An Interview of Aliya B Haeri -- A Spiritual Counselor
“It was a crisis in
my personal life that sent me searching for a deeper meaning to
our existence on this earth. But then I believe that from an
early age I have always been a seeker. Let me start at the
I grew up in
paradise. On one of the Hawaiian Islands in the Pacific. There
were three children in the family — I had an older brother and a
younger sister. Although my parents were fine, upstanding and
moral people, respected in the community, somehow I never felt
that I belonged to this life.
When I was about
nine years of age, I had a near death experience. I was swimming
in the Pacific when I was caught in the underflow and in the
swelling oceans of water I found myself struggling and gasping for
breath. My entire life began to flash before my eyes. Then I got
to a point where the struggling stopped. I felt a total peace.
Beyond what words could describe.
Suddenly I found
myself on the shore coughing up water. From that moment on I knew
not to fear death. I also realised that there was more to life
than simply growing up and going to school, more than what simply
appeared on life’s surface. I never told anyone, not even my
parents, about what had happened to me.”
From an early age
Aliya had a deeply intuitive sense of what was going on with other
people. This manifested in her ability to heal. She explains this
as ‛a natural ability, which potentially everyone possesses.’
“In truth,” she
continued, “no one has the power to heal. We only access the
healing force of nature within, and it does the work.”
that she could go deeply into a meditative state and symptoms or
illnesses would disappear. “I found myself going to gatherings
where people would often say that because of my presence, they
After finishing her
schooling, Aliya went to university in New York. In the course of
her research she studied some very powerful psychics and people
who channelled and who had access to invisible realms.
“We did a great deal
of spiritual healing either by prayer or by meditation. Becoming
more involved with psychic research, I travelled to quite a few
countries, visiting people who displayed extraordinary gifts.”
“Who was the most
impressive person you studied?”
“Uri Geller. After
watching him at work, it became undeniably clear to me that some
other reality other than our everyday three dimensional world was
at play and accessible to us.”
Aliya set up and
conducted a study of twelve psychically gifted children in the
United Kingdom, who were able to demonstrate feats of metal
bending, as well as telepathy and healing. “These children ranged
from the son of an Oxford professor to an impoverished teenager
who grew up in very humble circumstances in Scotland. It then
occurred to me that this ability to access the subtle realms was
universal to all people. It didn’t matter what background you came
from or what beliefs you held.
This research and
other investigations brought the phenomenon of paranormal ability
into the main stream, for we approached it not as a sensational
project, simply as a way of getting greater society to recognise
these extraordinary gifts that some seemingly ordinary people
Through the research
she was doing, Aliya gained insight into an unseen world.
“Undeniably there was a realm of light and phenomenology that was
much more vast, luminous and inexplicable than the world we live
in,” she remarked. “But after a few years of studying this, I felt
that I was accumulating more and more data, but that my search for
deeper truth and meaning was unsatisfied. I had also ended a
relationship at the same time and my work no longer held any
meaning for me. I was facing a spiritual crisis.
I fell into a state
of loss and despair. I decided that I must not take the easy way
out. I would not call a friend or distract myself by going out for
coffee or taking a short holiday. I decided to face my problems. I
closed down the house in which I was staying and I notified my
friends that I would be away for the next few days. I disconnected
the telephone and in the darkened room, I sat in a wide armchair
and waited, not knowing what was going to happen. I had decided to
accept and to face whatever arose in my heart. It was on a
Thursday that this took place, for this fact would later prove
This was a
terrifying time. I totally lost my sense of security and
If I was not this
researcher known for work in this field, then who was I? If I had
no sense of my own identity, did I exist?
I had made a
commitment not to leave this room, this chair, whatever might
happen. It seemed like an eternity. I waited. Then I began to fall
deep within myself, feeling a terrible sense of loneliness. As I
moved deeper and deeper, I was overcome by despair and a sense of
loss. I continued to descend into this void of absolute darkness.
Then I stopped falling.
Before me in the
darkness a door appeared. I knew that if I went through that door
the next day I would be discovered dead or stark raving mad.
Something in me did not accept that door. In my innermost core, I
was saying ‘no’ to negation. When I realised this, I found myself
slowly rising to the surface as if from the bottom of the ocean.
Ascending, empty of all those feelings, I felt a growing lightness
consciousness of the room, I discovered that a full day had passed
and that it was now the following morning. In an intellectual
sense I could not fathom what had happened, but a sense of trust
in guidance had been borne.
guidance in the Universe and although I could not understand where
I was being guided or the source of this trust, I knew that
whatever happened next would be the right unfolding for me. I felt
as if I was being given life again.”
It was now Friday
morning and Aliya got herself ready to set off on a trip that had
been arranged earlier in the week. Some friends had suggested that
she might be working too hard. Why didn’t she fly from Toronto to
Washington to join them for a few days?
