Rumi Calendar – Response to the January Question

I know I have a past and will hopefully have a future, but what does this “living in the now” mean, this being present that all the wisdom masters advise? What is eternity? Is there a beginning, an end?


Rumi was one of the world’s greatest enlightened teachers, a mystic, and a true Sufi master. Thus, the wisdom that he shares with us about time is not based on philosophical speculation; but rooted in universal perennial wisdom and result of gnosis (direct knowledge) and direct experience.
The essence of Rumi’s response to our question about time is that despite the fact that we experience the passage of time (yesterday, today, tomorrow); that we have a limited lifetime on this planet (birth to death); that there is a marker in eternity for the beginning of existence [1] and a marker for the end [2]; and that there exists an evolutionary process in play at the macro or universal level; yet in the deeper dimensions of reality there actually exists no so called ‘arrow of time’.
There is no beginning and no end; there is no continuous time comprising of the past, present and future. There is only the now–the present moment. As human beings, not only we are capable of accessing this timeless dimension, but we are also able to experience it in conjunction with our awareness of the ordinary continuous time. In fact it is our life purpose to learn to be present and experience the joy of being. As Rumi says:

We made a pact;
… joy and I,
that joy is all mine! [3]

At the ultimate level, presence is considered the reunion of the lover and the Beloved. Love–which at the highest level is love of the truth–is the pulling force guiding one to the Source. Learning to get out of our own way to allow this force to guide us is the purpose of life. Mindfulness is one such practice for learning to be present, as well as the state of consciousness of presence.

At first, this claim about time may sound paradoxical, impossible or too esoteric to the conditioned mind. However, I urge you to drop any judgements and read on with a warm heart and an open mind– to allow Rumi’s wisdom to guide us.

Presence is about ‘being’, not ‘doing’

As human beings growing up we lose our sense of presence, accumulating memories and developing our personality. Hence we need to deal with our traditional notion of time by practicing to be present as often as possible while managing our day to day time-based activities to the best of our abilities. In this poem Rumi paints the sublime experience of presence: [4]

Spear through time

Like the tip of a spear passing through a shield,
I pierced through night and day;
Looking from the other side, it’s clear:
All religions are one.
A hundred thousand years and a single hour are one.
The beginning of eternity and the end of eternity arch into Union.
Reason is at a loss figuring out how to venture over to the other side.  [5]


A crucial point in Rumi’s message above is that being present is not something to figure out, it is not something to do; it is a matter of “being” rather than “doing”. That is why he says that “Reason is at a loss figuring out how to venture over to the other side”.

As The Sky Does in Water

For the grace of the presence, be grateful.
Touch the cloth of the robe,
but do not pull it toward you,
or like an arrow it will leave the bow.

Imagine. Presence plays with form,
Fleeing and hiding as the sky does in water,
Now one place, now nowhere.

Imagination cannot contain the absolute.
These poems are elusive
because the presence is.

I love the rose that is not a rose,
But the second I try to speak it, any name
for God becomes so-and-so, and vanishes.

What you thought to draw lifts off the paper,
As what you love slips from your heart.  [6]

Let’s get clear, living in the moment is not living for the moment

There are major yet subtle differences between living in the moment and living for the moment. Many people mistake being present; which is a fundamental truth principle; with living a hedonistic superficially happy life. Living a fun, goalless, disorganised, undisciplined life is not living in the now. It is neither the kind of life characterised by the “Work hard, play hard” motto. It is not the unconditional acceptance promoted by some New Age schools that leave one ending up a passive push-over, accepting of whatever may be forced upon them. In fact hardly anyone can go on living for long in such ways without becoming addicted or depressed, or suffer other physical and/or mental health issues.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with being happy and having fun, in fact it is our innate right as human beings to be joyful. Again as Rumi says:

We made a pact;
… joy and I,
that joy is all mine! [3]

Similarly acceptance and surrender to the universal will is fundamental to one’s spiritual growth. The point is to be mindful and awake not to mistake the ego imitation versions of joy and will with the real ones. Living in the now transmutes our copper versions of joy and will into their authentic gold–which will also bring along true purpose and action in one’s life. Rumi says:

This way, you won’t be the Moon, just a dust cloud,
This way, you won’t be gold, just copper. (see full poem below)

Living in the moment or in the now is what Rumi and other spiritual masters advise. Living for the moment–despite its deceiving appearance–is really mind stuff. It is an example of ego-self trying to figure out how to be present, hence creating an imitation version of it.

Rumi divides people into four types with regards to their attitude towards past, present and future; and the corresponding mindset they adopt. This grouping clearly illustrates my point:

Some people see the beginnings of things, and some look to the end. Those visionaries possessing foresight are great and mighty; they consider the end goal or the world beyond.
But those who see the beginning are greater. They say, ‘Why look to the end? If wheat is sown in the beginning, barley will not grow. If oats are planted, you cannot reap corn.’ So their gaze is fixed upon the beginning.
Still there are others even greater yet, who look at neither the beginnings nor the endings. The start and finish do not enter their minds; they are absorbed in Truth.
There is yet another group who see neither the beginning nor the end. They are absorbed in worldly matters out of ignorance and extreme carelessness—they are the astray ones, burning away valuable life. [7]

It can be seen from the above that the highest ranking are the seekers of the truth who practice living in the now. Their life is guided by their inner truth which is increasingly more in touch with the universal truth. The more advanced they are on the path of self-knowledge, the more frequently they experience absorption in presence. They are not worried about past and future, reward and punishment, or even death; their only concern is not to lose touch with the truth or reality of the moment:

The people of faith are in fear of their last breath;
My fear is losing You,
oh the King of faith, do not leave! [8]

The second are the group with their gaze at the beginning or the past. They are in full acceptance, believing we reap what has been sown already.

The third is the group of foresight, with their focus on the future. In secular terms they could be considered as goal setters and outcome oriented type, progressives, or the futurists. They learn from the past and plan and strive for a better future. In religious terms they might be considered as those who conduct their lives in a manner to score a rewarding afterlife and avoiding punishment.

The lowest in ranking are those who neither care for the past nor the future. This group constitute the ones described above as ‘living for the moment’ instead of ‘living in the moment’.  Rumi calls them ‘the astray ones’ or the lost ones who not only burn away valuable life, but also they are wasted in their own inner hell like haystack in a bonfire.

Presence, clock time and psychological time

It seems like as human beings, we ordinarily have no choice but to experience time as a continuum of past, present and future. Yet in deeper reality there is no continuity; every moment is fresh, a spring in which we can bathe and renew ourselves (for more about this see below).

Our common awareness of time stretches as far back in the past as our memory goes. This memory includes our personal memory as well as what we inherit biologically and culturally from our family and collective histories. Such historical memory impacts our sense of self and falsely defines who we take ourselves to be. At the same time, we are inherently aware that one day we will die, yet we anticipate a future no matter how uncertain it might be. Our future hopes, aspirations and fears shape our lives as much as our memories of the past.

For Rumi, this ordinary experience of time–past and future–reflects just one aspect of our humanness. We are also capable of experiencing the timelessness of being fully present in the here and now, while being peripherally aware of the passing time.

In his great little book–The Power of Now–Eckhart Tolle deploys a useful terminology which I would like to use here because it is aligned with Rumi’s dealings with time. Tolle identifies two kinds of ordinary or continuous time [9]:

  1. Clock time: Dealing with the practical aspects of life. It is not just making an appointment or planning a trip. It includes learning from the past so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes over and over.
  2. Psychological time: Identification with the past and continuous compulsive projection into the future.

He then emphasises that:

“The enlightened person’s main focus of attention is always the Now, but they are still peripherally aware of time. In other words, they continue to use clock time but are free of psychological time.”  ~Tolle [10]

Judging by Rumi’s extremely rich, productive and busy life, one can easily conclude that he must have been an outstanding example of the enlightened masters Tolle is referring to. Rumi’s highly spiritual yet disciplined life included long periods of studying in Konya and then abroad in Syria for seven years, running a major religious studies school in Konya which involved teaching and research, being the sheikh or head of the Sufi spiritual school with many disciples, daily meditations and prayers, intense spiritual relationship with Shams of Tabriz and later on with his other two spiritual companions at different times during his spiritual evolution, as well as looking after his household and the day-to-day works that we all have to deal with; and on top of all that becoming one of the greatest poets of all times prolifically creating masterpieces of sublime quality and extraordinary volumes, including Divan-e Shams (Divan-e Kabir) comprising of about 50,000 couplets, and Mathnawi (or Masnavi) in six volumes comprising over 25,000 rhyming couplets, and a great work of prose titled Discourses of Rumi (Fihi ma Fihi).[11]

With his life, Rumi has offered us an outstanding example of being  present, living in the now, yet remaining organised and cognisant of how to use the clock time efficiently without falling into the traps of psychological time.

The real me!

I am not what you see, you won’t recognise me if you see the real me;
Drown in your thoughts; you are fast asleep; drowsy at best.

If you ask me how I deal with this world of ups and downs;
I’ll refer you to the story of Joseph; a cheap slave in the eyes of a “blind” slave trader.

Only through the eyes of Love, one can see the Joseph of soul;
You are deprived of the eyes of Love; you are deluded, just a man of comparisons and judgements.

You create idols in your mind and worship them;
Enslaved by your thought idols you are.

Wandering thoughts are just a part of you, but not you;
you don’t see that, such a pity, one thought leading to another, on it goes…
This way, you won’t be the Moon, just a dust cloud,
This way, you won’t be gold, just copper.

Caught in this revolving sphere of material world,
you are like the horse of the horse mill;
But if you find your true self, if you stick your neck out of this revolving material world;
You’ll free yourself from the herd;
You’ll be an angel, a true human being. [12]

Presence brings down the fortress of selfhood and inner suffering

Have you ever wondered why sometimes one would feel uneasy, irritated, restless, provoked, empty, angry, resentful, sad, numb, conflicted, and so on without actually having any significant, clear and definite external problems in one’s life?  In a sense one is not content with ‘what is‘ without knowing why. One wants to be somewhere else, somebody else, do something else, feel something else, think something else, … without knowing what is actually wrong with the ‘here and now’.

This conflictual inner state is a ‘typical’ human condition; a type of inner suffering which comes from our identification with the ego-mind. The ego-mind is ourfortress of selfhood built over psychological time to defend our delusion of isolation and separation–a fortress with thick walls that we defend vigorously.

There is a deeply entrenched and common–yet false–belief that each one of us is an isolated unit, separate from others and the rest of existence. However, Rumi’s cosmology is ‘Unity of Being’ where all is One and One is all–no fortresses of selfhood and hence no inner suffering:

Demolish your fortress

In the realm of Truth, there are no divisions, no numbers, no persons nor partitions.

One substance, one expansive whole was our original state,
On the other side, we’re all one, no heads, no feet.

We were all one pearl; all oneness of sunlight,
We were like water, pure, clear, simple uncomplicated.

When that original golden Light manifested in form,
Multiplicity came about, like the shadows created by crenellation on a fortress wall.

Demolish your fortress and that crenellation,
Let the shadows of separateness leave this group! [13]

This fortress is an inner one–a psychological construct which is nothing but the structure of one’s personality held together with memories of the past impressed upon the soul. These impressions are like carvings engraved on one’s soul–entrenched deeper and deeper over time–conditioning the mind and crippling our innate ability to live in the present moment.

Demolishing one’s inner fortress means practicing mindfulness, making it a lifetime practice of going fearlessly within to inquire about one’s actions, moods, feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and ideas without judgement, interference or trying to change them. It is not about advancement or becoming a better person. It is venturing into the unknown purely in search of the truth, without having any expectations of the outcome. It is about detachment from any worldly knowledge (even of spiritual nature) and being able to stay with the state of ‘not knowing’ long enough to approach the truth.

