Recently, a writer friend asked on Facebook: "What is a word you love?" I did not have to think too long as there is one I have loved for nearly two decades now. It was probably in 2000 when I first came across it while reading about Rumi's relationship with his spiritual guide, Shams-i-Tabrīzī. "Sohbet" is a word of Persian origin, though some also trace the etymology back to Arabic and Ottoman Turkish. It means discourse or conversation between a learned, enlightened one (murshid) and the one committed (murid) to such a person. I hesitate to use the words teacher and student because "murshid" and "murid" mean so much more than that. Just as "sohbet" means so much more than mere dialogue. In the Sufi tradition, there are three ways of being spiritual, with each being a level higher than the previous: prayer; meditation; and sohbet. That highest way of spiritual being, sohbet, is a mystical practice involving an exchange of knowledge and devotion between the murshid and murid through storytelling traditions. It involves a healing, a cleansing, and a coming together of their minds, hearts, and souls. The murshid cultivates and educates the murid with care and compassion and their deep connection is one of true respect and trust. Through such a practice of sohbet, the murid is able to find a sense of unity with everything.
Recently, an acquaintance, let us call her X, asked me how she could start a reading habit. Given that she is close to my age, I asked her what kinds of things she liked to read, thinking I might offer her some book suggestions. Consider my surprise when she confessed that she could not remember the last time she had read an entire book. “But I read a lot of news and stuff online,” she said in her own defense. When I shared this with some other reader friends, they admitted to their own difficulties with reading as much as they used to, especially fiction. Some said there was enough drama going on around the world, so they did not feel a need to read fictionalized drama. Some, like X, said they read online and did not care about offline reading. And there were the odd few who said they “prefer to experience life rather than reading about it.”
For the many creatives who may be struggling with the non-stop barrage of world events across news and social media, a thread of thoughts. It is important for a creative to protect his/her headspace. Or “inner life” or “reflexes.” Our work comes from ideas consumed/responded to. This is more difficult for creatives because our sensory receptors are, necessarily, always in “receive” mode to external/internal stimuli.