“As the plane took
off, my soul began to soar. I felt that I was flying into the
unknown towards a new horizon in my destiny,” smiled Aliya. “When
I arrived, I was met by friends who were taking me to dinner and
then a symphony concert. On my way there, my friends asked if I
would mind if they dropped off some books?
We took the lift to
an upper story apartment and when the door opened, the young man
had a look of surprise on his face. He was a student of the
spiritual master whose apartment we had come to. I had been
seeking spiritual guidance and guidance had been brought to me.
This spiritual master would be my first teacher.”
Aliya reflected for
a few moments before adding “What I didn’t know until later was
that this teacher followed a path in which spiritual retreat was
observed on Thursday nights. When he emerged from this retreat,
which happened to be at the same time that I was surfacing from my
vigil, he told his student that he had a vision of a woman from
the East who would be coming to meet him.
When he began to
speak I felt that I had finally come home. My life on the Sufi
path of God’s truth and love began at that moment.”
auspicious meeting, Aliya began to dream in foreign languages,
seeing images that she had never seen in this life, all pointing
to a destiny that she had not been aware of.
Going deeper into
her meditation and fasting and invocation practices, Aliya gave up
all her worldly possessions. With only the clothes on her back and
a few personal belongings that fitted into two suitcases, she went
off to live in a Sufi community. When her teacher learned that
she’d given up everything, including a fine fur coat, he inquired,
raising his eyebrows, ‛Why on earth did you do that?’ "Later, of
course, I would discover that simplifying your life does not mean
that you own nothing, but rather, nothing owns you.”
Aliya’s teacher then
instructed her to stop all psychic practices, saying that these
were a distraction that would impede her spiritual growth.
“There are many
levels of reality that manifest in this existence. In both the
spheres of the seen and the unseen. The psychic realm is not the
realm of higher reality,” explained the master. “If you want
absolute certain truth that there is an eternal Source that
created out of love everything in this existence, then you have to
single-mindedly make that your goal.”
“Nothing was more
important to me. Nevertheless,” said Aliya, her eyes twinkling,
“although I tried to remove all psychic phenomena from my life, it
took a full year before my coffee spoons stopped bending.”
Aliya later was
married to her teacher, Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri, who is a
recognised master of the Sufi tradition.
underwent a spiritual retreat in which she was isolated in a
darkened room. She had no contact with the outside world apart
from a knock on the door three times a day, when somebody would
leave a plate of food outside her door.
Otherwise she spent
the entire time calling upon the divine name of God, performing
her prayers and essentially remembering only God in this creation.
“The purpose of this
retreat was to focus your physical body, your mind and every atom
of your being on God, by invoking God’s divine name.” Apart from a
few hours of sleep, Aliya sat in single-minded remembrance of God,
stilling the body, stilling the mind, and stilling all awareness
of anything other than God through His beautiful name.
“At the end of the
second day, I disappeared into nothingness. There was nothing of
me that existed. As I returned to my consciousness I could hear
the name of God echoing in the vastness of space. It was
everywhere, vast and boundless ― and I was one with it.
At that point I was
overcome with awe. I knew that I knew nothing. It filled me with
the unshakable certainty that there was a vast, boundless, eternal
reality that was more real than anything I could experience in
this life ― and I was a part of it.”
“A spiritual teacher
once said: ‘Only the one who knows that they do not exist, knows
that God exists.’ On reflection what this means is that we can
only come to know our true existence if we abandon our self-image
and ego; then we will discover our real nature, our essence, which
is the light of God within us that we call soul.
This is what is
meant by ‘God is within.’ Of course, God is everywhere. The source
of all life; of all creation. God is transcendent, beyond
creation, yet God permeates everything in creation, giving life to
every single thing in this existence and then sustaining it.
Everything that was, is and ever will be is God. And yet, even
beyond this is God, a timeless, eternal presence. It was that
reality that made itself known to me in that darkened room.
It was a great gift
to know that our soul is indeed that ― eternal and on going — and
it is simply the form of body that we are loaned in this life that
is temporal and dies away, but who we are in essence continues to
exist in timeless eternity. This life is simply one stage of our
journey that never ends.
is not an end, but a beginning. I hope that this knowledge will
bring a measure of comfort to all those who mourn the loss of a
Aliya had spent
considerable time talking to me. Yet, petite and exotic as she is,
like some delicate lotus flower, she did not wilt, for it was
important to her as a committed spiritual teacher to impart her
vast knowledge of All That Is.
“Our world was
created out of love, and this love courses through the universe,
and it is this love that holds the universe together and connects
us inseparably and with all existence. It is only when we are
forgetful, that we become isolated and life is a struggle.
existence is created in duality. How can you know joy unless you
have suffered pain? How can you know what it is to be healthy
unless you have been ill? Every experience, even the greatest
suffering, leads us to knowledge. I believe that the more we open
ourselves in surrender to life’s moment, the more enlightened we
In truth you are
enlightened. The light you seek is there within you. What veils
the light are its shadow qualities of the ego-self which
constantly arise. Turn away from the shadow self and the light of
the soul is already there. Then you will discover your original
Aliya paused for a
moment, choosing her next words with great care.
“This knowledge puts
the events of this outer life into perspective. We often magnify
what happens to us in life, if our outer life is our only reality.
When we begin to
listen to the soul and act according to its light qualities, our
inner illumined nature begins to radiate. We realise that we are
beings of light, illumined eternal souls. That is who we are in
truth; it enables us to deal more effectively with our outer life.
We acquire a greater respect and accountability for our actions.
There can be no
freedom without responsibility. The freedom we all seek comes from
being accountable for every act that we chose to undertake in this
life. Whatever we do has consequences. Since we were all created
from the same divine light, how can I look down on anyone else?
We know that thought
is power. Sages and saints, of course, have said this for
thousands of years. The way we think creates not only how we see
the world but also how we experience it. The world is but a mirror
of our inner state. If we let our problems get the better of us,
we will see problems everywhere. But if we have a good opinion of
life, we will see goodness everywhere, even in adversity, because
it can teach us something useful. We are constantly making
choices, consciously or unconsciously, about how to respond to our
experiences. In this way, we are responsible for what happens in
As I have said
thought is powerful. Prayer is powerful. What is prayer other than
thought? Thought that comes not from the mind, but from the heart.
I have been praying for most of my life, having been raised in a
Christian family and then exploring spiritual traditions and paths
and, subsequently, making a commitment to the Islamic faith, that
are heavily indebted to spiritual practices such as prayer and
I have frequently
asked God for guidance and help and since I have gained these
insights I find that my prayers have turned almost wholly to
expressions of gratitude. I am so overwhelmed by the generosity of
this universe. I have no doubt that we live in a merciful
universe. A Sufi teaching states that God’s grace and compassion
encompasses everything. Not only in the bees that make the honey,
but also in the wasps that sting perfectly.”
“How can you say
that the universe is merciful when there is so much suffering
“Some years ago in
Bosnia, countless thousands were put to death for their religious
beliefs. Where is the compassion in that? It is sometimes
difficult for people to accept that, no matter how tragic or
unfortunate a situation may appear, you as a human being always
have the choice to use that experience as you choose.
If you choose to use
that experience as a window for your own growth, for your own
expanding consciousness to the greater light within you, then you
are that much closer to fulfilling your purpose which is to awaken
to your true nature and to come to know the Source within you.
People of all religious backgrounds and people with no religious
backgrounds have discovered this and made it a way of life.
Many of the great
Sufi Masters from the great tradition of Islam have written
beautifully on this subject. They have said that if you see that
at every instant God is sending you the best for you, you would
never be able to cease praising Him.
Such is His
generosity that if you take one step towards God, He takes ten
steps towards you. But the truth is that God is always with you.
Often, it takes
something unexpected to turn our lives inside out before we awaken
to this truth. Victor Frankl, survivor of the WW II camps and
renowned psychiatrist, has said: ‘Through suffering comes the
birth of meaning in one’s life and hence gives one a meaningful
There is a great
truth in this. For when I look at what appeared to be the major
turning points or crises in my life, out of these came not only
the greatest openings into my own window of seeing this world in
its true nature. My growth and development sprung from these
events and I would never wish that they had not happened.
Today I actually
can’t say or believe that anything is wrong or a mistake in life.
We make our choices at every moment and sometimes it may seem that
we did not make the best choice. But if we again look at this as a
gift and a blessing, not only will we never repeat that same
decision again, we will also grow in self discovery and what we do
with our lives.
If we look on
whatever happens to us not as adversity, but rather as an
opportunity for us to live more consciously, in greater awareness,
then we also make the choices we decide upon for our outer life to
become more meaningful, useful and joyful, not just for ourselves,
but for others as well.
What prevents us
from living in a state of constant awareness is the assertion of
the self, or what we call the ego-self. The self is the shadow of
the soul and contains the opposing qualities of light. It is
filled with our desires, our expectations and it is driven
primarily by fear.
Again, fear has its
usefulness. Fear of danger is life preserving.
Fear of making
mistakes allows us to move more effectively towards our goal.
