At times on this trip, I have thought we were whirling dervishes, spinning around our voyage and living deeply immersed in each and every moment with no care or concern for anything other than what comes next… I now realize nothing could compare the real thing.
Background: Rumi (famous philosopher poet named Mevlana Celaleddin-I Rumi who lived in the early 13th century) inspired the Sema, or whirling dervish, who are trying to meditate and reach higher consciousness through the act of literally whirling. Unlike my misconception (I’ve had many, many misconceptions erased on this trip), they are not uncontrollably spinning in an imprecise or even uncoordinated manner, but rather whirling in a very formulaic and mystical dance performed in concert with musicians, singers, a troupe leader and five dervishes spinning in apparent harmony with the universe – and it is an intensely focused and spiritual practice that is almost humbling to witness. Here is a Rumi quote on the practice:
Rumi was a mystic (and we love him for the simplicity but depth of his poetry – in fact, one of the first gifts Brad ever gave to Brandy was a collection or Rumi poems), and his father was a famously revered teacher in the 12th century. When the Mongols conquered much of Asia, Rumi’s family had to flee to the west and settled in modern day Turkey at the invitation of a Seljuk emperor who invited the learned family to his kingdom to educate his people. Rumi embarked on his own quest of enlightenment, and grew to become a revered spiritual leader with a following of seekers that, while Muslim, shared many Buddhist beliefs about the nature of life and the fundamental condition that all things are in motion. Electrons spin around neutrons and protons. The Earth revolves around the Sun, while our moon orbits the Earth. The night sky rotates, and stars move across the sky. Blood circulates through our bodies. We live, and we die – coming from the Earth and returning to the Earth. The acceptance and embrace of this philosophical belief system, combined with the spiritual seekers’ continual meditation, led the dervish followers to begin a system of turning their own bodies and through spinning they would find harmony with their inner-selves and the larger universe.
Yeah, it is pretty new-agey for such an ancient tradition, but it was mesmerizing and just flat out beautiful. We came in excited and eager to watch a ‘show’ and we walked out of the castle in silence and just almost pulled in to their trance-like whirling meditation, aware that we had witnessed something powerful that we won’t soon forget.
Ok, that’s a lot of background so here is what transpired – We arrived for the performance at the magnificent Carevanserai. This was a huge stone fortress structure, a resting place for travelers along the Silk Road, and this particular one was built a mere 800 years ago by the Seljuks. These were placed every 20 miles along the route, because a camel can travel 20 miles per day and the caravans needed a secure place to rest that was safe from bandits and also a place where they could relax, get clean in a Turkish bath and eat a good meal. It was a beautiful building.
We settled in to a small amphitheater in the middle of the structure and waited for the lights to go down on a small wooden stage that was about 15 feet x 15 feet. The musicians came out silently, sat down and then each played; first singing (more like loud chanting), then guitar then drums. The dervishes filed in, five in total, in black gowns, that covered their white garb, and headdress that is supposed to represent the ego’s tombstone. They were silent and very meditative the entire process. Their feet making tiny, precise steps that made quiet whooshing sounds when they slid their soft slippers along the wooden floor.
The music lifted, and then the dervishes stood, removed their black gowns revealing their all white uniforms, with a large flowing ‘skirt’ that would spin and flow while they spun. The ritualistic nature of their entry, disrobing, then greeting and acknowledging each other made it apparent this was a reverential process and they were preparing for deep mediation.
Ok, this is getting long, so a quick snapshot: the dervishes sort of dance in a counter-clockwise manner around the stage floor, the five dervishes spinning with their white skirts flowing out and around their bodies beautifully as their master meanders through them, watching, adjusting and seemingly judging. While whirling, they hold their arms wide open, with the right hand directed up to the heavens to receive God, and the left hand down to Earth. They spin from right to left (counter-clockwise as well) around the heart, whirling themselves in a very controlled but unencumbered way on their left foot while the right root kicks and twirls, then kicks and twirls. It’s hypnotic.
Here are a few of our favorites from Rumi – to some degree, his beliefs can be a guide to us on our own journey (this trip, and through life):