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SHE suddenly looks out of the window.
“Did I ask you a difficult question?”
“No, no. But it’s a question that has many answers. Have you thought about the meaning of love?”
“Umm… yes… but then who hasn’t!”
“Okay. Why don’t you tell me the meaning of love and I’ll keep listening.”
“Ah and why is that?”
“I find it more interesting if a man talks about love.” She bursts out laughing. “Oh come on I am really curious. I really want to know what you think about love.”
“Okay, okay, Anna you win!” She’s once again turned the tables on me,
“I agree that the question does indeed have many answers. So where would you like me to start?”
“Don’t think too much, Hatef, just say whatever comes to your mind.”
“I am actually thinking what others have already said about love,” I say rubbing my chin. “I can start with Shakespeare’s eternal words: ‘Love does not reason because it has no reasons’. Or perhaps, Aristotle’s: ‘Love is composed of a single soul living in two bodies’ or ‘What is life without love? Love is like the sun; without the light of the sun, there’s no life’. There are others whose names I don’t remember: ‘Love is the most noble weakness of the soul’. Or ‘Whatever your question, Love is the answer’. Or ‘Love is to admire with your heart, admiration is to love with your soul’. Or ‘Love is a disease that makes us unwell when we don’t have it’.
“Hatef,” her interruption has a hint of annoyance, “that’s very impressive, but I’d like to know what you think.”
I’ve got the message, and so I continue: “Well, in my mind love is a lot of things. It’s a powerful feeling… very hard to resist. It’s almost like a chemical reaction. A human being has many layers. And then there are different kinds of love. You can love a car or a house or a certain food.
You can love poetry or football or surfing. You can love your brother or mother or your child, your wife. You can love nature or you can love God. There are many different kinds of love. But I think love is also selfish. It’s both natural and spiritual. Love gives meaning to your life. It
is what makes life worth living when you’re despairing.”
“Hmm… that’s interesting,” she says looking at me with shining eyes,
“love is natural…”
“Yes, the love a mother has for her child is natural. She just gives and gives… to her child unconditionally. She carries the child for nine months, makes him piece by piece from her own tissue and body. She suffers enormous pain giving birth to the child. And she continues giving him her time and energy raising him, trying to make him happy and content.
And if she has to she will happily die for her child. Among animals there are many who mate for life. If one partner dies the other one will not take another. How does a mother learn to love like that? Where does an animal learn to love like that? It is natural. It’s in the blood so to speak… in a mother’s blood, the blood of the animals that mate for life.”
“Do you think that it is the highest kind of love: the love a mother has for her child?”
“Among humans, yes I believe that… the love a mother has for her child is the highest kind of love. And we cannot compare it to any other kind.
This doesn’t mean any other kind of love is less meaningful. I think every sort of love is meaningful and special in its own way. But yes a mother’s love is the purest… because it’s given without expecting anything in return, at least not immediately. It just wishes for the child to
be happy and healthy. And that is my main point. Can we really compare it with any kind of other love?”
“No, I don’t think we can. This love is a great and powerful feeling... I would think… even though I don’t have children…”
“You think right, Anna. The other kinds of love are conditional. They’re bound by expectations. To make them work there has to be a give and take. But these days we think more about taking than giving. Although, none of us would admit it.”
Anna gives me a smile that says ‘I agree’. “So you’re saying, we give to receive but when we don’t receive, we don’t love?”
“Yes, I am saying that. In fact it reminds me of something I once read. I can’t remember exactly who said it but it got me thinking with its simple contradiction. ‘Love is being selfish together’.”
“So if you are selfish alone then there’s no love?”
“Exactly! What I am saying is that both parties need to be selfish for each other. I think there’s no point in a love that is not returned. That kind of love can’t live for long. The other person will only end up getting hurt.”
“So people who say they love someone without being loved in return are actually not in love but in pain?” I like the sound of that question.
“Can it mean anything else?”
“But then, why do people choose to stay with someone who doesn’t love them back?”
“I think it depends upon the kind of person you are. Sometimes people may think what they have is as good as it’ll ever get. And that there’s nothing out there that can make it better for them. It’s a life of convenience and practicality they choose over the lack of love. Some people believe
being in pain is love.”
