‘The Forty Rules of Love’ by Elif Şafak

She had always known that they did not connect on any deep level, but connecting emotionally need not be a priority on a married couple’s list, she thought, especially for a man and a woman who had been married for so long.

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“And how do you know your right thing is the right thing for me?”

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Ella conceded, hating Michelle for treating her as if she were the dullest person alive and hating herself for allowing this to happen.

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For despite what some people say, love is not only a sweet feeling bound to come and quickly go away.

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In many ways the twenty-first century is not that different from the thirteenth century. Both will be recorded in history as times of unprecedented religious clashes, cultural misunderstandings, and a general sense of insecurity and fear of the Other. At times like these, the need for love is greater than ever.

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Because love is the very essence and purpose of life. As Rumi reminds us, it hits everybody, including those who shun love—even those who use the word “romantic” as a sign of disapproval.

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It was a time of unprecedented chaos when Christians fought Christians, Christians fought Muslims, and Muslims fought Muslims.

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Beset with religious clashes, political disputes, and endless power struggles, the thirteenth century was a turbulent period in Anatolia. In the West, the Crusaders, on their way to Jerusalem, occupied and sacked Constantinople, leading to the partition of the Byzantine Empire. In the East, highly disciplined Mongol armies swiftly expanded under the military genius of Genghis Khan. In between, different Turkish tribes fought among themselves while the Byzantines tried to recover their lost land, wealth, and power. It was a time of unprecedented chaos when Christians fought Christians, Christians fought Muslims, and Muslims fought Muslims.

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In 1244, Rumi met Shams—a wandering dervish with unconventional ways and heretical proclamations.

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In an age of deeply embedded bigotries and clashes, he stood for a universal spirituality, opening his doors to people of all backgrounds. Instead of an outer-oriented jihad—defined as “the war against infidels” and carried out by many in those days just as in the present—Rumi stood up for an inner-oriented jihad where the aim was to struggle against and ultimately prevail over one’s ego, nafs.

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When you kill someone, something from that person passes to you—a sigh, a smell or a gesture. I call it “the curse of the victim.”

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People who see me on the street have no way of knowing this, but I carry with me the traces of all the men I have killed. I wear them around my neck like invisible necklaces, feeling their presence against my flesh, tight and heavy.

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Most folks I know have at least one person they want to get rid of.

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Everyone has it in him to kill someday.

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I did the dirty work of others. Even God recognized the need for someone like me in His holy scheme when He appointed Azrael the Archangel of Death to terminate lives. In this way human beings feared, cursed, and hated the angel while His hands remained clean and His name unblemished. It wasn’t fair to the angel.

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But then again, this world was not known for its justice, was it?

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How could I know in that moment that I was making the biggest mistake of my life and would spend the rest of my days regretting it?

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People who see me on the street have no way of knowing this, but I carry with me the traces of all the men I have killed. I wear them around my neck like invisible necklaces, feeling their presence against my flesh, tight and heavy.

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They say there is a thin line between losing yourself in God and losing your mind.

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“How we see God is a direct reflection of how we see ourselves. If God brings to mind mostly fear and blame, it means there is too much fear and blame welled inside us. If we see God as full of love and compassion, so are we.”

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So many people were ready to fight without any reason, and so many others fought for a reason.

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In this world of illusions, so many people were ready to fight without any reason, and so many others fought for a reason. But the Sufi was the one who wouldn’t fight even if he had a reason.

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Her breasts swollen with milk and her belly so huge it looks as if it could rip apart. She is stuck in a hut on fire. There are warriors around the house, riding horses with silver-gilded saddles. The thick smell of burning hay and human flesh. Mongol riders, their noses flat and wide, necks thick and short, and hearts as hard as rocks. The mighty army of Genghis Khan.

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It was always like this. When you spoke the truth, they hated you. The more you talked about love, the more they hated you.

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How could people be naïve enough to expect love to open every door for them? They looked at love as if it were a magic wand that could fix everything with one miraculous touch.

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“Guilt” was Ella Rubinstein’s middle name.

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Some days I ascended all the way up to the seventh sky as light as a whisper.

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Human beings tended to disparage what they couldn’t comprehend.

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From the coasts of the Black Sea to the cities of Persia, from the vast steppes of Central Asia to the sand dunes of Arabia, I have passed through thick forests, flat grasslands, and deserts; sojourned at caravansaries and hostels; consulted with the learned men in age-old libraries; listened to tutors teaching little children in maktabs; discussed tafsir and logic with students in madrassas; visited temples, monasteries, and shrines; meditated with hermits in their caves; performed zikr with dervishes; fasted with sages and dined with heretics; danced with shamans under the full moon; come to know people of all faiths, ages, and professions; and witnessed misfortunes and miracles alike. I have seen poverty-stricken villages, fields blackened by fire, and plundered towns where the rivers ran red

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I have seen the worst and the best in humanity. Nothing surprises me anymore.

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It wasn’t death that worried me, for I didn’t see it as an end, but dying without leaving a legacy behind.

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Let us choose one another as companions! Let us sit at each other’s feet! Inwardly we have many harmonies—think not That we are only what we see.

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No matter who we are or where we live, deep inside we all feel incomplete. It’s like we have lost something and need to get it back. Just what that something is, most of us never find out. And of those who do, even fewer manage to go out and look for it.

