40 Day Retreat In A Sufi Manner


There are many things in the universe that are true without one acknowledging it consciously. One has a physical body and that is certain, but the senses do not provide accurate feedback.  Actions have consequences and that is true too. Thoughts, on the other hand, have the most impact on one’s life. True physical actions are counted in the physical world but these actions derived from a source. That source is one’s thoughts and thoughts are created by impressions. Because the mind is like a mirror, it mirrors everything it comes across. And it continuously does that with everything one sees, touches, tastes, meets, feels, smells, hears etc. On top of that, these impressions are not received neutrally as they really are but rather distorted through  ones collective experiences, memories, ideas and environment. And that’s why the senses are inaccurate.

In Sufism, one thing that is absolutely true is the Soul (some call it Spirit). The Soul qualities never changes because it’s a creative unique branch that comes from The Divine. Therefore the Soul is also a mini source. It never demolishes till The Divine wills it to. The Soul is the most powerful thing ever created. The Soul quality is “WILL”.  This is a very important concept to remember. Every time, you use your willpower, you are allowing your Soul to communicate. That’s why, as a seeker on a Sufi path “a forty day retreat” is recommended. Practicing mainly two methods, The first one is called ” Remembrance” and the second is called Observation “witnessing”. These methods are used generally in daily life practices but especially in the forty day retreat.


Humans are created to forget. Forgetting is a quality of the body. Forgetting helps you live life daily and experience things new. Without forgetting we would be overwhelmed by how much we know and how much we have been through. And because we forget, we tend to forget who we are and where we come from, what we are capable of and what we want and need. Remembrance is a cure for the restless mind. It’s the perfect medicine to slow down and redirect our attention. This method has been used by different people,  groups and spiritual meditators. It is an ability we have that tends to be undisciplined. As we know, that the mind wanders and mirrors everything around it. One of the great Sufi masters Hazrat Inayat Khan gives a metaphor of remembrance and the mind. He mentions that it’s like tying up your dog with a leash. Remembrance can be a form of praising the Divine, it can also be a name, a word or a phrase. The aim of remembrance is to remember the Divine inside the self, to invoke its presence in ones heart and life. To always remember that the Divine is with one. Therefore, every action one takes is considered and thought through. This practice ignites the heart with a lot of compassion and unconditional love. One might feel simple joy, just by doing this alone. It is like lighting a candle with a flame that can never be extinguished.

There’s a formula one may follow to use this method. The words are combined with breath extension. These are the most known remembrance phrases among the Sufis in Arabic with a literal English translation:

La elaha ella allah – There is no God but God

Astaghfiru allah – I seek forgiveness from God

Subhan allah – Glory be to God

Alhamdu lillah  – Praise be to God

allahumma salli wa sallim ala nabiyyina muhammad – May God’s prayer and peace be with the prophet Mohammad

Allahu akbar – God is most great

One chooses one of these sacred phrases and repeats it over and over for a certain amount of numbers. A common number in Sufism is the number 33, 77 and 1000. Repeating the remembrance phrase 33 times then starting with another one for 77 times.. etc. I repeat “La ellaha ella alla” so many times until I sleep, it puts me in a calm and a stillness filled state. Counting is also as important as remembering. Counting helps the mind relax, it gives it a purpose. There are a couple of ways to count. One can use the fingers on the hand or a rosemary.

remembrance method

Observation “Witnessing”:

With Remembrance, there will be a lot of prayers, callings, reading from a holy book and repenting. Giving gratitude and forgiveness to those who have done harm or joy to one. Releasing all resentment, grudges and anger to the Divine. Giving all that makes one heavy in the heart to Source. On the other hand, observation comes as a result of Remembrance. It takes time for one to realize what observation is really about. It is like cause and effect. Remembrance is the cause and observation is the effect. The moment your heart and Soul is full of the Divine’s name, one starts witnessing manifestation in the physical world. One is only allowed to witness that. It happens specifically for the one who observes. There are two sides of observation. First side is external and second is internal. As a result, there’s a mutual relationship between these two sides. It is like a rope which can be pulled from both sides. Observing externally means observing ones actions and the thoughts that led to them. In addition, observing the mere fact that the Divine is watching all the time. Based on that knowledge, one doesn’t take any harmful, sinful, meaningless or abusing actions. For the reason that, the Divine is watching. And one wants absolute acceptance from the Divine as an eternal guide. No decision will be taken unless consulted with the Divine. Even small and unimportant tasks will be explained to the Divine. Observing internally is receiving the answer from the Divine on what one asked. The answer manifests with grace in ones life. The answer can come in many forms. One form can be visual, like seeing something unusual. Another form can be hearing something in the dim of silence. Other forms manifests as numbers or shapes and many more. This is a delicate matter where one is able to differentiate between real and unreal, between reality and illusion. Seeing these signs is concrete reality even if it seems like some watery day-dreaming images. It is called witnessing because one is chosen to witness something unusual and divine. The same thing can also be usual. The godly answer can be quite normal as well. In this case, it is the atmosphere that surrounds it that creates the unusual. One will know certainly, why is it happening and what is it communicating. This communication comes from a place beyond the physical senses. It involves willpower. Observing the self and its manners is absolutely mind-illuminating. Self-discipline is another word for observation. It allows one to penetrate through the different layers that surround the Soul. It uncovers the essence of being. All the remembrance and observation gives the Soul an opportunity to shine and translate the unknown language of the universe. Cleansing oneself from emotional, physical and mental addictions, finally, gives one a prospective. No drinks or different food types are allowed. No listening to music or provocative sounds. No mental and emotional expectations from one and others. Full freedom from the physical, mental and emotional world.

Overall, This practice is not for everyone. It takes courage and determination to go through. It takes strong willpower and intention. The sufis have promised an unknown self knowledge acquired at the end of the forty days. It is suffering through pleasure and pleasure through suffering. This is only for the ones who would like to dive deep into the universe. It is a journey full of polarities. Many spiritual masters started with forty days and advanced later to five years of retreat “khalwa”. It is how the holy men and women got in contact with grace and were given blessings and guidance. Self-discipline is challenging for the same reason that life is challenging. One is life and life is one. One takes on a lot of challenges everyday, but never does it intentionally for a higher purpose. Experiencing the same everyday, one runs in circles and arrives at no destination, just tasting the same bitter sweet cup of life. Whereas, the full cup is reserved for the ones with stronger intention and Will.

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