Friday, September 30, 2005

a just wine

O wine, you are king, just and good to all.

One cup of you will free a hundred slaves.

My eyes are bright when your sun shines in me.

I escape in you who make me happy.

#1709: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: just

I decided to pursue the theme of justice after it was raised recently under feeling rotten. There, Rumi seems to castigate himself for failing to deliver justice to others. Here, he praises the wine that is "just and good to all", that can bring freedom, enlightenment and joy. Certainly, in a literal sense, wine can do all of those things, at least for the short periods while it has its effect on the brain. Indeed, this verse would work quite fine as a drinking song. The one line that jars is the second with its reference to slaves who surely would not have access to literal wine partly because it is an expensive commodity and partly because "slaves of Allah" is one way Muslims characterize themselves and alcohol is prohibited to the Muslim.

No, it is widely accepted by commentators on Rumi that he uses wine as a metaphor: for spiritual ecstasy or for the Sufic practises that lead to that. Those disciplines, images and ideas are available to all, whether Muslim or not, whether rich or poor, slave or slave-owner. It is that universal availability that makes this wine so precisely just.

I prefer to see even the Sufic practises as too literal an interpretation of the wine. For various reasons of circumstance (like poverty, slavery, disability, addiction) many (perhaps most) people do not have access to structured paths of spiritual development. Most people simply live their lives, happy when things are turning out well, sad when not. They are like plants that take advantage of the sunshine and are nourished by the rain. To my mind, Rumi is saying that such people can still be free, enlightened and joyful. It depends whether and how often the wine touches them.

Wine, then, is more simply deity, the divine spirit or spark within each of us. As observers or onlookers we miss the point if we fail to see this divine spark because we're looking for something external or socially agreed on. We project the divine spark onto kings or outstanding citizens. Today we do it with movie stars and other similar celebrities. The great secret of the mystic paths is that this wine is life, everyday life, simply life lived to the full in all its mundane glory and despair, its ups and downs, its heavens and hells. Divinity shines through every living eye, even my own and yours.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

rotting lips

When I die, bring my corpse to her,

And leave me there, or what of me remains.

If my love will kiss my rotting lips

And I should come to life, don't think it strange.

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

Search word: die

Last night I learned of the death of M. Scott Peck, so death and dying are on my thoughts still this morning. I was one of the many millions who read his main work, The Road Less Traveled, and I know it influenced my thinking and gave me some framework for understanding life. I especially loved a later travelogue he wrote, In Search of Stones, probably because it had resonances with my own life and a journey I once took with my father, searching out standing stones in Brittany.

Today's verse immediately brought to mind the images in the Rosarium philosophorum, a famous series of 20 alchemical woodcuts. An attractive coloured-in version can be found at Karen-Claire Voss' article on Spiritual Alchemy. Oddly, Plate 12 is missing in her series but appears below, courtesy of The Alchemy Web Site.

Plate 12 of the Rosarium philosophorum
@ The Alchemy Web Site (

In the plates preceding and following this image of a winged sun, a couple (sol and luna) are shown in sexual embrace or joined in a tomb. The culminating image of the series is a development, really, from the above plate. If that can be summarized as "out of the darkness, there comes light" then the resurrection of Christ is but a fuller human embodiment of that as "out of the despair of loss, injustice and humiliation, there comes resurrection and glorification".

Last plate of the Rosarium philosophorum

Commentary by Karen-Claire Voss:

Plate 20, the last image in the series, depicts the risen Christ. In his left hand he holds a banner marked with a cross; his right gestures toward the now empty sepulcher. That sepulcher unmistakably indicates that the completed alchemical process has involved the transmutation, not merely the transformation, and certainly not the transcendence, of the body. In the view of the alchemist who wrote the Rosarium philosophorum, the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body signified not the suppression, or even the transcendence, of the physical body, but its glorification and perfection. If the alchemical work necessitated the transcendence of the body, one would not expect to find an empty tomb, but a tomb filled with the putrefying remains of the king and queen. Instead, we see the risen Christ, the embodiment of the hierogamic union between human and divine. This last indicates a profound change in the subject/object relation since the divine is generally viewed as wholly other to the human.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

feeling rotten

I'm the source of such rot, such stupidity,

That noone, because of me, lives happily.

I shout at everyone, and they shout at me;

I demand justice, but who gets it from me?

#1388: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: sour

This morning I woke in a bitter or sour mood, a mood of resentment or perhaps regret. Yesterday, things had not gone as planned and I felt pulled up, drawn to a premature halt, left suspended and abandoned by fate. (Two emails had been sent to the university where my son wants to study and both had bounced back with automatic replies, one person merely away but the other having left altogether.)

It is quite astonishing to find Rumi apparently so self-denigrating as he is in this quatrain. It frankly makes no sense to me. On this occasion, I can but ask if any reader can provide any information or insight that would help make sense of this verse. The only way that it does make some small sense to me is to see it as Rumi describing how others are complaining about his behaviour. It suggests he is making waves or causing some disturbance through his quiet poetry, here characterized as shouting. It's true that, despite its often contemplative mood, Rumi's poetry is quite revolutionary and hence quite confronting to conservatives.

The accusations (if such they are) closely resemble those levelled against Socrates: enough said, surely.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

fear and trembling

I'm a slave to her, and fear of her delights me.

My better half, who stands alone, delights me.

They ask me, 'Do you enjoy her loyalty?'

I don't know; even so, her cruelty delights me.

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

Search word: fear

I have been using Rumi's verses a little like divination, a little like consulting the I Ching using a keyword rather than the chance of yarrow stalks or coins. In Islam, this kind of bibliomancy has been applied to the divan (book of poems) of Hafez, to the Koran itself, and to Rumi's Mathnawi. A Rumi deck of cards has been published that can be used much like the Tarot deck. Devised by Eryk Hanut and Michele Wetherbee, it is simply called The Card and Rumi Book Pack: Meditation, Inspiration, & Self-Discovery. A sample card is shown below.

fear card @

The words worry and anxiety were on my mind this morning, neither of which Rumi uses in the first line index I search through. Both worry and anxiety are forms of fear and fear does appear more readily. I've also shown a fear card above with the message: "If it is love you are looking for, Take a knife and cut off the head of fear." This latter message is common wisdom: fear is something that must be overcome if we are to succeed in fulfilling our dreams. What I have often enjoyed in my study of Rumi's collection of quatrains named after Shams, the Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi, is the frequent surprise I experience, arising out of the originality of this thought. Today is no exception for although fear is commonly known as an adversary to love, here Rumi posits fear as something to be delighted in, perhaps even desired.

Of course, this is not just any fear, it is not the debilitating fear of worry and anxiety, but rather the fear of awesomeness, what is often referred to as the "fear of God" or mysterium tremens. An interesting Biblical example comes at the end of Mark's Gospel when the women visiting Jesus' tomb find Him gone and flee. All the usual translations represent the women as merely afraid but Marie Sabin, in an article at CrossCurrents, argues persuasively for an interpretation based on divine awe.

Mark 16:8

KJV: And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.

NIV: Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

NJB: And the women came out and ran away from the tomb because they were frightened out of their wits; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Sabin: And going out they fled the tomb, for trembling ["mysterium tremens"] and ecstasy possessed them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were filled with awe.

Today's study-divination, then, has given me some discrimination. There is a kind of fear (worry, anxiety) that I must set aside and a kind of fear (awe, reverence, wonderment) that I can delight in.

Monday, September 26, 2005


She's gone--no one has ever been so good a friend;

Gone before my heart was full, or ready for an end.

She's gone, and with her the cure for this pain.

The rose is gone and still the thorn remains.

#1040: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: friend

My son and I went to a party yesterday, the first party we've been to in years. We both thoroughly enjoyed it because most of the time people sat at a round table in the garden and we talked. There was some community there. Later, when everyone else had gone, there were four of us left listening to some music of the 60s and 70s: Leonard Cohen and The Kinks. It was a deeply satisfying get together.

And yet the gathering had to end, friends had to part, the usual round of days has had to return. There remains a nostalgic mood, a sweet sadness, as I contemplate the thorn without its rose.

nostalgia 1770, "severe homesickness" (considered as a disease), Mod.L. (cf. Fr. nostalgie, 1802), coined 1668 by Johannes Hofer as a rendering of Ger. heimweh, from Gk. nostos "homecoming" + algos "pain, grief, distress." Transferred sense (the main modern one) of "wistful yearning for the past" first recorded 1920.

I also dreamt of taking a trip back home from another state, wondering whether to stop off at the major city on the way. I am a little old, a little confused, but I feel sure I will find my way.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


For love of you, my soul soars in the sky

As your kindness plucks music on its strings.

The smallest favor that you grant your slave

Is greater than a thousand years of prayer brings.

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

Search word: soul

I'm taking a renewed interest in spirit and soul, inspired by the mass of birds below that flutter up above the dust heap. Inspired, too, by the spirited writing on spirit by Spong and the spirited music of Fiddler on the Roof, both of which refer to a Jewish or Hebrew tendency to find God in life. "Spirit" refers then to life, to being alive, to being energized, enthusiastic, dynamic, fun-loving, humorous, etc. "Spirit" means, above all, wanting to dance. The Tevye character, played by Topol, has much in common with the Zorba character, played by Anthony Quinn. Poor men rich in spirit, and to be contrasted with rich men poor in spirit, a prime example of which might be Mr Burns from "The Simpsons".

In today's verse, Rumi is talking about that spirit especially as it manifests in spontaneity. People rich in spirit have an openness to this uplifting power: call it God or spirit, inspiration or impulse, craziness or just plain fun. It is what gives our souls the impetus to fly, to dream, to imagine impossible things. It cannot be replaced by or brought about by a thousand years of prayer that is ritualized, sterilized, habitual, and pathetically supplicating. Openness is the thing: God only comes when we open the door and let Her in. Spontaneity cannot be worked for or cultivated: it comes only when we can take a slave-like attitude of powerlessness. It is both a very vulnerable and a very powerful stance to take, for both the angels and the devil can turn up. A mad idea can send us to perdition as easily as catapult us to the heavens. The person rich in spirit takes the good with the bad and never hesitates to ask for more.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

photogenic poverty

snapshot @

"Extreme poverty ... birds fly over rag pickers at a garbage dump on the outskirts of New Delhi, India."


different songs

It's a waste to play music to the deaf

Sang by a stream: 'You can make a flower

Of jewels and gold, even add perfume,

But it won't have a flower's true bloom.'

#1846: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: music

Music and dancing are early loves of mine. I came to love the rhythms of flamenco and I loved to stamp my feet in unison. Sometimes, I feel too old to dance and sometimes I feel I've become old precisely because I've ceased to dance.

I'm currently reading both Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses" and Spong's This Hebrew Lord which features this beautiful portrait of Jesus by Rembrandt on its front cover:

Rembrandt: Head of Christ @

Rushdie is so irreverent, Spong so faithful to his own tradition; Rushdie's writing sparkles with often incomprehensible wit, Spong uses a sober almost academic style; Rushdie lampoons religion in all its forms, Spong calls us to find new respect for it; Rushdie is like a bubbling cascading fountain, Spong like a quieter stream. Is there "truth" in what each man writes? Does it matter?

