Saturday, April 30, 2005

dust and mirror

There is a gentle Buddhist on DearDiary.Net who bakes bread during the night and spends the day sleeping, eating, walking, reading, and writing. Like Rumi, he has the voice of a mystic poet and he seems to see beauty everywhere, every day. He hasn't been writing much of late and I haven't been checking much of late either but today I found a post with a similar theme to the one of this morning. How does one approach an enemy? Is hate a passion to be repressed? If not, then how can it be transformed to love? Indeed, is there a place and purpose in loving hatred? At least, honouring it as a primary human passion, as the dark side of love? Here is how Di2long2 dealt with this issue:
31 Jan 2005 - A Quote Tiny and Big

I heard a quote this morning that temporarily stunned me. The quote is from the Dalai Lama: "Mao Zedong was my greatest teacher."

My mind stumbled for a moment. The invader of a homeland, the oppression of a people, jailings, torture, monks and nuns murdered, temples and monasteries torched. The fury of the cultural revolution devastated all of China, stretching out into the Muslim deserts and Buddhist mountains. Many ethnic groups suffered. The suffering was everywhere.

The tendency is to localize an interpretation of evil, and of demons... but in the Vimalakirti Sutra, when the layman was confronted with demons, he did not raise some mighty, just sword, he did not struggle. He taught them the same thing he taught to everyone else: the dharma. They took the teachings back to their hell realms, and lessened the suffering.

How different this is. Startling. No combat: teach, and teach through living. Surely there is something to be learned from those who doubt us most, those who betray and hurt us. It can seem demonic. But they really are our greatest teachers. This expressway to compassion is definitely something to consider.

DearDiary.Net :: Di2long2

I left a comment as follows:
If a teacher is a catalyst of transformation that leads one towards one's true self and destiny, then anyone we feel passionate about can teach us something or draw us out. That passion can be love, but it can also be hate. Either fire will fuel the stove.

alchemy lab

alchemy lab @

Ha! I have been Rumi-nating!
Steadfastly contemplating
Knocking all the gods of Islam
All those foolish dicks castrating.

truth's path

On truth's path, wise is mad, insane is wise.

In love's way, self and other are the same.

Having drunk the wine, my love, of being one with you,

I find the way to Mecca and Bodhgaya are the same.

#302: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

At the dawn of consciousness today, I thought of opposites like deep-shallow, weighty-light, compact-bulky, and so on. I did try the word opposite but knew it was an unlikely word to find in Rumi's first lines. It then occurred to me that yesterday's finis had marked the opposite pole of begin which is where I started this daily discipline. I then sought out the next keyword used and found fake, then lies, so then I searched under truth and found this wonderful verse above. It is so compact, so succinctly wise. It looks like the kind of verse that would be so quotable. And yet, a Google search on "the way to Mecca and Bodhgaya" (hardly likely to differ among translators) yielded only Zara Houshmand's translation for The Iranian.

Perhaps the Bodhgaya reference is too obscure? This is the place where the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment and it is a primary focus for Buddhist pilgrimage, as Mecca is for Muslims. When contemplating opposites, how much further apart can you get than between this sweet simple verse of a mystic poet and the Taliban's mindless act of vandalism in blowing up the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan?

And yet Rumi's poem urges us to equate or unite the opposities, to see the sanity in the Taliban's mad act and perhaps the madness within Rumi's own seemingly so sane outlook. Rumi was a Sufi and Sufi wisdom was often perceived and even deliberately presented as a kind of folly (see Idries Shah: Wisdom of the Idiots).

A classic text on opposities is C. G. Jung's Mysterium Coniunctionis which opens with these words:

The factors which come together in the coniunctio are conceived as oppposites, either confronting one another in enmity or attracting one another in love. To begin with they form a dualism; for instance the opposites are humidum (moist) / sicum (dry), frigidum (cold) / calidum (warm), superiora (upper, higher) / inferiora (lower), spiritus-anima (spirit-soul) / corpus (body), coelum (heaven) / terra (earth), ignis (fire) / aqua (water), bright / dark, agens (active) / patiens (passive), volatile (volatile, gaseous) / fixum (solid), pretiosum (precious, costly; also carum, dear) / vile (cheap, common), bonum (good) / malum (evil), manifestum (open) / occultum (occult; also celatum, hidden), oriens (East) / occidens (West), vivum (living) / mortuum (dead, inert), masculus (masculine) / foemina (feminine), Sol / Luna. Often the polarity is arranged as a quaternio (quaternity), with the two opposites crossing one another, as for instance the four elements or the four qualities (moist, dry, cold, warm), or the four directions and seasons, thus producting the cross as an emblem of the four elements and symbol of the sublunary physical world. This fourfold Physis, the cross, also appears in the signs for earth, Venus, Mercury, Saturn and Jupiter.

Not only is there a basic dualism but there is a dualistic relationship of love/hate between the opposites. We come together or engage with the enemy in an embrace that is essentially as intimate as the embrace of lovers. By contrast, we find times in which we must draw away from a beloved because we want to reassert our separateness as distinction. In this instance, I have to say that I cannot agree with Rumi. Mecca and Bodhgaya are not the same. Perhaps this was true enough in Rumi's time and place, but it is not true today. Islam has no legitimate place among the world's religions, despite its central assertion of One God, while Buddhism can and does and should get the nod, despite (perhaps because of) having no need for deity.

However much I love you, Rumi, I must differ with you here. Mecca is a place of false pilgrimage while Bodhgaya is a place of true. They are not the same.

As this blog progresses, I hope to elaborate or bulk out that point of view.

