Review: The Forty Rules of Love: Elif Shafak.
The following review is of the beautiful work of fiction by Elif Shafak, “The Forty Rules of Love.” The story moves between the story of Ella Rubinstein, a modern day American wife and mother, and the story of Shams of Tabriz and Rumi, set in 12th century Turkey.
Ella is in a long, term marriage that has lost its spark. Her husband is unfaithful but successful and she distracts herself by cooking and looking after her teenage children. Needing a new challenge, she accepts a job as a reader for a literary agent. Her first assignment is to read a novel by an enigmatic Scottish author Aziz. Z. Zahara.
Ella reads about the fabled poet Rumi, whose world view was transformed by the travelling whirling dervish, Shams of Tabriz and his forty rules of love and life. Fascinated, Ella corresponds with Aziz and learns more about his life and the Sufi way. Her world is transformed like Rumi’s and she begins to want more.
This is a lovely book full of spiritual insights into how to live life. Each chapter begins with the letter b and the story falls into five parts. Part one is Earth; the things that are solid, absorbed and still. Part two is Water; the things that are fluid, changing and unpredictable. Part three is Wind; the things that shift, evolve and challenge. Part four is Fire; the things that damage, devastate and destroy and finally the culmination of both stories are within part five, the Void; the things that are present through their absence.
We learn about the significance of the number forty. Ella turns forty and Aziz writes her an email; “Forty is a beautiful age for both men and women. Did you know that in mystic thought, forty symbolises the ascent from one level to a higher one and spiritual awakening? When we mourn, we mourn for forty days. When a baby is born it takes forty days for him to get ready to start life on earth. And when we are in love we need to wait for forty days to be sure of our feelings. The flood of Noah lasted forty days and forty nights. In Islamic mysticism there are forty degrees between man and God. Likewise, there are four basic stages of consciousness and ten degrees in each, making forty levels in total. Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days and nights. Muhammad was forty years old when he received the call to become a prophet. Buddha meditated under a linden tree for forty days. Not to mention the forty rules of Shams. You receive a new mission at forty, a new lease of life!
This is a beautiful and life affirming story. I have transcribed the forty rules of love (see below), and although God is mentioned, the rules can be applied, whatever your religious or spiritual beliefs, to any higher being or Source.
©Pam Burn 2010.
The Forty Rules of Love and Life:
(Taken from “The Forty Rules of Love” by Elif Shafak. Transcribed by Pam Burn, www.colourenergyworks.co.uk) Please do not copy or post this without acknowledging the author and my site. Thanks. This took me ages to copy but it was worth it for it seemed to ground the teachings. These rules can be difficult to live with, and we can but try to put them into action in our own lives, then maybe the world would be a better place.
- How we see God is a direct reflection of how we see ourselves. If God brings to mind mostly fear and blame, it means there is mostly fear and blame welled inside us. If we see God as full of love and compassion, so are we.
- The Path to the Truth is a labour of the heart, not of the head. Make your heart your primary guide. Not your mind. Meet, challenge, and ultimately prevail over your nafs (false ego) with your heart. Knowing your ego (higher self/soul) will lead you to the knowledge of God.
- Each and every reader comprehends the Qur’an/ Bible on a different level in tandem with the depth of his understanding. There are 4 levels of insight. The first level is the outer meaning and it is the one that the majority of people are content with. Next is the Batum- the inner level. Third there is the inner of the inner. And the fourth level is so deep it cannot be put into words and is therefore bound to be indescribable. Scholars who focus on the Sharia/ Bible know the outer meaning. Sufis/ Lightworkers know the inner meaning. Saints know the inner of the inner. The fourth level is known by prophets and those closest to God. So don’t judge the way other people connect to God. To each his own way and his own prayer. God does not take us at our word but looks deep into our hearts. It is not the ceremonies or rituals that make a difference, but whether our hearts are sufficiently pure or not.
- You can study God through everything and everyone in the universe, because God is not confined in a mosque, synagogue or church. But if you are still in need of knowing exactly where his abode is, there is only one place to look for him: in the heart of a true lover.
- Intellect and love are made of two 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 effortlessly reduce itself to rubble. But treasures are hidden amongst ruins. A broken heart hides treasure.
- Most of the problems of the world stem from linguistic mistakes and simple misunderstandings. Don’t ever take words at face value. When you step into the zone of love, language as we know it becomes obsolete. That which cannot be put into words can only be grasped through silence.
- Loneliness and solitude are two different things. When you are lonely, it is easy to delude yourself into believing you are on the right path. Solitude is better for us, as it means being alone without being lonely. But eventually it is best to find a person, that person will be your mirror. Remember, only in another person’s heart can you truly see yourself and the presence of God within you.
