How I Learned to Whirl Like a Dervish

Article by: Chip Conley|@ChipConley

Mon December 17, 2012 | 00:00 AM

Turkey-DervishLessonI’m ready for Dancing With the Stars!

As seen on AFAR

As much as I enjoyed the spectacle and Rumi-obsessed Whirling Dervish festival in Konya, I have a confession to make. Going to a Dervish ceremony in a yellow-colored caravansary,Saruhan ( – that’s not a typo) in the desert just 15 minutes from my Cappodocia hotel was the highlight of my whole trip. They do this ceremony twice nightly and I would recommend it even over the celebrated hot-air balloon extravaganza.

You’re escorted to the inner sanctum of this smallish caravansary and you can feel the hundreds of years of divine intoxication that’s been brewed in this hallowed space. And, unlike the 24-man orchestra and 28-man whirling brigade at the Mevlana festival, this is a more intimate affair with just 4 playing music and 5 whirling Semazens with the Semazen Basi (the leader) Abdurrahman Abukan overseeing the ritual. Plus, you are not allowed to take pictures during the ceremony. For some that may be a bummer, but for me, it liberated me to just experience the moment of what was happening just 15 feet in front of me. As my guide told me, “What we saw in Konya was entertainment, what we’re seeing here is transcendence.”

Fortunate for me, my guide knew Abdurrahman so I was afforded the rare opportunity to receive a whirling dervish lesson from a master. First, he instructed me on what it takes to become a Semazen: 3-6 months of physical training and 40 years of spiritual training. He told me that not everyone is cut out for whirling as it only works “if Allah allows.” He trained me in the footwork and we started to whirl, but within a minute I felt the need to hurl. How did I ever run in circles 25 times as a kid and not throw up? He said the key to not getting dizzy is to keep a balanced spirit and mind focused on the divine and keep visualizing my heart as the sturdy pole around which I was circulating.

After a little while, I started to get the hang of it, but, alas, it was time to turn the lights out on the dervish hall. Before we left the hall, he showed me the final act of a Semazen. We clasped hands and he kissed the back of my hand as I kissed his. We now were bonded as dervishes.