Friday, April 29, 2005

art prize

Here in Australia we have an art contest and prize for portraiture (of a well known Australian) called the Archibald Prize. Austalians with a minimal knowledge of the art scene do nevertheless know about this prize. The winning entry was John Olsen's Self portrait Janus faced but, from among the finalists, I preferred Deborah Trusson's Naked, also shown below:

Trusson's Naked

I think I like it because it's confrontational and also very erotic despite the abundance of flesh that contrasts with the current fashion for skinny models and screen stars. It seems to assert femininity without restraint or compromise: I am woman, there's a lot of me, so what?

If the very most ancient sculptures are anything to go by, the first gods to be revered were grossly overweight goddesses. I have a theory or explanatory story about these. It is derived in part from a story told by Charles Darwin in his account of his voyage on the Beagle and concerning the natives of Tierra Del Fuego.

From the concurrent, but quite independent evidence of the boy taken by Mr. Low, and of Jemmy Button, it is certainly true, that when pressed in winter by hunger, they kill and devour their old women before they kill their dogs: the boy, being asked by Mr. Low why they did this, answered, "Doggies catch otters, old women no." This boy described the manner in which they are killed by being held over smoke and thus choked; he imitated their screams as a joke, and described the parts of their bodies which are considered best to eat. Horrid as such a death by the hands of their friends and relatives must be, the fears of the old women, when hunger begins to press, are more painful to think of; we are told that they then often run away into the mountains, but that they are pursued by the men and brought back to the slaughter-house at their own firesides!

Charles Darwin: The Voyage of the Beagle
Chapter 10 - Tierra Del Fuego

Now, it's my theory that older women who were no longer of use for childbearing (and were never of much use for hunting) became an important store of food in the event of food shortages from the usual hunting and gathering. It was humanity's first insurance policy against famine. In time, such women came to be revered (possibly as compensation for their gruesome fate) and small tribal groups took pride in these ample folds of flesh that expressed their power over one of life's great potential hardships. In time, of course, these human silos were replaced with agriculture, the herding of animals and planting of specialised crops. It's also highly plausible that it was old women who invented and developed these techniques. They must surely have been highly motivated to do so. In turn, these women cam to be revered as givers of great abundance and the imagery developed into slimmer maids perhaps still with prominent or multiple breasts to signify the bounty of food on offer.

So, I'm guessing that religion started with the recognition of the value of superfluous fat on the bodies of old women. The portrait above is truly the portrait of a Great and Primal Goddess. Quite good enough to eat!

I cannot keep it up, my friend
This is intoxication without end
I'll skip and dance along the road
I shan't be afraid to bow and to bend.


translation quirks

original Persian

One day your mind will finally wear out;

They'll point at you and mock your feeble face.

If you're human, then make peace with the rest of us.

If you're an angel, then go; the sky's your place.

#586: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

As I woke the word finis bubbled up and the fin part yielded a poem with finally in its first line. However, when I looked it up at The Iranian, I found a quite different first line without the finally. I was quite puzzled by this. A little further searching (via Google) uncovered an earlier version of the translation that must have been used to set the first line for indexing purposes. Because it contains the finally, I've inserted it above as the version I am choosing here, but below is the version that appears at the index link. I've also included the original Persian script as this is the true starting point of this verse.

So badly have you battered my mind that
Men point at me and mock me to my face.
If you're human, then make peace with the rest of us.
If you're an angel, then go: the sky's your place.

I must say that, by and large, Zara Houshmand has translated these Rumi quatrains in a way that seems to flow very nicely in English. It's easy to forget that she's had to make difficult decisions with sometimes inevitably awkward results. This pair of alternative translations suggests that she found this verse difficult: perhaps it caused her poor mind to wear out or the puzzle seemed to batter her about. In the first translation, it is "your" mind that is wearing out; in the second, it is "you" who are battering "my" mind. The first "your" is, however, the generalized and inclusive pronoun so it reads just as well once changed to "my".

Still, there are subtle differences in meaning between the two translations. In the first, Rumi is simply stating that his mind is wearing out; it is in the second translation that a sense of accusation - "you battered my mind" - is made explicit. The "feeble face" in the first version suggests again that the fault or failing is inherent; in the second version, there is a more dramatic sense of confrontation implied. The second is certainly a stronger, more confident translation.

Rumi seems to be expressing a very human exasperation with his lot. He is clearly struggling with the spirit of Shams. He knows this struggle is making him look silly and he wants an end of it, some kind of resolution. A finis in fact.

This is something that we all crave in the stories that come our way. We want to know how things turned out "in the end". Even in on-going soap-operas, we expect neat resolutions of the smaller stories within the larger unending super-story (or context as Tim Boucher would describe it). Today's story has gone thus far and I have no idea how it will end this evening.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

love's eternity

Eternity can mean a long time but it can also mean no time or timelessness. It can mean a place where time is irelevant for nothing changes. This is what we mean when we talk of eternal truths: they are for all time and for no time.

eternity on the footpath

All around the Sydney footpaths and for more than forty years a man called Arthur Stace wrote a single word in chalk which earned him the name of "Mr Eternity". The word must have meant a great deal to him and it perhaps functioned like a mantram or prayer. Did he feel in touch with eternity? Or was he seeking it? Most believe he was reminding us all of it because we had lost touch with this dimension of being.

Eternity as timelessness is another concept that has been used to reach into the other world of transcendent forms whence the sacred issues forth. Until the connection is made between the mundane world of transient forms and this sacred world of eternity, the wholeness or completeness that is the goal of the alchemists cannot be attained.

Writing the word in chalk on footpaths was surely a way of trying to make that connection. It was a labour of love and all mystics agree that love is the bridge between the worlds.

