For centuries, devotees of Rumi, the thirteenth century poet and Sufi seer, have read his poems and taken to heart his wisdom. Those who are attuned to him know that his life and work was heavily influenced by Shams of Tabriz, who served as his beloved spiritual mentor, teacher and soulmate. Here Rumi writes of him:
"I was an ascetic, you turned me into a bard
You made me the ringleader of revels and imbiber of wine
I was the noble man of prayer
You turned me into the teasing stock of kids on the street."
Maryam Mafi has spent most of her writing career translating the poetry of Rumi. She has come up with this little book which focuses on the life, observations, aphorisms, and spiritual path of Shams of Tabrizi. She claims that this unconventional teacher was in the history of Iranian Sufism "the first to propose that music, dance, poetry, and mysticism should mingle and affect each other equally, thus perfecting one another."
For 2 1/2 years, Rumi and Shams experienced an intense spiritual friendship, often in seclusion. Mafi has gathered the sayings of Shams for us to ponder and assess. Here is a sampler:
- "The more erudite you are, the farther you are from the goal. The more complicated one's thoughts, the more distant one grows. Spirit work is the work of the heart, not the mind!"
- "Until you give yourself up completely to your task, it seems most difficult, even impossible. But the minute you give yourself unconditionally, the difficulties vanish altogether."
- "I have no awareness of my own head or beard, which are the closest things to me; how can I possible be aware of you?"
- "Prayer is not valid unless it's performed with a heart that is fully open and present!"
- "Great secrets are hidden in the lines of jokes and tall tales."
- "Inanimate objects experience separation and union too -- only we can't hear their sighs!"