Once touched by the masterful, humorous and loving Sufi poetry of Rumi, I ponder his words from “Don’t Go Back to Sleep.” In fact, they have been gnawing at my sub-conscious and coming to conscious memory daily of late. I realized that a local singer who is an old acquaintance had sung a song titled the same, and I recently found it on an old tape (pre-CD’s). When seemingly coincidences happen like my nagging awareness of the Rumi poem, and the tape discovery manifest, I figure there are no coincidences - more like God shots. So, I am taking a stab at the lovely poem and all it means to this fan of Rumi poetry.

Another memory has come to light regarding “Don’t Go Back to Sleep.” I was watching Dr. Wayne Dyer (author and motivational speaker) on a PBS special, and he started speaking about the universal 3:00 am awakening sleepers experience worldwide. He then explained that it is a holy time, and one should stay awake, get up, meditate, write, give glory to the universe, etc. That made me think of the poetry of Rumi.

“Don’t Go Back to Sleep” isn’t titled as so in this translation - I am copying it from The Essential Rumi (translations by Coleman Barks).

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.

Don’t go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.

Don’t go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill

where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.

Don’t go back to sleep.

It certainly seems simple enough to understand. Stay awake, listen to the message in the dawn breeze, and believe that it will carry back your message asking for what you really want. People are carrying the messages from this awareness to a greater awareness that actually connects with us all. The round door represents the circle of the messages coming and going from one awareness to another - it is always available. So use it, don’t go back to sleep.

The above interpretation is indeed very simplistic, not scholarly, and one of many for sure. I actually think of it every time I wake up from 3:00 am on, and sense that I should get up. Of course it is easier to lay snuggled up under the bed covers and obsess about this ‘n that, and eventually fall back asleep. Now, in writing this I see that it would be easier to get up, stop obsessing and meditate or put pen to paper. The thing is - I don’t! I have in the past, when I felt more disciplined to put into practice the wisdom offered. My own circadian rhythm can adjust according to my sleep/awaken patterns - it’s my head that gets in the way.

There are many online quotes of this poem, and videos of the words put to music and dance and photography. I haven’t found any that speak about it as translating it into what it means to them. So, I decided to delve further into it myself since I have been pleasantly plagued with the words running through my mind daily for too long now not to write out the verses and meanings I get from it. One thing for sure, there are lots of Rumi lovers out there. His mystical poetry is overwhelmingly spiritual and funny to boot. No wonder he is so revered. Honestly I wondered if anyone else had trouble with this 3:00 am (or thereabouts) awakening or at least when feeling a dawn breeze should I stay awake - alone? Surely you have wondered if anyone else is awake and up. Maybe that is why he wrote the poem - to give meaning to our pre-dawn awakenings. Just think of all the religious communities of humans who arise at 3:00 am and give credence to the contemplative nature of staying awake. It can be the time for a call to prayer in some religions. Granted, Rumi speaks of the “breeze at dawn,” but when is dawn world round? It’s easier to equate it with the universal 3:00 am awakening. Then again, if I disregard any time, but around dawn, then I have to share the definitions of dawn (from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary Tenth Edition).

  1. : to begin to grow light as the sun rises
  2. : to begin to appear or develop
  3. : to begin to be perceived or understood

Wow. Numbers 2 and 3 shed new light ( no pun intended) on the translation possibility. Maybe the dawn was meant to be understood as an a-ha time, not a man-made time like 3:00 AM. Therefore, anytime you awaken from sleep, stay awake, and when the man-made dawn time comes you may receive an answer from asking for what you really want (maybe from the night before). Who knows where this interpretation will lead.

Now that that is settled I can move on to the bit about asking for what you really want. Geesh, we all know about “Be careful what you ask for.” That phrase just has to ruin the asking for what you really want because there may be too many bad side effects that you haven’t totally recreated and become frozen in fear to ask for what you really want. Like, I really want a new car, may be the asking, but now one has to rip that simple want into a million pro’s and con’s before asking, and probably end up feeling like the carbon footprints will be too great a hardship on this old earth, so no asking for a new car. Perhaps The asking could be for a new car for Jo Banana who really needs a new car, not just really wants a new car. Stop now before the guilt grows.

“People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch,” can be interpreted as other, or visible to invisible and back full circle like mythical beings. A loving open doorsill or portal from one world to the next is always present for those who choose to enter. Just don’t go back to sleep!