Wednesday, August 31, 2005

the heart's navel

My heart's pure essence is just this body's molded clay.

Taste this new-pressed must, these well-aged thoughts I pour.

These grains of truth I give you are the trap my heart has laid.

The voice you hear is mine, but the message is my heart's core.

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

Search word: heart

I have been drawing naked figures lately and the final touch is that central point, the belly button or navel. Rumi sometimes uses the heart as an image of centrality, as he seems to do today, especially with the notion of the "heart's core". This central or most essential point is not exactly Rumi himself: his peculiar or specific personality and biography are what shape his message and give it its unique form. The underlying message, however, is divine. Rumi is quite consciously channeling divine revelations.

Throughout this quatrain, two elements are juxtaposed, a common device in Rumi's verses. There is "pure essence" that would seem to be pure spirit but is then identified with the body and even with the body's very physical substance. Spirit and matter are thus made one. In the second line, what is fresh (the newly pressed grapes) and what is aged (the fully matured wine) are also brought together. The old and the new are thus made one. In the third line truth sits with a trap, honesty with deceit. The true and the false are thus made one. And finally, in the fourth line, the human voice and the divine message are combined as but two aspects of the one song.

Whether within Islam, Judaism or Christianity, such revelation has been a specialty of prophets and only with Jesus has the human and the divine been theologically united. As the experience of Al-Hallaj showed, a martyr's death awaits the man who would identify himself too openly with God. Some untrained ears can take offense and read the message in a distorted way. Hence the need to veil the message or revelation, to hide the truth while revealing it. Whether we know it or not, we each have an ear to hear the revelation as well as an untrained ear to distort it. The gifted poet-prophet knows how to speak to both sides. In that speaking, he must also deceive so as to reveal the truth in its fullness. His message must also be fresh and original for otherwise it lacks eternal authenticity.

This single verse could well serve a prophet-poet as one central instruction point. It is like the very navel of Rumi's own ruminations.

The World Navel @


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

broken glass

She clapped her hands when she saw my state:

"Drunk again, and all repentance broken!"

Repentance, like glass, is so hard to make

But once made, so easy to break.

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

Search word: hand

My back aches
and I seem to have lost
my hands.

Wise plans
and good intentions
fly out the door.

No more
neatly ironed sentences,
no more.

Monday, August 29, 2005

friendship among us

Reciting you, friend, I lose sight of you.

Your dear face is veiled by the light of you.

I remember your lips, but the memory

The memory, my friend, veils your lips from me.

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

Search word: friend

Yesterday, I ventured out of my hobbit-hole and met some new live friends. Rumi makes many many references to friend which is understandable since this whole set of quatrains was dedicated to his lost friend and teacher, Shams of Tabriz. This one is an early quatrain judging by its numbering and it has a more literal or earthy sense in referring to this friend. The same or a similar position of "other" in Rumi's verses is often also taken by a feminine figure and quite simply by God. However, whether the figure is male or female, human or godlike, Rumi seems always to relate to it as a friend, that is, on an equal footing.

In many religious traditions, but in Islam especially, God is seen as a kind of patriarchal ruler, master and "Lord", not as a lover or friend. The idea of God as lover comes into the Abrahamic tradition with Jesus but is not preserved in Mohammad's vision. God is strictly seen in Islam as being without a partner, being thoroughly singular and unrelated to anything else.

Qur'an 3:64 (Yusuf Ali)

Say: "O People of the Book! come to common terms as between us and you: That we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than Allah." If then they turn back, say ye: "Bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (bowing to Allah's Will).

It is interesting to note in this Koranic passage that no human authority is to be allowed, only God's word has authority. If this is followed through absolutely truly, then each man and woman should accept only divine revelation that comes to him or her directly. Unfortunately, it isn't made clear in Islam just how an individual is to process such a revelation and in practice various religious authorities are relied on and only Mohammad's original revelations are taken at all seriously. Anything else is viewed as heretical or blasphemous. Most Muslims, in fact, fail to follow the written direction in their own sacred scripture.

Certainly not so Rumi nor evidently Shams either. As a wandering and essentially homeless dervish, Shams was ever open to God's presence with never a human authority to intervene. Rumi, on the other hand, was a solid citizen and a stay-at-home. It was through Shams that he learned to commune directly with God as a good Muslim really should but he seems also to have struggled to bring some form to these experiences and to communicate them better than had the Koran. The eventual Sufi practices that Rumi helped develop were also a way of integrating these personal revelations and render them more socially bound and therefore acceptable. Any such boundaries, however, are forever meant to be broken open anew. Humanity seems unable to rest within them and seems always to want to move beyond the established edges or frontiers, whether they are geographical or intellectual, artistic or spiritual.

In today's verse, there is a strong sense of the power of Shams' physical presence for Rumi. He clearly loved being with him, simply being together. He recognises here how precious that was and how easy it is to lose sight of this when the message from the "other" is too much dwelt on. Taking my cue from Rumi, I can say that I enjoy these times I spend with his verses. Whatever comes of that, whatever message or wisdom or teaching, the bottom line is that I enjoy my friendship with this poet.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

the source of life

All souls alive have souls; not so soul itself.

There's bread to suit all men, but what feeds bread?

You can shift and make do for any good thing

In life except for the source of life itself.

#1450: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: live

This morning I have been preoccupied with the idea of presence and the communication that comes from that, as contrasted with words. I feel tired of words. Presence can only communicate directly through live encounters, so I sought the live sound in Rumi. This first line attracts me because I recognise it from somewhere. Just now, I can't place it exactly but I've seen this idea before, that God or the world has no soul or, more precisely, cannot be said to "have" a soul.

There seems to be a universal human passion - perhaps it is a need, perhaps simply a form of entertainment to fend off boredom - to seek transcendence, to push forward or venture out or dig down (as the case may be), to reach apparently insuperable limits and then go beyond. One form of this passion seeks a source of life and being. It does it through a series of questions: How do I live? What keeps me alive? If a kind of bread does this, what makes this bread? How is the bread alive? What is it's source? Expressed in a purely physical or material language, we can say that bread, as food and fuel, does keep us alive; that what feeds bread is the sun through photosynthesis in plants; that what feeds the sun is whatever is behind the Big Bang at which point the religious answer "God" is as good as the one the scientist can provide.

In soul language, we can ask: What motivates me to live? What is the meaning or purpose of my life? If a kind of spiritual bread keeps me going, what makes that bread? That bread will usually take shape as a religious symbol or scriptural formulation. Whence does it come? We say that it comes as a revelation from God. Modern psychologists (of the Jungian type) will say that meaning is primarily formed through the archetype of the Self. Our psyches are made to make these symbols and formulations. But then, what makes our psyches so? Why is man a religious being? Does it come naturally to woman? Is woman also a religious being? Some argue that woman is complete simpy in her being, that a man must become a man, and that religion is primarily about that difficult transformation. According to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus requires that a woman should also become a man:
Gospel of Thomas Saying 114 (Blatz trans)

Simon Peter said to them: Let Mariham go out from among us, for women are not worthy of the life. Jesus said: Look, I will lead her that I may make her male, in order that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Historically, women have found their primary meaning in being themselves the source of new life, the vessel within which new life develops and from which new life emerges. It is no wonder that female symbols are popular for this source idea. The World Soul, which simply is, that is, does not have soul was represented by the alchemists as the Anima Mundi:

Anima Mundi @

Rumi himself often refers to this source as "she". There is no suggestion that "she" is simply Rumi's mother or grandmother. This simply begs the question of what is the source or origin of these immediate sources of life. At the psychic or spiritual level, man has identified a source of life as his own capacity to receive revelations from a male deity called "Lord". It is this "Lord" that gives humanity its direction, its vision, its goal and purpose. The modern scientifically trained mind can look on and say: "These religious prophets and holy men are just making it all up!" And indeed they are, in much the same way that I am making up the words of this blog. One after another, the words flow out through the keyboard and onto the screen. What provides the energy for that? Where is the motivation? If we dig deep enough, if we reach out far enough, if we aspire high enough, don't we all meet at the same point? Is it not the same world soul that inspires us all? Man and woman alike?

