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.

Life, Rumi reminds us, is always transforming. The movement of the breeze at dawn brings with it the secret of the passage of time, of new beginnings, of whispers from beyond. 

Life is precious. Many of us live in a half-trance, half asleep. But we can wake up. 

How do we do that? Rumi tells us we must “ask for what we really want.” 

A few words seem important here: 

Ask: it’s okay to ask, to get vulnerable, to come out of the position of power. 

Want. It’s important to feel our desires. 

Really: it’s important to be authentic in our desires. Notice Rumi doesn’t say “you must ask for what you want.” He says, “you must ask for what you really want.” 

Sometimes I need to ask myself several times what it really is that I want. As I ask the question again, I might realize that underneath my first desire is another, deeper, more precious, more sacred desire. When I can get in touch with that, things flow more easily. 


We can follow other people’s dreams for us. We can follow other people’s paths 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.

Similarly, I used to think that I needed to work really hard 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, and when I’m in alignment with my true desires, there’s a lot less hard work and things flow a lot more easily. 

Or we can think, there is too much loss, too much suffering in our life and in the world right now to ask for what we want. We might think that we don’t have a right to ask.

Or we think, I’ll get to what I really want after I do xyz–get my degree, earn more money, have my children, get happy, tend to everyone else, achieve world peace, clean my house. Only then will it be okay to follow my desires; only then will I be ready and will other people give me the permission to do what I really want to do. 

Or we might think that it’s too late to ask for what we want, that that opportunity is behind us, that we’ve already gotten it or have missed the chance of ever getting it, that we’re too old or too late or that that boat has left.

But discovering and asking for what we really want is necessary for all of us, wherever and whenever we find ourselves.

Rumi was no naive and no stranger to hardship. As a child, his family traveled from city to city just ahead of Genghis Khan’s army that swept through Central Asia leaving a wake of destruction in its path. Although not many people talk about this, I see the profound spiritual insight of Rumi’s work in part against those early experiences and the profound upheaval of his period. Later, his greatest outpouring of work came after his spiritual teacher and love of his life Shams died, perhaps by murder.

It is exactly because people are passing between the doorsill between sleep and wake, between death and life, that we must not go back to sleep. 

Even if there is hardship, suffering, loss, we can wake up right now into ourselves and into our authentic desires and voice. 

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: Rumi: 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. If you get stuck and don’t have any idea what you want, start with question 7. Stay with question 7 as long as you like.

  1. What do you want? Write down what comes to mind without judgment.
  2. How do you imagine having what you want would make you feel?
  3. Take a moment to really see and feel your desires. Sit with them.
  4. How often do you and your desires feel seen and heard?
  5. What in your life gives you the feeling that you wrote in step 2?
  6. What is one shift that you can make in your life to give more time and energy to what you want and value?
  7. Celebrate at least one thing that you are doing in your life now that makes you feel awake.

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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