Rumi’s Four Essential Practices: Ecstatic Body, Awakened Soul by author Will Johnson is an excellent practical guide to the wisdom and teachings of the great 13th Century Sufi mystic and poet Jalaluddin Rumi. Mr. Johnson uses an innovative format to introduce Rumi’s practical wisdom. Interspersed with the beautiful poems of Rumi, as translated by Dr. Nevit Ergin, the book details four specific spiritual practices taught by Rumi: 1. Eating Lightly; 2. Breathing Deeply; 3. Moving Freely; and 4. Gazing Raptly. As the subtitle of the book suggests, engaging in and perfecting these spiritual practices will assist one in reaching a state of an ecstatic body and an awakened soul. The book has a gentle, easygoing yet insightful style that opens the reader’s heart to the world and practices of Rumi. As the author discusses in the book’s introduction, Rumi took the path of love. Along this path, Rumi discovered that to truly grow in soul, two actions were necessary: “surrendering to love and dissolving the self that keeps that love contained.” Johnson’s explanation of how Rumi surrendered his will and freed himself from the shackles of the physical world provides the reader with an inspiring model, a model that is at once idealized and practical. Through the four practices prescribed by Rumi, the practitioner is shown the way to awaken his or her soul. Johnson’s use of Rumi’s poetry is especially effective in its direct appeal. In a typical example, Rumi urges the reader, “melt yourself down, go to the place where you disappear completely, become nothing.” The unique contribution of Johnson’s book is that he presents teachings from Rumi that employ heightened awareness of the body in order to achieve this state of annihilation. The first practice, “eating lightly,” is
straightforward guidance teaching us to be moderate in our food consumption habits – not to overeat which can dull one’s awareness. The practice of fasting at certain times is emphasized. According to Rumi, “food and drink make your stomach full, but fasting makes you drunk.” The second practice, “breathing deeply,” leads one to a greater awareness of how we breathe and how that impacts our spirit and our soul. The practice of breathing deeply is a powerful technique and therapy for the human being and for spiritual awakening. Breathing is a way to remember the Divine. Rumi teaches us: “If you’re really not aware that god is constantly hunting for you then pay close attention to every breath you take.” The third practice, “moving freely,” is about movement and speaks in part to the ritualized practice of turning the body in circles or dance. From movement can arise ecstasy and awakening. One needs to follow the lead of the movement. Then, as Rumi says, “the whole universe will start to dance particle by particle to your tune.” The fourth practice, “gazing raptly,” encourages one to focus his or her energies by gazing intently and deeply into the eyes of a friend. By this practice, you can surrender to the universe and travel on a journey beyond the self. This follows the way of Rumi and his teacher Shams. Rumi instructs: “if you’ve got the pearls then come and gaze into the ocean of my eyes.” This book achieves the admirable distinction of being able to both delight and teach at the same time. As such, Rumi’s Four Essential Practices is graced with the charm that emanates from so many of the Great Master’s teachings. Through motion, breath, diet and vision, Rumi’s teachings call us to engage our bodies in the task of opening ourselves to the Divine.
Sufism: An Inquiry Vol XVI, No. 1