Friday, June 24, 2005

the fires of hell

This sorrow strains and filters your pure soul,

And wears away the body that God gave you.

This fire of love in which you burn away

Will be your garden paradise one day.

#1399: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: cold, wet, rain, wind, menace, defiant

Yes, the weather is cold, wet, raining, windy. As I hand wrote my two morning pages, it occurred to me that defiant would have been a better word to use than menacing. It is a more defensive aggression than attacking. I didn't think Rumi would respond to words like menace and defiant. He sticks to pretty simple words and ideas but mixes them in intriguing ways. In the end, I accepted the rain in strains.

This verse immediately called to mind a favourite Chinese quote:
True gold fears not the refiner's fire.

There have been a few fires around Sydney lately with the whole house being burned down, sometimes with most of the family inside. Young children burnt to death or escaping into the cold night to alert neighbours. My son asked me where our family photos are. What would we rescue if fire overwhelmed this house? I'm not sure I'd rescue those photos anymore. I'm not sure I'd want to rescue anything at all, apart from the two of us and the cat.

Sorrow - whether in the form of frustration, conflict, loss, or failure - does call on us to reassess what really matters. We discard extraneous concerns, especially desires that have been foisted on us from outside or from greed, envy, lust, or grabs for power. What is left behind when these petty things are discarded is the pure soul, the pure self, a simple sense of being, a garden of delight. Most of our fears and anxieties stem from yesterday or tomorrow, not the right now of this moment. This sounds like schoolteacher crap but then, it's best to get it out and then discard it.

Fire, hell fire, fire of love. There's a lot to burn away, a lot to fuel the fire. What remains when fire has done its job? The gold of the alchemist, the pure essence distilled from the dross of ordinary matter, from the dead weight of the lead of reality. Great poets know how to do this careful distillation. They know how to see the divine in the world.


It struck me every day
  The lightning was as new
As if the cloud that instant slit
  And let the fire through.

It burned me in the night,
  It blistered in my dream;
It sickened fresh upon my sight
  With every morning's beam.

I thought that storm was brief, --
  The maddest, quickest by;
But Nature lost the date of this,
  And left it in the sky.

-- Emily Dickinson


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