Jun 10 2013

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – The Thirsty

Published by at 9:37 am under Ivan's Story,Poetry

The Thirsty
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Not only do the thirsty seek water,
The water too thirsts for the thirsty.

/ Photo by sergis blog /

As I grow older, the idea of spiritual thirst becomes ever more real to me. As a young seeker, in my adolescence and early adulthood, I was consumed by such painful blind thirst that I couldn’t have named it “thirst” back then. It was simply the searing ache of my days. It was my whole world.

I went a little mad with my thirst. I kept seeking to withdraw, from society, from the world, retreating into the forests of Oregon, the mountains of Colorado, the jungles of Hawaii where perhaps I might glimpse what was truly essential. I fasted my body into emaciation. I meditated in caves. I walked barefoot and shirtless in the wilds. I spoke with drifters and the homeless, trying to know their hearts and see through their eyes.

Some part of me broke, I think. And then it broke open. That’s when I knew what it meant to drink and no longer thirst.

And a strange thing– what felt like shattering effort driven by wild thirst seemed like nothing at all. Perhaps it wasn’t my terrible thirst that had driven me at all. Perhaps I was drawn by the water’s thirst for me. And all that strain and adventure, well, that was just the story I told myself along the way.

What has been most odd to me is my return to society since then. I made a conscious choice to rejoin the world, to leave my wild places, to hold a regular job, have a stable home, and reconnect with people (and perhaps share a taste of that sweet water). More than a decade later, it still feels strange to me. At times I find myself going through the motions, simply passing as a “normal” person. The challenges of daily life, of paying bills, of caring about my body’s health, of establishing regular patterns others can rely on, these practices still seem foreign to me at times, but I consider them a major part of my spiritual practice now. It used to be that the only things that made sense to me were transcendence and escape. These days I find the most humbling truth in being present, and watching with wonder, allowing life to be simply as it is.

I’m less consumed by my own thirst these days. I feel the water’s thirst for the thirsty world instead.

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Afghanistan & Turkey (Persia) (1207 – 1273) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

I haven’t yet sketched out a short biography about Rumi. It always feels a bit foolish to try to distill a rich, full life into just a few paragraphs, but it’s especially difficult with Rumi since so much has been written about him and his life.

How about just a few interesting details about Rumi:

Rumi was born in Balkh, in what is today Afghanistan. While he was still a child his family moved all the way to Konya in Asia Minor (Turkey). They moved to flee from Mongol invaders who were beginning to sweep into Central Asia. Konya, far to the west of the invaded territories, became one of the major destinations for expatriates to settle, turning the city into a cosmopolitan center of culture, education, and spirituality. (These lands were part of the Persian Empire, so, while he lived most of his life in what is today called Turkey, culturally he was Persian.)

In fact, Rumi wasn’t the only famous Sufi teacher living in Konya at the time. The best known spiritual figure in Konya at the time was not Rumi, but the son-in-law of the greatly respected Sufi philosopher ibn ‘Arabi. The wonderful Sufi poet Fakhruddin Iraqi also lived in Konya at the same time as Rumi.

“Rumi” was not his proper name; it was more of a nickname. Rumi means literally “The Roman.” Why the Roman? Asia Minor (Turkey) was referred to as the land of the Rum, the Romans. The Byzantine Empire, which had only recently fallen, was still thought of as the old Eastern Roman Empire. Rumi was nicknamed the Roman because he lived in what was once the Eastern Roman Empire. …But not everyone calls him Rumi. In Afghanistan, where he was born, they call him Balkhi, “the man from Balkh,” to emphasize his birth in Afghanistan.

Rumi’s father was himself a respected religious authority and spiritual teacher. Rumi was raised and educated to follow in his father’s footsteps. And, in fact, Rumi inherited his father’s religious school. But this was all along very traditional lines. Rumi was already a man with religious position when he first started to experience transcendent states of spiritual ecstasy. This created a radical upheaval, not only in himself, but also within his rather formal spiritual community as everyone tried to adjust to their leader’s transformation.

One more note about Rumi’s father: It was only after his death that some of the father’s private writings were discovered, revealing that he himself was also a profound mystic, though he had kept this part of himself private, apparently even from his son Rumi.

Many of Rumi’s poems make reference to the sun. This always has layered meaning for Rumi since he was deeply devoted to his spiritual teacher Shams of Tabriz… as the name Shams means “the sun.” The sun for Rumi becomes the radiance of God shining through his beloved teacher.

The spiritual bond between Rumi and Shams was profound, but the two individuals were very different. Rumi was a member of the educated elite within the urban expatriate community, while Shams was a poor wandering mystic who rarely stayed in one place long. Shams would often disappear unexpectedly, then return months later. Many of Rumi’s family and students were jealous of Shams, resenting the closeness he shared with their master. Finally, Shams disappeared, never to return. Some believe that he was actually kidnapped and murdered, possibly by Rumi’s own sons! Or he may have simply followed his dervish nature and journeyed on, never to return to Konya.

