this experience is unusual. This experience of the divine encounter is foreign for most people. Even glimpses of it are foreign for most people. In that sense, He is a hidden treasure for most people. What is peculiar about this hidden treasure is that it is very proximate. He says of Himself that He is closer to us than our jugular vein.
So He is not distant, He is proximate. Its like we’re sitting on the treasure that we are looking for, like a man who is looking for the spectacles he is wearing. Its been hidden from us in the most extraordinary way, because it is immediately apparent and obvious and yet we don’t see it. Our inability to see the treasure is not a mark of our stupidity either. After all, the One who hid it is the Most Wise, Most Exalted in intelligence. Allah subhana wa taala’s promise with the creation of all things was that He was a hidden treasure that sought to be known. So He hid Himself to be discovered. That which is hidden and seeks to be known, can only be known by being rediscovered. And for it to be rediscovered it has to be hidden.
As infants we come fresh from the presence of the Lord. Infants are deeply connected to the divine presence. However, as they grow up we socialize them. We deliberately restrict their access to the Divine and ecstatic realm so they become useful people. In other words, they lose that sense of connectedness. It becomes hidden, until at the age of adulthood they pursue this path or a path similar to this that is about rediscovering that nature.
In rediscovering that nature there are two endeavours. They are mutually enabling like one hand washes another. There’s an inward endeavour, and there’s an outward endeavour. The inward endeavour is about reconditioning your experience, and the outward endeavour is about reconditioning your intention.
The simplest way of describing the reconditioning of experience is that it is about forgoing what you want, and committing to what Allah wants. The very structure of how He becomes hidden from us is that we assume that that which makes us happy is elsewhere. It’s in the future. It’s on the other side of a transaction. It is, “I have to do this in order to get that.”
But He is proximate, He is not on the other side, He is not at the arrival point of the transaction, He is in the process of the transaction. It is as if we are looking over the garden wall for something that is lying in front of the garden wall. This means that there is an aspect to this process that is about learning how to look again. Learning to see that which is in front of the garden wall, that which is proximate. By definition the process of learning to see what is in front of the garden wall requires one to forgo looking over the wall. Looking over the wall for that which is over there, the wealth that is going to make me happy, the woman who is going to make me happy, the position and the status that is going to make me happy. Learning to see is based on forgoing that which we continuously tell ourselves will make us happy.
All of the practices that we do, the dhikr, the salaat, have the same product, and that is that for a moment they silence you. They shut you up on the inside. That silence in you allows you to experience first hand, that which is lying in front of the wall, that which is near to you, that which is proximate, which is none other than His presence. While experiencing that, you have a sense of deep contentment, until your mind starts going again and you start looking beyond this, picking up the refrain of how inadequate this is, and how it all lies with the status, woman, wealth or whatever, on the other side of the wall.
What’s also true about this process of becoming quiet on the inside is that we become skilled at it by increments. It’s a step-by-step process. And so you sometimes get people going into khalwa for the first time only to come out with a deep sense of disappointment because “I didn’t see a flash of lightning. The heavens didn’t open.”
For mostof us this silence is the product of committed practice and struggle over a very long period of time. However, when you succeed in finding this silence, even for an hour, there will be no question about it’s fruits in your mind. You would see first hand that the only thing that separates you from the ecstasy of the Divine Presence is your own self-talk. You already have all the security, contentment, power and harmony you could ever wish for, but you don’t experience it because your internal dialogue gets in the way.
Allah is not distant, He is proximate.
This becoming quiet on the inside is also about changing your intention. Your experience of living as an isolated and discontented being gets actualized by your intent to get things from the world. The moment you deal with the other on the basis of wanting something from them, you’re saying, “I am not self-sufficient, I am needy, I want from you.” The intent to take confirms your boundaries, your inadequacy, your weakness. It also confirms the fact that you and the other are opposite. If you want something from somebody else, you are creating a schism between you and them.
However, the moment you act on the basis of what is in their best interests, you are transcending the difference between you and them. This means that the escape from our exile is not just about working on the inside, it is about working on the outside, in the world, in the transaction with the world. Islam is a life transaction. The intention to serve is what connects you to the world. It’s where your body says the interests of the other and the self are not opposite but they’re the same. Which means I exist as connected to everything that is around me, I don’t exist as opposite to everything that’s around me.
It’s not just good enough to do inner work. This inner work has to be reflected in transaction, and just like the inner work is about the incremental quieting down or de-layering of all of your internal dialogue, the outer work is about the incremental forgoing of what you want. Increasingly being able to radically and absolutely do what Allah wants from you in the situation rather than to act on the basis of what you want in the situation.
At the beginning of the path, not only is it important to commit to daily practice and daily quieting of your internal dialogue, but it is also important to galvanise or set this quietude by transacting in order to contribute. This transacting in order to contribute starts off with the intent not to do harm. Before the intent to do good is the intent not to do bad. Doing good is transacting in such a way that the other is enriched by your transaction. The beginning of doing good is transacting in such a way that the other is not empoverished by your transaction. So it’s to refrain from any transaction where you get something for nothing.
This is the significance of riba. The significance of riba isn’t just interest. It is that you refrain from transactions that you get something for nothing. That graduates into transactions that are deliberately constructed on the basis of the best interests of the other, in other words constructed not only not to harm the other but to further the best interest other. And that is what your Rabb wants from you. So He says to you, start off by not harming them, and then serve them.
Incrementally and increasingly acting unconditionally on the basis of the best interest of the other is what actually fixes the change in your consciousness. This journey is a journey of the de-conditioning of yourself. And that de-conditioning of your self is simultaneously about the de-conditioning of your motive.
One of the significances of the idiom “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” is that people intend good but they do bad. The intention to do good means absolutely nothing if you aren’t doing good. So it’s not adequate just to intend to do good. You have to act consistently with it. It is the action that fixes the change in your consciousness.
The intention to do good means absolutely nothing if you aren’t doing good.
As a kid you might have worked with fiberglass and resin. You would have noticed that you had this stuff that’s just like liquid, until you put a catalyst in and then suddenly it changed, it became fixed. It became set and you had an object. Before that you had goo. Your intention is the same. It stays goo until you add a drop of amal-us-solehat, of appropriate action. It is that action which galvanises the change of your consciousness.
You can tell yourself as much as you like that you are connected with the world, that you’re one with everything and that you are in a blissful state. You can make a lot of noise about that. You can also announce to everybody else how benign you are, and even announce to yourself how benign you are. If that claim is not actually reflected in what you do, then that is the road that is being paved to hell on good intentions. This path means nothing if it doesn’t affect how you act. You will not escape your exile if you don’t act in such a way where your cells profess that you know, that your highest interests lies in acting and serving the best interests of the other in every situation that you’re in.
That’s what your Rabb wants from you. He says, “How do I know that you trust that I exist? How do you demonstrate to me that I am not a hidden secret from you, that I am an explicit reality for you?” You demonstrate this by acting in a way that is apparently stupid. You act on the basis of the interests of anything other than yourself. Every time He says to you, “I put in front of you a drama and you act on the basis of what’s right for the other you demonstrate to Me that you know I exist”. And that doesn’t mean to say you’re always sweet, sometimes you can be very confronting but you act on the basis of what’s right for the other. When you do that you demonstrate to your Rabb that you know He exists.” His reward to you is in an inner experience of ecstatic connectedness, rather than alienated hostility.
The average person has a miserable experience of being inside their own skin, they wake up alienated and frightened and they go to bed alienated and frightened. They are stuck in a cycle of being alienated and frightened. So it is a cycle. But we are on a path that claims to be a straight path. It doesn’t cycle. It leads out of the morass of suffering. It introduces us to the original nature that we had, which He lost for us so that we could find it.
May Allah grant us nearness to Him.
May Allah grant us annihilation in Him.
May Allah grant us death before we die.
This discourse was given by Shaykh Ebrahim after a dhikr session on the 12th of January, 2013.