I'd like to think so but, more importantly, I'd like us all to think so. A lot of unnecessary bloodshed might be avoided thereby. A lot of martyrdom might be seen as the tragic and futile mistake that it is. Doubt, however, also comes from the same source and doubt says that I might be quite wrong and quite deluded in all this. Perhaps even the source doesn't know.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

channels of blood

The dew of love turned dust of man to mud,

From which sprang up unruly passion's horde.

Their hundred lances pierced the veins of Soul.

What we call Heart is one drop of its blood.

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

Search word: turn

I feel caught up in something I cannot escape, as if there is no turning back. I've become involved out there in the outside world and I feel trapped and out of control. To me, coming from my hermit existence, it seems like a madhouse. I turn to Rumi to see what he makes of turning.

The imagery in this verse is extraordinary. I've not come across it before. There is a connection with yesterday's reflections which ended with Ezekiel's valley of dry bones being transformed by the Lord into living souls. Here humanity is envisioned as dry dust, tiny floating particles, that coalesce only when united by a religious purpose, here imaged as the dew of love. I've searched the Koran but cannot find this precise image of water being added to dust to make mud or clay. It is specified in the Old Testament Bible as follows:

Genesis 2:6-7 (KJV)

But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

Rumi then goes on to say that out of this coalesced humanity there arose "unruly passion's horde" with its "hundred lances". This seems to suggest an army and would well describe the effect of Islamic faith on its early followers. It did fuel wars of conquest. However, since the imagery refers to a piercing of soul and a creation of heart or feeling, then this imagery is being used to stand for a passionate assault on humanity's own soul. If the veins are the paths by which blood flows, they might represent human communication especially at the cultural or religious level. A targeted or pointed attack on these lines of communication (which might include sacred scriptures like the Bible and Koran) opens them up to yield a life blood, much like a milking for meaning. An individual heart or personal experience of love becomes then just one drop from this communal well of experience and aspiration.

The closest mythological parallel I can think of is to the slaying of Tiamat:

excerpt from Enuma Elish - The Epic Of Creation [my emphasis]

Now after the hero Marduk had conquered and cast down his enemies,
And had made the arrogant foe even like
And had fullv established Ansar's triumph over the enemy
And had attained the purpose of Nudimmud,
Over the captive gods he strengthened his durance,
And unto Tiamat, whom he had conquered, he returned.
And the lord stood upon Tiamat's hinder parts,
And with his merciless club he smashed her skull.
He cut through the channels of her blood,
And he made the North wind bear it away into secret places.

His fathers beheld, and they rejoiced and were glad;
Presents and gifts they brought unto him.
Then the lord rested, gazing upon her dead body,
While he divided the flesh of the ... , and devised a cunning plan.
He split her up like a flat fish into two halves;
One half of her he stablished as a covering for heaven.
He fixed a bolt, he stationed a watchman,
And bade them not to let her waters come forth.
He passed through the heavens, he surveyed the regions thereof,
And over against the Deep he set the dwelling of Nudimmud.
And the lord measured the structure of the Deep,
And he founded E-sara, a mansion like unto it.
The mansion E-sara which he created as heaven,
He caused Anu, Bel, and Ea in their districts to inhabit.

This tiny four-line verse of Rumi's seems to open up vast vistas for speculation, far too much for me to deal with this morning. I can only begin to pry open the meaning.

Friday, August 26, 2005

after the final days

When my lost and wretched heart sees your face

Again that heart comes home to its own place.

Should all life pass and not one breath remain,

If she came back, the past would live again.

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

Search word: lost

Last night, my son and I watched the final episode (for this season) of the TV series "LOST". It was a huge flop, a huge disappointment, because nothing was revealed, nothing was resolved, and we're left with waiting months to find out what happened. It felt like a betrayal because the word "final" so much suggests that revelation and resolution will occur and, since it didn't, we felt cheated.

The connection today with Rumi is pretty thin except that the theme of being lost or in exile from one's home is archetypal. It lurks forever among the possibilities or potential realities of the day. I can feel lost even when in my own home. I can feel at home one moment and then lose that comfort and security in the next. It is so important to have an abiding symbol, an image or idea, that brings one back to oneself, that brings one back home and back on track. For Rumi, it was the face of his beloved, a beloved that shifts from Shams to a moon goddess to just plain Allah. For me, each morning, it is Rumi through a verse.

The themes today also point to the "Final Days", the day of judgment after all life has ended. We know that individuals live and die but the family, the tribe, the nation, humanity or life on earth lives on. Even so, we now know that families come to an end of their lines, as do tribes and nations, and so too do species like homo sapiens. Once upon a time, there was no life on earth and one day the planet will revert to that state, well before being devoured within our sun's final death throes.

The human imagination has always envisaged a resurrection at the end of life. Even the very primitive or historically early world view of the Australian Aborigines contained this idea. The known world arose out of the original dreamtime and will arise anew after it ends. Thus are ends also always beginnings. No doubt the regular cycle of day-night-day emblazons this idea into our psyches but it is our special talent to take up the theme and apply it to the fire that fuels our lives. Then, as Rumi describes it in this verse, the night and death come to stand for the loss of meaning and the despair that accompany personal trauma, when our safe and comfortable world is shattered. Though it might not seem possible at the time, somehow the human spirit survives and finds new meaning among the lifeless remains of one's world.

Ezekiel 37:1-14 (KJV)

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones,

And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.

And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest.

Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.

Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:

And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.

So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone.

And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them.

Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.

So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.

Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts.

Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.

And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves,

And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, saith the LORD.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

how night makes day

Night falls; but me, I can't tell night from day.

My nights are days lit by her face as bright as day.

O night - it's waiting still for word of her that makes you night.

O day - study her face to learn what makes day light.

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

Search word: day

I recently dreamt about a character that appears in a TV drama series ("The Bill" from the UK) and I noticed how the dream scene failed to appear when I watched the show. Then, last night, I dreamt I was watching a movie on a screen set up on a stage. At the end of the movie, the actors appeared on the screen to take their bow, much as happens with a stage presentation. One actress, however, came out from behind the screen and took her bow as her "live" self, in front of the audience. This overlap of movie and stage was probably influenced by my recently watching (on DVD) the 1968 classic comedy, The Odd Couple, which is a screen adaptation of a Broadway stage success.

The theme of both my dream and of Rumi's verse is the interplay between reality (as day-time truth) and imagination (as night-time truth). Our subjectivity, the very wiring of our brains if you like, so determines what we see when we're awake, we do well to study our dreams (or communal myths) so as to understand what we are contributing, through our imaginations, to our view of day-time reality, a view that seems so objective but essentially is not. After all, it is a view and that is a psychic content in its essence.

In my own dream, the movie stands in for the dream world and the "live" actress emerges from behind that. However, that same actress helped create the movie or dream. My own preoccupation with different truths or realities is determining how I live and see the world but the world is also feeding me the data that create my views and preoccupations. I like to summarize that by saying that God creates us as we create Her. It's a two-way thing, a symbiotic relationship.

My Big Dream is that this world of humans should come to live in the One World, the One Reality, working towards the One Vision. I'm reading more of John Shelby Spong: this time, his best-selling Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism. I love it that he tells it like it is but I can see that so many people are nowhere near his view, whether because he too radically attacks Biblical literalism or because he claims there is any value at all in the Christian religion. At least he unites both sides in the one view that his writing is shocking. That's a start.

I'm somewhat inclined myself to doubt any lasting merit in the Christian religion but I know that my view is coloured by my loathing of fundamentalism, literalism, and especially the preposterous claims of Biblical inerrancy and Papal infallibility. Why can't we - and God Herself - make the odd mistake? To disallow these smallish mistakes is to make one very gigantic or global mistake. I'm all for the little ones, myself.

In whatever small way I can, I mean to walk toward my dream today.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

strange songs

They ask me 'Why are you in so much pain?

Why do you sing and wail? Why is your face so pale?'

I say, 'Don't tell me what I do is wrong.

Look at the moon of her face; you'll understand my song.'

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

Search word: much

Excess - or too much - felt like today's theme for there has been some excess in my life lately. It leaves me feeling overwhelmed. In this verse, Rumi speaks of his own grief which is seen by others as excessive. In defense, he points to the face of a feminine lunar deity. The suggestion here is that it is fine for a man to cry, to express the emotions of grief. The weeping and wailing at funerals was often a job for the women but men have feelings too.

