As the aspen leaves are changing color, revealing their utmost love and submission to the compassionate and wise laws of this vast and infinite Existence which guides them through the unseen hand, I am being re-minded once again of all the ways they continue to show me the sacred secrets of the Heart.
Ever since the tender age, I’ve had this passionate love affair with the aspen trees. They have been a true source of awe and wonder for me as well as a portal to the Unseen World whence multiplicity takes its form. Their leaves, trunks, eyes, and roots intoxicate my heart and leave me speechless and in tears again and again.
Words fail to convey how I feel when I saunter in their presence. Nevertheless, words are all I have to reach your heart at this moment.
Making Visible What Is Invisible
How should the foam-like (phenomenal) form move without the wave?
how can dust rise to the zenith without wind?
Now that you have perceived the dust of the form, try to see the Wind!
Now that you have perceived the foam, try to see the ocean of Creative Power!
~ Rumi (Masnavi, Book 6, lines: 1459–60)
I adore how aspen leaves make the sound of rain when the wind kisses them. The shape of the leaves resembles a human palm, always in prayer, always facing the Source. They are smooth on the surface and dull underneath. What makes them quake or tremble in the presence of the wind is their small and flattened stem (petiole), which runs along the leave’s entire length. This trembling symbolizes their selflessness and emptiness, traits of a true Dervish, and creates the sound of rain.
I will never forget the moment when I was looking at an aspen grove while sauntering in the mountains. A subtle wind was moving the leaves. This scene mesmerized me. Then suddenly I had a realization. My perception shifted from merely seeing how beautiful the leaves were moving and sounding to seeing the invisible wind that made them move and sound. I realized that their movement was simply making visible what was invisible. I thought to myself that I could either only focus on the form or allow the form to in-form me of the inner meaning of what was really happening.
This subtle, yet profound realization and choice-point at the moment taught me how to not get caught up with forms in this life, for they are not only a manifestation of the inner meaning but also a portal to see beyond them into the Source. They too are re-minders. I made a vow with my heart to look for the inner meaning in my encounters with every-thing and every-one. So now every time I see and hear the aspen leaves, I bow in my heart to the Presence of the Wind.
The world is all dust, and within the dust
the sweeper and broom are hidden.
~ Rumi (Divān of Shams Tabriz, poem 1242, line: 13,164)
Seeing Unity in the Midst of Multiplicity
If everything were as it seemed, the Prophet would not have cried out with such illuminated and illuminating perspicacity, ‘ Lord, Show me things as they are!’
~ Rumi ( Fihi Mâ Fihi, Discourse 1)
I recently returned from a pilgrimage that I was kindly invited to by the beautiful Rev. angel Kyodo williams. It was called, Pilgrimage to Pando, a contemplative journey to the home of the largest living organism on Earth. It was sponsored by Pando Populus. Our event guides included Rev. Ed Bacon, Episcopal priest and author; the Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Buddhist priest and founder of the Center for Transformative Change, and Jihad Turk, imam, and founder of the Bayan Claremont Islamic Graduate School. They lead us into a variety of contemplative and ritual experiences, in collaboration with leaders from other diverse traditions including Dr. Dan Siegel.
We spent some profound and quality time in the Pando groves where over 47,000 aspen trees are from the same gene. All the trees in this clone have identical characteristics and share a root structure. They are basically one tree.
This was a humbling reminder that despite appearances, in essence, they were one. They are simply different forms through which the One expresses. A reality that the naked eyes fail to see; a bluff of the mind since only the form it sees.
Islamic Sufism and Sufi Psychology work on unification and not differentiation — the principle of interconnectedness. They guide one to seek and see the unity in the midst of multiplicity — an invitation to cultivate our inner senses that are dormant in the core of our hearts, the threshold between the two worlds — seen and unseen.
The Inner Meaning is hidden, and only the phenomenal world is visible.
The movements of our forms cause waves and splashing on the surface of the sea.
Those shapes made by our forms are the vehicles we attempt to use to approach Reality,
yet reality pushes them far away.
As long as the heart doesn’t recognize the One Who gave it consciousness,
as long as the arrow doesn’t recognize the master archer who shot it,
Then the oblivious person will keep on thinking her horse is lost,
even though she’s sitting right on top of it as it runs along with her on the road…
The light of the eye is produced by the light of the heart.
