Trusting the Process
Trusting the Process
Anyone who has pursued a long-term goal would acknowledge the universal truth that the journey is more important than the destination. The need to fall in love with the process, and to trust it entirely, should take hold of one's focus far more than the end goal.
This law of life is more applicable to the spiritual journey than it is to anything else. The necessity of focussing on the process of the spiritual pursuit is so paramount, that it has been described by the Promised Messiah (as) as "the only true prayer".
He writes: "...The only true prayer of man is to seek the straight path leading to God. For, to attain any objective, it is the natural law that those means should be acquired through which the goal is achieved. This is the natural rule that God has laid down in respect of achieving every objective: The means that are necessary for securing it should be attained and the ways by which the goal can be achieved should be adopted."¹
Any person experienced in the pursuit of a difficult goal would admonish novices that the most common and greatest mistake they can commit is solely focussing on the end goal. The hastiness that results from this is sure to be a pitfall. Rather, they would suggest to use the goal as a mental flagpole--something you glance up at every now and then to keep you centered on your path, but that your greatest focus should be the path itself.
The Promised Messiah (as) writes: "He who does not strive to attain صراط مستقیم [sirat-e-mustaqim], and attaches no value to it, is a misguided person in the sight of God. If he were to beg God for Paradise and the comforts of the Hereafter, Divine Wisdom would respond to him, ‘O ignorant one! Seek first صراط مستقیم [sirat-e-mustaqim], and then all of this will be given to you easily.’ Hence, the primary prayer which the seeker after truth urgently needs is the prayer to seek the attainment of صراط مستقیم [sirat-e-mustaqim]."¹
Thus, this is the divine wisdom behind the prayer found in Surah Fatiha, "guide us to the right path". The following verse follows the same wisdom, "the path of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy favours."
Rather than praying for the success that has been granted to those before us, we are taught to pray for guidance to the path that they followed, in order to arrive at success. As Muslims recite this prayer over 30 times in a day, every few hours we are reminded to stay committed to our process.
Placing trust in this path is more important than in any other pursuit in life. Due to a lack of spiritual experience, as novices, we can struggle to understand what the goal of the spiritual journey truly looks like. Nearness to God is a subtle goal, the reality of which can only be understood through time and experience.
An unwise person would criticize that this is an abstract goal which in reality is non-existent, and has only been written up by philosophers who have no lived experience. This would undoubtedly be the height of folly to anyone who has truly taken the time to read through the oceans of spiritual experiences of the experts of the spiritual realm: the prophets and the saints. Nearness to God is a more real phenomenon and goal than anything in life.
However, the truth remains that it is easy for someone such as an athlete, for example, to visualize their end goal, and how their process contributes to it. They can understand with relative ease how practicing a certain drill for a few times a week will increase their agility, how this will manifest itself on the court, and how it will ultimately lead them to a championship. A spiritual novice, on the other hand, could struggle to visualize how reciting istigfaar everyday would help them to overcome certain flaws of theirs, and how this would ultimately lead to nearness to God.
This is due to the subtlety of the spiritual goal. Expounding upon this difficulty, Hazrat Musleh Maud (ra) once mentioned that you cannot explain the concept of "sweetness" to someone who has never tasted sugar. In the same way, it is not possible to completely explain what the experience of nearness to God looks like.
Often times, as novices, we look at the spiritual experiences of revelation as a mental placeholder for what nearness to God can be like. As deeply inspiring as it is to read the narrations of God revealing knowledge from the unseen to His chosen servants through dreams, or speaking to them in a state of wakefulness and granting knowledge of events before they even occur--we must always make an important distinction. These are the blessings of nearness to God, not nearness to God itself.
Hazrat Musleh Maud (ra) has explained this with the metaphor of visiting a friend for a meal. It is certainly easier for novices like us to visualize the meal, but it requires much more spiritual perception to visualize the true purpose of that dinner, which is the meeting of two hearts.
He writes: "I have received a query concerning the suggestion that we should aim high. A friend asks whether it is permissible to entertain colourful wishes. To my mind, it is not desirable to indulge in this kind of wishful thinking. For example, the Promised Messiah (as) has said that we should not hanker after divine revelation. Loftiness of aim or ideal is to be distinguished from wishful thinking and aspirations. Greed means to crave and run after fanciful desires, but a goal or aim is determined after due consideration and is followed by diligent effort for its realization. One who is given to wishful thinking is like a beggar, but one who fixes his goal and strives for its realization, does not beg but fights for a cause.
