Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi was born in 1207 and died in 1273 in what was then known as Persia. He wrote in Farsi, and has since been translated into many languages. I was introduced to his poetry about 15 years ago and have been performing and recording his words in music since 2002. My favorite translators include Coleman Barks and Kabir Helminski, who add their own insight, passion and spirit to the work. I like to think that I am also adding my own interpretation and joy to the work, in putting it to song, bringing my own emotion and resonance to Rumi’s brilliant words. To me the words beg to be sung, and I have found great meaning in living with them over the years.
Rumi composed over 70,000 verses. His work is mystical, philosophical, romantic and spiritual, so it is no wonder that people respond to it with such passion. He also brings a wit and whimsy to such weighty subjects as love, greed, hypocrisy, freedom, the meaning of life and one’s relationship to the Divine. His unique insight has allowed him centuries after his death, to become increasingly relevant to modern society as one of the most widely read poets of our time.
As I’ve performed the work in concerts and in recordings, I’ve seen that Rumi’s poetry seems to universally connect with people about the “human condition”. I am also a Professor of Organizational Behavior and the ability of this work to reach places that scholarly research cannot go, inspires me to bring it into my own pursuits as artist, performer and teacher. I also find that it conveys an extraordinary empathy for us and the challenges and triumphs we face as human beings, drawing us in and providing the clarity to reexamine modern life and see a bigger picture beyond our current social norms and values. Rumi’s words are also inclusive, and one does not need to come from any particular religious tradition to get his wisdom. While Rumi was a Sufi scholar, he is also critical of religion dogma and practice that is more about identity and ego than heart. For example, in pieces like “Not Any Religion”, he explores how people can become deluded into making religion into a construct to which we can become attached, thereby distracting us from the core issues of life.
I have found great meaning in living with Rumi’s poetry over the years. Above all, he has encouraged me to evolve and find my wisdom, not only in an intellectual way, but in a way that is tied to the ever-present mysteries, the calling of my soul and the challenges of everyday living.