Mystical bewilderment, the state of not-knowing,
that’s what is needed to sweep the thoughts away.
Not-knowing devours useless thoughts and remembrances.

Worldly knowledge is just the appearance;
the more advanced in worldly knowledge, the more backward in true knowledge. [14]

This is what “Know thyself” means; to get to know all the dark corners of one’s psychological fortress in search of the truth. This inquiry process is self-guided through being present. You do not need to do anything as such; the process of open and open-ended self-knowing inquiry will by itself gradually demolish one’s psychological fortress.

Flute of Presence

Recollection of the past is what makes us self-conscious,
Past and future veil God from our soul.

Burn them both up with fire.
How long do you wish to be tied up in knots?
Past and future keep you occupied like a bad reed flute not quite hollowed out.

Whilst the reed is not prepared and hollow, it is deprived of the inner secrets;
No Divine songs …  such a reed flute won’t be played by the Divine lips. [15]

Freshness of the Now and why we perceive continuity of time

Rumi teaches us that despite the appearance of continuity, the whole of existence is recreated every moment. Since everything is fresh every moment, if we dis-identify from our time-bound mind we would be able to get out of our own way, live in the now and be the agent for whatever the present moment happens to manifest.

Source of the new!

There surely exists a deeper world.
What’s the telling sign you ask?
The renewal of the moments, the passing of the old.

A new day, a new night; new gardens, new life,
every breath brings about fresh insights;
newness is richness, joyfulness.

Where does the new come from?
Where does the old end up?
See past the walls of perception…
experience the boundlessness,
the universe has no beginning, no end!

Like a stream, the universe appears bounded,
yet all flows by…the new arriving fresh…moment by moment,
I wonder…where from? [16]

Question arises that if everything is being created every moment, then how come we sense reality as continuous. Rumi states that our illusion of continuity has to do with the speed of flickering of reality into existence and non-existence as well as the relative similarities of each moment.

Our normal speed of perception assumes reality as continuous. A tree does not appear to be destructed and reconstructed in front of our eyes every moment. This is because the flickering occurs very fast and any gap in perception is filled with our memories of the reality, causing us perceiving it as continuity in time. Rumi describes this process beautifully:

Illusion of continuity

A new world is born fresh, with each breath.

We miss the newness, caught up in life’s ongoingness.

New, new, moments of life arise fresh.

Ever-arriving like a river, mistakenly, we see the same forever!

Speed of creation fools us, it’s make-belief.

Like twirling a torch, fire art created.

Illusion of continuity, from a point of light. [17]

Today, however, there are better examples of this phenomenon. The moving pictures on your TV or computer screen comprise of only colour dots (pixels) which go on and off in certain sequence and frequency.  But we don’t see the dots, we see a continuity in the form of a show, drama, comedy, a sports match, the news or even reading this post in your browser!

In closing

If you experience yourself purely right now–without your ideas, without your beliefs, without remembering what happened to you in the past, without referring to what you are and what you are not, without thinking where you are going, where you come from, what affected you, who your parents are, whether you are married or not, whether you are a woman or man, whether you’re young or old, sick or healthy, happy or unhappy–if all of these thoughts, beliefs, ideas, remembrances, and identifications are completely gone form your mind, completely obliterated by the radiance, and you are just here and you are just your consciousness itself, then you are in the timelessness of presence. Then you are that timelessness; then you are that presence. As this timeless moment unfolds, you recognize that this presence extends and expands until everything is included in it. This is the eternal now. Real time takes us to timelessness, and timelessness ushers us into the now.”   ~A.H. Almaas  [18]

As one of the great masters of timeless universal wisdom; Rumi’s teachings about time and our relationship to time are not dissimilar to that of great teachers of other authentic mystical paths, such as Zen Buddhism, Vedanta Hinduism, Taoism, Christian mysticism, and possibly some practices of Jewish mysticism or Kabbalah. Rumi’s wisdom is universal yet shaped by Sufism and communicated in his unique storytelling and metaphoric style.

