I first encountered Rumi's poetry when I became part of a Courage to Teach group (based on the work of Quaker educator and author Parker Palmer) at the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I was entranced by so many different poems that we used over the course of that group, but most of all by this one, as translated by Coleman Barks:
Today, like every other day, we wake up emptyand frightened. Don't open the door to the studyand begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.Let the beauty we love be what we do.There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
As someone who has experienced depression periodically throughout my life, and who often turned to reading as a "safe" option for dealing with many uncomfortable experiences, this wisdom has made a transformative difference to me. When I do wake up empty and frightened, I now turn to drumming or rattling. I move, I sing. I was recently able to move to a lake, and I go outside and hear the geese or watch the swans.
Since encountering Rumi, I have felt a strong pull toward visiting where he lived and die. I had a dream that a group I was part of and was planning a trip to India would also go to Konya, Turkey and visit Rumi's tomb. I ended up being in charge of planning that part of the trip - a stop in Turkey - in 2011. In late February, with our Sufi guides, we turned down the street that ended at Mevlana's tomb. I began to cry. I felt that I was finally experiencing a connection to someone that I had not even known I was longing for. As we slowly moved through the building with other pilgrims, I was overwhelmed with tears. My grief, my longing - was exactly as Rumi so often describes. Now that I was experiencing union with Mevlana, I was able to realize how I had missed this connection before that day. We were also able to speak with a Sufi master who lives adjacent to Rumi's tomb, the master of one of the people who helped us plan our stay in Konya. His joy and centeredness and the bliss he radiated, especially in his relationship with his daughter, was our joy as well as we interacted with him. We saw a sema (whirling dervish ceremony) in Istanbul that was marvelous. The devotion of the semazen was so poignant.
There is an experience in connecting with Rumi. The joy, the longing, the dancing, the tears, the aliveness that I have experienced has brought a richness and connection in my life and a depth of spiritual experience that little else has. I can't really explain why a middle-aged Caucasian woman from the Midwest who is a teacher educator and therapist developed a relationship with a 13th century Sufi mystic. But I am grateful, and joyful. I also express my gratitude to Coleman Barks, and the wonderful video of Bill Moyers' interview with him in the Language of Love series, for opening Rumi's words to me and many others who might not have known them otherwise.
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