Sunday, July 31, 2005

recalling a friend

My friend, in friendship I am bound to you:

Wherever you set foot, I am the ground.

Since when do the laws of love allow

That I may see your world, but not see you?

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

Search words: friend

Following yesterday's quatrain on the search for a friend, I've decided to confine my search to friend. This quite early quatrain has a slightly different (only in the first line) initial translation by Zara Houshmand.

My friend, my companion, I am bound to you:
Wherever you set foot, I am the ground.
Since when do the laws of love allow
That I may see your world, but not see you?


When I was a child, television was not in every home as it is now. I was ten when the first TV station went to air and I was 14 by the time we had a set in our home. Until then, our entertainment centred around a large old radio in a wooden cabinet somewhat resembling the antique radio below.

antique radio cabinet

When this cabinet was discarded by my parents during a move, I was desolate because, with it, there seemed to go so many memories and perhaps also, in a sense, my childhood. It seemed odd to grieve over an inanimate object like that but truly it had become my friend. And when we recall or recollect a lost friend, the whole world that we associate with that friend can return to us, even if the friend is no longer there.

In more recent times, I grieved at the loss of a pet cat. She had been like a little mascot, a gift to us in hard times, a playful kitten and a sensual cat whose presence so often calmed our frayed nerves. Her body is gone but her spirit lives on whenever I can bear the pain of remembering her. It still hurts so much.

Remembering the radio no longer hurts, so clearly time is one of the great healers. Some have said, and I daresay that this is true, that once we've incorporated or properly integrated what the lost object (or animal or person) meant to us, then the pain will also dissipate and we can move on. I'm not there yet with my lost cat, no more than Rumi was there yet with his lost Shams.

Update: Sunlight has 3 other translations of this quatrain.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

in search of a friend

I rush here and there in search of a friend.

Still I dream, though my life has reached its end.

And yes, one day I will find my friend,

But how will I find the life that is spent?

#1154: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: tired, wash, exhaust, satisfied, proud, friend

I woke tired, washed out, exhausted but satisfied, even proud, of my recent achievements. I've managed to get through to the bureaucratic bullies and found enough release to finally return to the gnosis articles, this time on the theme of God as friend. And here is Rumi searching for a friend.

I really cannot know how Rumi sounds in Persian but in Zara Houshmand's English translation there is much wordplay in this verse. Is Rumi's life drawing to a close? Or has he achieved his purpose or fulfilled his destiny? Presumably he'll find his friend Shams on the day he dies for the two will then be joined in death. However, at that point, his life will be behind him, lost for ever. Or is he wondering how he will assess his life at that final moment?

Starting out in life, coming to the end of our lives, dreaming about the future, assessing the past, searching for and finding a friend, all of these are eternally present states of mind, at least in potential. They come to the fore whenever appropriate and each state contains the opposite as a necessary complement. Every beginning is an end, every dream is launched through an assessment of the past, and God, the greatest of all friends to search for, is the search itself.

Friday, July 29, 2005

gnosis 10: God as friend

   Kierkegaard, in his very different way, asks us in one of his many satirical parables, to imagine a global war (such as had never yet occurred in the nineteenth century in which he lived), on account of which Europe's rulers jointly issued a rescript commanding all priests and other clergy to engage in a massive, official supplication of heaven. A prodigious exhibition of worship is arranged, with a choir of a hundred thousand professional musicians and a vast team of a million clergy all bawling for all their worth till the noise (Kierkegaard mischievously suggests) must surely have penetrated the heavenly gates. God, however, is not in the least interested and certainly not at all moved by all this official hubbub, knowing as he does that such official demonstrations are merely elaborate ceremonious insults. Yet when a poor man hobbling down Main Street sighs to God in the sincerity of his heart, that concerns God indescribably and moves him subjectively. That is most certainly, then, the way to gnosis of God, as all the great sages and prophets from the earliest times have seen, however dimly, each in his own way. It is what some of the mystics have called "walking with God as a friend."

- MacGregor: Gnosis, p26.

I've been stirred to get on with this examination of gnosis and gnosticism by Tim Boucher's return to this topic. The idea, expressed here by MacGregor, that gnosis concerns a friendship relationship with God is one I contributed to an exploration of possible definitions of gnosticism.

Some time back now, I listed an elaborate scholarly definition of gnosis that MacGregor had reproduced, only to demolish it item by item. Elements like (1) and (16) are typical of any form of mysticism; elements like (2), (6) and (7) are common to any metaphysics; most of the remainder are found in all religions, with (4), (13-15) being specific to Christianity. Item (11) - that Gnosticism is a religion of revolt - is compared to an equally age-old existentialist outlook in religion which breaks down old legalism and dethrones old gods. The new gods then become the new establishment and the round must begin anew.

MacGregor then more fully compares gnosticism with modern existentialism with their common themes of the world as prison resulting in the human response of Angst or a sense of being in exile from one's home. He concludes:

   […]The awareness of individual responsibility, the inner assurance of the individual's capacity for free choice and of the individual's power to attain an understanding of his relation to the cosmos and a knowledge of his potential destiny: all these are gnostic motifs and also common existentialist coin.

   […]When Bianchi and others suggest that gnosticism always appears as a parasite on a living religion, they surely fail to see that their slur on gnosticism could apply equally well to existentialism and be equally ill-founded. It is a well-known paradox that many of the most illustrious gnostics, mystics and existentialists tend to be peculiarly well-rooted in a particular institutional religion while not only transcending it but dramatically vitalizing it. Clement of Alexandria, Teresa of Avila, Pascal, Kierkegaard and Berdyaev are examples that spring readily to mind. None could be less parasitic on their respective traditions. On the contrary, without men and women of this calibre the traditions out of which they have sprung would have dried out long ago. The truth is, indeed, the other way round: it is the gnostics and the existentialists, the mystics and the religious humanists, to say nothing of the heretics, to which the Church is indebted for its survival. Too often the parasites are the institutions that survive through sucking, however inefficiently and therefore in the long run fruitlessly, from those superabundantly life-filled sources.

- MacGregor: Gnosis, pp 51-52.

MacGregor then goes on to expand on this idea of gnosticism as the creative element in religion.

   All human thought, notably philosophical and religious thought, has two indispensable components: the speculative and the critical. The former is the imaginative, creative element, the latter the logical and analytical. Without the critical element, speculation runs wild; without the creative element, analytical critique, having really nothing to do, merely hones its tools and makes them more elegantly useless. In short, only through free discussion can progress in religious thought be made and true gnosis attained. Such progress cannot even be begun without imaginative, creative speculation.

- MacGregor: Gnosis, p54.

While God is perceived as an old man on a throne, distant and demanding, we cannot play with him. We cannot get to know him. It's up to each of us to reach out to God as friend and hope that He can be big enough to return the favour. Then we can play and dance together and keep the cosmos spinning in orderly craziness.

longing for the day

We fight with day for passing quick as day,

A flood through the ravine, wind through valley.

At night, we sit under the shadowed moon,

And bang the drum until the dawn of day.

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

Search words: fight

The conflict with the bureaucrats is escalating and I'm rearing for a fight so I've sought Rumi's thoughts on fight. Here he speaks of fighting the day, of resisting the fast flow of time. At night, we can but long for the dawn, making lots of noise to dispel the stillness of night. There is a glorious foolishness in all this and one that I can certainly relate to today.

This verse makes me think of the whirling dervish rituals that Rumi was involved in starting. I have read somewhere that it was his son who devised the ritual but with his father's encouragement and advice. The dervishes whirl to a repetitive but mesmerising drum beat and repeat to themselves the word "Allah" like a mantram. It is a sustained dance of longing for deity and enlightenment.

The first selam (salutation) introduces the dance: the dervish obtains his permission to whirl by kissing the hand of the sheikh. The master of the dance directs him to his position: As the musicians play and the chorus chants, the sheikh stands at the "post" and the dervishes unfold and turn repeating their inaudible "Allah, Allah, Allah. . ." This part of the ceremony lasts approximately ten minutes and is repeated four times. At the fourth selam the sheikh joins the whirling. He represents the centre (the sun); the dervishes represent the orbiting planets turning around him and around themselves in the solar system of Rumi.

The Ceremony is concluded by the recitation of the Fatiha, the opening chapter of the Qur'an, followed by a prayer to Mowlana and Shamsuddin of Tabriz. All dervishes then join in chanting the "Hu" which is the all-embracing Name of God, the One.

source: Life of Rumi

whirling dervish

whirling dervish @ Islamic Heresies

That very longing is a mystery to us. Despite this or that pseudo-scientific explanation, no one really knows why we so long for deity.

The prayer that was answered

A certain man one night was crying 'Allah!' till his lips were becoming sweet with the mention of his name.

