One Must Begin from Afar (by James Farrelly)

One Must Begin from Afar (by James Farrelly)

James FarrellyOne Must Begin from Afar (February 24, 2007) My first contact with the work of the Sufi saint, Jellaludin Rumi, came from a visit to a school in West Virginia known as The Claymont Society for Continuous Education. Claymont was at the time a "4th Way School" founded on the principles of George Gurdjieff and JG Bennett. To me, the teachings of Rumi and the teachings of Gurdjieff and Mr. Bennett are inseparable — so much of the nature of spiritual search and the way it is articulated by Mr. G and Mr. B is echoed in the poetry and writings of Rumi. It is clear that these teachers are all part of a greater, emerging tradition that in time should bear fruit, Inshillah. From the start, we were reminded of the ways we fidgeted between Movements or the various ways we sat down as a class. We had finished working with Number 17 and Walter told us to sit. This time, when the some 36 of us lowered ourselves, it sounded as if one person had just sat on the floor of the Octagon. There was one sound. Everyone heard it; everyone knew it. Walter was moved as well and asked the pianist to play a hymn from the Gurdjieff/De Hartmann canon, the only time we ever closed a class with music as we sat together in a collected state. This was a moment in which God smiled on us, a moment that Rumi writes about in so many of his poems, when one and all can be given a taste of that state of spiritual ecstasy and union with the Beloved. One can read Rumi's poetry as an intellectual exercise and appreciate it certainly. It must be a real delight to hear the music of his poetry in the original Farsi; and the fragrance is still sweet in English translations. But the real value of Rumi's poetry just as in the real value of the Gurdjieff Movements is in each seeker's work to make contact with the essential core of our Being. Each hints that something else is required of us in order to make that connection. And once that connection is made, everything changes. Prayer ceases to be words, it becomes an action. And both Rumi and Gurdjieff remind me that I am still incomplete, still cooking. But in all worthy searches, one must begin from afar. "We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time." —T.S. Eliot "Four Quartets" James Farrelly Hanover, PA (WHYY, 91.0 FM)

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is professor of Persian & Comparative Literature at Washington University in St. Louis, and the author of several books, including Reading Mystical Lyric: The Case of Jalal aI-Din Rumi.