Monday, October 13 Istanbul Layover
How does the leaf learn to dance?
How does the bird find her song?
Hoes does water know to flow?
How does the person become a human?
This was the little poem that began to write itself tonight as I sat meditatively watching and listening to the music and the dance of the Sufi whirling dervishes. I knew there was no way I could describe what they were doing without it sounding sanitized. Yes, they were twirling in circles. Yes, they had on white robes with skirts that were held tight at the waist so that the bottom half would sail and float as they went round and round. And yes, there was that hypnotic haunting music of Turkey that begins to numb the mind like the effect that a good liqueur can have.
But, what the dances really elicited in me was this sense that the spiritual practice of the whirling dervishes has to do with answering the question, “How do we open ourselves to become human in its most realized form?” The arena of philosophy appeals primarily to the mind and our rational selves. Soft religion often tries to take it a step further and appeal to the heart and our emotion. But, the whirling dervish ceremony I don’t believe appeas to either. Rather, like many forms of meditation, it is a practice that nurtures the soul and fans the flames of the divine spark within all of us. It is what our traditions call a spiritual discipline.
I can’t rationally tell you how this works. All I know is that the rhythm and repetition of the twirling opens up a place deep within us that thinking can’t touch. I get it at times when I am cycling. After years (even decades) of sitting in the saddle I don’t even realize that I am pedaling anymore (unless, of course, I am grinding my way up a painful hill or trying to outduel a devilish headwind). Joseph Campbell and friends of mine have described the same experience at a certain point running. Practiced meditators confirm that there is a point in meditation where the mind shuts off and a deeper voice takes over that comes from who knows where (the psyche, God, the Universe, Yoda?).
There were nearly a hundred of us in the exhibition hall near the subway station in Old Town Istanbul. It was an interesting bunch of people being that most of us probably were tourists and visitors from other places. But, for the most part people seemed to appreciate that this was a religious ceremony rather than a performance. There was a quiet respectful energy in the room that seemed to indicate that one should be in the right frame of mind before the dancers and musicians filed in.
I had a brief wave of tears and gratitude just before the beginning of the ceremony. I was reading through the brochure about the ceremony and it was describing the seven movements of the ceremony. The sixth act includes a repetitive reading of a verse from the Quran. Being that my pilgrimage was specifically about the experience the meeting of West and East and the movement from “Rome to Rumi” the verse immediately sent a jolt through me. The verse reads, “The East and the West belong to Allah, wherever you turn, you are faced with Him.” In my Presbyterian tradition we say it like this, “We all belong to God.” Different words; same intention and spirit. It was an unexpected gift.
The rest of the day was dedicated to a combination of sitting and preparation for the last leg of my journey. I sat for nearly two hours on the Bosphorus in the late morning drinking coffee, watching people and enjoying the way the sun was glistening and reflecting off the water. I didn’t want to fill my day with too much activity so I did more sitting (and some standing) by getting on the tram and taking it to both ends of the city. It was an easy way to see more of the city without having to walk anywhere.
The most exciting part of the day was putting together a plan for the rest of the trip. I was able to contact a travel company that specializes in bike tours in Cappadocia. On Wednesday morning after I arrive from an all-night bus trip I will meet with them and we’ll plan a three to four day tour through Cappadocia. And I bought my airline ticket for my return trip for next Thursday. The big step, however, was that I realized that I would no longer need my camping equipment for the duration of the trip. I found a discarded box next door at an electronics store, laid all my gear out, and sorted that which needed to stay on the bike from that which could be shipped home now. I was able to let go of half of my gear and go from ten items attached to my bike to four (two panniers, a handlebar bag, and my portable bike bag for airport transfer).
I feel like I am definitely entering the home stretch now. My bike is lighter. My heart is lighter. My wallet is lighter. Guess we have a theme going here.