- Whatever happens in your life, no matter how troubling things may seem, do not enter the neighbourhood of despair. Even when all doors remain closed, God will open up a new path only for you. Be thankful ! It is easy to be thankful when all is well. A Sufi/Lightworker is thankful not only for what she/he has been given, but also for what she/he has been denied .
- Patience does not mean to passively endure. It means to be farsighted enough to trust the end result of a process. What does patience mean? It means to look at the thorn and see the rose, to look at the night and see the dawn. Impatience means to be so short-sighted as to not be able to see the outcome. The lover’s of God never run out of patience, for they know that time is needed for the crescent moon to become full.
- East, West, South or North makes little difference. No matter what your destination, just be sure to make every journey, a journey within. If you travel within, you’ll travel the whole wide world and beyond.
- The midwife knows that when there is no pain, the way for the baby cannot be opened and the mother cannot give birth. Likewise for a new self to be born, hardship is necessary. Just as day needs to go through intense heat to become strong, Love can only be perfected in pain.
- The quest for Love changes us. There is no seeker amongst those who search for Love who has not matured along the way. The moment you start looking for Love, you start to change within and without.
- There are more fake gurus and false teachers in this world than the numbers of stars in the visible universe. Don’t confuse power-driven self centred people with true mentors. A genuine spiritual master will not direct your attention to himself or herself and will not expect absolute obedience or utter admiration from you, but instead will help you to appreciate and admire your inner self. True mentors are as transparent as glass. They let the Light of God pass through them.
- Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?
- God is busy with the completion of your work, both outwardly and inwardly. He is fully occupied with you. Every human being is a work in progress that is slowly and inexorably moving towards perfection. We are each an unfinished work of art, both waiting and striving to be completed. God deals with each of us separately because humanity is a fine art of skilled penmanship where every single dot is equally important for the entire picture.
- It’s easy to love a perfect God, unblemished and infallible that He is. What is far more difficult is to love fellow human beings with all their imperfections and defects. Remember one can only know what one is capable of loving. There is no wisdom without love. Unless we learn to love God’s creation, we can neither truly love nor truly know God.
- Real Filth is the one inside. The rest simply washes off. There is only one type of dirt that cannot be cleansed with pure waters, and that is the stain of hatred and bigotry contaminating the soul. You can purify your body through abstinence and fasting, but only love will purify your heart.
- The whole universe is contained within a single human being – You. Everything that you see around, including the things you might not be fond of and even the people you despise or abhor, is present within you in varying degrees. Therefore do not look for Satan outside of yourself either. The devil is not an extraordinary force that attacks from without. It is an ordinary voice within. If you get to know yourself fully, facing with honesty and hardness both your dark and light sides, you will arrive at a supreme form of consciousness. When a person knows himself or herself, he or she knows God.
- If you want to change the way others treat you, you should first change the way you treat yourself. Unless you learn to fully 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 might throw at you. It is a sign that you will soon be showered in roses.
- Fret not where the road will take you. Instead concentrate on the first step. That’s the hardest part and that’s what you are responsible for. Once you take that step let everything do what it naturally does and the rest will follow. Do not go with the flow. Be the flow.
- We were all created in God’s image and yet we were each created different and unique. No two people are alike. No two hearts beat to the same rhythm. If God had wanted everyone to be the same, He would have made it so. Therefore disrespecting differences and imposing your thoughts on others is tantamount to disrespecting God’s holy scheme.
- When a true lover of God goes into a tavern, the tavern becomes his chamber of prayer, but when a wine bibber goes into the same chamber, it becomes his tavern. In everything we do, it is our hearts that make the difference not our outer appearances. Sufis do not judge other people on how they look or who they are. When a Sufi stares at someone, he keeps both his eyes closed and instead opens a third eye – the eye that sees the inner realm.
- Life is a temporary loan, and this world is nothing but a sketchy imitation of Reality. Only children would mistake a toy for the real thing. And yet human beings either become infatuated with the toy or disrespectfully break it and throw it aside. In this life stay away from all kinds of extremities, for they will destroy your inner balance. Sufis do not go to extremes. A Sufi always remains mild and moderate.
- The human being has a unique place amongst God’s creation. “I breathed into him of My Spirit,” God says. Each and every one of us without exception is designed to be God’s delegate on earth. Ask yourself, just how often do you behave like a delegate, if you ever do so? Remember, it falls upon each of us to discover the divine spirit inside and live by it.
