“When you find an author who really grabs you, read everything he has done. Don’t say, ‘Oh, I want to know what So-and-so did’ — and don’t bother at all with the best-seller list. Just read what this one author has to give you. And then you can go read what he had read. And the world opens up in a way that is consistent with a certain point of view. But when you go from one author to another, you may be able to tell us the date when each wrote such and such a poem — but he hasn’t said anything to you.”
– Joseph Campbell
I remember while in Turkey, taking a long weekend off of work to journey to Konya to watch the Whirling Dervishes, the mystical Islamic Sufi order established by Jalaluddin Rumi (or Mevlana as he is known by in Turkey), dance the Sema dance and to visit Rumi’s grave. I’m sure you’ve seen in either in ads or commercials or documentaries.
To outsiders who don’t know any better, it just looks like a group of men in long flowing white skirts and jackets, wearing fez hats, twirling around in circles. The Sema, in fact has a deeper symbolism. The circles they dance in represents the Circle of Life. Birth, death and rebirth. Fall, winter, spring and summer. The blood in our bodies being pumped out by the heart to only return back to the heart. The examples are infinite. It induces a trance-like state for the dancer which is supposed to help them meet with That, like ayahuasca might for some or peyote for others.
Back then, Rumi was not the spiritual superstar that New Agers and certain yoga instructors these days love to quote. In fact even 10 years ago, I’m sure if you even mentioned Rumi to those who were knee-deep in Deepak Chopra-speak or Wayne Dyer-speak, they wouldn’t even know who or what you were talking about. It’s interesting to watch because since the Rumi train seems to be slowing down now, I’ve noticed that the Deepak/Dyer crowd have now jumped on another mystical Islamic, Persian poet, namely Hafiz. (I’m betting after they get sick of or run out of the Persian poets, they’ll return to the Russians like Alexander Blok, and Pushkin and then heaven forbid, the old Europeans mystics like William Blake, W.B Yeats, Goethe, Meister Eckhart and Emanuel Swedenborg. It’s always about finding a “new” bottle for old wine.)
Truth be told, I find the sudden interest in Islamic mysticism by some Westerners and bubble-headed yoga instructors who are normally Conservative, Republican, right-wing and very anti-Arab or anti-Muslim, strange to put it mildly. True, the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz have inspired wonderment across centuries. If you have even the smallest spiritual inclination in you, you can’t help but be touched by their words. But before Rumi, it was the Khalil Gibran train. Before Gibran, it was Marianne Williamson and Neale Donald Walsch. It’s this constant hopping around because it’s a trend, without any real study or serious reflection on the works of these past masters and then passing it off as “This makes me look serious” which I take issue with.
And this brings me back to Campbell’s quote above. I have to agree with Campbell 150% on this one. It is best to find someone whose words ring so deeply and so true for you that you will need to read up on all their works to process and internalize their ideas and sentiments properly. That’s when you start to “get” them properly. One spiritual master whose words have consistently resonated deeply with me, as I have posted many times here is Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov.
Like all seekers at the beginning of their road, I did my fair share of hopping as well. Not because a certain writer was the flavour of the month but because I was searching. I read George Gurdjieff, Rudolph Steiner, tried Jiddu Krishnamurti and Theosophy in earnest but none of it seemed to “stick” for lack of a better word. But with Aivanhov, it was like remembering a deeply treasured memory which had been forgotten and a flood of light breaking through a door. I’ve been reading Aivanhov since at least 1996 and have never looked back.
In fact here’s a photo of my Aivanhov bookshelf;
Like I posted recently, these days it’s also Alan Watts which is speaking to me (thank God for YouTube!). While I don’t see myself going to Japan to study Zen in all seriousness with a proper Zen master ( and I’m not even sure if the monasteries there even accept women!), Watts, like Aivanhov, was/is able to synthesize the Perennial teachings along with recent scientific findings and present it with their own flair and in such a way the modern reader/listener can connect instantly.
That is a rare talent and not one which New Age hucksters can ever master convincingly.