Rumi: Gazing at the Beloved

Rumi: Gazing at the Beloved

By Will Johnson
Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2003. Hardcover, 216 pages.

Inspired by the spiritual practice of the Sufi poet and mystic Jallaludin Rumi and his teacher Shams-i-Tabriz, this little book considers the art of seeing.

All spiritual traditions teach that to encounter God we must "come face to face with the energies of the divine" and surrender to whatever emerges in us as a result of the at meeting. Creating eye contact is essential, and Johnson suggests that this practice of looking deeply can be done by holding one's attention and gaze on the eyes of an icon or image of a god or goddess, a spiritual teacher, or beloved friend.

Like Coleman Barks who says that the depths of the heart can only be experienced “in the mysterious osmosis of presence with presence,” Johnson observes that real love is the ground of communication between two people. To hold and soften one's gaze into their partner's eyes until each begins to feel that they are an embodiment of the divine is natural. This experience enables us to feel truly seen for who we truly are.

As children we did this, and the prolonged eye contact generated energies that triggered a burst of laughter and two smiling faces. According to Johnson, in our fear-based culture only new lovers and parents of newborns are allowed to gaze deeply. For others, such behavior is considered taboo.

Many contemporary teachers are beginning to incorporate the practice of gazing in their work with their students Johnson cites specific instructions and descriptions of the practice found in the poetry and discourses of Rumi who was inspired after being transformed by the spiritual mysteries he encountered with Shams and the innate consciousness of the divine they shared.

This book presents insights gleaned from personal practice and professional instruction, bringing previously esoteric understanding to a wider audience. The poetic beauty of Johnson's prose embraces and dances with the abundant selection of Rumi's work.

"The practice of gazing at the beloved is like a float trip that takes you down the river of your soul and ends at the ocean of union." Accordingly, Johnson guides readers through the trips four stages. He provides a reassuring and unintrusive "map" to prepare us for the "territory" of our own experiences of transformation.

Of course, spiritual practice is not an end but a means to living with presence and connection in the world. The gazing practice can enable us to take the feeling of union with us into our daily lives so we can experience what the Koran asserts, "Wherever you turn, there is the face of God." As we see with new eyes, we can merge with everything in nature and have a felt understanding of being one with the universe.

In light of Andre Malraux's observation that the twenty-first century would be mystical or not at all, Johnson's perspective on the mystery of mysticism has an encouraging timely relevance.


March/April 2004