The experiences of ZikAR cannot easily be described: They belong to a level of reality beyond the mind, to a dimension of unity in which everything is merged, where the mind cannot get a foothold. In this stage of emptiness, we begin to experience our true nature which is a state of oneness: we are what we experience.
His light may be compared to a niche
wherein is a lamp
the lamp in a glass
the glass as it were a glittering star
kindled from a Blessed tree
an olive that is neither of the East nor of the West
whose oil would almost shine forth
though no fire touches it
light upon light
— LIGHT SURA (QUR'AN 24:35)
There is a Sufi saying that the disciple has to become “less than the dust at the feet of the teacher.” We have to be ground down until there is nothing left, just a speck of dust to be blown hither and thither by the wind of the spirit. Only when we have lost our sense of self, the values of the ego, can we carry the sweet fragrance of the divine, as described in the words of a Persian song
Why are you so fragrant, oh dust?
I am a dust people tread upon,
But I partake of the fragrance of the courtyard of a Saint.
It is not me, I am just ordinary dust
For the heart meditation, as long as the body is relaxed the physical position does not
matter: one can sit or even lie down.
POLISHING THE HEART
In my teacher’s room we meditated, had tea and cookies, and listened and talked. My teacher would speak about her sheikh, about the power and beauty of his presence, and about the desire for truth that lies hidden within the heart.
She shared with us the passion with which she lived this primal desire and pushed us to live what was deepest within us.
There was little form or structure to these weekly meetings; we meditated in silence and then just sat together, sometimes in silence, often in discussion.
Later I came to realize that our way of meeting—just being together, in silence and also in discussion, talking about the path—is an essential feature of the tradition.
DHIKR AND REMEMBRANCE
Along with meditation, psychological inner work, dreamwork, and being together with other wayfarers, the other central practice of this path is a silent dhikr. The dhikr is the repetition of a sacred word or phrase. It can be the shahâda, “Lâ ilâha illâ llah” (There is no God but God), but it is often one of the names or attributes of God.
The dhikr we were given is ninety-nine names Allâh, contains all His divine attributes.
The heart meditation may appear very simple, but it works as a catalyst, accelerating the process of inner transformation, bringing one’s darkness to the surface, where it has to be confronted and accepted. The rejected and unacknowledged parts of one’s psyche have to be acknowledged, “given a place in the sun.”
Sahl said to one of his disciples: “Try to say continuously for one day: ‘Allâh! Allâh! Allâh!’ and do the same the next day and the day after, until it becomes a habit.” Then he told him to repeat it at night also, until it became so familiar that the disciple repeated it even during his sleep.
Then Sahl said, “Do not consciously repeat the Name any more, but let your whole faculties be engrossed in remembering Him!” The disciple did this until he became absorbed in the thought of God. One day, a piece of wood fell on his head and broke it. The drops of blood that dripped to the ground bore the legend, “Allâh! Allâh! Allâh!”[
But for the Sufi, the name Allâh also points beyond all His attributes. According to an esoteric Sufi tradition, the word Allâh is composed of the article al, and lâh, one of the interpretations of which is “nothing.” Thus the word Allâh can be understood to mean “the Nothing.” The fact that His greatest name contains the meaning “the Nothing” has great significance, because for the mystic the experience of Truth, or God, beyond all forms and attributes, is an experience of Nothingness.
There is nothing but Nothingness. . . Nothingness because the little self (the ego) has to go. One has to become nothing. Nothingness, because the higher states of consciousness represent nothingness to the mind, for it cannot reach there. It is completely beyond the range of perception. Complete comprehension on the level of the mind is not possible, so one is faced with nothingness. And in the last, most sublime, sense, it is to merge into the Luminous Ocean of the Infinite.
Thus, the name Allâh contains the essence of all Sufi teaching: to become nothing, to become annihilated in Him, so that all that remains is His Infinite Emptiness.
One of the mysteries of the path is that this Emptiness, this Nothingness, loves you. It loves you with an intimacy and tenderness and infinite understanding beyond imagining; it loves you from the very inside of your heart, from the core of your own being.
It is not separate from you.
Sufis are lovers and the Nothingness is the Greatest Beloved in whose embrace the lover completely disappears.
This is the path of love; it is the annihilating cup of wine which His lovers gladly drink, as in the words of Rumi:
I drained this cup:
there is nothing, now,
but ecstatic annihilation.
In saying the dhikr, repeating His name silently on the breath—“Al” on the out-breath, “lâh” on the in-breath—we remember Him.
With each cycle of the breath, we return to the inner essence of the heart and live the remembrance of our love form Him. Practising the dhikr as constantly as we can, we bring this mystery into our daily lives.
Lying awake at night we can silently repeat His name----when our mind is free enough to remember Him again, we rejoice once more in repeating the name of the One we love.
But with practice, the dhikr becomes a natural, almost automatic part of our breath, and then no moment is wasted; every breath aligns our attention with Him.
