I’m currently reading Elif Shafak’s “The Forty Rules of Love” which imagines the meeting between poet Rumi and his companion, the dervish, mystical Shams.
I love so much about it, but this really stuck out to me – the first time the two met face to face. I think it really captures the question of purpose, owning your unique journey, and eschewing comparison:
“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?”…
“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 around.”
“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 acknowledgement 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 state 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 was 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 Qu’ran, ‘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.”…
I glimpsed a trace of thoughtfulness in his face, a wistful pucker of the lips, as if he wanted to say more but simply couldn’t or wouldn’t. And in that moment, in that pause, I heard the question he hadn’t asked me:
“And how about you, great preacher? Tell me, how big is your cup?”
By the way, I’d read one review that says that Elif Shafak gives Paulo Coelho a run for his money (see photo). I pffed it away, but halfway through the book, I have to admit, she has won me over. Perhaps she is the Shams to Coelho’s Rumi, either way, I’m smitten by both. Highly recommend “The Forty Rules of Love”. It’s a light, easy, but deeply insightful read :)
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.