Wednesday, June 15, 2005

me but not me

Drunk, I asked my teacher, "Please, I need to know

What it means to be, or not to be."

He answered me, said, "Go!

Relieve the suffering of the world and you'll be free."

#1680: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: torture, ache, burrow, tunnel

I chose words associated with painful dreams from the night and ache at least turned up inside teacher so I've gone for that. I have been feeling a need for a moral authority, I would love a teacher to help me find my way.

My dreams were of two sorts, depicting two scenarios, although they had a common hero, a man who felt like he was me but not me. In one scene he is hanging nailed by the head to an erect wooden beam and he has a companion hanging beside him on the same beam. Their feet and ankles lack flesh and the bones are visible. It is a variant of Christ's crucifixion, the emphasis being more upright and not cross-like. In the second scenario, the man is burrowing through a tunnel barely wide enough to allow him through. I imagine how it might be to do that and I worry about getting stuck. It's one thing to burrow forward but can he (or I) burrow back?

Now that these images are on the table, so to speak, I can see a few interesting things. I can hear a resonance between the "me but not me" in the dream and the "to be, or not to be" in the verse and, of course, it amazes me that Rumi would use this idea centuries before Shakespeare. It is a simple idea, however, and the translator may have been influenced by the English bard.

The upright beam is both phallic (in contrast to the more feminine form of the Christian tree or cross) and singular (it takes two beams to make a cross). It also reminds me of Jesus' mote and beam parable relating to the withdrawal of projection. I actually woke with a headache and tension in my shoulders, so the dream is depicting this as related to a kind of intellectual sacrifice or perhaps a pinning down of thoughts to some concrete foundation. The fleshless feet relate to a gruesome side product of crucifixion, that dogs or wolves would come and eat the feet of victims perhaps while still alive. Similarly, crows would pluck out their eyes. It is all very ghastly.

I would love to believe that humanity could reach a point where none of this cruelty occurs anymore. OK, maybe in a dream that results in or explains a headache, but not literally and commonly. Public whipping and scourging were once common but no longer so. I think we, in the West, fear a return to that arising from Islam's greater presence among us. We see Islam as barbaric and it so often proves us right.

Here, in this verse, Rumi uses advice from his own teacher to transmit advice to us. Simply go out into the world and relieve suffering. That's all it takes. It sounds simple but it is very difficult to translate into concrete daily action. I'll give it some thought and see what I can come up with.


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