In contrast, it occurs to me that I've often taken a confrontational stand in life. I've often adopted what might be considered traditional masculine behaviour. I had an early love of mathematics, a highly abstract pursuit often contrasted with more earthy or human (that is, feminine) pursuits.

The feminine lunar deity stands not only for the feminine side of human experience and expression, she clearly stands for totality as well, as was considered two days ago at inner-outer. After writing that, I noticed something else about the "vierge ouvrante" statue: when closed, the figure of the Virgin is stiff and elongated, resembling a phallic shape. Thus can woman express the masculine through her whole being.

Men doing feminine things and women doing masculine things is so accepted today, at least in the more worldly sectors of the West, that it's easy to forget how unusual it would have been in Rumi's day. For those around him, he was clearly singing strange new songs.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

moon flowers

A thousand brilliant beauties filled the garden;

There were violets and musk-scented roses.

The stream was not those drops that trickled slow,

A mere excuse: He was himself the flow.

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

Search word: moon

Besides wine, moon is a word Rumi refers to most often. This morning the sun is already high in the sky as I worked during the night and have slept in to compensate. I completed my tax return to the light of the moon!

The final version of the translation above no longer contains the keyword moon which appears in the original translation below:
A thousand moon-flowers filled the garden;
There were violets and musk-scented roses.
The stream was not those drops that trickled slow,
A mere excuse. He was himself the flow.

I would guess that the Persian is literally "moon-flowers" but that this is a common metaphor that can be rendered "brilliant beauties". I would guess that, in the garden of their relationship (both before and after Shams' mysterious disappearance), Rumi experienced insight after insight, like pearls of wisdom on a thread of days and hours and minutes and seconds. The moon is the light of insight, the light associated with the night and its dreams, when subjectivity holds sway. Shams, Rumi's beloved and mystical "other", was the source of these insights. He was - and because he is eternal, he is - the source of insight, of those very moon-flowers that excite the inner senses. Right now, I name him Rumi for that is the name by which he appears to me. In a moment, I might name him by my cat's name when she nuzzles up for a scratch behind the ears. He might even appear as my arch-enemy who forced me to complete that wretched tax return in the middle of the night.

To keep my courage up, I drank a small glass of wine as I worked on those tax papers and, this morning, I can but hold up a metaphoric version of that glass and write: I'll drink to that!

Monday, August 22, 2005


Inside my heart and outside, all is her;

My body, blood and veins, my life is her.

There's no room here for blasphemy or faith;

My existence knows neither, only her.

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

Search word: out

Overnight, I dreamt that I was moving house. A female real estate agent was explaining the merits of the apartment block I was leaving: balcony space had been eliminated in favour of better and ampler interior layout. However, balconies and verandahs are spaces that are halfway in and halfway out and we need them as buffer zones or foyer spaces between our private and public lives. Reflecting on a Rumi verse is my own balcony space: one foot inside my own interiority and one foot stepping out into the public world.

I used out as a keyword so I might find what Rumi had to say on this inner/outer polarity. The translator, Zara Houshmand, has used the feminine pronoun "her" to reference what another might call "He" or "Lord" or "God". (See Update below.) I don't have access to the original Persian but I'm sure the "her" is a good choice, for feminine symbols seem most apt for totality ideas. This has been best expressed in Christian iconography through the "vierge ouvrante" style of statue where a figure of the Virgin Mary opens up to show the trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit inside. In the version shown below, Christ on the cross is most evident along with scenes from the Bible.

vierge ouvrante

vierge ouvrante @

It's pretty clear from the parallels inside today's verse that blasphemy is aligned with interiority. The mystic that insists that God is inside can be seen to be opposed to the literalist or dogmatist who insists on faith as an external thing, with God firmly outside of the individual believer. Here in this verse, Rumi will have none of that. The two are part of the one totality and there is no room there for any division or conflict. The totality, in any case, is all that Rumi sees.

Rumi is not merely about spirituality or interiority. No true mystic ever is. Spirit and matter, inner and outer, subversion and obedience, all are categories contained within the One which is indifferent to them all. She favours neither her right hand nor her left, neither her material child nor her spiritual, neither the obedient nor the naughty. All are Her children and all belong to Her.

Update: See quatrain 173 for other versions.


Sunday, August 21, 2005

a taste of wine

I bring wine from my love, who lights my heart,

I bring the love-fire that burns in my chest;

May they hide from all eyes, till the end of time,

The nightmare I lived those nights until dawn.

#1307: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: wine

I decided to continue to explore the theme of wine today. Yesterday I sought Rumi's thoughts on dreams and today he refers to one long nightmare he experienced before the arrival of dawn and its enlightenment. Like so many mystics, Rumi maintains a cheerful, hopeful, uplifting tone in all of his verses. Here he hints at the dark times that preceded this joyfulness.

In a comment, segovius points out that "the wine metaphor is used by Rumi (and other Sufis such as Khayyam) as a stand-in for Sufism itself". I have some problems with this equation because "Sufism" can mean different things, some political, some spiritual, some general, some specific. In Rumi, it might refer to a spiritual message but he was a Muslim, after all, and Islam does not encourage separation of spiritual from political reality. It's all one world and one reality, created by the one deity.

In most of Rumi's verses, I detect as I can here, very easily, a double layer of meaning. He speaks about hiding a nightmare but the very words reveal the nightmare. He therefore combines or unites yet another pair of opposites: hiding and revealing. By pushing our imaginations forward to "the end of time" and placing the nightmare in the past, Rumi also juxtaposes future and past and joins them similarly. As I read him, then, the nightmare is ever-present as is the enlightenment.

Dante (1265-1321) lived just after Rumi (1207-1273) and he also wrote about the journey to heaven that passes through hell and purgatory. When viewed through the lens of linear time, this story suggests that we start out in ignorance and hell, work through our errors, and arrive eventually at an enlightened state that is pretty well permanent. In the Oriental perspectives a more circular sense of time is emphasised as in the famous saying attributed to Wu Li:
Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.
After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.

Rumi seems, in this verse, to superimpose the images of wine, love, light and warmth over a fleeting reference to a nightmare that is revealed to be hidden beneath or behind the other. I get the impression that the two sets of images are co-eternal but to say so too openly might be seen as heretical and politically dangerous. Again, Rumi uses these devices to allow a simultaneous cover-up and revelation. It is in Purgatory that Dante finds the most poets and I'm inclined to think that this is the place where the greatest truth lies. To come to love that oh-so-human state that lies between the extremes of heaven and hell is the most authentic discovery.

Having drunk from the wine flask of Rumi's life experience, I will now continue with my day and, a little later on, I hope to sip from a glass of literal red.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

thoughts on dreams

Don't even think, just let yourself dream.

Thoughts are veils that hide the moon's bright face.

The heart's a moon, where thinking has no place.

Toss these thoughts away into the stream.

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

Search word: dream

This morning, for the first time in a long time, I recalled and recorded a dream. In this verse Rumi contrasts dreaming with thinking in true mystic fashion, that is, poor thinking gets tossed out. Thinking is so close to my heart, it is so much something that I love to do, that I cannot imagine separating head and heart like that. Still, Rumi is right about a certain kind of chattering thinking that is like a rehearsal for human conversation. It can direct one's mind away from what one truly desires and more toward what will improve one's social standing. The latter is important for survival and it is a natural instinct to want to please others. However, the great religious quest discussed by the alchemists, the gnostics, the mystics, and the theosophists, this quest is for the pure Self and that must, indeed, be discovered beneath or before our efforts at social acceptance.

My dream featured a carnival atmosphere, kids with party hats and feathers flying. A new pope had been elected but this time it was a woman.

I have been reading recently about the (probably fictitious) Pope Joan and this must surely have inspired my dream.

La Papesse, Marseilles deck @

Welcome to segovius who commented on Rumi's pure wine image and whose site I look forward to exploring.

Friday, August 19, 2005

keeping it real

Lover of truth, this morning bring pure wine

To break my fast, for life is death itself.

Keep watch over this burning heart, or else

Hear the moans of a song from which heart's gone.

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

Search word: truth

I've decided to stay with the theme of truth, following Renata's comment on Mansour and Rumi yesterday. She has rightly seen that I'm reading Rumi too superficially on this. I'm not digging deeply enough.

