The Mevlevi Order is a traditional Sufi school of thought which has protected and forwarded the teachings of Mawlânâ Jalâluddîn Rûmî and his successors for over 700 years. With a rich history of spirituality, their primary method of connecting with the divine has been in the form of whirling.
Whirling Dervishes (originating from the Persian word ‘Darvish’ meaning a poor man) found their spirituality in motion. They reach a state of trance and elation while spinning. Most of us have spent sometime in our childhood spinning round and round. But it feels close to impossible to do it now without feeling a seious case of vertigo. Those of us who aren’t dancers feel dizzy in 3 spins. While there are obviously technicalities involved, they believe it’s more about the philosophy. One cannot whirl with their “mind”.
Ballet sees a similar practice as well – circular whooping movement (with a leg on the side). Here is a video from TedEd explaining the Physics behind the hardest move in Ballet – the 30 spin fouette – for Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
Now, coming to madness, what has been intuitively understood by us is the superiority of neurotypical children over the others in motion. However, when it comes to continuous spinning/whirling, psychotic patients showed a greater ability.
One of the earliest reports of whirling in schizophrenics was that of Schilder (1939) who observed that:
“One can turn the schizophrenic around his longitudinal axis easily by putting a hand on thetop of his head and twisting it slightly but persistently towards one side. He starts whirling about his longitudinal axis.“
Or even without the hand, there are multiple cases where the patient breaks out into a whirl, with their eyes clearly going out of focus stimulating their vestibular system. Today, vestibular system, which includes sensors detecting three dimensional linear (otoliths) and angular (semicircular canals) acceleration, is accepted as a ‘sixth sense’ (within the scientific community). Some people with autism use it as a ‘feel-good’ catalyst, or even as a regulatory measure (when they are stressed or anxious).
There is a lot of confusion as well as debate within the Psychotherapists as to what needs to be done with this act of spinning among the autistic population. Some therapists and parents do try to manage the behavior as they believe it stops their children from learning. Some even remove spinning objects like ceiling fans as they fear it will pave way for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The child enters a loop of ‘feeling good’ and would rarely want to come out of it. The spinning is not only with the body, but every other object as well.
However, can we employ a more inclusive method for therapy? Here is an article about Tolga Kulaç, who was diagnosed with autism as a child and found his education within the arts of Sufism. One of his teachers Bayram said “The fact that Tolga joined the sema team has enhanced his social integration. He now has a mission and we have made him the flute player of the group, which he likes and which has allowed him to gain self-confidence because he now has a special place in the group.”
In no way am I advocating Sufism as the solution for autism. But, the fact that spiritual leaders as well as accomplished dancers use it in practice allows us a gateway to develop better therapeutic models through Whirling.
If you have found some good resources on the same, please share on the comments section!