One in four people in the UK suffer from anxiety, stress, or depression. Today I will focus on stress and anxiety and how this can be managed on a day-to-day basis.
Mindfulness has been adopted by the National Health Service to help patients suffering from mild forms of depression, stress, and anxiety.1 One mindfulness technique is to return the patient to the present moment through the focussed regulation of their breathing. The aim here is for patients to disconnect from negative concepts of the past and future that cause depression and anxiety
Sufi orders concur that the state of peace and calm achieved through mindfulness is attained by connecting to the present moment. Sufi’s subscribe to occasionalism, which is the belief that everything is the will of God. Therefore, for the Sufi the present moment is that metaphysical point in which the Divine command materialises in the world of appearances.
In Sufism the recreation of the universe moment after moment is due to the Divine command ‘Be!’2 This edict created the universe from nothing, and echoes on into infinity. The Old Testament recounts much the same in Genesis; ‘Let there be light!’ and it this light upon which the Azeemiyya Sufi order meditate to gain access to the unconscious.3
The founder of the Azeemiyya, Qalandar Baba Auliya (d.1978), describes the movement of the ethereal Divine command as descending and manifesting each moment. The Divine command then ascends once that moment has entered what we perceive as the past.4 This reveals that we are always physically present, but to be mentally present requires focus and attention. Without which distractions lead to the misalignment of our thoughts to create stress and anxiety.
Regulated inhalation and exhalation of the breath realigns the mind and body by anchoring us to the present moment. In Journey towards Spiritual Insight,5 Khwaja Shamsuddin Azeemi, current patriarch of the Azeemiyya Sufi order, writes that inhalation draws us closer to our unconscious and exhalation awakens awareness to perception imbued with concepts of the physical world. When the inhalation of breath becomes longer and deeper, we can expect to gain a deeper intimacy with our unconscious and inner peace.
Over nine hundred years ago Abū Ḥāmid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazālī (d.1111), also known as Imām Ghazālī, revived the practice of Murāqaba; Sufi meditation, to gain knowledge of the unconscious. The Azeemiyya hold the view that the Abrahamic prophets practiced Murāqaba to achieve gnosis.6 Moses upon the mountain, Jesus in the desert, and Mohammed ﷺ in the cave, peace be upon all of them. Also, to reach enlightenment Buddha meditated for a similar duration beneath a Bodhi tree, peace be upon him also. Khwaja Shamsuddin Azeemi writes that when the Prophet Mohammed ﷺ visited the Cave at Hira, he did so to practice Murāqaba.7
For the Prophet Mohammed ﷺ the cave provided the perfect environment as advised by Imām Ghazālī: ‘to cut off the attachment to the world.’8 The dark, quiet cave did not allow for the prevalence or hindrance of sense-based data, as the conceptual ability of the physical senses was suppressed by the darkness and silence of the cave. Thus, the suspension of the outward senses to inhibit conceptual data is key to the successful practice of Murāqaba.
Disconnection from the physical world and breathing exercises coupled with Murāqaba thus predicates access to the unconscious. Layers of worldly concepts are broken down with repeated practice of Murāqaba, yielding deeper peaceful states as deep long breaths facilitate intimacy with the unconscious. Sufi’s maintain that meditative practices, religious or secular, all begin with the breath and are empowered by focussing upon the present moment. This meditative focus within Murāqaba denies concepts of the past or future, and associated worries or anxieties, to create a tranquil mood that allows us to experience inner peace.
Unlike guided mediation, Murāqaba is practiced in silence as the aim is to disconnect from the conscious mind, which is difficult if the faculty of hearing remains engaged. Also, images conceived during guided meditation arise via the conscious visualisation of the guide’s instruction. This is not Murāqaba, because Murāqaba requires concentrated focus upon a single inner thought without external interference. Beginners concentrate upon the colour blue. The way this colour appears in the imagination is not important, be it a blue sky, rain, or river, or blue material objects. Concentration should be maintained until one becomes lost in thoughts of blue. However, if you find yourself gravitating towards another colour in your Murāqaba, then do not resist and simply observe the process.
For beginners feelings of drowsiness are common. This is normal as when the unconscious becomes active within us it is usually because we are going to sleep and entering a dream. It is advisable to not give into feelings of sleepiness and remain awake through concentration upon the colour blue. Everyone begins by focussing on blue because blue calms the mind, realigns our thoughts and returns us to the present moment and wholeness. Murāqaba, meditation, or mindfulness cannot be performed effectively without a calm mind. It takes time to build the necessary resilience to maintain a calm mind, but through regular practice of Murāqaba inner peace is more than achievable.
2. Abdel Haleem, M.A.S (2010). The Qu’ran. Oxford University Press: New York, 36:82
3. English Standard Version (2001). Holy Bible. Collins: London, 1:3
4. Azeemi, K. S. (1995). The Pen and the Scriptorum. Al-Kitab Publication: Karachi. p 23
5. Azeemi, K. S. (2009). Journey Towards Spiritual Insight. Author House. Bloomington p 150
6. Azeemi, K. S. (2005). Murāqaba: The Art and Science of Sufi Meditation. Plato Publishing: Houston, Texas. p 48-50
7. Ibid, p 50.
8. Ibid, p 50. 8 Al-Ghazâlî (2016). The Revival of the Religious Sciences. The Islamic Texts Society: Cambridge. Volume 3, p 24