The First step for a seeker to take is to witness, pure and simple. It is to be watchful, to be aware, to allow that which is higher in you to enable you to witness what goes on within you. In the state of watchfulness, at the beginning, there is usually a storm of thoughts. With guidance and perseverance, these bubbles of thoughts surface and vanish. This is the stage of emptying out. It is the cleaning of the mind-processor so that no psychological or emotional memories remain to contaminate the mind-computer.
Then begins the process of sweetening. In order to achieve the ability to connect with the inner central core of one’s self at any time and in any place, one needs to be sweetened. It is a process of displacement. It is like a bucket of muddy water which becomes purified by placing it under a running tap of sweet, clean water, until all the mud in the water has been displaced and the water in the bucket purified. The speed at which the tap flows depends on the size and capacity of the bucket. This is where a teacher is required for help. If the seeker is ready. the teacher simply pushes him into the ocean of awakening, which is what happened with Shaykh Abu’l Hasan ash-Shadhili. When he reached his teacher, after having already mastered all the outer knowledges of Islam, he was simply asked to renew his ritual purification through washing. His spiritual master, Shaykh Abd as-Salam ibn Mashish, told him to descend the mountain and renew his ritual purification through washing and then to return, When Shaykh ash-Shadhili returned, it only took one look from his spiritual master for him to understand the meaning of all that had gone on before and after and the purpose of the meeting between the two of them. The seeker recognized the teacher and the teacher recognized the seeker instantaneously. However, there are those seekers who need continuous sweetening, encouragement and guidance before inward purification can occur.
So sweetening is a process which is followed by purification. In actual life these three processes – emptying out, sweetening and purification – are carried out and take place simultaneously. They are three dimensions of the same process as they reinforce each other, leading toward the desired end result. They all go hand in hand.
By Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri from the book “The Thoughtful Guide to Sufism”