The same is true of the wish to receive divine revelation. Revelation is a bounty and a feast from God to His servant. No one would like to visit a friend in order to partake of a feast to which he has not been invited. That would be considered undignified. But if one visits a friend in order to meet him and the friend entertains one that is fit and proper. Such is the case with revelation. A servant prays to God for nearness to Him and a high spiritual status. When he attains such status, he begins to receive revelation. But if a person hankers after divine revelation that would mean that he is greedy for the feast, but has no urge to achieve nearness to God. Thus it is not proper to entertain eagerness for receiving revelation."²
A similar point can be made even about acceptance of prayer. Although we are taught to actively seek experiences of acceptance of prayer, their real purpose is not the attainment of the objective for which we prayed. It is simply to get a glimpse of God, and to increase in our recognition of Him.
Thus, with the increased subtlety of the goal that this path leads to, it becomes extremely paramount that we trust this process with all our heart.
It is certainly our duty to do so. When the experts in any craft try to encourage others to pursue excellence as well, their peers often reply by saying, "Are we out to become professionals in this? We have no need to pursue such a lofty goal." The Promised Messiah (as) faced the same response in the field of spirituality.
He once said: "Some people say: ‘Are we out to become saints?’ Regrettably such people have
shown no regard whatsoever. There is no doubt that one is to become a saint. If
one treads the right path, God shall also move towards such a person, and ultimately, he shall receive communion with God. Even if a person moves slowly in
His direction, God Almighty shall move towards him with far greater swiftness
He explained: "Allah the Exalted refers to His beloved as saints. Now is it difficult for someone to become a saint in the sight of God Almighty? It is extremely easy. Of course, it is necessary for a person to stand firm in virtue, and tread on the path of God with patience, determination and loyalty, and to not waver in the face of any grief, pain or misfortune. When an individual develops a true relationship with God Almighty and distances themselves from those things which cause His displeasure, and in fact, adopts purity and piety, abstaining from that which is foul, God Almighty also forges a relationship with such a person and grants them His nearness."⁴
He exhorted his community with regards to why they have a greater responsibility in this regard than anyone else:
"I have repeatedly said that a person becomes proportionally accountable as they increase in their nearness to Allah. The household of the Holy Prophet (sa) was more accountable than others. Those who are further away are not accountable, but surely, you are. If you are not greater than others in faith, then what is the difference between you and them? You are under the watch of thousands. These people survey your every movement as though they were spies of the government. And they are right in doing so. When the followers of the Promised Messiah are to walk shoulder to shoulder with the companions of the Holy Prophet (sa), are you and they alike? If you are not like them, then you shall be called to account. Although this is an elementary state, but who knows when death shall arrive? Death is inevitable and every single individual must confront it. When this is the case, why do you not take heed? When a person has no relation to me, this is a different matter completely. However, when you have come to me and you have accepted my claim and believe in me as the Messiah, essentially you claim to be like the companions of the Holy Prophet (sa). Now did the companions ever exhibit reluctance in demonstrating faith and sincerity? Were they overcome by sloth? Were they hurtful? Did they not command control over their emotions? Were they not humble? Indeed, they were immensely humble. So pray to God that He enables you to be the same because no one can adopt a life of humility and modesty until Allah Almighty helps them in doing so. Delve into yourselves and if you find yourself weak in the likeness of a child, then do not worry. Like the companions, continue to pray:
اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ
Guide us in the right path.
Rise up during the nights and pray that God may guide you to His path. The companions of the Holy Prophet (sa) were also trained gradually. What was their
initial state? They could be likened to the seeds sown by a farmer. The Holy
Prophet (sa) then watered these seedlings.
He continuously prayed for them. The seed was healthy and the soil fertile, and
so this watering brought forth excellent fruits. Be it day or night, the companions emulated the Holy Prophet (sa). You ought to
wholeheartedly seek repentance, wake up for Tahajjud, pray, purify your heart,
forsake your weaknesses, and mould your words and actions according to the will
of God Almighty. Be certain that Allah the Exalted shall bless one who tirelessly
follows this advice, and actively prays and brings their plea before God. The heart
of such a person shall be transformed. Do not lose hope in God."³
2 - The Way of Seekers, page 112