Wednesday, April 27, 2005

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, rĂªveries 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.


Post a Comment

<< Home