Not all wounds can heal
Some pain goes too deep
No amount of time will do
But love's eternity


wounds heal

Those two words arose at dawn and wound immediately yielded a first line referring to pain, bleeding and love. So the bleeding wounds of an anonymous slave-woman and of Saint Agatha have dripped into today's reflections.
I'll swallow the pain that bleeds from your love's wound.

I'll bear your cruelty until judgment day.

That day, when truth lies bare, you'll beg for life

And I will stare at your beloved face.

#1221: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I found this verse perplexing when trying to visualize Shams as the one begging for life on judgment day. Why would he do that? He would, I would guess, be re-enacting the moment of his death, telling of how he died at the hands of murderers while begging for his life to be spared. And what is Rumi doing simply staring? This is the most bewildering quatrain confronting me since I started this exercise, this daily discipline of writing out of selected Rumi verses from the Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi.

It's easy to forget or ignore the pain of those who care about the one in the most immediate pain. Shams lost his life but Rumi lost Shams and he may here be questioning which is the greater pain. Similarly, we can but wonder at the pain of her children when the slave-mother was killed before their very eyes.
A child who came between her legs was smeared with the blood that was there.

This sentence can be interpreted in two ways: perhaps the slave-woman was pregnant and the slaying brought on a miscarriage, or perhaps one of her sons had approached and come between her legs at those final moments. The first interpretation is the more plausible and it seems that her innocent unborn child also lost its life to the movement that would support Mo's determination to eliminate opposing voices and thus have his opinions elevated to eternal truths.

In the scene of Saint Agatha's martyrdom, her female friend is in evident pain as she clutches a cloth to Agatha's chest. This is a direct personal grief that would have no time for blame, only sadness at what has transpired. The martyrdom is a result of a conflict of values between emerging Christianity and Roman political power and Agatha is simply caught in between. Perhaps if she had expressed those Christian values more quietly her life might have been spared. Who knows? Only judgment day will tell, when the truth is laid bare.

There is certainly a fine line between a reckless opposition to tyrannical authority and a cowardly submission to it. I rather fancy that Shams followed in the footsteps of an earlier great mystic, Al-Hallaj, who was cruelly executed on a charge of heresy, most famously for asserting "I am the Truth" and thus identifying himself with one of the 99 names of Allah. This is a similar extreme claim to the one of Jesus:
John 14:6 (KJV)

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

If we look back at the history of great social change, there is often a martyr at the start, someone who will put the new value, the new truth, ahead of their own life. Once that strong statement has been made then others can follow taking lesser risks. I see the martyrdom of Giordano Bruno and the close escape from martyrdom of Galileo as a close parallel. I also see Shams as paving a similar way which was later fulfilled more cautiously by Rumi.

Today, we still have these reckless (but probably necessary) martyrs and I would put Theo van Gogh squarely into that category. Salmon Rushdie took a tentative step but withdrew to safety while van Gogh left himself far too easily open to martyrdom. It might be taking centuries, starting with an anonymous slave-woman and passing through Al-Hallaj and Shams through to Theo van Gogh, but sooner or later the truth will prevail and the Qur'an will be revealed for the shit that it is.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

bloody belly, bloody breasts

I wanted an image that might capture the vivid horror of the blood spilled in the story of the slave-woman who persisted in disparaging Mo.
A child who came between her legs was smeared with the blood that was there.

Below is a detail from a painting by Giambattista Tiepolo titled "The Martyrdom of Saint Agatha". This 3rd century Christian saint was variously tortured but the most gruesome was the cutting off of her breasts as shown here, the delicate flesh lying on a tray to the left of the picture.

The Martyrdom of Saint Agatha

I feel a strong feminine kinship with both of these women, one a famous saint, the other an un-named slave-woman who had the impertinence to criticise a self-proclaimed prophet and messenger of the Lord God Almighty. Both women were cruelly cut into by males who were literally (in the Muslim tale) and figuratively blind. If I can speak for them now, I will. It is never too late to speak up and seek justice and there are still so many sisters in the world suffering at the hands of similarly blind men.

All you can hear is breathing
Even when all else is still
Bird calls will come with the dawn
The roar of trucks and planes as well


hearing the breath

The lovely one whispers under her breath,

And you go mad, witless, no reason left...

O Lord, what is this chant, what magic art

That weaves its spell on even a stone heart?

#1873: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

In the early hours of the morning, warm in my bed, I could hear nothing but the sounds of my own breathing. I chose breath, then, as my search word and Rumi delivered this even more quiet message, quieter even than one's breath.

The word breath has an interesting etymology: its roots lie in *bhretos "steam, vapor given off by heat or something cooking," from base *bhre- "burn, heat." Throughout the alchemical process, the ingredients are slowly "cooked" or simmered. This is analagous to showing an interest in the contents of the psyche, applying the intensity of one's focus: not too much or the contents will burn, not too little or the flame will die out. This is why I find a simple daily routine like this one is useful. It maintains the flow but sets some boundaries.

Closely related to breath is anima, the Latin word for "life, breath" and the word Jung chose to describe the feminine personality that emerges from a man's unconscious, from his dreams, fantasies, rêveries and longings. A Jungian would immediately recognise the anima as the one who whispers here to Rumi. Her role here as one who sends madness reminds me of a work colleague from many years back. He was a young man with a beautiful wife and he worked at a desk inside a cubicle on the wall of which was pinned a notice that read:

1) Get organised.

2) Ring the wife.

3) Get re-organised.

The anima, then, is that little voice that asks whether you've really got things sorted out, once and for all. She nags and bothers a man, rather like the gadfly role that Socrates adopted with his students. She insists that a man question his assumptions even it means a temporary return to chaos for you can't make a new organisation without dismantling at least some of the old.

When Rumi appeals to his Lord, I guess he is calling on Allah. When he refers to a heart of stone, he might be describing the lifelessness of a religion based on the notion of a fixed and final message (the Qur'an) from a fixed and final messenger (Mo). He seems here to be gently arguing for a great beauty and value in this mysterious messenger. Mo himself claimed to be God's messenger and his message was received with derision much to his annoyance. Part of that derision took the form of devaluing his message as mere sorcery or magic.

Qur'an 34:43 (Yusuf Ali)
When Our Clear Signs are rehearsed to them, they say, "This is only a man who wishes to hinder you from the (worship) which your fathers practised." And they say, "This is only a falsehood invented!" and the Unbelievers say of the Truth when it comes to them, "This is nothing but evident magic!"

However, Mo prevailed and we can but wonder how or why. Perhaps this story from the compilation called Sunan Abu-Dawud might give us a clue:
Book 38, Number 4348:
Narrated Abdullah Ibn Abbas:

A blind man had a slave-mother who used to abuse the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and disparage him. He forbade her but she did not stop. He rebuked her but she did not give up her habit. One night she began to slander the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and abuse him. So he took a dagger, placed it on her belly, pressed it, and killed her. A child who came between her legs was smeared with the blood that was there. When the morning came, the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) was informed about it.

He assembled the people and said: I adjure by Allah the man who has done this action and I adjure him by my right to him that he should stand up. Jumping over the necks of the people and trembling the man stood up.

He sat before the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and said: Apostle of Allah! I am her master; she used to abuse you and disparage you. I forbade her, but she did not stop, and I rebuked her, but she did not abandon her habit. I have two sons like pearls from her, and she was my companion. Last night she began to abuse and disparage you. So I took a dagger, put it on her belly and pressed it till I killed her.

Thereupon the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: Oh be witness, no retaliation is payable for her blood.

And just in case one story is but an isolated example, Abu-Dawud kindly provides us with a second story to confirm the plausibility and likelihood of the first.
Book 38, Number 4349:
Narrated Ali ibn AbuTalib:

A Jewess used to abuse the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and disparage him. A man strangled her till she died. The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) declared that no recompense was payable for her blood.

Unlike Mo, who approved the bloody killing off of feminine voices of opposition, Rumi listened to his and honoured her. He allowed this divine sorceress to weave her spell and melt his Muslim heart of stone.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

seeing and ending

What do we see when insights burst forth? I think we see connections: this goes with that; as above, so below; heaven in a grain of sand, eternity in an hour. We see too that "you" (or "thou") and "I" are one; that God (or the Goddess) and "I" are one. The two worlds once separate start to click together and each click turns on a new light.

Some alchemists identified this as a false end of the opus. All of these dazzling coloured lights seem to resemble a Final Fireworks Display. The goal has been reached, hurray! However, as Adam McLean writes of the encounter with the Peacock's Tail:

Many people who have this experience in their inner life often falsely assume they have reached the end of the work, and attained inner transformation and enlightenment. The inner vision of the Peacock's Tail, beautiful though it may be, is merely a digestion of the polarities of the black and white stage. These must be transformed further into spiritual tinctures, if we hope to have any permanent transformation within the soul.

The Peacock's Tail or Cauda Pavonis is also associated with the rainbow and the goddess Iris as messenger of the gods. In "Mysterium Coniunctionis", Jung writes of this connection:

The cauda pavonis announces the end of the work, just as Iris, its synonym, is the messenger of God. The exquisite display of colours in the peacock's fan heralds the imminent synthesis of all qualities and elements, which are united in the "rotundity" of the philosophical stone.

These beautiful insights, then, are like an announcement of the end but not the end itself, just as the beautiful arch of the rainbow announces the return of sunshine after rain or the return of hope after despair.

And even if "I" am the Goddess Herself, so what? What follows next?

Blossoming of peacock eyes
Never answering the why's
That's the safest course to take
Let new questions e'er arise


peacock eyes

I've learned the perfect magic of your eyes;

I've lit my soul's own candle with your love.

Let evil eyes not look upon my state;

My own eyes look nowhere but at your face.

#1126: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I woke this morning to a vision of peacock eyes, small eye-like spots that can arise in the field of vision. There were many Rumi verses containing eyes but I chose this one for its magic.

There is a stage in the alchemical opus which has been described using the imagery of the peacock which has a majestic appearance and seems to trail so many eyes. It is a moment when insights seem to pour out of the psyche in a dazzling display.

Nature photographer Roger N. Clark has a glittering (but copyrighted) photo [75Kb] of a peacock with its "eyes" on display. I have used this and similar photos to create my own peacock eyes and set them into an abstract arrangement.

4 eyes

Getting back to Rumi's verse, this one is not rhyming and a little awkward so I'm guessing that Zara Houshmand, the translator, found this one difficult to render into English poetry. There is a hint of paranoia in the third line, suggesting that some people around him were disapproving of Rumi's intense love for Shams and grief at his loss. Perhaps too, his poetic outpourings were frowned on. Certainly, the Qur'an expresses Mo's ambivalence regarding poetry. Astonishingly, in the very Chapter or Surah titled "The Poets" (26. ash-Shu`ara'), Mo characterises poets as deceivers who say one thing and mean another.

Qur'an 26:220-226 (Pickthall)
Lo! He, only He, is the Hearer, the Knower.
Shall I inform you upon whom the devils descend ?
They descend on every sinful, false one.
They listen eagerly, but most of them are liars.
As for poets, the erring follow them.
Hast thou not seen how they stray in every valley,
And how they say that which they do not ?

