Do you love yourself more than you love me?
Beloved replied, I have died to myself and I live for you.
I've disappeared from myself and my attributes,
I am present only for you.
I've forgotten all my learnings,
but from knowing you I've become a scholar.
I've lost all my strength, but from your power I am able.
I love myself ... I love you.
I love you ... I love myself.
New York, April 2004
The Whirling Dervishes of Turkey finished their last gyration and the audience broke into applause. As we spilled out onto the New York City sidewalk, a feeling gnawed at me for failing to understand the understated magnificence of it all. The gap between my expectations of instant enlightenment and the reality of prolonged mystical deliberation stared back at me. Standing beneath a cold street light and gasping to understand over 700 years of thinking after a temporal visual whirl was futile. It eluded me and yet was one of those fleeting moments that leave an indelible ember behind. It was not the time for that specific cinder to combust but, nonetheless, the seeds of the thought had been planted. There was another encounter, one with an irresistible lure, that left at least one participant wondering of its purpose; a chance encounter took place several hundred years ago in present day Turkey.
Konya, Turkey, November 1244
Face to face stood two strangers, Maulana Jalal al-Din Muhammad Balkhi (Rumi) and Shams al-Din of Tabriz; Rumi, a young demure scholar and Shams, a spiritual wayfarer with a penchant for the uncertain. The repercussions of each word spoken at this encounter would reverberate through the fabric of spiritual and lyrical history forever. They met when both were ready --Shams to share; Rumi to seek; and both, to develop into a spiritual oneness. By the young age of forty, Rumi was a brilliant scholar. Shams, at sixty, was a free-spirited wanderer. The transformation was instant. The sheer opposition of their innate temperament may have been the flicker that caught the coal. The encounter, subsequent relationship and resulting consequences demonstrate the absolute unimaginability of fate in mythic proportions. Where does a chance encounter, a whispered conversation, a bold question to a stranger take someone on their quest of personal discovery? By some unverifiable accounts, Shams had initially noticed Rumi in Syria when the latter was 21 years old but had deemed the scholar not yet disposed for their partnership and that he chose to wait for 16 years before approaching him again.
On the streets of Konya that night, Rumi was on his path home with he came across the strange and hypnotic Shams. The latter, without any introduction, asked him pointed philosophical questions intended to fluster Rumi’s concepts of enlightenment. While Rumi responded, mustering the collective strength and wit of his years of devotion to religion and jurisprudence; the flicker in Shams’ words, his speech, mannerism and conduct compelled Rumi to explore further by inviting the wanderer along and into his home. The drifter’s words had heated dormant embers that Rumi may or may not have been aware of, and which certainly dictated his actions for time to come. From that day forward, Shams possessed him. Shams grasped Rumi’s understanding of religion and infused it with a love and devotion that elevated him from scholar to philosopher; He went into seclusion with the stranger, leaving aside all that composed his life – family, students, and disciples. This detachment lasted for three months and inspired him for a lifetime. His heart engulfed his systematic, controlled mind with the message of humanity and oneness with God, a result of his pointed discourses. Rumi’s professorial sermons were replaced with ecstatic soliloquies of God, love and humanity. Furthermore, the indelible mark of this change began filtering through; first in Rumi’s actions, evidenced in his seclusion and fanatic devotion, and secondly in his poetry which continues to enchant readers across a palette of backgrounds, cultures, and religions today.............