Unconditional love is something we all long for. In the interview Benedikt Just, Director of “The Heart Revolution” speaks with Dr. Kabir Helminski about his way to the Spiritual Heart, Finding a Home in Sufism, and the Two Ways of Doing Science.
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Dr. Kabir Helminski: I grew up near New York City in New Jersey in a working-class family for which I’m very grateful. I think that I felt an interest in spirituality from an early age. I remember being eleven years old and reading Thoreau and even Thomas Merton, not understanding them but somehow being drawn to them. But it was in College that something opened up, and I became interested in Eastern religions, first Buddhism and then Hinduism. I studied a bit of Sanskrit for a couple of years, and after College, I also practiced these traditions a little bit at the Zen center in San Francisco in the late sixties when I lived there.
And then it was around nineteen seventy when I was back on the east coast and living in New Hampshire, and I met at what you might call an esoteric school for about five years. I was involved about two days a week with physical work, and Mindfulness Meditation every weekend. It was great training in mindfulness
but after these five years, toward the end of it, I felt something of the heart was missing. I would leave that group. I didn’t know where I was going, but shortly thereafter, I began to meet some Sufi teacher
and eventually, I found myself traveling to Turkey and meeting a man who would become my first real teacher of the heart. He was from Konya, Turkey, where Rumi lived, and he was the living representative of Rumi’s teaching, and once there, I knew that I was home; I had found my spiritual home. Everything else before that was preparation, good preparation, but the teachings of the heart in the education of this cosmic love that Rumi represents superseded everything.

birds, fruits and flowers
William Morris’s famous Strawberry Thief pattern (1883). Original from The Smithsonian Institution. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.

My teacher was in his eighties when I met him and I also met some other wonderful Sufi teachers in Turkey. All of them were in their eighties, all of them closing the chapter of Ottoman Sufism. It was great to have that living connection to the Ottoman era Sufi tradition, which really was ending way back in the nineteen twenties. These people had been educated under that system and so I had a taste of something from that time. In a way, I saw how they lived, I was welcomed into their homes, and I saw their beautiful manner. The qualities that they exemplified were just very beautiful, very human in a very beautiful way.

Finding a Spiritual Home in Sufism

Benedikt Just: I remember you said that’s where you feel at home.

Dr. Kabir Helminski: Yes, it is. Sufism feels like a home
and not some form of abstract enlightenment experience. I had known teachers who were masters of will, masters of awareness, some of them quite aloof, even a little bit intimidating. When I met Süleyman Dede he was the kindest enlightened being you would like to sit down and have tea with. He was humble and ordinary in a certain way but also extraordinary in many ways, had a magnetism that would just attract people; they didn’t know why they were attracted or what was drawing them to him; it was a beautiful ordinariness.

Actually I think the most important thing is that in some unique and so far unknown way to me, I felt loved in a way I’d never felt loved. My parents loved me, and my wife loves me, but this was something else; this was something unconditional, this was something spiritual. It was as if through this eighty five year old man, I felt that my soul was loved by God. It wasn’t personal love, and that, in some subtle but powerful way, changed everything. I think, that is also at the heart of Rumi’s message; I think that is what he is trying to convey to us. And it also goes all the way back to the prophet Mohammed who spoke about the incredible mercy and compassion of existence and that this is the nature of reality, that reality is fundamentally an expression of love of the Divine, and we don’t quite have the words for it.

Beneficence and unconditional love, and that the whole journey of our lives spiritually is to learn to recognize that we are loved, and that that love is our teacher. It is bringing us the lessons that we need to learn, and those lessons are ultimately lessons of love, everything else is secondary. So from this point of view, you could say that the whole purpose of life is to come to know the nature of reality, which is loving intelligence; one could say it is very generous, generous with this love.

pink and red flowers
William Morris’s Cray (1884–1917). Original public domain image from The Art Institute Chicago. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.

Quantitative and Qualitative Science

Dr. Kabir Helminski: So let’s reflect on the reality in which we all live. We know that at the cutting edge of science, in particular physics, we are receiving ideas that rearrange our whole sense of reality, that things are not the way they appear to our senses, and that modern physics talks about non-locality, it talks about entanglement and the mystery of light, a particle, or a wave of time-space. Even physicality or individuality seem to blend into a kind of mystical oneness, and contemporary science gives us metaphors that seems to be repeating what the ancient sages said, like Lao Tsu and the Vedas and so forth.

However, all science is still based on physical measurements, and quantum science is a quantitative science involving mathematics.
What IF there is also a qualitative science, and what if the main instrument of that qualitative science is this mystery we are calling the heart? What if the human being has another capacity for knowing
more than the senses, more than the thinking mind?
We can know what to value, what we value, through a subjective experience that is never really part of the quantitative mathematical sciences.

And yet every scientist also has this dimension of experience, how we value relationships. We value qualities like sincerity or integrity. Why should we care? Why does it matter? And yet these invisible qualities are the most important things in human life.
C.S. Lewis said something like “this inner life, these inner experiences add nothing to our survivability, and yet they are what make life worth living.” So, it is extraordinary that this area of human experience has not been clearly identified, it is assumed in Greek (great) literature, it is assumed in religion, it is assumed in our everyday experience.

So what an exciting thing. How could we explore this dimension of experience? How could we develop our capacity for that experience? How could we educate ourselves and others to grow and mature in this experience of the heart? I think this is what spirituality is ultimately about
when it’s not about dogmas and concepts and beliefs, when it’s about the inner experience of the human being.

And with this focus on the inner experience, what do we value, why do we seek relationships? Why does it matter? Why do we care about other human beings or animals, or nature? And ultimately, why would we care to know or have a relationship, an intimate relationship with our heart of reality itself? In other words, what if we are reflections of a greater reality? What if there is a greater holographic reality of which we are intimately, integrally related? That part longs to know the whole. The individual consciousness longs to know and experience more adequately the source from which we came, and that source is not some abstract, impersonal reality described by mathematics and contemporary physics or biology. That source’s quality has something to do with this mystery we call love.

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Kabir Helminski is a Shaikh of the Mevlevi Order of Sufis, which traces its inspiration to Jelaluddin Rumi. He began his Mevlevi training as a student of the late Shaikh Suleyman Loras. In 1990 he was subsequently appointed a Shaikh by the late Dr. Celaleddin Celebi of Istanbul, Turkey, head of the Mevlevi Tariqa (Order) and twenty-first generation descendant of Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi.

Kabir and his wife Camille founded and now direct The Threshold Society, a nonprofit educational foundation that has developed programs to provide a structure for practice and study within Sufism and spiritual psychology. He has translated many volumes of Sufi literature, including the works of Rumi, and is the author of two books on Sufism. Helmsinki has an M.A. in psychology and an (honorary) Ph.D. in literature from Selcuk University, Konya, Turkey. www.kabirhelminski.com