I read “The Forty Rules of Love” by Elif Shafak with great interest and enthusiasm.
I immersed myself in the ancient world of Rumi and Shams of Tabriz and I was instantly fascinated by the forty rules of the traveling dervishes revealed by Shams throughout the book. Although this is a fiction novel, the truths and the Sufi ideas that it is based on are as real as they can get.
Sufism is a branch of Islam that calls itself “the religion of love”. Its views on God have attracted a lot of criticism from conservative Muslims who cannot accept the Sufi belief that God lives in each of us. The path to God and discovering God according to Sufism, is love… Not just romantic love, but love in all its aspects.
The forty rules of love described in Shafak’s novel are in fact the forty principles of Sufism, and these are 7 of my favorite rules that talk about love.
1 “The path to the truth is a labor of the heart, not of the head. Make your heart your primary guide! Not your mind. Meet, challenge and ultimately prevail over your nafs with your heart. Knowing your self will lead you to the knowledge of God.”
The Sufis believe that God is in each of us and that finding the God within means that one has to listen to the heart. We live in a very logical world, and even organized religions have very logical ways of describing God, based on their interpretations of the holly books. The way religions depict God is more of a “if you do that, this will happen” type of thing. But God is love, Sufis say. Don’t try to find God in a logical understanding of the world and in worldly judgements. He is in the heart, and when you trust your heart, you have found Him.
2 “Intellect and love are made of different materials. Intellect ties people in knots and risks nothing, but love dissolves all tangles and risks everything. Intellect is always cautious and advises “Beware, too much ecstasy!”, whereas love says “Oh, never mind! Take the plunge!” Intellect does not easily break down, whereas love can easily reduce itself to rubble. But treasures are hidden among ruins. A broken heart hides treasures.”
Caution doesn’t have much to teach us… Living in fear doesn’t get us far. It closes us and it stops us from learning the lessons that are meant to advance our spiritual evolution. Fear is against the heart and against living a life of faith. It always puzzled me when I saw people who called themselves religious and believers in God, being afraid. Doesn’t that contradict their faith? How can one say he believes in God and not have faith that everything will be for the better?…
3 “Loneliness and solitude are two different things. When you are lonely, it is easy to delude yourself into believing that you are on the right path. Solitude is better for us, as it means being alone without feeling lonely. But eventually, it is best to find a person, the person who will be your mirror. Remember, in another person’s heart can you truly see yourself and the presence of God within you.”
What I see people doing, is something I find very sad… They go into relationships, they choose friends and spouses simply because they are afraid to be alone. The way marriage has been explained to me not only once is: “I will have someone to take care of me.” And while having that support in times of need is great, how about the rest of the time, when you don’t need it? A lot of us don’t choose partners because we found in that person a friend and a mirror, but because it is expected from us to find someone. Make sure you are comfortable with yourself first, and then find someone who is your equal and can reflect your truth back at you.
4 “The quest for love changes us. There is no seeker among those who search for love who has not matured on the way. The moment you start looking for love, you start to change within and without.”
The mature person is not the one who is serious and hardly ever smiles. The mature person is not the one who hides his feelings and his vulnerabilities. Maturity is synonymous with the love you have in your heart for yourself and others. Now, neurologists are starting to realize something that has been known by yogis for thousands of years: that the heart is a second brain and that our emotions shape our life perceptions, our bodies and our health in powerful ways. A journey into the heart is transformative.
5 “If you want to change the way others treat you, you should first change the way you treat yourself. Unless you learn to love yourself, fully and sincerely, there is no way you can be loved. Once you achieve that stage, however, be thankful for every thorn that others may throw at you. It is a sign that you will soon be showered in roses.”
Such a simple truth and yet we struggle with it so much! I struggled with this truth for so many years and I was stuck in feeling a victim of other people’s perception of me. But the freedom I won the moment I realized that I create my own reality, was priceless. It does come with roadblocks, though… And some will judge you for trying to be yourself and follow your heart. But when that happens, know that you are on the right way. I heard these words once, but I don’t remember who said them… Here they are: “If you have no critics, it means you have done nothing of value.”
6 “The universe is one being. Everything and everyone is interconnected through an invisible web of stories. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all in a silent conversation. Do no harm. Practice compassion. And do not gossip behind anyone’s back – not even a seemingly innocent remark! The words that come out of our mouths do not vanish but are perpetually stored in infinite space, and they will come back to us in due time. One man’s pain will hurt us all. One man’s joy will make everyone smile.”
This is one of the truths enlightened masters have taught us throughout history: we are all one. Enlightenment cannot happen unless we grasp the idea that we are part of a whole and that our conscience is one with the conscience of the world. The famous psychologist Carl Jung was talking about collective consciousness, a whole we are part of and that is part of us. Knowing that you are part of this web of consciousness means that you start recognizing yourself in others. So hurting them would be like hurting yourself…
7 “A life without love is of no account. Don’t ask yourself what kind of love you should seek, spiritual or material, divine or mundane, Eastern or Western…. Divisions only lead to more divisions. Love has no labels, no definitions. It is what it is, pure and simple. Love is the water of life. And the lover is a soul of fire! The universe turns differently when fire loves water.”
Let us drop divisions! Easier said than done… Divisions are our comfort zones, our safe places. We love putting ourselves into boxes because they make us feel like we belong. But love requires you to leave behind these mundane fears and elevate yourself to the level of the heart. In yogic terms, what happens is an elevation from the root chakra to the heart chakra. When we start living in the heart, divisions drop and we start seeing everyone as being worthy of our time and love, in spite of their nationality, age, color of the skin or religion.