YOUR eye has not strength enough
To gaze at the burning sun,
But you can see its brilliant light
By watching its reflection
Mirrored in the water.
So the reflection of Absolute Being
Can be viewed in this mirror of Not-Being,
For non-existence, being opposite Reality,
Instantly catches its reflection.
Know the world from end to end is a mirror
Through the alchemy of words Ali Dogan, the main character in Yilmaz Alimoglu ‘s debut novel Deserts and Mountains, holds a mirror up for the reader so they can see through the intense and ironic cultural juxtapositions, the visceral hyper intelligent head butting, the profound tragedy themselves, in the comfort of the moment, far removed from the presence of other people.
One of the things I saw when I looked deeply into Ali’s mirror was the role played by women in this novel. What first made this stand out to me was the realization was that Ali was returning back to his motherland Turkey – [ironically Anadolu Anatolia in Turkish mean land of mothers]. This immediately made me think of the Sufi path and the dervish’s need to return back to his origin state. From then on, I knew that Ali’s outer journey will be mirroring is inner journey.
In his catching the Thread: Sufism, Dreamwork and Jungian Psychology, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee states that there are two ways to attract God’s love: either we become perfect, and He has to love us; or we offer our whole self to Him in utter humility, and He cannot help but love us. The Sufi chooses the latter path, that of the lover who waits for the Beloved.
As Ali travels across three continents visiting the great Sufi centers of the past and present, we can feel his inner turmoil and longing increase the deeper within himself he travels. This turmoil and longing drives Ali further and further down the path to his rediscovery of love. To the dervish that turmoil is none other than the magnetic pull of the Beloved. Jelaluddin Rumi has spoken of this inner turmoil and longing where he states:
This longing you express
is the return message.”
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs no one knows the names of.
Give your life to be one of them.
Looking back on the novel I feel that at each pivotal point in Ali’s Journey he encounters a woman who acts in a way as a catalyst for his awakening. His failing relationship with his wife is like the sand in oyster, it is initially a source of friction. In the end however what was once an irritation has become a great pearl of wisdom.
It is through his contact with Nour, a pivotal character in his book that Ali comes to many realization about himself, Turkey caught at a cross road between the past and present, and also between the East and West .
I was fortunate enough to be able to talk with the author and get is perspectives on Ali. Mr. Alimoglu in our talk has said:
Ali seeks a broader cultural understanding of Islam that currently bears the weight of so much scorn, the spiritual path of Sufism, and of the political context from which he emerged. He recognizes through his relationship with Nour similarities in the struggles of all humanity. In assimilating what he learns, he develops a fresh perspective to illustrate how difficulties can bring renewed understanding.
This is not the first time where in the course of a man’s transformation and rediscovery of love a woman plays a significant role in his awakening. The most pertinent example of which is that of Odysseus who aside from his well known outward journey back home is also on an inward journey. He has to pass through many perils, much heartache and loss before he can return home. Odysseus is only one example of many that pleonastically litter the annals of literature both past and present.
The recently deceased Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago talked about the role of love and woman in his novel. He has said:
“The love is predetermined by the character of the women who enter the picture. The women who come into my stories–it’s all thanks to them. They’re the ones, these women with their capacities and affection, who make everything extraordinary.”
Nour is a very special character. Her name means light and her treatment in the book by society at large is really for me personally an allegory on how we as a society approach our own inner light that is the catalyst of our own awakening. Abused by an ex husband in a society that still treats women as property Nour is representative not only of the plight and struggles of women in our modern times, for acceptance and equal treatment
I had a chance to talk with Mr. Alimoglu and he had this to say about Nour:
Nour truly represents the feminine light and joy, which causes a man’s heart to encounter ecstasy for a period of time; the gentle and beautiful experiences in the realm of experiencing human love is a stepping ladder to higher degrees of love. It is a painfully sweet experience to really love a woman and to maintain that love over a long period of time. Nour in many ways is the initiator of a higher spiritual awakening for Ali, and a symbol of experiencing divine light through human love.
Nour is a metaphor for the degree of pure cruelty toward women, in the guise of cultural dogma. We can kill people both physically and spiritually through torment and oppression, making life unbearable on many levels. We find new paths to God while experiencing extreme pain.
Mr. Alimoglu’s words immediate reminded me of Rabia of Basri one of the most popular and influential female Islamic saints and central figure in the Sufi tradition. According to some, her parents died when she was young and after a period of homelessness she was stolen and sold into slavery. Even despite all the hardships she endured and suffered she become one of the greatest Sufi teachers.
The Feminine in today World
Recently there has been much talk about the role that women have to play in our current time of global crisis as vehicle for the feminine energies to be no longer denied and reintroduced in our everyday dealings. Llewellyn Vaughan lee in his says The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul that:
“We have to realize that when we deny the divine mystery of the feminine, we also deny something fundamental to life. We separate life from its sacred core, from the matrix that nourishes all creation. We cut ourselves from the source that alone can heal, nourish, and transform. The same sacred source that gave birth to each of us is needed to give meaning to our life, to nourish it with what is real and to reveal to us the mystery, the purpose of being alive. Because humanity has a central function in the whole of creation, what we deny ourselves we deny to all of life. In denying the feminine her sacred power and purpose, we have impoverished life on personal and global levels in ways we do not understand…. Yes, we see now the outer effects on the earth, but it is so much more difficult to recognize the inner effects, which have been devastating.”
Mr. Alimoglu has some other insight to share about the view and treatment of the feminine in the world. He has come to realize that:
Without our choosing to do so we start the process of growing into a culture at birth. Slowly we adopt a certain lifestyle and learn to make our own choices based on the tenets of the culture we have grown up in. Naturally every culture carries with it a certain way of seeing things and viewing the world and in terms of spiritual growth this is a type of mind control. To grow spiritually requires autonomy, self determination, and increasing freedom mentally, emotionally and psychologically. Due to the cultural restrictions and centuries of social conditioning, women have been subtly denied the experience of spiritual freedom. A far reaching ramification of this is that the earth, the very symbol of the feminine- that which nurtures all life- has been harmed.
In retrospect I feel that in presenting the plight of women in today’s modern context Mr. Alimoglu has managed to acquaint the reader with many other important plights that are subsequently intertwined –i.e. the plight of the earth, the plight of the sincere seeker and the plight of many developing nations around the world. What really comes through to me in each of these related plights is the importance of being recognized and the strength it takes to endure.
Before we can move to address these issues we first must recognize the extent to which we have ignored them and how the ramifications of doing so have shaped our current times. We have to recognize the uniqueness of the path that everyone must tread and the unalienable right they have to do. I can find no better way to conclude this post than with the world of the author who has said that:
Each person has a path to walk on earth with none having the exact same experiences as another and each being created with a unique nature. God certainly speaks to each of us through all kinds of signs. Like Ali, I see God constantly communicating with us in many ways, by the signs within the created natural world, through the knowledge we acquire in our experiences, from within divine books, through the saints, and buried within even the seemingly very simple or even totally screwed up and insane people. We may not be conscious of it, but it is the truth. Ali began to understand that everything he had encountered in his life had a purpose and reason, whether he could comprehend it or not.
– Yilmaz Alimoglu
Mr Alimoglu can be contacted or reached here: http://www.desertsandmountains.com/contact.html