This verse today feels very poignant to me for it seems to describe a living death. The issue brought up yesterday seemed then to relate to an isolated event, a moment in time when one faces a crucial decision: lie and live, or tell the truth and die. I'm sure there are indeed many such major moments of truth in life but it is also true that every moment can have that quality. If lying to others is OK to save one's skin, then lying to oneself becomes OK so one can live in some fantasy world of one's own. The choice is ever present: express yourself truly or moan a song where heart is gone.

As often happens with Rumi, I find an intriguing ambivalence in his images, especially in this case in the pure wine. Approached from one angle, this wine is a soporific that can numb pain. The impression is of a drunk who drowns his sorrows in wine. And this is, indeed, a very sad possibility. On the other hand, the idea of pure wine is of something highly potent, stimulating and substantial, in marked contrast to mere water or baby's milk. It is a symbol of renewed courage and strength. Like many such symbols, it becomes dangerous only when approached idolatrously or literally, as when the tough guy literally downs a brandy every morning to get started with the day. That way lies plain alcoholism.

This was most notably the fate of Jack Kerouac who died quite young from the results of alcohol abuse. He embodies both the error and the enlightenment aspects of Rumi's image of pure wine. He was a passionate seeker after the truth and a hugely inspirational writer, but he never learned to say "no" to the drink.

Every morning, I start by drinking the pure wine of my own first thoughts and dreams. Then I turn to Rumi and drink from there. He is the current embodiment of my primary "other". He's a truthful teacher, not a mere romantic. I'm confident he'll keep me real but a little help from a currently alive "other" is also welcome.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Mansour and Rumi

To be tangled, oh so briefly, in your love

Is to know disaster, close at hand and real.

Honest Mansour spoke true, as love must do,

And he was hung by the rope of his zeal.

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

Search word: brief

I've woken in a mood to get down to business, to get focussed and get brief. Today Rumi talks of the brief but disastrous impact of falling in love with the divine beloved. Here he clearly states his allegiance to the great mystic martyr, Mansur Al-Hallaj, who was cruelly tortured and executed over the heresy of speaking the truth. He was famous (or infamous) for saying Ana al-Haqq, meaning "I am the Truth", and since al-Haqq is one of the names of God/Allah, this was tantamount to identifying with God. Not an unusual claim among mystics but heresy to more orthodox or doctrinal Muslims.

The truth is one of those things that people are prepared to die for. Human beings, however, create truth much as they create their gods while simultaneously being created by the gods and by the truth. What we believe is so critical to how we live and how we live is likewise critical to how our beliefs are perceived: to some, martyrdom will seem to be a proof of greater truth; to others, survival to a gentle death through old age seems more convincing. In our Western tradition the great contrast is seen between Giordano Bruno who was martyred and Galileo who settled for permanent house arrest. Each had their role to play. Perhaps Rumi more closely resembles Galileo. Radical anti-Islamists see him as having saved his own neck by at least pretending to go along with the stupidities of Islam, by at least pretending to revere Mohammad to the extent required of a good Muslim.

However that may be, it is clear in this verse which comes from the heart and from Rumi's own deepest truth that Mansour was a heroic victim and a true knower. Truth is not an easy thing to love but, once encountered, it is impossible to disentangle oneself. I am in awe at the sacrifices of al-Hallaj, of Galileo, of Socrates, of Jesus, of the countless martyrs of history, but in my heart of hearts I am a Rumi or a Galileo. If I can find a way to survive while holding the truth at least safe in my heart, then I will do so. If I must speak false to save myself then speak it I will and hope that those that have ears to hear will know it for what it is.

I only hope it would never come to that.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

living my dreams

Since the day I may join my beloved is nowhere in sight,

Slowly, slowly I turn away from this love.

'Impossible!' my heart cries out, 'impossible!'

It shakes its head and smirks at my sad plight.

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

Search word: now

I've started the day with the question: where to now? and I've imagined what I'd do if I suddenly acquired a million dollars together with a one thousand dollar a week income. This is like imagining how things would be if they were perfect as when imagining being with one's beloved. When one's dream seems so very far away, one tends to give up on it or turn away. Reality, cynicism, a kind of humility, these set in and say: no, get real, you've not got what it takes, you're a loser after all.

This verse of Rumi's is comforting for it suggests that the project of giving up on one's dreams is impossible. It is doomed to failure from the start. There is no need, then, to energetically fight the inner cynic for he has failed from the outset. I need just attend to the things of today and let my dreams live on. They may forever remain dreams but they do nevertheless define me and they will live so long as I myself stay alive. I live my dreams in the way I live my days. It would help to put words or images to them: that is the first step to concrete realization. However, it is not essential. Even my cat lives her dreams and she needs no writing tools for that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

class and trash

Forgive me, that I cannot sleep; forgive

The thirsty ones that they have no water.

Forgive: if you never know forgiveness,

You'll never know the blessings that God gives.

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

Search word: sleep

We've bought new pillows to enhance our sleep but Rumi says he cannot sleep and asks forgiveness for that. He was pushing consciousness forward, that's true, and making enemies in the process. People thirst for new spiritual truths, truths that take account of the traditional formulations (sacred scriptures) but go beyond that (into heresy). Forgiving such heretics is the same as allowing them into one's heart and mind and they will bring God's blessings with them.

It's always easy enough to see how blind people were once a truth has become an establishment truth. Why was the Catholic church so blind to the new scientific truths proclaimed by Giordano Bruno and Galileo? Why did the Jewish community condemn Jesus for his novel teachings and insights? For Muslims the question would be: Why did Mohammad have so much trouble establishing the Islamic faith?

I guess it behoves for each of us, every day, to keep our hearts and minds open to new ideas. If something seems heretical, if it shocks, just hold on for a moment before condemning it. It might contain at least a grain of future truth.

Last night the aussie Big Brother series finished and the winner was a simple country lad who was just basically a nice guy. Nothing special. The runner-up was a writer, a wordsmith. Writing is what he must do to express his talents. I'm not sure that's the case with me. I write here to get to know Rumi better, a little bit day by day. He never ceases to amaze me but he was writing for a different age. I also need the Big Brother trash to keep my finger on today's pulse. To me, Rumi is class but he can still ask me to forgive the trash that thirsts for more.

Monday, August 15, 2005

lost in lost-ness

My life is lost, my world is lost - all lost.

O moon, I've lost the earth, the sky - all lost.

Don't pass the wine, just pour it in my mouth.

I've lost the very way to my own mouth.

#1159: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: world

I felt shock and horror last night as beloved Vesna was evicted from the Big Brother house. I had picked her to win and it felt like my whole world had fallen apart, as if I needed to question my foundation beliefs. How could I get it so wrong? This morning, I'm more cheerful for I realize that, every now and again, a good shock can help clean out the system.

Vale Vesna

In today's quatrain I find Rumi also suffering from an earth-shattering - and sky-shattering - shock. As #1159, this verse is well into his grief period over the loss of Shams, so I suspect that some more recent shock has left him in this mood of being lost. He is left wanting only to drown his sorrows in wine: he asks his moon-muse to pour inspiration into him for he is not even capable of reaching out for it and delivering it into speech.

It's funny how Rumi can take such a distressing mood and turn it into yet another jewel, into yet another occasion for bliss.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

spilling blood

When your love and my joy conspire to spill my blood

My soul flies from the cage that shapes this human mud.

He's a godless infidel who has the chance to taste

The sin of your sweet lips, and lives on, chaste.

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

Search word: blood

There is blood on my feet. They have become so dry that they have cracked up and are oozing blood. Right now, they are soaking in a warm foot bath.

This is a dicey verse from Rumi today, skating very close to heretical thin ice. This is the first time I've encountered this bold set of opposites: the holy and the sinful. In my reading, I'm currently acquainting myself better with Mircea Eliade who was fascinated with the contrast of the sacred with the profane. He was a scholarly authority on religions but he also wrote pornographic fiction. I've often thought of the profane as simply lacking the sacred. The profane simply denies the sacred. Rumi, instead, speaks of the sinful as a prerequisite for godliness. Unless one tastes of sin, one cannot be a true believer. Perhaps this is also what Eliade was getting at.