“Being in pain is love, how?”
“Because the pain makes them feel real… and alive. The more pain someone gives them the closer they feel to that person. I think sacrifice in a relationship is good, because sacrifice is a way of giving. But I think some people only want to sacrifice and expect nothing in return.”
“So you are saying… do whatever makes you happy?”
“Yes. But I’d like to make a differentiation here… whatever might make a person happy, in my opinion, isn’t always love.”
“It is getting a bit confusing, Hatef… if you’re saying a healthy and happy relationship comes from both people being selfish in receiving each other’s love…”
“Yes, because it would mean that giving and receiving will go hand in hand. That way I believe two people complete each other, filled as they are with love for each other. Values like sacrifice, trust, patience, honesty come into play here because these values stand for equality. They also
make a relationship strong.
“Okay and such a relationship is bound to be healthy and will moreover keep alive these wonderful values,” Anna sums it up.
”Yes. Especially because it’s not easy to keep these values alive. They are very precious values for our entire race and if people get attached to them all the more better. It means even if love fades over time people will continue being there for each other just because of these values… It
means you’ll always have someone there for you, in sickness and in health. And you’ll also be there for that person. And that person will be your lover, your best friend in this journey called life. It will also make you forget the less appealing parts of your lover.”
“Just to understand it better, can you elaborate what you call ‘being in love’,” Anna interrupts.
“Well ‘being in love’ is wanting to be with someone because you like being with her. You like the way she looks, you like her touch, the look in her eyes when she looks at you. We call it chemistry. The heat that we feel being around another person. It is exciting and we long to feel it,
keep feeling it. It’s wonderful when this chemistry is reciprocated. But time conquers all. Physical beauty fades as we get older. But still people continue to stay together, even after the reasons that made them fall in love aren’t there anymore. I think with time people go from ‘being in love’ to a love that completes them. A love that glues people together. The values we talked about earlier also help us to fall in love and they remain even when we’re out of love, technically speaking. And that’s why I think it is very important to keep these values alive. They are, I
believe, the ingredients of love.”
The train is now leaving Roedby station.
“Okay,” says Anna, “I understand… that you are trying to convert me…
to your way of thinking.”
“I am only stating my own humble view, Anna.”
“So how does sex fit into all this,” she asks a little hesitantly.
“Well, sex is a very important part of our lives but what is its relation to love? If there’s any! Plato for example believed love to be a deep, spiritual connection between two people. He, in fact, totally denied a sexual element in love. Plato was essentially separating sex from love. And I’d say I don’t disagree with him. I think sex is a human need but its quality and the satisfaction got from it is not the same with everyone you have sex with. Sex with the person you love is special. It has a special passion to it. Sex with someone you don’t love is like eating just to fill your stomach. So in that sense I find it difficult to completely separate sex from love, like Plato did. On the other hand I’d say the sex life of a couple deeply in love may become, how do I say… ‘normal’? Maybe less exciting. At such a point of great familiarity sex may become
predictable and then couples have sex to ‘fill their stomach’.
“I believe the sex life of a couple in love also needs constant work because our sexual limits are far greater than we think. We need to keep exploring them, pushing them in order to keep growing and enriching ourselves.
Tantra, which is an Eastern discipline, is devoted to this kind of constant exploration and enrichment.
“Coming back to the values we talked about earlier… I think people in relationships continue to love each other even if their sex life has becomes monotonous, which anyway is something that can be remedied. What I am essentially saying is that even if the spark isn’t there anymore in the
bedroom a couple can still love each other. From this point of view Plato is right. Love is indeed separate from sex.”
Anna seems quite satisfied with my explanation. “So are you saying that sex is a very important part of life and that we must keep working on it in a relationship… to show our respect for it?”
“You are a good listener, Anna.” I say. “Woman are generally much better listeners than men. You are at this moment a living proof of this for me.”
“Thank you, Hatef, I believe listening is really eighty percent of the process of understanding.”
“Yes this is true, that’s why women are better with feelings and emotions.
They see that much more.”