Mo was also angry and defensive because he was accused of being a mere mad poet himself.

Qur'an (Pickthall)
21:5 Nay, say they, (these are but) muddled dreams; nay, he hath but invented it; nay, he is but a poet. Let him bring us a portent even as those of old (who were God's messengers) were sent (with portents).

37:36 And said: Shall we forsake our gods for a mad poet ?

52:30 Or say they: (he is) a poet, (one) for whom we may expect the accident of time ?

But nay! I swear by all that ye see
And all that ye see not
That it is indeed the speech of an illustrious messenger.
It is not poet's speech - little is it that ye believe!
Nor diviner's speech - little is it that ye remember!
It is a revelation from the Lord of the Worlds.

I'm inclined, therefore, to read Rumi's quatrain in the light of his having discovered his vocation as poet and mystic, as an authentic messenger of God. Shams had that spark and had to be destroyed. Rumi found a way to keep communicating while keeping safe from the evil eyes that would impede him. Anyone attempting deep cultural change, a profound transformation of collective consciousness, must tread carefully like this. After what happened to Rushdie and more recently to Theo van Gogh, anyone who suggests that the Qur'an is anything but the perfect word of God is treading on dangerous eggshells. Rumi used a poetic mask, I use internet anonymity.

Monday, April 25, 2005

empty space




I am fashioning a craft
That uses poems fore and aft
With mostly empty space between
I specially like it 'cause it's daft


the other world

You, who make all my hardship easy
And the garden, trees, flowers, drunk with your gifts;
The rose is drunk, the thorn is lost in dream;
Pour one more cup, they'll join in your wine's stream.

#544: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I found today's quatrain using keywords fashion and craft without success, finally settling on make. I felt a little disappointed because the poem was not about the act of making something, the act of creation. This is starting to feel like a real relationship in which "the other" is unpredictable and not under one's own control. Clearly I am conversing with a part of my soul that expresses itself through Rumi's quatrains, a part I think of as "Rumi" pure and simple. This Rumi is not under my control: I am creating him as much as he is creating me.

This is what Jung referred to as an autonomous complex, a part or aspect of ourselves that appears or presents itself to us as a person, exactly as if we are relating to a ghostly companion. The famous complexes that Jung identified are the persona, the shadow and the anima/animus. For me, Rumi would be functioning pretty much as the animus but his relationship to Shams would not be so simple. Shams was a male friend, a mystic with whom Rumi spent hours discussing and meditating. Shams suddenly disappeared one day, possibly as a result of abduction and subsequent murder. For years Rumi worked on resolving his grief through these love poems to Shams that comprise the Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi volume out of which these quatrains have been selected for translation and then further selected by me for daily inspiration.

I've retold this story about Rumi and Shams by using an implicit reference to the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, thereby coming dangerously close to reducing Rumi's efforts to a perhaps obsessive response to the loss of someone close. (The Shams collection does comprise 40,000 lines of love poetry.) A gay lobbyist would put quite another spin on it, much to the intense chagrin of orthodox Islam. At the site devoted to Rumi, a clearly heroic and spiritual tale is told as follows:
What is clear is that Shams's disappearance was the catalyst for Rumi's extraordinary outpouring of poetry. Rumi makes this point explicit in many passages. He alludes to it in the first line of his great Mathnawi, where he says,

"Listen to this reed as it tells its tale,
complaining of separations."

For Rumi, separation from Shams was the outward sign of separation from God, which is only half the story. As much as Rumi complains of separation, he celebrates the joys of union. Shams, he lets us know, never really left him, nor was Rumi ever truly separate from God.

"Shams-e Tabrizi is but a pretext-
I display the beauty of God's gentleness, I !"

- Professor William C. Chittick

So where does the title of this piece come in? The idea of another world distinct from our everyday world is one way of expressing the mystery of deity, of transcendence or eternity, this wine that Rumi refers to. A central mystery here is that of separation and union for the ultimate insight encompasses both in a paradoxical union-in-separation. A classic image from alchemy is that of the two worlds as shown here below. To my mind, it tries to capture and communicate this paradox.

the two worlds of alchemy


Sunday, April 24, 2005

truth as recipe

Here is a good way to cook green beans which are usually a fairly bland vegetable.

Carrots and Beans in Butter Sauce

Take four sweet smelling carrots and chop them roughly. Melt some butter in a fry pan (with fitted lid) and toss the carrots in that, sprinkle raw sugar crystals all over and toss again. Meanwhile, get a friend to mash up some garlic - 4 cloves - and rock salt in a mortar and pestle and add thyme, coriander, cajun spices, and a good gob of mashed ginger, binding it all together with a slurp of sesame oil. Add this to the carrots, toss around again, and leave to cook gently with the lid on for about 10 minutes. The carrots should be pretty soft by then. Add the French green beans, washed and halved, and toss around again. Add just a little water to aid steaming and then leave them to cook gently for a further 10 minutes or so. Turn the heat right down then and kept it all warm until it is time to serve.

The vegetables will be creamy in texture and saturated with the delicious flavours of butter, herbs and spices. The garlic flavour is prominent but nicely developed along with the other flavours.

A recipe is a kind of story that is clear in its intention of instructing the reader "how to". Perhaps all stories are inherently recipes: If you do like the hero(ine) does, you will reach the same (usually good) ending. As tragedy or prophecies of doom they become: If you do like the hero(ine) does, you will reach the same (in this case, bad) ending. It might be interesting to analyse stories or purported truth statements in this way, as instructional recipes for "right action".

Just a final note on the choice of words (felicitous or otherwise). I think the word gob in the recipe above might be problematic. I meant it as a synonym for lump without being too precise on quantity (leaving this to the taste of the reader). In British slang, however, gob can refer to a spat out lump of phlegm. Yuk! How appropriate is that inside an erstwhile mouth-watering recipe!

