The visionary mystic Ibn al-’Arabi, Muhyi ad-Din (1165–1240), born in Murcia, Spain, is considered the greatest Sufi theorist and expounder of metaphysical doctrine. He studied at Seville and Ceuta, and, after visiting Mecca and Baghdad, he settled in Damascus.
Ibn al-’Arabi provided a remarkable theory of imaginative cognition and claimed to have considerable visionary experiences and a remarkably lucid imagination. He stated that “this power of the active imagination developed in me visually in a bodily, objective, extra-mental figure just as the angel Gabriel appeared bodily to the eyes of the Prophet.” This apparition left him in an astonished state for many days, to such a degree that he could not even take nourishment. He continued to contemplate the figure for a long time without tasting a bit of food, experiencing neither hunger nor thirst.
This visionary event was the source of Ibn al-’Arabi’s work The Spiritual Conquests of Mecca, which was the product of a long spiritual maturation. During a visit to the Black Stone in Mecca, he met the figure that had appeared to him in his vision, which he recognized and described as a young man who was neither living nor dead. He suddenly perceived the temple as a living being and asked his visitor to accept him as his disciple and to teach him all of his secrets. He was so overwhelmed that he lost consciousness.
An explorer of altered states of consciousness, Ibn al-’Arabi also advocated the practice of what we today would call lucid dreaming: “A person must control his thoughts in a dream. The training of this alertness … will produce great benefits for the individual. Everyone should apply himself to the attainment of this ability of such great value” (Ibn al-’Arabi, cited in Van de Castle, p. 441—see Sources).