A new moon teaches gradualness
and deliberation, and how one gives birth
to oneself slowly. Patience with small details
makes perfect a large work, like the universe.
What nine months of attention does for an embryo
forty early mornings alone will do
for your gradually growing wholeness.
~ Rumi, Forty Early Mornings Alone
Don’t surrender your loneliness
Let it cut more deep.
Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My need of God
~ Don’t surrender your loneliness by Shams al-Din Hafiz
Khalwa or Spiritual Solitude is an intimate experience that happens between a soul and its Creator Source. In Islam the archetypal khalwa remains to be that of the Last Prophet's series of solitary retreats in the mountain cave outside of Mecca out of which came his powerful experience of Divine Revelations. That experience itself remains shrouded in mystery and very little is actually transmitted about that experience itself.
Sufi seekers when they reach a certain stage of maturity or aspire to walk further, his or her spiritual guide who is a physician of the heart and soul, may prescribe khalwa or special sufi retreat for him or her. Such retreats are rarely documented even though through the heart knowledge this tradition is transmitted from one generation to the next. In the genre of Sufi literature I have come across two books which are exclusively written around the author's experience on Khalwa or Sufi Retreat / Seclusion. Here are two books are presented:
Fifty Days: the Divine Disclosures During a Holy Sufi Seclusion
by Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, Forwarded by Shaykh Muhammad Nazim Haqqani
The writings in this book emerged from the heart of Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani after spending fifty days in a seclusion prescribed by his guiding master in the Sufi Path, Shaykh Muhammad Nazim al-Haqqani. During the course of his time, isolated in a small room in Damascus, Shaykh Hisham underwent incredible experiences, which he then shared in talks given to his students after the pre-dawn prayers each morning in Ramadan, 2005. In assigning the duty of seclusion to Shaykh Hisham, his master, Shaykh Nazim al-Haqqani said: "The people have reached their limits of carrying hardship from the overwhelming extent of oppression and darkness. The intensity of the hardship required in order to invoke God to bring about the appearance of the expected Savior has just been reached. "Therefore, every night in the last third before dawn, Shaykh Hisham will be in the station of intimate discourse with his Lord. After completing the special recitations and praise on the Prophet, he has been assigned and with which he will be busy 24 hours, every night, at the most favorable time for the Lord's acceptance of supplication, Shaykh Hisham should request the Lord to send a Saviour-King to mankind, a king who is seeking God's Way.
His supplication in this manner and in this state will be so effective, it will be like 124,000 saints engaged in supplication for forty days without cease. "They are asking the Lord of servants to send them a king. That is why we are sending Shaykh Hisham Effendi, whom we know very well. Other saints we do not know. "For this purpose he must not enter into any other activity. He must be present, spiritually with the Prophet and ask, "Oh Prophet of Mercy! Ask your Lord to send us a Saviour-King on the Way of the Lord." And we are looking to see the results. He must ask this only; it is the summary and distillation of the forty days seclusion and its ultimate purpose is consultation with the Prophet, upon whom be peace and blessings."
Forty Days: The Diary of a Traditional Solitary Sufi Retreat
by Michaela M Ozelsel
This is a woman's firsthand account of a Sufi halvet, a forty-day retreat conducted in complete isolation, along with strict fasting from sunrise to sundown. Voluntarily confined to a sparsely furnished room amid the bustle of Istanbul, Michaela Özelsel will occupy her time with reading the Qur'an and works of Rumi and Ibn 'Arabi, and with praying and practicing the powerful Sufi exercise known as zhikr, the rhythmic repetition of names of God or other sacred formulas, accompanied by movements of the head or body. In intimate detail Dr. Özelsel shares her experiences as she strives to attain true "Islam" in its meaning of surrender or unconditional acceptance of the will of God. Her daily journal ranges over the frustrations of noisy neighbors, power outages, and a poorly heated room; her inner longings, doubts, and memories of the life course that has brought her to this moment; and the most inspirational philosophical insights, dreams and visions, and ecstatic raptures.
The second half of the book is devoted to the author's psychological and cultural commentary on her experiences, including observations about the methods of Sufi schooling, sexuality and spirituality, and the relationship with the spiritual guide. Forty Days is unique in the literature of spiritual education because it is informed by her knowledge of contemporary research from several disciplines, thus creating a bridge between ancient wisdom and scientific investigation.
Other these two books mentioned above there are two other books which are also written around the subject of retreat.
Visionaries of Silence: The Reformist Sufi Order of the Demirdashiya al-Khalwatiya in Cairo
by Earle H. Waugh
Founded in the sixteenth century, the Demirdashiya Sufi order in Cairo has played an influential role in Egypt's public life, and through a line of family sheikhs has channeled the impulses of its Sufi origins into different types of reform. Practicing a visionary form of piety, the Demirdashiya - once legendary for its wealth and secrecy - continues to influence a small but important segment of contemporary Cairo's inhabitants. In this fascinating study, scholar Earle S. Waugh highlights the Demirdashiya's sophisticated and complex relationship with both politics and Islamic culture.
As part of his research, Waugh attended the order's liturgies - the dhikrs (remembrance) and khalwa (retreat) - normally closed to outsiders. During an annual khalwa, the adept silently meditates for three days in his own cell. More than giving up human discourse, the mandated silence is a re-ordering of sensitivities to the divine, and a path to insight into the many ways that God conveys Himself to humans.
Examining the role of the Demirdashiya in Egypt's history as well as its visionary piety, Visionaries of Silence explores the dialectic between reform and vision in a stable Sufi order. It also probes how these competing ideals were incorporated into the physical world of the zawiya, mosque, and living quarters, and the extension of its influence in Europe through its most famous daughter, Qut al-Qulub, noted visionary author and mother of the order's current sheikh.
Dawn in Medina
by Muzaffar Iqbal
Dawn in Madinah: A Pilgrim's Passage is a vivid account of a month long retreat in the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah. The luminous details of this sojourn in Islam's second-most sacred mosque are superimposed upon the historical events that shaped the life of the early Muslim community during its formative period. Numerous episodes from the life of the Prophet form an ever-present backdrop to its narrative which moves across time to weave together the desires, hopes, fears, and spiritual struggles of so many pilgrims present during the month of Ramadan in the Mosque, fourteen hundred and eighteen years after it was built by Prophet Muhammad and his Companions soon after their arrival in Madinah. This juxtaposition of contemporary lives with those lived fourteen centuries ago creates a tapestry in which one can find common threads of a journey toward God.