Training people on the Path can be done in different ways. Normally it takes the following forms: performing spiritual practices, for example, different kinds of meditations by oneself; seeking contact with God and acquiring mystical experience and knowledge by oneself, and the same thing—a spiritual and mystical quest, which is carried out together with a group of seekers whose aims are close to one’s own. As a rule, the group will have a leader, and this may be a true Master, or a spiritual trainer, who teaches what we might call the basics of meditation. People working alone may also have a teacher—whether a specific living person, or some higher entity or “internal master.” How effective such training is may be judged by those who train this way; the path of the individual does not only exist because they are unable to find like-minded people, but principally because there are people who do not believe it is possible to work in some group full of idiots.
The purpose of any training is for a person to gain their own personal experience and, in the case of training on the Path, their own personal opportunity for spiritual vision and higher perception. This is the reason that the practices are so important, for it is they that give the seeker the necessary experience and lead his being to the change he craves. In this sense, book knowledge is always second-rate and normally imbues the seeker with new ideas, engendering new illusions. Only through experience can you attain true knowledge and understanding at a higher level than before. At the same time, experience can also be deceptive—for example, when a person considers thinking about awareness to be awareness itself, or control over thought to be the silence of the mind. It is possible to take self-induced hallucinations to be a transcendental experience, to build the remaining practices on this and cultivate your own understanding of the nature of Reality. Therefore, every seeker should develop a critical relationship to his own perception, which is quite hard for an individualist to do. Everyone begins to move toward Truth from the darkness of his own ego and to rely on his judgement and perception, colored as they are with his own desires, is quite unreasonable. But I already written a lot about the difficulties and pitfalls that lie in wait for the seeker on the Path. Here, I would like to look in more detail at group work. In a group within a Sufi sect that carries out live work and recognizes the aforementioned laws of human and general Being.
There are common and very obvious advantages to working in a group as compared to performing the practices alone. This would include, for example, the possibility of being deceived by experience, the possibility of acknowledging one’s own relationship to others and of seeing the manifestations of one’s own ego, and so on. But there is another far more important aspect that is only revealed in group work. This, as ever, is the energy side of the practice.
When you have a lot of people meditating in the same room, this is still not group work, each one of them is self-contained, and basically separate from the rest. Group work means performing practices together, where the efforts and the actions of all its members become synchronized. We may, for example, perform dhikr, read mantras, prayers, some movement practices and others in this way. With this sort of approach, all members of the group vibrate energy in unison and something like a group energy which, although it takes shape from what is brought into the circle of all the members, has its own vibration that is distinct from their individual vibrations. The energy of the group is many times higher than the energy of each member of the circle, and as a result the egregors through which this interaction takes place respond in kind—energy which comes from the Higher planes also takes on a different level of vibration, and thereby opens up a different level of possibilities to all those involved in the Work. And if a Master is involved in the practice, the energy of the group takes on a “hue” that would be impossible for the pupils to attain either together or on their own.
It bears repeating—if someone feels he can exist outside any kind of energy processes, he is living in an illusion regarding his own limitations. The whole world is an interchange of energies and the consequences of their interactions, and human activity, along with all human life, is no exception to this rule.
The main distinction between group work and all other kinds of work is that in group work an energy impulse can be produced which cannot be produced under any other circumstances. Only a group that works effectively is capable, through the energy that it emits, of raising the bar so high that practices become available to them that are beyond comparison to what has come before—in other words, to arrive at the possibility of performing mystical practices at the highest level. There is a certain prevailing notion these days that great mystical work and the miracles associated with it, remains in the distant past, but that is not the case. It is just that now the correct approach to the practices is all but lost, and either there is not the required intensity in them, or there is the intensity but there is no vision for what to do with them. There are groups of people who perform dhikr very intensively, and yet the state that they enter into through their efforts is considered the endpoint of the practice, bringing all those participating in it euphoria and gratification. This work is essentially no different to any ordinary human activity, where intensity is also just poured away. Dhikr that is performed by entering into an altered state, however intense it may be, will not bear visible mystic fruits; and of course, it will not lead to the heights of the mystic Path. Without a connection in the Heart and without following the Will, most group practices are transformed over time into nothing more than a means for self-gratification.
A single impulse produced by a group is worth very little. If the group works every day, the succession of messages it sends out will receive a response from above in the form of a response impulse, on whose wave members of the group can significantly accelerate their progress on the Path. And this is the whole essence of mystical work—to summon that invisible wave, and with its help acquire and realize new possibilities on the Path. The response may also come in the form of grace, but this is also worth very little. Constant, persistent, coordinated work will mean that you get a corresponding answer, one that opens up possibilities you could not even have dreamed of before. Here the relationship between “give and take” is completely equal, in the sense that by giving off some sort of energy in performing practices, and taking a certain experience, as well as changing one’s inner state, any member of a group takes even more new abilities, which are revealed not to him personally, but to the group as a whole, and which he could not have realized outside of the group. Furthermore, it often happens that as it is revealed a mystic ability directly answers the needs or requirements of all members of the group, which makes this kind of work even more attractive and desirable.