You’ve heard of “whirling dervishes,” right? Not all Sufis practice that spinning meditative dance. That is specific to the Mevlana Sufis, founded by — yes, Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi. The story is told that Rumi would circle around a column, while ecstatically reciting his poetry. The spinning is a meditation on many levels. It teaches stillness and centeredness in the midst of movement. One hand is kept raised to receive from heaven, the other hand is kept lowered to the earth, thus the individual becomes a bridge joining heaven and earth.

More poetry by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

19 responses so far

19 Responses to “Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – The Thirsty”

  1. franon 10 Jun 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Thank you for sharing. I relate to many things you said only in a different situation, context. Poetry Chaikana has been a way for me to feel connected or just grateful for the ache, pains, elations, joys, and observations of the saints, poets, subscribers and you on my own journey.
    It is my comfort and challenge in discerning and choosing what is Real. Poetry, Art, Music never lie. Thank you again for your dedication and passion. Gratefully, Fran

  2. sobhanaon 10 Jun 2013 at 2:32 pm

    Hi Ivan,

    How are you?

    As usual I always feel humbled from… unique poems that you post on Chaikhana and your equally uniquely excellent thoughts on them However, today’s extra … touched me as such that I don’t know what to say or how to explain…. But…

    Thank you

  3. maryann moonon 10 Jun 2013 at 2:54 pm

    What an amazing thought, that water itself thirsts for the thirsty! That’s such a healing
    thought. I definitely want to bring my thirst to the water and feel the thirst that water
    must surely love to experience, also. Your true dedication to poetry must satisfy your soul’s
    great thirst for transcendence; thank you for all your inspiration.

  4. Jack Gilleson 10 Jun 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Ivan, thanks for sharing your “thirst” journey. I’m sure you recognize much of the Hero’s Journey in what you have written. For me it represents a journey to the “Center” and then the return to a world of Service. That “service” certainly involves the ordinary requirements of living which you have laid out. But now you do them with a grace that comes from the journey. Too many people seem to be only interested in experiencing the journey to the Center and don’t grasp the need to return to this world as a transformed person.

    Again, thank you for your sharing, and please take care of yourself.

  5. Glenda Fieldson 10 Jun 2013 at 4:36 pm

    Oh Ivan,
    I love what you have written!!!
    Although we are more and more seeing our stories as the matrix’s that they are, it certainly appears, we are also rapidly being withdrawn from so many illusions we once believed in and descriptively spoke of as part of who we are.
    Sharing stories continues to mean so much when we can read, hear, feel, identify and see ourselves in the transitions and growths of others.

    We can honor our oneness with them as well; connect our identities even more to the oneness of us all. Yours also seems to include a ‘shared, stirring,’ of this profound, and yet natural, beautiful, awakening, which, for the most part, appears to be happening globally to so many of us.

    Remember the little boy in the Chronicles of Narnia (forgot his name), but he was trapped in the dragons body, due to certain propensities in his character? When he no longer was comfortable in the dragon’s body and wanted to loose it, it took nothing short of, Aslan, the King, of Narnia, to free him. If you’re familiar with the story, Aslan used his claw and sliced the dragon’s body open, so the little kid could climb out.

    The dragon represented the false self, with the old desires and false beliefs. These had to be experienced in order for the boy to recognize the untruth of them. Then he could let go the illusions….So here we are.

    I think that’s what’s happening to you, to me and to so many of us, feeling these wonderful, vulnerable shifts.

    Our old stuff can be likened to the little boy being freed from the dragon’s body.

    There is a definite feeling of strength, balance and a sense of self-integration that is moment to moment, transforming by being in the HERE AND NOW.

    I truly believe we are being drawn closer to our centers where all our Heart–centered love, naturalness, and the awakening into our true, spiritual, identities is catching hold and reshaping us. I truly believe it is all in preparation for our natural, emergence into yet, even higher levels of oneness in truth.
    Thanks so much I really enjoyed your intimate, sharing letter.

  6. Barb Lucason 10 Jun 2013 at 5:26 pm

    Ivan, I can only say thank you for sharing the story of your own thirst and your journey. I am truly awed, inspired and amazed. I bow to the God in you, Ivan. thank you, thank you.

  7. Jay Staileyon 10 Jun 2013 at 6:15 pm

    Loved this piece and your story. Was particular interested in the postscript on the difficulty of asking. You have probably seen this video- 2.5 million have since the talk was given in February, but it speaks directly to this idea of paying for art, and the art of asking. If you haven’t seen it, enjoy.

  8. rosellen littleon 10 Jun 2013 at 6:38 pm

    thanks for your commentary sharing something of your life.
    i have a little bit of a similaiar story, being a wanderer when young and then living a more normal life.
    now i am thirsty again at age 70 and i am not sure for what or have the faith or energy to find it… maybe i will
    ellen rosellen

  9. vegeteon 10 Jun 2013 at 7:11 pm

    Dear Ivan,

    Escape is the clue word…
    It appears to me that you have re-emerged en-lightening onto the present.
    And, I am deeply touched, honored that you shared your search here with us.


  10. marrobon 10 Jun 2013 at 8:11 pm

    Dear Ivan,

    I add to other readers’ my gratitude for your sharing
    the story of your ‘thirst’.
    It seems to have led to an oasis in the desert where others
    may be refreshed. And that’s a blessing indeed.

  11. Shabnamon 11 Jun 2013 at 12:30 am

    Dear Ivan,

    Thank you…the couplet along with your commentary has had a very profound effect on me today… just when I needed to say and feel something and didn’t really know what. I think I can understand what you are saying…and am very grateful for you being there for me today. May God bless you always



  12. Margieon 11 Jun 2013 at 6:40 am

    Hello- I was forwarded by a friend your poem and your response to asking for money. First may I say this – Your poetry has stumbled across my path many times – I say stumble because it did not fall- it came during some sort of struggle I was experiencing and I cannot tell you how many times I have gone back to your words – and how they touch and transform my life – my thoughts –

    What I do not understand why people are so negative about money – Money is just like water – it is a necessary thing we use to survive – True – we would all be better off perhaps if we led a sustaining life – growing our own food and lighting our homes with solar or wind power but somewhere along the line we need a new tractor or some grain for the animals that is grown somewhere else – Money is just another thing – it is not evil – it is our attitude towards it – it is the life that we give it that is either evil or treasure – It flows like water when we realize that there is plenty for all of us and we take what we need and let the rest float down stream.

    So ask for what you need – I am happy to support your work – as I would ask for you to support mine – and you in turn take that money to support someone elses – it all goes around – the ones who create the imbalance are just on a different path – but it all comes around in the end – I do believe that if we make it evil it will surely be that – if we call it a blessing and are grateful for what comes our way – we have created a community – I do not feel badly about giving you money – therefore the money coming from me is happy- not evil- and I ask that you keep that flowing..

  13. Therese Monaghan O.P.on 11 Jun 2013 at 7:26 am

    Thank you, Ivan, for sharing your thoughts about developing your website and your own journey of growth. The idea of water thirsting for us relates to my understanding of God’s incarnation, telling us that the Divine needs us on the path of transformation. My own struggle has to do with recognizing God’s thirst for us to become engaged with the world for what Teilhard described as the evolutionary journey to the fullness and completion of Love. So much to ponder as our everyday human experiences open us to the awareness of no separation: inner-outer life; divine and human, and each of us struggling on the path with one another.
    I am happy to be part of this Chaikhana community.

  14. Kathion 11 Jun 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Thank you, Ivan. So glad that donations are coming in and so appreciate you. Kathi

  15. Bob Corbinon 12 Jun 2013 at 6:17 am

    Thank you!

  16. Richard Profumoon 15 Jun 2013 at 9:43 pm

    It’s not about the thirst. It’s about drinking? Things go bad, drink up. Things go good drink up! “First I went Yale; then I went to jail. I leared alout more in jail then I ever leared in Yale.”

  17. Reenieon 17 Jun 2013 at 6:41 pm

    Thank you Ivan, Such a simple, typical Rumi poem…and thank you deeply for your writing and thoughts. We do break open and blossom, don’t we?

  18. rena navonon 09 Jul 2013 at 9:13 am

    The concept of giving and receiving being inter-dependent and insistently united reminds me of Martin Buber’s I-Thou relationship. Friendship would be impossible without such mutuality of generosity. The “I” cannot exist without the “thou” and visa versa. Social beings by definition, we humans are called upon to interpret our responsibilities at each step in relationship to others close to us. Life will be dearer that way. Our lives will even last longer if we learn to let go at the right moments of transformation.

  19. Andrew Di Genovaon 03 Aug 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Wonderful post. I love this idea of thirst and spiritual seeking. Here is one of my posts from my blog dedicated to Rumi and art that relates to your message –

    Thirst drove me down to the water
    where I drank the moon’s reflection.
    This is the seam of slavery and mastery
    dancing together. This is not being.
    Neither words, nor any natural fact
    can express this.
    Be melting snow.
    Wash yourself of yourself.
    You kiss a beautiful mouth,
    and a key turns the lock of your fear.

    ~ Rumi


    I love your blog! Great job. Keep it up.

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