Looked at from a Jungian perspective (or from an alchemical or gnostic perspective as illuminated by Jung's modern insights), the sacred and the profane, the holy and the sinful, are opposites that we need to express and balance in order to achieve the wholeness that is called the Self or God or the philosopher's stone. There is a special delight in forbidden fruits, no matter what boundaries we ourselves or our culture has set for us. I might be on a diet that does not allow ice cream: this makes ice cream forbidden and especially delicious. I might be a prostitute and high priestess of the profane underworld: a visit to a church is then an awesome experience.

When Rumi responds to his muse and writes his next verse, he pours out his soul which can then live on many centuries after his body has been buried and decayed down to dry bones. He achieves a kind of immortality that, I'm sure, every aspiring published author longs for. This very verse exhibits the danger of thus responding to a muse: she might inspire heretical or blasphemous words which, in a fearful restrictive culture, can easily lead to the shedding of one's own blood in, at the very least, a good flogging. Even without this literal shedding of blood, the muse makes great demands on one's time or life-blood. Rumi seems to be saying that it is time well spent. We should all yield - at least a little - to the muse's temptations.

I can but say "amen" to that!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

sweet rejection

I said: 'You are the wine, and I the cup.

I'm lifeless; you are lovely, loyal, sweet --

Now open up.' But she shut the door:

'Let a madman loose inside the house? What for?'

#1638: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: wine

The image of a cup holding wine came to mind first thing this morning. That cup and that wine have been connected with the Holy Grail and with Christ's blood. I'm connecting it with ecstasy or intoxication. I believe we all feel it every day when we're absorbed, perhaps in a simple task like weeding the garden or sewing up a sheet, perhaps in the intellectual solution of a programming or mathematical problem, perhaps in the accomplishment of some athletic feat, and certainly whenever we're wrapt in a story with drama and meaning, whether originating in a fireside tale, arising from a book or issuing forth from the TV set or movie screen.

Wine is an image for that elevation out of ordinary reality that we can call divine, an elevation that can arise out of but blend anew with ordinary, earthly reality. The best moments are when the divine and the ordinary are joined, when heaven and earth unite.

Surely Rumi creates such a moment here in this verse. It opens up with an image of a male devotee of the goddess. He adopts the submissive or passive role of a cup, usually associated with the womb and hence feminine containment. The goddess figure is the wine which has a potency akin to the sexual potency of semen. Suddenly Rumi asks her to open up and she shuts the door, these symbols revert back to Rumi's maleness and the goddess' femaleness. The serious tone is shattered as comedy breaks through in the last line.

I love these vignettes that Rumi creates, depicting himself as the harassed husband of a bossy wife. Surely this is a platform of communication through which he can reach any ordinary male - or female - in his audience. I've been following Australia's Big Brother 2005 which is drawing to its end. Absorption in that drama is one of the small ecstasies of my days. The final three contestants consist of two harassed males (Tim and Greg) and a bossy complaining woman (Vesna) who has become so popular as the one to love and hate. Who will win the final prize? My money would be on the flawed goddess.

In today's verse, the goddess rejects the loyal and supplicating male. Her house is in order and she wants to keep it that way. No messy papers scattered on every surface, no dirt and mud brought in to shiny floors, no tomato sauce spilled on white tablecloths. No, all is in order and as it should be. So ... why do I get the distinct impression that she is about to cave in? Rumi's muse chides him in that way that wives chide their husbands. He is so familiar with her that his relationship with her is just like husband and wife, just like the comedic aspects of marriage.

This, for me, is where Rumi's genius lies. He relates to God - or the goddess or Shams or the Self - in a variety of ways: sometimes as male to female, sometimes in reverse, sometimes as male to male as friends or lovers. No one is "on top" at all times. God and man are equals.

Christianity is full of images of God communicating with special men, with prophets or shamans, culminating in a special man whose followers suddenly realised is God. Christianity is obsessed with this intersection of the divine and the human in Jesus. However, the whole tone is serious, pious, self-righteous. In a word: religious. It is a tone reserved for the day set aside for being religious.

In Islam, I see an earthy element trying to insert itself - ironically enough, since Islam so insists on a transcendant deity. However, despite that insistence, the Koran and the Hadith collections are full of earthy stories, often quite funny stories, funny especially because most Muslims take them so seriously.

In Rumi, we see the logical flowering of that more earthly perspective. Rumi points the way to the realization that every man - and woman - is both human and divine, earthly and spiritual, funny and serious, low and high, civilised and wild. All the contrasts are within each of us, to be expressed each in his or her own unique way. And as soon as one opens one's mouth to speak this truth, it evaporates into the clichés and distorting categories used to say it.

What's left to do then but to shrug in comic despair ... and move on?

Friday, August 12, 2005

lost in God

I am lost in God, and God is found in me.

Why look in all directions? Look inside.

I am the Lord, and I do you wrong to say

That anyone is Lord or God to me.

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

Search words: complete, finish, God

Last night, late into the night, I read on to the end of Spong's book (Resurrection: Myth or Reality?). I came to the end of his story about God and Jesus. It is a story I can relate to, a story requiring no belief in miracles or supernatural events. Everything is rational and realistic and yet not dry for Spong allows the spirit to move inside his narrative. His is a lively and enlivening story. I couldn't help but contrast and compare how Jesus related to God, how Mo related to Allah, and finally how Rumi related to Shams-as-God. So I'm focussing more today on how Rumi sees God and his relationship to God.

This quatrain is quite emphatic in identifying God with the Self ("I am the Lord") and with subjectivity ("Look inside"). It also clearly and emphatically denies that Rumi's God is located outside of him in a separate person such as Shams. I expect that he had been accused of worshipping Shams and it is an easy thing to accuse him of. However, Rumi understands that it is his own experience of Shams and the effect of his relationship with Shams that led him to his insight about God. He found God through Shams much as a Christian might find God through Jesus.

According to Spong, the magic that Jesus wrought was in his presence. He fed a kind of food to his fellow humans that remained inside them after his death, that lived on. The new relationship to God heralded by Jesus' life and death was a more personal one, a recognition that every person - including especially "the least of these my brethren" from Matthew 25 - was a messiah or "anointed one", not merely the king or high priest. God was not embodied only in those who stand out or stand high but also and especially in those that can simply live and love.

I feel sure that, like Jesus, Shams had that quality and that he imparted it or taught it to Rumi who was so ripe for it at the time of their meeting. In contrast to Jesus, however, Rumi had the gift of writing, the ability to bring these insights directly into a cultural product that could be examined centuries later and even by a non-Persian-speaking person like myself. It is a simple divine presence that shines through in every line of Rumi and draws out divinity in any reader with a heart open even a tiny crack.

Having finished Spong's book, I have some answers but it also opened up many many more questions. When once we find God we also find our lost-ness in God, a lost-ness as eternal as our home coming. There is no doorway out of this lost-ness but who would want to escape from such a God?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

wolf spirit

I've told you a hundred times: don't run away just anywhere.

If run you must, then run to me right here.

If ever the fear of the wolf enters into your mind,

Don't run off to the wild, my love, run to your own kind.

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

Search words: win, run

A competition is approaching and a motivation to win has arisen. Tension will mount in the final run to the finals. This is a crucial time for my son and therefore also for me. He is the one competing. I envy him that fun, that thrill of competition.

Today, Rumi invites me, almost commands me, to come to him. I can easily identify as the one he addresses. Did he mean to address his verses to any single soul "out there"? Is that the abstract entity to whom I address this blog? I guess it must be when I write publicly in a place where anyone can come.

This imagery of a running wolf, of course, brings to mind that brilliant book by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves. It is a rich book and it's been a long time since I read it but it did inspire me to seek out my true nature and leave behind a goody goody two shoes mentality.

It may seem quite weird and improbable, but I hear a call here from Rumi to follow that dream of wildness, not by running out into "nature", into a literal garden or park or wilderness, but by running to nature-lovers of Rumi's sort, wild people like him. I won't find my wild self "out there", nor inside Rumi's own words. My wildest self is my most interior, private and secret self. I find it most clearly when I write for myself alone.

Wolves run in packs, however. They hunt collectively. It is really my cat side that insists on alone-ness. My wolf side likes to run to others of like kind. Hence this page that invites other wild wolves to visit and share the spirit.

Recalling that this verse was written during Rumi's mourning of Shams' disappearance, it must - more realistically - refer to the contrast in the two men's lifestyles. Rumi was a solid citizen, well entrenched inside his society. Shams was a wandering dervish with no home inside any establishment walls. Until he met Rumi. Because we all have a wild self and a stable self, there is never any shortage of other people we can run to in order to share either spirit. At one stage Shams did run off but then returned and Rumi is here recollecting that experience and asking his own wild self, his Shams self, to stay by him. He is assuring his own wild self that he will honour and safeguard him, nurture him and get to know him better and better every day.

And so I hope also to do here every day. By nurturing and being nurtured by one's wild self one can build up human cultural achievements that become those stable constructs in which we can more safely live our lives. Even Rome was built through the nurturance of wild wolf milk.


Etruscan she-wolf, 5th century BCE @
with Romulus and Remus added in Renaissance

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

death and passion

All its life heart galloped after passion

Until softly it came into soul's inner court.

In the end it left, its life burnt clean away.

Be fair, though: heart came prepared to give it all away.

#1101: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: resurrect, revive, myth, death, life

All his life, his heart went galloping after passion
Until he came softly to the inner courts of the soul.
In the end he left again. Pure soul burned out that day.
Be fair, though, he came with good intentions, just to play.

alternative translation source

I've been reading John Shelby Spong on the Resurrection: Myth or Reality? and this theme of dying and being revived is buzzing inside my brain. Rumi rarely speaks of death: life, like love, is a favourite word. Among many verses on offer I chose this one because I also listened last night to a splendid rendition of Beethoven's Appassionata. A well loved and oft heard piece like this needs new interpretations to stay alive. Last night's performance by Lilya Zilberstein (recorded last year at the Schwetzingen Beethoven Project) did achieve just that. One critic of the Appassionata has said: "Here the human soul asked mighty questions of its God and had its reply." There is certainly a sense of that both in the music and also in Spong's book (which I hope to write more on later).

This verse of Rumi's has two translation versions from Zara Houshmand which vary in more than mere detail. As I read one and then the other, I feel little resonance there and I end up confused but at a loss to choose one version to focus on. I suspect that where passion is spent then words fail and that God's reply to Beethoven was silence, the deep silence of pure being that lies at the centre of the soul and also encircles it protectively. It just is, it just is.

And that's it.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

love's consequences

You fall in love, my heart, and then you fret about your health?

You steal and then you think of the police?

You claim to love, but it's nonsense, mere play,

If you worry what people will say.

#1902: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: wonder, woman, fall

I woke feeling like Wonder Woman and like I was falling in love. As Rumi would remind me, this clearly means I am mad and it's useless to fight that conclusion. It's like stealing: it's done and you cannot go back on it. Just as the thief will live in fear of the police, just so the lover (especially if he is homosexual) will live in fear of his community's disapproval. Any kind of lover will meet with disapproval from some quarter or other. I write these love letters to Rumi, in reply to verses he wrote centuries ago. What kind of weird lover am I?

Yesterday I received and deleted an anonymous spam-like comment that accused me of being too serious. Nonsense! As Rumi so clearly asserts, I am not being serious enough. It's well and truly time I stopped worrying what people will say. It really does feel so hard to write from the heart without restraint of any kind. What stops me here and now? I can't say for sure.

I only know that I have become a Wonder Woman of sorts, a woman who wonders, who questions and analyzes, and seems often to fail to come to definitive conclusions. I want to open my arms wide to life but I fear my resulting vulnerability. I see Christ on the cross with His arms pinned down in that open position as if to insist that he bear the pain of enforced open-ness.

Tuscan Christ @

Who or what pins Him down? His Father does it by refusing to undo it for His Father is omnipotent and therefore could save His own Son. Jesus' primary values or core beliefs were his downfall. What He loved most is what killed him. I would not want to love so passionately and so I shy away from love altogether.

I am then left in the sorry state that I have nothing to die for. How sad is that? However sad it might be, it's where I'm at and since I love the truth dearly then I must accept it, live with it, and seek no other lovers. Just what is real and present for me at any moment of the day. Let life thus be my lover.

Perhaps it is something like this that the author of John 11:25-26 was trying to get at with his talk of death as life and his promise of a life without death. Who really knows now? Who can say, so long after it was written so?

Monday, August 08, 2005

daggers point the way

We have no fear of arrows, or daggers,

Or shackles, or the blade against the neck.

Hotheaded, we drink the devil's drink.

Even less we fear what people think.

#1212: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: point, arrow

I'm seeking new directions, so the idea of pointing, of arrows, came to mind. There are plenty of sharp instruments in this verse of Rumi's. When I read his "we" I recoil for I do indeed have a fear of sharp implements and of violence and imprisonment. I am a good little girl who tries ever so hard to please and placate precisely so as to avoid brutal punishment. Fear is such a powerful emotion.

Working backwards from the last line, I'm OK on what people think. It's uncomfortable knowing - or at least sensing - that people disapprove of me. I've cultivated a persona that readily leads to that response in people. I've learned not to care. However, I am fearful of physical violence, especially because I have few defenses against it. It is so easy to die and death is so final.

Where my fear holds sway is in approaching Muslims in the real world today. I will discuss and debate with them on-line; I will denigrate the Koran and its pathetic writer, Mo; I will mock their ignorance, deflate their arrogance; I will fiercely foresee the demise of the patriarchal faiths, especially Judaism and Islam. I will do all that in the safety of internet anonymity but I will not do it in public, in real life, for I fear the fate of Salman Rushdie or Theo van Gogh. In that physical sense, I am a coward.

I also see no special point in taking such physical risks. It seems to me that every martyrdom is tragic and could have been avoided. No, I'm a coward and want to live.

And yet ... I am intrigued and tempted by this devil's drink. In Rumi's case, as the gay lobby would have it, this represents homosexual love which, in Islam, is not merely frowned upon but can lead to imprisonment or execution. Homophobia is tolerated and the Islamic community would tend to turn a blind eye to ordinary citizens taking the law into their own hands. A homosexual in Rumi's day would be in great physical danger at all times. In some parts of the world today this would still be true.

This whole issue is one that I continue to struggle with. I want to embrace Rumi and be part of his "we" but, right now and in all honesty, I cannot claim no fear at all of physical violence and imprisonment. I guess I hope it is not my fate to have to overcome such fears. I guess I hope that, to be myself, to express myself, I need not venture outside of my society's boundaries. What a fond hope! I wonder if anyone is ever completely safe from that demand of fate.

John 11:25-26 (KJV)

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?

To be honest: no, I don't believe this.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

natural justice

You do bad deeds and hope to get back good

Though bad deserves bad only in return.

God is merciful and kind, but even so,

If you plant barley, wheat won't grow.

#1798: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: get

"Getting better" was my theme for today as I'm feeling on the up and up (but ever so gradually). Rumi's verse today expresses a very well known idea, perhaps even a cliché: you reap what you sow, what goes around comes around, karma will get you if nothing else does.

I have recently been "doing bad deeds" and expecting to get away with it. The first step is to justify the deeds to one's conscience. That's not too difficult but it's usually based on valid but selfish considerations. One needs to ask: what if everyone did the same bad deeds? What then? That also looks fine since my bad deeds are harmless in themselves and, with a little reinterpretation, it is what everyone does now anyway. Again, rationalisation is easy enough.

I'm convinced that no one really believes they do bad deeds at all. The "bad" in the deed is seen by the "other" or the victim, not by the perpetrator. Sometimes the "bad" is seen by the person missing out, as when people disapprove of others having fun.

Rumi's reference to God's mercy and kindness echoes the Koran which repeats this again and again, suggesting that believers are safe from harm simply owing to their core belief. The mercy and kindness comes not only from Allah but also from his Messenger.

Qur'an (Yusuf Ali)

Now hath come unto you a Messenger from amongst yourselves: it grieves him that ye should perish: ardently anxious is he over you: to the Believers is he most kind and merciful.

He is the One Who sends to His Servant Manifest Signs, that He may lead you from the depths of Darkness into the Light and verily Allah is to you most kind and Merciful.

This verse of Rumi's seems to me to be addressed to Islamic dogmatists who rely on their commitment to Mo(hammad) and Allah (through the Koran) and don't look too closely at how harmful or hurtful their deeds might be to others. They believe Allah will repay their own faith in Him and forgive them any sins committed. There really is a strong gist in the Koran to that effect. My guess, too, is that some such rationalisations were used by those who did away with Shams, Rumi's close friend and teacher and the very inspiration for this and all the other verses in this collection. It is inevitable that the issue of justice would be addressed and where the human justice system is helpless, Rumi asserts, divine or even natural karmic justice will prevail. Whether this is true or not - and I am skeptical at least in the short term - it is a needed belief. The loss of a dear one is a hard blow to take but the failure of justice seems to be harder still.

