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Lions Roar : March 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2007 73 May Allah grant you total soundness, O travelers on the Way of Love. May the Beloved remove the veils from your eyes and reveal to you the secrets of your time and of the true center. In the fouth and final selam the dervishes cluster around the sheikh, who is now for the first time revolving slowly in the cen- ter. This selam represents receiving one’s selfhood back, but now with a whole new state of being. It ends when a recitation of the Qur’an begins. The whirling ceremony is one important facet of a way of life designed to maximize Divine remembrance, which in Islam is con- sidered the highest of all human activities. The ceremony is typi- cally offered once a week in a Mevlevi tekkye, or center. It is preceded by spiritual conversation and discussion (sohbet), similar to what Hindus call satsang. This is followed by salaat, the ritual prayer of Islam, performed at five specified times during the day. Then there is Zikr (chanting the name of God) and the whirling ceremony itself. Immediately after the ceremony, the dervishes meditate for as long as their other obligations permit, sometimes late into the night. The whirling ceremony of the Mevlevis serves two main func- tions. First, it strengthens the bonds of affection and respect within the community of seekers. More importantly, it serves as a means for communion with the Divine, developing in indi- viduals the capacity to be in touch with spiritual reality in the midst of the most demanding activities of everyday life. The goal of Mevlevi training, including whirling, is to beau- tify and spiritualize the self through cultivating various artistic and intellectual skills and practicing service and contemplation. For more than seven hundred years the Mevlevi Order has been a crucible of transformation, giving birth to a highly refined aesthetic culture and providing a spiritual discipline that has brought many souls to human maturity. ♦ KABIR HELMINSKI is a sheikh of the Mevlevi Order, the translator of several volumes of Rumi, and the author of two books on Sufi spirituality. He has led the whirling in ceremonies around the world. Wherever You Turn: The Mevlevi Whirling Ceremony BY KABIR HELMINSKI Wherever you turn, there is the Face of God. —QUR’AN SURAH BAQARA 2:115 ALTHOUGH PRACTICES of whirling, especially among the peoples of Central Asia, have existed from time immemorial, it was the thirteenth-century Sufi saint and poet Jalaluddin Rumi and his lineage, the Mevlevi Order, who developed whirling into a form of spiritual training and a high art. Whirling, which requires an inner emptiness and a heightened awareness, is not a trance but an exercise of mindful presence and an act of service. While whirling, the student, or dervish, is conscious of several things at once: pure awareness uncluttered by thought, harmony with the other participating dervishes, an inner connection with the sheikh who is leading the ceremony, and a conscious opening of the heart to the Divine. The basic form of whirl- ing is this: the right foot is lifted up to the knee and returned to the same place from which it was first lifted, while the left foot and leg become the axis on which the whole body revolves. The body revolves 360 de- grees in a counterclockwise direction, and with each revolution the name Allah is pronounced inwardly. The arms are extended with the right palm turned upwards, receiv- ing Divine grace, and the left palm facing downwards, bestowing on the earth the Divine energy, which passes through the heart. Beginning dervishes must dedicate themselves to practicing this basic form before they can partake in a ceremony. The ceremony begins when the sheikh and dervishes walk majestically around the ceremonial space three times in a pro- cession. Then, at a specific point on the circle they bow to each other, face-to-face, essence-to-essence. They are reenacting the journey of life, the progression from mineral, to vegetable, to animal, to human, and, finally, to a state beyond ego in which they are “resurrected” by Love. The bulk of the ceremony is divided into four sessions of whirling, approximately ten minute long, called selams. The first selam ends when the music stops. The dervishes halt, facing the sheikh. The movement is so quick that their billowing skirts wrap around their legs as they bow. The dervishes do a second selam, similar to the first but accompanied by different music. Then they do a third and most ecstatic selam, which represents union with the Divine. The third selam begins when the sheikh steps forward and silently recites a prayer: