Wednesday, September 15, 2010

FID: Whirling - Round and round we go.

Perhaps you remember the 1969 hit song sung by the Atlanta-born Tommy Roe: “Dizzy”? It went to the top of the charts in 1969 (I was 15 years old). If you managed to miss it due to being too young or too old, let me introduce you to “Dizzy”. This was our music—the really good stuff.

“What does a crazy little tune from the ‘60s have to do with your novel, “Flight into Darkness”?” To be honest, nothing, other than it popped into my head while doing research.

Have you ever ridden on a carousel or a merry-go-round? How about one of those crazy rides at the fair or carnival: the tilt-a-whirl or scrambler? As a child (or adult), did you ever spin around as fast as you could until you lost control and crashed to the ground, dizzy and nauseous, looking up at the sky watching it spin like top. Or was that just me? 

Did you ever consider which direction was best (clockwise or counterclockwise) before you decided to spin yourself dizzy? You might have never noticed but most of the powered mechanical contraptions at the fairs and carnivals spin counterclockwise. Why? Could it have anything to do with the Earth’s rotation around the sun or the Earth’s rotation around its own axis (both rotate counterclockwise)? For what it’s worth, while doing research on “whirling”, I found this: “Clockwise turning tends to have an outward-flowing feeling, a sensation of ‘yang’, while counterclockwise spinning has a ‘yin’ flavor, one of inward channeling.” So, if you decide to spin go for the yin.

What is Whirling?

The best way to introduce you to whirling is to first introduce you to the inventor/creator of the “experience”: Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (1207-1273 C.E.). Known to the English-speaking world simply as Rumi, he was a mystical thirteenth century Persian Sufi poet (Sufism is the mystical practice of Islam).

Rumi wrote over 65,000 verses of intoxicated poetry on the Sufi path of love and spiritual understanding. Over the last century, Rumi’s poetry has spread from the Islamic world into the Western world. He has become one of the most popular and best-selling poets in America.

As the story goes…

One day, Rumi was overcome with grief and devastated by the loss of a dear friend. While wandering the streets of Konya (Turkey), he became engaged by the rhythmic beat of a goldsmith’s hammer, and began spontaneously singing and whirling.

As the intensity of his dancing mounted, Rumi would burst forth with lyrics about the divine and the cosmos, lyrics that his disciples would immediately write down. Rumi expressed how his whirling was part of the universal cosmic dance that was begun and sustained by the divine music of love. Much of his intoxicated and spontaneous poetry was borne through the ecstasy of his dance.

Sufi Whirling
Through his whirling and dancing to the sounds of a longing reed and an insistent drum, Rumi attempted to transcend his body and rational consciousness. He wrote that to dance was to tear one’s heart to pieces and to give up one’s soul: “Dance where you can break yourself to pieces and totally abandon your world passions”.

Rumi later founded the order of the Mevlevi, the "whirling" dervishes, and created the "Sema," their "turning," sacred dance. In the Mevlevi tradition, Sema represents a mystical journey of spiritual ascent through mind and love to "Perfect." In this journey, the seeker symbolically turns towards the truth, grows through love, abandons the ego, finds the truth, and arrives at the "Perfect"; then returns from this spiritual journey with greater maturity.


We spin ourselves dizzy for many reasons—sometimes on purpose; sometimes not. Rumi introduced whirling as a spiritual experience; a method of cleansing and centering of the inner self; a path to healing, possibly after a devastating loss, as he personally experienced.

I have only scratched the surface when it comes to whirling and the mystical side of Islam. The technique of Sufi whirling has a rich history filled with meaning and symbolism. Once the technique and tolerance for spinning reaches an advanced stage, whirling can go on for hours. For the purposes of my novel, I think what I’ve covered should do the trick.

Round and round we go…

Even if you decide that whirling is not for you, you might be interested to know that you are whirling as you read this blog.

The circumference of the Earth at the equator is 25,000 miles. The Earth rotates in about 24 hours. Therefore, if you were to hang above the surface of the Earth at the equator without moving, you would see 25,000 miles pass by in 24 hours, at a speed of 25000/24 or just over 1000 miles per hour. In addition, the Earth is moving around the Sun at about 67,000 miles per hour—counterclockwise. Hang on!

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