But what is even
more powerful than fear is love. And love is the quality of one’s
soul. Love is the opposite of fear. It is the interplay of these
two qualities, these two emotions that drives everything that we
do in our lives.
these two elements are called ‘the attraction — repulsion
principle.’ In other words we repulse away from us anything that
we fear or that causes us pain. Conversely, we attract towards us
what we love and that gives us pleasure. We start off by saying
‘If only I had this wonderful house, then everything would be all
Well, we acquire the
house and somehow it still doesn’t fill that void, the emptiness
within us. Each time we achieved another goal we find that we are
still far removed from that state of contentment until we arrive
at a point of realisation that we will never find the ultimate
fulfilment by seeking outer achievement and therefore we begin to
What are the moments
that we feel totally at peace? Could it be in the arms of a loved
one? Could it be when we walk along a tropical beach, the waves
lapping gently at our feet? Or standing atop a mountain watching
the sunset? Or feeling the cool soil with bare hands as you plant
a new flowerbed? There is such exquisite sense of perfection in
nature that you feel that nothing could add more to this sense of
joy that one feels. It is in these momentary glimpses of
contentment and joy and experiencing love unconditionally that we
find our soul.
It is human nature
for this love and joy to vanish as the fear sets in.
What if he doesn’t
love me? What if he finds someone else? It is the fear of the
self, what I call the everyday mind, which prevents the trust and
the love and the beauty of the soul to manifest at all times.
Life has a way of
jolting us out of our complacency and pulling us into higher
consciousness and it always enters our life in the form of some
extreme challenge. It can be the death of a loved one, or a
physical challenge, a handicap or an accident that takes away the
career of a sportsman; or an illness; or the loss of a great deal
of money that changes one’s whole sense of identity, who you are
and what you are in this world.”
Putting down her
teacup, Aliya continued speaking quietly, but with great
intensity. “You can be absolutely sure that life will at some
point send you a blessing in the form of an immense challenge.
Mine came with a feeling of total despair and an existential loss
of identity. Out of that arose a whole new awakening; a whole new
way of seeing the world.
misfortune occurs, I can only be grateful to God for it. Whatever
the gift is that is contained in that so-called misfortune is
always greater than the difficulties it caused. One has to
surrender oneself completely into that moment of crisis in order
to see the gift that is there. You can’t bargain with the
contemplatively. “How can one live in this state of higher
awareness? What I’ve found most powerful in seeing the perfection
that is all around me is to withhold judgement. To go beyond
saying this is good. Or this is bad. To let go of one’s personal
Not to say I want
this. Therefore this must be good. I don’t like this. Therefore it
must be bad. What you want may actually turn out to be bad for
you. And what you dislike, may end up being good for you.
To live in the state
of higher consciousness is to forget your mindset.
To forget the
material things we feel give us a sense of balance and meaning.
Simply to stand
naked in your soul in the world that you face. See what is
happening before you. Not with your eyes, for they interpret what
you see, but through your eyes, which simply witness.
Then you will see things as they are. And you will see its
“What do you mean by
“For example, one
should not say ‘My beloved great aunt passed away and I cannot get
over the loss.’ If, however, one saw the perfection of all things,
one rather would say, ‘My beloved great aunt passed away and she
is now free of the pain and suffering that she would have had to
undergo on a life support system. Isn’t that merciful that she
went with dignity in the way that she chose to go?’ That is your
soul speaking and that is your soul witnessing her.”
Aliya then stood up
and invited me to walk with her in her immaculately manicured
garden. “Sometimes, in the midst of my work, I leave my computer
and walk in my garden. Everywhere I see signs of beauty and
She paused for a
moment in front a fragrant rosebush, cupping one of the perfect
blooms within her hands.
“Who could ever
design anything so beautiful as a rose with our human mind? And
how does the rose know when to bloom and when to fade and return
to its origins in the soil so that a new flower can come forth?
Not only does this
rose bring joy to the heart, it also brings solace.
For one begins to
see signs of the perfection in this existence that point to the
Creator which one can trust. We are humbled, awed by the miracle
of the rose. This life is far greater and far more mysterious than
anything we can imagine. Yet even in its overwhelming intensity,
we sense the intimate wondrousness of it all. Something in the
heart calls us to trust.
But we can only
trust, if the trust is based on the knowledge that life knows more
than we ever can, our soul knows more than our self, and our
higher consciousness knows more than the mind.
To become truly
human is to awaken to your true nature, which is your enlightened
soul. In our Sufi teachings, and it is echoed in many of the other
religious traditions of the world, we accept that the soul is the
abode of all Godly attributes and the potential of all that we
need in this life. Everything that you need is within you. You
need not look beyond yourself. You are enlightened. It is your
true nature. It’s your Original Face.
Our work in this
life is to awake. To wake up to whom we truly are.
If we live by our
light attributes, we will more ably try and overcome the
difficulties and adversity with which we have to deal, seeing
these rather as challenges, which gives us the opportunity to
fulfil our true potential and become the enlightened Souls that
our Creator intended us to be.”