My first encounter with Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi was many years ago in Boise, Idaho. I was living in Mexico at the time on a foreign service assignment and I used to go to Boise frequently for business meetings. My next stop after Boise was San Francisco and then on to Tokyo and I wanted to find a good book to read on the 13 hour journey across the Pacific. I found a small bookstore in the middle of town and walked in to see what I could find. Rumi was waiting for me. As I wondered through the bookshop my eyes fell on a book that was sticking off the shelf as if to say, “Hey, over here, take me!” The title said, The Way of Passion, and it intrigued me so I walked over and took the book out of the shelf. On the front of the book cover the subtitle was, A Celebration of Rumi, and the author was Andrew Harvey. And just beneath the title was a golden Islamic calligraphy of Al Rahman Al Raheem, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Looking at the Table of Contents I saw chapter titles like, ‘The Journey to Love’ and ‘The Voice of Silence’. “This is the book!” I told myself, I wanted to know more about this Rumi and I would have 13 long hours to find out.
I was so moved by the tenderness, profound wisdom and love conveyed in the words of Rumi that I found in the pages of this book. I felt in my heart a kind of homecoming, that I’d found my place. The Sufis! I remembered how in my childhood I’d watched a film about Rabia Adawiyyah, the great Sufi mystic, and how moved I was at the scene of a Zhikr circle with the people in the circle chanting to the beat of a drum, “Allah, Allah Hayy.” God, God is Everliving.
I kept returning to that same bookstore whenever I travelled to Boise and every time I’d find another book of Rumi. In one of them I found an inquiry card from the publisher, Threshold Books. I told myself I’d wait until I got back home to the USA before sending it in. “Love is the hunter and we are the prey,” Rumi says in one of his poems.
My assignment came to an end, and we were back in California and as I got busy with my life I forgot all about that inquiry card. But it didn’t forget about me! One day I was rearranging some of the books in my library when suddenly the card fell out and landed on the floor. I sent it in and in a few days the booklet arrived. Inside was information about the Threshold Society’s retreat in Vermont. I decided to go. It was a love ambush! The teachings of Rumi, the opening to the meanings of the Quran, the profound and abiding love for the Prophet that I encountered changed my life forever. At one point, overwhelmed by the beauty and love and weeping like a child, one of the guest teachers at the retreat called out to me, “How do you like love Sufi style!” A year later I pledged myself to the path of Rumi, the MevleviTariqah.
My encounters with Rumi expanded beyond reading his poetry in books. During the practice of Zhikr, a deep invocation of the divine within the heart, I would sometimes feel his presence and meanings would flow into my heart to guide me. These encounters caused deep transformations in my life. They created a deep bond of love, trust, and beauty within my heart.
One time I saw him sitting in contemplation before me and he looked up and asked me, “Do you want to be with us or with them?” This question came at a time when I was entangled in worldly matters, preoccupied with my work and career and struggling to establish a balance between my spiritual life and work life. “I want to be with you!” I responded with deep longing. This question led me to move in a direction that took me to authentic service in my work and I was shown that it is possible to bring love into a highly competitive professional work environment.
During a retreat at a Franciscan monastery, I sat in Zhikr in the small chapel in the middle of the night. The quiet of the night, the atmosphere of the chapel and the Zhikr brought me to a state of deep stillness and a feeling of being overwhelmed by love. I saw myself crossing a threshold into a different space and I was traversing a long hallway bathed in a soft golden light. The hallway was lined with dervishes on their knees with heads bowed like silent posts leading to the source of the soft, golden light ahead. Mawlana Rumi was at the end of the hallway and he speaks to me with the voice of my Sheikha, Camille, urging me to move on, to cross over the threshold, that it was OK for me to cross over to where he was. When I want to stop he urges me on, “Keep going, my son! Don’t stop.” I cross into the clearing in the light’s soft glow, it’s everywhere, I can see it even inside of me. At the end of this vision I hear a fluttering sound in my ear, it’s like the beating of wings inside of me. This experience opened my heart to knowing that we are held and guided by love and that the Friends of God are present in our lives, supporting us on our journey.
I was on solitary retreat in Northern California. My sheikh, Kabir, gave me the Zhikr of Ya Haleem to invoke for the first four hours of the day. The hours pass and I don’t feel anything as I continue the chant of this divine name. “Why this name?” I wonder to myself. In the final hour, I sense Rumi’s presence and the meanings flow like a torrent in my heart, “Gentleness. Be Gentle. Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with your words. Be gentle with your ears. Be gentle with your mouth. Be gentle with your tongue. Be gentle with your eyes. Be gentle with your thoughts. Be gentle with your hands. Be gentle with your work. Listen to the birds! Do you hear My Gentleness? Look at the roses, sense their petals, do you feel My Gentleness? Be gentle. Let Me in gently. Be still. Don’t count the words. Don’t count the beads. Be still. Know My Gentleness. Listen to the rain! Do you hear My Gentleness? Feel the air around you, breathe My Gentleness. Look at the sunlight on the leaves! Do you see My Gentleness? This was the Prophet’s character. If you are sincere then follow him and learn from him.” I know these words are coming to me through Rumi and they cause transformation within me. My understanding of the path, of the world, of myself changes forever because of this experience.
The first time I visited Rumi’s shrine in Konya, Kabir took me by the arm and led me across the threshold into the sanctuary, the Kaaba of Lovers. Standing before Rumi’s tomb I recite the Fatiha and Ikhlas for him. Then I find myself saying, “Peace upon you, beloved of the Messenger of God.” I keep repeating this greeting and every time I am overcome by deep emotion and filled with a sense of a loving and peaceful presence. The words of a Hadith come to me; “Who are my beloved ones?” the Prophet asked. “We are!” the Companions replied. “You are my companions. My beloved ones are those who will come after me and will love me even though they have not seen me. They will become beloved to me.” It was just this mystical, heart connection made with the Prophet through Rumi’s friendship and love for Shamsuddin Tabrizi, that opened him up and drowned him into the ocean of love that is Rasul Allah. This is why Rumi’s love is so total and so universal. This is why his love touches us to the very core of our being. He was annihilated in the Muhammadan Light and became love by being his beloved. The coming of this insight brings tranquil certainty to my heart about the foundation of our path and the firm bond that connects our hearts to the Prophet.
These are some of my encounters with Rumi, our Master, our beloved guide may God sanctify his secret.