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Rumi: Choose Love, Love! Without the sweet life of Love, living is a burden—as you have seen.
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Was it possible to be depressed and not know it?
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Cities are like human beings. They are born, they go through childhood and adolescence, they grow old, and eventually they die.
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If God was with you all along, why did you rummage around this whole time in search of Him?”
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“What I meant to say, Judge, was that one could not find God if he stayed in the fur coat, silk garment, and pricey jewelry that you are wearing today.”
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“When something needs to be said, I’ll say it even if the whole world grabs me by the neck and tells me to keep quiet.”
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“There is no question Baghdad is a remarkable city, but no beauty on earth lasts forever. Cities are erected on spiritual columns. Like giant mirrors, they reflect the hearts of their residents. If those hearts darken and lose faith, cities will lose their glamour. It happens, and it happens all the time.”
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“The sharia is like a candle,” said Shams of Tabriz. “It provides us with much valuable light. But let us not forget that a candle helps us to go from one place to another in the dark. If we forget where we are headed and instead concentrate on the candle, what good is it?”
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“Each and every reader comprehends the Holy Qur’an on a different level in tandem with the depth of his understanding. There are four levels of insight. The first level is the outer meaning and it is the one that the majority of the people are content with. Next is the Batm—the inner level. Third, there is the inner of the inner. And the fourth level is so deep it cannot be put into words and is therefore bound to remain indescribable.”
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With glinting eyes Shams continued. “Scholars who focus on the sharia know the outer meaning. Sufis know the inner meaning. Saints know the inner of the inner. And as for the fourth level, that is known only by prophets and those closest to God.”
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One day Moses was walking in the mountains on his own when he saw a shepherd in the distance. The man was on his knees with his hands spread out to the sky, praying. Moses was delighted. But when he got closer, he was equally stunned to hear the shepherd’s prayer. “Oh, my beloved God, I love Thee more than Thou can know. I will do anything for Thee, just say the word. Even if Thou asked me to slaughter the fattest sheep in my flock in Thy name, I would do so without hesitation. Thou would roast it and put its tail fat in Thy rice to make it more tasty.” Moses inched toward the shepherd, listening attentively. “Afterward I would wash Thy feet and clean Thine ears and pick Thy lice for Thee. That is how much I love Thee.” Having heard enough, Moses interrupted the shepherd, yelling, “Stop, you ignorant man! What do you think you are doing? Do you think God eats rice? Do you think God has feet for you to wash? This is not prayer. It is sheer blasphemy.” Dazed and ashamed, the shepherd apologized repeatedly and promised to pray as decent people did. Moses taught him several prayers that afternoon. Then he went on his way, utterly pleased with himself. But that night Moses heard a voice. It was God’s. “Oh, Moses, what have you done? You scolded that poor shepherd and failed to realize how dear he was to Me. He might not be saying the right things in the right way, but he was sincere. His heart was pure and his intentions good. I was pleased with him. His words might have been blasphemy to your ears, but to Me they were sweet blasphemy.” Moses immediately understood his mistake. The next day, early in the morning, he went back to the mountains to see the shepherd. He found him praying again, except this time he was praying in the way he had been instructed. In his determination to get the prayer right, he was stammering, bereft of the excitement and passion of his earlier prayer. Regretting what he had done to him, Moses patted the shepherd’s back and said: “My friend, I was wrong. Please forgive me. Keep praying in your own way. That is more precious in God’s eyes.” The shepherd was astonished to hear this, but even deeper was his relief. Nevertheless, he did not want to go back to his old prayers. Neither did he abide by the formal prayers that Moses had taught him. He had now found a new way of communicating with God. Though satisfied and blessed in his naïve devotion, he was now past that stage—beyond his sweet blasphemy.
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“Oh, that is quite all right. I am used to people not liking me much.”
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One thing that has helped me personally in the past was to stop interfering with the people around me and getting frustrated when I couldn’t change them. Instead of intrusion or passivity, may I suggest submission?
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Some people make the mistake of confusing “submission” with “weakness,” whereas it is anything but. Submission is a form of peaceful acceptance of the terms of the universe, including the things we are currently unable to change or comprehend.
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May love find you when you least expect, where you least expect.
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Speak less, mature quicker!”
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Even when he bowed his head in modesty. There was something so unusual and unpredictable about him that it was almost frightening.
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You can study God through everything and everyone in the universe, because God is not confined in a mosque, synagogue, or church. But if you are still in need of knowing where exactly His abode is, there is only one place to look for Him: in the heart of a true lover.
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There is no one who has lived after seeing Him, just like there is no one who has died after seeing Him. Whoever finds Him will remain with Him forever.”
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And if they weren’t too tired or drunk or simply not in the mood when they came home, they would have sex. Brief kisses and tender moves that exuded less passion than compassion. Once their most reliable connection, sex had lost its allure quite a while ago. Sometimes they went for weeks without making love. Ella found it odd that sex had once been so important in her life, and now when it was gone, she felt relieved, almost liberated. By and large she was fine with the idea of a long-married couple gradually abandoning the plane of physical attraction
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By and large she was fine with the idea of a long-married couple gradually abandoning the plane of physical attraction for a more reliable and stable way of relating.
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However, infidelity had a smell.
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She understood with chilling clarity and calm that despite her inexperience and timidity, one day she would abandon it all: her kitchen, her dog, her children, her neighbors, her husband, her cookbooks and homemade-bread recipes.… She would simply walk out into the world where dangerous things happened all the time.
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“Intellect and love are made of different materials,” he said. “Intellect ties people in knots and risks nothing, but love dissolves all tangles and risks everything. Intellect is always cautious and advises, ‘Beware too much ecstasy,’ whereas love says, ‘Oh, never mind! Take the plunge!’ Intellect does not easily break down, whereas love can effortlessly reduce itself to rubble. But treasures are hidden among ruins. A broken heart hides treasures.”
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When it came to a routine, he got desperate, like a tiger trapped in a cage.
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Most of the problems of the world stem from linguistic mistakes and simple misunderstandings. Don’t ever take words at face value. When you step into the zone of love, language as we know it becomes obsolete. That which cannot be put into words can only be grasped through silence.
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We have seen it all. Christians killing Muslims, Christians killing Christians, Muslims killing Christians, Muslims killing Muslims. Warring religions, sects, tribes, even brothers.
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His name is Mawlana Jalal ad-Din but he often goes by the name Rumi. I have had the pleasure of meeting him, and not only that, of studying with him, first as his teacher, then, upon his father’s death, as his mentor, and, after years, as his student. Yes, my friend, I became a student of my student.
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After a point I had nothing else to teach him and started to learn from him instead.
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An ocean is walking behind a lake!”
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I spent many evenings in the praying room reciting the ninety-nine names of God for guidance. Each time one name stood out: al-Jabbar—the One in whose dominion nothing happens except that which He has willed.
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Loneliness and solitude are two different things. When you are lonely, it is easy to delude yourself into believing that you are on the right path. Solitude is better for us, as it means being alone without feeling lonely. But eventually it is best to find a person, the person who will be your mirror. Remember, only in another person’s heart can you truly see yourself and the presence of God within you.
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Whatever happens in your life, no matter how troubling things might seem, do not enter the neighborhood of despair. Even when all doors remain closed, God will open up a new path only for you. Be thankful! It is easy to be thankful when all is well. A Sufi is thankful not only for what he has been given but also for all that he has been denied.
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Patience does not mean to passively endure. It means to be farsighted enough to trust the end result of a process. What does patience mean? It means to look at the thorn and see the rose, to look at the night and see the dawn. Impatience means to be so shortsighted as to not be able to see the outcome. The lovers of God never run out of patience, for they know that time is needed for the crescent moon to become full.
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The powerful, lucid R; the velvety U; the intrepid and self-confident M; and the mysterious I, yet to be solved.
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“Your father and I have been married a long time. It’s difficult to remain in love after so many years.”
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Love was for those looking for some rhyme or reason in this wildly spinning world. But what about those who had long given up the quest?
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I constantly vacillate between two opposites: aggressive and passive.
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But it has been such a long time since I last knocked on God’s door that I’m not sure if He still lives in the same place.
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I’ve never experienced the kind of peaceful surrender.
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For the silk to survive, the silkworm had to die.
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But eventually, for the silk to survive, the silkworm had to die.
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It takes the lives of hundreds of silkworms to produce one silk scarf.
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East, west, south, or north makes little difference. No matter what your destination, just be sure to make every journey a journey within. If you travel within, you’ll travel the whole wide world and beyond.
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The midwife knows that when there is no pain, the way for the baby cannot be opened and the mother cannot give birth. Likewise, for a new Self to be born, hardship is necessary. Just as clay needs to go through intense heat to become strong, Love can only be perfected in pain.
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Without any hair my face was cleared of a name, age, or gender. It had no past or future, sealed forever in this moment.
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There are more fake gurus and false teachers in this world than the number of stars in the visible universe. Don’t confuse power-driven, self-centered people with true mentors. A genuine spiritual master will not direct your attention to himself or herself and will not expect absolute obedience or utter admiration from you, but instead will help you to appreciate and admire your inner self. True mentors are as transparent as glass. They let the Light of God pass through them.”
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You care too much about what other people think. But you know what? Because you are so desperate to win the approval of others, you’ll never get rid of their criticisms, no matter how hard you try.”
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Each time I say good-bye to a place I like, I feel like I am leaving a part of me behind.
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I Guess whether we choose to travel as much as Marco Polo did or stay in the same spot from cradle to grave, life is a sequence of births and deaths. Moments are born and moments die. For new experiences to come to light, old ones need to wither away. Don’t you think?
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Does it ever occur to you that our exchange might not be a result of coincidence?
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When I was a child, I saw God, I saw angels; I watched the mysteries of the higher and lower worlds. I thought all men saw the same. At last I realized that they did not see.… —SHAMS OF TABRIZ
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“And how do you know your right thing is the right thing for me?”
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For despite what some people say, love is not only a sweet feeling bound to come and quickly go away.
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In an age of deeply embedded bigotries and clashes, he stood for a universal spirituality, opening his doors to people of all backgrounds. Instead of an outer-oriented jihad—defined as “the war against infidels” and carried out by many in those days just as in the present—Rumi stood up for an inner-oriented jihad where the aim was to struggle against and ultimately prevail over one’s ego, nafs.
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At times like these, I feel a sudden wave of sadness take hold of me, though I can never tell why.
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Why, then, do I feel this void inside me, growing deeper and wider with each passing day? It gnaws at my soul like a disease and accompanies me wherever I go, as quiet as a mouse and just as ravenous.
