My first encounter with Elif Shafak’s work was back in 2012. I got my hands on the book ‘Forty Rules of Love’ as it came highly recommended by a few. My initial thoughts assessed this to be another soppy love story, well, it is and isn’t at the same time.
I will reserve sharing any spoilers or crucial plot details in this Blog, this is purely my personal reflection of the book, serving the purpose of repository for my favourite of the Forty Rules – right at my fingertips. Note: The book is true to its name, it does contain the Forty Rules, in case you were wondering 🙂
Contrary to the perception of many (especially the male species), this book is not going to unleash the demands of strict adherence to 40 rules of love from your better half, nor it is designed to get anyone in relationship troubles – statements like ‘you must follow the 40 Rules if you love me’ or ‘you just broke rule # 6 of love’ will not transpire, so relax.
The book develops two storyline, one set in recent times, following an American housewife, Ella, and the other takes us back to the 13th Century in the times of Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī practising as an Islamic scholar & juror, prior to his journey as a brilliant poet and Sufi mystic. I was vaguely aware of Rumi and had stumbled across some of his poems on and off over the years, it was intriguing to read some of his history (even though it was in a semi-fictional setting), but, the character that rattled my brain waves was not Rumi but in fact the dervish Shams-i-Tabrīzī – I had never heard his name before reading about him in this book – he was Rumi’s spiritual instructor, transforming him from a scholar to the greatest poet and emblem of Sufism.
Back in 2012, I was in a poignant state of mind, reading this book made my heart ache and flutter all at once as it resonated deeply on many levels. In my mind & heart, I was trying to comprehend the circle of life and death, questioning our existence, purpose, the complex web of our relationships and the value of friendships. This book couldn’t have landed at a better time. It didn’t give me solutions, what it did was open the door to mindfulness. It validated my gut instincts on many issues that were clouded around my head at the time and therefore my engagement or connection with the book, whatever you want to call it, was at a personal level, especially forty rules delicately articulated by Shams-i-Tabrīzī (or should I say the author) throughout the book.
By the time I was done with this book, I was affected to the extent that I felt a desire to learn more about this dervish, in fact even investigated visiting Konya, but it did not materialise. A few weeks back, I questioned whether I would feel the same way about the book as I did nearly 3 years ago, so I re-read it, this time, with a pleasant frame of mind. The impact was lower on the profoundness scale, but there nonetheless.
Of course, I still loved the book and continue to recommend it to my friends, it was refreshing review of wise words, eloquently spoken by Shams.
I’m certain that anyone reading Forty Rules of Love will most definitely be influenced in their own positive way – as there are philosophical lessons to learn and food for thought in the forty rules of Shams.
I’ve taken the liberty to list a few (11 out of 40) of the rules that resonated with me – I’d like to share these with you:
1. Intellect and love are made of 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 among ruins. A broken heart hides treasures.
2. Most of problems of the world stem from linguistic mistakes and simple misunderstanding. 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.
3. Patience does not mean to passively endure. It means to look at the end 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 shortsighted as to not be able to see the outcome. The lovers of God never run out of patience, for they know that time is needed for the crescent moon to become full.
4. 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.
5. Try not to resist the changes, which 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?
6. The whole universe is contained within a single human being-you. Everything that you see around, including the things that 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 Sheitan outside yourself either. The devil is not an extraordinary force that attacks from without. It is an ordinary voice within. If you set to know yourself fully, facing with honesty and hardness.
7. Hell is in the here and now. So is heaven. Quit worrying about hell or dreaming about heaven, as they are both present inside 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.
8. 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. Practice 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.
9. 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.
10. This world is erected upon the principle of reciprocity. Neither a drop of kindness nor a speck of evil will remain unreciprocated. For not the plots, deceptions, or tricks of other people. If somebody is setting a trap, remember, so is God. He is the biggest plotter. Not even a leaf stirs outside God’s knowledge. Simply and fully believe in that. Whatever God does, He does it beautifully.
Saving my favourite rule for last:
11. God is a meticulous clock maker. 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.