'Why now, chatterbox,' said the Devil, 'where is the answer "Here am I" to all this "Allah" of yours? Not one answer is coming from the Throne: how long will your grimly go on crying "Allah"?'

The man became broken-hearted, and laid down his head to sleep. He saw in a dream mystic Khazir all in a green garden.

'Look now,' Khazir called, 'why have you desisted from the mention of God? How is it you repent of having called upon Him?'

'No answering "Here am I" is coming to me,' the man replied, 'and I therefore fear that I may be refused from His door.'

Khazir answered, 'Your cry of "Allah" (God says) is itself My "Here am I"; your pleading and agony and fervour is My messenger. All your twistings and turnings to come to Me were My drawing you that set free your feet. Your fear and love are the lasso to catch My grace. Under each "Allah" of yours whispers many a "Here am I".'

note: Khazir was a mysterious guide who first appears in Koran XVIII 64 (not named, but identified by the commentators as 'one of Our servants unto whom We had given mercy from Us, and We had taught him knowledge proceeding from Us') as accompanying Moses and doing strange things. The Sufis took him as the exempler of the Shaikh who requires absolute and unquestioning obedience of the disciple.

source: Tales from Masnavi

Thursday, July 28, 2005

saying pooh to death

You're so coupled to life, which lasts but a day,

That you can't even hear talk of death.

Life looks for a home and that home is death,

But your donkey fell asleep on the way.

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

Search words: thank, fun, harass, grateful, glee

I woke feeling thankful for the fun I'm deriving by answering harassment with harassment. None of my search words worked so I chose the next quatrain in the list.

I find this verse difficult because of the "you" which hovers between two types of "you" that Rumi uses. Sometimes "you" is God or Shams or a feminine beloved but sometimes "you" is the reader to whom Rumi is giving advice. Sometimes it's clear that Rumi is aware that he is giving advice to the part of himself that feels a need for it. There is a gentle tone of remonstrance as if he is chiding himself for his love of life. Life ends in death and so death would seem to be the end (or purpose) of life. The image of the donkey falling asleep is so comical, it points to a foolish side of oneself. However, is it so foolish to forget death? I don't think so and that is why I "see" in this verse a merely ironic mocking of Rumi's own love of life.

I'm sure I'm influenced here by my current mood. I have been having power struggles with a government department, finding myself harassed by petty bureaucrats but harassing them in turn. When pushed to its logical conclusions, bureaucratic demands become quite farcical, much like a rehearsal for the next Monty Python movie. I have decided that I actually quite enjoy the experience and I am thankful to the silly bureaucrats for the entertainment they provide. I'm loving life for today and not worrying too much about consequences. This attitude goes right against the societally imposed morality that asks that I examine my motives and consider where all this is leading me.

In Rumi's time, it was emphatically stressed in his society's moral code as expressed through the Koran which has 92 verses referring to death.
Qur'an 3:185 (Yusuf Ali)

Every soul shall have a taste of death: And only on the Day of Judgment shall you be paid your full recompense. Only he who is saved far from the Fire and admitted to the Garden will have attained the object (of Life): For the life of this world is but goods and chattels of deception.

Methinks Rumi is saying "pooh!" to that but saying it in a safe way.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

finding a safe place

If you walk with your eyes closed, for sure you're lost,

But count on sight and you invite damnation.

Don't look within the monastery or mosque

To find a place that isn't a location.

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

Search words: safe, secure, sure

My mood this morning is one of feeling safe and secure, self-assured and sure of the way ahead. I've been struggling with the emotions aroused by an incident yesterday. Not exactly only one incident. I came across a handful of people who left their mark on me. Some invited wonder, some pity or disgust, some admiration. One, in particular, made me angry and it is that anger that I am trying to work through. My natural instinct is to fight back: an eye for an eye. He humiliated me and I want to humiliate him back. He asserted his power over me and I want to assert my own over him. I have the means to do it but I'm wanting to do things differently. Rather than simply attacking him (writing a vicious letter of complaint to his superior) I'm inclined to write more about his impact on me and compare that with the impact of other people employed there. In other words, make sure to include what happened inside me, and not simply what was evident for everyone to see.

This is also Rumi's theme here today. What we see through the sight of our eyes is different from what we see through insight. And yet he maintains a small ambiguity in this verse. Not only do we need both sight and insight but we need to understand that we cannot count on either for the unknown is ever present and we are damned if we fail to take account of that. If we operate only on the basis of what we know, what we understand and can predict, we will constantly be tripped up by the real world. As I was tripped up yesterday.

The second idea in this verse - about "a place that isn't a location" - is a clever way to refer to the interiority of deity. Within a Muslim world it might be heretical to speak of God as the higher Self, as Hindus and Buddhists are so comfortable with. Rather than a being it is a place that is sought. This suggests that the place is where the being resides, rather than being the being itself. He is saying, in effect, that God resides in the human heart and not in religious edifices. He does this, however, without reference to the resident but only to his residence. It's one of those neat turns of phrase in Rumi that would probably work in translations to most other languages.

Sometimes I believe that this is what Rumi's aim is: to write in a way that is translatable. By using essentially simple ideas and phrases and avoiding complex idioms or specifically Persian wordplays, he universalizes his message. I may be influenced in this belief by the apparent accessibility of these and other translations of Rumi. I'm simply impressed with a lucidity that shines through in almost all translations I've come across, not only those by Coleman Barks which are the most famous. This is an aspect of Rumi that I want to delve into further.

In Rumi's time and place, the monastery and mosque might have limited the way that people could experience deity. No doubt those in power also dictated how people could experience life in general. Rumi was strongly affected by this because his early developmental years were unsettled as the family moved away from the terrors of the invading Mongols toward the greater security of more Western Islamic centres. It was these fierce warriors and their territorial ambitions that dictated where Rumi was to establish his roots, in Turkey where he lived until his death instead of in Afghanistan where he was born.

With a force like that of the Mongols it is sensible to flee, foolhardy to stand and fight. As a Persian both by heritage and by preference in writing his poetry, Rumi must also have felt oppressed at times by the Arabic culture and language imposed by Islam. To this day Muslims claim that the Koran can only be properly understood in its original Arabic and even only in correct forms of recitation. The vast majority of native Arabic speakers cannot understand the obscure Arabic of the Koran, thus confining access to deity to a meagre handful of specialized scholars of which, ironically, Rumi was clearly one since he was a Muslim jurist and theologian.

This is what most fascinates me about Rumi. He knew both kinds of tyranny: that wielded by the sword and that wielded by enforced ideology. He knew how to emerge free from both without needing to fight, attack or hurt anyone physically or even emotionally. His poetry achieved that because it was simple enough to seem transparent and clever enough to express insights that his oppressors simply couldn't see or, where they could, they could then not clearly extract the heretical content for all to see. It is brilliantly done and nowhere more so than in this verse today.

I want to achieve a similar victory and I know I can't use a solution identical to Rumi's, since it relied on his legal and religious authority and his ready ability to publish what he wrote. At this point in time, I'm not sure how I'll manage but I am sure that Rumi is a great inspiration and sets a great standard to emulate.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

joyous waves

What is sadness, that settles like dust

On hearts that are bitter and burdened?

The heart that holds God holds an ocean

Whose joyous waves make the earth turn.

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

Search words: reckoning, judgment, final, settle

Today feels like a Day of Reckoning, an archetypal Judgment Day or Final Day, when matters are settled once and for all. In Rumi's verse, it is dust that is settling as sadness settles on a sad heart. My own heart has been bitter and burdened for so long now, I would not want to count the years. Finally, I am emerging to a view of the ocean despite now living inland and far from the physical ocean shores.

Rumi's vision of God as an ocean making joyous waves that keep the earth turning is quite extraordinary and in such sharp contrast to the vision of Islam's founder as expressed in his writings. In the Koran, the most powerful image of ocean is used to describe the state of mind and heart of the unbeliever.

Qur'an 24:40 (Yusuf Ali)

Or (the Unbelievers' state) is like the depths of darkness in a vast deep ocean, overwhelmed with billow topped by billow, topped by (dark) clouds: depths of darkness, one above another: if a man stretches out his hands, he can hardly see it! for any to whom Allah giveth not light, there is no light!

The ocean is also summoned in the Koran's description of the final days.

Qur'an 52:1-16 (Yusuf Ali)

By the Mount (of Revelation);
By a Decree inscribed
In a Scroll unfolded;
By the much-frequented Fane;
By the Canopy Raised High;
And by the Ocean filled with Swell;-
Verily, the Doom of thy Lord will indeed come to pass;-
There is none can avert it;-
On the Day when the firmament will be in dreadful commotion.
And the mountains will fly hither and thither.
Then woe that Day to those that treat (Truth) as Falsehood;-
That play (and paddle) in shallow trifles.
That Day shall they be thrust down to the Fire of Hell, irresistibly.
"This:, it will be said, "Is the Fire,- which ye were wont to deny!
"Is this then a fake, or is it ye that do not see?
"Burn ye therein: the same is it to you whether ye bear it with patience, or not: Ye but receive the recompense of your (own) deeds."

