This is a section of the Mathnawi [Book I: 1951… ] that we are reflecting on in relation to our theme for January: “In these days the breathings of God prevail…” I have allowed myself more freedom than usual in translating this in order to make its meanings as compelling as possible. This is a beautiful and profound passage about the inter-relationship of breath, body, and soul (Jan in Persian). ~Kabir Helminski


The Prophet said, “In these days

the breathings of God prevail:

Keep your ear and mind attentive

to these spiritual influences;

catch these breaths.”

The Divine breathing came,

beheld you, and departed:

it gave life to whom it would, and left.

Another breathing has arrived.

Pay attention, friend,

don’t miss this one, too.


The fiery soul only benefits

from what puts out its fire.

Then the dead soul feels

something move within itself,

not of the animal, but more subtle,

the vitality of a Blessed Tree.


If such an infinite breath

falls on heaven or earth,

organs would burst in awe of it.

Just as in the Quranic verse:

We offered the Trust to heaven and earth

But they refused to bear it

and shrank from it,

the heart of the mountain

would’ve turned to blood

rather than take on that burden.


Last night inspiration

might have suddenly come,

but a morsel of food barred the way.


For a mere morsel’s sake

a Luqman* has become enfeebled:

it is the time for Luqman: begone, O morsel!

These pricks for the sake of a morsel!

Pluck the thorn from the sole of Luqman.

In the sole of a Luqman

there should be no thorn,

not even the shadow of one,

but because of lust

you’ve lost discernment.

Know that the thorn is that which you,

because of your greed and blindness,

have imagined to be a mere date.

Since Luqman’s soul is the rose-garden of God,

why is the foot of his spirit wounded by a thorn?

There are desires of yours

that feel like a thorn in your foot.

You could be a rose garden,

but your spirit is wounded.


This thorn-eating existence

is like a dumb camel,

and mounted upon this camel

is one born of Muhammad.

O camel, on your back is a bale of roses,

from whose perfume a hundred rose gardens

should grow within you,

yet your inclination is towards

thorn-bushes and dirt:

I wonder what roses you will gather

from worthless thorns.


O you who in this search have roamed

from one place to another,

how long will you say,

“Where, where is this rose-garden?”


Until you extract the thorn

that has dug into your own foot,

your eyes are dark, you can’t find your way.

A human being, so vast in nature,

not contained in the whole world,

becomes trapped in the point of a thorn!


Muhammad came to establish harmony:

“Speak to me, O Aisha, speak!”

O Humayra, O my red-haired beauty,

put the iron in the fire of devotion,

that by means of its red-hot glow

this mountain may become all rubies.


This “Humayra” is a feminine word, and

the Arabs call the “Soul” feminine;

but soul has no fear of being called feminine:

it has nothing to do with man and woman.

It is higher than feminine and masculine:

it is not is composed of dryness and moisture.

This is not that soul which is increased by eating bread,

or which is sometimes like this and sometimes like that.

It is the maker of sweetness,

and sweetness itself,

and the quintessence of sweetness.

Without spiritual sweetness there is no sweetness,


Don’t let yourself be bribed by a sweet!

If you think you must have some sugar,

know that a time will come

when that sugar will run out.

When you become sugar

from sincerity of faith,

then how could sugar be taken from you?


When the lover drinks the wine of love,

worldly intellect loses its power.

The limited intellect is a critic of love,

though it pretends to know the mystery.

It may control the world,

but it is a stranger to the spiritual realm.

Until the intellect is dissolved in God,

it is a devil, even if it looks like an angel.

The thinking mind is good at conversation,

but it disappears when ecstasy comes.

Your reason is worthless

unless it leads you to self-effacement.

Because it could not come to that willingly,

it was reduced to nothingness unwillingly.


The Spirit is perfection and Its call is perfection:

Mustafa used to say, “Refresh us, O Bilal!

O Bilal, lift up your melodious voice

from that breath which I breathed into your heart,

from that breath by which Adam was dumbfounded

and the wits of the people of Heaven were made witless.”


Mustafa became beside himself at that beautiful voice:

his prayer escaped him on the night of the Miraj,

He did not raise his head from that blessed sleep

until the dawn-prayer had advanced to forenoon.

On the night of his honeymoon, his holy spirit

kissed the hands of the Bride.

Love and the Spirit are, both of them, hidden and veiled:

if I have called God the Bride, don’t blame me.

I would have preferred silence

safe from my Beloved’s disapproval,

but I haven’t been given a moment’s rest

and that one keeps saying, “Don’t stop!  It’s not your fault.

it is what is destined for you from the World Unseen.”

The fault lies with whoever sees nothing but faults:

how should the Pure Spirit of the Invisible see fault?

Fault arises in the ignorant mind of the creature,

not in relation to the Lord of Benevolence.

The possibility of Denial (Kufr), too,

is from the wisdom of the Creator,

but when it is our choice, it is a terrible thing.


Sometimes a single fault coexists

together with a hundred advantages,

like the woody-stalk of the delicious sugarcane.

These are like body and soul together,

which when weighed in the scales,

are nothing but sweetness.

And so, the people of gnosis have said,

“The body of the holy one

is essentially pure as spirit.”


His or her speech and soul and form,

all together are spirit without any other trace.

Those who see those saints as enemies

will go down into the earth as mere flesh;

while the saint, as if dissolved in the salt mine,

became entirely pure salt of the earth.


The kind of salt which imbued Muhammad:

that salt which made his words eloquent.

That salt of his survives as our heritage,

and his heirs are here today. Seek them!

He may be seated in front of you,

But where indeed is your “front”?

He appears before you,

but what does “before” even mean?


If you fancy you have a “before” and “behind,”

you are tied to the body and deprived of spirit.

“Below” and “above,” “before” and “behind”

are attributes of the physical world:

the essence of the bright spirit is directionless.


Open your vision with the pure light of the Sovereign.

Beware of the illusion, like one who is near-sighted,

that you, in grief and joy, are only this body.

Where are “before” and “behind”

in relation to the expanse of spiritual non-existence?

It is a day of rain: journey on till night—

not by this rain but by the unseen rain of the Lord.


*Luqman belonged to the black men of Egypt according to traditional lore. Luqman’s answer to the question about what had raised his status that people came to him for advice was: “Lowering my gaze, watching my tongue, eating what is lawful, keeping my chastity, undertaking my promises, fulfilling my commitments, being hospitable to guests, respecting my neighbors, and discarding what does not concern me. All these made me the one you are looking at.” Abu Ad-Darda’ added that Luqman the Wise was granted wisdom because he was self-restrained, taciturn, deep-thinking, and he never slept during the day.