What is a Station?
When we walk the Sufi path in order to reach a state of proximity with Allah, there are waystations we encounter along the way. These waystations, which we call stations, are the same for everyone, though they may not each have the same significance for each individual. While the stations are presented in a linear fashion, the traveler does not always finish transforming them in the order listed, because spiritual evolution is not always linear.
Each station of the way has its own theme, gifts, and obstacles to overcome. With each station Sidi gives us clear definitions, highlights the main challenges, and offers a prescription in the form of a Divine Quality or a phrase to work with, as well as other guidance to help the traveler move forward.
What Station am I in?
The majority of new students are living primarily in the first station of the nafs, also known as The Commanding Nafs, or nafs al-amarra. Sidi explains all the stations in three of his books; Music of the Soul, The Path to Allah, Most High, and He who Knows Himself Knows His Lord.
Two Ways to Consider the Stations
In Music of the Soul Sidi teaches us about the 4 worlds within existence: the world of the nafs (the lower ego), the world of the heart, the world of the soul, and the world of the secret (divine existence). Each world has 7 stations, and the traveler has to perfect all of them in order to perfect his or her relationship with Allah, Most High. Music of the Soul is a transmission from Sidi’s spirit.
In the books The Path to Allah, Most High and He Who Knows Himself Knows His Lord the stations are laid out differently. The 4 worlds are not differentiated and the seeker is given seven stations to perfect. This is a more traditional Sufi way of explaining the stations. Each of the books covers the same stations from start to finish, they are just broken up differently. For many years, Sidi guided new students to begin by reading and writing the stations in Music of the Soul. In his final years, Sidi changed this recommendation to the stations in He Who Knows Himself Knows His Lord. Though all three of these books cover the stations in their own way, each book also has many other chapters devoted to completely different topics. Each is full of writings not found in any of Sidi’s other books.
The Stations As A Model for Spiritual Evolution
As Sidi walks you through the stations, know that you are embarking on an evolutionary path–a path that starts exactly where you are now and directs you toward complete unity with the Divine. Where you are now may be filled with fear, hurt, anxiety, loneliness, despair, anger, and confusion. Your final destination is a place of deep peace, intense love, and the annihilation of the small, limited self into the vast, limitless unity of the Divine.
As you note the differences between these two poles, you get a sense of the gradual continuation from where you are to where you are headed. You get a sense of what will need to fall away and what will need to be cultivated. The “stations” that Sidi walks us through in his books are along that continuum. Each step through the stations begins with humility and ends with gratitude.
Humility, Honesty, and Self-Acceptance
Your Heart remembers what your mind cannot yet imagine. An arrogant mind will lead the heart astray. A humble mind will bow and allow the heart to guide you back to the Truth. Arrogance in all its subtle forms will block your walking. Humility is the key ingredient to surrender.
Honesty is also critical for the walking. Honesty in the sense of acknowledging the truth of where we are now. Honesty towards Allah and not hiding anything or pretending to be what you are not. You must be honest with yourself, acknowledging and accepting your current station, before you begin the work of walking towards the next station. Acceptance is a necessary and often overlooked component. Many get stuck holding on to an idea of how a spiritual seeker should be inside and out, and they resist fully surrendering to what is. Movement out of stuckness begins with passing over the threshold of acceptance. This honesty and self-acceptance requires humility, so be humble.
As you walk, keep in mind the necessity of transformation. Know that in order to reach your intended goal, everything will need to pass through the sifter of the Truth and be purified. Allow everything you think you are seeing, hearing, and sensing to be open for transformation. Don’t hold on to anything. As Sidi said, “Be like the corpse in the hands of the washer,” or, “Be like soft clay between the hands of Allah.”
Walking the stations of the way is to allow yourself to be gently pulled apart, washed clean, and reassembled in a holy way. All of this requires humility, honesty, and sincerity. As you walk, some of the teachings will flow in easily and will be met with eager excitement, while other teachings may trigger you and incite balking refusal. Be grateful for the teachings that come with welcome ease and treat the triggers like gold, because they hold the key to the door that has closed you off from Divine proximity and real healing.
States and Stations
Know that there is a difference between your state and your station. Your state is constantly changing, moment by moment. Your state can last a few moments or a few days. Your state is highly volatile and reacts to outer and inner stimuli.
There are fundamentally four kinds of states that you will find yourself in: obedience, rebellion, blessing, or being tried with affliction. Know that it is only Allah Who shifts our state from one to the next. Your response to each shift in state is the intimate dance of your spiritual journey. Never forget Who is leading this dance and be aware of how you exercise your free will. Allow yourself to be led through the dance of each state and move as He is intending you to move.
On the inner realms of your existence the only reality is this intimate dance the Beloved is leading us through. The outer experience of life is the backdrop or grand ballroom for the inner. Stay with the dance, keep your eye on the Beloved. Don’t resist as He moves you from one state to the next. Stay with the dance. Try not to step off of the dance floor when the Dancer is leading you through a step you do not like. Stay present and keep surrendering into this eternal dance with your Beloved. Through this intimate dance, the Beloved helps us to know Him, heal, and shed all acquired negativity to be replaces by His holy qualities.
Humility is about letting go, honesty is about accepting and owning where you are now, and sincerity is about your willingness to travel and be transformed as you allow yourself to be drawn closer towards the Divine. In order to walk, you need to follow your guide and do the practices as he has taught us. The practices of writing his books (especially the stations), performing salāh (prayer), reciting the after-prayer practices, doing remembrance, reciting al-Wird, making dhkir, reciting the Wadhifa, reciting sura Ya Seen(chapter 36 of the Qur’an), making tawba (repentance), fasting, and other practices are the means by which the student travels through the stations of the way.
Do not be concerned with your “station.” That will shift slowly over time as a result of your graceful tending to your moment to moment state. Gently polish the mirror of your heart and it will reflect more of the truth of who you really are. Trust Allah and let go of your self management. Only He moves you from station to station. Your job is to be polite and responsive to each state as it rises and falls away, knowing that each state has the potential to either draw you closer to the Beloved or closer to the darkness. You take care of each tree and rock along your path and He will move you from forest to forest.