Seven centuries ago, the beloved Sufi scholar and poet Jalaluddin Rūmī penned a line that still resonates with readers across the globe today. He is said to have written, “What you seek is seeking you.”
For many, this line reflects the law of attraction — the idea that your thoughts and intentions draw good or bad things your way.
But is this modern interpretation in harmony with Rūmī’s faith tradition? And is it sound from a psychological standpoint?
This article explores the meaning behind the phrase “What you seek is seeking you.” It looks at the idea of seeking through the lens of Sufism, a mystical tradition within the Muslim faith. That tradition is the soil in which Rūmī’s poems are rooted.
“What you seek is seeking you” is an English translation of the original Persian text.
Saloumeh Bozorgzadeh, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and president of the Sufi Psychology Association, offers a slightly different translation of the line as it reads in Farsi. Farsi is the name for the Persian language in Iran.
“When I read this poem in Farsi, the meaning is more along the lines of ‘What you seek is with you,’” Bozorgzadeh says.
Her reading emphasizes that what you’re seeking is closer than you may realize. In fact, she says, it is your constant companion.
In the Sufi tradition, finding what you want begins with knowing yourself.
“The goal of each person is to know himself. Not just your thoughts, feelings, interactions, strengths, and limitations,” Bozorgzadeh says. “What Sufism is about is this other part of ourselves — the ineffable part that is connected to all of existence. Everything you want is there.”
Knowing yourself is not an easy task. Finding the time to turn your focus inward can feel almost impossible amid work, family, school, and social demands — not to mention the ever-present stimulation of social media.
Yet turning inward may be the key to finding what you seek.
Much of what we seek in our day-to-day lives is related to survival. They are things like housing, food, and safety. When those needs are met, we can pursue careers, relationships, better health, and social change.
These goals are often related to deeper longings, such as:
- a sense of purpose
- self-actualization, or the fulfillment of your potential
- direction, or a path to achievement
- connection, whether it’s with yourself, others, or a deeper source
A Sufi psychologist might place special emphasis on seeking connection, especially to an inner source. That source, as Rūmī suggests, is already within you.
Bozorgzadeh describes it this way: “One metaphor we often use involves a lamp. As psychologists, we are often concerned with how the lamp works. Is it functioning well? Is the wiring frayed? Does this lamp fit this room? But Sufism is more about whether the lamp is plugged into a source.”
So how do you connect to an inner source, develop self-knowledge, and find what you’re really seeking?
Bozorgzadeh recommends these science-supported steps:
Meditation is a practice of intentionally quieting your mind. Depending on the type of meditation you practice, you might be:
- sitting or lying in a specific posture
- focusing on your breathing
- moving through a set of steps or motions
- reciting a mantra
- tightening and relaxing each part of your body
- remembering your blessings
- visualizing scenes you find calming
- communing with your inner source
Meditation can also enable you to “witness” your experiences, emotions, attitudes, and thoughts. Researchers note that meditation can actually change your perception of your self.
Tamarkoz, a form of meditation developed by the M.T.O. Shahmaghsoudi School of Islamic Sufism, has shown additional benefits in a
In the study, a group of university students with varying religious beliefs practiced Tamarkoz meditation techniques for 18 weeks. Afterward, they said they felt more positive emotion and less stress. Regardless of their religious beliefs, many said they had more “daily spiritual experiences” than before the meditation.
Rid yourself of limitations
You may have thought patterns, attitudes, and beliefs that keep you from finding what you seek. The first step is to identify them. Then you can replace them with ideas that are more beneficial.
For this task, some people find it helpful to work with a therapist. If you decide to give it a try, think about whether you want to work a therapist who affirms your spirituality, even if they don’t share your specific faith tradition.
Find a teacher
You are probably not the first person to seek whatever it is you’re after. Find someone who has already achieved it and listen to what they’ve learned. The guidance of a teacher or mentor can have a profound effect on goal-seeking.
Good mentors often have these characteristics, per
- They have lived experience and share their expertise.
- They lead by example.
- They have integrity.
- They devote time and energy to the mentoring process.
- They create opportunities for those they are teaching.
- They provide helpful feedback.
- They are aware of your strengths and abilities.
For Bozorgzadeh, one way to find a teacher is by reading: “Read more books by people who’ve been on the path. Books will inspire and motivate you.”
Experience things for yourself
“You are the scientist, the experiment, and the lab,” Bozorgzadeh says. Once you’ve pondered, read, and planned, you’ll need to act.
“It’s not enough for me to accept something I read without trying to apply it and make it real for myself,” she says. “You need to find out if it’s true for you.”
“What you seek is seeking you” can be interpreted in many ways. Looking at this poetic line through the lens of Sufism, Rūmī’s faith tradition, reveals that its meaning may be closer to the phrase, “Everything you seek is already with you.”
The path to finding what your heart desires can begin with understanding who you are — beyond your experiences, your diagnoses, and your physical body.
You can try to look inward through meditation, change the patterns that have held you back, and learn from those around you — and find what works for you.
“Poems are beautiful things,” Bozorgzadeh says. “We turn to them when we’re struggling. Often, we find they have a deeper meaning. If something in this poem resonates with you, seek it more deeply.”