An excerpt from the book by Ruslan ZhukovetsThe Fire of Aspiration. The Book on Sufi Work

Disregarding the practice of contemplation makes it nearly impossible for one to come to know the self and God.

Contemplation gives us a unique opportunity for cognition, which cannot be acquired through any other practice used on the spiritual Path.

Any person who is persistent in self-awareness and self-exploration, sooner or later finds himself practicing contemplation, even though he may not know at the time that this particular activity is contemplation and not just self-observation.

For example, you went inward, began bringing to awareness and expressing repressed emotions, and noticed at some point that your mind became flooded with pictures of memories that you could barely recall. These pictures usually fly by quickly, making it difficult to keep up with and focus on them and perform the exercise synchronically. Ignoring these pictures would be unwise though because they are the answer to your attempt to set free repressed energies. They are tied to emotions and feelings associated with these energies and seeking to be released as well. Therefore, you should come back to and work with the memories separately later on. You would want to sit down and bring up one of those pictures that were revealed to you in the practice of expression. How can you understand what it holds? You need to unfold it, that is, enter the memory associated with it. You basically allow the memory to surface and then unfold itself, observing it with the intention to see the whole picture. Intention plays an important role in contemplation, because it sets the direction and power of attention, and gets the mind ready to hold it for as long as it takes. Keeping attention to the object under study is an important element in the practice of contemplation.

If you manage to hold the memory in the field of your attention for a certain period of time, this completes the first step of contemplation. The second step is to link the memory to your sensations. You are looking at an event that took place in the past, and what are you sensing now? Connecting the object of contemplation with the sensations that emerge is the main key to practicing contemplation when it comes to working on your problems. It is not enough simply to be looking at the memory — you must be aware of the sensations arising as you do the looking. Sensations are your key to understanding the problem at hand, to getting to know the truth of what really happened to you back then, and not what you had been thinking of yourself at that moment in the past. Say, you enter a memory and feel nothing but tension. The tension may be subtle, but if you keep looking at it, it will open up and you will see the feeling that got repressed in that long-gone situation. This way, firstly, the reasons for your actions in the past will start making sense and so will the effect they make on your daily life. Secondly, you will have the possibility to dissipate repressed energies either solely via the power of your awareness or by applying the practice of expression. Your mind will become less tense as it will no longer have to keep the repressed emotions under control, and your inner space will become less occupied.

The practice of contemplation allows us to use the light of Consciousness to come to know the truth about a particular situation or object. The approach is the same — you keep the picture in the field of your attention and monitor your sensations. For example, you feel discontent after talking with an acquaintance of yours. During communication, you failed to track down the root cause of this discontent and now, in order to understand what it was that hurt your feelings, you need to sit down and take a calm look at the situation. Begin with the sense of discontent: bring attention to it first, then bring the situation of communication into the field of your attention. The feeling of discontent that you are observing will lead you to the moment that you missed, and you will see what exactly you failed to express fully, what you repressed during the communication, and what it was that stung you to the quick. The true cause of distress will reveal itself in all its beauty or ugliness, and that’s the moment when it can be eliminated.

Contemplation has the same nature as awareness, the only difference is that in awareness practice, you observe processes at the moment i.e., a chain of thoughts, emotions, and any changes in your state, whereas, in contemplation, you observe a single situation, feeling, or external object. In awareness and contemplation alike, vision and cognition are carried out by Consciousness. Yet, awareness gives us knowledge of our reactions and body states, whereas contemplation is aimed specifically at discovering the truth that eludes our attention and goes unnoticed. The contemplation practice helps us discover things that stayed hidden from our self-awareness in the flow of daily activities.

Consciousness has the power of seeing, which in most people is put out due to identification with the mind. The mind hijacks the power of Consciousness to strengthen its illusions, therefore the interpretation of what is happening is usually defined by the gravity of one’s conditioning and the constricted vision that it fixes on human perception. In a correctly performed contemplation exercise, the entire power of Consciousness is directed onto the object of interest; then the truth associated with it becomes fully revealed.

Suppose you face a problem that has no evident reasonable resolution. You sit down, bring the difficult situation in front of your mind’s eye, and begin looking at it with the intention to figure out what to do. Make sure to observe any sensations that may emerge. You must not think, you must look, although the mind may occasionally translate into words things that become uncovered. The skill of excluding the mind from observation comes with practicing awareness, and the more progress you make with awareness the more effective the contemplation becomes. So, you are looking at the problem, consistently processing all of its aspects through awareness, along with how you feel about them. After a while, two things will become available to you: possible solutions that you would never have thought of due to constricted vision in your mind, and solutions that may be acceptable and, perhaps, the only right ones under given circumstances. In addition, you will become aware of the reasons which made this situation a problem for you, as well as desires or fears that do not let you stay calm.

The sages of ancient times applied contemplation for learning things and the laws of the physical world, but these days, such an approach to learning doesn’t make sense anymore. However, contemplation allows us to recognize metaphysical reality, its laws, and the manifestation thereof in the human realm of being. Contemplating the names of God while performing dhikr enhances the effect of this technique and deepens our understanding of His Reality. Subjecting the aspects of Truth to contemplation facilitates one’s progress along certain stages of the Path. The contemplation of the Highest Reality unfolds the ability of its perception and prepares one for expeditious transformation. The approach stays the same — you are looking at some Truth, which has not yet become your personal experience, making sure your sensations stay in the scope of your attention. This way, not only is the Truth recognized by your Consciousness but casts light on your individual reality as well. Remember that perception of Consciousness is direct knowledge, which is sensed first and only then translated into words by the mind. Sometimes knowledge comes in the form of insight, as a feeling-and-knowledge, two-in-one. Yet, the verbalization thereof is carried out by the mind only.

The effect of contemplation is defined by the overall level of self-awareness. The more energy of Consciousness is present in your life, the finer things will be revealed to you in contemplation and the more complex issues will you be able to assess. The skill of dividing attention in self-awareness and the skill of holding the object in the field of attention while contemplating — once mastered, both become at your disposal indefinitely. By cultivating awareness, you simultaneously cultivate the ability for contemplation. Having mastered the skill of contemplation, not only will you come to know yourself but also significantly shorten your path to knowing the Truth of God, which is essentially the goal of each true seeker, as uncovering and experiencing this Truth is the only thing that turns a seeker into a mystic.