I started my spiritual search in my early thirties with yoga. I was committed to 4 hours a week of Iyengar yoga classes and training as a Traditional Thai massage therapist. I was also studying to become of nutritionist. I was content in my relationships with family and friends, leading a hedonistic lifestyle but I felt restless at some other level, something was lacking. A yogi friend told me about an Indian Shaykh visiting Melbourne, so we went along. I was sceptical about meeting this Shaykh in a suburban house and joining what sounded like a cult. I was ushered into a sparsely furnished room and there was the Grand Shaykh sitting on a cushion on the floor. I was invited to sit down opposite him and the Shaykh asked me what I was searching for. I replied I wanted to get closer to God and to find peace. He smiled with such an illuminated face and said that we would do some meditation. He told me to recite an intention while focusing on my heart. That was it, I was out for 40 minutes and it surprised me as I didn’t remember drifting off. I forgot all about my upright posture that I spent hours cultivating from my yoga classes. He said if I would like to experience this state more often, I could discuss what this involved with the group manager. I left the room not knowing the true significance of this experience, but I felt something had been ignited in my heart. I joined the weekly meetings at this very humble home over the coming year. When I was told the Shaykh would visit again and I couldn’t wait to see him. Upon meeting him again, I gave Bay’ah, became a murid and was instructed in the first ten lessons of the Mujaddidi-Naqshbandi Order.
I strove to be a self-disciplined student committed to my regular practices and recitations. I wanted to get through the training and to the next level. At the weekly meetings I was inspired by the senior group members who said very little but looked calm and esoteric. This was one of my first insights. The path is not a linear one like going through formal education. I needed to learn to dive deep into the practices. Each time I re-read the first ten lessons I noticed something I had overlooked. I began to slow down and lose the desire of progressing quickly. Other students around me seemed to be making more rapid progress and had significant life changes.
Taking Islam was not a difficulty for me as I liked the discipline and I could see how the outer pillars of Islam balanced the inner meditation. However, I learnt the prayers like a yoga routine and was adept in the delivery, but I was missing feeling the blessings. As with the the meditation, the prayers also need to be done with focus and a clear intention. I made an intention to learn more Suras of the Quran. Arabic was not easy for me to learn but over the years I have come to realise the importance of listening to and reading the Qur’an. I can still recall the practice of Qur’an Sharif meditation with the Grand Shaykh where we were sitting on our prayer rugs after offering prayer. We were instructed to recite a particular intention whilst the Shaykh read from the Qur’an. I felt like I was on fire and I drifted off to some other dimension for the entire recitation.
I often wrote letters to the Grand Shaykh, mentioning my frustrations and experiences and he replied with such kindness always addressing me as “Dear friend”. A lot of the time he did not reply immediately, and I soon realised that what I thought was a significant vision or life changing event was often insignificant and a distraction to my progress. I came to understand that I did not have to physically be with the Shaykh because when I wrote to him and he read my letters we were developing a relationship between our hearts known as rabitah. Over time I began to witness how important this connection based on affection, love and trust was between the group members. In one of my letters, Grand Shaykh said I was doing too many spiritual practices at one time and therefore I was confused in my pursuit. I have spent considerable time learning certain other practices so he recommended that I devote myself to Sufi practices so that I could attain spiritual insight to understand nature, man and God in true perspective. Grand Shaykh also suggested I return to my profession as a trained secondary teacher of Mathematics and Science. He explained that the massage was taking away a lot of the light I was obtaining through my practices. This made sense as I was often exhausted after a day of massaging and the clients all said how wonderful they felt. The Grand Shaykh also suggested I undertake a Master’s degree and also a Ph.D., so I might be able to get a better job. By the grace of the Almighty and following the Shaykh’s advice I was able to complete these studies and I have worked at a prestigious private school for the last 22 years. The practices have helped me to relate to the students through the heart and I have been able to help them learn by the insights I have received through my teaching. The students can feel the connectedness and the blessings from the Almighty have helped me to remain calm and approachable.
Relationships with family members also improved as I did the practices of meditation and recitations. They could also see the change in me. I think this is one of the hardest things is to see the changes in oneself. It is easier to look at others and see the transformation in character and behavior. It is when I am with the family that I can see the changes. I made the mistake of telling my family too much about the group where they became concerned that I was joining a cult that was having too much influence on my life. They were observing this commitment to a regular weekly group meeting where I would miss family events or special occasions such as Christmas if it occurred on the meeting night. They were also concerned about me becoming a Muslim. By the grace of the Almighty over the years they have met my Sufi friends and have seen the positive changes in my life, which helped them relax and I also learnt the valuable lesson of being careful about who I spoke to and what I spoke about. You cannot talk about the meditation to someone that hasn’t meditated, and you have to wait until they ask about the practices before you suggest they read a book or meet the Shaykh. The path is not for everyone and initially I was keen for friend and family to undergo this self-transformation journey.
Initially the journey for me was very lonely as I had to give up a lot of old habits and friendships. However, as I fostered my relationship with the Divine through the practices, I became more self-reliant and content in my own company.
Despite being a senior student, at times I do feel like I am beginning again. I always recall the group manger saying that even the most senior student can go off the path at any time. I know I need to be regular and punctual in my practices to safeguard the distractions that can lead me astray. Over the years, I have felt the pull of my old lifestyle, which amazed me as I thought that I had overcome all such thoughts and behaviour. It is a reminder that one has to be vigilant and consistent with the prayers and practices to control the Nafs.
When Shaykh Hamid took over the Order after the passing of the Grand Shaykh it was a smooth transition with continued expansion of the Order into many parts of the world. I saw Shaykh Hamid more often as he traveled extensively, and my correspondence was through email rather than letter. Over the years I have been blessed to attend an annual retreat in some part of the world that the Shaykh attends. These retreats of 5 days helped me to see the efficacy of the practices when done in a group and in the company of the Shaykh. After the retreat I returned home and felt recharged and focussed in my prayers and recitations. Over the years the Shaykh has helped me to manage situations at my work, advise on relationships, job opportunities, instruction in my practices and how to improve my adab or spiritual courtesy by being in his company. I learnt it was important to keep the Shaykh informed about my practices and life matters, which I did through regular meetings with the group manager. I realised that the Shaykh can help a student on other levels and understand a situation beyond its face value and he can see whether it is good for you. It could be job opportunity that you think is good for you as it pays more money but, on another level, it is not good for your progress as it may take you away from doing your practices. It is not like the Shaykh told me what to do but made me reconsider and often when I waited it turned out for the better. I realised how much the group manager does in keeping the Shaykh informed about his students. I also learnt how important it was not to discuss the practices with other students and to guard against too much talking.
For years I didn’t fully understand the importance of the weekly group meditation. I tried to skip out early after Isha prayers I could get a good night’s sleep, or I wanted to get up early the next day or I was just plain tired from the week. However, when I stayed, I started to feel the blessings of Darood which left me feeling energised and not wanting to go to sleep. So, what if I was a bit tired the next day. I also understood how the group meditation removed a lot of the darkness I absorbed during the week and the group members were helping one another remove this darkness.