By Farzad Khalvati, Doug Marman
As the most famous Sufi mystic of all times, Rumi’s poetry and writings have been the source of inspiration for some, and a source of confusion for others. While some scholars and Sufi enthusiasts find deep and meaningful teachings behind his writings (Chittick, 2005), there have been debates among academic scholars who suggest that Rumi’s writings are entirely random and lack any organizational structure (Palmer, 2015). The lack of solid causality and linearity in the construction of Rumi’s writings, such as Masnavi and Discourses (Fihi-Ma-Fihi), have made them notoriously difficult to understand (Arberry, 1995). This might have contributed to an impression that most of Rumi’s work can only be seen as a linguistic artwork and not a foundation for a teaching.
The psychology of learning has mainly focused on linear or analytical thinking where we clearly differentiate between thoughts, understanding, and learning of a subject matter (Sperry, 1952). This gives the impression that learning occurs linearly and hence, it can only digest writings that are presented linearly with strong causal relationships between the consequent elements.
The linear learning of a subject uses third person perception—where the learner studies and understands the subject “objectively” from outsider’s perspective (Marman, 2016). This is the approach of analytical conscious thought, where the thinker (observer) sees linearly and distinctively the static relationship between learning and the underlying thoughts leading to that.
On the other hand, most of Rumi’s writings are based on a relational language that requires the reader to put themselves into a dynamic relationship with the author and with what the author is writing about, to understand the meaning. In other words, a different type of perception—second person perception (Marman, 2016)—is required to understand the meaning behind the writings of Rumi. Second person perception is the same relational way of seeing that we use when getting to know a friend—by relating to them, shifting from our perspective to their point of view, and learning to follow their train of thoughts as they flow from one moment to the next. This approach allows us to know another person far better than trying to analyze them and study them from an outsider perspective.
Since we abandon objectivity when engaging with another person to form a relationship, what we learn, at first, seems uncertain. However, as the relationship deepens by learning to relate (using a second person lens), our understanding becomes more certain. Using this approach allows us to grasp the meaning behind the veil of Rumi’s writings.
Validation comes from seeing how all the pieces to the puzzle fit together. In fact, what we learn from this is that second person perception is exactly what Rumi seems to be teaching, while at the same time he continually points out the limitations of third person perception. His writings may seem to leap around in an unconnected way, but in almost every case there is a hidden meaning that connects one thought to the next.
In this talk, I will talk about the fundamentals of perception and the difference between these two lenses of perception (third and second person) and how the latter can be used as a key to understand Rumi’s writings. Examples of Rumi’s poetry and writings will be discussed, and it will be demonstrated how, in practice, one can decode and comprehend a deeper meaning of Rumi’s writings by using a relational way of learning to understand his poetry and writings.
Arberry, A. J. (1995). Discourses of Rumi. Routledge.
Chittick, W. C. (2005). The Sufi Doctrine of Rumi. World Wisdom.
Marman, D. (2016). Lenses of perception: A surprising new look at the origin of life, the laws of
nature, and our universe. Lenses of Perception Press.
Palmer, L. (2015). Reading Rumi: The Collapse of the Real, the Imaginal, and the Literary in
Jalal al-Din Rumi’s Masnavi i-Ma’navi. Haverford College.
Sperry, R. (1952). Neurology and the Mind-Brain Problem. American Scientist, 40(2).