Of course an ability is not simply knowledge about how to do some practice and receive some other result, not at all. An ability is always reinforced by an energy impulse of a higher order, which is used up during group practices and elevates them to a new level, bringing new and previously inaccessible results. Help received from the Higher planes of Reality or, if you like, from God, is a necessary condition for carrying out mystical practices. Hence also the necessity of interacting with God, meaning the necessity of creating an image of Him. This issue is addressed differently in different religions, but mystics always arrive at the necessity of this kind of interaction, as without it mysticism simply cannot exist. Because of a simplified and partially false image of God, mystics in all ages have gained the ability to initiate contact with that Force that cannot be confined within the realms of our logic and cannot be described by our language. Through a relationship, mystics moved towards a connection, through the practice they moved to feeling and the experience of a direct perception of what exists in Reality.
Such is the power of work in groups, and you cannot overestimate the abilities which are made available through participation in that work. But it would be a mistake to believe that it is all just limited to group work. Practicing in groups is one thing, while individual, to a certain extent independent work, is another. Together they complement and support one another.
Mystic work by no means cancels out efforts towards self-awareness, because without them, moving to the influence of the Upward Stream while at the same time remaining in the body, is practically impossible. Without a certain level of awareness, interaction with the energies of the Higher planes may lead to a situation where the person may be carried away by uncontrolled expressions of suppressed energies and desires or something of this kind. On the other hand, without the mystical element of Work, the seeker may languish in one place for quite a long time, constantly aware of the same thing and not knowing how to let out the suppressed energy of emotions or desires. In any case, both individual and group work lead the seeker to the same aim, which may come together in different ways, but always means the same thing: realizing one’s spiritual potential, fulfilling one’s destiny, exceeding the bounds of the ordinary.
The strength of the group is in its unity, its weakness in fragmentation. Many seekers feel like strangers in this world; in fact this is what motivates their quest to escape beyond its limits. Quite often they bring this feeling into the work, projecting their own resentment of themselves and those around them onto the other members of the group. There are also other reasons why one member might remain estranged and distanced from the rest of the group, and sometimes this becomes an obstacle to the effective activity of the group. The Work itself ultimately selects those who are suitable for the group.
Along with individual motivation, which is what brings people to the Work, there are certain conditions that enable the group to function successfully. Strangely enough, the first of these is faith. And this does not mean supreme faith in God (although this absolutely helps, at least to begin with), but faith that higher states of being exist for man, and they can be reached with the aid of specific practices. This is the faith that the Path exists that leads to Truth and the experience of oneness with God. If he does not have this faith, or not enough of it, a person cannot work in a group. His doubts will sooner or later lead him to a search for something he can believe. It is very hard to begin the work without faith, and going on with it is not an option. Experience comes later, and as you gain personal experience and the conviction that the proposed practices and the Path are true, the necessity of faith goes away of its own accord.
There is one other condition that really helps you to achieve success in group work. This is a willingness to follow.
Willingness to follow means a kind of acceptance—the acceptance of what you are given; without the willingness to follow, you cannot get to Surrender of the will. You have to start working on acceptance even as a pupil, and the fuller it becomes, the greater the possibilities that will open up to the pupil. This is one of the paradoxes of the Path—the smaller you become, the greater the presence of God and the greater the possibilities that open up through His presence due to His essential omnipotence. But for the ego, both acceptance and surrender are considered insurmountable hardships and seem like traps, because they somehow deprive him of control over his own life. The ego resists, and this resistance can sometimes take on the subtlest forms. The ego wants to control everything itself and is not willing to be controlled. There are of course people with a victim mentality, willing to torture themselves for any reason and willing, while suffering, to follow anyone who wants them, but this is not what we are talking about here. Willingness to follow the commands of a Master enables you to create an enormous field of possibilities, from which he can choose the most appropriate at any given moment. Acceptance is the key to great wonders and mysteries.
And of course, acceptance is very much necessary when it comes to companions in Work. The ego is used to seeing all the shortcomings of others—this is how it compensates for the sense of its own inadequacy. But if we look at this issue from another angle, we see that if it were not for these people, whoever they are, one could find oneself completely alone in one’s quest. And I have always felt grateful to God for not being left alone on this complex Path in its most difficult moments. With difficult work you are grateful to anyone who can at least share a little of your burden with you. It is only the blindness that belongs to the ego, and the pride that is hard on its heels, that gets in the way of people realizing this simple and obvious fact.
People sometimes feel that a well-chosen group of people will have a decisive influence on the success of its work. This is partly true, and partly it is not. Certainly there are people who are incapable of group work, and there are people who are incapable of work at all. They have their path, and only God may judge them. But such people, generally speaking, will leave the group very quickly, just as they come into it suddenly. The rest are fully capable of effective work to the benefit of themselves, God and the group. If, of course, they manage to overcome resistance from their own ego.
Group work can become a great school to its members, and it may turn into a total waste of time, but even in that situation, the true seeker will gain invaluable experience. Many factors impact upon the development of the work, but they can all be overcome, if the members of the Sufi circle truly want it. There are many aspects to group work which lie in both the field of ordinary human psychology and in the field mysticism. Every facet of this work brings a certain experience, and as we know, there can be no higher attainment in human life than experience.