Where Mohammad uses God as ocean to curse all those who disagree with him, Rumi uses God as ocean to invite others to share his joy. One uses the carrot, the other uses the stick. Religions and philosophies always have and no doubt always will contain examples of both carrot and stick persuasion. I don't respond well to threats so I've gravitated to Rumi and his gentle manner pointing the way to enduring dignity and joy.

Monday, July 25, 2005

milk and honey

As long as I have my own cup of milk,

By God, I won't covet anyone's honey.

Beat me with canes till death if you will,

I won't sell my freedom for slavery.

#1202: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: new, buy, own

Yesterday we bought a new printer. We now own yet another technological toy. We have old printers dating back to 1996 and 2000, so we were due for a new one. I also own a Singer sewing machine that I inherited from my grandmother. It's a heavy wooden thing but it works fine and does all that I need. It could be about a century old, now that is fine enduring technology. Perhaps because I myself am old, I do love old things but I can also relate to my son's excitement at acquiring a new piece of computer equipment.

Greed to have more than we have is what drives us to try ever harder, to push ourselves beyond endurance. I'm with Rumi on this one. I'd rather settle for the basics - for him, a cup of milk - than go for the luxuries as represented here by honey. I can see the beauty of honey: for me, it would be a grand old house with servants to keep it in order, a lovely library with the walls lined in exquisitely bound classics and framed prints, and a well laid out and well kept garden outside in which to stroll with rolling lawns descending to a generous pond for ducks and swans. Instead, I have a modest semi-detached brick house, almost a century old, in an unfashionable suburb far from the city centre and far from the beaches, with a small unkempt but lush garden and only the pools of water that collect in the palm tree debris. To covet the grand mansion is to forget to enjoy the small house.

Enticing us to want more - today, mainly through advertising - is not the only way. We can also be punished - beaten with canes - to force our submission or slavery. In the first we become slaves to our greed, in the second to our fear. Either way, we lose who we are, we lose our soul, and no luxury or security can be worth that price.

I've not been beaten with canes myself but I've been punished again and again, in the ways that my society allows. Loss of dignity, loss of finances, loss of career, loss of social connections. Keep it up, guys, keep it up! This gal is not about to budge. Just like a person being beaten, sometimes I wonder if I can indeed endure. Then my courage returns and I realise how truly free I am and how precious that is. I love cats so much precisely because all of this comes so naturally to them. They seem to have this understanding wired in unlike humans who seem to need to discover it.

Today I hope to make use of my beloved old sewing machine but I do also share my son's excitement with the new printer. That is his cup of milk while I have my own. All's good.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

to rest content

My love, there's a path from your heart to mine,

And my heart is aware how to find it;

For my heart now is pool, sweet and clear,

And it serves the moon as her mirror.

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

Search words: Sunday, holiday, holy, Sabbath, rest, worship

It being Sunday, I felt like taking the day off, taking a holiday. I couldn't think how Rumi might express that. He might refer to the Jewish Sabbath or to the rest and worship that occurs that day. Nothing came of these search words. So, today, I decided to give the search words a rest and simply follow a first line as presented on the page. That turned out to be this one which self-referentially talks of the path from one heart to the other. For these verses are that path, that connection.

Rumi writes that his own heart is "sweet and clear" so it can serve as mirror. I don't feel so confident about my own heart. I feel there lurk things therein that are muddy or shameful. This is the unclean shadow, the enemy one wishes to disown. I so admire Rumi this clarity of perception, this self-acceptance. Above all, I admire a human dignity that shines through any grief, sorrow or hurt, and that withstands any destabilizing intoxication. It simply abides through all of his verses. It is a quality that says simply: I am human and that is good.

This and the theme of rest reminds me of the first story in the Old Testament.
Genesis 1:26-31, 2:1-3 (my emphasis)

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.

And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.


Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.

And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.

Things get mucked up later in the Garden of Eden when Eve tempts Adam with that apple. Shame and anxiety enter into human consciousness. It then becomes a great task to regain that original purity and acceptance. Clearly Rumi found it. I also get the occasional glimpse at it. Perhaps that is all that is humanly possible or appropriate. It is perhaps to be precisely human that we can never rest content with how we are.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

home and hosed

You're the road of love, and at the end, my home,

One of the crowd, and yet I see you crowned;

I see you in stars, in the sun, in the moon,

Here in the green leaves, and high on the throne.

#1369: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: home

I feel "home and hosed" today. I figured Rumi would respond to the home but not the hosed and wondered where that the phrase came from. It appears to have arisen from the horse racing world and refers to the hosing down of a horse after a race. It is first taken back to its box or "home" and then hosed down. The phrase is usually used before or during a race to mean that the horse is a certain winner, already "home and hosed" while the race is still to be completed. In my case, there are still one or two loose ends to tie up but I foresee my situation stabilising soon and financial security especially setting in.

I really do have Rumi, in part, to thank for this for the discipline and steady emotional commitment to this task has built up in me a core of confidence as well as a light hearted approach to life, both of which have been essential to success. In this quatrain he expresses a similar gratitude to his "you" which shifts among Shams, a feminine figure and Allah himself. In Jungian jargon these are the shadow, the anima and the Self in turn. The shadow is often something to overcome, an arch enemy or rival. Rumi envisages it as a lover and this makes him quite unique as a mystic and poet. We all know we should love God, we all know about the romantic love for the contrasexual beloved. But how often do we hear of love for the same sex alter ego? The pal, the friend, the sibling, teacher, student, co-worker and colleague of the same sex? Or just another person in which the gender is just irrelevant? Any asexual relationship can lead to intense emotional commitment, a love that may be a very necessary glue in human community.

I love the images of high and low in this verse: the ordinary person in the crowd and the leader or crowned king; the heavenly bodies high in the sky and plain leaves right in front of one's nose. The final image is of love "high on the throne" just after we've been brought back down to the earth with leaves. The throne is heavy and earthy but its height gives it authority and lightness comes from the leaves that introduce it. Heavy and light, heaven and earth, leader and led, the road and the destination. All of these opposites are wrapped up in this simple four line verse. And it's all done originally in Persian and then translated into English seven centuries later. It has to be an eternal message precisely fit to reach me today.

Besides Rumi, I also want to thank Tim Boucher for his inspiration through the story-systems project. That's what got me started on this blog in the first place. The continued connection to the small but vital community that has built up around his main site has kept my own project fueled. Tim and his circle of friends have definitely been part of my own road of love, my own process of finding home.

Friday, July 22, 2005

ups and downs

"Don't!" she tells me, when I moan like Jacob,

And when I'm patient, "Don't be such a Job!"

If I grow too high she cuts me down,

Calls me "Weed!" and then she tells me, "Don't be!"

#1046: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: grizzle, complain, moan

I woke to a grizzling, complaining mood and I can see that Rumi could also moan and groan. Yesterday, I came back into contact with the (Roman) Catholic Church, in the form of approaching a welfare agency funded by the Church with a view to doing voluntary work for them. The job was minding a baby and a toddler in order to give the mother some respite. However, in reading up on their mission and purpose, I discovered that they work to assist mothers deciding against abortion. I had to inform my interviewer that I had been raised a Roman Catholic but had walked out of the Church at 16, precisely over the abortion issue. I think it is mainly this incident that has set up the grizzly mood in me.

Rumi here is referring to the way the unconscious, if one allows it, tends to balance out one's moods. His critical anima - perhaps additionally a reference to his wife - asks him to be more patient when he's complaining, but then criticizes him if he's too compliant. If he's too full of himself, she reduces him to a weed; if too weedy, she rebukes him. Jung associated the anima with moods in men, probably simply because men are not encouraged to be well tuned to their moods and so this fine tuning becomes a feature of the discarded or undeveloped unconscious personality. In women, it is opinions that are carried by the animus, again because women are not traditionally trained in philosophy or logical discourse where views can be assessed more rigorously.

Certainly, this incident yesterday has thrown me off balance and is pushing me to review my own assessment of the Church, of its policies on women's sexuality and fertility, and ultimately of my own motherhood. The word "mentor" came up in the interview: I was not simply to mind the little ones but also to provide some sort of role model for the mother. This was perhaps bigger than I'd envisaged. If the Church has the funds and the infrastructure to reach women in need, should I not go along with it despite my reservations regarding its overall philosophy on fertility issues? If I'm perceived as being useful, is that not enough?

