Once a mureed expressed puzzlement about the methods taught in the Inner School of the Sufi Movement. “Other groups,” he said, and perhaps he was thinking of Buddhists or of various yogic traditions, “teach ‘meditation,’ but I never hear this from the Sufis. I asked my guide about it, and was told, ‘Oh, yes, well, everyone knows how to meditate.'”
The consequence, of course, was that the mureed in question did NOT know how to meditate, and, one suspects, neither did the guide who gave such an offhand answer. In fact, Hazrat Inayat did teach meditation to his students, although it was not necessarily named in that way, and it was always conveyed in the context of a balanced method that touches every part of a person’s life. When all the other elements are in place, meditation comes as a logical and welcome step; when they are absent, meditation is very difficult, if not impossible. In other words, it is not something to take up as a first step, but something to arrive at after the proper preparation.
What do we mean by meditation? Once someone asked this of an experienced mureed (whose gaze was very bright ), and the answer was, ‘Giving up desires.’ Hazrat Inayat offered the instruction, ‘Become formless outwardly and blank inwardly.’ The goal of the Sufi path is to know the Truth of Being, and both from the teachings of the wise and from our own repeated experiences in life, we come to understand that the veil shrouding that truth is simply our deluded, persistent identification with our own ephemeral identity. As a wave on the surface of the ocean, we exist for a moment and then are seen no more, but the ocean of life stretches on to infinity. To become formless, then, means to forget that illusion, allowing consciousness to rest in itself, untroubled by limitations or borders.
It is easy to say, but to do it requires some work. From the day we come on earth we are absorbed in the actions and sensations of our physical body; it does not give us true satisfaction, but until we find something more real the physical is our field of operation. Therefore to become formless, we must first of all learn to discipline the body: to make it obey our will, and not to drag us, like a wilful toddler, from one action or sensation to another. In Hatha yoga many different postures are taught as part of this kind of discipline, but even something as apparently mild as the consistent performance of our prayer movements is helpful discipline.
In the same way, we must learn to control the mind, to let go of the endless chatter and the constant reactive commentary on people, events, surroundings, and even on our own thoughts and the stream of previous comments. It is work that requires patience and persistence, resembling the mythological story of Psyche required to sort a roomful of seeds, a task which she accomplishes by the help of many assiduous ants. It seems never-ending, but as we learn new habits of thought, our world begins to change, and success at this stage comes with a consequent focusing of the will that is the secret of all accomplishment in life. When the body is under control and the mind can be kept quiet, one is capable of what Hazrat Inayat called ‘concentration,’ the first, necessary step toward meditation.
A further step is ‘contemplation.’ In concentration, we learn to grasp a thought and hold it at will, but in contemplation, we learn to allow ourselves to be held, not by a thought but by a deeper level of consciousness, a feeling. As the thinking mind is the surface of consciousness, the feeling heart is the depth of it. When we contemplate (in this sense of the word) we evoke a deep feeling in our hearts, the appreciation of truth, for example, or the awareness of love, and we surrender to that feeling, seeking to dwell in it for as long as we choose. Naturally this will have a transformative effect on our lives, as the feelings or qualities on which we focus sooner or later disclose themselves to us as living realities If we have been guided to contemplate on love, for example, it is no longer be a mere concept for us, to discuss and analyse, but reveals itself as an ever-present Being, Whose company we long for, like the comfort of a green oasis in the desert.
From the stage of contemplation, it is possible to approach the state of meditation, in which one becomes formless and blank. Now it is not so difficult to let go of desires, which one finds only keep one separate from the Divine reality to which one has begin to awaken. But of the experience itself, as it has often been said, ‘Those who know do not say; and those who say, do not know.’