There is no form of remembrance which does not have a result specifically associated with it; and any form practiced will bestow upon you whatever particular power it has. Invoking with receptivity and vigilance leads to illumination, but only in accordance with the invocation.
The Imam al-Ghazali has said
'Invocation is an inner reality in which the Invoked takes possession of the heart while the invoker is effaced and vanishes. But it has three coverings, one closer to the kernel than the others. The kernel as such is beyond the three coverings, yet the virtue of the coverings lies in their being the way to the kernel.'
The uppermost covering is remembrance with the tongue only. The invoker unceasingly invokes with his tongue, striving for the presence of the heart simultaneously, since the heart must consent to be present in the invocation. If it were left to its own nature, it would certainly wander through the valleys of thought until it joined the tongue; and then the light of the heart would burn away passions and evil spirits. Its own invocation would take hold that of the tongue would become weaker; the body and soul would become filled with light; and the heart would be purified of other-than-God. At this stage temptations cease and there is no abode for the devil. The heart becomes a receptacle for inspirations and a polished mirror able to reflect divine revelations and Gnostic perceptions. When remembrance permeates the heart and diffuses throughout the body, then every member of the body invokes God commensurate with its spiritual state.
Al-Jurayri said, ‘One of our friends used to say ‘Allah, Allah’ frequently. One day a tree trunk fell on his head and fractured his skull. The blood spilled on the ground spelling 'Allah, Allah'.’
Remembrance is like a fire that neither stays nor spreads. When it enters a house, it says, ‘It is I; there is no one else but Me,’ which is one of the meanings, of ‘There is no divinity but God’. If it finds kindling inside, it consumes it and becomes fire. If it finds darkness therein, it becomes light, thus illuminating the house. If there is already a light in the house, then it becomes ‘light upon light’ (24:35).
Likewise with the body: invoking removes from it impure substances which are due to intemperance in eating or result from consuming forbidden foods. As for what is obtained from lawful food, it does not affect it. When the injurious parts are burned away and the sound parts remain, every part will be heard invoking as if the trumpet had been blown (as on the Day of Judgment).
At first, remembrance occurs in the area of the head, so it is here that you will experience the sound of cymbals and horns. Invoking is powerful: when it descends into a place, it does so with its horns and cymbals, because the invocation is against everything except the Truth. When it settles in some place, it actively seeks to expel its opposite, as we find in the combination of water and fire. After these sounds, you hear various others, such as the rippling of water, the wind blowing, fire blazing, the sound of the windmill, horses galloping, and leaves rustling in the wind.
The reason for this is due to the fact that man is composed of every substance, both noble and base, from soil and water, fire and air, and heaven and earth; these sounds are between these pairs. Every element and basic nature belongs to these substances. Whosoever has heard something of these sounds glorifies God and declares Him holy with his whole tongue. That is the result of invoking with the tongue with the force of total absorption. Perhaps the servant will reach the stage where, if he should stop invoking orally, his heart will stir in his breast seeking remembrance, like the movements of an unborn child in the womb of his mother.
Some have said that the heart is like Jesus, son of Mary (may God grant him peace) and the remembrance his breast milk. When the heart grows and becomes strong, there arises in it a longing for the Truth as well as sighs and compulsive pangs of yearning for the invocation and the Invoked. The invocation of the heart is similar to the buzzing of a bee, neither a loud, disturbing sound, nor hidden and mysterious. When the Invoked takes possession of the heart and the invocation is effaced and disappears, the invoker should not pay attention to the remembrance or to the heart. If he should do so, then they would become a distracting veil.
This is self-extinction: that a man be extinguished from himself. Therefore, he does not feel anything in his limbs or anything exterior to himself not any inner phenomena. Rather he is oblivious to all that, and all that vanishes from him ad he goes first to his Lord, then comes back again to himself. Should it occur to the invoker during that time that he is completely extinguished from himself, then that would be a flaw and opaqueness. For perfection is to be effaced from oneself and from the state of extinction. Hence, extinction is the beginning of the path: it is traveling to God Most High. Guidance comes afterwards. What I mean by guidance is the guidance of God, as described by the Friend of God, Abraham (may God grant him peace): ‘Lo! I am going unto my Lord Who will guide me’ (37:99).
This total absorption rarely remains or lasts. If the invoker perseveres, it will become a deeply-rooted habit and a permanent state by which he may ascend to the highest domains. In this state of absorption, he may look upon pure, real Being and be imprinted with the nature of the invisible Realm (al-Malakut) and have the holiness of the Divinity (al-Lahut) revealed to him. The first thing that is manifested to the invoker in that domain is the essence of the angels and the spirits of the Prophets and saints, and this, in beautiful forms through which certain realities overflow upon him, That is the beginning, until his degree of realization is higher that the prototypal forms and he encounters the self-evidence of the Truth in everything.
This is the fruit of the essence of invoking. Its beginning is only with the tongue; then comes invocation with the heart with effort; then comes invocation with the heart naturally; then comes possession of the heart by the Invoked and the effacement of the invoker. This is the secret of the hadith of the Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) ‘Whosoever wishes to feast in the gardens of Paradise, then let him remember God frequently’ (Tirmidhi, 45:87) as well as the hadith: ‘Hidden remembrance is seventy-fold better than the remembrance which the guardian angels hear,’
The sign of the invocation’s reaching the innermost Self is the absence of the invoker from both the invocation and the Invoked. The invocation of the Self (dhikru’s-sirr) is ecstasy and drowning in it. Amongst the signs is that when you quit the invocation, it does not quit you. That is the exaltation of the invocation in you that rouses you from absence of mind to presence of mind. Another of its signs is the feeling that your head and limbs are bound as if you were shackled with chains. Still another sign is that its fires never abate nor do its spiritual lights disappear. Rather, you will always see lights ascending ad others descending, while the fires are around you, pure, blazing and burning. When the invocation reaches the innermost centre of consciousness at the moment the invoker becomes silent, the invocation becomes like a needle piercing his tongue or as if his whole face were a tongue invoking through a profuse light.
Subtle point: Know that every remembrance that your heart is conscious of is heard by the guardian angels. Their awareness unites with your awareness. Herein lies a mystery: when your invocation is absent from your consciousness by your total absorption in the Invoked, your remembrance is also absent from the consciousness of the guardian angels.
Note: Invoking the letters of God’s Name without presence of mind is invocation of the tongue; invoking with presence of mind is invocation of the heart; and invoking with an absence of self-awareness because of absorption in the Invoked is the invocation of the Self – this is the hidden invocation!
-Imam Ibn 'Ata'illah al-Iskandari, The Key to Salvation (Miftah al-Falah)