Purification by ascent

I saw Mount Ağrı when I was twelve years old. I climbed Mount Erciyes when I was sixteen. When I was twenty-four I flew in an airplane.

These three experiences have one thing in common: a strange sense of estrangement or catharsis. Almost as if I was leaving the earth and stepping into another world. Not stepping exactly, but floating. I felt that not only my body chemistry but also the world of my thoughts and emotions was profoundly affected.

I spent my childhood in Ağrı, near Mount Ağrı. But Mount Ağrı is not visible from Ağrı. When I was in the fifth grade, my father loaded almost all of our neighborhood of Leylek Pınar onto a truck and took us to the Ishak Paşa Saray at Doğubeyazıt near the Iranian border. I watched Mount Ağrı for a while from the top of the truck and it awakened in me a sense of escape. The life worth living was not here down below, but there at the summit. This idea became so firmly lodged inside me that a few years later when I heard an announcement in high school for 'those who wish to participate in the Erciyes Mountaineering Camp' I applied immediately and set off for Kayseri with four kindred spirits.

We ascended Erciyes over the Develi ridge. The higher we climbed, the farther behind we left not only the city but together with it everything we thought was important, that we took seriously, that we loved or feared. But 'left behind' isn't strong enough; if I said 'left down below' it would better translate my feelings. Perhaps you'll think it's childish, but I even felt I got closer to God. That was 35 years ago. Now I only experience that feeling in airplanes, and in a much diminished way.

My first trip on Turkish Airlines was to Ankara. I was twenty-four, a graduate of the Bosphorus University economics department and a banker. When a person becomes an economist and a banker, he is expected to be 'with it'. And being 'with it' in our age means 'not putting much stock in mystical experiences'. But my sense of being with it developed in a different way: the minute the plane was airborne, that experience I'd had at Erciyes years before was awakened in me. As we flew over fields of clouds, everything belonging to the world was wiped clean from my mind, and I experienced a thorough catharsis.

I'm writing this on a day in Ramazan. Fasting too is a kind of ascent, of becoming airborne, a kind of purification. But purification is not possible without an accounting. And the essence of accounting is not that of the government or of a company, but the accounting of the soul. A person's calling his own soul into account and inspecting it. Inspection should be done with the 'best of the words' Abbasid Caliph Me'mun once said to the hodja who was listing the faults of him "You may be right but speak with beauty. When Allah sent someone who is dearer than you (Hz. Musa) to someone who is worse than me (the pharaoh) he spoke “Speak smoothly as he might heed the advice.” Let us close with the words of Yunus Emre: “O you who know the true origin of words, come and tell us where these words come from / He who does not understand their origin thinks they come from me.”