A wise man was passing through a village and he and a youth started talking and sat together on the edge of a stream. The wise man told him of a tradition in the village of his own youth. He said that they had a ceremony once a month that began with the beating on a drum. This was a signal to the village dwellers to just stop and listen. Then, according to tradition, each one would go find a spot in the nearby fields where he or she could sit alone and ponder. The beating of the drum would still be echoing in their ears but as that noise subsided, they would listen to their thoughts in order to better know themselves, to acknowledge their shortcomings and repent for their sins, to hear the wisdom of their higher self, to find the guidance of God in the mystic quietude of sincerely seeking greater self-knowledge. At the end of the day, the villagers would gather and each would share some insight or deeper understanding they had acquired.
The wise man told the youth the single most important thing he had learned in doing that traditional exercise was the obvious one, the open secret: that most people go through life doing things without thinking deeply, often repeating the same mistakes over and over again, whether in their own habits of living or in their relationships, creating a story in their mind that explains or justifies their glorying in their supposed virtues and accomplishments or a story that explains or justifies or perpetuates dwelling on their sorrows or resentments or fears. He said that their manner of living is like the habit of beating on a drum or listening to a drum beat but never listening to the silence between the percussive tones or after they stopped. Most people, the wise man said, never retreated to a place of solitude to enter the silence and seek inner knowledge.
The wise man told the youth to pay attention to little things, to stay awake and not sleepwalk through life, to always insist on seeing reality for what it is rather than what the ego demands it to be. The wise man concluded by telling the youth to never let the busyness of the world distract him from the inner sanctum of the heart where he can reach out to God and draw closer to Him.
In a hadith qudsi, the Prophet (pbuh) tells us that Allah says, “I am with him [the one who recognizes and serves God] when he makes mention of me. If he makes mention of Me to himself, I make mention of him to Myself; and if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I make mention of him in an assembly better than it. And if he draws near to Me an arm’s length, I draw near to him a cubit, and if he draws near to Me a cubit, I draw near to him a fathom. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed.”