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It makes no difference to me whether that place belongs to Muslims, Christians, or Jews. I believe that the saints are beyond such trivial nominal distinctions. A saint belongs to all humanity.
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Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?
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“God is busy with the completion of your work, both outwardly and inwardly. He is fully occupied with you. Every human being is a work in progress that is slowly but inexorably moving toward perfection. We are each an unfinished work of art both waiting and striving to be completed. God deals with each of us separately because humanity is a fine art of skilled penmanship where every single dot is equally important for the entire picture.”
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Personally, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with sadness.
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Opposite—hypocrisy made people happy, and truth made them sad.
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I wanted to see him through foreign eyes, kind and unkind, loving and unloving, before I looked on him with my own.
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Believe it or not, they call this purgatory on earth “holy suffering.”
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I am a leper stuck in limbo. Neither the dead nor the living want me among them. Mothers point me out on the streets to scare their misbehaving toddlers, and children throw stones at me. Artisans chase me from their storefronts to ward off the bad luck that follows me everywhere, and pregnant women turn their faces away whenever they set eyes on me, fearing that their babies will be born defective. None of these people seem to realize that as keen as they are to avoid me, I am far keener to avoid them and their pitiful stares.
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Not because God pays special attention to lepers but because for some strange reason people think
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Begging is one of only two ways to survive. The other is praying. Not because God pays special attention to lepers but because for some strange reason people think He does.
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What I lost, I lost forever.
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What brought us even closer to God, he said, was none other than suffering.
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Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, raised in distinguished circles, tutored by the best scholars, and always loved, pampered, and admired—how dare he preach on suffering?
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Finally I stepped into a street where three odors loomed in the air: sweat, perfume, and lust. I had reached the seamy side of town.
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The quest for God is ingrained in the hearts of all, be it a prostitute or a saint.
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The whole universe is contained within a single human being—you.
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Everything that you see around, including the things you might not be fond of and even the people you despise or abhor, is present within you in varying degrees. Therefore, do not look for Sheitan outside yourself either. The devil is not an extraordinary force that attacks from without. It is an ordinary voice within.
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I kept wondering, is the way I’ve lived my life the way I want to continue from now on?
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Happy birthday! Forty is a most beautiful age for both men and women. Did you know that in mystic thought forty symbolizes the ascent from one level to a higher one and spiritual awakening? When we mourn we mourn for forty days. When a baby is born it takes forty days for him to get ready to start life on earth. And when we are in love we need to wait for forty days to be sure of our feelings.
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The Flood of Noah lasted forty days, and while the waters destroyed life, they also washed all impurity away and enabled human beings to make a new, fresh start. In Islamic mysticism there are forty degrees between man and God. Likewise, there are four basic stages of consciousness and ten degrees in each, making forty levels in total. Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days and nights. Muhammad was forty years old when he received the call to become a prophet. Buddha meditated under a linden tree for forty days. Not to mention the forty rules of Shams.
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Some people feed on the miseries of others and they don’t like it when there is one less miserable person on the face of the earth.
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“Since when do whores go to mosques?”
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We weren’t rich. Even as a child, I knew that. But we weren’t poor either.
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For back then God was my friend.
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“God created suffering so that joy might appear through its opposite,” Rumi said. “Things become manifest through opposites. Since God has no opposite, He remains hidden.”
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I had seen many lynchings before. It never ceased to amaze me how dramatically people changed when they joined a mob. Ordinary men with no history of violence—artisans, vendors, or peddlers—turned aggressive to the point of murder when they banded together. Lynchings were common and ended with the corpses put on display to deter others. “Poor woman,” I muttered to Shams of Tabriz, but when I turned to him for a response, there was no one standing there. I caught sight of the dervish darting toward the mob, like a flaming arrow shot straight up into the sky. I jumped to my feet and rushed to catch up with him. When he reached the head of the procession, Shams raised his staff like a flag and yelled at the top of his voice, “Stop it, people! Halt!” Baffled, and suddenly silent, the men stared at him in wonder. “You should all be ashamed of yourselves!” Shams of Tabriz shouted as he struck the ground with his staff. “Thirty
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I had seen many lynchings before. It never ceased to amaze me how dramatically people changed when they joined a mob. Ordinary men with no history of violence—artisans, vendors, or peddlers—turned aggressive to the point of murder when they banded together. Lynchings were common and ended with the corpses put on display to deter others.
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Worry, old drunk!” yelled Hristos, the tavern
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“You know, this is exactly why I abhor religion. All sorts of them! Religious people are so confident of having God by their side that they think they are superior to everyone else,”
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“Did God set grapes a-growing, do you think, And at the same time make it a sin to drink?”
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“Give thanks to Him who foreordained it thus— Surely He loves to hear the glasses clink!” Khayyám.
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“Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why; Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where.”
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There is no such thing as ‘them,’ just as there is no ‘I.’
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If you want to change the way others treat you, you should first change the way you treat yourself. Unless you learn to love yourself, fully and sincerely, there is no way you can be loved. Once you achieve that stage, however, be thankful for every thorn that others might throw at you. It is a sign that you will soon be showered in roses.”
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“Fret not where the road will take you. Instead concentrate on the first step. That’s the hardest part and that’s what you are responsible for. Once you take that step let everything do what it naturally does and the rest will follow. Do not go with the flow. Be the flow.”
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“Kiss me, my beloved, peel my heart down to the core, Your lips are as sweet as cherry wine, pour me some more.”
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“If God’s paradise is reserved for people of your kind, I’d rather burn in hell anyhow.”
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No two people are alike. No two hearts beat to the same rhythm. If God had wanted everyone to be the same, He would have made it so. Therefore, disrespecting differences and imposing your thoughts on others is tantamount to disrespecting God’s holy scheme.”
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“Besides, one does not become a believer overnight. He thinks he is a believer; then something happens in his life and he becomes an unbeliever; after that, he becomes a believer again, and then an unbeliever again, and so on. Until we reach a certain stage, we constantly waver. This is the only way forward. At each new step, we come closer to the Truth.”
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When a true lover of God goes into a tavern, the tavern becomes his chamber of prayer, but when a wine bibber goes into the same chamber, it becomes his tavern. In everything we do, it is our hearts that make the difference, not our outer appearances.
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Aziz was that rare type of man a woman could love without losing her self-respect.
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Now, you think I am a religious man. But I am not. I am spiritual, which is different.
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A philosopher met a dervish one day, and they instantly hit it off. The two talked for days on end, completing each other’s sentences. Finally, when they parted company, the philosopher reported of the conversation, “All that I know, he sees.” Next the Sufi gave his account: “All that I see, he knows.”
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A wandering dervish arrived in a town where the natives didn’t trust strangers. “Go away!” they shouted at him. “No one knows you here!” The dervish calmly responded, “Yes, but I know myself, and believe me, it would have been much worse if it were the other way round.”
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In this life stay away from all kinds of extremities, for they will destroy your inner balance.
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He stopped and turned around, smiling at me for the first time. “All right, do tell me, please, which of the two is greater, do you think: the Prophet Muhammad or the Sufi Bistami?” “What kind of a question is that?” I said. “How can you compare our venerated Prophet, may peace be upon him, the last in the line of prophets, with an infamous mystic?” A curious crowd had gathered around us, but the dervish didn’t seem to mind the audience. Still studying my face carefully, he insisted, “Please think about it. Didn’t the Prophet say, ‘Forgive me, God, I couldn’t know Thee as I should have,’ while Bistami pronounced, ‘Glory be to me, I carry God inside my cloak’? If one man feels so small in relation to God while another man claims to carry God inside, which of the two is greater?” My heart pulsed in my throat. The question didn’t seem so absurd anymore. In fact, it felt as if a veil had been lifted and what awaited me underneath was an intriguing puzzle. A furtive smile, like a passing breeze, crossed the lips of the dervish. Now I knew he was not some crazy lunatic. He was a man with a question—a question I hadn’t thought about before. “I see what you are trying to say,” I began, not wanting him to hear so much as a quaver in my voice. “I’ll compare the two statements and tell you why, even though Bistami’s statement sounds higher, it is in fact the other way round.” “I am all ears,” the dervish said. “You see, God’s love is an endless ocean, and human beings strive to get as much water as they can out of it. But at the end of the day, how much water we each get depends on the size of our cups. Some people have barrels, some buckets, while some others have only got bowls.” As I spoke, I watched the dervish’s expression change from subtle scorn to open acknowledgment and from there into the soft smile of someone recognizing his own thoughts in the words of another. “Bistami’s container was relatively small, and his thirst was quenched after a mouthful. He was happy in the stage he was at. It was wonderful that he recognized the divine in himself, but even then there still remains a distinction between God and Self. Unity is not achieved. As for the Prophet, he was the Elect of God and had a much bigger cup to fill. This is why God asked him in the Qur’an, Have we not opened up your heart? His heart thus widened, his cup immense, it was thirst upon thirst for him. No wonder he said, ‘We do not know You as we should,’ although he certainly knew Him as no other did.”
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Ella thought Aziz was a gushing waterfall. Where she feared to step, he surged full blast. Where she hesitated and worried before acting, he acted first and worried later, if he ever worried at all. He had an animated personality, too much idealism and passion for one body. He wore many hats and he wore them well.
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For Aziz, on the other hand, time centered on this very moment, and anything other than now was an illusion. For the same reason, he believed that love had nothing to do with “plans for tomorrow” or “memories of yesterday.” Love could only be here and now.
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“What a bizarre thing to say,” Ella wrote him back, “to a woman who has always put too much thought into the past and even more thought into the future but somehow never even touched the present moment.”
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When Shams of Tabriz asked me that question about the Prophet Muhammad and the Sufi Bistami, I felt as though we were the only two people left on the face of the earth. In front of us extended the seven stages on the Path to Truth—seven maqamat every ego had to go through in order to attain Oneness.
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The first stage is the Depraved Nafs, the most primitive and common state of being, when the soul is entrapped in worldly pursuits.
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Instead of blaming other people all the time, the person who has reached this stage blames himself, sometimes to the point of self-effacement. Herein the ego becomes the Accusing Nafs and thus starts the journey toward inner purification.
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And the ego has evolved into the Inspired Nafs. It is only at this level, and not anytime before, that one can experience the true meaning of the word “surrender” and roam the Valley of Knowledge.
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Those who manage to go further reach the Valley of Wisdom and come to know the Serene Nafs. Here the ego is not what it used to be, having altered into a high level of consciousness.
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Beyond that lies the Valley of Unity. Those who are here will be pleased with whatever situation God places them in. Mundane matters make no difference to them, as they have achieved the Pleased Nafs.
==========

