Dec 18 2013

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – Inner Wakefulness

Published by at 9:49 am under Poetry

Inner Wakefulness
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Coleman Barks

This place is a dream
only a sleeper considers it real
then death comes like dawn
and you wake up laughing
at what you thought
was your grief

A man goes to sleep in the town
where he has always lived
and he dreams
he’s living in another town
in the dream he doesn’t remember
the town he’s sleeping in his bed in
he believes the reality
of the dream town
the world is that kind of sleep

Humankind is being led
along an evolving course,
through this migration
of intelligences
and though we seem
to be sleeping
there is an inner wakefulness,
that directs the dream
and that will eventually
startle us back
to the truth of
who we are

— from The Essential Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks

/ Photo by Alice Popkorn /

Yesterday, December 17th, was the 740th anniversary Rumi’s “Wedding Day,” that is, of his death. Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi is a titanic, open-hearted figure in the world, and his influence throughout the world and down through the centuries is immense. The continuing ripple effects of his poetry and his spirit have much more impact on most lives today than mere conquerors. That’s the sort of hero the world really needs.

A few thoughts on today’s poem…

This place is a dream
only a sleeper considers it real

Dreams and waking up… The metaphor of being spiritually “awake” is used a lot but not always with deep reflection. It’s an easy concept to grasp, though it’s not taken very seriously most of the time because, of course, the person thinking about the idea of waking up is already awake in the most literal sense, right? The surprising answer is, Not really.

Become profoundly dedicated to your own process of awakening, find your moment, seize it, or, rather, yield into it… and see what you think then.

The experience of sudden opening reported by most mystics is startlingly on of actually waking up. It’s as if you’ve been drifting through life in a dream state and just not known it. Nothing around you has changed, but you finally, truly see things as they are. The dream-like barrier of mental filters and projections that has stifled your perception for so long falls away like a heavy blanket. You blink, look around yourself, and are surprised to realize you’ve been in a sort of half-seeing trance all your life… and now you are awake.

Perhaps just as surprising — and much more confusing to the intellect — is the simultaneous recognition that while you were in that dream state, there was still some part of your awareness that was always fully awake, quietly, patiently watching in the background. It’s just that now that inner wakefulness has come to the forefront. …A reminder to us that we don’t really need to “wake up;” instead, we just need to get out of the way of that part of ourselves that is already awake.

and though we seem
to be sleeping
there is an inner wakefulness

And from a purely poetic point of view, I really like the lines–

Humankind is being led
along an evolving course,
through this migration
of intelligences

To me this suggests that each experience, each “dream,” each person’s life is part of a grand migration of the human spirit, a journey of deepening remembrance and renewal.

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

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – Inner Wakefulness”

  1. bharation 19 Dec 2013 at 3:32 am

    and today, 19th dec, is Ramana Maharshi’s jayanthi, that is birth date according to indian lunar calendar… Kudos to Ivan & this chaikhana which honours true heroes, the real conquerors!
    May this chaikhana help us each discover WHAT we are! In Love and in Oneness.

  2. Joyce Stahmannon 12 Apr 2014 at 9:52 am

    Yes, what a journey–and all the time we are already awake! Halleluliah! Humor helps so much with all this. Thanks, Ivan.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply