Shaikh Kabir Helminski

Today time moves fast and our humanness is under assault in many ways. The distractions of consumer society and pop culture, the compression of time, the advance of technological powers, the intensity of life requires nothing less than the development of true spiritual practice and remembrance.

The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said, “There is no ritual worship (salaah) without presence (huzur).” Because of many factors of modern life, more and more human beings are being robbed of this essential human quality and becoming prisoners of the false self, or ego.

The essence of spiritual practice in all sacred traditions is presence, that state of awareness which stands above thought, emotion, behavior, and sense perception, but which comprehends them all.[1] With presence we are fully conscious that we are alive, that we are. With presence our experience of life becomes more spacious. With presence we become aware of a wider context for our life, and we develop a capacity to freely direct our attention.

Presence is the bridge, the interworld, between our everyday identity and Spirit. Actually, there are countless levels of experience between the solidified ego and Spirit, and presence is the key to all of them. In other words, we can experience presence on increasingly subtle levels beginning with being present to our own physical bodies, then our emotions, then our thoughts, then our subtle intentions and emotional attitudes, all the way up to an experience of the Divine Presence Itself.

If we focus on our own experience at the most fundamental level, we will see that spiritual practice is an opportunity to awaken and sustain presence. By bringing our full attention to the present moment and what we are doing, we open up a space that is relatively free of random, habitual thought. We assume some mastery over our own inner experience. We redirect our attention from various preoccupations of our habitual self. Instead of unconsciously seeking various forms of self-gratification (pleasure, comfort, the positive regard of others), we turn our full attention to simply being in the present moment. Gradually this capacity to direct and refine our attention increases, and we begin to experience that there is something quite whole and satisfying about this experience of Being itself.

Over time our sense of who we are undergoes a significant transformation. Whereas we used to experience ourselves as our thoughts and emotions, much of which is quite negative in character, now we begin to have an experience of ourselves as something beyond thought, feeling, sense perception, and behavior. Our sense of self acquires a new spaciousness, peace, and stability. It is not that we do not experience various desires, responses, and negative states, but these do not entirely extinguish and replace the sense of our own abiding presence.

If we continue to practice, there may also sometimes be more dramatic experiences, moments of grace and realization, of intimacy with God, of wonder and awe.[2]

The purpose of practice is to awaken and focus our full attention, to develop presence, and thus to come to know better that state of Being that is prior to thought, feeling, and behavior, that state which connects us with our own essence, and the state in which we are near to the Divine. The primary practices for us are the ritual prayer (salaah), and the remembrance of divine names (dhikr), whether aloud or internally. The ritual prayer awakens presence in movement and action, and also leads us to an embodied experience of surrender to the Infinite. It is a fundamentally grounding practice. Dhikr, on the other hand, attunes us to the Divine Presence in a more inward way. With dhikr we spiral into the dimensionless point within our own being where we are closest to God.

Spiritual practice is also a context in which we develop sincerity. It is easy to fool ourselves on the spiritual path by claiming that we want spiritual development and freedom from our own selfish egos while living our lives in an unconscious slavery to the ego.

The ego will even critique our spiritual path and practice in all sorts of ways, raising doubts, comparisons, and justifying our own laziness. The ego may even propose that everyday life in and of itself is our spiritual practice. While there is some truth in this, there is also room for self-deception in it. Some people will say that they don’t need spiritual practice, because their whole life is their spiritual practice. Some will say they live in a state of worship and so specific times and forms of worship are unnecessary. But the times of prayer provide the structure that enables us to sustain remembrance through the day. We need those spiritual mealtimes, so to speak, to be able to sustain ourselves between meals.

While it may be true that at a high level of attainment, enlightenment is everyday life and everyday life is enlightenment, we need to find a practical way of attaining this realization and sustaining it. All of life is movement, but not all movement is exercise. An intelligent, concentrated form of movement can develop muscle tone in a way that ordinary movement cannot. So, too, Spiritual practice is a concentrated exercise of the soul which helps us to keep our soul fit for the challenges of life.

We will explore some of the steps on the path of spiritual practice in upcoming posts.

We will learn to:
open the door of presence,
awaken the power of intention,
overcome distraction and sustain attention,
escape the prison of the false self,
dive into the ocean of remembrance,
express gratitude and awe,
and radiate blessing.


[1] Their seeing does not encompass Him, but He encompasses their seeing. Qur’an.

[2] In Sufism we have various names for these states: kashf (unveiling), tajalli (epiphany). In Buddhism these are called sartori or kensho.