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Echoes of the Heart: Embracing Listening through Rumi’s Wisdom



Merve Çağlar



*This is the transcript of a speech delivered by Merve Çağlar, our director, at the Hz. Mevlana Seminar organized by the Eskişehir Mevlevihanesi Cultural Association.


Mevlana’s Mesnevi begins with ‘Listen’. Inspired by this, we pondered what could happen in the world if we all listened with the ear of our hearts and built a grand international Foundation on this idea: Vuslat Foundation.

We believe that Mevlana’s teachings are the best remedy to the problems faced by the world today.

Speaking in front of scholars who have dedicated their lives to Mevlana’s teachings is daunting, yet it is equally prideful and enlightening.

I came here,

but as Mevlana said, ‘To speak, one must first listen. Enter the neighborhood of speech through the gateway of listening.’

I am here to listen to you generously. To learn from you, to breathe the air here, to be inspired by your inspiration, and to work to spread what you share with the world. Just as he said, I generously listen to you, to adorn my ears with Mevlana’s teachings, to make his words a guide for my mind and life.

‘Listen and adorn your ear with it. Make those words a guide for your mind.’

I will talk about my journey. I am the director of a Foundation named Vuslat, and the reason for our foundation’s name being ‘Vuslat’ is not because its founder is Vuslat Doğan Sabancı – though if you ask me, our founder’s name being Vuslat is also not a coincidence but a divine call – but because we believe that by ‘listening with the ear of our heart [cankulağıyla dinleme]’, we can achieve union with ourselves, with each other, and with nature, and thus reach ‘Vuslat’ (reunion), as beautifully expressed in our language.

In the world of deep thinkers and poets, perhaps no one’s words have continued to resonate as deeply as Mevlana’s have for centuries. Today, we come together not just to commemorate a legacy, but to celebrate the timeless philosophy he left for humanity, rooted in the art of listening.

As we embark on this journey, I will strive to articulate the profound significance of listening with the ear of our heart in living together, inspired by Mevlana’s teachings on listening.


If We Listen with the Ear of Our Heart

We believed that all the problems facing our world today could be averted. Inspired by Mevlana, we dedicated ourselves to creating awareness in the world about this, spreading the methods of generous listening, increasing academic studies on this form of listening, and proving its benefits.

We believed that only if we listen to ourselves, to each other, and to nature, can we live together.

The biggest epidemic the world faces today, we believe, stems from our inability to listen to ourselves with the ear of our heart; polarization, discrimination, racism, and the inability to form genuine connections arise from our lack of intention, patience, and tolerance to listen to each other; and the climate crisis we face is due to our severed connections with nature and our estrangement from the reality that we are a part of it.

Mevlana says: ‘It is seen with eyes, heard with ears. If you seek a proof that fits into understanding, into conjecture, listen.’

I am the founding director of the Vuslat Foundation, working to spread and raise awareness of a generous culture of listening to ourselves, each other, and nature in the world.

And by listening, we mean not just hearing, but intending to listen with our hearts, with all our senses.


Firstly, Listening to Ourselves Generously

We believed that if we could listen to ourselves generously, we could overcome depression, feelings of loneliness, and high anxiety.

Mevlana says, ‘If you break [your shell], you turn inward; you listen to the story of that beautiful essence/inner self.’

Mental health issues, loneliness, and anxiety, especially after the pandemic, are now emerging as the biggest health crisis the world is facing. Countries like Japan and the United Kingdom have established ministries focused solely on this issue.

This is particularly a significant problem for the youth worldwide. According to a study by Konda in Turkey, for the first-time last year, university students indicated that their greatest needs, immediately following employment and future anxieties, were related to mental health.

We are encouraged to show ourselves, to be seen, to express ourselves. We learn to speak and take courses on presentation techniques. However, we do not know how to be silent, to listen to ourselves, to understand, to hear our inner voices. It takes courage to hear the voices within, to remain in our silence, to accept both the beauty and the darkness inside us.

Mevlana says, ‘For a while, we listened to music; now let’s listen to the music of the soul enraptured.’

We work with leaders and social entrepreneurs aiming to create social change. Only changemakers who can listen to themselves compassionately and intuitively can understand others’ perspectives, gain a more holistic view, and step outside themselves to generate compassionate, sustainable solutions to social and environmental challenges.

‘There are sounds in the shell of a walnut, but what would one seek sound in its oil? It has a sound not suitable for the ear. Its sound is hidden within the ear of the soul. Otherwise, who would listen to the clatter of the shell when the inside has such a nice sound?’


Listening to Each Other Generously

We believe, based on Mevlana’s teachings, that listening generously is the only way to live together. Polarization, racism, and othering are the biggest problems of our time, as we cannot tolerate listening to views that may be different from our own beliefs and ideologies. We propose ‘generous listening’ to live together. We define generous listening as engaging not just your mind but also your heart while listening. Listening not just with your ears, but with all your senses. Being aware of our biases, judgments, and shortcomings while listening to ourselves, someone else, or our surroundings.

Mevlana says, ‘A person who does not listen, who is deaf due to their stubbornness, their refusal, leaves a hundred speakers powerless.’