Wouldn't it be neat
Accomplishing a feat
And better still to make
Something good to eat


simply rhyming

I woke this morning with the word neat in mind and I followed it with rhyming words like feat, beat, eat, meet, bleat, greet, seat, fleet. Neat itself did not turn up in the Rumi quatrains but seat did and it dragged with it complete and eat.

Beside your love, your soul's jewel, find your seat.

Seek him who's yours, forever and complete.

Call him not dear, who's sorrow to your soul.

The bread he brings you is unfit to eat.

#234: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

This quatrain brings to mind my own of last night in which I wrote "Joy or sorrow in the heart, Embrace this as your dearest". In an eerily precise response, Rumi is saying here: No, reject that which brings sorrow to your soul. It seems like an opposing view at first but it is not if distinctions are kept clear. Embracing sorrow itself is what I wrote about while Rumi is writing about that which brings sorrow to the soul, that is, the source or trigger of sorrow. Still, the translator has used the verb is (implicitly) rather than brings and there does seem to be some overlap of meaning there, a fuzzy border between the sorrow and the source of sorrow.

Is this a juxtaposition of opposites? Is Rumi not saying that we should love love and hate hate? I'm OK with the idea that we should take a stand ("find your seat") on things that are of value to us ("your soul's jewel"). This is where we will find things that have permanence and that feel whole for us ("forever and complete"). That which we hate needs to be identified as such ("call him not dear") and rejected as poisonous ("unfit to eat"). This resonates with the proverb: One man's meat is another man's poison.

In seeking what is true and right for us we use a dual navigation aid: joy or love attracts us toward our goal and sorrow or hate keeps us away from experiences that are not suited to our natural growth as a unique person with a unique destiny. It is this dual navigation aid that tells me that I love the gentle wisdom in Rumi but hate the crass hatred and intolerance implicit in the Qur'an. Rumi's major opus, the Masnavi (or Masnawi), has been described as "the Qur'an in Persian". To me, this is offensive to Rumi's opus for his work is literate, articulate, refined, deeply wise and spiritual while the Qur'an is none of these. Rumi writes straight from the heart and his voice is authentic and original. The Qur'an is entirely derivative, based on what Mo had heard tell and then retold with no original spin except the colouring from Mo's baser emotions like mistrust, resentment, arrogance and just plain paranoia. Rumi is like crystal clear spring water to Mo's mud.

I read Rumi as saying just that. I read Rumi as saying that any writing should be shunned if it results in negativity, in pain or sorrow or conflict or distress. Islam's central text does all that. Would that it could be replaced with something cleaner and clearer.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

sublime and ridiculous

Rumi really knew how to write translucent poetry that seems to speak to modern day English readers despite its translation from the original Persian. His poetry is like simple clear water that intoxicates without liver threatening side effects.

I'm adding my own quatrains which lack any poetic merit. Should one refuse to write poetry simply because one can only write bad stuff? I think not. It does no one any harm and I might get good at it through some mysterious process of osmosis. Well, I hope so, anyway.

Listen to what is nearest
It's always what is clearest
Joy or sorrow in the heart
Embrace this as your dearest.


clear and simple

The word "clear" suggested itself this morning and a perfect quatrain came up to express it.
Those who flow like water, clear and simple,

Flow like wine in us, through mind and vein.

I stretched out straight and let myself lie low,

A ship where straight and humble men may go.

#504: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

This encapsulates so many values that I hold dear. I simply must juxtapose it with this Shaker hymn on much the same theme.
Simple Gifts

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free;
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed
To turn, turn will be our delight,
'Til by turning, turning we come round right.

It is one of the great ironies of both Christianity and Islam that both were spread and sustained through worldly power and dominance, or "through the sword" as classically expressed. Either religion can provide a scaffolding for this humble approach to life; either religion can fuel the very opposite, an arrogant insistence on having one's own way at the expense of others. The Muslim who truly submits to Allah is doing essentially the same thing as the Christian who truly delivers his fate into the hands of the Almighty. Both are humbly serving their deity and not asking that the world conform to their ego's desires or ambitions.

Sufism did often suffer persecution at the hands of an orthodox and literalist Islam and I would guess that this is also why Rumi speaks of lying low. His words are a vehicle or aid for others who would tread the straight and simple path. And stay out of the way of the bullies.

Friday, April 22, 2005

at day's end

It's evening now and I have had a long day on my feet, making plans and measurements for bathroom refittings and other home improvements. All around me have been DIY and handyman concerns, images, tools, materials, language and conversations. This is the tool for the job. This is how to make ... This is where to find ... All of it is practical advice and know-how.

What story or stories guide the handyman or handywoman through the day? Trial and experience are paramount. The wise ones, the gurus, are the ones with experience. Book learning counts for very little in this domain of interest. You become good at putting up shelves when you've put up a thousand of them. Initiation continues to function through word of mouth and following the practises of the experienced gurus.

There's nothing like a DIY project to get you going and keep you inspired from day to day. It doesn't need to be practical, though. That would be too limiting. There was this crazy Biblical character called Noah who built himself a large ship on land for no apparent purpose. Until the flood waters rose and carried him and his family away to safety, along with all those beasts in pairs.
These spiritual window-shoppers,
who idly ask, 'How much is that?' Oh, I'm just looking.
They handle a hundred items and put them down,
shadows with no capital.

What is spent is love and two eyes wet with weeping.
But these walk into a shop,
and their whole lives pass suddenly in that moment,
in that shop.