In my own case, I did not publish a verse on it. I have been acting as I've been acted upon. Where barley was sown, I am growing barley with no head of wheat in sight.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

open secrets

Heart, in this hard time let me share secrets.

Soul, bow your head down in agreement.

Patience, you can't stand this pain; run away.

Reason, you're nothing but a child; go play.

#1406: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: hard

I have been having a hard time getting up early in the morning, feeling oppressed and anxious, no longer for myself but for my son. I know he's going through a hard time right now, as there is a gathering momentum toward decision time. It isn't even clear what the decisions are, only that they are vaguely hovering about and demanding to be made.

I wonder what "hard time" Rumi is referring to here. I've often thought that he had something to say that could have been expressed intellectually but had to be expressed covertly through poetry. He had something innovative to say but it would have been deemed heretical by the dogmatists. I'm convinced, for example, that he understood that the earth circles the sun and not vice versa. This would not be a deep truth, however. At most, it would belong to the playground of reason as hinted at in the fourth line. No, Rumi is expressing some secret knowledge or gnosis in his verses. It requires of him great patience coupled with great leadership skills: the patience to accept that he will not see these secrets understood in his own lifetime, and the leadership to carry on regardless without disciples or companions. Rumi's is a fruit meant to take centuries to ripen.

At this stage I have no idea what novel secrets Rumi meant to share but I mean to keep working at it. I'm convinced the answers are in there somewhere.

Friday, August 05, 2005

only one beloved

My heart will never seek another heart,

Or smell another flower, knowing you.

Your love has made heart's field a desert waste;

No love other than yours grows in that place.

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

Search words: search, seek

I've become anxious about my son. I can see that he is restless and I can sense that he is on a search, seeking out a clue about his future. There are important decisions looming and this sets up a good deal of moodiness and uneasiness. He shoves me off, wants me to "go away". He is seeking himself, trying to see what he is to become. All of this is bothering me.

Rumi's verse expresses the classic romantic notion of a single love for eternity. Lovers sense that there is only one beloved, one particular beloved. Where this has been expressed as deity, the singleness of God has been most pronounced in Islam and the uniqueness most pronounced in God's incarnation as Jesus. We sense this so strongly when we lose a loved one (even a mere loved object). I am getting to know and love my new cat (now almost two years old) but I cannot fall in love with her because I am still grieving over the lost one. She will always be the first for she was the first pet we shared, my son and I. That is a place that cannot be taken by another. Whether the lost beloved was the first or the greatest or whatever, it was unique and irreplaceable in that sense. Rumi never found another Shams but he did develop close relations later with other male friends. The friendship was never the same. How could it be? I feel certain that he came to love what was unique in each new friend but Shams remained the prototype of male friendship for him.

Throughout our lives, we seek out ourselves, we seek to discover who we are. The seeking never stops because the "who we are" never stands still. It is the very seeking that moves us on toward the who we are to become. Sometimes we do get a good sense of it and that feels miraculous. To get a good sense of it in another is possibly even more miraculous. Through that perception, we become mirrors to one another and through that mutual understanding we can learn to develop that self knowledge and self understanding that is expressed as relationship with God. And God can be anything: a rock, a tree, a star, an animal, a young man or an old woman.

The Cumaean Sibyl

Michelangelo: The Cumaean Sibyl, Sistine Chapel ceiling @

Thursday, August 04, 2005

love's rage

I want a trouble-maker for a lover,

Blood spiller, blood drinker, a heart of flame,

Who quarrels with the sky and fights with fate,

Who burns like fire on the rushing sea.

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

Search word: make

My ambition today is to make a start on making sheets for our beds, nice 100% cotton sheets with decorative edges. All very homely and humble. This verse found through make makes quite a contrast!

I do very much identify as a trouble-maker but I'm definitely squeamish about the spilling of blood, let alone the drinking of it. This is strong imagery. It occurs to me that I do deal in blood every day: I cut up a sheep kidney to serve to my cat and the blood oozes out onto the plate and this is the first thing she licks up. We also drink or consume blood whenever we eat red meat which is, after all, soaked in it.

I am currently resting from my battles and hoping that the last one was the last. However, there is a warrior inside me and she will not rest, not ever. She stands ever ready to do battle. Gustav Klimt has nicely captured her eternal quality below.

Pallas Athene

Gustav Klimt: Pallas Athene, 1898 @ nga

Rumi is envisaging a robust lover who closely resembles the Islamic warrior engaged in jihad. His quarrel is clearly not with his fellow man, as so many modern Islamist fighters seem to see it. Rather his quarrel is with God and he is in the mood to have it out with Him more stoutly than did poor Job.

Rumi's final image of "fire on the rushing sea" is one that baffles me. The best sense I can make of it is to envisage stormy seas with waves crashing against coastal cliffs and the spray rising up to the heavens, as if to rejoin the water-laden clouds. Fire and rushing sea are both images of anger, of fury, of a destructive energy that sweeps all before it. This is clearly a part of God's arsenal of emotions and therefore also a part of humanity's. It is the energy that drives all conflict and war. It is not an energy one would normally associate with lovers. However, this is Rumi speaking here and he is no pansy. He's right, too: a full-blooded love must contain conflict. Love grows deeper with every weathering of a storm. And love of God, love between man and God, or even man and man, must needs include some rage.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

gnosis 11: spirit and psyche

   The gnostic movement that pervaded the religious thought of the Mediterranean world into which Jesus was born was confident in its high esteem of the spiritual elements it saw in man and the universe. Its way of expressing this confidence was to contrast that spiritual or psychical realm with the "material" world, to the detriment of the latter. From this perspective, everything spiritual or psychical seems good and everything material bad. To call this a spirit-matter or mind-matter dualism is useful enough labelling so far as it goes; but it can also be misleading, not to say anachronistic. The ancient gnostics were intoxicated with the discovery of the value of the spiritual or psychic element in man and the universe. They had not yet reached the stage at which thinkers have found it necessary to go beyond that particular perception and see that the situation is more complex. Yet I believe the gnostic insight at this point, even it is more primitive forms, is essentially right: the psychic realities are the more important, though it is no doubt a most unfortunate mistake to suppose they are inseparable from the "material" world as is cheese from the cheese dish that contains it. The fundamental truth, however, remains. 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. He sees what the gnostics of every age, in the West as in the East, saw so well: the great verities about the universe are to be found in its psychic realities.

- MacGregor: Gnosis, pp 56-57.

Gnosticism, Christianity, all religions in fact, place a lot of emphasis on spirit, usually as contrasted with solid material aspects of the world. At one point in the Masnawi, Rumi equates a flute with the material world and its music with spirit, the unseen force that moves us, that issues forth from us, that we have tended to call God (or Allah).

We are as the flute, and the music in us is from thee;
we are as the mountain and the echo in us is from thee.

We are as pieces of chess engaged in victory and defeat:
our victory and defeat is from thee, O thou whose qualities are comely!

Who are we, O Thou soul of our souls,
that we should remain in being beside thee?

We and our existences are really non-existence;
thou art the absolute Being which manifests the perishable.

We all are lions, but lions on a banner:
because of the wind they are rushing onward from moment to moment.

Their onward rush is visible, and the wind is unseen:
may that which is unseen not fail from us!

Our wind whereby we are moved and our being are of thy gift;
our whole existence is from thy bringing into being.

-- Rumi, Masnavi Book I, 599-607

This is a gentle and a simple image for it also honours the material world ever so subtly. How can one make music without a flute? an echo without a mountain chasm? a war without participants? If the spirit had nothing to move and nothing to witness the result, where would it be? Lonely, desolate, forlorn. And that, in many many creation myths, is precisely why God did create the material world. We say so readily that God created humanity, forgetting that humanity also created God. We say so readily that God is omniscient and sees all we do, forgetting that humanity has been watching God since its beginnings. We totally control how God is presented and perceived while assigning Him (Her? It?) omnipotence. There is much irony there.

