It would be impossible to separate my heart’s awakening with my Sufi master Rumi from awakening to music, and in particular the music of the Turkish reed flute, called the ney.
Outwardly, I suppose it wouldn’t seem surprising for a disciple of the Mevlevi tradition of Sufism to be drawn to the mystical instrument described in the opening lines of Rumi’s poetic masterpiece, the Mathnawi. Mevlana’s description of the ney is the entry point into a universe of 26,000 verses conveying in extraordinary detail the human being’s journey toward union with the Divine Beloved.
Yet for someone like myself, who had never learned to play an instrument, my desire to approach the ney came as an absolute shock. From the moment I unexpectedly birthed that elusive first sound about three years ago, I’ve sensed that this instrument is seeking to teach me something about my essence, and more precisely, how far I’d strayed from my Self. I, like the reed torn from the reed bed, was dry and void of life until the Breath of Love enlivened my heart. It was, truly, an experience of love at first sound.
Listen to the reed and the tale it tells,
how it sings of separation:
Ever since they cut me from the reed bed,
my wail has caused men and women to weep.
I want a heart torn open with longing
to share the pain of this love.
Whoever has been parted from their source
longs to return to that state of union.
[Mathnawi I, 1–4]
Looking back at the past few years of my journey as a dervish striving to embody Rumi’s guidance, it is as though these lines have come to life in my body. They have resonated against the inner lining of my being and ignited a fire that has consumed many self-limiting beliefs that were holding me back. Studying the Mathnawi and living and breathing Mevlana’s teachings has opened me up to greater creativity than I ever fathomed possible. A once hollow existence is now brimming with more music, poetry, companionship and love than I could have ever imagined I deserved.
Something stirred in my heart with that first note from the reed that is difficult to put into words, other than to say there was a palpable longing to connect to the Mystery behind the sound. It felt magical. In that single, breathy note, it was as though beauty became real for me. For the first time, music became a possibility. I’d never imagined myself as a musician. During my turbulent childhood years, there wasn’t space for me to explore this possibility. So, as with so many of our human gifts, that potential lay dormant, waiting to be ignited. Which brings me to a few more of Rumi’s opening lines in the Mathnawi:
This flute is played with fire, not with wind,
and without this fire you would not exist.
It is the fire of love that inspires the flute.
It is the ferment of love that completes the wine.
[Mathnawi I, 9–10]
My understanding of these lines has deepened as my feet journey on the hot coals of awakening. The reed is a superb metaphor for an awakening human being, slowly emptying of the beliefs and psychological conditioning that erect barriers to the Divine Breath seeking to resonate in our bodies. To reconnect with our deepest voice, we need to be carved and hollowed like the reed.