Rumi: Don’t Go Back To Sleep

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you
Don’t go back to sleep!

You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep!

People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch,The door is round and open

Don’t go back to sleep!

–Rumi trans. Coleman Barks

In this poem, the 13th century Sufi mystic poet Rumi tells us Don’t go back to sleep. We must ask for what we really want.

That’s pretty good advice for us today in 2021.

I used to think that I needed to work really hard to strive to get what I wanted in life, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that listening deeply gets me closer to my real goals. Sure there’s hard work involved in reaching any goal, but first I need to make sure that I’m headed in the direction that’s right for me. And that I’m centered within myself. Only then can I ask for what I really want and begin to find it.

Sometimes I need to ask the question several times. We might think that we know what we want. But if we ask the question again, we might realize that underneath our first desire is another, deeper, more precious, more sacred desire.

Rumi doesn’t say “you must ask for what you want.” He says, “you must ask for what you really want.” The “really” is an important word.

We can follow after other people’s dreams for us. We can follow other people’s path and do what we “think” we “want” or what we think we need to do in order to be successful, but in fact, we will only really get to where we want to go if we have the courage to dream of it and ask for it.

Too often we defer our dreams, to quote Langston Hughes’ wonderful poem, “Harlem” (What happens to a dream deferred?/Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun”). We think I’ll get to my dream after I do xyz–get my degree, earn more money, have my children, get happy, tend to everyone else, clean my house… Only then will it be okay to follow my dreams, only then will I be ready and will other people give me the permission to do what I really want to do.

Sound familiar?

But we don’t need to wait. What would it be like to ask for what you really want right now and to your dreams? That doesn’t mean that you need to take off for another continent, but there might be a way to have more adventure given your life where you are. That doesn’t mean necessarily getting that 7 figure book deal, but it can be allowing yourself to write the work you want to write and that you’ve been putting off writing.

Don’t go back to sleep

Sometimes we might notice that we’re asleep in our own life, or that we’re not really paying attention. Or we wake up for a moment, and then drift off again.

What would it be like to take Rumi’s advice and not go back to sleep? Life is precious. We are always at a threshold, between life and death, meaning and lack of meaning. Each moment we can choose to be awake, to listen to the secrets that the breeze has to tell us.

Some of the best gifts I have been able to give myself are asking the right questions and the gift of time to be with those questions, listening, asking, learning, testing out which responses are right for me.

I’ve created these simple but profound questions to help you slow down, get back on center, and focus on what’s important to you.

I hope you enjoy them!

Writing Prompts: Don’t Go Back To Sleep

Window with curtain in the breeze for writing prompts for Rumi's Don't Go Back To Sleep

Before you answer these questions, I invite you to take two minutes and breathe deeply. Close your eyes and put your hand on your heart and feel your chest expand and contract as the air comes in and out of your body.

Then write your answers down. If you don’t have time to do this now, just read through the questions now and let the questions percolate in you. Then you can come back and write your answers down later.

Rumi is right: you must ask for what you really want. To do that, it helps to put what you want into language; language helps us know and shape our story.

  1. What do you want? Write down what comes to mind.
  2. How do you imagine having what you want would make you feel?
  3. What in your life gives you the feeling that you wrote in step 3?
  4. What activities help you make sense of the meanings and values of your life?
  5. Do you–and does your story —feel heard and seen?
  6. What would it feel like for you to be heard and seen and expressed fully, in all your desires?
  7. What is one shift that you can make in your life to give more time and energy to what you want and value?

When you answer these questions, write down whatever comes to your mind. Then you can go through the answers later and see which ones you want to keep. And, of course, you can go through the questions again another time–your answers will change over time.

You might write down desires that are unachievable, at least at the moment. That’s okay. What can you do in your own particular life to come closer to that outcome?

For example, I might say, what I really most desire is world peace. That is true. But it’s also not something that is not in my control. So the next step then is to say: okay, how would I feel if there were world peace? What in my life gives me a feeling of peace? How can I both cultivate that inner peace AND also take small steps to make changes in the external world, to be seen and heard, as an activist for peace.

Or if my desire is to write a bestselling book that will be loved and given awards and earn me lots of money, too, I might say, how would that make me feel: fulfilled, doing the work I was meant to do, aligned. So then I can ask myself, how can I right now feel fulfilled, doing the work I am meant to do, and aligned?

I have personally found that the things I most desire and value are not about outcomes as much as they are about the process itself.

As always, if you enjoyed this post, please share it with friends. And I look forward to reading your comments and thoughts below: what do you find when you go through these questions?

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