“Please don’t underestimate yourself, Hatef. From whatever I’ve heard so far I’d say you too see a lot.” I can feel the sides of my face blush.
“You’re very kind, Anna. But I’ve reached this place by a lot of reading, some experience and much thought. A woman, I think, reaches it instinctively.”
This makes Anna smile her angelic smile.
“Well, that may be true but putting effort and energy to understand all this should not go unrecognised. It is in fact even more commendable.
Also because I think it is not always easy for a woman to understand. Also not many men spend that kind of energy and effort trying to find answers to the riddles of love and sex.”
I am by now in a full-blown blush and she’s not helping. “You should feel good about yourself, Hatef, women like men like that.
”But I always thought everyone thought about these things,” I say.
”Believe me, Hatef, I am telling you as a woman… it is not so.”
”In that case I’ll accept your compliment,” I am now smiling despite myself. “I feel quite exceptional now.” We both laugh.
After a few silent moments Anna reaches for her handbag. She takes out some chewing gum, takes a piece and offers me one.
“No thank you, Anna.”
She reaches for her bag again and takes out a can of energy drink.
“Then please take this, I think you need it,” she says.
“No Anna, am all right,” I answer.
“No please. Take it, I am going to quiz you some more… so you need it
more than me,” she says smiling.
“More questions? You really are going to interrogate me some more?”
“Yes sir, I am. So you better take it,” she holds out the drink for me.
“In that case I’ll take it.” I take the drink, open it and I take a sip. I put the can on the table and allow my drink to start doing its job of energizing me.
“Hatef, from what you’ve said so far… I feel all love is spiritual… isn’t that so?”
“Yes I think that is true. Love in all its aspects is spiritual. I also believe love is God himself.”
“So the love we feel is actually the presence of God in us?” “Yes, Sufism teaches us exactly that… that every human being is seeking this God-feeling with his every thought and action. Sufism also teaches that every human being carries within him or her deep desire to return to the love that he or she has come from. Each one of us has been created by the Almighty from his infinite love and whatever we experience in this world is really a journey of trying to get back to where we came from. The love he has put within us is what drives us, pushes us towards
new experiences. We’re like bees drawn to this huge flower called love.”
“Hmm… that’s very interesting. But what do you mean when you say that we desire to reach God with every experience?”
“Well, do you agree that every human being wants happiness? We seek happiness from everything around us: our partner, our job, house, education but every time we think we’ve found it we realise that it is not what we thought it would be. We realise everything we’ve reached is
temporary. So we go on seeking things that make us happy. But every time we think we’ve reached the edge of eternal happiness we are disappointed. We don’t want to admit to our disappointments. Sometimes we measure our lives against people who we think are less fortunate and feel happy.”
“Those are deep words, Hatef, they really speak to both my head and my heart. But how can people less fortunate than us make us happy?”
“It works like this… when we surround ourselves with things and objects of value we become attached, become slaves to them. In a way we are possessed by them instead of us possessing them. And this deludes us into thinking we’re in a better position than others who don’t have what we have.”
“So we begin measuring happiness with what we have…”
“Exactly, and then we begin to worry about losing what we have. This worry makes us actually less happy than someone who hasn’t got as much to lose.”
“That’s so ironical, we actually victims of our desires.”
“A Sufi is a person who’s constantly struggling to free himself of these desires. He’s constantly struggling to reach a state of nothingness. The only desire he has is to reach God, who is everywhere and is undying.
But in order to reach him a human being needs to become nothing; freed from all his desires, all that is temporary and earthly.”
“Wow. That sounds heavy! Maybe, Hatef, you could tell me some more about Sufism.”
“Sufism is the mystical core of Islam. But I also believe every belief system has its own mystical core saying the same thing in a different way. The mystical, spiritual journey of every human being is reach beyond religion, beyond a religious belief.” I wait for her response.
“Please continue, this gets better and better.”
“I am not an expert, you know. Maybe you could do some of your own research…”
“I would definitely, but I really want to hear what you know about it, please carry on.”