Today's translation of a Rumi verse sounds awkward: something is missing or not needed in the "sang by a stream" bit. Perhaps the quoted words were sung by a stream, perhaps Rumi's "you" sang while standing by a stream. This verse seems like a bruised rose with some of its petals flopping forlornly.

Friday, September 23, 2005

emptying and filling my cup

When I boil in the fire of my self for a while,

I want to forget about you for a while,

To gather my soul and empty my mind of thinking.

You'll pour into my cup then, and once again I'll drink you.

#1216: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: fire

Last night I journeyed into the city to attend a free concert honouring a composer who has turned 70 years of age this year: Nigel Butterley. The composer was in the audience and came on stage to bow at the end. He is a small spritely man, full of energy and what Rumi would call "fire" so I've stayed with this theme today.

In modern terms, in today's terms, I think we would speak more of "recharging our batteries" rather than of boiling "in the fire of the self". The psychological process here is a turning inwards and away from the world, and even from the "other" as God, lost friend or beloved. This is a time of self-nurturance, a time to simply smell the roses, to pretend there are no cares, concerns or worries. It could be a short break, a long hot foamy bath, a quirky outing (like the one last night) or just a very long and indulgent sleep-in. Some of these activities are called "recreation" and they do indeed re-create us. For the artist - and that really means for every one of us - this process of re-creation is also a process of emptying in readiness for new inspiration, a new lease on life and creativity. Without this re-creation, we become stale and keep writing or painting or composing essentially the same stuff.

I continue to feel like I'm on fire with the energy settling into a simmer. I'm not sure what is cooking in the pot but I feel I can embrace Rumi in the assurance that he understands.

I looked around for an image or some more information on the alchemical fire and stumbled on TechGnosis, a book and writer that I look forward to exploring further.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

fire on fire

He who set the world on fire in me

And made a hundred tongues of flame speak from my mouth,

When fire blazed around me on all sides,

I sighed: he placed his hand upon my mouth.

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

Search word: fire

I woke this morning feeling like I'm on fire, all fired up, all guns blazing, revving and ready to go. Vroom! Vroom! Of course, fire is one of Rumi's primary metaphors and it was contrasted with wealth in yesterday's verse. Today's verse provides an insight into Rumi's creativity, into how it all began for him. This particular collection of quatrains was a prolific outpouring apparently motivated by his grief at losing Shams. The tone of the poetry is rarely self-pitying, except in mild jest or to make some point. It is true that flames of passion and of enlightenment leap out of every verse and it is extraordinary to read here how conscious Rumi was of this and yet how clearly he recognizes the power and contribution of the "other" in taming this fire by channeling and expressing it.

I myself feel afire and I fervently hope that my own "other" will serve me as well as he served Rumi.

Some further fires to consume:

I've started reading the latter and I'm enthralled. I want to read the former but will need to purchase it. Wealth, please come my way so I can feed my fire!

image @ Rumi page


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

good times and money

Yesterday, wealth was the light of our day,

Today the world is lit by burning flames.

A pity that in my life's book, the times

Write: "This is one day, that another day."

#1881: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: wealth

Yesterday, I took some action that left me one thousand dollars richer. I was filled with the glee of wealth so easily gained. In fact, I had worked hard and come well prepared and, really, I fully deserved this achievement. I decided to seek out Rumi's thoughts on wealth. And once again, he does not disappoint. I love the ambiguity of the last line: Should his life have been more consistent then? Is it a pity he took so long to get around to the burning flames? Since flames are what you find in hell, should he have stuck safely to the wealth? My own reading of Rumi here is that his life's book could have contained the word "BOTH" writ large. Wealth and passion yesterday, wealth and passion today, wealth and passion tomorrow and forever.

Expressed simply, this means the ideal is to live while Doing Work You Love, as in the title of Cheryl Gilman's neat little self-help book which gives concise and unpretentious advice. This author is one of many now who strongly advocate joining together the enterprises of work and love: make money from your hobby, create no boundaries between work and play, let your whole life be your love and your work, and so on.

Here are a few of my favourites:

One of the reasons I see the current school system dying is because it perpetuates the myth that one should or one must do unpleasant things called "work" which is meaningful and good, while it is at best OK or tolerable that one find time to do pleasant things called "play" which is frivolous and often bad. One can marry the two or rather, one can keep the two together from day one if the question relates to the bringing up of children.

This is a pretty radical suggestion. After all, the Bible tells us that our first parents sinned and were ejected from Paradise. It suggests we all must go down the same path: start out in a state of bliss, discover shame and work, and only if one is lucky and/or very wise can one return to this original bliss, this original union or companionship with deity.

Genesis 3:8 (KJV)

And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.

We should rewrite this story so that Adam and Eve greet this God as a friend, as just someone else enjoying this garden. Greet this Lord and invite him to share some food with them, maybe some barbequed meat grilled on skewers and served with a crispy side salad. Add a glass of good red wine and this Lord would remain jovial. It would never enter his head to throw anyone out.

Oh well! There's no law against dreaming...

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

setting out to die

The day my soul sets out on heaven's path,

My body's stuff will scatter in the dust.

Let your hand write 'Rise!' upon that earth,

I'll rise, and life to body yet again entrust.