Let me read you a passage:

“Since it was impossible to see in the dark, everyone was feeling the elephant with their hands. One person, whose hand landed on the elephant’s trunk, said it felt like a tube. Another, whose hand reached its ear, felt it was like a fan. Another felt the elephant’s leg and said, it seems to me, the elephant is like a pillar. Yet another, running their hand along the elephant’s back, said, this elephant is like a throne. Thus, each person knew the elephant only from the part they touched or what they had heard from others. Their statements differed because of their perspectives. If everyone had a candle, there would be no difference in what they said.”

Mevlana tells stories that enable us to see the world from different perspectives, reminding us that we are parts of a whole, that just because we do not see what another sees, it does not mean they are wrong, and that these diverse perspectives, both within us and in others, complete the whole.

Mevlana says, ‘Never despise any person.’

Listening is a skill we take for granted. We all think we know how to listen, but in a world full of stimuli, broadcasts, and data, where the focus is on finding your voice, expressing your opinion, and taking a stand, we miss out on the fundamental component of healthy dialogue. We are hyper-connected, in touch with more and more people through various channels, mobile phones, WhatsApp, and social media. Yet, we do not consider the quality of our connections. To build real connections, genuine relationships, we need to be able to listen.

Because Mevlana says: There is a path from heart to heart.

Generous listening emerges when a person steps out of their comfort zone, deliberately leaves the echo chambers or ideological shelters they find themselves in, and makes an active effort to listen to views, ideas, and experiences that may challenge them.

Because ‘when the ear listens, attributes change.’

While polarization divides our societies with extreme right-wing rhetoric, the reign of racism, and war, we must consider the importance of being receptive to generous listening. True inclusive democracy is only possible through receptivity, that is, through the ability to listen. Mevlana said this centuries ago. People remain people. Their essence has not changed. We protect freedom of expression through constitutions, but this only creates a culture of people who shout without listening to each other. However, when we intend to listen generously,

‘Moses is in you, and so is Pharaoh. Look for these two enemies within yourself.’ We can see that both good and evil exist within all of us.

Listening generously is the cornerstone of living together because it enables us to understand each other, empathize, and form deep connections with each other.

‘Whether one is Indian, Turkish, or Arab. / Do not look at his shape or color; look at his determination, his intention. / Even if he is black, if he shares your intention… call him ‘white,’ because he is of the same color as you. When you reach colorlessness [you have attained the precious metal]; there, Moses and Pharaoh also make peace,’ says Mevlana.


If We Generously Listen to Nature

‘These trees resemble people underground; they have stretched their hands out from the land of soil. They gesture hundreds of signs to the people; they speak words to those who have ears. With green tongues and long hands, they reveal secrets from the heart of the soil.’

Today, those who are grappling with the climate crisis, trying to raise awareness about this issue, and can see that the future of our children is in jeopardy, are those who are willing to listen to Mevlana’s teachings. Because listening to nature, and the path to preventing the crisis at our door, starts with listening generously. Instead of seeking short-term solutions to existing problems or merely trying to reduce our carbon footprint, we must fundamentally change our relationship with nature.

‘If you go to the plain, you hear jokes from the plain; if you come to the garden, you listen to stories from the palm.’

I am currently reading a book written by a scientist, which discusses how different creatures perceive the world in vastly different ways from us. We live in a human-centric world, believing that what we see, and feel is the only reality. However, a bat perceives the world very differently from us; darkness is not dark to it. A dog can sense a sandwich inside your bag in a room, whereas we tend to believe in the non-existence of what we cannot see with our eyes.

‘Be silent and listen to the new news coming from the garden, from the birds.’

Generous listening is the practice of listening to oneself, to each other, and to nature with an open mind, compassion, and without prejudice or agenda. It’s the ability and willingness to expand our horizons, reach insight and enlightenment, and create empathy and understanding beyond deep divides.

We should listen to nature not to exploit it for our consumption or benefiting from its resources, but for coexistence. We can only live together with trees, spiders, lions, elephants, grapes, and crows by acknowledging that we are not the dominators of nature but a part of it, residing within it.

‘Oh gardener, be mindful and listen, hear the cries of the trees inwardly; there are hundreds of beings silently weeping and lamenting all around, hundreds of beings.’

Generous listening is not just about listening with your mind but also with your heart. It’s about connecting with nature with curiosity. It’s about hearing the sound of the wind, the silence. It’s about feeling why a tree does not bear fruit, why the soil has dried up from within.”

“Life is nothing but the harmony of opposites.”

Listening generously is the cornerstone of living together because it enables us to understand each other, empathize, and form deep connections with ourselves, each other, and our surroundings.

Generous listening requires us to be brave in the face of discomfort, to set aside prejudiced thoughts, and to approach every interaction with humility and curiosity. When we listen in this way, we not only heal our own wounds but also create a space where others can find solace and connection.

As I prepared for today, three thoughts emerged that I want to share with you:

  1. Listening generously is key to living together and to the growth of individuals and societies, as it fosters unity, empathy, and understanding.
  2. Mevlana’s teachings on listening remain as relevant today as they were centuries ago, reminding us of the enduring importance of generous listening.
  3. To live together, we must gather the courage to open our hearts to listen generously.

Let’s try to listen generously, in the spirit of Mevlana. By doing so, we can reunite the disconnected parts of our world, forge deeper connections, and approach the profound freedom encapsulated in “vuslat.”

And with Mevlana’s words, I bring this speech to a close: “The listeners have fallen asleep, cut the talk short. O speaker, do not write too much upon water.”

That is all from me.