I am really pleased by her insistence and her curiosity. I like the respect and admiration she has for different points of view. How nice it is to meet a girl, born and raised in Europe, to be so open about Eastern philosophy. As our world gets more and more steeped in materialism
these kinds of conversations happen less and less. Anna has been a great listener.
‘Nykoebing, Nykoebing!’ The voice of the conductor snaps me out of my thoughts. I sink in my seat further.
“Have you heard about Rumi?” I ask her.
“No, is he a Sufi too?”
“Yes, he’s one of the greatest Sufis ever born. A Sufi master, actually!
Mewlana Celaluddin Rumi has shown us how to become fully human.
To me personally, Rumi’s been the greatest ever professor of the human soul. Through his poetry and his life he taught us how to go beyond the physical, into the metaphysical.”
“Tell me how?”
“How can you, Anna? It is meant for humans not angels.” She starts laughing caught by surprise in the middle of our serious conversation.
“You silly man, stop it!”
“Jokes apart, you too, Anna, could get there with the right teacher and the right attitude. According to Rumi, human beings are the centre of all creation. Everything has been created around man, for him… to make him happy. And no one, regardless of colour, creed, religion or sex can be excluded from this infinite love and grace of the Almighty. The human being is regarded as the khalif, the light of the Creator. He is the only creature on earth with the ability of taking God’s love and spreading it around. But not everyone can use this ability because people are prisoners of their nefs. Nefs is explained as a tether of earthly desires and urges.
For example if hate is part of your nefs, then it will manifest itself as jealousy, pride, etc. This way all the pain and suffering on our planet can be related to the nefs of its human population. But on the other hand, God has also given us his divine characteristics. We have the ability to
love, to show grace and mercy, to be noble, to show patience and understanding, to choose between right and wrong. And so our life becomes a constant struggle, trying to make our divine characteristics prevail over our nefs.”
“This means we’ve not done a good job of our struggle, because there are so many things going wrong in the world. We have so many wars and so much poverty in the world today.”
“Yes, we’ve in fact done a very bad job of it.”
“But then why does God allow it to happen… for example children dying of hunger. Especially, when he has the power to prevent it.”
“Anna, God doesn’t put himself as a controller above us. Someone who constantly intervenes in our daily life. He says, ‘don’t murder’ but there isn’t a hand coming down from heaven every time someone’s going to commit murder. He says, ‘don’t steal’ but people still steal. He says,
‘don’t lie’ but people still lie. But then he has appointed a day when he’ll audit our accounts, so to speak,” I say smiling. “God has given us a map of both Heaven and Hell. But it is up to us to choose what we want. He has given us all the tools to do the right thing. Also given us a free will.
For example there’s enough wealth on this planet to feed and give shelter to each and every one of us, provided we’re willing to share this wealth.
Essentially, we have to overcome our desire to own more than we need.
We should be willing to give away what we don’t need.
“So what prevents us from doing this? Again we come back to our nefs.
It is what makes us selfish and indifferent. The more we overcome our nefs the closer we get to making the world a happier place. We have today people who own millions on the one hand and on the other there are children who’re dying of hunger. God didn’t create this.”
“If I understand correctly, nefs is what we call the Devil. And he prevents us from using all the goodness we possess inside…”
“Yes, you could say that. Metaphors are always helpful. In fact Heaven and Hell according to some Sufis like Muhammed Iqbal are also metaphorical ideas. He believed they’re not physical spaces where we will be going after death but are areas we can create here on earth. Perhaps,
Heaven and Hell exist physically too somewhere on earth and we call them into our lives with our decisions and actions.”
“That is really very deep, Hatef. Could we then say Sufism and other teachings like it are ways of transforming the individual, making him perfect?”
“Well, absolute perfection belongs to God alone. But Sufism talks about a kemal, an individual who has reached the pinnacle of human perfection.
This is the closest we as humans can come to perfection. You see, when we say that God is perfect we don’t mean it by our human standards but that he’s perfect by his own standards. Because we cannot even begin to understand his standards we can never grasp his kind of perfection.”
“I understand. But tell me is the message of Sufism for everyone? Does it for example also apply to people who’re deep in their nefs?”
“Let me answer your question with one of Rumi’s more famous poems.