The light that illuminates the heart is from the Light of God,
which is pristine and separate from the light of the mind and the senses.
~ Rumi (Masnavi, Book 1, lines: 1111–1116 & 1126–27)
Polishing the Mirror of the Heart
Do you want the witnesses of heaven to reveal themselves to you?
Then make your heart the companion of a mirror-polishing grater!
~ Rumi (Divān of Shams of Tabriz, poem 2044, line: 21,565)
Walking through the aspen groves I always feel in my heart that I am being watched by the eyes of God. The mysterious eyes of the aspen trunks melt my heart and make me feel seen.
I recently learned that aspen trees go through a rigorous self-pruning process. As they become overtopped, the amount of light reaching to the lowest branches is significantly reduces. This is how they end up being tall, having no branches in their lower trunks. So, aspen eyes are actually dark markings on the main trunk where side branches used to be.
This realization brought tears to my eyes, reminding me of how true insight is only possible after I prune away all that is not me — polishing the mirror of my heart. Pruning away all the superficial levels that are shaped by social conditioning, fears, opinions, negative attitudes, and forgetfulness. Those parts of us that are not fed by the Light need to be self-pruned. And this self-pruning brings about the kind of inner eyes that can truly see.
Someone with a clear and empty heart mirrors images of the Invisible.
She becomes intuitive and certain of our innermost thought
because the faithful are a mirror for the faithful.
~ Rumi (Masnavi, Book 1, lines, 3146–47)
In the Presence of the One We Are All Yellow-Faced
Since to the King of Beauty faithfulness is not obligatory;
O’ sallow-faced lover, you endure … you be faithful.
~ Rumi (Divān of Shams of Tabriz, poem 2039, line: 21,497)
Aspen leaves turn brilliant yellow, gold, orange, or slightly red in the fall. When they turn brilliant yellow and gold here in Colorado, I am always reminded of a Sufi term, Zard-ru, which literally means, “yellow-faced” or “sallow-faced”. This term is mainly used in teachings and poetry to refer to the state of a lover in the presence of the Beloved; the state of the heart in the presence of the Mirror.
I have always found the renaissance artists’ depictions of the prophets and mystics a bit puzzling and funny to be honest. Deep inside I knew that Jesus’ disciples did not lay on the ground with their feet extended eating grapes in his presence. For those of us who have had the chance of a lifetime to be in the presence of an Awakened Being, we know that we are in the presence of more than just a human. Upon entering a room, their presence shifts the atmosphere and squeezes the heart to a point of unbearable love. In the presence of such Beings, the small self knows that it is in the presence of the ultimate Mirror. Thus, it makes all the blood of one's body rush toward the heart, leaving the skin pale. In Sufism, this phenomenon is the manifestation of true Humility in the presence of that which is greater than us.
Whether I go east or west or fly to the heavens,
there is no sign of life in me until I see a sign of you.
I was a devout leader of a country. I held a pulpit.
Fate made my heart fall in love and follow You dancing.
~ Rumi (Divan of Shams of Tabriz, poem 2152)
O Beloved, do not let go of our hand. Brighten the eyes of our hearts with Your Divine Light. Help us to see the Inner Meaning in each form and the Unity in the midst of multiplicity, so we too can manifest and authentically declare from our hearts this verse from the Qur’an: “Wheresoever you look is the Face of God.” (Chapter 2, Verse 115).
We’re like lions, though only lions on a banner,
whose rippling in the wind gives the illusion of rushing onward every moment.
Their onward march can be seen, yet the wind that moves them remains unseen.
May that unseen wind never fail!
~ Rumi (Masnavi, Book 1, lines: 603–04)
A gift for your heart: Here’s a Seasons of Rumi video that honors the changing colors of the aspen leaves accompanied by a poem from Rumi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uygIqd9Tyus&t=270s
Pouria Montazeri is the founder of In the Footprints of Rumi, an in-person and online school dedicated to providing authentic translations and windows into the heart of Rumi’s teachings including the spiritual and cultural context embedded in his work. Pouria loves nature and can always be found on one of his sunrise contemplative hikes with scraps of poetry in his pocket in his home state of Colorado.