The wisdom of Sufi poet Rumi will be celebrated April 10 at the Bessie Smith Hall
“Let divine passion triumph, and rebirth you in yourself.”
— Rumi, 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic
The revelation of the divine in our own lives, as well as in the natural world around us, defines the quest of Andrew Harvey, sacred activist and philosopher who will present “An Evening with Rumi” on Friday, April 10, sponsored by the Center for Mindful Living at the Bessie Smith Hall.
Harvey appears with Coleman Barks, a native Chattanoogan, retired UGA literature professor, and renowned Rumi translator. The event will raise funds for CML outreach programs, which offer mindfulness activities and training to Hamilton County school students to alleviate stress and enhance self-awareness and learning focus.
“Coleman is the big daddy of all Rumi translators, a dear friend, and a man of great tenderness, generosity of spirit and vibrant hilarity,” says Harvey. “The two of us will give our favorite Rumi poems that evening. I will read them in the context of our current world crisis in a way that people will understand the beautiful and important messages they have for us now—their universal embrace, their passion, their constant challenge to turn to the divine.”
Mindfulness is defined as “paying attention with kindness,” according to the Center for Mindful Living’s literature. A mindful activity can begin with a “singing bowl” or chime to focus attention, and then extend to breathing, physical inventory, and mental self-awareness in the present moment. Both Harvey and the CML’s leaders see the rapidly spreading practice as a path to social change and personal betterment.
Julie Brown, a board member of the Center, will emcee the evening with Barks and Harvey. While the CML has organized itself and defined its mission in the past two years, Brown and other leaders have walked the walk of mindfulness training with Chattanooga young people. Recently the Center has sponsored:
• Barger Academy students, parents, and teachers having an introduction to mindfulness.
• CSLA students gaining insightful compassion for themselves and others.
• Howard High School students reclaiming land along with the Lookout Mountain Conservancy.
“We gave short, meaningful lessons to the Howard students, and worked next to them in pulling kudzu,” says Brown. “It was fun to be part of their lives for a time, to learn about the stresses they feel, like asking someone to the homecoming dance. We could say to them, give yourself three mindful breaths, your heart slows down a little, and you’ll feel more confident.”
Taking that idea further, Harvey says, “Mindfulness is a wonderful way to begin a spiritual life, to open onto divine consciousness. A lot of young people feel very distressed and annoyed by the behavior of various religions but want a deeply spiritual life. You can find peace and clarify your own consciousness in the quiet of mindfulness; you don’t need to begin by believing in a creator god or even in the divine.”
But in 2015, why turn to Rumi, who wrote in Persian and other Middle Eastern languages more than seven centuries ago?
“Rumi is the greatest mystical poet the world has ever seen, who lived a life of divine union and brought out of it these tremendous poems that speak to us today,” says Harvey. “He lived at the center of his world. Rumi celebrated women in a way that was radical for Islam of its time. While wholly remaining Islamic, as a Sufi he embraced the truth of other paths—a huge act of embracing. His writing appeals to all people on every path because he is above all a lover; he loves the world, loves life, loves the divine.
“What young people are looking for is an experience of total love, and sometimes they’re looking in very dark places—gangs, drugs, promiscuous sex—but when they’re inflamed by the message of Rumi they can begin the experience of divine love that changes lives.
“One of the greatest lacks in contemporary spirituality is the embrace of sacred emotions. We need deep passion of the heart for transformation. Mindfulness is a relatively cool way toward that, but we also need a hot way of approaching God with the fullness of our deep emotions.”