- Hell is the here and now. So is heaven. Quit worrying about hell or dreaming about heaven, as they are both present in this very moment. Every time we fall in Love, we ascend to heaven. Every time we hate, envy or fight someone, we tumble straight into the fires of hell. Is there a worse hell than the torment a man suffers when he knows deep down in his conscience that he has done something awfully wrong? Ask that man. He will tell you what hell is. Is there a better paradise than the bliss that descends upon a man at those rare moments in life, when the bolts of the universe fly open and he feels in possession of all the secrets of eternity and united with God? Ask that man. He will tell you what heaven is?
- 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. Practise 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 world is like a snowy mountain that echoes your voice. Whenever you speak, good or evil, it will somehow come back to you. Therefore if there is someone who harbours ill thoughts about you, saying similarly bad things about him will only make matters worse. You will be locked in a vicious circle of malevolent energy. Instead for forty days and nights say and think nice things about that person. Everything will be different at the end of forty days, because you will be different inside.
- The past is an interpretation. The future is an illusion. The world does not move through time as if it were a straight line, proceeding from the past to the future. Instead time moves through us and within us, in endless spirals. Eternity does not mean infinite time, but simply timelessness. If you want to experience eternal illumination, put the past and the future out of your mind and remain within the present moment. The present moment is all there is and all that there will ever be.
- Destiny doesn’t mean that your life has been strictly predetermined. Therefore to leave everything to fate and to not actively contribute to the music of the universe is a sign of sheer ignorance. “The music of the universe is all pervading and it is composed on forty different levels. Your destiny is the level where you will play your tune. You might not change your instrument but how well to play is entirely in your hands. ”
- The true Sufi/Lightworker is such that even when he is unjustly accused, attacked and condemned from all sides, he patiently endures, uttering not a single bad word about any of his critics. She/he never apportions blame. How can there be opponents or rivals or even “others” when there is no “self” in the first place? How can there be anyone to blame when there is only One?
- If you want to strengthen your faith, you will need to soften inside. For your faith to be rock solid, your heart needs to be as soft as a feather. Through an illness, accident, loss or fright, one way or another, we are all faced with incidents that teach us how to become less selfish and judgemental and more compassionate and generous. Yet some of us learn the lessons and manage to become milder, while some others end up becoming even harsher than before. The only way to get closer to the Truth is to expand your heart so that it will encompass all humanity and still have room for more Love.
- Nothing should stand between yourself and God. Not imams, priests, rabbis or any other custodians of moral or religious leadership. Not spiritual masters, not even your faith. Believe in your values and your rules but never lord them over others. If you keep breaking other people’s hearts, whatever religious duty you perform is no good. Stay away from all sorts of idolatry, for they will blur your vision. Let God and only God be your guide. Learn the Truth but be careful not to make a fetish out of your truths.
- While everyone in this world strives to get somewhere and become someone, only to leave it all behind after death, you aim for the supreme stage of nothingness. Live this life as light and empty as the number zero. We are no different from a pot. It is not the decorations outside but the emptiness inside that holds us straight. Just like that, it is not what we aspire to achieve but the consciousness of nothingness that keeps us going.
- Submission does not mean being weak or passive. It leads to neither fatalism nor capitulation. Just the opposite. True power resides in submission – a power that comes from within. Those who submit to the divine essence of life will live in unperturbed tranquillity and peace even when the whole wide world goes through turbulence after turbulence.
- In this world, it is not similarities or regularities that take us a step forward, but blunt opposites. And all the opposites in the universe are present within each and every one of us. Therefore the believer needs to meet the unbeliever residing within. And the unbeliever should get to know the silent faithful in him. Until the day one reaches the stage of being the perfect human being, faith is a gradual process and one that necessitates its seeming opposite: disbelief.
- This world is erected upon the principle of reciprocity. Neither a drop of kindness nor a speck of evil will remain unreciprocated. Fear not the plots, deceptions or tricks of other people. If someone is setting a trap remember so is God. He is the biggest plotter. Not even a leaf sits outside of God’s knowledge. Simply and fully believe in that. Whatever God does He does beautifully.
- God is a meticulous clockmaker. So precise is His order that everything on earth happens in its own time. Neither a minute late nor a minute early. And for everyone without exception the clock works accurately. For each there is a time to love and a time to die.
- It is never too late to ask yourself, “Am I ready to change the life I am living? Am I ready to change within?” Even if a single day in your life is the same as the day before, it surely is a pity. At every moment and with each new breath, one should be renewed and renewed again. There is only one way to be born into a new life: to die before death.
- While the parts change, the whole always remains the same. For every thief who departs the world, a new one is born. And every decent person who passes away is replaced by a new one. In this way not only does nothing remain the same but also nothing ever really changes.
- “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 a lover is a soul of fire. The universe turns differently when fire loves water. (©Elif Shafak.)