While on retreat, the structured patterns and restrictive concepts of personality are given the opportunity to relax and renew within a sacred, protected environment so that individual awareness may expand beyond the limitations of everyday personal identity. This happens within the peaceful solitude of a private retreat room and with daily spiritual guidance meetings with an experienced retreat guide. Whenever possible, retreats are held in nature, so that the beauty and healing properties of a natural setting complement the retreat process. Diet is generally simple: vegetarian and non-dairy. Often, silence is maintained for the period of the retreat, with the exception of regular meetings with one's guide.The retreat process is considered an integral part of spiritual training and as a means of enabling personal transformation. Individual, small group, and large group retreats are available at a number of centers in North America, Europe and other parts of the world. Retreat guides at these centers have undergone extensive training in the retreat process before being certified as retreat guides in the Sufi Order.
The SoulThe human soul is continually seeking to realize its true being and to fulfill its purpose in life. This can be seen in each individual's yearning to realize the full potential inherent in his or her being, and also in the unfoldment of our collective being towards the highest expression of human existence. The consciousness of humanity is awakening to the interrelatedness of all life: this is reflected in the new holistic understanding of the universe which is emerging in all fields of human endeavor today. We see this trend in the growing concern for the ecological balance of our planet, interest in holistic health, a deeper social conscience concerned with the plight of suffering people all over the earth, and a growing awareness of the one underlying truth brought forth through all the religious traditions, namely that "All the worlds’ faiths are complementary and belong to a single stream of revelation". -Pir Zia, May 25, 2008 live webcast, paraphrase. At the same time, current scientific discoveries are disrupting established concepts and models of the universe. In physics, biology, medicine, and psychology, the very foundation of our notion about life is challenged to recognize the interdependence and ultimate connectedness of every cell with the whole universe.
This view corroborates the vision of mystics throughout history who have peered beyond the limitation of their individual, personal perspective to perceive the vast reality of the whole. This is the way of the Sufi, who views life in the light of the one essence behind the surface of life and revealed by all religions. Sufism was brought to the West from India by Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, who founded the Sufi Order in the West in 1910. Thus, the ancient wisdom derived from the rich spiritual traditions of the East was merged with the attitude of the Western tradition of logic and technology, uniting complementary aspects of humanity. Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, eldest son and successor of Hazrat Inayat Khan, continued this line of guidance for the evolving world. His teaching integrated different forms of spiritual and academic knowledge in the light of an awakened vision of the fulfillment of God's purpose for creation. In our time, the mystic recognizes a collective awakening: the total being that we are is experiencing a new step in the evolution of life on the planet.
An experienced teacher of Sufi meditation, Pir Zia Inayat-Khan is the designated successor of his father Pir Vilayat Khan. Since 2000 Pir Zia has been the head of the Sufi Order International, which was founded in 1910, by Hazrat Inayat Khan. Pir Zia holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Duke University.
Spiritual GuidesThe Esoteric School is the primary vehicle for personal training and spiritual development of initiates of the Sufi Order International. Individuals are asked to establish a relationship with a spiritual guide, who has been trained and approved by the Pir. Within the context of this relationship, the mureed is given a "prescription" of spiritual practices intended to facilitate the development of qualities, lying dormant beneath layers of personality and habitual thinking. The goal of the mureed is to discover a source of inner guidance leading to the realization and fulfillment of his or her unique purpose in life. Another powerful tool for transformation is the personal retreat, where the mureed spends an intensive period of time focusing on the transformational process to the exclusion of any ordinary external stimulus. An individual retreat may take a day or two, or last as long as forty days. Retreat guides are certified by the Sufi Order after a period of intensive training and practice.
The Sufi Order International is not a "guru-centered" school; no one is considered infallible, and guides are discouraged from giving mureeds advice about their lives. Instead, we focus on methods of developing the capacity to discern and listen to inner guidance, or the mureed's own insight, to deal with his or her problems. Guides are held accountable to a high standard of published, ethical guidelines. Spiritual practices and support are offered directly from the teachings of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, or Pir Zia Inayat Khan.
As inheritors of a a centuries-old tradition of spiritual transformation, we have found personal spiritual retreat to be the most effective way of accelerating this transformation and of integrating the spiritual insights thus-disclosed into daily life.