I fell in love with Sufism, at an ashram on the banks of the most sacred Hindu river – Ganges, at Rishikesh. As bizarre as it may seem, it is precisely what happened to me, over the span of just seven to ten days. This experience was almost like a calling from God and a test of my true spirituality – the ability to truly ‘Let Go’ of what I believe in or identify with as a Hindu by birth, even though I have grown up with Catholic values at a boarding school and then Protestant ones at a residential high school.
It’s like in the past fortnight, at the International Yoga festival I was attending in Rishikesh with over 1000 participants from 101 countries, I was mentally and spiritually sailing the universe focused on the universal values of love and service, deserting the illusions of ego to reach God, while anchored to my core inner self. I have considered myself to be spiritually inclined – the realization dawning on me over the last ten years – simultaneous to my new journey as a fiction writer – novelist and poet. Thus I came to Rishikesh, with a mind and heart whose doors and windows were flung wide open, in the quest for greater spiritual awakening – not remotely religious.
The man who led my mind and heart literally by hand, to fall in love with Sufism – walked into the garden-lawn of the ashram, where on the evening before its commencement I had just arrived for my registration for the week long International Yoga Festival that I had reserved a seat for online. My first sight of Mert Guler, was him striding just behind me as I incidentally turned back – purposefully and with much élan, as if the moon had just floated into my view over the clouds, even as I was entering my room from the open balcony I had been standing in. I did not know his name, and would not for a couple of days yet, but one glance at his immense confidence, positive energy, and the aura he exuded – flashing the widest and most radiant smile I have ever seen, and I knew he was someone who had a very assured place under the sun. On his tall, lean, lithe frame, under a halo like crown of longish finely curled hair over his handsome face, Mert wore a white muslin kurta and pants. Close at his sandaled heels, strode in about eight strikingly pretty women. The sun was just setting over us nearing 6 pm then, but with Mert’s spontaneous Namaste to everyone around with a slight bow – the whole garden bordered by a series of tables manned by several men and women who knew him, lit up. The numerous desks were well manned to expedite the registration process. Mert Guler exuded so much positive energy that I kept looking at him in awe – wondering who he might be that he had a dedicated team of followers who walked literally at his feet and ensured their smiles matched his in exuberance.
Later that evening, on the way to dinner starting at 7.30 pm, the group breezed past me with Mert’s smile floating ahead of him – like the moon lighting the path of his followers. This time, I drew my roommate’s (we’d just about met) attention to the group and she agreed that there was a striking positive energy and aura about the man and his band of female followers who walked with similar speed, energy, the expanse of their smiles – to match his steps.
The next day after dinner, wherein we saw Mert again, on describing him to our third roommate, a Hindu – who came to the festival repeatedly, we learned his name and that he was a reputed yoga instructor from Turkey, Istanbul. She finished with – “He just makes you laugh all through his classes and does hoo-ha, hoo-ha only, for an hour or more…there’s no way I’m going to his class again…he’s so funny.”
Her statement, piqued my curiosity and led the 3 of us into further discussion on Mert wherein the other woman – a Christian, who had agreed that he had a positive and dynamic aura said – “His eyes look like he’s in a trance always, don’t they? He must surely be on some addictive substance to be high always, as it’s not uncommon among yogis to take drugs and the like. Moreover it looks like all his 8 women followers are in love with him and perhaps in a relationship with him too. Don’t they all look like they are?
“But how does it matter – if it makes them all happy?” I said and we both agreed. Then I added -“Moreover this angle makes it an interesting story for me to write about. There must be a reason why I’m bumping into this group several times ever since I arrived at about the time they did. I’m observing Mert like he was my latest character…And am very curious about what makes him tick. But much more, how all these women in a relationship with one man are so close-knit and always together, but then that’s how it is with the practice of having several wives.”
“No, no, the women are all in his team and Mert has a girlfriend among that group. She had come last year too.” The repeat participant intervened convincingly, changing my perspective again.
“Did you notice them around the fruit-seller at the aarti-ghat this evening, there was one feeding him coconut water from her hand.” The other woman added. “She must be the girl friend.”
“Yes I noticed and I’m really more curious and looking forward to watch them at the next class.” I concluded this discussion, with a firm resolve to attend Mert’s class to figure out the dynamics myself.
At the class – that was full of bonhomie, positive energy, love and warmth for each of us participants – I found no chemistry/vibes amongst this group to suggest they had anything more than a common love for life, humanity, and love between them – and not a relationship of the earthy kind. After the ice breaker rounds and of immense laughter – the Sufi style of meditation that we learned of whirling around with hands skywards and head tilted, as Rumi the poet did in a marketplace for 26 hours, puts one in a relaxed, then happy, and trance like state. At the end of the class it was much more exhilarating than dancing and drinking for hours at a discotheque might be or from drugs. The motion of your body blanks your mind completely and you are in that state of meditative trance with no mental effort to tie your mind that’s like a monkey that tends to hop around and about the world even as you try to force it into a meditative state in the Buddhist style by concentrating on your breathing.
After the first class I felt compelled to return to the second one on the next day. The first was called ‘Sufi Meditation’, and the second – ‘Rumi, Love, Meditation.’ In my view as I write this now, Sufi meditation is the most effective form of meditation there is for beginners.
At the festival, where we had yoga classes from 4 am to 9.30 pm interspersed with spiritual discourses by great spiritual leaders like Mooji – most of which I attended to enhance my thoughts as a poet and literary fiction writer, I learned and practiced various forms of meditation. Yet it was Sufi meditation that I’m all set to be practicing henceforth – even ordering a skirt to make my ‘whirling’ more effective, this after recording a number of Sufi music albums from the shop outside the ashram.
My newfound love for all things Sufi, was substantially enhanced after I watched and joined Mert playing Holi with his team with as much happiness and love, as while in Sufi meditation class. Mert applied purple and pink colour on everyone in his view when we played Holi and this included me as well. He and his team love life in all its facets and teach you to love it too. At both his classes, the other enthusiastic participant as myself was a 28 year ‘Hare Krishna’ follower from Columbia, who is a civil engineer with a master’s degree who quit a safe and successful corporate life for a life of spirituality at 25 years. My roommates and I think, we might see this young Hare Krishna follower who we became rather fond of and referred to as Krishna or Radhe-Radhe, join Mert’s group or take up Sufism by the next festival. He was as inspired by Mert – as I learned from my conversations with him as by ‘Hare Krishna.’
Let me end by admitting to you humbly, that for all my spiritual bent of mind, my two roommates who did not attend any of Mert’s classes, have throughout the week been teasing me of being in love with Mert Guler and not only his teachings. Well, and so be it 😊 …he is the conveyor of new love, life and positive energy. If an ardent, male Hare Krishna follower with shaved head in the pictures, is so besotted by him, why not me!
Mert Guler preaches love and in quoting him, “…wants everyone in life, to be more of each of the following – free, full of love, pleasant and joyful, compassionate; share more and be more understanding and above all smile much, much more.”
His purpose is to create a deep awareness in the physical, emotional, intellectual and internal development, as to render people’s smiles hearty. Also to share smiles in opening the way to harmony and unity with the universe, and inspiring to bring good surprises to the world. He strongly believes “that this inspiration will create a more livable world.”
Mert who is inspired by the Sufi poet Rumi who I love and Yoga – and is the author of the book – Smile with Love (Turkish): I’m awaiting its English Translation as I believe in the philosophy he preaches too and love is the core inspiration behind most of my writing – prose and poetry.
With Mert’s translator Hannan
PS: My pictures are at the beginning of the second day’s class with Mert.