For the past eight years I’d been celebrating this wonderful thing called Christmas with my Australian family. One thing you may not know about me is that I didn’t grow up with Christianity or celebrations or within a family culture of giving and receiving presents. It took me a long time,  five years to be precise, to get into the spirit of it and to understand and integrate it fully into my life as a Muslim.

What did I find so overwhelming about Christmas?

Well, the presents for starters.

I’m lucky to be a part of a family where everyone shows up for Christmas and showers each other with presents. Luckily, I’m with a partner who’s a thinker. Every year we get everyone the same exact thing. An experience we can all do together later in the year when it suits everyone. This year we’re going glamping.

What about ideologically? How does Christmas, or the spirit of the festive season fit into the life of one who grew up in a Muslim country? In Turkey, the closest thing to Christmas is the new year. People who have families celebrate it in their homes with a turkey dinner, a few rounds of bingo and entertainment on TV that involves belly dancing.

It is a very Turkish thing, with Turkey being an ethnic mosaic, housing people of different cultures and beliefs for thousands of years, to want to build a bridge between one’s own culture and those of others, in short, to be inclusive, accepting and hospitable without losing one’s own connection to their ancestral beliefs. I believe this is what makes Turkey and the Turkish character so remarkable.

Where do Christmas and the Turkish cultures intersect?

It turns out, Rumi, who was a Persian poet and a mystic, whose tomb is in Konya in Turkey, offers some insight. The holiest day of his life, his wedding day, or reunion with the universe, what we’d call death, is celebrated on December 17th. Coincidentally, this is my anniversary with my partner, but also it falls in the “festive season” here in Australia, which begins in December and ends in February. Why so long? Because it’s summer here in those months and children are off school and people are more likely to go visit each other and do things as a family.

How does one start integrating Rumi to Christmas? Well, one begins a huge, foolish project of course.

Start a Foolish Project

“Start a huge, foolish project, like Noah…it makes absolutely no difference what people think of you.”

My foolish project was to count back 40 days from Christmas to start a 40 Days of Rumi til Christmas campaign on my social media channels. I admit, I was doing it for the likes. I had no idea that by the time it finished, I’d have a deeper understanding of myself, my compulsions and be in a position to put my phone down and leave a social media channel for taking me too far away from the things that matter.

Out of those 40 quotes I selected, this one about starting a project really hit a chord in me. One of my friends was hilarious about it. “Take mercy on Rumi’s soul, he didn’t say that!” she told me and of course she was right. There’s a translator who is criticised for being very liberal with Rumi’s words but I didn’t care.

This quote is what I want everyone to consider because it is the foolish projects, the hour you set aside to express yourself by writing, painting, stringing beads, or selecting and illustrating quotes, whatever it is that you love to do, that fuels creativity and passion for life.

When There’s No Separation

“Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.”

When I reached the end of the quotes, which I’d been sharing on Instagram stories and LinkedIn, I recognised that I was using my phone as a crutch, an addiction, a mirror (and a messed up and warped mirror it was) to find the support and inspiration I should’ve been seeking in myself.

On LinkedIn especially, I didn’t see much that was inspiring me, even though as a marketer in a previous life I would’ve told everyone to build up their profiles and engage for at least fifteen minutes daily. I ended up deleting my LinkedIn account.

“Oh no! You lost all your professional connections!” you might be thinking, but you see, as Rumi’s quote states that if I had a true connection with the people on there, if we were bound by heart and soul, there’s no separation. Indeed, those with whom I felt a true bond with, we are connected and our conversation continues.

I am now working on reducing my phone time and would trial a day without my phone. This is to connect better with my family, my partner and two young daughters, who mean the world to me, and to focus on creating as opposed to consuming content.

40 Days of Rumi was a foolish project, but I wouldn’t call it huge. I did start a huge project, with the help of Louisa Deasey, to finally begin writing my memoir. I am almost done with the first draft as of today, having written 87,000+ words. This is the best present I could’ve ever received and it is one that I gave myself. I couldn’t have done it without beginning to dump my emotional baggage, recognising and leaving WhatsApp groups and social media channels sucked my creative energy.

Taking this step on the artist’s way, setting aside an hour a day for myself and my project, it’s meant that I’m finding myself and the only thing I lost?

The people who love with their eyes. Those with whom I’m connected heart and soul are always with me. That’s a win-win.

Over to you…

What are some quotes you’ve heard that got you to look at life in a different way and explore new possibilities? Let me know,