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

Search word: out

Curiously, this morning, I woke with the idea that my son should venture forth from home more radically than originally planned: not just to a different part of town but across the world to a quite different part of the planet. I thought of him as setting out. Rumi so often speaks of the inner life, the heart and the soul, and rarely about what one might call the "outer life", the life of career, marriage, social status, etc. In the case of a wandering dervish like Shams it is clear that he had no concern for this "outer life" but Rumi had been successful in those terms when the two met.

Today's verse, found through the keyword out, is quite extraordinary as it touches on the religious theme of resurrection. I've been reading up on this through the excellent writings of John Shelby Spong and especially in his Resurrection : Myth or Reality?. Spong does a wonderful job of making sense of Jesus' resurrection as a psychic event for Peter and the growing Christian community. Rumi uses the theme to characterize the soul's spiritual journey. I find it extraordinary because this is the most central theme of Christianity. In fact, it could be said that everything else in Christianity could be discarded but this: that the spiritual path entails death and resurrection.

In many of the myths of death and rebirth, there is dismemberment in between (see, for example, the myths of Osiris and of Dionysus). Rumi takes this one step further by suggesting that the body becomes dust, so fine is its breaking down. Then, at a single impulse, at a single word from Rumi's "you" or higher self (variously Shams, a feminine deity, or God), this fine dust-body is reconstituted and life can go on.

In (primarily Jungian) psychological terms, the ego dies to its mundane life. A withdrawal of energy from the world takes place and an analysis or breaking down of this material life follows. The person reflects on and examines every aspect of their life, every belief and value, every ambition and desire, every fear and failing. This is what happened during the psychotherapeutic process and Jung saw parallels in myth and especially in alchemy, where the soul dies and is putrefied in the nigredo stage. A stage of cleansing (of reassessment, acceptance and forgiveness), called the albedo, follows. Then, suddenly, out of the blue, new life emerges as the final rubedo stage is reached. This turning point can be symbolized by a peacock with its brilliant display of "eyes", like an explosion of insight.

Peacock Motif by John Nolan

It is awesome, as a mother, to know what thus lies ahead for my son. Life in this world, a renewed or simultaneous setting out on a spiritual path, an experience of death and dismemberment, and a final fulfillment. How bitter but also sweet is the letting go, the sending forth!

Monday, September 19, 2005

candle in the sun

Now that your lover has shown you her face,

Extinguish yourself at her feet, my heart.

Put out the candle that burns in the sun,

And with you dies this sorrow: moan no more.

#1734: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: lover

I dreamt that a rich but eccentric old prince had asked me out on a date. I woke feeling like I'd newly acquired a lover. What a nice feeling! It is somewhat tempered, however, by a vague recognition that this potential lover is something of a roué, just a bit too used to fleeting love affairs and over-indulgence in good food and wine. It is hard to imagine wanting to extinguish myself at his feet.

Since Rumi mentions a candle burning in the sun, I can but immediately think of the tiny ego confronted by the mighty Higher Self variously imagined as deity. It is the ego that is acutely aware of time and therefore of death. When one's consciousness is focussed on the whole, on the Higher Self, there is no past, no future, no gain, no loss, nothing to moan about, but then ... Nothing to shout about either. If the ego becomes too identified with its little categories, it might need a break, a welcome immersion in the great ocean of being that encompasses the all and the forever.

However, having sipped the wine with my lover and abandoned all thought of the day, still I must respond to the sun's rising and get started with my usual daily activities. Chop wood, carry water. But doing those chores with remembrance of past embraces and while looking forward to more in the future. Being enveloped by my lover's embraces all day long.

Ah! How sweet it is!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

a simple wine

Saqi, I asked you for a simple wine;

Make it live; serve it to men who are free.

You said, 'A wind is stirring in the sky.'

Until it comes, my love, pour wine for me.

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

Search word: wine

We celebrated yesterday and I drank wine in plenty, so I can but return to Rumi's use of wine as metaphor for a kind of mystical enlightenment. I've had to research saqi as the name or word was unfamiliar. By comparing translations (Ghazal 2523), I've gathered that a saqi is a cupbearer and probably a servant specializing in serving drinks at meals. A review of a book on another Persian poet, Hafez, states specifically that: "The saqi is the handsome youth who pours out the wine at the drinking party." Because women were not present at these parties it was the saqi who took on the role of perceived beloved. These homosexual overtones are ever-present in Rumi and related poetry.

I recently read another book by John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism : A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture. In it, Spong makes a good case for explaining Paul's attraction to Jesus' teachings based on his own homosexuality. Paul knew he wasn't sexually "normal" and despised himself for that but Jesus' teachings lifted him out of that self-hate and taught him to accept himself as God made him. To my mind, homosexuality itself is a metaphor for the uniqueness of the Self which is not and never can be normalized. No universal description or prescription can reveal it to anyone for God creates each person as a unique variant of Her own perfection. Finding our own "lost sheep", our own abnormal variants, is the key to finding our own identity and is why Jesus so loves the lost sheep.
Gospel of Thomas Saying 107

Jesus said: The kingdom is like a shepherd who had a hundred sheep; one of them, the biggest, went astray; he left (the) ninety-nine (and) sought after the one until he found it. After he had laboured, he said to the sheep: I love you more than the ninety-nine.


As I see it, Rumi knew the winds of change would bring freedom to all men - and women - in the fullness of time. Until then, he needed to veil his insights with the metaphor of wine.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

the unnameable one

The names I gave her: wine; sometimes the cup;

At times she was raw silver, gold, refined;

A tiny seed; at times my prey, my trap.

All this because I could not say her name.