And over time our whole coming to participate in this attention. By repeating His name, we remember Him not just in the mind but in the heart; finally there comes the time when every cell of the body repeats His name.
It is said, “First you do the dhikr and then the dhikr does you.” The name of God becomes a part of our unconscious and sings in our bloodstream.
The way the name of God permeates the wayfarer is not metaphoric but a literal happening. The dhikr is magnetized by the teacher so that it inwardly aligns the wayfarer with the path and the goal. (It is for this reason that the dhikr needs to be given by a teacher, though in some instances it can also be given by the Higher Self or, traditionally, by Khidr)
Working in the unconscious, the dhikr alters our mental, psychological, and physical bodies. On the mental level, this is easily seen. Normally, in our everyday life, the mind follows its automatic thinking process, over which we often have very little control. The mind thinks us, rather than the other way around.
Just catch your mind for a moment and observe its thoughts—every thought creates a new thought, every answer a new question. And because energy follows thought, our mental and psychological energy is scattered in many directions. To engage seriously in spiritual life means learning to become one-pointed, to focus all our energy in one direction, towards Him;the thinking process is redirected towards Him. You could say that the practice of the dhikr reprograms us for God.
Through repeating His name, we alter the deeply worn grooves of our mental conditioning that play the same tune over and over again, repeat the same patterns which bind us in our mental habits. The dhikr gradually replaces these old imprints with the single imprint of His name.
The lover experiences a deep joy in repeating the name of her invisible Beloved who is so near and yet so far away. When He is near, saying His name becomes the expression of our gratitude to Him for the bliss of His presence.
When He is absent, it becomes our cry to Him and helps us to bear the longing and the pain.
In times of trouble, His name brings reassurance and help. It gives us strength, and it can help to dissolve the blocks that separate us from Him. When we say His name, He is with us, even when we feel all alone with our burdens.
Through repeating His name----we begin to lose our identification with our isolated, burdened self and become identified with our Beloved who has been hidden within our own heart.
Gradually the veils that have kept Him hidden fall away and the lover comes to know His presence in her heart.
And as He removes the inner veils, so also does he lift the outer veils. Then the lover finds Him not only within the inner dimensions of her heart but also in the outer world; she comes to experience that “whithersoever ye turn, there is the Face of God.”
Then He whom we love and whose name we repeat becomes our constant companion. And the lover also becomes the companion of God, for the “eyes which regard God, are also the eyes through which He regards the world.”
The Beloved is our true friend, and this is the deepest friendship; it demands our total participation. Practising the dhikr, repeating His name, we are with Him in every breath.
This is the traditional Sufi work of “polishing the mirror of the heart,” through which we come to glimpse our true nature. When this inner mirror is covered with what in the West we would call projections and ego-conditioning, we see everything in a distorted way; we see the confused reflections of our own light and darkness.
But as we polish the mirror, the distortions are removed and we begin to see with a new clarity and simplicity.
From the seeming chaos of multiplicity, we become aware of an underlying unity. The divine is born into consciousness and its quality of wholeness begins to permeate our inner and outer life. Looking within, we see beyond the ego, or nafs, to what is more essential and more enduring: Although you were completely changed you see yourselves as you were before.
The state of Zikar is a complete abstraction of the senses in which the mind is stilled by the energy of love within the heart, and the individual mind is absorbed into the universal mind. The actual experience of dhyana rarely happens during the first practice of meditation.
It may take months, even a few years, to reach this stage.
And once we do begin to experience dhyana we may not realize it.
The initial experiences of Zikar usually last for just a split second—for an instant, the mind dips into the infinite and just for a moment we are not present. There may be little or no consciousness that this has happened; the mind may not even be aware that it was absent.
But gradually, the mind disappears for longer and longer periods; we become aware that our mind has shut down. The experience can for some time seem like sleep since sleep is the nearest equivalent we have ever known to this mindless state.
The experience of Zikar deepens as the lover is immersed deeper and deeper into a reality beyond the mind. More and more one tastes the peace, stillness, and profound sense of wellbeing of a far vaster reality where the problems that surround us so much of the time do not exist—a reality beyond the difficulties of duality and the limitations of the world of the mind and senses, into which, for a little while each day, meditation allows us to merge.
It is the first stage after transcending the thinking faculty of the mind, and from the point of view of the intellect, it must be considered as an unconscious state.
It is the first step beyond consciousness as we know it.”, the heart is activated and the energy of love slows down the mind. The mind loses its power of control and individual consciousness is lost, at first for an instant and then gradually for longer periods of time. The lover becomes absorbed, drowned in the ocean of love.
Also, our experience of it changes: no two meditations are the same and our experience becomes deeper and richer, more and more complete. On this plane of unity everything has its own place and fulfils its real purpose.
Here the true nature of everything that is created is present as an expression of divine oneness and divine glory. In the outer world, we experience only a fragmented sense of our self and our life. Here everything is complete and we come to know that everything is just as it should be.