In the next stage, the Pleasing Nafs, one becomes a lantern to humanity, radiating energy to everyone who asks for it, teaching and illuminating like a true master. Sometimes such a person can also have healing powers. Wherever he goes, he will make a big difference in other people’s lives.
==========

Finally, in the seventh stage, one attains the Purified Nafs and becomes Insan-i Kâmil, a perfect human being. But nobody knows much about that state, and even if a few ever did, they wouldn’t speak of it.
==========

The route from the first to the last stage is by no means linear. There is always the danger of tumbling back into earlier stages, sometimes even from a superior stage all the way down to the first one.
==========

It was the laughter of a woman who had never learned not to pay too much attention to the judgments of others.
==========

The speed with which human relations materialized and dissipated amazed Ella more than ever, and yet she tried not to pass judgment on other people anymore.
==========

She had discovered that once she accepted that she didn’t have to stress herself about things she had no control over, another self emerged from inside—one who was wiser, calmer, and far more sensible.
==========

“Just accept the void!”
==========

Nothing had changed, and yet nothing was the same anymore.
==========

But patience doesn’t come easily, and it’s getting harder with each passing day.
==========

I have known Christian babies with Muslim names and Muslim babies fed by Christian milk mothers. Ours is an ever-liquid world where everything flows and mixes. If there is a frontier between Christianity and Islam, it has to be more flexible than scholars on both sides think it is.
==========

I never knew it was possible to live with someone under the same roof, sleep in the same bed, and still feel that he was not really there.
==========

Pity the ignorant who assume they can negotiate and settle debts with God. Do such people think God is a grocer who attempts to weigh our virtues and our wrongdoings on two separate scales? Is He a clerk meticulously writing down our sins in His accounting book so as to make us pay Him back someday? Is this their notion of Oneness?
==========

Al-Jamal, al-Kayyum, al-Rahman, al-Rahim. Through famine and flood, dry and athirst, I will sing and dance for Him till my knees buckle, my body collapses, and my heart stops pounding. I will smash my ego to smithereens, until I am no more than a particle of nothingness, the wayfarer of pure emptiness, the dust of the dust in His great architecture.
==========

Instead of searching for the essence of the Qur’an and embracing it as a whole, however, the bigots single out a specific verse or two, giving priority to the divine commands that they deem to be in tune with their fearful minds. They keep reminding everyone that on the Day of Judgment all human beings will be forced to walk the Bridge of Sirat, thinner than a hair, sharper than a razor. Unable to cross the bridge, the sinful will tumble into the pits of hell underneath, where they will suffer forever. Those who have led a virtuous life will make it to the other end of the bridge, where they will be rewarded with exotic fruits, sweet waters, and virgins. This, in a nutshell, is their notion of afterlife. So great is their obsession with horrors and rewards, flames and fruits, angels and demons, that in their itch to reach a future that will justify who they are today they forget about God!
==========

Hell is in the here and now. So is heaven. Quit worrying about hell or dreaming about heaven, as they are both present inside this very moment. Every time we fall in love, we ascend to heaven. Every time we hate, envy, or fight someone, we tumble straight into the fires of hell.
==========

Is there a worse hell than the torment a man suffers when he knows deep down in his conscience that he has done something wrong, awfully wrong? Ask that man. He will tell you what hell is.
==========

Is there a better paradise than the bliss that descends upon a man at those rare moments in life when the bolts of the universe fly open and he feels in possession of all the secrets of eternity and fully united with God? Ask that man. He will tell you what heaven is.
==========

Why worry so much about the aftermath, an imaginary future, when this very moment is the only time we can truly and fully experience both the presence and the absence of God in our lives?
==========

Motivated by neither the fear of punishment in hell nor the desire to be rewarded in heaven, Sufis love God simply because they love Him, pure and easy, untainted and nonnegotiable.
==========

“Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi or zen. Not any religion or cultural system. I am not of the East, nor of the West.… My place is placeless, a trace of the traceless.” Rumi
==========

As a writer, he might have wanted to create his central character in his own image, just as God had created human beings in His image.
==========