It’s obviously a translation of the original Persian.
Come, come, whoever you are,
wonderer, worshiper, lover of leaving,
it doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vows
a thousand times.
Come again and again, come.
Here Rumi’s trying to tell us how this gift of overcoming our nefs is for everyone, whatever his state in life. He says there isn’t really any reason for guilt and despair.
“I want to add something else about Rumi here. He was greatly inspired by the prophet Mohammed. The Prophet himself was a great Sufi. for example he has said: ‘Die before you are dead’. This in fact is a very important principle of Sufism. A Sufi aims to kill his nefs and be
resurrected in love and compassion. This happens through a process called seyr-e-suluk. Through this process a Sufi reaches total freedom from all his earthly desires. Finally, he aims to reach a state of fena fillah. This is where he merges into God. In Buddhism they call it nirvana. After
reaching fena fillah the Sufi only strives to share his state with others.
And in this striving he exhausts himself day after day… all for the love of God.” I take a deep breath.
“How can I meet this Rumi, is he still around?”
I smile because I like the sound of Anna’s innocence.
“I would really like to meet him too. But he left our world about seven and a half centuries ago. Though I believe, he is here among us with his message.”
“Oh. But Hatef, I am quite dazzled by your words. Do you think you could tell me more about Rumi?”
“Well, Rumi was born in Khorasan, a village near Balkh in present-day Afghanistan in 1207. He was known as Rumi, meaning ‘the Roman’, because he grew up in an area under Byzantine rule at that time. His family travelled to Anatolia and eventually settled in Konya under the Turkish
Seldjuk sultanate. Rumi spent the rest of his life in Konya, which is where he was also buried after he died in 1273. Today, Konya is a place of pilgrimage for Sufis across the world.
“After his death his followers, especially his son Sultan Walad founded the Mawlawiyah Sufi Order. They’re also known as the ‘Whirling Dervishes’ because of the whirling dance they do. A dervish goes round and round on his feet with one hand lifted up to the sky and the other facing the earth, at 90 degrees to each other. The head is bent slightly to the side indicating nobility. The dervishes keep this position through the dance celebrating the scattering of God’s love from above over everyone on earth.
The bent head indicates the exalted position of the dervish as an intermediary between the Creator and the created. Dervishes are known to lose themselves completely while dancing. This trance-like state is called sama.
I have seen dervishes whirl for more than an hour.”
“I think I have seen a picture too. They were dancing… whirling in front of a green-domed building, says Anna.
“Yes, this is probably the dergah or mausoleum of Rumi. It is in Konya.
It is where he is buried alongwith his father and other members of his family. This place is visited by hundreds if not thousands of people daily.
You should go if you’re ever in Turkey.”
“Yes, hopefully I will.”
“I really liked that poem of Rumi you just recited. Is there a book where I can read more?”
I think Rumi’s words have worked their magic on Anna.
“Of course. His most important book is called Masnawi, and it is quite amazing. You can find a translation of the Masnawi on the Internet, perhaps. I also recommend The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks. I always find great joy when I read Rumi. His poems give me hope and strength in moments of despair. There is actually one that I read often.”
“Can you please read it to me now?”
“I knew you’d say that… Here’s The Guest House dedicated especially to you, Anna:
Man is like a guest house
each day brings a new guest
some days comes Joy; others, Sadness
but Awareness is always
an unexpected visitor.
Rumi says, welcome them all
even if there’s a mob of sorrows
sweeping across your house
emptying it out.
Treat every guest with honour
each one’s come to help you
The pleasant Surprise
the dark Thought, Shame, Malice
meet them all at the door laughing.
Be grateful for whoever comes
because each one has been sent
from the beyond to help you.”
“That is really beautiful, Hatef. It really does have the power to speak to everyone.” She seems moved by it. “I think I have quizzed you enough for a day,” she says smiling.
“Yes, you have young lady, but I never get tired talking about Rumi,” I smile back. We fall in this silence together allowing Rumi to sink into our souls.
“Vordingborg! Vordingborg station!”
Another stop less in our journey.
This post is glimpse of my book A Yoik for Anna - A Journey between Two Worlds