Where did you go? "Nowhere."
What did you have to eat? "Nothing much."

Even if you don't know what you want,
buy something, to be part of the exchanging flow.

Start a huge, foolish project,
like Noah.

It makes absolutely no difference
what people think of you.

Rumi, 'We Are Three', Mathnawi VI, 831-845

And so, full circle, I am back with Rumi and the idea of inspiring stories or projects that get one through each day. I bought a lot of material to make things and I've made a commitment to this current spiritual project.
Stick with it, stay alive
Stay away from things contrived
True to heart, true to soul
Let some great project be your goal.



It was the word "suffering" that announced itself during the night, as if it was the one idea my soul desired to see me writing on.
The suffering one to whom you offered solace,

The sad one who drank your happiness,

Looks again in vain to taste your wine's first taste.

If you pour no more, memory's dregs are waste.

#1663: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

This struck me as a difficult quatrain, the meaning not obvious to me at all. When Rumi writes "you", I identify with that and think he means "me". Since I'm not one to offer solace much or to try to lift the spirits of a person who is down, I found it hard to identify with this. Still, I do these things both for myself and for those around me. I am constantly in need of lifting up my own spirits and new wine, new motivations and inspirations, are also constantly in need. Where do these spring from?

In alchemy, this source is depicted as a fountain gushing forth the water of life. In Scheherazade's story, she herself is the fount of stories that keep the Sultan keen to see through another day. Salman Rushdie in Haroun and the Sea of Stories depicts the source as a magic "Ocean of the Stream of Stories".
[Haroun] looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity ...

Clearly Rushdie has written a meta-meta-story (or perhaps even a meta-meta-meta-story) in contrast to the plain meta-story of the mere thousand and one nights. It is said he wrote the story for his son and it seems to say that story-telling is a living and ongoing task. He seems to be defending his own vocation despite its attendant risks, arising especially from the publication of The Satanic Verses and the subsequent fatwa or death sentence.

There are so many directions in which I could take this quatrain that I rather fancy that it is itself such a gushing source of infinite inspiration. Through one pulsating association after another, a chain of resonances are set up inside my brain and I can recall so many good stories that have meant something to me once, that have lifted my spirits and urged me to live and love this life with all its suffering and sorrow.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

the story behind the word

What is the story behind the word "story"? The wondrous Online Etymology Dictionary can provide the answer:
"account of some happening," c.1225, "narrative of important events or celebrated persons of the past," from O.Fr. estorie, from L.L. storia and L. historia "history, account, tale, story" (see history). Meaning "recital of true events" first recorded c.1375; sense of "narrative of fictitious events meant to entertain" is from c.1500. Not differentiated from history till 1500s. As a euphemism for "a lie" it dates from 1697. Meaning "newspaper article" is from 1892. Story-teller is from 1709. Story-line first attested 1941. That's another story "that requires different treatment" is attested from 1818. Story of my life "sad truth" first recorded 1938.

I especially wanted to pick up on the idea of a story as being essentially "a lie". This connotation is more evident in some "story" synonyms: myth, fable, legend, romance, epic, saga, yarn, tale.

At Story-Systems, Tim Boucher asks: Which Religion is the "Right" One? His answer is similar to the one I would have given a year or so ago before I began to read more about Islam and especially before reading any of the Qur'an itself. I always accepted Islam as just another religion, with its own path to God, and in some ways I do still believe that. However, I have been stunned by what I have perceived as the spiritual shallowness of the Qur'an itself and the relative lack of moral fibre of its writer. I have come to see this writer as a clownish fool for whom a shortened version of his name, viz, "Mo" is far better suited than any of the fuller variants like Muhammad, Mohammed, or Mohamet.

Not only does my heart tell me that Islam via the Qur'an is not for me, it tells me it should not be true for any intelligent human. I find myself viewing it as a shallow deception, an empire-building propaganda machine, or simply as the rantings of a spiteful, resentful, vindictive quasi-madman (at the very least). It horrifies me beyond belief that billions of otherwise sane and ordinary human beings can revere such shit.

It astonishes me that I feel that way. It appals me to realise that this places me in the same ideological camp as most (if not all) of the Christian fundamentalists. Mo was an agent of Satan and the Koran is indeed a compilation of Satanic verses.

No, not exactly. In my version of the story, there'd be no need for Satan. Nor for a transcendant and unapproachable deity. No, there would just be Mo and his Arab inferiority complex. An Adlerian take, I guess.

Better still, I could follow Rumi and simply say: Lies, all lies!

A wondrous treasure I did seek
Filling hours of leisure through the week
Though th' endeavour brought me fear and pain
Wicked pleasure did I soon regain.


what is fake

Today's Rumi quatrain came from a search for words related to "fake" (the last word of my last post).
They say love means crying out her name. Lies.
They say love's hope will never ripen. Lies.
A universe of joy lives within us.
They say it lies beyond the sky. All lies.

#1058: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I have been in pain of late (health problems) and a strong voice inside me has been saying: "What a piece of worthless shit this is, a leisurely pastime with no purpose!"

And here is Rumi saying: "Lies! Lies! All lies!"

Luke 17:21 (KJV)

Neither shall they say,
Lo here! or, lo there!
for, behold,
the kingdom of God is within you.

Rumi was aware of Christianity: after all, his second wife, Kira Khatum, was one. To my knowledge, the Qur'an has no comparable passage to Luke's. The closest that I could find was one that reminds the believer that Allah is always around, but in a watchful role rather than joy-giving.

Qur'an 57:4 (Yusufali)

He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in Six Days, and is moreover firmly established on the Throne (of Authority). He knows what enters within the earth and what comes forth out of it, what comes down from heaven and what mounts up to it. And He is with you wheresoever ye may be. And Allah sees well all that ye do.