Sufi is the son of the present moment, oh my friend,
On this path, there is no talking of tomorrow.
Are you not a Sufi?
You must know that missing the now, destroys your being. [19]

To practice Rumi’s wisdom, you do not necessarily need to become a Sufi. You might do your research and pick any authentic teaching which is aligned with Rumi’s, but the most important thing is that the teaching and its practices must resonate with your being. You will be able to discern this if you stay open and thirsty for the truth without any path or outcome preferences. Basic practices such as meditation, invocation and contemplation would be extremely helpful to quiet the mind and strengthen your capacity to discern what resonates with your soul.

For more information and some practical hints on being present see also ‘Six Steps to Living in the Moment

I hope this article would be of some use to you on your journey of inner growth. I enthusiastically look forward to your comments, feedback and discussions on the topic.

Hamid Homayouni,
Melbourne, January 2014.

(Last reviewed on 1/3/14)


Copyright notice: Content and poem translations by Hamid Homayouni can be used freely for non-commercial use on the condition that they are clearly acknowledged and attributed. Commercial use is prohibited without written permission.

1-       ‘Beginning of eternity’ is my translation for the word “azal”  ازل which can be considered as an unidentifiable marker for the beginning of existence in eternity. Academic equivalent is “eternity a parte ante

2-       ‘End of eternity’ is my translation for the word “abad”  ابد  which can be considered as an unidentifiable marker for the end of existence in eternity. Academic equivalent is “eternity a parte post

3-       Rumi, Divan Shams – from Ghazal No.578   مرا عهدی ســــــــت با شادی که شادی آن من باشد

4-       Unless otherwise stated, all Rumi translations are by Hamid Homayouni.

5-       Rumi, Mathnawi, book 1: 3503-3505 (see also notes 1 and 2 above)

تا ز روز و شب گذر کردم چنان  //  که از اسپر بگذرد نوک سنان

که از آنسو جمله ملت يکيست  //  صد هزاران سال و يک ساعت يکيست

هست ازل را و ابد را اتحاد  //  عقل را ره نيست آن سو ز افتقاد

6-       Rumi. Poem titled “As the sky does in the water” from the book “A bridge to the soul” – Coleman Barks.

So far I have not been able to find the corresponding original Persian/Farsi poem. Usually there is no one-to-one relationship between Colman Barks interpretation of Rumi poems and the original work. In many instances Coleman Barks has taken poetic license, combining different Rumi poems into a new piece giving it his own title along with his own interpretation and wording. Nevertheless one can appreciate the beauty and heart of Rumi’s message in most of Colman Barks Rumi collections and that is why I did not hesitate to include this piece here despite having not found the original.

7-       Rumi, Fihi Ma Fihi (Discourses of Rumi), Discourse 25, p 190. OMPHALOSKEPSIS Publications, Ames, IOWA. Based on A. J. Arberry’s translation modified by Hamid Homayouni to better correspond to the original text and the inner meaning of terms used.

بعضي اول نگرند و بعضي آخر نگرند. اينها که آخر نگرند عزيزند و بزرگند، زيرا نظرشان بر عاقبت است و آخرت. و آنها که به اول نظر مي کنند ايشان خاص ترند مي گويند: چه حاجت است که به آخر نظر کنيم؟ چون گندم کشته اند در اول، جو نخواهد رستن در آخر؛ و آن را که جو کشته اند گندم نخواهد رستن، پس نظرشان به اول است. و قومي ديگر خاصترند که نه به اول نظر مي کنند نه به آخر، و ايشان را اول و آخر ياد نمي آيد؛ غرقند در حق. و قومي ديگرند که ايشان غرقند در دنيا؛ به اول و آخر نمي نگرند از غايت غفلت؛ ايشان علف دوزخند.

