Question: What are the pathways to better experience and benefit from journeying into the horizons of our spirituality, which is also called “Emerald Hills of the Heart”?
First of all, we should accept the “Emerald Hills of the Heart” as a horizon and a goal. We should try our best to at least glimpse those sacred spaces, even if it is through a crack in the door. Then we can see their glory: their stars twinkling, the moon and sun rising and setting.
It is important to outline basic principles for reaching these targets. For example, habitual prayers and remembrances are one of the most important vehicles. Another vehicle, one that enables us to sense the divine, is prescribed prayers observed in due reverence to the One Who cannot be known. Deep contemplation is yet another vehicle, especially when it takes us to reach an awareness that “we are unable to know Him as duly as He should be.”
Sometimes a person can reach the target quickly because the intermittent distance is short. Sometimes, due to the hardness of his heart, his being not open to spirituality, and other obstacles, like giving importance to appearances, not even forty years is enough time to reach the goal. The great mystic Junayd al-Baghdadi said that according to his internal observations, the maximum period was 60-70 years. Imam Ghazzali’s assessment of the matter is a little different. In his memoirs, which were related to the development of his awakening, he wrote, “In my first 40-day spiritual retreat I had some awakening. In my second retreat I saw that what I had observed in my first retreat was wrong and I became aware of more profound things. With my third retreat I was able to catch the real horizon.” According to him, three spiritual retreats are needed to reach the desired depth.
Yes, fortification of one’s will is the ticket and documentation for the journey embarked upon to discover the secrets of the spiritual realms. This ticket, which can be obtained by forty-day spiritual retreats, will dry up the roots of one’s inclinations towards evil and invigorate their tendencies toward goodness. After a retreat, perhaps a door to the realm of meaning can be opened and a message of transition to other realms can be received.
What really matters is a person persevering on their journey, even if it takes years. There is an anecdote related about Jalaluddin Harzamshah: Every day, a dog came to a garbage dump; after foraging for food, the dog left. Aware of this situation, Jalaluddin Harzemshah followed the dog for days. One day, he asked the dog, “What is the secret of your coming here and searching for something every day, even though you never find anything?” The dog replied, “I once found a bone here!” In order to reach the divine horizon it is necessary to touch the doorknob of His door and not leave until an answer is given.
While journeying on this path, one must do so in accordance with the proper rules of conduct. Otherwise, it is possible to become stranded on the way. For example, in this realm of causes, it is not possible to get anywhere with prayers made haphazardly. Of course, God’s grace is boundless; if He wishes, He can even reward any particular person for what may seem so insignificant to us. However, it should not be forgotten that everything has its own rules. From this respect, those who do not act within the prescribed limits, but who say, “I have not been awakened to anything; I did not sense anything,” should first be told about methods that will take them to the target.
If someone cannot attain any awakening, it does not mean that they are of no value and are unable to experience the pleasure of being open to the beyond. God’s mercy is broader and deeper than everything. Perhaps with His mercy He can transport even those who can fulfill only the minimum requirements to summits beyond our imagination.
In summary, the Emerald Hills of the Heart are a goal that must be reached. In order to do this, believers must have faith in the goal and then must trod the path in accordance with the rules, unhurriedly, without compromising and without becoming fed up. Yes, the Emerald Hills of the Heart show the way to, in the words of Bediuzzaman, freeing ourselves from our animal state, abandoning corporeality, and rising to the life stations of the heart and spirit.
This article has been published on Fountain Magazine, #115, Jan-Feb 2017