Let me tell you a secret


In his oft quoted poem, “Don’t go back to sleep”, Rumi, writes, “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”.

For obvious reasons, this is a favorite poem among wilderness rites of passage guides, as a petition to the initiate to stay awake for an entire night whilst crying for a vision. If the initiate can bear the long and cold night, they are rewarded, at last, with the pink ribbon of dawn, a vision in itself, and the deep bodily knowledge that, even though the dark may feel like forever, eventually the light returns.

During this winter solstice season – the longest nights of the year – Rumi’s encouragement is more important than ever. How to stay awake through this interminable darkness when the temptation is to shut one’s eyes and drift?

This year, the dark fell particularly hard, when on November 8th I was co-guiding a women’s fast in one of Death Valley’s remote canyons. It was day three of the faster’s four day/night solo when I coincendently heard the news of the election results. Already the days were cold, the nights bearing a slight frost, but nothing prepared me for this chill. Like broken ice, a small fissure spread through the ceremonial barrier of non-space and time. The world rushed in with wild force.

And my thoughts rushed out, just as quickly. Thousands of people, I was certain, were on the streets protesting, doing important work, while I was isolated in the far reaches of the desert. All I could hear was silence, save one lone owl in the night. The peace of wild things didn’t jive. How was I going to hold this so-called sacred, yet broken, container for the next week?


Two days later, our fasters returned from their solos, exhausted but glowing like newborn babes. After our traditional celebratory breakfast, we gathered in a circle and my co-guides and I told them the news. Better to let everyone know while still together than later when all scattered about. But after the exuberance of having just completed the solo ordeal, it wasn’t so easy to distribute this dark truth of the world. And yet, the truth of the world happens all the time, whether we hear it or not. Political decisions are made, people suffer, oceans rise. This time, the world just came in sooner, harsher, and colder than usual.

It was a very painful but remarkable experience to share the election news in this way. Like opening Pandora’s box, I could feel the darkness escape into our circle in the form of despair. Sure, we all know that climate change is destroying our planet. That species are continually going extinct. We know people die every second of every day. And ultimately, we know, death will come for us too. But at this particular time and in this place, such realities became flesh, the taste of their blood lingering in our mouths. Some of our group cried and expressed loud disbelief and shock. Others became silent like the empty night – the night that feels like forever. All were courageous.

Now, nearly two months after the election, on this solstice eve, I remember – yes, I remember! – the     sun     never     stands     still.  As it approaches its zenith, it slows to a near halt, but only for a pause. An in-breath. And then on the out-breath it turns and slowly makes it way back home.

Having once stayed up all night long, I’ve had a vision. It is a distance one now, one I easily forget, but I know, deep in my bones and in the center of my heart, that no matter how long the night may seem, the sun returns. It really and truly does. I don’t believe this. I know.


Rumi’s words ignite sparks. I used to think of his poem as kind of quaint. A gentle encouragement to try out an all night vigil. Take it or leave it. If you fall asleep, fine. But now, I read Rumi’s words with more attentiveness, as a call for intense awareness. Living beings are dying. Don’t go back to sleep. Death is always nearby. Don’t go back to sleep. Ask for what you want. Don’t go back to sleep.

And the secret?

Listen carefully.           The sun will rise again.          And not even a man who calls himself president
can stop it.

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 translated by Coleman Barks
From Essential Rumi