When surrounded by cold-blooded enemies on all sides, how can we afford to be peaceful? This is why people like Rumi get on my nerves. I don’t care how highly everyone thinks of him. For me he is a coward who spreads nothing but cowardice.
==========

Thus sheltered and privileged and always showered with attention and approval,
==========

It’s easy to preach tolerance when you have a history like that!
==========

Ali, the Prophet’s successor and companion, was fighting with an infidel on a battlefield. Ali was about to thrust his sword into the other man’s heart when all of a sudden the infidel raised his head and spit at him. Ali immediately dropped his sword, took a deep breath, and walked away. The infidel was stunned. He ran after Ali and asked him why he was letting him go. “Because I’m very angry at you,” said Ali. “Then why don’t you kill me?” the infidel asked. “I don’t understand.” Ali explained, “When you spit in my face, I got very angry. My ego was provoked, yearning for revenge. If I kill you now, I’ll be following my ego. And that would be a huge mistake.” So Ali set the man free. The infidel was so touched that he became Ali’s friend and follower, and in time he converted to Islam of his own free will.
==========

Shams is the person who was responsible for the transformation of Rumi from a local cleric to a world-famous poet and mystic. Master Sameed used to say to me, “Even if there might be a Shams equivalent in some people, what matters is, where are the Rumis to see it?”
==========

It’s as if for years on end you compile a personal dictionary. In it you give your definition of every concept that matters to you, such as “truth,” “happiness,” or “beauty.” At every major turning point in life, you refer to this dictionary, hardly ever feeling the need to question its premises. Then one day a stranger comes and snatches your precious dictionary and throws it away. “All your definitions need to be redefined,” he says. “It’s time for you to unlearn everything you know.” And you, for some reason unbeknownst to your mind but obvious to your heart, instead of raising objections or getting cross with him, gladly comply.
==========

But more than that, he has taught me to unlearn everything I knew.
==========

At the end of the day, those who ask this question are the ones who won’t understand it, and as for those who do understand, they don’t ask such things.
==========

When you love someone this much, you expect everyone around you to feel the same way, sharing your joy and euphoria. And when that doesn’t happen, you feel surprised, then offended and betrayed.
==========

Finally one day they brought Layla to the emperor’s palace. When she took off her veil, Harun ar-Rashid was disillusioned. Not that Layla was ugly, crippled, or old. But she wasn’t extraordinarily attractive either. She was a human being with ordinary human needs and several defects, a simple woman, like countless others. The emperor did not hide his disappointment. “Are you the one Majnun has been crazy about? Why, you look so ordinary. What is so special about you?” Layla broke into a smile. “Yes, I am Layla. But you are not Majnun,” she answered. “You have to see me with the eyes of Majnun. Otherwise you could never solve this mystery called love.”
==========

Is there a way to grasp what love means without becoming a lover first?
==========

Love cannot be explained. It can only be experienced. Love cannot be explained, yet it explains all.
==========

“Al-Nisa,” I said. “There are some parts in it where men are said to be superior to women. It even says men can beat their wives.… ” “Is that so?” Shams asked with such exaggerated interest that I couldn’t be sure whether he was serious or teasing me. After a momentary silence, he broke into a soft smile and out of memory recited the verse. “Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.” When he finished, Shams closed his eyes and recited the same verse, this time in a different translation. “Men are the support of women as God gives some more means than others, and because they spend of their wealth (to provide for them). So women who are virtuous are obedient to God and guard the hidden as God has guarded it. As for women you feel are averse, talk to them suasively; then leave them alone in bed (without molesting them) and go to bed with them (when they are willing). If they open out to you, do not seek an excuse for blaming them. Surely God is sublime and great.
==========

“The Qur’an is a gushing river,” he said. “Those who look at it from a distance see only one river. But for those swimming in it, there are four currents. Like different types of fish, some of us swim closer to the surface while some others swim in deep waters down below.”
==========

“Those who like to swim close to the surface are content with the outer meaning of the Qur’an. Many people are like that. They take the verses too literally. No wonder when they read a verse like the Nisa, they arrive at the conclusion that men are held superior to women. Because that is exactly what they want to see.”
==========

“There are three more currents. The second one is deeper than the first, but still close to the surface. As your awareness expands, so does your grasp of the Qur’an. But for that to happen, you need to take the plunge.”
==========

“The third undercurrent is the esoteric, batini, reading. If you read the Nisa with your inner eye open, you’ll see that the verse is not about women and men but about womanhood and manhood. And each and every one of us, including you and me, has both femininity and masculinity in us, in varying degrees and shades. Only when we learn to embrace both can we attain harmonious Oneness.”
==========

“Every man has a degree of womanliness inside.”
“Even the ones who are manly men?”
“Especially those, my dear,”
==========

As a flame against my skin. I was flabbergasted.
==========

The boy who took the news of the death of his mother without shedding a tear. All he did was to look down at his feet as if suddenly ashamed of his shoes and purse his bottom lip until its color was gone. Neither a word nor a sob had come out of his mouth. I wish he would have cried.
==========

“If we can embrace the universe as a whole, with all its differences and contradictions, everything will melt into One.”
==========

Drunks, beggars, thieves, prostitutes, gamblers—the most inconsolable and the most downtrodden. Can we love all of God’s creatures? It is a difficult test, and one that only a few can pass.”
==========

“The universe is one being. Everything and everyone is interconnected through an invisible web of stories. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all in a silent conversation. Do no harm. Practice compassion. And do not gossip behind anyone’s back—not even a seemingly innocent remark! The words that come out of our mouths do not vanish but are perpetually stored in infinite space, and they will come back to us in due time. One man’s pain will hurt us all. One man’s joy will make everyone smile,”
==========

Khidr said to Moses, “I am a lifelong traveler. God has assigned me to roam the world and do what needs to be done. You say you want to join me in my journeys, but if you follow me, you must not question anything I do. Can you bear to accompany me without questioning? Can you trust me fully?” “Yes, I can,” Moses assured him. “Let me come with you. I promise, I won’t ask you any questions.” So they set out on the road, visiting various towns on the way. But when he witnessed Khidr perform senseless actions, like killing a young boy or sinking a boat, Moses could not hold his tongue. “Why did you do those awful things?” he asked desperately. “What happened to your promise?” Khidr asked back. “Did I not tell you that you can ask me no questions?” Each time Moses apologized, promising not to ask anything, and each time he broke his promise. In the end, Khidr explained the reason behind each and every one of his actions. Slowly but surely, Moses understood that things that can seem malicious or unfortunate are often a blessing in disguise, whereas things that might seem pleasant can be harmful in the long run. His brief companionship with Khidr was to be the most eye-opening experience in his life.
==========

It is in the verse al-Kahf, clear and plain. Moses was an exemplary man, great enough to become a prophet someday, as well as a legendary commander and lawmaker. But there was a time when he sorely needed a spiritual companion to open his third eye. And that companion was no other than Khidr, the Comforter of the Distressed and Dejected. Khidr said to Moses, “I am a lifelong traveler. God has assigned me to roam the world and do what needs to be done. You say you want to join me in my journeys, but if you follow me, you must not question anything I do. Can you bear to accompany me without questioning? Can you trust me fully?” “Yes, I can,” Moses assured him. “Let me come with you. I promise, I won’t ask you any questions.” So they set out on the road, visiting various towns on the way. But when he witnessed Khidr perform senseless actions, like killing a young boy or sinking a boat, Moses could not hold his tongue. “Why did you do those awful things?” he asked desperately. “What happened to your promise?” Khidr asked back. “Did I not tell you that you can ask me no questions?” Each time Moses apologized, promising not to ask anything, and each time he broke his promise. In the end, Khidr explained the reason behind each and every one of his actions. Slowly but surely, Moses understood that things that can seem malicious or unfortunate are often a blessing in disguise, whereas things that might seem pleasant can be harmful in the long run. His brief companionship with Khidr was to be the most eye-opening experience in his life.
==========