Rumi's reference to a heaven (or "universe of joy") that "lies beyond the sky" is surely a parallel of Luke's heaven (or "kingdom of God") that lies (over) here or (over) there, far outside ourselves. The Qur'an clearly places the heavenly paradise well into the future, after an individual's death and probably not until the actual day of reckoning.

Of course, on that day of reckoning the unbelievers will go to hell (as vividly depicted in several places in the Qur'an) while the faithful will go to a paradise famously populated with modest but willing virgins. It is abundantly clear that these faithful are men in kingly roles and the women are there merely as concubines. I can only guess that Muslim women identify with these concubines and see their ultimate glorious purpose therein.

Qur'an 37:40-49 (Yusuf Ali)

But the sincere (and devoted) Servants of Allah,-
For them is a Sustenance determined,
Fruits (Delights); and they (shall enjoy) honour and dignity,
In Gardens of Felicity,
Facing each other on Thrones (of Dignity):
Round will be passed to them a Cup from a clear-flowing fountain,
Crystal-white, of a taste delicious to those who drink (thereof),
Free from headiness; nor will they suffer intoxication therefrom.
And besides them will be chaste women, restraining their glances, with big eyes (of wonder and beauty).
As if they were (delicate) eggs closely guarded.

Heaven is so definitely far away, so emphatically beyond our life on earth, so clearly depicted as lying "beyond the sky".

Ah, Rumi, Rumi, surely you were accusing the Qur'an itself of telling lies!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

music in alchemy

Here is today's Rumi quatrain again:
When your love began to fill up my heart,
Whatever else I had was burnt away,
Logic and book-learning tossed on the fire.
Now I study song and poetry all day.

This immediately reminded me of the alchemical saying: "Burn the books, lest your heart be rent asunder." (I'm recollecting this quote from my reading of Jung but I can't recall the precise work it appears in.)

I was also reminded of this illustration of an alchemist's laboratory:
alchemist in his laboratory

In the very centre and foreground of this image we see musical instruments on the table, a violin and mandolin, perhaps a harp or lyre. These are not the kind of items that a plain scientist would include in his laboratory apparatus. They point to the importance of feelings and emotions that are best expressed through music and poetry because they defy the usual concepts of rational thought.

Similar musical instruments feature prominently in the final panel [465Kb] of Blake's illustrations for the Book of Job, as if the ultimate spiritual truth can only be expressed through music.

This is the classic dilemma of mysticism and of any psychospiritual discipline: words end up getting in the way and need to be bypassed somehow. Poetry and mythic storytelling seem to offer the only bridge between the wordless expressions of music and the monotone of stories in the factual or rational genre. The latter include science, conventional news reporting, philosophy, analysis, history, and any "non-fiction" account of the world and its happenings. The poet and the mystic, the alchemist and the saint, all agree that the truth revealed by this genre is not correct. It is damaging to the soul and must be bypassed.

And yet ... it's kinda sad that logic fails. It is so reassuringly ... well, logical.

*sigh* but the world is just not made that way.

A fleeting glance

Every day I'd like to wake
And find I can invent a take
On how this world evolves or is
And which bits might be fake


daily discipline

A central idea of Shahrazad's meta-story is that of a daily discipline or routine: in this case, what happened every day was that the king beheaded yesterday's bride and married a new virgin. This routine was replaced by Shahrazad's telling of tales with each story left suspended at dawn and needing to be completed that evening. In this way the storyteller was spared the usual beheading.

For a few years now I've been consciously practising a daily routine. At first it was an early morning walk but my feet became diseased and I replaced this routine with morning pages as recommended by Julia Cameron in her The Artist's Way program.

Although I feel I have benefited from that routine, I am looking around for a new one. I recently came across a translator of Rumi poetry, Zara Houshmand, who contributes to The Iranian. As she describes it:
Beginning in April 2000, I made a commitment to translate one of Rumi's quatrains each day for Jahanshah Javid chose the poems; it was part of my commitment that I would accept the choice, no matter how difficult, and do my best to create an equivalent poem in English.

There are just over 350 quatrains listed, almost one year's worth, and I thought I would use one each day on which to focus my writing here. I thought I'd start with one which contained the word "began" in its first line. Here it is along with an image of the original Persian script.

Persian script

When your love began to fill up my heart,

Whatever else I had was burnt away,

Logic and book-learning tossed on the fire.

Now I study song and poetry all day.

#606: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I'll leave this entry now but return later today to this theme.


Tuesday, April 19, 2005

starting out

To start with, I want to explain the site name and the themes I want to explore. AlchemiZade is a concatenation of alchemy and Scheherazade (or Shahrazad), the storyteller of the 1001 Arabian Nights. My interest in alchemy stems from the work of Carl Jung, so I approach it as a psychospiritual discipline. I view Scheherazade as a kind of soror mystica or femme inspiratrice to her husband the king. That is, she guided him, through a long series of tales, out of the cruel and tyrannical state of mind that would have each new bride executed after just one wedding night.

male and female alchemists working together
male and female alchemists
working together

Scheherazade telling her stories to the Sultan and her sister Dinarzade
Scheherazade telling her
stories to the Sultan
and her sister Dinarzade

I also have an interest in gnosticism and in sufism, especially as expressed by Jalal al-Din Rumi in his poetic works, so the Arab or Islamic connection also resonates for me. Spiritually, I consider myself to be a neo-gnostic.

Finally, I am a woman and a feminist and I continue to struggle to make sense of a woman's place in the world. I ask questions but I have no neat answers.

This blog was begun as a project to explore Story-Systems.