Pearls of Wisdom
From a Cultured Teacher

An Interview of Aliya B Haeri -- A Spiritual Counselor
Alexandra Levin

“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 beginning …

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.”

Aliya discovered 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 felt healed.”

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 possessed.”

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 significant.

This was a terrifying time. I totally lost my sense of security and stability.

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 within.

Returning to 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.

There was 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.”

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Following this 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.”

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Aliya later was married to her teacher, Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri, who is a recognised master of the Sufi tradition.

Subsequently, Aliya 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.

Consequently, death 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 loved one.”

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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.

Everything in 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 ultimately become.

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 enlightenment.”

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 our life.

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 meditation.

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 everywhere?”

“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 life.’ ”

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.

Psychologically 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 right.

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 turn inward.

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.

When so-called 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 Universe.”

Aliya paused 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 agenda.

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 perfection.”

“What do you mean by this?”

“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 majesty.”

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.”