A Rumi Belly: Ruminations on a Fasting Stomach

Rumi’s Fasting Stomach

What hidden sweetness is found in this empty stomach!
Man is like a lute, neither more nor less.
When the lute’s stomach is full,
It cannot lament, whether high or low.
If your brain and stomach burn from fasting,
Their fire will draw constant lamentation from your breast.
Through that fire you will burn a thousand veils at every instant,
You will ascend a thousand degrees on the Way and in your aspiration.
Keep your stomach empty! Lament like a flute and tell your need to God!
Keep your stomach empty and speak of the mysteries like a reed!  
[Jalauddin Rumi, Divan: Ghazal 1739, in William Chittick in The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi, p. 157].


Lazily we glide through existence, procrastinating and wasting time on our most frivolous passions. Stuffed with trivial, inconsequential fodder, our thoughts idle along, without direction, interrupted only by curiosity for the latest innovation and marketed fad.

Since the prophet said “Fasting is a protection,” lay hold of that, do not cast away this shield before the arrow-shooting carnal soul. [Mystical Poems of Rumi, p. 230].

Is not sobriety the alighting-place of every care? Is not joy banned in anxiety?  Fast, for fasting is great gain; the faster drinks the wine of the spirit. [Mystical Poems of Rumi, p. 287].

Must-win games, must-have toys, must-see shows, served as appetizers for must-eat meals, strike fanciful chords of ephemeral pleasures, quickly defecated from our stressful inner chambers.

“Be empty of worrying. Think of who created thought! Why do you stay in prison When the door is so wide open?”  [Rumi, in The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks, p. 3].

Fasting Energy 

At times, we must discipline our spirit as if it were a rebellious child insisting on having its own way. When we need enthusiasm for our soul, to revitalize it for sacred activity, fasting is the prod.

Drink not by way of throat and stomach, sleep not as the result of nights. [Mystical Poems of Rumi, p. 336].

We can easily become accustomed to comforts, and take God’s blessings for granted. We greedily consume our good fortune without appreciating it. Foolishly, we assume that we are owed our blessed affluence. Such spiritual ignorance and intellectual arrogance can greatly benefit from a fast.

Don’t spoil and fatten the ego by giving it the pleasurable experiences it desires, for this will only give it more power over you . . . Because when the “stomach” of the ‘commanding self’ [nafsul-amara] is filled and becomes comfortable, it becomes increasingly insolent and rebellious. Therefore, it is necessary to limit it to bran bread so that this ‘commanding self’ does not become strong, insolent, and rebellious. [Anqaravi, Commentary on Rumi’s, The Prince and the Christian Ascetic (Mathnawi V: 3480)]

Fasting Catechism

Fasting educates the soul. It rehearses lessons innate to our conscience, reminding us of our inherent compassion, hidden beneath layers of overindulgence and lusts. It calls to attention distracted thoughts stripped of emotions by extravagant yet insipid existence. Fasting drills us on a catechism of humility.

Fasting is as our sacrifice,
It is the life out of soul; let us sacrifice all our body,
Since the soul has arrived as guest.

Fortitude is as a sweet cloud, wisdom rains from it,
Because it was in such a month of fortitude
That the Koran arrived

When the carnal soul is in need,
The spirit goes into ascension;
When the gate of the prison is broken, the soul reaches the Beloved [Rumi, Ghazal No. 892 from the Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi, in Arberry, p. 138]

The emptiness of a fast detains our intellect, confines it and demands attention to the Divine. As awareness of the True Reality increases, we lament our separation from God and cry out for forgiveness. This cry accompanies the universal chorus of repentance that resonates only when we empty ourselves of arrogance and pride.

 Be empty of stomach and cry out, in neediness, like the reed flute! Be empty of stomach and tell secrets like the reed pen! [Mystical Poems of Rumi, p. 224].


Further reading:

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