I have always found spirit to be a difficult word especially when it seems to suggest a ghostly being or presence. I like soul or psyche better because it feels more personal and real. Hindu religion quite frankly and unself-consciously equates Self with God and this is why it is the most gnostic or the most psychologically perceptive religion of them all. Hinduism has never felt a need for restraint when it comes to a multiplicity of religious ideas and images. That is why it was so viciously attacked by Islam which insists on a singular God and a pre-eminently final (and therefore ultimately singular) prophet. Islam is profoundly anti-gnostic and it has paid the price in stagnation, ossification, and a cultural version of the living dead or zombie. Without its Sufi poets like Rumi, it is as vacuous as a neat and perfect circle drawn in the sands of the desert, containing nothing, meaning nothing, and failing even to see the irony therein.

Islam may have achieved dominance largely by the sword but today, in Pakistan, it is Hinduism that will vanquish it, this time with modern technology and Bollywood movies. The towers of capitalism crumbled on sep11 but the folly of Islam has yet to fully implode.

Isaiah 40:4-5 (KJV)

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:

And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

sweet simplicity

The simpler our hands and hearts, the more free

Of the world around, the happier we'll be.

Penniless pleasure, gone in a blink,

Is better than the pomp of a thousand kings.

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

Search words: free

This morning I felt free at last of the burden of bureaucratic oppression. I'm still faced with mountains of tax information booklets and forms and convoluted complexities to sort out. Ah! penniless pleasure! How I long for thee!

Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor. The ancient philosophers, Chinese, Hindoo, Persian, and Greek, were a class than which none has been poorer in outward riches, none so rich in inward. We know not much about them. It is remarkable that we know so much of them as we do. The same is true of the more modern reformers and benefactors of their race. None can be an impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage ground of what we should call voluntary poverty.

-- Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I shall venture forth into the world and enjoy nature, the bird song, the sun on my face, the darting skinks in the grass. These delight my cat all day and I will follow her in her splendid entertainment. I will try, in the meantime, to do one or two chores that this complex society expects of me. One or two things, no more. Just enough to keep the hounds off my back.

I will similarly not encumber my reader over much but keep it brief today.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

time and money

My hard friend, you ask me for my heart and my gold.

The truth is, I have neither one to give.

Gold? What gold does a poor man have?

Since when does a lover have a heart left to give?

#1087: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: deliver, paper, meet, power, blank, fury

Today I'll be delivering papers to and meeting a person of power. The papers are mainly blank, containing no information, and I was furious at the waste and the cost to the environment. When Rumi draws a blank with the search words I've tried, I fall back on friend, a word he very commonly uses. And so I've fallen on this "hard friend" here.

This verse makes me wonder about Rumi's lifestyle. Was he really a poor man? Did he have no surplus of monetary wealth to distribute? I have no knowledge of his situation in this regard. Certainly, if a member of a community is earning less than the average for that community, then that person should not feel any need to distribute to the poor. It's quite possible that Rumi was in that position. In practice, the almost-poor are often more ready to assist the poor than are the wealthy who can afford to feel more distant from the latter.

The Koran repeatedly urges Muslims to pay the poor-due, so this "hard friend" would readily be Allah and the demand of Islam to commit or submit to it with all one's heart and mind.

Qur'an (Pickthall)

2:43 Establish worship, pay the poor-due, and bow your heads with those who bow (in worship).

9:18 He only shall tend Allah's sanctuaries who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and observeth proper worship and payeth the poor-due and feareth none save Allah. For such (only) is it possible that they can be of the rightly guided.

Successful indeed are the believers
Who are humble in their prayers,
And who shun vain conversation,
And who are payers of the poor-due;
And who guard their modesty -
Save from their wives or the (slaves) that their right hands possess, for then they are not blameworthy,
But whoso craveth beyond that, such are transgressors -
And who are shepherds of their pledge and their covenant,
And who pay heed to their prayers.
These are the heirs
Who will inherit paradise. There they will abide.

I love it in the Koran how Mo(hammad) introduces ad hoc exception clauses here and there. In this case, a man need not guard his modesty from his wives or concubines. No mention of any exceptions for women, of course. Why can't a woman keep male slaves for her own pleasure if such is deemed blameless for a man? Ah, such double standards!

The feel of this verse today is defensive as if Rumi is answering critics who allege that he is not loyal to Islam. The feel of my own journey today is not dissimilar. I have been accused (tacitly but quite clearly) of a disloyalty and hopefully my papers will show otherwise. The blank pages will reveal blank treason. Where my heart truly lies (what I really have time for) is no one else's business. From Rumi, I am learning how to keep it that way and to keep my head screwed on at the same time.

Monday, August 01, 2005

fires of love

Fear this murderous conflagration, this love that sets fires alight.

Fear this arrow of destruction, this blade that will pare you away.

And when he comes to you, a renunciate, repentant and contrite,

Fear that day that he repents, fear the very day.

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

Search words: fire

Yesterday I started a fire and we burned up the accumulated piles of dry palm tree branches. At the end, over the hot coals, I grilled some pieces of chicken meat and we ate that plain, unseasoned, ungarnished, using only our fingers. The smokey smell lingers in my hair and clothes. Watching the fire, I thought of our ancestors who were so much entertained by the camp fire or fireplace. Those red flames so alive, so enlivening to the imagination, licking up to the heavens. As I noted the odd snail still clinging to a branch, I also thought of the many poor martyrs and ordinary heretics who suffered the cruel execution of being burnt in such flames or roasted over such hot coals.

We then settled down to a normal civilised evening: several hours of Sunday night TV viewing. Just as I was trying to settle down to bed I heard distant screaming and wondered if my son had turned the TV back on again. No, it was coming from the street. A man screaming for his life. Afterwards, when the police and ambulance had come and neighbours had gathered in the cold night street to exhange tales, we learned that the man had been beaten up by two other men who had caught him in the act of burglary. He had been screaming for what seemed like an eternity but what was probably barely five minutes. Such screams are heart wrenching. In my longish life I've never heard that before. I was moved to care for the wretched victim but I was also afraid to become more involved, to enter that violent world myself.

And so, this morning, I have wondered what Rumi had to say using the idea of fire and I discover this connection between fire and murder and this repeated theme of fear. What dramatic times these are!

This quatrain feels quite different to any of the verses I've reflected on so far. The translator has used several multisyllabled words, presumably reflecting a similar use in Rumi. Words like conflagration, renunciate, repentant. The fires of hell are where we end up when we need to pay for our past sins. And sin we inevitably must.

Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.
-- Carl Jung

It is impossible to think or act with total loyalty to one value without at the same time dismissing and therefore denigrating the opposite value. Somewhere, inside ourselves, there is a watcher that keeps score and sooner or later that watcher will strike and demand penitence. Regret that I failed to love others, regret that I failed to love myself. It is so hard to meet all demands.

In urging me to fear, Rumi is demanding that I feel the awesome power of God as a burning love that burns away what is not needed. That refining fire that leaves only gold behind in the furnace. What is indeed awesome in this verse is the figure of the repentant god. The "he" who is variously Shams, or God, or the beloved, this "he" is begging for forgiveness. This is the most frightening image I've so far encountered in Rumi and my heart is, indeed, filled with alarm, with a shocked disbelief. He presents fare before me that I'm not sure I can swallow or digest. He seems himself to be asking my forgiveness.

If I let this sink in and stop trying to fight it, it makes perfect sense. If God (or Rumi or my beloved) is to be my friend then he would seek a reciprocal relationship, one where I forgive as often as he does. I think here of my beloved cat and I recall her slow dying over two long days. She often seemed to worship me, to crawl toward me in supplication. I was all she had to turn to. I had rescued her from kitten death, I had fed her and kept her warm and cared for her. And yet now, I had no answers. Why would she seek my forgiveness? (Why would she seem to do so?) Because I had power? Because even a cat associates pain with punishment for deviance, for error of any kind? It could be so.

I guess Rumi is saying that God, that love, that great longing and great dreams, that all these things that move the heart and motivate us to live on and live better, that this is after all a right bastard and often pretty hard to live with, just as a pet cat can sometimes be quite a nuisance. Life is hard, life is sometimes frustrating or painful or tedious, life does need to ask us often to forgive. Most of all I must forgive my cat, and Rumi, and no doubt this thing called God, I must forgive for the greatest sin of all, the sin of being so easy to love and long for in the first place.