Have you ever encountered a stranger who radiated such love and acceptance that you were magnetically drawn to them?
I once sat across from a man at a spiritual retreat who had a way about him I immediately wanted to emulate....
He was grounded and sure of himself –– in a humble way. He was compassionate, and there was a lightness about him, in his personality and even his appearance. It’s as if his beautiful presence was emanating an actual visible luminosity.
When the two of us completed the exercise we were doing with the group, I asked him what his secret was…
Did he spend a year in an ashram?
Did he meditate six hours a day?
Was he a mystic?
Some sort of Guru?
“I’m no longer afraid of death,” he answered. “I’m not afraid to die.”
Wow, I thought. Wouldn’t that be nice.
My further inquiries revealed this man had no terminal illness; in other words, he had no reason to hurry up the acceptance of the inevitable.
I was in awe and have thought of his graceful acceptance often.
Years later, I heard a friend, a Sufi, mention the Sufi practice of “dying before you die.”
She explained that in this tradition, this powerful phrase means to reconnect with the light within or one’s higher self or soul, while still alive, not waiting for this connection, (also considered a reconnection with the Beloved or Divine) to occur only at life’s end.
I found both perspectives –– the acceptance of physical death and the reconnection with the Beloved while still living –– intriguing and inspiring, as they each appeared to carve a path toward a more peaceful, sacred and fulfilling experience of life.
(And below I’m sharing 7 Sufi practices which can help you along on this powerful path.)
If you’re unfamiliar with it, Sufism is the mystical belief and practice which many believe originated in Islam (others believe it comes from the early Christian mystics of Syria and Egypt) in which practitioners seek to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of the Beloved.
And renowned mystic-scholar Andrew Harvey has taught about the rapturous, though at times difficult, path of the Sufi for decades.
In his younger years, he undertook a 10-year-long exploration and explication of Rumi and Sufi mysticism in Paris with a group of French Sufis under the guidance of Eva De Vitray-Meyerovitch, the translator of Rumi into French.
Andrew has been known to claim that one cannot define the mystical Islamic belief and practice of Sufism.
Yet, in the spirit of its experiential nature, he assures us that we can know it for ourselves in our own broken heart, our passion for the Divine, our cries for transformation, and our hunger for a world renewed in the divine light.
And, as Andrew has passionately shared, “It is a way to the heart of hearts, to the utmost direct intense experience of one’s sacred identity.”
Yet, how can we –– whether a practicing Sufi or not –– enliven and enrich our experience of the Divine, and our spirituality, by tapping into this heart of hearts and experiencing our own sacred identity (or die before dying)?
Here are 7 Sufi-inspired practices that can draw you closer to your inner light for a more fulfilling and embodied experience of the sacred self we all hold within us:
1. Remember your connection with the Divine in the breath.
When you sit in meditation, with each breath, invite the remembrance that the Divine is present in all things.
2. Imagine a place in your heart for the Divine.
Sufi tradition believes that the innermost chamber of the heart belongs to the Divine and is representative of our oneness with the Divine. Invite yourself to focus on this place of unity within your own heart as you meditate or light a candle to honor this sacred place within.
3. When you are depressed, return to the Divine.
Many traditions, including Sufism, see our depression as a cutting ourselves off from our nurturing inner life, our connection to the Divine. We have only to return to this connection –– let the Divine essence back in –– through meditation or prayer, to help lift the clouds of our darkness.
4. Look to your nighttime dreams for wisdom and share your dreams with others.
Traditionally, Sufi’s look to their nighttime dreams for wisdom and guidance to help them along their spiritual path. There is also an emphasis on the value of sharing dreams with others –– versus self-interpretation. And, it is part of tradition to seek a final, “perfect” interpretation for a dream throughout one’s lifetime.
To gain important insights into your waking life and spiritual evolution, share your nighttime dreams with others (who you feel will safely and compassionately hold them). Looking to your dreams for guidance in this way can provide a portal to your inner life and help deepen your connection to the Divine.
5. Open to love without expectation.
It has been said that “Sufi love” is the highest form of human love. A Sufi’s devotion to the Divine includes a love that has no conditions or expectations. In the spirit of this unconditional love, one sees the “face of God” or the Divine in oneself and in everyone.
If we, as laymen, were to embrace and express this form of love, what would it be like? Invite yourself to approach a day, even an hour, in which you look for the light, the spark of the Divine, in those you encounter, and take note of the feelings that arise in your heart.
6. Honor the Divine Feminine within yourself and the greater world.
Honoring the sacredness of the Divine Feminine (the innate feminine qualities that belong to both men and women and hold our spiritual power and potential) is central to Sufism, according to Andrew Harvey.
As we remember and honor the birth, life, death attributes of the feminine, we open to the natural transformations that occur within ourselves, nature and all of life and are better able to see the sacredness in our existence. As many traditions teach, seeing this sacredness in life can not only nourish our spiritual life and enrich our daily existence but can inspire in us a greater care for others and the Earth.
7. Read the poetry of Rumi.
Rumi is the supreme Sufi, according to Andrew. “Through his poetry, we have the most gorgeous and intense explosion of Sufi passion, love and knowledge that the world has been given.” (You can listen to Andrew read Rumi’s poetry and tell stories illuminating the way of the Sufi in the video below.)
The way of the Sufi is a sacred devotional path from which we can discover many perspectives and practices to deepen and enliven our spiritual life, whether we are a practicing Sufi or not.
I now wonder, though I didn’t ask, if the man with the incredibly luminous presence at the spiritual retreat might have discovered the beauty in connecting with the light of the Divine before death –– like the Sufi practice of dying before death –– to come to terms with his own impermanence.
In the video below, Andrew will show you that the treasure of the mystic knowledge of our sacred divine energy is for all of us. Each of us is the divine keeper of the treasure and has access to it.
We need only find our own way to it… and we can, if we try, weep, love and dare enough.
PS - Inspired by the words and video above? If so, I invite you to download mystic-scholar Andrew Harvey's free hour-long audio, Discovering the Sufi Way of the Beloved: