a seven-century old form of full-body worship emblematic of the Mevlevi
tradition of Jalaluddin Rumi — and a practice I’ve woven into my spiritual
routine over the past couple of years. Each time I begin whirling, there are a
few moments my mind’s eye lingers in the image of a flower sprouting from the
soil and slowly growing, budding and opening into full bloom.
as turning, it begins by tilting the head toward the heart and crossing the
arms at the chest, right over left, with the fingers wrapped slightly over
shoulders. After bowing down before my teachers in the Seen and Unseen, I rise
upright into a shape resembling the Arabic letter Alif and start rotating
counterclockwise. Slowly, I uncross my arms and glide my fingers down the
centre of my body toward my belly, as though a seed is being planted in the
root of my being.
slowly, I move my fingers back up over my solar plexus and past my heart before
outstretching my arms into the air, as though they are spreading out like the
petals of a flower opening into its full splendour. This flower is swaying in
the breeze, delighting passers-by with its fragrance and, all the while, firmly
rooted in the Earth.
reminds me that with all the beauty of movement embodied by whirling, it is
most importantly about grounding.
took me a long time to understand this. I recall the first time I saw whirling dervishes during my
first visit to Istanbul in 2010. My sister and I saw a pair of them spinning
counterclockwise in their white, flowy gowns at a restaurant near the Blue
Mosque. I felt dizzy just watching them and assumed that this “dance” transported
the dervish into some trance-like, ecstatic state.
experience with the Mevlevi form of whirling has been quite the opposite: It is
while turning that I feel the most rooted in my body. This has been an important teaching for me.
As someone with an active connection to the imaginal realm, I can easily lose
touch with the anchor of my body. I have a tendency to forget to breathe deeply
and at times entirely detach from the sensations of my gut, legs and feet.
every part of my physical form with each 360-degree rotation, whirling
strengthens my core, improves my balance and enhances my awareness of the
Heart, the dimensionless point in the centre of my being where I am closest to
ceremony at St. John’s, Waterloo church in London, December 2019
In order to
turn gracefully, the dervish’s left leg must be fixed on the floor, which in
practice I find hard to do. It feels something like trying to embody Al Qayyum,
the Quality of the Divine that means the Self Subsisting Source of All Being.
My Shaikh has likened Al Qayyum to a pole connecting the world of Spirit and
the earthly realm, crossing through the human heart. The more centred I become,
the more my left leg can hold position. The opposite is also true. If I get
caught in the chatter in my mind, my body wobbles.
leg, meanwhile, rotates around the left, much like the embodiment of the Divine
Name Ya Hayy, the Ever Living One. This interplay between Ya Qayyum
(axis) and Ya Hayy (motion) is a constant reminder that life flows most
beautifully from solid roots.
anchoring is crucial because the dervish straddles the Unseen and the Seen
realms. The right arm is directed toward the sky, with the palm cupped upward
to receive seeds of blessings from the world of Spirit. These blessings pass
through the heart and are dispersed through the left palm arched downward, like
a spout scattering the seeds into the earthly realm. The whirling dervish’s
face, tilted toward the left hand, is a symbol of the importance of rooting
oneself in this world.
unites the mind, heart and body in a way that no other form of worship achieves
for me. Sometimes in the midst of turning for a long time, I feel as though my
body and mind are revolving around my heart, like planets orbiting the sun.
They all engage in the practice, surrendering to the motion of the universe and
the knowledge that the heart is the portal to Haqq, Truth.
remarkable to reflect on how far I’ve come. When I started learning how to
turn, my body would revolt with bouts of uncomfortable nausea and vomiting. My
mind, meanwhile, would protest that spinning in circles was difficult and I
shouldn’t bother trying.
the noise of both was my heart’s palpable yearning to learn this beautiful form
of embodied Zikr, remembrance of Allah, the Divine Reality. This
longing, coupled with the will to keep trying, eventually brought the
hesitations of my mind and body to rest.
turning at a Sama ceremony to mark Rumi’s Urs, his reunion with the Beloved, in
Now my mind
and body are aligned with my heart — they also love to turn. There is no
nausea, in fact motion sickness has almost entirely disappeared from my life.
Instead, there is deepening sense of unity of these three elements of human
nature in surrendering to immense joy, which calls to heart the lines of a
Turkish devotional song played during Sama, the whirling dervish
Sama Safa, Jana Shifa, Ruha Gıdadır
Sama Is Joy, Remedy for The Soul, Food For The
Sama, which derives from the Arabic word
meaning to listen, is very much about listening within. It is a form of zikr
that enhances my atonement with the sensations, thoughts, emotions and feelings
passing through my body. Witnessing their movement from my inmost centre guides
me to the beliefs that are blocking the natural flow of life.
though the act of whirling not only moves the body but shakes the psyche. It
brings the false beliefs lurking in the shadows into the light of conscious
awareness, dissolves their knots and allows me to slowly live in greater
harmony with the Love of Allah, whose Name is held in my heart with every
process of taming the ego is represented beautifully in the clothing the whirling
dervish wears. The camel’s hair hat (sikke) represents the tombstone of the
ego, while the wide, white skirt (tennure) represents the ego’s shroud. By
removing the black cloak (khirka), the dervish is spiritually reborn to the
Truth. The black belt wrapped around the waist represents the letter Alif,
testifying to the unity of the Divine. Worn over the tenure is a short, white,
long-sleeved, collarless jacket called a Dasta-Gul, a “bouquet of
beauty of its form and its spiritual and physical benefits, whirling is most of
all about emptying of everything that isn’t Love. The emptier I become of the
distractions of the ego self, the easier it becomes to spin on my axis and the
more Baraka (blessing) can move from Love through my heart. For me, I
feel the pull to serve the calling of this Love through writing poetry, song
lyrics and stories and using my voice to sing and recite Quran.
words of my beloved Murshid, Kabir Helminski, the whirling dervish becomes a
vortex. She is drawn to her inmost centre and is aware of her heart connection
to her Shaikh, who holds the transmission of the lineage back through Rumi,
Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, and ultimately to Allah.
she practices, the better able she is to carry this connection into every
situation of life. She becomes much like the image of the flower in my mind’s
eye, blossoming slowly into her full, radiant potential.
only be done,” Dede says, “with that emptiness that is both presence and remembrance.
And when you can do that, you can enter into the chaos of life as if you’re
whirling through life.”
Headline: Whirling through life: Reflections of a female whirling dervish
Source: The Patheos