Thursday, October 25, 2007


Yesterday's personal journal entry about "The Whirling Dervishes of Rumi" performance at Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, October 23, 2007:

Today I was sad, so I worked really hard.

The performance was amazing, but it wasn't enjoyable exactly, nor was it entertaining. I'd had my doubts, initially, that I could sustain my attention for very long on just a bunch of men spinning and spinning around in wide white skirts. Oddly enough, my experience of the performance--which began with a very interesting lecture on Rumi's life, followed by half an hour of music and recitations from the Qur'an, and concluded, after an intermission, with an hour-long Sufi religious ceremony, the Sema--had an effect exactly opposite what I expected. Rather than feeling fidgety and distracted by the monotony of rhythmic whirling, I found myself stilled almost beyond comprehension. Although I had been sniffling and coughing all day, I found my breathing steady and slight; my body seemed to solidify around me. I'd wanted to feel moved, but instead I felt unnaturally deadened. The tombstone-like caps of the dervishes, and the stilled silence of the guide who wandered, draped in black, in and out of the whirling white-clad dancers--these things seemed to penetrate me in the same way matter penetrates a stone, but rain doesn't.

As the evening progressed, dullness transformed into appropriate emptiness, as if it had a lightness of being that, of course, was attractive and lovable. I, on the other hand, felt increasingly heavy with being, weighed down. The few times I felt engaged in conversation--discussing with friends the 'meaning of "God"'--began to seem obscene in their gravity. There was nothing to me, really, so I had to fill myself up with other things, more important things. Here were girls loved just for being girls, and I'm no good to anyone unless I'm talking about something interesting.

I realized then that, as much as I've loved others, I've always wanted something that they didn't. I think most want relationships that float lightly on the surface of other things, whereas I've always wanted relationships that were full to bursting of those things. I don't want to be buoyed up by love, I want to swim in it. Swimming, to someone trying to breathe, might as well be drowning. So of course: here were people light and well-framed, who can hold things outside of themselves. I don't have a frame. I'm nothing at all except a center of gravity. How can you go about loving a center of gravity?

The men on the stage just kept turning and turning around the stationary toes of their left feet, their hands and arms frozen, their eyes always on their thumbs, and for all their whirling, they barely moved. Once in a while, when they stopped to bow with their arms folded across their chest, signifying One, I saw one of them or another scratch a nose or wipe a brow. But when they whirled, they barely moved at all.

Every year. This is going to happen every year. Will there ever be an October that doesn't find me in tears again? The ceremony ended--someone began to clap prematurely and the hushers jumped in to hush her, and I couldn't dislike either of them for it--and the whirling, which had exposed me in my stillness like death, ended. I didn't feel like applauding, I wasn't moved to applaud, I wasn't moved. I was stilled, I had been killed by stillness. All I wanted to do was go home. But that was impossible. Home is not home. What I have is a place where I can be still.

So I went there. And I was very sad, and the sadness didn't matter. The sadness, like thought and desire, was just so much motionless movement.

Today, I woke up and it was still raining and I was still sad. I wish I could have remained there, within the nothingness--maybe this is one of those times when "the only way out is through." But I was sad, and I had things to think about and to write about, so I did. Just more whirling. It accomplishes nothing except that it is the only thing I know how to do. If I knew how to dissolve, maybe I would do that. But I don't. All I know how to do is to keep being, with all my strength, throwing all my weight into being until I sink into the ground and weeds grow up from out of me and maybe some of those weeds cast white fluffs of seedpods into the wind where someone might catch a glimpse and make a wish.

The Semazen

The Semazens

The white, whirling, does not. The dance is a dance of stillness, the arms in the same pose, the hands--one open to catch what falls, one bent as if to receive the kiss of the lover finally arrived in good time--unmoving, inexpressive, the feet the only things that turn, little pieces of machinery rotating on a bolt through the left foot's sole, obscured by the unchanging ripples of the skirt's folds. All this turning, movement beneath the cold stone of the tomb. White absorbs nothing into it. Light moves like a black-draped guide among the dancers, saying nothing. They move to his movement, change position, but never look his way. I am that witness. They lay themselves open to the dance, perfectly empty like prayer. I, too, am laid bare, but there is nothing left. The dancers turn--if they were to let go of anything, it would spin away, but they have already relinquished even muscle, intention. They loose the world, and the world does not return. I am slain by stillness, watching them. I cannot move. Everything is emptied. When Love enters, it is too late.

Regular readers might be interested in contrasting this post, "Whirling," to a previous post, "Turning."


  1. Your prose is wonderful. You certainly know how to whirl words. But I find listening to your voice stirring, not stilling.

  2. Isn't it odd how we can seem to experience movement and stillness in the inner life, and how different things can evoke them, sometimes even at once?

    Thank you for the kind comment. :)