In this excellent follow-up to The Spiritual Practices of Rumi, Will Johnson continues his exploration of this extraordinary thirteenth-century Sufi mystic and poet's path. In the introduction, he explains the legacy of what he calls "A Religion of Intoxicated Love and Ecstasy." Rumi was an orthodox Sufi before Shams of Tabriz appeared in his life and spurred him on to become an ecstatic lover of God and a trickster teacher whose poetry was unlike anything anyone had ever heard before. In this paperback, Johnson presents four essential spiritual practices of this Sufi seer that were designed to "support the awakening of the soul through the stimulation of feeling."
The first practice is "Eating Lightly." The preparation of food, sharing it with others, and eating are all pleasurable experiences. But in our world the concentration on these delights has led to the problem of those who have too much food and those who don't have enough. For Rumi, a pleasure that transcends eating all we want is the pleasure of fasting, a enduring tradition in Islam. Johnson notes:
"During fasting, the sensations of the body start humming and vibrating again, and the mind eventually slows down and becomes quieter. Rumi always tells us to go inside and experience who we truly are, and periodic fasting was one of the fundamental tools he recommended for shining light onto our interior."
A second practice suggested by Rumi for awakening the soul is "Breathing Deeply." Most of us have the habit of holding back the power of the breath; massage therapists are always telling their clients to breathe more deeply. When we hold back our breath, we deplete our own energy. Rumi sees breathing deeply as spiritual and that is why he says in a poem:
wherever you are
in whatever circumstances you find yourself
strive to be a lover
Love can be savored by letting go of all holding back.
The third practice is "Moving Freely." Life moves, and we must not hinder the body's need to walk, run, and dance. In one of his poems Rumi says:
what should I do
if love seizes me?
start dancing of course!
sweep love into your arms
and press her to your chest
The fourth and final practice is "Gazing Raptly." Johnson covered this spiritual discipline in his earlier book. Once we have purified the body through fasting and breath and given in to the rewards of movement, we are ready for this gaze with a friend so that shared consciousness and ecstasy bloom like red roses.