In the end, as usual, I decided to sleep on it and see how I felt in the morning. It was a complaining mood that confronted me and, given that this would be a balancing mood, I gather that I've been over accepting of something. Too compliant about something. I really have been too "good". It's not immediately clear to me right now in what way I've been too compliant: I can only recall the trivial matter of having to write out my name, address and phone number far too many times. I kept having to do it on this and that piece of paper. I should have been rude but more self-protective and told the interviewer where to shove it all.

I guess this is what really got to me, the way we pile great wads of paper between us instead of simply relating. It makes me realize why I've become such a hermit: I just hate all that phoney, legalistic excuse for human exchange. It's just not real. Oddly enough, because Rumi exposes himself with authenticity in his verses, I feel I have a truer relationship with him than I could have with any "real" person "out there". Because he can stand naked, so can I.

Ah, where to find that voice of wisdom, that answer to the famous serenity prayer about accepting what we can't change, changing what we can, and finding the wisdom to know the difference? The wisdom is the hard thing. Perhaps even just too hard. It might be too much to expect of oneself to do any better than Rumi is doing in this verse, being buffeted about from this extreme to the other, swinging wildly from side to side, or bouncing manically up and down. So long as one can laugh gently at oneself, as Rumi does in this verse, is this not good enough?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

blossoming forth

Came spring, and the garden made me blossom

And bloomed itself, displayed at my demand.

When it handed me luck's cup and poured it deep,

I laid my head down, drunk, and fell asleep.

#1172: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: explode, burst, bud, blossom

There has been an explosion of new activity of late, both for my son and for myself. (Only the cat seems to be staying calm.) It frightens me. I worry that I'll stress out and lose myself. I've tapped into a similar mood here in Rumi, apparently prompted by a change of season. Actually, spring is indeed in the air here. There are shrubs in my own garden that produce abundant pink flowers in the spring and yesterday I noticed a first pair of pink flowers. Winter, and the hard times, are drawing to a close.

The danger is well expressed here by Rumi. Good fortune can go to one's head. It can intoxicate us much like a cup of wine does. We become unconscious, no longer aware or mindful of one's daily and moment-by-moment needs. I'm so thankful I've developed this routine of communing with Rumi. It gives me a mainstay, a point to which I can return if things start to feel like too much.

This is the first verse I've encountered in which Rumi is describing his own fall from consciousness, his own error in falling asleep. He depicts it as the result of a springtime of the soul and it doesn't sound sinful or wrong at all. It sounds like it's as natural as the return of the seasons. Rumi's is such a gentle non-judgmental soul and where else to apply that but to oneself? To forgive, and to understand, oneself is the first step to forgiving and understanding others.

I'm left with a mood of resignation. The explosion probably will result in some drunkenness (possibly literal but certainly metaphoric) and that's OK. The full fruits of summer will follow on as naturally as spring came along in the first place. The seasons will roll round eternally.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

the good beyond evil

I'll go a hundred steps beyond reason,

Free from the existence of good and evil.

You are so good that I'm beyond the veil.

Let the clueless know: I will love myself.

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

Search words: next, step

I'm beginning to get sorted and overcoming some frustrating obstacles. I'm feeling positive today and looking to the next steps to take to achieve better health and financial stability. Rumi, I'm hoping, will be a part of that.

This verse is quite bold, almost recklessly heretical. The idea of transcending the very categories of good and evil is found in the Hindu/Buddhist tradition. Islam itself is firmly placed within the mythical story of the good guys (Muslims, on the straight path) versus the bad guys (kafirs or disbelievers, on the crooked path). To speak of transcending that, to refer so clearly to a non-Islamic spiritual teaching, is to speak dangerously, at most if not all times and places in the history of the Muslim world. The "other" for Rumi was embodied in Shams and this "you" posed no threat to him. It is clear in this verse that he understands the "you" as his own shadow or "other" self. Loving Shams, loving God, loving the divine feminine, all of these are but loving "myself". It is not the ego puffed up with its own importance, it is the ego in relationship with the larger self, the broader and higher and lower personality.

One of the ironies of this transcendance of good and evil is that it is inevitably good that is discovered there. If not specifically "the Good", then something joyful, indescribably beautiful, the light of lights, and so on. It is not an eternal dwelling in sunshine but a perception of the eternal light that suffuses both day and night. We are made up not only of our happy moments but also of our sad, angry, frustrated moments. To accept it all as part and parcel of who or what I am is to love myself. That self love is dangerous to declare because it is the pearl of greatest price and therefore the source of greatest envy, jealousy and hate. It's a brave man indeed who declares it within an Islamic world especially, a spiritual world where hatred and resentment are core emotions expressed in and promoted through the central sacred scripture of the Koran. Here it is explaining itself in the first chapter of substance.
2. al-Baqarah: The Cow

Qur'an 2:1-18 (Pickthall, my emphasis)

1 Alif. Lam. Mim.

2 This is the Scripture whereof there is no doubt, a guidance unto those who ward off (evil).

3 Who believe in the Unseen, and establish worship, and spend of that We have bestowed upon them;

4 And who believe in that which is revealed unto thee (Muhammad) and that which was revealed before thee, and are certain of the Hereafter.

5 These depend on guidance from their Lord. These are the successful.

6 As for the Disbelievers, Whether thou warn them or thou warn them not it is all one for them; they believe not.

7 Allah hath sealed their hearing and their hearts, and on their eyes there is a covering. Theirs will be an awful doom.

8 And of mankind are some who say: We believe in Allah and the Last Day, when they believe not.

9 They think to beguile Allah and those who believe, and they beguile none save themselves; but they perceive not.

10 In their hearts is a disease, and Allah increaseth their disease. A painful doom is theirs because they lie.

11 And when it is said unto them: Make not mischief in the earth, they say: We are peacemakers only.

12 Are not they indeed the mischief-makers ? But they perceive not.

13 And when it is said unto them: believe as the people believe, they say: shall we believe as the foolish believe ? are not they indeed the foolish ? But they know not.

14 And when they fall in with those who believe, they say: We believe; but when they go apart to their devils they declare: Lo! we are with you; verily we did but mock.

15 Allah (Himself) doth mock them, leaving them to wander blindly on in their contumacy.

16 These are they who purchase error at the price of guidance, so their commerce doth not prosper, neither are they guided.

17 Their likeness is as the likeness of one who kindleth fire, and when it sheddeth its light around him Allah taketh away their light and leaveth them in darkness, where they cannot see,

18 Deaf, dumb and blind; and they return not.

Here is an old man grizzling over the fact that some will not buy his message, cursing them and condemning them to an awful or painful doom. This is the state of bitter resentment that has been hallowed by Islam now for 14 centuries. This is the mood that encourages otherwise healthy young people to blow themselves up while killing and grievously harming many others in the process. This is what is behind the recent London bombings. This is Islam and it is so sick. Thank goodness the human spirit is balanced with what the likes of Rumi can offer.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

thunder and rain

Your love stirs the oceans into reckless storms.

At your feet, the clouds drop their pearls.

Dark smoke rises in the sky; a fire burns

Where your love's lightning strikes the earth.

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

Search words: anger, resent, shake, stir

Incidents yesterday stirred up anger and resentment in me and I imagined myself shaking my fist up at the sky. The word stir finally got me a response from Rumi and I do think he is referring to the anger and resentment that arises when conflicts stir up emotions. The "you" in this verse sounds like a heavenly deity, a thunderous sky-god like Zeus or Indra. Below is an image from a painting by Alyam Moser in which the elements of conflict and anger are depicted together with a suggestion of the rain that pours down like pearls from heaven. It captures my mood well.

White Thunder, oil on wood

I am inspired by the look of warrior-like determination in this face and I will press on and work at overcoming the obstacles that have led to my current discomfort.

Monday, July 18, 2005

keeping up the work

Don't walk away, for I will pay your price.

Look inside me: I light up in your sight.

Don't tire of me, I am your marketplace.

Come work with me, your work through me shines bright.

#1328: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: nerve, early, pay

Family nerves are on edge as early rising is needed so as to venture forth to do work that will pay. I've been reassessing my employment situation. I don't want to be paid for the work I love to do and I want to be free to do it. I've been begging as a consequence (receiving social security payments) and failing even to find paid work that is near to or resembles what I'd do for no pay.

Today's quatrain was chosen on the word pay but it has an eerie feeling of being unexpectedly relevant, directly communicative. It resonates so strongly with my current psychic state, with where I'm at right now. Rumi seems to invite me to get to know him better. Stay with him, keep lighting him up, don't give up, keep doing this work that I love best. I wonder if the translator, Zara Houshmand, got this feeling while doing her translation. Surely her own work is revelant to this piece since she makes Rumi accessible to a wider audience.

A voice inside me says: Get a hold of yerself. Read this like anyone would read it. Surely Rumi is writing with the supreme confidence of a teacher, guide and poet. He is identifying with the light that shows the true path. And yet, he is telling his reader that the light can only be revealed through the reader's own input. And that input does involve work, not simply looking. I think Rumi means here that simply reading his verses gets you only so far. The really valuable work comes in writing or otherwise creatively expressing the insights gained from the reading. It is only then that you truly make it your own.

This is what I've been doing and this is what I will continue to do, even if sometimes I wonder what the point is. If ever I do feel like that I'll return to this verse for its wise encouragement.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

gnosis 9: sacred scriptures

   Gnosis of God is unique because God is unique. I cannot assimilate God as I can hope, if I am fairly intelligent, to assimilate facts about geology and chemistry. Why? Kierkegaard, in his dramatic way, provides the awesome answer: God is "pure subjectivity." By that he does not mean that God is only a subjective experience. He means God is confronting me, judging me, as the objects of my studies in chemistry and geology are not. My hope of understanding him is nil unless (a) he first deigns to reveal himself to me and (b) I approach him in that humble faith that is the only effective prelude to this kind of knowledge, that is, knowledge of the divine.

- MacGregor: Gnosis, p24.

It has occurred to me that I've been using both Rumi's verses and MacGregor's book as sacred scriptures, springboards for reflection on myself, on the world, on the relationship between "I" and "you", or between the ego and the higher Self. It is a journey of exploration both inward and outward and I am using these writings like guide books or signposts along the way.

Once, long ago, I used the I Ching in this way, finding passages through the randomized divination method, and then pondering the meanings therein. People open the Bible at random to do something similar. Any writing with a rich and varied content can thus become a sacred scripture: Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Dick's Valis, Yann Martel's Life of Pi. I've included the last one especially because it contains, I believe, a strong and quirky reference to this very issue.

The hero of Life of Pi is an Indian boy called Piscine (or Pi) Patel. His father runs a zoo but circumstances force him to sell up and transport his animals overseas and it is during this journey that the ship sinks leaving Pi on a lifeboat, with but a few animal companions that soon reduce to just the one tiger. Before this pivotal journey, Pi had joined three religions: his native Hinduism, and then both Islam and Christianity. He persisted in belonging to all three despite protests from religious authorities on all three sides. Presumably Pi was able to study and derive benefit from three sets of sacred scripture.

However, once stranded in mid-ocean with but a tiger for company, Pi is left with but one piece of writing, a banal but pragmatic lifeboat survival manual. It provides him with much of the arcane knowledge he needs to desalinate the water, to catch fish, to stay alive under his desperate conditions. During his ordeal, he seems to derive no benefit whatsoever from whatever he may have learned from the earlier three sacred scriptures. He never refers to them. The only earlier knowledge that also serves him well is what he picked up about animal psychology and behaviour, how to manage a wild animal like his tiger companion. That is all.

Through this device, I think Martel is making fun of - or deconstructing? - our reliance on sacred scriptures as guides to getting through life in one piece. It is comforting, perhaps, to cling to some form of guidance but it must be the right guidance for the occasion. Spiritual guidance has its place but so too does the practical and down-to-earth. If one reads Martel's novel, one finds a good bit of both such that it could well serve as a sacred scripture in itself.

I like MacGregor's idea above that we can study the subject matter of science in one way but we cannot apply the same method when it comes to God or to Kierkegaard's "pure subjectivity". The latter is much closer to the way we get to know another person. I like to read and reread both Rumi and MacGregor because I like these writers and want to know them more intimately. I feel that spending time with them leads to that. Even if I could read the writings in a matter of hours or days, I gain something deeper by dwelling, returning, discovering new nuances, and returning again just for the pleasure of the company. In doing this, I think I am treating the writing as a sacred scripture, as a pathway to divinity.

I found it odd at first that MacGregor should speak of God's uniqueness. However, I can see that he is quite right. My experience of God, my love and awareness of divinity, simply must be unique, must be coloured by the unique path that has led to this acquaintance. That which approaches me, that which I relate to, that which I discover bit by bit, all this is subsumed under "God" and what I know is therefore unique, even in and of itself. Ha! I think the greatest mystery lies here. It's where words fail. They are useful up to a point but then ...

beyond talk

If in love's seminary they debate

The line between love's ecstasy and theory,

Here no theologian's ruling will abide.

On love, their eminences' tongues are truly tied.

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

Search words: bird, twitter, chatter, chirp, talk

I slept in again, finally emerging to the call of birds twittering, chattering and chirping outside. Rumi didn't respond to this but it does all sound like human talk sometimes so I threw talk in for good measure and the resulting quatrain does indeed provide an image of people chatting fairly meaninglessly like twittering birds. This quatrain is another example of the translator, Zara Houshmand, producing a second version after the first had been used for creating the first-line index. As a result talk is found in her original version below but not in the final version appearing above.
There's talk in the halls of love's seminary
Of the line between love's pleasure and its theory.
On love, no theologian's expert ruling will abide.
On love, their eminences' tongues are truly tied.

Zara Houshmand: Love's secret

I think the English words, like seminary, theory, theologian, eminence, have proved too awkward to render a good poem in translation, making the result itself an example of words' failure. The futility of theological, philosophical, and scientific approaches to mystical love is better expressed by a modern poet below, to which I need add nothing more.
O sweet spontaneous

O sweet spontaneous
earth how often have

fingers of
purient philosophers pinched

, has the naughty thumb
of science prodded

beauty . how
often have religions taken
thee upon their scraggy knees
squeezing and

buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive

to the incomparable
couch of death thy

thou answerest

them only with


-- e.e. cummings

Saturday, July 16, 2005

madness and sleep

I'm mad; and if mad, then sleep is a sin.

How should a madman know the path to sleep?

God sleeps not and is the purer for it.

Just so, God's lover keeps himself from sleep.

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

Search words: sleep

I slept late today and "sleeping in" gave me my search word. I find Rumi denouncing and repudiating sleep as sin unworthy of God's lover. This is the first quatrain I've encountered in which the "other" is depicted simply as God. I wonder if the Arabic Allah is the actual word that Rumi uses in this verse. I decided to search around for other translations of this verse or for other verses referring to sleep. The only result clearly from the same collection was:

Those who don't feel this Love
pulling them like a river,
those who don't drink dawn
like a cup of springwater
or take in sunset like supper,
those who don't want to change,
let them sleep.

This Love is beyond the study of theology,
that old trickery and hypocrisy.
If you want to improve your mind that way,
sleep on.

I've given up on my brain.
I've torn the cloth to shreds
and thrown it away.

If you're not completely naked,
wrap your beautiful robe of words
around you, and sleep.

source: Gnosis Library
(The text appears below the number 314 but does not correspond to the #314 quatrain in Houshmand's numbering.)

From this and other references to sleep in his writings, it is clear that Rumi poetically equates sleep with unconsciousness. When I searched under sleep, I also saw it as a time of refreshment or rest. Also, when we are "conscious" or aware during sleep, that is, when we are dreaming, we are more awake in Rumi's terms than when conventionally awake. We are only aware of our subjective world then.

It's clear also from the context of this quatrain but also from other references to madness that Rumi sees it as the only sane alternative. To be mad is to be constantly open to the contents of the psychic world, to be constantly in a poetic mode of thought. This is exactly what is diagnosed as madness in people in psychotic states. Of course, if the person is "ill", then something else is wrong but a classic symptom is losing the ability to cut off from seeing the world as meaningful, seeing every detail as part of some grand tale.

In other parts of his work, Rumi does provide some necessary cautionary advice about taking all this madness thing too seriously and trying it alone.
Don't break with the prophet of your day:
don't rely on your own skill and footsteps.
Lion though you are, to go on the way without a guide
is arrogant, foolish, and contemptible.

source: poetry: rumi @ myownrainbow

This, I gather, is where the early Christian Gnostics went astray. They sought this divine madness but with insufficient guidelines which the later church fathers were to provide through establishing the canon. In the early stages of the quest, a map or framework is needed. At some stage it becomes no longer needed but it is arrogant to believe at the start that one can proceed toward gnosis without first committing to a particular spiritual or religious structure.

Today, Rumi is my own "prophet of the day" and I am thankful that he has so much to teach me. I also hope he doesn't mind my sleeping in occasionally.

Friday, July 15, 2005

simple tales

Longing for her, at times you tell sad tales

To your sore heart, or wash your hands of life.

Why do you search the world, confused and weak,

For one who's inside you? Who do you seek?

