In order to understand the dance one must be still. And in order to truly understand stillness one must dance.RUMI
This year, Aurovilians had the opportunity to start the new year in meditation and contemplation. For 5 days, we had a Sufi retreat in the Unity Pavillion organised by Jiva, a group of facilitators and therapists creating workshops and sessions in Auroville. About 30 people came together to dance, whirl, and meditate. The Sufi techniques shared by our Sufi friend Nirupam focus on bringing the energy of the mind down into the heart.
Would you like to give it a whirl? We share here the steps to do Sufi whirling for beginners! But first, we explain a little bit about Sufism so that you can have a sense of the work you are about to do.
While Mother was clear that there are to be no religions in Auroville, Sufism represents the mystical or spiritual tradition in Islam that seeks unification with the Divine through inner practice. As Aurovilians are on a similar journey, Sufi techniques can help us find new understandings – or deepen what was already there. Through the body, meditation in motion helps us find our inner peace and connect to our deeper self.
Sufism is a complex tradition that encompasses many different ideas and philosophies. Each ‘order’ in Sufism has its own practices and beliefs. For example, despite the popular understanding of whirling as a clearly Sufi practice, some orders prohibit dancing or whirling. Most of the whirling that is done today is by Sufis of the Mevlevi order, which originated in Konya, Turkey. The order was created by the followers of the famous poet and mystic Rumi.
Even today, Rumi is perhaps the most well-known Sufi. His poetry points to the personal relationship between the individual and the Divine – who he refers to as ‘the Beloved’. If you are a little familiar with his work, you know it bursts at the seams with Divine love! Rumi is also well-known for his insights into human nature, as for example in his famous poem, The Guesthouse:
The Guesthouse This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes As an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
Rumi often states, in his own lyrical fashion, that we can meet the Divine once we lift the veil of the mind or the ego. The mind is the barrier that stands between you and the experience of the love of the Divine. Sufi whirling and active meditations are Rumi’s method to lift this barrier.
While whirling existed before Rumi it is his devotion to whirling and dance that make it such an important part of the practices of the Mevlevi. Reportedly, he told his followers: “There are many roads which lead to God. I have chosen the one of dance and music.”
Whirling is an active meditation. While we whirl, there is a sense of loss of the mind and the ego – the ‘I’ that represents us diminishes in the movement. The heavy skirts of the Sufis represent the ego, as the skirt lifts by the movement of the dancer. The skirt is also made of the same cloth that Sufis are buried in, symbolizing their intention to ‘Die before you die’ – meaning, to be released from the ego and unified with God in this life.
Are you interested to try this at home? A few things to keep in mind:
– Make sure that you have a little bit of space and that there are no sharp edges around in case you fall.
– If you don’t have a Sufi skirt, any skirt with a lot of fabric will do. If these are not available, any loose
clothes will do.
– Socks are helpful, please use them on an uncarpeted, smooth floor.
– Whirl at your own speed – you’ll feel more confident after trying it for a while!
– Some people experience nausea or dizziness, but that should go away after a few times. If not, check in
with yourself about continuing the practice.
How to Whirl
We recommend taking some time to build up to the whirling. Existing meditations are designed to make sure that you are already centred in your body before you start. For example, take the first 15 minutes of your meditation to sit and concentrate. If it works better for you, start by 15 minutes of free movement.
To make it easier for you, consider taking a piece of music that is 15 minutes so that you can start it when you start whirling. You won’t need a timer in between – when the music is done, you will be also!
A 15-minute piece that we like for whirling:
When you start, fold your arms over your chest with the hands over the shoulders and put your right big toe over your left big toe. Kiss each hand resting on the shoulder.
Once the music starts, take a moment to bow in thanks to the moment, the music, and the masters of this practice.
After a few spins with the arms hugging, you move them down your chest to the Hara (2 inches under the navel).
From there put the back of the hands together and unfold the arms upwards.
Traditionally, the right hand will face towards the sky, while the left faces the floor. This signifies the receiving and giving of Divine energy.
Your body knows how to whirl – just follow your feet! Try to really spin on the foot that is providing more of a centre point, to avoid ‘stepping in circles’, which is a little different from whirling.
Traditionally, we spin towards the left, into the heart centre. If it feels more natural to you to spin to the right, try that.
Connect to the breath. Once you find that magical centre line that connects your body to the earth, you will start feeling a natural flow in the whirling. You might also notice that when your energy goes back to the mind – thinking, worrying about falling – you create more instability in this centre point. It’s really a matter of feeling it out.
Stop and relax
When the music ends, slowly bring yourself back into the Starting Pose. Dervishes sometimes end the whirling by simply letting themselves fall – but we do not recommend that at home!
Once the music is finished, lie down on the floor on your belly, fully in contact with the grounding energy of the earth. Take 15 minutes to relax like this with the eyes closed.
If you are interested to do the full immersive programme, have a look at the website of Auroville Jiva for upcoming dates.