12 Sept 2015. Our first afternoon in Konya. Sitting in our hotel room I spontaneously look Don in the eyes and say hello. In that moment I know clearly that we are just pretending to be bodies and that the connection between us is beyond this world and completely ineffable. Then I see that I have chosen an old body. I see it with impeccable clarity, and with that clarity I feel a huge roar of laughter inside me. I talk to Don about it. He connects with an unconscious belief that “travelling is hard on the body” hence all the little injuries he’s been having. My belief is that having an old body means being in pain, and I have been in a lot of pain, especially with walking all around Pamukkale for hours, and all over Izmir yesterday. The pain never ends in hips, knees, and neck. Trying to nap this afternoon I first connected with the laughter for having chosen an old body, then tears for the pain. I did manage to drift off for a bit, but then restless legs kicked in, literally, so no more sleep. Still, I hope connecting with these hidden beliefs and knowings will help alleviate the physical discomforts.
We went to Konya for Rumi of course. Rumi: that great Persian poet, scholar, theologian and mystic. Known as Mevlana, meaning master, his name is Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī. He was born on the eastern edge of the Persian Empire, in what is now Afghanistan, in 1207. His spiritual teacher was Shams of Tabriz, a wandering wild holy man, who spent only two years with him after Rumi had settled in Konya, in what is now Turkey. Today Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan all claim him as their national poet.
After Rumi’s death in 1273 his son formed the Sufi order of the Whirling Dervishes in his honour, and we went to Konya to see their sacred dance or Sema. The Mevlevi Sema Ceremony is one of UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
I am moved to tears by the love. I am also moved to tears that women are not included – there are no female dervishes. Like most religions, even the mystical branches of them, it is by men for men. The exclusion makes me both sad and angry. The “head” man seems very self-important. The dervishes whirl themselves into an ecstatic trance and then meditate, but women don’t get to do that. I feel as if I could write screeds about the injustices perpetrated against women and girls by men throughout the world and throughout history. Rumi would not have excluded women. I have this perhaps naïve idea that Rumi would have included everyone even though he was a nobleman raised in a deeply patriarchal society.
Come, come, whoever you are,
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving – it doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Even if you have broken your vows a thousand times
Come, yet again, come come.
Years ago I taught myself to spin. I read about it in a book. One day it occurred to me that if figure skaters could spin for several revolutions without being dizzy, to the point that they could then carry on with spectacular athletic moves across the ice, then I too could spin without getting dizzy. I longed to spin with the dervishes. Don discovered a group that met weekly in Istanbul and that included women. We planned to attend but we only had a week there and that week they cancelled their meeting due to it being a public holiday.
My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that, and I intend to end up there.
13 Sept 2015. Today we visited the Mevlana Museum, the resting place of Rumi, and a museum of the Mevlana lineage.
Once again I am saddened and angry by the exclusion of women in the Sufi tradition. And by Muslim women having to be covered from head to toe as if it is unacceptable for them to be seen in public. Meanwhile most men wear jeans and a t-shirt.
Mevlana’s prayers. Calligrapher – Silleli Osman el-Hamdi.
And now I don’t care about men or women or the state of the world. I am simply reverential about the exquisite creativity and splendor of this work. The beauty. The detail. The love. The presence and patience that went into creating it. Every page different. Every page perfection. I’m awed by such skill and devotion.
I was in a lot of pain again today – hips and knees – as usual it’s all about trying to move forward. I actually only need to think about what’s wanted in this moment. That’s it. If I could live from that truth – only thinking about, and doing, whatever is wanted in each moment, now, on the edge of time, perhaps all the pain would go away.
Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.
14 Sept 2015. We went exploring.
Konya is more conservative than other cities in Turkey and was once known as the “citadel of Islam”. For three hundred years, from the beginning of the last millennium, Konya was the capital of the Turkish Sultanate of Rum (Rome). This is the origin of Rumi’s name. Sitting on some steps outside a mosque, we watch the world go by.
As we sit there Erkan comes to chat with us. His English is good. He’s a municipal policeman. He has no gun, only a radio and pepper spray. He deals with beggars and loiterers and anyone disturbing the peace.
Later, up in Alaadin Tepesi Park, Sabri approaches us and starts chatting. He takes us to the entrance of a wood and stone museum, which he said was not interesting but the entrance is a beautiful example of Selçuk architecture.
And he takes us to what used to be a school or university that still has beautiful eight-hundred-year-old tile work.
Suddenly a man approaches and introduces himself. His name is Kamil and he invites all three of us to his nearby bakery where he gives us iced tea and a plateful of delicious Arabian sweets and cookies.
We go to Iplikçi Mosque. There is a service happening so I had to go in with the women walled off from the main part and couldn’t see anything.
This is Kapu Mosque. This glorious space is where the men get to worship and pray and discuss Life and spirituality and the Koran.
This long narrow plain and small room off to one side is the space allocated for women.
A true Lover doesn’t follow any one religion,
be sure of that.
Since in the religion of Love,
there is no irreverence or faith.
When in Love,
body, mind, heart and soul don’t even exist.
fall in Love,
and you will not be separated again.
Islam has a strict etiquette of washing before prayer. Every mosque has its place for ablutions.
I’ve been in a lot of pain for six days now especially on the days we’ve done any amount of walking. I finally feel into it and cry, releasing some of the emotional pain:
The pain of loving
The pain of not loving
The pain of being no one
The pain of being someone
The pain of Life
The pain of believing I’m a body
The pain of living
The pain of dying
The pain of all women
The pain of all men
The pain of being human
The pain of forgetting
The pain of remembering
There doesn’t seem to be any solution at the moment except to keep feeling it at the emotional level as best I can.
Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.
15 Sept 2015. Don gave me a Reiki treatment on my knees. I also focused on being much more present with the inner body, and surrendered to the pain, so for the rest of the day walking was easier. We wandered for a while, photographing the people.
Dinner at Mevlani Sofrasi. We ate tiny rolled vine leaves stuffed with meat and slathered with minty garlicky yogurt, lamb that had been cooked in juices for five hours that melted in the mouth, a salad of diced tomato, cucumber and parsley with olive oil and lemon juice, and hot fresh bread. We finished with a traditional Konya dessert – a little like caramel though not as smooth, made with milk, sugar, and butter, drizzled with honey. We ate at this same restaurant four times while in Konya.
I’ve been aware in Turkey, and especially in Konya, how covered-up the woman are, about fifty percent of them anyway – frequently in long black robes and skullcaps and a scarf over the top in 35 (95) degree heat. It doesn’t seem right.
Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.
From Konya we travelled by bus to Goreme.
Next post: the fabulous and extraordinary landscape of Cappadocia.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2016.