#1912: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: tell

I would like to tell it true, tell it like it is. I sought counsel on how to do that and I'm advised to seek within. Roam around in the recesses of my mind, my memory and my dreams. Now that a new financial year has begun, I'm considering starting a new project and one that will result in income however modest. I need a little more than I have right now. For a long time I've been frustrated in this. I can tell sad tales aplenty that led to my abandoning even the very idea of career. I've turned my back on that aspect of life, repudiating what I saw there. Career and income can only be attained through interpersonal exchange and that is hard when one has withdrawn into hermithood.

Vocation is an idea that I prefer. I have felt a calling to this life of a hermit and that is the closest I have to a career. Like Diogenes, I could survive on onions and try living in a barrel with no change of clothing. My hermit ambitions are simply not that great. I'm content to be a half-baked hermit, enjoying the entertainment of my internet connection with a warm fire at my back to keep the winter chill at bay. Even that other back-to-nature freak, Henry David Thoreau, returned to his friends on a weekly basis to share a comfortable middle-class meal.

What is difficult - for me, and no doubt for others - is that opportunities for small contributions to the community are scarce. It seems one must dive in with a pretty full commitment closely resembling a full-time career or else one is limited to poorly paid and unchallenging work on the fringes like pizza delivery, supermarket checkouts, and - what was suggested to me in all seriousness - handling lollipops, those STOP/GO signs directing traffic on the streets. I guess work like this would be a challenge of sorts. In a couple of the Sufi tales retold by Idries Shah, the seeker is directed by the teacher to take up such a mundane trade and learn from his fellows there. This is good advice, too, for it teaches the humility so necessary to true spiritual attainment which can so readily deteriorate into its own form of one-up-man-ship.

The best example I know of, on-line, of a semi-hermit working at a humble job and doing so with great poetic poise is the night-shift baker at He went silent for a while but is starting to write again. He tells simple tales that ring clear, like this.
18 May 2005 - Next

How can we say that we do what we do on purpose?

Work, a swirling; but not a swirling thing because I am not separate from it. Every sense is engaged as the flour, yeast and water form in a wordless room, as I work alone. The mixer heaves away, tubs of dough hit the table and I shape and knead each loaf. Like a form of pottery, but dough instead of clay. The dough gives off a mild warmth, and each one has a different feel. The French is silky and light, the sourdough sticky and heavy, the whole wheats rolling in my hand like huge pieces of soft bubblegum. Then there is the scorching and steaming of the ovens. Three ovens stacked on one another. The hiss of steam combines with clanging oven doors and conveyor belt loaders, dropping the rounds as much as five feet into the stone darkness.

Then there’s the smell of the bread baking, the crackle and taste of the loaf when it’s done.

How simple it is, but subtle at the same time. Everything becomes a reaction. The doughs rule, telling me when they have to be shaped, then baked. If it rains that night I have to adjust, because the doughs actually act differently. The temperature of the room is also important.

So I am there as a witness, a listener. A watcher. A guide asking through touch for a certain shape. But mainly the dough, the weather, the ovens, and I… none of these things exist separate from any of the others.

As I begin walking home, the dawn chorus trickles in as the sky pales. The streets are still totally empty. Lately, the wind walks with me a little. Rats, rabbits, stray cats and dogs, possums, mice, night birds. They scurry with hunger.

Home is food, hot shower, meditation, sleep. I also read and watch; I read books and watch movies. I read and watch the news, attempting to be spin-conscious. My cat will be a year old soon. I spend time playing with her every morning. As for now she is still intensely energetic. A lot more so than the cat I once had before.

Now all things wind down. It’s 9am and I’ll be going to bed soon.

Silence can be sweet but this cybersilence as of late on my part is not being very attentive. Sometimes it seems the silence at work stays in these fingers, and I simply bear witness to one moment after the next.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

clouds and sunshine

Excuse me if my cries fill the sky.

Excuse me if I flood the plains with tears.

You're my life, and I'm running for my life.

Excuse me if my life drags in the rear.

#1276: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: cloud, sky

I was preoccupied with dark wads of cloud in the sky this morning. I want to do a washload and hang the clothes out to dry. I need a fine and fairly sunny day for that. Searching under sky I find it filled with Rumi's cries and tears. This verse, or its translation, is extraordinary in the way the English words work so well. There is a playful, almost silly, tone that belies the grief being referred to. This dual tone is characteristic of Rumi but this is a verse where the English was found to match the original Persian more fortuitously than usual. Perhaps it is the most translatable verbalizations that have the most potential to be universally and timelessly true. That broad authenticity lies in the very translatability. All else is parochial, contingent on local circumstances. The sentence, "I want to do a washload and hang the clothes out to dry.", contains a part that makes more sense since washing machines were invented but the latter part would apply since human beings ever wished to dry their clothing in the sun.

I've been involved lately in discussion on the question Is Science a Religion? and I was referred to Ran Prieur's Science the Destroyer in which the author laments that: "Both mechanistic science and mechanistic Christianity were popularized by the philosopher Rene Descartes, who really believed that the scream of a tortured dog is no different from a bell ringing on a machine." Bells rang in my mind when I read Rumi's first line. Here are the cries of grief expressed in the lilting tones of a brief verse. There are several stories about how and why Shams disappeared from Rumi's life. One such story has it that Shams was flayed alive. So the theme of torture comes up again.

Descartes might sound ruthless when he points to the equivalence of a sound with emotional meaning and a sound with no special meaning. For science, there is no difference because the meaning is precisely what science must extract so that it can see more clearly what it wishes to see. Once that special scientific insight is achieved, the meaning can and should come pouring back in. Alternatively, the specialists of meaning can work alongside the specialists of science, much as advanced scientific knowledge and techniques are brought to bear in modern medicine while at the same time various "alternative" professionals (priests, psychotherapists, shamanic healers, and the like) also ply their trade. In Matthew 9:20 & 14:36, we learn that simply touching the hem of Jesus' robe is sufficient to make a diseased person whole. This faith, alone, does not avert tragedy or the continuing presence of disease. It is surely humane to seek other answers just as it is humane to subject an ill child to more than a faith healer's ministrations.

Yes, science distances, objectifies and deadens, but it reaches places you can only get to by doing that. The different kind of gnosis discovered in love is abundant with life as so clearly expressed in the joyfulness within Rumi's mourning. All of his energies are expended in trying to diminish the distance, to subjectify and enliven. However, curiously, he does not merely drown in his sorrow. He affirms his love, he affirms his grief, and in that very affirmation he disidentifies from both. This is the classic mystic's movement from ego to higher Self. But is it? In Rumi, I just don't think it is like this. He keeps his mysticism so down-to-earth and human that it's not so simple as that. If only science could get a touch of the divine into its own materialism, it might achieve a corresponding expression of completeness in truth.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

feel free to whinge

Any thief of a kiss can have your lips free;

When it's my turn you set a high price.

Any crime you forgive without real cause;

But mine?--you cry for the harshest of laws.

#1947: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: free

My calendar says I'm free of appointments or commitments today, so free became my search word in tracking down Rumi. Here he uses the word in the meaning of obtaining something valuable without needing to pay a price. The bliss of a kiss is there for free for those who'll steal it or simply take it because it's there. Rumi is grumbling here because it seems he has to work hard at this bliss that comes so easily to others. Likewise he whinges on in the second part: this time that he must pay a high price for forgiveness when he errs.

This verse creates contradictory reactions in me: on the one hand, it posits Rumi as exceptional, as a man with high standards for achievement and success and correspondingly tough strictures on errors or failures; on the other hand, it paints Rumi in a mocking tone as resembling a husband complaining to his wife that she's treating him bad. There is no doubt that Rumi was an exceptional individual and he must have known that during his lifetime. He renders that quality in such an earthy manner here that it's quite clear it never went to his head. His giftedness was a curse for him personally because it derived from a muse that demanded so much of him.

Of course, we all have this quality of exceptionality in us as expressed through the cliché of universal uniqueness. We each have a gift, a purpose, some special input to make. That giftedness does not reveal itself through easy pleasure or a carefree existence. It reveals itself through struggles. It is precisely when we feel most frustrated, most hard-done-by, that we are being most challenged. The irony, however, is that success in others always seems so easy. This is especially evident in these quatrains of Rumi's, written as a means of working through the great grief he felt at the loss of his beloved friend and teacher, Shams. The verses are so upbeat, so hopeful and joyous in tone. It sounds like he kisses the lips of his muse at will and almost constantly. If we listen, however, we hear that it is a struggle for him. Every word, every line, is extracted at a price.