8-       Rumi, Divan Shams – from Ghazal No.2215

اهل ايمان همه در خوف دم خاتمتند  //  خوفم از رفتن توست اي شه ايمان تو مرو

9-       Eckhart Tolle, ‘The Power of Now’; 2004 – p56

10-       Ibid – p57

11-    Rumi did not personally write any of his major works. His scribes; who were among his closest disciples and spiritual companions; transcribed them and recited back to Rumi for verification. Discourses of Rumi (Fihi ma Fihi) is the collection of transcriptions of his sermons over a period of time which was compiled and published after his death. Nevertheless, all this would have required a certain level of planning, hard work and discipline. Creating such masterpieces would not have been possible in a haphazard, sloppy manner.

12-    Rumi, Divan Shams – Ghazal No.3045

من آن نيم که تو ديدي چو بينيم نشناسي  // تو جز خيال نبيني که مست خواب و نعاسي

مرا بپرس که چوني در اين کمي و فزوني  // چگونه باشد يوسف به دست کور نخاسي

به چشم عشق توان ديد روي يوسف جان را  //  تو چشم عشق نداري تو مرد وهم و قياسي

بهاي نعمت ديده سپاس و شکر خدا دان  // مرم چو قلب ز کوره که کان شکر و سپاسي

وگر ز کوره بترسي يقين خيال پرستي  // بت خيال تراشي وزان خيال هراسي

بت خيال تو سازي به پيش بت به نمازي  //  چو گبر اسير بتاني چو زن حريف نفاسي

خيال فرع تو باشد که فرع فرع تراشد  //  تو مه نه‌اي تو غباري تو زر نه‌اي تو نحاسي

به جان جمله مردان اگر چه جمله يکي اند  // که زير چرخه گردون تنا چو گاو خراسي

وگر ز چنبر گردون برون کشي سر و گردن  // ز خرگله برهيدي ، فرشته‌اي   و   ز   ناسي

13-     Rumi, Mathnawi, book 1: 681, 686-689

در معاني قسمت و اعداد نيست //  در معاني تجزيه و افراد نيست

منبسط بوديم يک جوهر همه  //  بي‌سر و بي پا بديم آن سر همه

يک گهر بوديم همچون آفتاب  //  بي گره بوديم و صافي همچو آب

چون بصورت آمد آن نور سره  //  شد عدد چون سايه‌هاي کنگره

گنگره ويران کنيد از منجنيق  //  تا رود فرق از ميان اين فريق

14-     Rumi, Mathnawi, book 3: 1115-16

حيرتي بايد که روبد فکر را  //  خورده حيرت فکر را و ذکر را

هر که کاملتر بود او در هنر  //  او بمعني پس بصورت پيشتر

15-     Rumi, Mathnawi, book 1: 2201-03

هست هشياري زياد ما مضي  //  ماضي و مستقبلت پرده خدا

 آتش اندر َزن به هر دو تا به کي //  پر گره باشي از اين دو همچوني

تا گره با ني بود همراز نيست  // همنشين ان لب و آواز نيست

16-    Rumi, Divan-e Shams – Part of ghazal no.462 .

17-     Rumi, Mathnawi, book 1: 1144-47

هر نفس نو مي‌شود دنيا و ما  //  بي‌خبر از نو شدن اندر بقا

عمر همچون جوي نو نو مي‌رسد  //  مستمري مي‌نمايد در جسد

آن ز تيزي مستمر شکل آمده‌ست  //  چون شرر کش تيز جنباني بدست

شاخ آتش را بجنباني بساز  // در نظر آتش نمايد بس دراز

18-     A.H. Almaas, ‘Brilliancy. The Essence of Intelligence’ ; 2006 – p48

19-     Rumi, Mathnawi, book 1: 133-134

صوفي ابن الوقت باشد اي رفيق  //  نيست فردا گفتن از شرط طريق

تو مگر خود مرد صوفي نيستي  //  هست را از نسيه خيزد نيستي