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Master Center

Years ago, a friend of mine asked me, "If you weren't the person you are now, who would you like to be?" I stumbled and said this and that, but in the end, I didn't like the answer I gave. No matter who I made myself into, I was never satisfied. To my surprise, time did not erase the memory of that question or that moment. Every now and then, that dialogue would come to mind, and I would think about what the right answer was or if there was even a right answer. The answer finally came to me years later during my education in Sufism, from multiple sources. The one that stuck with me the most is the story of Merkez Efendi. (Efendi: Master; Merkez: Center)

Merkez Efendi's real name was not Merkez (Center), but Musa. One day his teacher, Sünbül Efendi, decided to test all the dervishes who became jealous of the interest he showed in Musa Efendi. He gathered all the dervishes together and asked them, "If you were given the power and had to recreate the world, how would you do it?" The dervishes began to answer; some eliminating winter, cold, and hunger, others poverty. Everyone shared their ideas, and when it was Merkez Efendi's turn, he said, "I would leave everything as it is in its center. Because there is such a divine order that everything is already perfect, neither lacking nor excessive." This answer pleased Sünbül Efendi very much, and Musa Efendi became Merkez Efendi, Master Center.

In the story, what stands out is the idea that if we realize everything is already as it should be, then we can maintain equal distance to everything, and the center point of this balance becomes our center. Life is not designed to be a paradise, but if we can find this balance point, we can make our own paradise, even amidst difficulties and troubles.

Second, instead of focusing on things like changing our fate, we should focus on our way of accepting our fate. What is going to happen will happen, everything will happen as it should and there is a reason for everything that has happened so far. By remembering this and not forgetting how it has made us who we are, we can change the way we deal with what has happened and what will happen. Of course, this requires peace with oneself and the ability to love who we are. This is what our control over our fate is all about. Fate is unchanging, it has been predetermined since the beginning of time, and our scope of action is how we accept what happens. This acceptance should not be perceived as passive submission. For example, the concept of acceptance in Sufism is active. What is this active acceptance? The best way to explain this is with the example of a farmer who sows the seed. Before sowing the seed, the farmer tills the soil, air it and then sows the seed and fertilizes it. Until this point, everything the farmer does is the result of active effort. After that, there is no other choice but to entrust it to God. Whether it rains or not, whether it will be frost or whether the crop will be eaten by insects, he has no control over it. But just as he knows that without sowing the seed, no wheat will grow, he also knows that planting wheat seed will not produce barley. This is what we should understand by active acceptance. Effort, taking precautions, hope and letting go of worry for things we can't control.

If we return to the concept of center, the center is the perfect balance point. Isn't what we try to find and catch in life also that balanced state? If we remain calm and don't lose ourselves when faced with negative events, and if we don't get too excited and behave properly when faced with positive events, we would have found the middle point. There's a simple way for me to understand when I'm deviating from my center: When I make a decision or take an action during the day, and when I look inside myself after that, I feel uneasy, or if the voice that always whispers to us, but we often ignore is not happy, I know I've done something to deviate from my center. The center is first and foremost our essence, and essence is a light “nûr” breathed into us by God. The more we can approach it, the more balanced and happier a life we lead. This sometimes requires facing big confrontations and taking brave decisions, but it must be done at some point.

After taking these bold decisions, what are some of the things we might face? Let's assume that we have chosen to live our life on a more spiritual dimension by listening to a call we feel within us. Firstly, this decision will have an impact, like a stone thrown into the water, triggering a series of results in concentric circles. The first circle could be our family, through our spouse. If you believe that your heart is in the right place, you may need to work seriously on creating an environment of trust and open dialogue for them. The second circle could be our close friends. These are the people who are closest to us after our family and the group of people with whom we interact the most. As far as I have observed, there are two types of reactions in this group. Either some of your old friends gradually move away from you, or, as a nice surprise, you realize that some of them are also on the same quest and rediscover each other. Here, there is a point to keep in mind, that is the fact that nature does not accept emptiness. When you bid farewell to your departing friends with love and start living a life that is closer to your center, surely people who can understand what you mean by just a glance, and with whom you can connect heart-to-heart, will take the place of those who left. This is the part related to courage, that is, "letting go". Letting go may sound like a concept of disconnection to our ears, but in my opinion, it is actually a prerequisite for the establishment of more suitable connections to our true self. Speaking of heart-to-heart connection, I would also briefly touch upon why the heart is considered central in Sufism.

"The heart is neither this nor that, but it is both this and that."[1]

The heart has a meaning beyond the mere organ of the heart. One of the dictionary meanings of the heart in Turkish is the center, the middle of something. It is an organ that is a gateway between the visible and the invisible. The heart is neither just physical nor just spiritual, but both. According to Sufism, the heart is also the place of the mind and knowledge. When we talk about finding its center, we actually mean reestablishing the relationship between the person and his heart.

I am thinking of the turbulent transition period that we are going through now very often, and that we all feel in our bones. We are like a small boat in a swelling ocean, and the only way for this boat to reach the safe harbor is by following the lighthouse that guides it. Fortunately, this light has not been taken away from anyone, it is in the exact center, we just need to be determined to follow it.

-Emin Alper Tanca

[1] Sachiko Murata, The Tao of Islam: A Sourcebook on Gender Relationships in Islamic Thought, Albany, State University of New York Press, 1992, 296.


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