#1005: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: win

I woke this morning feeling so relieved after the tense burden of yesterday: the outcome has been as good as could be hoped for. Rumi doesn't write about success or winning as such: during these recent times of competition fever I've often used win as a keyword only to discover the many references to wine. I chose this one today because it is precisely about the act of giving names to things, especially to that thing which is unnameable. When I read a verse like this one, I can't help but wonder whether Rumi had some access to early gnostic writings similar to those found at Nag Hammadi and especially The Thunder, Perfect Mind, two excerpts from which follow:
For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I, I am godless,
and I am the one whose God is great.
I am the one whom you have reflected upon,
and you have scorned me.
I am unlearned,
and they learn from me.
I am the one that you have despised,
and you reflect upon me.
I am the one whom you have hidden from,
and you appear to me.
But whenever you hide yourselves,
I myself will appear.
For whenever you appear,
I myself will hide from you.

Whether writings were being circulated, secretly or otherwise, I'm certain at least an oral tradition survived and that Shams brought it to Rumi. The theme of opposites dancing in a complex interplay is so evident in his verses. It contrasts so strongly with the black-and-white division of the world into believers and non-believers that is characteristic of Islam. And yet it can also contain that kind of division as yet one more side of a pair of opposites: division and union. Only Islam could have created Rumi because only Islam is divisive enough, masculine enough, assertive enough, to have demanded the creative compensation of expressions of great love like Rumi and, on the architectural stage, the Taj Mahal (further stunning photos of which can be seen at the website of Gerald Brimacombe).

Friday, September 16, 2005

nurturing dreams

Love is the way and the path, our prophet.

Of love we are born, love is our mother.

Our mother, love, is hiding in our veil,

Hiding from our unbelieving nature.

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

Search word: path

Today is one of those turning point days, one of those fateful days in which a path toward the future will be made clearer. My son and I will go on a journey toward that clarification and at the start of this day I seek Rumi's view on this path of life. His answer is "love" and that is the same answer that Joseph Campbell has elaborated in more recent times, famously using the word "bliss" instead.

It is so clear to me as I read Rumi here that he is saying that a cultic insistence on seeing a single hero like Mohammad as the focus of one's love is simply wrong-headed. If a person spontaneously loves Mohammad and his writings as collected in the Koran, that's fine. Having it imposed on one from birth as good Muslim parents and societies do is just silly and so wrong. Each of us should disover our own heroes or role models, just as we have come to accept that each of us should discover our own lifelong partners for ourselves rather than being imprisoned inside arranged marriages. The unbelieving nature, the nature that insists on communal dreams and communal models, is precisely the infidel in Rumi's world.

However, if one truly believes that Mohammad himself was following his own true path, then imitating, copying or loving him is fine. In my own view, he might have been true to himself but if this was done at the expense - at the pain and misery - of others, then it was a false path in my eyes. That is simply not my own path. There is so much sadistic, needless suffering in the story of his life that I can only see this man as a criminal or a crook.

Campbell's famous mantra "Follow your bliss" has itself led to interpretations as fostering a selfish nature or "been misunderstood by critics as a call to craven libertinism", according to Wikipedia. It can be selfish to follow a dream at others' expense and this single-minded drive (well exemplified by the prophet Mohammad) should be tempered by a mother's love, a selfless love for others and a nurturing of others' dreams. I can believe that Mohammad was nurturing the dreams of Arab men but that is as much as I would concede. He might also have been capable of nurturing the dreams of women and non-Arabs but Jesus was definitely better at this bit.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

a room for fear

This earthen body is the heavens' light.

Its nimble ease, its speed, its purity

Are the angels' envy and delight.

The devil can't come near its lack of fear.

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

Search word: body

My physical health is improving and so is my state of mind. Do they go together? Healthy body, healthy mind. Happy soul, happy body. Having found what Rumi has to say on the matter, in this quite early numbered verse, I am startled. Rumi rarely fails to startle and even verses that seem like clichés have a subtle twist. (Or am I merely reading that into them?) In this instance, Rumi seems to turn the usual body-mind and earth-heaven clichés upside-down: It is the earth that gives light to the heavens. The sun might pour its physical light down onto us but it is we who see the sun and marvel and try to understand it. The light of consciousness comes from us.

Consciousness, in the form of knowledge, ideas, concepts and beliefs, is all spirit, all within the realm of the angels. Our bodies are our being and when we feel the sun on our skin, without any further analysis, we are much more purely conscious than when angels come to share in the experience. We breathe with ease, without even thinking about it, for breathing just happens. The body's speed is harder for me to understand for I am not swift of foot, my own speed lies more in the mind. However, my fingers brush lightly over the keyboard and I realise that different parts of my body are always busy, doing this or that job to keep my body alive and to keep this soul happy. No angel, of itself, can effect action.

Last of all, Rumi refers to the devil and I wonder what he means by that. What is the devil for him? Fear, like thoughts, is spiritual. It is all "in the mind". Fear, in this instance, is the devil itself and the body or being abides, fear or no fear. If we can identify with such a fundamental value - I am, I simply am - we can derive all the confidence we could ever need. So long as I am alive, I am. After that, who cares?

A voice within me says: I care! I care what will happen on the judgment day. "I am" is now and not eternal. Death is real, death is final. But death also is inevitable: why worry about it today? Death is what prompts us to action, it is what limits our being. Without death, we would simply be and never do. Whatever confidence we have would be undermined by inactivity.