“I don’t quarrel with them, I quarrel with their ego. That’s different.”
==========

This world is like a snowy mountain that echoes your voice. Whatever you speak, good or evil, will somehow come back to you. Therefore, if there is someone who harbors ill thoughts about you, saying similarly bad things about him will only make matters worse. You will be locked in a vicious circle of malevolent energy. Instead for forty days and nights say and think nice things about that person. Everything will be different at the end of forty days, because you will be different inside.”
==========

Two men were traveling from one town to another. They came to a stream that had risen due to heavy rainfall. Just when they were about to cross the water, they noticed a young, beautiful woman standing there all alone, in need of help. One of the men immediately went to her side. He picked the woman up and carried her in his arms across the stream. Then he dropped her there, waved good-bye, and the two men went their way. During the rest of the trip, the second traveler was unusually silent and sullen, not responding to his friend’s questions. After several hours of sulking, unable to keep silent anymore, he said, “Why did you touch that woman? She could have seduced you! Men and women cannot come into contact like that!” The first man responded calmly, “My friend, I carried the woman across the stream, and that is where I left her. It is you who have been carrying her ever since.”
==========

A pendulum woman. Capable of swinging from extreme joy to extreme depression in the span of a few minutes,
==========

Margot regarded herself as a bohemian, an idealist, a radical, a bisexual, a leftist, an individualist anarchist, a multiculturalist, a human-rights advocate, a counterculture activist, an ecofeminist—labels I couldn’t even define should one ask me what they meant.
==========

Did she ever love me as much as I loved her? I don’t think so. But I know she did love me in her own self-centered and self-destructive way.
==========

After I lost the woman I loved, I metamorphosed drastically. Neither a boy nor an adult, I became a trapped animal. This stage of my life I call my encounter with the letter S in the word “Sufi.”
==========

The past is an interpretation. The future is an illusion. The world does not move through time as if it were a straight line, proceeding from the past to the future. Instead time moves through and within us, in endless spirals. Eternity does not mean infinite time, but simply timelessness. If you want to experience eternal illumination, put the past and the future out of your mind and remain within the present moment.
==========

“The silence that follows a massive disaster is the most peaceful sound you can hear on the surface of the world,”
==========

And suddenly I realized I was living my fear and, to my surprise, it wasn’t frightful.
==========

The only filth was the filth inside.
==========

“The fourth level is unspeakable,” he said. “There is a stage after which language fails us. When you step into the zone of love, you won’t need language.”
==========

Next to him I felt both like a child learning life anew and like a woman ready to nurture life inside my womb.
==========

Destiny doesn’t mean that your life has been strictly predetermined. Therefore, to leave everything to fate and to not actively contribute to the music of the universe is a sign of sheer ignorance. “The music of the universe is all-pervading and it is composed on forty different levels. “Your destiny is the level where you will play your tune. You might not change your instrument but how well to play is entirely in your hands.”
==========

One day a young woman asked a dervish what fate was about. “Come with me,” the dervish said. “Let’s take a look at the world together.” Soon they ran into a procession. A killer was being taken to the plaza to be hanged. The dervish asked, “That man will be executed. But is that because somebody gave him the money with which he bought his murder weapon? Or is it because nobody stopped him while he was committing the crime? Or is it because someone caught him afterward? Where is the cause and effect in this case?”
==========

I felt a warm glow in the pit of my stomach and a wave of desire between my legs. How embarrassing it was—and yet, oddly, not embarrassing at all.
==========

For a passing moment, I stood frozen, inhaling his smell. It was a mixture of sandalwood and soft amber with a faint, crisp tang underneath, like the smell of earth after the rain. I felt a warm glow in the pit of my stomach and a wave of desire between my legs. How embarrassing it was—and yet, oddly, not embarrassing at all.
==========

“In love, boundaries are blurred,”
==========

“I don’t care about haram or halal. I’d rather extinguish the fire in hell and burn heaven, so that people could start loving God for no other reason than love.”
==========

But don’t you think that gives me all the more reason to speak my mind? Besides, narrow-minded people are deaf anyhow. To their sealed ears, whatever I say is sheer blasphemy.”
==========

They always condemn those who drink wine, or are on the lookout for adulterous women to stone, but when it comes to gossiping, which is a far more serious sin in the eyes of God, they take no notice of any wrongdoing.
==========

One day a man came running to a Sufi and said, panting, “Hey, they are carrying trays, look over there!” The Sufi answered calmly, “What is it to us? Is it any of my business?” “But they are taking those trays to your house!” the man exclaimed. “Then is it any of your business?” the Sufi said.
==========

If the whole world were swallowed by the sea, what would it matter to a duck?
==========

No wonder the Prophet Muhammad said, “In this world take pity on three kinds of people. The rich man who has lost his fortune, the well-respected man who has lost his respectability, and the wise man who is surrounded by ignorants.”
==========

As hurtful as it is, being slandered is ultimately good for one on the path.
==========

The true Sufi is such that even when he is unjustly accused, attacked, and condemned from all sides, he patiently endures, uttering not a single bad word about any of his critics. A Sufi never apportions blame. How can there be opponents or rivals or even “others” when there is no “self” in the first place? How can there be anyone to blame when there is only One?
==========

I looked for comfort and compassion in all the wrong places.
==========

We shared everything. Our songs, dreams, pocket money, drugs, food, beds… Everything but the pain.
==========

Whatever was earned in the brothel had to stay in the brothel.
==========

Shams of Tabriz had said that faith and love turned human beings into heroes because they removed all the fear and anxiety from their hearts.
==========

“Numbing the pain is not the same as healing it. When the anesthesia wears off, the pain is still there.”
==========

On the Sufi path, first you discover the art of being alone amid the crowd. Next you discover the crowd within your solitude—the voices inside you.
==========

I was sick and tired of always longing to be somewhere else, somewhere beyond, always in a rush despite myself.
==========

“No, because what I need is not in the kitchen. It is in the tavern. I am in the mood to get drunk, you see.” I pretended not to notice the shadow of incomprehension that crossed Rumi’s face, and I continued. “Instead of going to the kitchen for water, would you go to the tavern for wine?” “You mean, you want me to get you wine?” Rumi asked, pronouncing the last word cautiously, as if afraid of breaking it. “That’s right. I’d so much appreciate it if you would get us some wine. Two bottles would be enough, one for you, one for me. But do me a favor, please. When you go to the tavern, don’t just simply get the bottles and come back. Stay there for a while. Talk to the people. I’ll be waiting here for you. No need to rush.” Rumi gave me a look that was half irritated, half bewildered. I recalled the face of the novice in Baghdad who had wanted to accompany me but cared too much about his reputation to take the plunge. His concern for the opinions of others had held him back. Now I wondered if his reputation was going to hold Rumi back, too. But to my great relief, Rumi stood up and nodded. “I have never been to a tavern before and have never consumed wine. I don’t think drinking is the right thing to do. But I trust you fully, because I trust the love between us. There must be a reason you have asked me to do such a thing. I need to find out what that reason is. I’ll go and bring us wine.” With that, he said good-bye and walked out.
==========

“I’ve been sent here by Shams so that I could have my reputation ruined.” “And is that a good thing?” I asked. Rumi laughed. “Well, it depends on how you look at it. Sometimes it is necessary to destroy all attachments in order to win over your ego. If we are too attached to our family, our position in society, even our local school or mosque, to the extent that they stand in the way of Union with God, we need to tear those attachments down.”
==========

“If the wine drinker Has a deep gentleness in him, He will show that, When drunk. But if he has hidden anger and arrogance, Those appear, And since most people do, Wine is forbidden to everyone.” Rumi
==========

“If you want to strengthen your faith, you will need to soften inside. For your faith to be rock solid, your heart needs to be as soft as a feather. Through an illness, accident, loss, or fright, one way or another, we all are faced with incidents that teach us how to become less selfish and judgmental, and more compassionate and generous. Yet some of us learn the lesson and manage to become milder, while some others end up becoming even harsher than before. The only way to get closer to Truth is to expand your heart so that it will encompass all humanity and still have room for more Love.”
==========

“Religious rules and prohibitions are important,” he said. “But they should not be turned into unquestionable taboos. It is with such awareness that I drink the wine you offer me today, believing with all my heart that there is a sobriety beyond the drunkenness of love.”
==========

Nothing should stand between yourself and God. Not imams, priests, rabbis, or any other custodians of moral or religious leadership. Not spiritual masters, not even your faith. Believe in your values and your rules, but never lord them over others. If you keep breaking other people’s hearts, whatever religious duty you perform is no good. “Stay away from all sorts of idolatry, for they will blur your vision. Let God and only God be your guide. Learn the Truth, my friend, but be careful not to make a fetish out of your truths.”
==========

Then there was silence. Twenty years of marriage, twenty years of sleeping in the same bed, sharing the same shower, eating the same food, raising three kids … and what it all added up to was silence.
==========

Wasn’t it Bistami who pronounced, “Look at me! How great is my glory!” Wasn’t it he who then said, “I saw the Kaaba walking around me”? The man went as far as stating, “I am the smith of my own self.” If this is not blasphemy, then what is? Such is the level of the man Shams quotes with respect. For just like Bistami, he, too, is a heretic.
==========

Sometimes nasty encounters are not only inevitable, they are necessary,”
==========

The tension between the two men was so thick that the air in the classroom could be cut with a knife.
==========

“You say you won’t talk to me, but you have been talking about me,”
==========

“A man with many opinions but no questions! There’s something so wrong with that.”
==========

“One who thinks he has all the answers is the most ignorant,”
==========

Four merchants were praying in a mosque when they saw the muezzin enter. The first merchant stopped his prayer and asked, “Muezzin! Has the prayer been called? Or do we still have time?” The second merchant stopped praying and turned to his friend. “Hey, you spoke while you were praying. Your prayer is now void. You need to start anew!” Upon hearing this, the third merchant interjected, “Why do you blame him, you idiot? You should have minded your own prayer. Now yours is void, too.” The fourth merchant broke into a smile and said loudly, “Look at them! All three have messed up. Thank God I’m not one of the misguided.”
==========

“If these merchants made a mistake, it is not because they spoke during prayer,” I said, “but because instead of minding their own business and connecting with God, they were more interested in what was going on around them. However, if we pass judgment on them, I am afraid we’ll be making the same crucial mistake.”
==========

“My answer is, all four merchants have erred for a similar reason, and yet none of them can be said to be in the wrong, because at the end of the day, it is not up to us to judge them.”
==========

“The Sufi says, ‘I should mind my inner encounter with God rather than judging other people.’ An orthodox scholar, however, is always on the lookout for the mistakes of others. But don’t forget, students, most of the time he who complains about others is himself at fault.”
==========

I wouldn’t trade the dust off of the old shoes of a real lover of God for the heads of today’s sheikhs.
==========

“In the end, neither your teacher nor I can know more than God allows us to know. We all play our parts. Only one thing matters, though. That the light of the sun isn’t overshadowed by the blindness of the eye of the denier, the one who refuses to see.”
==========

It’s true that I look different, because I feel different.
==========

Not, I will have to tear it into a dozen bits. I will act as if there is nothing new in my life, nothing unusual. Yes, I could do what I always do and pretend that everything is normal.
==========

“Kings and beggars, virgins and harlots, all are under the same sky!”
==========

It is not the decorations outside but the emptiness inside that holds us straight. Just like that, it is not what we aspire to achieve but the consciousness of nothingness that keeps us going.”
==========

While everyone in this world strives to get somewhere and become someone, only to leave it all behind after death, you aim for the supreme stage of nothingness. Live this life as light and empty as the number zero. We are no different from a pot. It is not the decorations outside but the emptiness inside that holds us straight. Just like that, it is not what we aspire to achieve but the consciousness of nothingness that keeps us going.”
==========

We want to introduce the dance of the whirling dervishes. It is called the sema. Whoever yearns for Divine Love is more than welcome to join us.”
==========

“What if people don’t like it? Not everyone thinks highly of dance,” I said to Shams, hoping this would have the effect of stopping whatever he was about to say next. “At least consider postponing this performance.” “Not everyone thinks highly of God,” Shams said without missing a beat. “Are we going to postpone believing in Him, too?”
==========

“This, my friends, is called the sema—the dance of the whirling dervishes. From this day on, dervishes of every age will dance the sema. One hand pointed up to the sky, the other hand pointing down to earth, every speck of love we receive from God, we pledge to distribute to the people.”
==========

“A man who has no time for stories is a man who has no time for God,” he said. “Don’t you know that God is the best storyteller?”
==========

They think God gave us music—not only the music we make with our voices and instruments but the music underlying all forms of life, and then He forbade our listening to it. Don’t they see that all nature is singing? Everything in this universe moves with a rhythm—the pumping of the heart, the flaps of a bird’s wings, the wind on a stormy night, a blacksmith working iron, or the sounds an unborn baby is surrounded with inside the womb.… Everything partakes, passionately and spontaneously, in one magnificent melody.
==========

Whatever we received from the skies, we passed on to the earth, from God to people.
==========

Essential forces of the universe: fire, wind, earth, and water, and the fifth element, the void.
==========

We are the same person before and after we loved,
==========

As for me, I, too, have changed and am changing. I am moving from being into nothingness. From one season to another, one stage to the next, from life to death.
==========

For the silk to prosper, the silkworm had to die.
==========

Where there is love, there is bound to be heartache.
==========

In that long moment, his eyes were the eyes of a man who had neither the strength nor the emotion left in him to stop his wife from going to another man.
==========

If she was going to regret this evening, which she suspected she might, she could regret it later.
==========

