Since 2002 I've been reading with endless enthusiasm about the whirling dervishes of Turkey, practitioners of an 800 year old form of sufism started by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, the famous 13th century poet I quote incessantly here. I first heard about them when a dear friend of mine called me a whirling dervish because of my obsession with spinning in ice skating. When I looked them up and found Rumi's poetry, I felt right away that somehow, someday, I needed to try the dance, called the turn. But as you can imagine teachers of this tradition don't come by the dozen in New England, USA. Finally in January of 2011 I found out one very rare teacher would be holding a week long workshop on meditation and whirling at the Kripalu yoga center in the Berkshires. And, by chance, I just happened to find out the day before the scholarship application was due, and I won it. It felt like the stars were aligning.
Though I've been taking classes in practical applications of meditation for 9 years, and done some yoga, and studied world religion, and been an on and off church goer of several denominations my whole life, I've never tried anything like a spiritual workshop of any sort, and had no idea what to expect. What I definitely did not expect was that the drive up to the mountains of Massachusetts was the first leg of a year long journey that would take me to many places, including India 10 months later. But those first 6 days spent at the dreamy snow covered nirvana of Kripalu, with a most extraordinary woman named Sheikha Khadija Radin and 7 other new whirling students, were magic. I took to the dance and the accompanying teaching like a fish that had been stranded on land all its life and finally thrown in the ocean. I couldn't get enough, and I followed Sheikha Khadija to every workshop and silent retreat she held, which summed up to 34 days by December when I was so fortunate to be invited to participate in a sema, the beautiful ceremonial whirling dance of the dervishes. What a year! I am still trying to recover my over-filled senses and process everything I saw and learned. It hasn't been easy to articulate it to myself or anyone else. I just know that I love to whirl, and I mean: I really really love to whirl.
The top photo is my friend Karen at the sema in December, with me and Joseph behind her, both who also started at that first class at Kripalu. When I met Karen there, just two weeks before she had technically died from complications from a traumatic brain and neck injury. She weighed 80 pounds and could barely eat, but she would come to class and whirl, very slowly and carefully, for a few minutes at a time. We spent the year together following Sheikha Khadija, while she got stronger. By December she was able to dance for the entire hour of the sema. She is quite extraordinary. Below is a video I took of her before the sema, of a dance she made for her equally extraordinary husband John.