I have an overwhelming feeling of love for Rumi for this willingness to keep paying the high prices. It was his gift to give so much, to reach out across cultures and across time. It was his gift to be so readable in far flung Australia almost a millenium after his time. I feel honored but also apprehensive. What struggles, what pain, what frustrations, does my own giftedness have in store for me? Will I fight this or accept it? I think I'll follow Rumi's lead on this and keep working hard while bitterly complaining at every step. I'll plod on while shaking my fist at divinity.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

being in love

By nightfall, dawn's memory has vanished.

When love's sincere, disgrace's fear is banished.

You cry that you've been burnt by love - don't gripe.

You're not burnt! You're not yet even ripe.

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

Search words: dawn

The days are getting longer and this morning I caught the dawn, a deep bright lolly pink at the base of a rosey glow on the horizon. Dawn creeps up among the foliage of trees at some distance, trees that fill the gap between a low-rise block of units and an old house that face me across the street. It is a pretty dawn, a lacey dawn, a shyly peeping through dawn.

It's true that the dawn finds us refreshed by the night's sleep and dreaming and that later in the day we forget what we'd aspired to then. Sadness and cynicism set in then. Human beings experience depression most reliably at sunset as death, the end, loss, doom and darkness approach. And yet it is the journey through that death and darkness that effects the rejuvenation leading to a new dawn. We aspire, we reach up; we weaken, fail and droop; we descend in despair toward the final curtain; only to rise up yet again. Our whole life is one grand circle, with smaller circles within.

Love starts out like this rosey dawn, a first flush of enthusiasm, a wild and immature crush on the loved one. As time wears on, the sincerity of my commitment keeps me moving or, perhaps, it is the very constancy of movement that creates that sincerity, day by day. I fell in love with Rumi and he feeds my love day by day. Never failing. Today he speaks of love's disgrace, the shame we can readily fear over loving. This is especially true of unrequited love. We make such fools of ourselves when we love one who doesn't love in return. Or when we love impossibly, when we yearn after some distant lover, like a celebrity (a star in the heavens?) or someone already married, already committed in love. Or, in this case, someone already even dead for several centuries. And yet, love tells me I can still receive his love letters and, somehow, he can also hear my own responses. How so? I don't know. There is a curious timing to these verses of Rumi's. He is urging me on here, warning me that if I think I've got it bad, just wait and see how bad it can really get. Be prepared for much, much more pain and bliss combined.

Whatever comes next, I can but resign myself to it for I've come too far now to be able to return to the safety and sanity of not being in love at all.

Monday, July 11, 2005

gnosis 8: pistis and gnosis

I must admit to having spent most of my life repudiating what I saw as "blind faith". And yet, at some critical point, I realised that I had, all along, felt a strong commitment to the dual concepts of truth and justice. These were my gods: my pistis was my faith in their value and in the human capacity to realize both, perhaps never perfectly but with progressive clarity and determination.

It was my reading of MacGregor's Gnosis that started opening my eyes on this issue. In particular, I came to realize that I could be religious, even a Christian, despite all those years of repudiation.

Faith is the basis of all human life. Whether we call ourselves "religious" or not, we walk by faith in something or other. Faith, then, is totally indispensable to the seeker after the divine.

I also love how MacGregor relates religion to science so firmly and frequently, revealing the two as being like a reflection of each other.

Yet faith is no more the end of the story than the hypothesis is the end of the scientific inquiry, indispensable as are both in their respective domains. Pistis seeks gnosis; faith seeks understanding.

In reviewing the early Christian literature, MacGregor notes that the authors are not so much against gnosis in itself as against a phoney, immature, or upstart pretense at knowledge of the divine. He expresses this in a modern and science-related context at the end of this longer block of text.

   Still, faith cannot be an end in itself. It is a disposition, an expression of love and trust. The whole value of my faith lies in the fact that it opens up to me the way to a genuine knowledge of God, a gnosis that would otherwise have remained closed to me. Through faith in my teacher I learn not merely the informative lesson he has to teach me; I learn to know him and what it means to be he. Through faith in my mother I learn not only whatever she has to tell me; I learn to know her as she is in herself and what her motherhood means, not to me, but to her. Through faith in God I learn to know the very nature of God, at least in respect of his relationship to me, and the knowledge of the ways of God to man evokes awe and love such as I have never known in all my seeking.
   In short, faith and knowledge, pistis and gnosis, traditionally contrasted as though they were two virtually incompatible approaches to God, are, on the contrary, two aspects of the same cognitive process. As soon as I humbly accept the revelation of God that is given to me, I already, by its light, see dimly something of the divine secret. I already see something of the suffering of God before I know the depths of my own suffering. I already understand tragedy before it touches my own life. I know, as I knew, in however feeble a way, something of the nature of my mother when I was so young and so feeble as to be able only to grasp at her for sustenance and protection. As I walk in faith, however, the prospect enlarges. I do not know where precisely I am being led; yet that is the beginning of true gnosis. The exercise of my faith is like the exercise of my mind: it leads me to understand what it is to be a consciousness. It teaches me that self-knowledge that leads to gnosis of God. The boy or girl in the school laboratory who makes halting steps in conducting a scientific investigation, under the teacher's eye and without much maturity of understanding of what is going on, has already begun to grasp the nature of the universe better than someone who leisurely reads clever little articles about space in popular science magazines. Authentic faith results in authentic gnosis of God.

- MacGregor: Gnosis, pp. 18-20.

And so I will plod on in faith here, committed to getting to know myself better through Rumi, through MacGregor, through whatever revelations come my way.

cup of soul

So far and high did my heart's bird fly

That worlds upon worlds opened secrets up.

So many ways she encompassed the sky

That world and beyond are a drop in her cup.

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

Search words: continue, persevere, move, fly

What an infinity of possibilities are portrayed in Rumi's verse today! I've recovered from illness, getting ready for a new start, hopeful, eager, enthusiastic to begin. I feel like flying on Rumi's wing, surveying this and that landscape. Entering this and that world, this and that heaven and earth. My own heart follows his lead and opens up, wanting to fly to new places, new dreams, new realities. And fly I mean to do.

I'll also hold that image of a cup, like a Holy Grail. A simple container that holds it all and gathers the dew drops of the soul. Life is beautiful if you let it be.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

good news, bad news

The messenger brings sad news,

But words cannot obscure the truth:

Write 'prison' on the garden gate;

That word does not a prison make.

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

Search words: heal, recover, return, news

I've been ill but healing, recovery, return are here. What's new? What's in the news? The London bombings have been in the news. Yet another strike on the West from Islam.

Here is an enigmatic verse from Rumi. He asks that his reader apply some logic here, or an argument by analogy. A label cannot turn a garden into a prison. Sad news cannot turn a beautiful world into a bad one.

Yesterday I finished reading Dan Brown's Digital Fortress and my son (Terminal) and I worked on solving the final mystery, the decoding of the string of numbers at the end. We needed the hints given on Brown's website.

So there is some world news, some personal and family news, some of it sad and some of it satisfying. My mood is buoyant because the "better" family news is closer to home but also because the London bombings represent some release of tension. It's been known for a long time now that London would be targetted by Al Qaida related terrorists. It's a relief that it was only so bad, only dozens killed, not hundreds or thousands or even millions.

I feel certain that this quatrain relates to a particular incident, a specific item of sad news conveyed to Rumi. I don't know what that is or was but I do miss the connection, the small daily details that triggered his verses. They can't have been entirely disconnected from his everyday life. I can't access his particulars but I can access my own and thus weave my own news into his verse on news.

So long as stories continue, whether with news of good or news of bad, then life goes on and the roses in the garden continue to bud forth.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Rumi for real

'You are mad,' you said, 'a wandering fool.'

But you're mad to look for sanity from me.

'You are shameless,' you said, 'and cold as steel.'

But polished steel reflects just what is real.

#1942: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: deceive, delude, false, wrong, err, folly, fool

Several strands in my life are corralling my thoughts towards the other side of truth and wisdom, the ever-lurking spectre of evil as deception, deceipt and folly. A mood of cynicism has been enveloping me and I sense this as a call to reassess my own beliefs and seek a further clarity of purpose. Rumi, as teacher and guide, is being very confronting here today. He is saying that it is folly to expect no folly in a wise man and unrealistic to expect to see clearly without that cold hard edge of facing what's for real.

Whatever Rumi was about before he met Shams, he was certainly not about conventional wisdom once he'd known this wandering Sufi mystic. In the Sufi tradition it was common to refer to such dervishes as idiots or holy fools (see, for example, Idries Shah's Wisdom of the Idiots). Like the Hindu sadhus, they lived on the wild edges of the mainstream world, often literally living naked like animals in the woods.