No, not at all. "I am" is my home, my security, the mother of my soul. It is where I can return for sustenance. Death cannot diminish it, not in its pure essence. It is always there as my beloved and constant companion. Fear only ever enters when I forget but the room that fear enters is not the true one. It's up to me whether I stay there or leave it for the wedding chamber. It's up to me whether I allow fear to block the way. Rather, I would choose to embrace fear as the spur to action that it is. In that embrace, this room of fear is transformed into a room of love.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

beauty and beast

I told her, "Your love is driving me mad.

Will your chains ever hold me in my dreams?"

"Hush!" she said, "Enough of this fantasy.

How can a madman dream a wise man's dreams?"

#1639: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: mad

Last night I watched episode #1619 of The Simpsons, titled "Thank God It's Doomsday ", in which Homer predicts the final day or "rapture". In a vision he visits heaven and talks God into delaying doomsday so Homer can get back to his usual heaven on earth. Whatever else God might depict, He certainly depicts High Authority and Power such as chieftains, shamans, and eventually kings, sultans or tsars wielded. Reducing God to a comic figure brings Him and what he stands for down to earth and it occurred to me that Sufis do something similar by depicting themselves as fools or madmen.

Today's verse does indeed refer to this theme and, this time, Rumi's "other" is the female figure that is part feminine deity, part scolding wife. I suspect that when Rumi wanted to depict this ambivalent or comic aspect of deity he chose a feminine figure because depicting Allah thus might have led to charges of blasphemy. However, he is also justified in depicting a female here since wisdom or sophia is usually depicted thus.

In researching images of Sophia, it is impossible to avoid drowning in photos of the beautiful Italian actress. Here is a classic photo taken by Douglas Kirkland. Enjoy!

Sophia Loren @


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

the least of these

Love is what gives joy to all creation.

Love is what gives joy to giving joy.

I was born of mother love in the beginning.

To that mother, joyous thanks and endless blessing.

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

Search word: give

I have been preoccupied of late with the issue of accountability, of the numbers associated with the give and take of human relationship. I give something and I expect something in return. I take something and the giver wants something in return. Rumi here reminds me that mother love is an exception to that: a mother gives of herself and finds joy in that giving. She feels honoured by life when she thus so clearly serves life's continuation. Lately, I have been feeling resentful about giving and I have withdrawn my giving. This is because I'm not connecting to any joy in giving and I'm not seeing any rewards or returns in the usual way. To me, this is a signal that I'm "out of sorts".

Mother Teresa was our iconic figure of selfless giving and the joy that goes with that. It is very evident from her sayings and writings that her style of life brought her great happiness.
A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves. The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.
If we really want to love we must learn how to forgive.

My chief block, I know, is that I've not been able to forgive my own mother. Failure to forgive and love such a core figure is pretty grave. I settle by reminding myself to forgive myself this very failure of forgiveness. If I can't be kind to my mother, I can at least try to be kind to myself. I often thus interpret myself as "the least of these my brethren" in Matthew's grand statement advocating love for one another.

Matthew 25:40

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.


Monday, September 12, 2005

the lifeless moments

From the outside, you see lifeless faces,

Strangers all, from Rome to Khorasan.

What's behind those faces? Look again.

To see the human ocean, look within.

#1810: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: see

I've been wondering about Alan Bates, why he appeals so much to me, why it feels so sad to know of his passing. He loved acting, he was talented at it, and he was acting right up to the end. Expressing a talent like that and loving that process is as close as I can get to understanding the idea of "self-realization". However, Bates was a public person, his talent made him visible. Can self-realization still happen when one lacks the talent to become famous? Since seeing is closely associated with realizing, I sought out Rumi's thoughts on this and this verse does indeed precisely touch on this issue. If we glance only briefly at a person on the street, on a train, in a shopping centre or in an office, we see nothing special. If we allow that person to open up to us even just a little, perhaps in a smile or a meeting of eyes, we see through to a veritable ocean. We see that each person is indeed God or the Greater Self realizing or becoming real.

Blogs can be such a window to the human ocean within, especially when the writer touches on her own sense of self as Renata Dumitrascu did recently in her piece simply titled identity. Another person's inner world can only be reached when it resonates with one's own inner world. If she feels alienated at times, I can say that I do too for perhaps similar, perhaps different reasons. What matters is the corresponding experience.

Perhaps where a difference lies is not between the public and the more private person: it is between those moments when we sense the process of self-realization and the moments when we lose that sense.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

the full catastrophe

Grant him a cruel and faithless lover, Lord:

Grant him the love that eats away at the heart.

Let him know for himself the sorrow that only love can bring.

Grant him love, bliss, ecstasy--give him the whole damn thing.

#1654: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: Lord

I decided to continue to explore the theme of God's or the Lord's power over love. Rumi is a little more explicit in this quatrain than in yesterday's as far as positing the heaven and hell aspects of love. I'm reminded of the classic quote from the film Zorba the Greek:
Basil: Are you married?
Zorba: Am I not a man? And is not a man stupid? I'm a man. So I married. Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe.

source: screenplay by Michael Cacoyannis

In researching the precise quote from the film, I came across the website commemorating Alan Bates who played the young Englishman, Basil. I had not heard of Bates' death (nor of his knighthood). It leaves me very sad because he was an actor I much loved.

Alan Bates @


Saturday, September 10, 2005

love's grace

God forbid your heart should find another home,

Or, far from mine, turn hesitant in love.

Your stream alone has fed my eyes as they flowered;

You are the streak of my tears, and my heart's power.

#1095: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: home

I'm going out again today and, really, I crave to stay at home. My adventurous spirit is being overpowered by my stay-at-home side. Still, I will go out even if it must be under protest.

