Ibn al-‘Arabi writes: “Know, o true listener, that the people of God, when the Real One draws them towards Himself…, He places in their hearts something calling them to seek their happiness. So they seek after that and inquire about it until they find in their hearts a certain tenderness and humility and striving for peace and release from the state of ordinary people with their mutual envy, greed, hostility and opposition.
Then when they have completed the perfection of their moral qualities or have nearly done so, they find in their nafs something calling them to solitary retreat and withdrawal from ordinary people. So some take to wandering and frequenting the mountains and plains, while others do their wandering between the towns and cities – moving from one another as soon as they’ve come to know and get used to the people of a particular place -, while still others isolate themselves in their own homes, staying there alone and cut off from people. All of that is so that they can be alone and at ease with the Real One Who has called them to Him – not in order to find any particular being or miraculous event, whether sensible or in their innermost selves”.
(It turns out that Ibn al-Arabi’s stress here on the nafs (in the sense of the often distracting or deceiving “basharic soul”), rather than the qalb (the locus of truly divine inspiration and perception), is quite important, since this impulse to wandering or retreat turns out at best only a momentarily necessary stage in the process of each person’s spiritual growth).
Ibn al-‘Arabi continues: “Thus all of those we have mentioned continue like that until they are suddenly illuminated by something from God that comes between them and their nafs, which for some of them occurs in their nafs; for others in their imagination (note: this may include dreams, visions, intuitions and any other form of spiritual perception not conveyed in an outwardly material form); and for others from outside themselves. Then they are suddenly filled with longing from that occurrence and immediately seek the company of creatures… Now there comes to them through that occurrence (warid) a (divine) ‘addressing’ and informing them of their state or of what God is calling them to (as with… and now the shaykh tells stories including the one of Ibrahim ibn Adham who, when a prince, goes out hunting and then encounters a deer who tells him: “You weren’t created for this!”)”