Crossing Boundaries in Morocco

The Gift of Camels, Desert Winds, and Traditional Islamic Storytelling: How The Rules of Love Opened My Heart

Excerpts included in italics are selected from Shams of Tabriz’s Rules of Love. Shams of Tabriz was a Persian Sufi and roaming dervish who lived in the 13th Century. His forty observations about the nature of love and God formed the premise of his spirituality around love. Teacher and advisor of Rumi, it’s said that Rumi was a professor who Shams transformed into a mystic, a lover, and a poet. Together they incarnated the poet’s timeless message of love that is still revered 800 years later.

(New York, New York and Marrakech مراكش, Morocco) April 6, 2017 — News of the US retaliatory bombing of Syria seemed like a distraction in the Air France lounge at JFK. As the headlines poured across the TV screen, I noticed someone had turned the volume down. I looked at the faces around me, hearing the murmurs of ordinary French conversation over glasses of champagne. Was no one else noticing that the US had just, in fact, dropped bombs in an apparent act of war?

It’s easy to love a perfect God, unblemished and infallible that He is. What is far more difficult is to love fellow human beings with all their imperfections and defects. Remember, one can only know what one is capable of loving. There is no wisdom without love. (Rule 15)

Things were different tonight at the gates. There was tension in the air: TSA agents wary and laser-focused, delayed flights on the board. Surrounded by a microcosm of humanity with an underlying anxiety cloaked in outward disinterest. Hoping that they would get to their desired destination.

East, West, South or North makes little difference. No matter what your destination, just make sure to make every journey a journey within. If you travel within, you’ll travel the whole wide world and beyond. (Rule 9)

A hatmaker in the port town of Essaouira.
A young child plays in the market.

After all, bomb attacks are nothing new. A strike on a country in the Middle East wouldn’t send warning signals to the human species conditioned to expect that sort of thing. War has been a constant throughout human history. So, too, love is a constant, whether we are able to feel it or not. But has our capacity to love become too risky? Could there be a collective numbness setting in that is our only coping strategy during times of global corruption, greed, and horrific crimes against humanity? Could there be a numbness toward feeling deep love that is an adaptation to protect us from the pain of feeling deep loss? To truly understand loss and learn its lessons, must we first feel love? So perhaps it is love we should be focusing on.

The path to the Truth is a labor of the heart, not of the head. Make your heart your primary guide! Not your mind. Meet, challenge and ultimately prevail over your nafs with your heart. Knowing your ego will lead you to the knowledge of God. (Rule 2)

La Porte D’Or, Marrakech, is one of the best places to hunt for Moroccan treasures. We brought home a gorgeous 7th generation rug sourced from a community in the Middle Atlas Mountains.

My first time exploring a Muslim country, we took off to Morocco for a long weekend to celebrate my completion of another lap around the sun. Riding camels, treasure hunting for exquisite furniture, shopping for fine gowns…but I wasn’t expecting an exploration of love to be my most remarkable gift from this exotic culture.

My Moroccan desert guide, Fatima.

A life without love is of no account. Don’t ask yourself what kind of love you should seek, spiritual or material, divine or mundane, Eastern or Western Western. . .divisions only lead to more divisions. Love has no labels, no definitions. It is what it is, pure and simple. (Rule 40)

Brightly colored tagines are a staple for dinners in Morocco.

One evening we were invited to a modern Moroccan dinner party with a business associate and his friends. We enjoyed mocktails of the freshest character, we ate with our hands, and joined hearts and heads with Moroccan professionals. They talked of the things that make their Islamic faith particularly special to them, with acceptance as a major theme. “Didn’t you know Islam is the religion of love — joining people together connected in a ring of prayer? And if one falls out, another steps in. The ring of love will never be broken,” our host Karim explained.

We were all created in His image, and yet we were each created different and unique. No two people are alike. No hearts beat to the same rhythm. Disrespecting differences and imposing your thoughts on others is an amount to disrespecting God’s holy scheme. (Rule 20)

On the coast of Morocco it’s a balance of modern and traditional, and some think that having their photo taken steals a part of their spirit. In this case, a random gesture and an unintended capture. For photographers, this is a moment of inspiration and reverence.

The next day, as a full moon rose over the sand dunes in northern Morocco, the desert winds wiped a clean slate for my new year. My heart sang in love and appreciation for partnership, mother earth, and friendship, but there were deeper places to explore. I know from experience that every time you go deep to heal a piece of your heart, it allows your heart to open up for something better. A bigger capacity to feel and hold love.

Intellect and love are made of different materials. Intellect ties people in knots and risks nothing, but love dissolves all tangles and risks everything. Intellect does not easily break down, whereas love can effortlessly reduce itself to rubble. But treasures are hidden among ruins. A broken heart hides treasures. (Rule 4)

Thank you Sven for such an amazing birthday.

Committed to helping to fulfill my dreams and happiness, my honey held my hand as I sat perched on the top of a camel and he expressed his love for me, unconditionally. I said, for better or for worse. I thought about unconditional love for the world. And could I be bold enough to offer it to myself?

God is busy with the completion of your work, both outwardly and inwardly. Every human being is a work in progress that is slowly but inexorably moving toward perfection. God deals with each of us separately because humanity is fine art of skilled penmanship where every single dot is equally important for the entire picture. (Rule 14)

Terres des Etoiles in the Agafay desert.

We arrived back to camp to a sunset performance of vignettes from The Forty Rules of Love, the story of Rumi and the Shams of Tabriz, by traditional Islamic storyteller Hassan El Jaï. By chance, it was the book that I had carried with me to Morocco.

The universe is one being. Everything and everyone is interconnected through an invisible web of stories. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all in a silent conversation. Do no harm. Practice compassion. One man’s pain will hurt us all. One man’s joy will make everyone smile. (Rule 26)

Rumi believed that all love came from a source — an ultimate source deep inside us, a voice that called out to our spirits. But let’s just say you were never taught to feel love. Or you didn’t trust love. You thought that it would hurt you.

The quest for Love changes us. There is no seeker among those who search for Love who has not matured on the way. The moment you start looking for Love, you start to change within and without. (Rule 11)

In case you are in love with these gold prayer bracelets like I am, check out Bulletproof Aura.

As we prepared to fly out of Morocco back to the United States, having to pack all computers and large technology devices in our checked baggage under the new travel rules, a harsh reality set back in. I reflected on how so many barriers to our sense of peace and safety are proliferating, challenging our ability to let love flow between people. We are allowing these forces of division to be more powerful than the power of love.

I want to keep traveling, learning, and growing. For me, love is the only answer. I believe we must work steadfastly to keep our hearts open to love, unhindered by anxiety and fear. Then we must express that love actively, consciously. Especially now. It is a framework for living and ensures that the goodness of human nature will prevail.

And when you lose your way, look to the Rules of Love. They will guide you home.

It is never too late to ask yourself, “Am I ready to change the life I am living? Am I ready to change within?” Even if a single day in your life is the same as the day before, it surely is a pity. At every moment and with each new breath, one should be renewed and renewed again. (Rule 38)

Performer Hassan El Jaï

Special thanks to Karim Fehry Fassy (AlizesPrivate.com) for his hospitality in arranging our unique trip and our candlelight Islamic storyteller Hassan El Jaï (hassaneljai.com). Follow Hassan for upcoming performances in the United States of vignettes from The Forty Rules of Love. Read more in The Forty Rules of Love; published in 2011 by acclaimed Turkish author Elif Shafak, a novel recounting the fateful 13th Century friendship of Sufi master Rumi and his spiritual mentor, the whirling dervish known as Shams of Tabriz.