Rumi turns out to be astonishingly vulnerable here, so dependent on his beloved's return of love. It is this love affair that inspires the flowering of his consciousness, that keeps him seeing new things in the world, and keeps expanding his circle of love and of human communication through his poetry. Here, God is imagined as being the agent that holds the two lovers together, even across vast distances of time and space and essential human differentness. Shams was, for Rumi, both a friend (or companion-lover) and a teacher (or figure of higher authority). Here the latter "higher" role is assigned to God while the love bond is emphasised. That love bond is so fragile for "I" cannot control the love of the "other". The "I" can only express its gratitude and joy at being loved by the "other", at receiving love's inspiration, and it can only beg the higher powers to help keep things that way.

Within Christianity we speak of God's grace and that is very similar, I think. God's grace is not something we can call upon or expect. When it comes, we can recognise it and be thankful. However, we can never be sure when it will come or even whether it will at all in any given circumstance. It is a lot like luck except that we should accept both good luck and bad since both come from the same source after all. Rumi hints at that in this verse since he expresses gratitude, not only for love's power but also for love's tears. True love embraces both the heaven and the hell of human intimacy.

Yesterday, I carried out my refusal and I am glad in a way but also sorry. There was a human connection beginning there, fine threads of intimacy. It was sad to break them off. No decision is ever 100% correct or without at least some small downside. However, this one has been made and it's time now for me to move on.

Friday, September 09, 2005

the art of refusing

I will not tell the secret my Friend spoke.

That pearl, that precious trust, will not be pierced.

I have not slept these many nights for fear

That I might spill those words out in my sleep.

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

Search word: no

Today, I'm attending a different workplace from yesterday and it is work I'm not looking forward to. I will go because I said I would but I intend to make it my last. I don't want to spend time doing things I don't enjoy or don't believe in. Since I will be refusing or saying "no", I sought out where Rumi also refuses.

Rumi, here, is refusing to tell his secret, a secret shared with or received from his friend, a friend who sometimes takes on the form of his lost teacher-companion Shams but who also sometimes appears as a feminine divine presence or simply as God. At #347, this is a fairly early quatrain and it may speak of a genuine fear to keep his point of view to himself. It is abundantly clear that Rumi saw God in unseemly places from a strict Islamic perspective. He was charged with heresy and escaped death but it's possible that Shams' disappearance was arranged by people judging his own views as un-Islamic or heretical. I sense a raw relation to reality in this verse.

However, Rumi is never so straightforward to me. The pressures to conform to some social ideal is not exclusively present in strict Islam. They exist everywhere. The greatest danger to being true to oneself, true to the task that one's life demands, this greatest danger lies within, in one's own fears and doubts and inability to trust. Those without ears to hear will take Rumi at his literal word and try to follow this comic pattern of secrecy. The ear that hears can see that he is revealing his secret in this verse. He is revealing his own fears and thereby revealing his own inner reality. The valuing of precious things, the trust implied by intimacy, these are balanced by the piercing of dry analysis and the mistrust that drives our fears. The secret is pretty simple really and no spoken words can ever contain it completely.

I will remember this today as I face the potentially distasteful task of refusing. I will remember that what I don't say is as important as what I do.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

expensive candy

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Hong Kong Disneyland @

the eternal tryst

There's joy in my heart: I have joined my lover tonight;

Finally free from the pain of our parting tonight.

As I dance with my lover I pray, oh Lord, in my heart:

May the keys to morning be lost forever tonight.

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

Search word: joy

Last night I was watching the TV game-show Deal or No Deal and I was impressed by the ebullience of its host, Andrew O'Keefe. As the show came to a close he was dancing ecstatically in front of the cameras. It is so evident that this man is currently dancing with his lover, doing work that expresses his talents so closely and richly. I expected to find it a silly show but watched because my son was watching. It has appeal because risk is a theme but mainly because the host draws out the personalities of the contestants and keeps the suspense and drama tightly under control. Still, it's basically a silly show.

I finished reading The Alchemist yesterday and I'm reminded of a character therein, a man who makes candy in the market place. It is a silly job and a silly product, mere candy. Just what Deal or No Deal and many other TV programs offer. There is no harm in a little candy in one's life, a little sweetener to soften the edges of sorrow or defeat. In Coelho's story, the candy man is an example of someone who has found his calling in life. He is as happy as any king could be.

I enjoyed my work yesterday, the time flew by. Perhaps then it is my calling to do this work? Perhaps not every day, perhaps just yesterday. That's all that matters after all. Each day calls us differently, to a different work and a different love, but in its essence it is the same work and the same love. I too can be a candy man or a game-show host, a poet or a mystic. It depends entirely on what each day calls me to do.

Since Donne got a mention in the article on Deal or No Deal, and since he also wrote a poem on a similar theme, I will include it here:

The Sun Rising

          Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
          Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
          Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
          Late schoolboys, and sour prentices,
    Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
    Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

        Thy beams, so reverend and strong
        Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long:
        If her eyes have not blinded thine,
        Look, and tomorrow late, tell me
    Whether both the'Indias of spice and mine
    Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear: "All here in one bed lay."

        She's all states, and all princes I,
        Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compar'd to this,
All honour's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
        Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
        In that the world's contracted thus;
    Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
    To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy centre is, these walls, thy sphere.

sourced @

One day the rising sun is a metaphor for inauthentic externally driven compulsion, as contrasted with the pure dictates of the heart. The next day the rising sun at dawn is a metaphor for love's spontaneous joy. Ah! poor sun! It is only following its own calling after all.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

my daily work

As long as I live, this is my work and my trade.

