The rustle and swish of my skirt rises and falls in rhythmic rotation. I listen to its murmur. My feet glide and scrape over the surface of the floor, step, push, turn, lift, step, push, turn, lift. They speak to me of ancient time, of many feet and many many marbled, wooden and earthen floors. Notes of the sacred flute flow over me, enter my ears, pulse into the very core of my being. The sounds direct my focus toward the silences between them. I rest deeply as I whirl. I find the stillness at the centre. I let go.
As a whirling dervish, more properly known as a semazen, I follow a path of discipline and joy. It is not a fluffy path, but one of steep tradition which calls forth the depths of quietude and ecstasy in equal measure. Like all steep traditions, there are levels of engagement from witness and observer to deep lifelong commitment as well as the pillars who uphold the fullness of the tradition. All of these are good and helpful, contributing both to the individual and the wider community.
The essence of the dervish path, the Sufi path, the path of one who would dance the ritual sema, is Love. Love calls to me. It beckons me home. It shatters my conceptions. It ravages my sense of ‘self’.
In 2007 I went to the Raleigh Theatre in North Carolina. There was a group of dervishes from Turkey who would perform and share their music. The auditorium was large and the dervishes were small against the backdrop of the stage. Chairs were at the back of the stage where the musicians sat. I remember feeling that the ceremony of the whirling was difficult to encounter in this format, no mode of direct perception was really possible with the distance of the proscenium between us. The music however was very special. I sat back and closed my eyes. What stayed with me was a feeling of peace. In time I would forget this experience, and it is only years later, after my own initiatory journey was well underway that I would recall and understand with hindsight what I had seen.