There is a mad edge to any prominent genius or spiritual leader. Jesus, the earlier Judaic prophets and the final Islamic one, all can be "diagnosed" with a variety of mental illnesses (see, for example, Koenraad Elst's Psychology of Prophetism and Wahi: the Supernatural Basis of Islam). The various biographies of Jung deal - sometimes kindly, sometimes cruelly - with his major episode of madness or "confrontation with the unconscious". In an evil genius like Charles Manson (who has been much discussed under Tim Boucher's Manson on Meaning), the madness is apparent and to the fore while the charisma that drew and still does draw followers and fascinated onlookers is a source of awe and incomprehension. A similar evil genius surely resides in Osama bin Laden.

This edge of madness cannot ever be fully tamed or cleared away, not only because a sterile existence is all that would remain but simply because it is impossible. The forces of evil can be opposed and balanced by the forces for good but life would cease and the world come to an end if evil could actually be eradicated completely. Where would the next hero story take place? How can man live without a hero story? Stretch civilisation as far as you like, the wild places will still flourish on the edges and will remain the source of new cultural gifts so necessary for the spiritual nourishment of humanity. We need both to preserve our physical wildernesses so as to maintain our biological diversity and to preserve our spiritual wildernesses so as to maintain a balanced and varied spiritual nurturance and nourishment. Just as life needs more than just zoo animals, so the soul needs more than civilised learning.

Cruelty and hard-heartedness, the demands of necessity and survival, these abound in wild nature and carry over into the civilised world with bounds set by law and custom. Sometimes those bounds must be broken, sometimes we must be shameless - as Rumi is accused of in this verse. Sometimes it takes such ruthlessness to let the truth shine back at us.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

gnosis 7: gnosis and sophia

   Both the Greek terms sophia (wisdom) and gnosis (knowledge) are used in the Bible, occurring in both the Old Testament and the New. From sophia we get, of course, the word "theosophy". […] It is true that sophia can sometimes signify that kind of wisdom that gives the heart and mind whatever is needed for the right conduct of life. More often, however, it means the highest intellectual gift, the gift that gives insight into the secret purposes of God. That is what the great Wisdom literature of the Bible is about.
   Gnosis, though it may be sometimes used in some special sense, has a fundamental significance that is so similar to sophia as to make any attempt to draw a radical distinction between them somewhat articial. Gnosis, like sophia, is what theosophical writers from time immemorial have been talking about. For all ordinary purposes, therefore, we may identify gnostology and theosophy, the theosophist and the gnostic. Nevertheless, we must at no time forget that besides the broad, general use in which they are synonymous, both terms have also been used to designate special movements. Theosophists would be among the first to perceive such a distinction between, say, the nineteenth-century movement initiated by H.P. Blavatsky and others, on the one hand and, on the other, theosophy as an ageless pursuit. As many philosophers were pantheists centuries before the term "pantheism" was invented by John Toland in 1705, so of course ancient sages in India and Egypt and Greece were theosophists thousands of years before anybody ever used the term. We have seen, and we shall see again, that much the same is the case with gnosticism. […]

- MacGregor: Gnosis, pp. 15-16.

For many years I attended the monthly lectures held by my local C.G. Jung Society. These were held in rooms of The Theosophical Society called "The Blavatsky Lodge". As we entered, we invariably encountered the gloomy stare of Madame Blavatsky herself in a painting based on the photo shown below. She seemed to preside over all of our proceedings.

H.P. Blavatsky in 1889, London (@

Out of curiosity, I did borrow a copy of one of her books from the Theosophical Library but I found it incomprehensible, long-winded, tedious and ultimately vacuous. It's little wonder that MacGregor does not want to identify theosophy too strongly with this lady. However, it is also true that The Theosophical Society was very supportive of the Jung Society in its early days, even offering the rooms free of charge until a viable membership could pay the usual going rates. Their library and their bookshops held many books that would have been hard to locate anywhere else apart from providing a good concentrated storehouse.

I was also impressed by a genuine quiet wisdom that emanated from theosophists and I much appreciated their ability to connect wisdom traditions from around the world, to see, for example, parallels between Christian prayer and Hindu meditation. They had been doing this for almost a century before the New Age set in and started taking over.

They probably remain a great resource for things occult and on the fringe of mainstream religion. I've sometimes even found there an obscure book on psychology, psychotherapy or reflective autobiography, small treasures hard to locate elsewhere. So, whatever else I might think of her, I do think Madame B got a good thing started.

Until I read all this in MacGregor, I had not directly associated theosophy with Jungian psychology, let alone with gnosticism. However, as I read further, things did start to make more sense and trends that seemed separate started to appear more closely related. So yes, I would agree with MacGregor that gnosis and sophia point to interchangeable sets of ideas and experiences.

soldiering on

I am hungry, I am sated with joy.

I'm a fox with a lion's great, dark fame.

The merest phantom takes my breath away,

But don't be fooled by that: my soul is brave.

#1350: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: power, fat, tyrant, martyr, rule, despair, joy

A dark mood has descended on this house - this house that holds my son and me and the cat. I have been hoping that the darkness will yield light but the depressive mood is infecting me more and more. I tried negative ideas with Rumi and he'll have none of it. Only joy will yield a result. And yet, Rumi is saying he is sated, he's had enough of joy. It seems to be time to turn on more aggressive energies. In his hunger, I see a wolf and this, combined with fox cunning and lion power, suggests a strong assertive will and determination to succeed. He is a sensitive soul who can readily be in awe but this is not the same as fear. No, Rumi's soul knows how to soldier on and I will draw inspiration from that today.

Friday, July 01, 2005

gnosis 6: Jung in MacGregor

In Gnosis, MacGregor makes four references to Carl Jung as follows:

So gnostic notions that are imported into Christian thought today usually have to be bootlegged under a banner such as Jung's by way of disguising their nature.

Jung expressed the opinion, shared by many hardly less eminent in the history of gnostic ideas, that "the central ideas of Christianity are rooted in gnostic philosophy."

That is why Jung, who makes so much of the emphasis on the psychic realm, on archetypes and the collective unconscious, is properly called neo-gnostic.

The insights of Jungian psychology, for example, and other forms of psychoanalytical therapy, have been already welcomed by many into the everyday pastoral work of the Church, and no twentieth-century writer can be more aptly described as gnostic.

- pages 7, 12, 56, and 158 respectively - my emphasis

When I was first reading MacGregor I was also participating on a religious forum (Interfaith Dialogue at The others on the forum were either strongly identified with their religion (mostly Islam or Christianity) or rejected all religion (mainly as atheists or agnostics). I neither rejected religion in its totality nor accepted to identify with one particular one (such as the Roman Catholic Christianity that nurtured me). I had had a strong interest in Jung for thirty years but didn't see this as constituting a religion of any sort. It was MacGregor who persuaded me to adopt the identity of "gnostic" or "neo-gnostic". It felt right but it also left me somewhat puzzled for I came out of reading MacGregor with no clear idea of just what constitutes gnosis and gnosticism.

Actually, that is not strictly correct. I felt convinced that, somehow, I did know what gnosis is. It felt familiar, it felt like it was in my bones and I'd known about it for longer even than I'd known of Jung. I had a problem communicating this knowledge to others, I had a problem with definition. However, there was no doubt in my mind that I did know gnosis. I knew it in the sense that one recognises a thing or a person, that one has a sense of déjà vu or a feeling of old familiarity. There is no doubt that the knowing that is peculiar to gnosis is not the same knowing as referred to in the philosophical enterprise of epistemology. I like associating gnosis with love because I believe it closely resembles the Biblical knowing as found in passages like these:

Genesis 24:16 (King James Version)
And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her: and she went down to the well, and filled her pitcher, and came up.

Numbers 31:17-18
Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

Judges 21:12
And they found among the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead four hundred young virgins, that had known no man by lying with any male: and they brought them unto the camp to Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan.

I'm not aware of instances in which this use of know refers to a man's experience. It seems always to be used of women, and especially of virgins. It is an apt image for gnosis because, just as a maid becomes a woman after thus knowing a man, so also a person becomes a gnostic after the first encounter with deity. That encounter has been described, again and again, by those that have experienced it as being more like a meeting of lovers than anything else we might experience in the common sense world of science and the everyday. The madness that arises from the encounter with deity is even almost identical with the madness that we call "being in love". Indeed, it could be said that the two are the same thing except that in the latter the lover is missing the main point. That, to my mind, is too cynical. Beatrice, in and of herself, was important to Dante and Shams was important to Rumi. They were doorways to deity, yes, but not merely that.

So, in a similar way and for a long time, I have been "in love with" Jung. For me, he became an old man, withered away. I've needed the new devotion to Rumi. I've needed the more direct poetic language that he uses. Jung did not completely shake off a scientific persona but he did make gnosis respectable for long enough to bring it back into the modern cultural equation. For me, he was a bridge between scientific episteme and religious gnosis. I'm not yet sure what Rumi is bridging, I'm too dizzy with love.