I had never seen so much suffering in a man’s eyes.
==========

And this woman who had converted to Islam to marry my father, who had been a wonderful mother to me and my brother, and who loved her husband so much she memorized the poems he wrote for someone else, gave me a pained look and said nothing. Suddenly she had no more words inside her.
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Once there was a Sufi master who was so knowledgeable that he had been given the breath of Jesus. He had only one student, and he was quite happy with what he was given. But his disciple was of a different mind. In his desire to see everyone else marvel at the powers of his master, he kept begging him to take on more followers. “All right,” the master finally agreed. “If it will make you happy, I’ll do as you say.” They went to the market that day. In one of the stalls, there were bird-shaped candies. As soon as the master blew upon them, the birds came alive and flew away with the wind. Speechless, the townspeople immediately gathered around him with admiration. From that day on, everyone in town was singing the master’s praises. Soon there were so many followers and admirers around him that his old disciple couldn’t see him much anymore. “Oh, Master, I was wrong. It was much better in the old days,” the disciple moaned forlornly. “Do something. Make them all go away, please.” “All right. If it will make you happy, I’ll shoo them away.” The next day while he was preaching, the master broke wind. His followers were appalled. One by one, they turned and walked away from him. Only his old disciple remained. “Why didn’t you leave with the others?” the master asked. And the disciple answered, “I didn’t come to you because of the first wind, nor would I leave you because of the last.”
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Though he was a faqih, he acted as if he were a faqir.
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Whatever you see as profitable, flee from it! Drink poison and pour away the water of life! Abandon security and stay in frightful places! Throw away reputation, become disgraced and shameless!
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Submission does not mean being weak or passive. It leads to neither fatalism nor capitulation. Just the opposite. True power resides in submission—a power that comes from within. Those who submit to the divine essence of life will live in unperturbed tranquillity and peace even when the whole wide world goes through turbulence after turbulence.
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Little did I know that I was making the most common and the most painful mistake women have made all throughout the ages: to naïvely think that with their love they can change the men they love.
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“There is no such thing as early or late in life,” Aziz said. “Everything happens at the right time.”
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“I already love you.” Aziz smiled. “But you don’t even know me!” “I don’t have to know to love.” Ella sighed. “This is crazy.”
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Then he gently moved her onto the bed. Slowly, tenderly, and in ever-growing circles, he moved his palms up from her feet toward her ankles and from there toward her belly. All the while his lips muttered words that sounded like a secret ancient code to Ella. Suddenly she understood. He was praying. While his hands caressed every inch of her body, his eyes remained firmly closed and his lips prayed for her. It was the most spiritual thing she had ever experienced. And although she kept her clothes on, and so did he, and although there was nothing carnal about it, it was the sexiest feeling she had ever experienced.
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“You don’t want me?” Ella asked, amazed by the fragility of her voice. “I don’t want to do anything that would make you unhappy afterward.”
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Beautiful bride, don’t you cry Say bye to your mom, bye to dad You will hear the birds sing tomorrow Though it will never be the same.…
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Why was it that women always sang sad songs on wedding nights? Sufis associated death with weddings and celebrated the day they died as their union with God. Women, too, associated weddings with death, though for entirely different reasons. Even when they were happily getting married, a wave of sadness descended upon them. In every wedding celebration, there was mourning for the virgin who was soon to become a wife and a mother.
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I kissed her again. The warmth of her lips sent waves of desire across my entire body. She smelled of jasmine and wildflowers. Stretching out beside her, I inhaled her smell and touched her breasts, so small and firm. All I wanted was to enter her and get lost inside her. She offered herself to me the way a rosebud opens to the rain. I pulled away.
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I felt a strong need to run away from everything, not only from this house, this marriage, this town, but also from this body I had been given.
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In that moment I understood what a terrible mistake I had made by marrying her. My head throbbing with pain, I walked out of the room into the night. A man like me should never have gotten married. I wasn’t designed to perform marital duties. I saw this clearly. What saddened me was the cost of this knowledge.
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In this world, it is not similarities or regularities that take us a step forward, but blunt opposites. And all the opposites in the universe are present within each and every one of us. Therefore the believer needs to meet the unbeliever residing within. And the nonbeliever should get to know the silent faithful in him. Until the day one reaches the stage of Insan-i Kâmil, the perfect human being, faith is a gradual process and one that necessitates its seeming opposite: disbelief.
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Even jealousy can be used in a constructive way and serve a higher purpose. Even disbelief can be positive.
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Once he put his head on my lap as he was explaining a rule. He slowly closed his eyes, and as his voice trailed off into a whisper, he fell asleep. My fingers combed through his long hair, and my lips kissed his forehead. It seemed an eternity before he opened his eyes. Pulling me down toward himself, he kissed me softly. It was the most blissful moment we ever had together. But that was it. To this day his body is an unknown continent to me, as is my body to him.
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I have learned not to take any offense,
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Finally sensing that this must be what the deepest reading of the Qur’an feels like—a drop in infinity!
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Before long I drifted into a state of nothingness, where all colors melted into white and all sounds dissolved into a perpetual drone. I could not distinguish people’s faces anymore and could not hear spoken words beyond a distant hum in the background.
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Not only did she not mind being seen, it felt as if a part of her longed to be seen.
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You see, Ella, all I can give you is the present moment. That is all I have. But the truth is, no one has more than that. It is just that we like to pretend we do.”
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If you let love take hold of you and change you, at first through its presence, then through its absence—”
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This world is erected upon the principle of reciprocity. Neither a drop of kindness nor a speck of evil will remain unreciprocated. Fear not the plots, deceptions, or tricks of other people. If somebody is setting a trap, remember, so is God. He is the biggest plotter. Not even a leaf stirs outside God’s knowledge. Simply and fully believe in that. Whatever God does, He does beautifully.”
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“God is a meticulous clockmaker. So precise is His order that everything on earth happens in its own time. Neither a minute late nor a minute early. And for everyone without exception, the clock works accurately. For each there is a time to love and a time to die.”
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“It is never too late to ask yourself, ‘Am I ready to change the life I am living? Am I ready to change within?’ “Even if a single day in your life is the same as the day before, it surely is a pity. At every moment and with each new breath, one should be renewed and renewed again. There is only one way to be born into a new life: to die before death.”
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“Between you and me, son of mine, words have dried up. I have nothing to hear from you and nothing to tell you in return,”
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Here is my fana, herein my baqa.”
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I am the embodiment of nothingness. Here is my fana, herein my baqa.”
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By and large over time, pain turns into grief, grief turns into silence, and silence turns into lonesomeness, as vast and bottomless as the dark oceans.
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Eyesight conflicts with inner knowledge.
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After grief comes another season, another valley, another you. And the lover who is nowhere to be found, you start to see everywhere.
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No eye sees so clear and sharp as the eye of love. After grief comes another season, another valley, another you. And the lover who is nowhere to be found, you start to see everywhere.
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Eyesight conflicts with inner knowledge. No eye sees so clear and sharp as the eye of love. After grief comes another season, another valley, another you. And the lover who is nowhere to be found, you start to see everywhere.
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Prose or poetry, the words come to me in flocks and then leave just as suddenly, like migrating birds.
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Yesterday’s victors became today’s losers.
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Every winner is inclined to think he will be triumphant forever. Every loser tends to fear that he is going to be beaten forever. But both are wrong for the same reason: Everything changes except the face of God.
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Little by little, one turns forty, fifty, and sixty and, with each major decade, feels more complete.
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While the parts change, the whole always remains the same. For every thief who departs this world, a new one is born. And every decent person who passes away is replaced by a new one. In this way not only does nothing remain the same but also nothing ever really changes. For every Sufi who dies, another is born somewhere.
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We will dance in the middle of a brawl or a major war, all the same. We will dance in our hurt and grief, with joy and elation, alone and together, as slow and fast as the flow of water. We will dance in our blood.
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Ask anyone who has heard the call to morning prayer for the first time and he will tell you the same thing. That it is beautiful, rich, and mysterious. And yet at the same time there is something uncanny about it, almost eerie. Just like love.
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If there was anything worse in the eyes of society than a woman abandoning her husband for another man, it was a woman abandoning her future for the present moment.
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And at the same time silently and desperately quarreling with God for taking back so soon the love he had given her so late in life.
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Since then she’d been waiting here by his bedside, waiting without knowing what to expect, hoping against hope, and at the same time silently and desperately quarreling with God for taking back so soon the love he had given her so late in life.
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I’m going to try living one day at a time. I’ll see what my heart says. It is one of the rules, isn’t it?”
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“A life without love is of no account. Don’t ask yourself what kind of love you should seek, spiritual or material, divine or mundane, Eastern or Western.… Divisions only lead to more divisions. Love has no labels, no definitions. It is what it is, pure and simple. “Love is the water of life. And a lover is a soul of fire! “The universe turns differently when fire loves water.”
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