In a very succinct and insightful paragraph William C. Chittick, Professor of Comparative Studies at the State University of New York, writes: "In general, the Sufis have looked upon themselves as those Muslims who take seriously God's call to perceive His presence both in the world and in the self. They stress inwardness over outwardness, contemplation over action, spiritual development over legalism, and cultivation of the soul over social interaction." Yet even to this day, there are various strands of Sufism where one practice or ideal is emphasized over another.
Chittick presents cogent explications of the remembrance of God, the way of love, the never-ending dance, and the paradox of the veil. Sufi teachings and practices almost always contain elements pointing out the importance of faith, seeing with the heart, and dealing with the opposites or the two faces of all things.
"The Sufis often quote the Prophet as saying, 'Assume the character traits of God!' In other words, adopt as your own the properties and characteristics of God's names and attributes." The challenge here is to tap into the eternal source of beauty and love that resides in all of us. This sounds a lot like the early Christian mystics who wrote about the process of divinization. It is also emphasized by Eastern Orthodoxy.
One of the phrases Chittick uses to describe Sufis is their interest in "doing the beautiful." We could all take lessons on what this means. In the meantime, there is much to be gained from savoring Chittick's excellent introduction to this mystical path.