We can find beautiful examples of adab (spiritual courtesy) in our Mevlevi tradition which set the tone of every action and relationship as described in the adab article on Threshold website:
Every situation and relationship has its proper adab: between students on the path, in relation to family members and elders, in relation to one’s shaikh. Every level of being also has its adab, including coming into the presence of Truth.
Someone can see a dervish kissing a glass before sipping their tea, or ‘meeting’ with their pillow before going to sleep; so there is an appropriate adab for inanimate objects as well.
Manifestation of this adab in our daily life may seem solely about a set of behaviors and etiquette and one can find these a bit formal, limiting our own wishes about how to act and behave, pushing us to fit into a social shape defined by previous generations which we don't want to be pushed into. At least this was the case for me, as I didn’t really understand the reasons behind all of these behaviors. Being born and raised in Turkiye where Sufi culture and way of living has imbued society so much, we practice some of these practical aspects without really thinking about them. For example; I would wait for the eldest person on the table to start eating first or would enter a room with my right foot first. But why, why do I have to follow these rules? Growing up I wasn’t a rebellious type (and am still not); so I enjoyed being recognized by my family and society for following this etiquette, having adab. Elders might have said things like, 'This boy is so ‘edepli’' (has adab). So it was a ‘nice’ thing to have adab but tiresome at the same time.
On pages 53 and 54 of The Book of Language by dear Kabir Dede, adab is described as 'courtesy and appropriate behavior.' He continues; ‘In our context it is a subtle discipline of mind and body that expresses humility, respect, patience and sensitivity… Adab is the reflection of wisdom and the evidence of justice.’ Reflecting on what adab means for me, in addition to these it is also a way of expressing and embodying love and affection. This is not just limited to our fellow dervishes but includes our relationship with all creation as well as our Rabb. It is one of the most appropriate answers I can find to the questions ‘How can I express love?’ or ‘How do I become love?’ It's a way of acting upon the meaning of our dear Yunus Emre’s suggestion: ‘Love the creation for the Creator's sake.’
When I try to perceive the subtler levels of meaning and the symbolism emanating from the practices and adab being taught on Mevlevi path, I can relate these as beautiful enablers for refined awareness of ourselves, our actions, thoughts, feelings, and our surroundings. With this awareness we have the possibility of expressing the appropriateness needed in the moment. This has tremendous potential for training the ego. The adab and its practical aspects basically become a container for a conscious way of life and growing our humanness. And without this refined awareness and presence it's very hard to allow the appropriateness to emerge from within. So awareness also becomes the enabler and the container for adab. It's a cycle of emergence; adab enables awareness to be refined and awareness enables adab to emerge.
With my first encounters in Threshold, I thought it's pretty easy and natural for me to follow the adab; I learned some of it growing up anyway. Then I slowly started learning more; we would try to be as silent as possible while preparing the food, to be present with the food, with our breath, and with our fellow dervishes; or we would enter the gathering space with our right foot first to consciously step over the threshold, leaving the world behind and entering the sacred space. This time, our path was teaching me the subtler levels of its adab with the reasons behind it, which opened the deeper meanings for me. Understanding their meanings made it much easier to integrate this adab into my daily life.
There is another aspect I have to mention though. During the initial years of me coming to the path, I had the risk of overdoing it and taking these as sets of rules that I must follow, with the additional risk of doing it to be recognized and liked by others. Now, looking back, thanks be to God these risks are being dissolved over time, and it's rather becoming a guideline and a more balanced and effortless way of life where I can express love, affection, respect and courtesy towards others. So the following was my intention before a recent Türkiye trip: try to be present, return to your breath as much as possible, focus on how much you love your fellow travelers and attend to the needs of the moment. I believe this has allowed me to feel light and in the flow, and I hope it has given my friends a sense of being loved, respected, and held. For me it was a beautiful way of being and living, and, God willing, I can continue learning and deepening in adab. May our perception be open for understanding the purpose and meaning of adab on our path, and may we approach this way of living with innocence and open-heartedness. Ameen.
~ Aykut is a seeker on the Mevlevi Path living in Istanbul. Currently focusing on the Threshold Turkiye circle and Turkish Threshold website.