No hunter am I, but I live to stalk this prey.

This is what fills my life, this is what fills my day,

My calm rest, my relief, my companion in grief.

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

Search word: work

Today I return to work, as my health problems abate. I will discover some more about publishing by tackling a more substantial job. My thoughts have been on career a lot and I'm currently reading Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist and wondering what my calling or vocation might be. I've never been able to give it a name. I've always been plagued by a sense of vocation that is elusive and unclear, that will perhaps only become clear as my life unfolds. When I was a teenager I dreamt of a kind of tapestry or woven carpet emerging from a loom, each row a year of my life and the full picture becoming clearer only near the end. This image has often sustained me in my times of uncertainty.

Rumi's work is making these quatrains, these short verses in memory of his beloved friend and teacher, Shams. I can understand the hunting metaphor: each morning I select a verse of Rumi's and each morning I must hunt down its meaning for me. As long as I live, this is my work and my trade. Like Rumi, I will fill every moment with making the poetry that is my life, each day another row of my tapestry.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

a whole world dancing

Even if the whole world were gripped by sadness

He would not be sad who holds love firm in hand.

And if love makes him dance, even a little,

There are worlds and worlds within that little land.

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

Search word: whole

My health is returning: there is healing and a sense of becoming whole. I have been overcome by feelings of disaster, "end of the world" impressions. This kind of dark night of the soul happens quite frequently if one is alert to it. It is interesting to watch where a new light emerges. It is precisely because a new light is dawning that the darkness was necessary. The new light can never emerge while the old light is holding sway and taking centre stage.

Rumi's verse pictures this scenario using the image of holding "love firm in hand". If there is one thing that one cares for, some thing ever so small or insignificant, it will carry one through. It might be nameless, it might be better even not to name it. It can even be dangerous to name it. The reality of the new light might not turn out to correspond with a naming assigned by the old light. This is how old cynicism can kill new hope: by naming it and reducing it to non-existence.

It doesn't matter what disaster has struck. It doesn't even matter if one is trapped inside a prison or a dreary job. All that matters is that one hold on to one's true love, whatever it is that makes one dance a little, whatever it is that brings spontaneous joy. It is always there but the dawn and springtime and budding flowers evoke it and poets have sung its praise endlessly and will keep doing that forever.

Why wait for budding flowers? Or springtime? Or dawn? Why wait when a collection of Rumi's love poems can lie eternally at hand?

Monday, September 05, 2005

letting go

If you poked thorns into these streaming eyes,

Or shot cruel arrows at this hair-thin heart,

Or beat me like a drum, and beat again,

I wouldn't let you go, not even then.

#1916: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: thorn

This morning, I remain in pain and seeking thorns again. Rumi's verse today raises an interesting question, perhaps the single most important question. What matters so much that no amount of pain would cause you to abandon it? What single dream or vision or value can I not let go of? Is it an abstract entity like Life or Love or Truth or God? Is it a person or a collectivity, like my own self, my family, my community, women or humanity? Does it need to have a name, to be named?

Perhaps not.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

winners and losers

The friend to whom flower and thorn are one,

In whose faith, Koran and Cross are the same --

Why should we worry? To him it's all one:

The swiftest horse or a donkey that's lame.

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

Search word: thorn

Yesterday's competition day ended in defeat: others held the rose, we held the thorn side of things. Rumi sums up this contrast so clearly here: Islam is about winning, Christianity is about coming to terms with losing. We all desire to ride the swiftest horse, we all fear the indignity of riding a lame donkey. Well, I am Islamic in that sense. I can see that I've taken the defeat hard. I cannot yet transcend it, I cannot yet win through to the Christian victory over death.

I am a loser even in my handling of losing. Ah yes, I am so very Islamic in my defeat!

Saturday, September 03, 2005

just another day

You, who make all my hardship easy

And the garden, trees, flowers, drunk with your gifts;

The rose is drunk, the thorn is lost in dream;

Pour one more cup, they'll join in your wine's stream.

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

Search word: easy

There is an easy flow to the ink in my pen today but still the words come hard. Today marks the end of an era for me and my family. I don't know what tomorrow will bring. In this time of uncertainty I'm glad I have this routine to turn to, like a rock or anchor in the midst of turbulence. I can't help but be affected by recent images of the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina in and around the US town of New Orleans. These remind me that stability and calm cannot be taken for granted. We all feel less comfortable, less secure, when we see this kind of upheaval.

I pray that we - my son and I - will return home safely, that the cat will be safe and the house intact. Strange to pray for that on a day like this. We are setting out to attend a final competitive event and the fiery urge to win should be uppermost. Instead, a sense of life's fragility pervades.

I can see in this verse that Rumi's "you", his beloved, creates for him a sacred space in which hard edges are made smooth. A haze of drunkenness and dream surrounds each item of beauty or pain and the edges of distinction are softened. I feel like I am in that garden now, sipping that "one more cup" and letting the simplicity of being soak into my soul.

Today is just another day.

Friday, September 02, 2005

a scent on the wind

I set my heart on the path of calamity;

Where you walk, I opened my heart wide.

Today the wind carried your scent to me;

So, to the wind, I gave my heart gratefully.

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

Search word: heart

This morning, I decided to stick with heart, especially in the sense of desire or longing (as against its other connotation as essence or centre). This verse seems to use heart in that sense. However, as usual with Rumi, there are complications and opposite viewpoints juxtaposed. We might normally think of the desiring heart as being also a directing heart: we follow our heart's desire, we go where our heart leads. In this verse, Rumi begins by directing his heart. The decision-maker within him pointed his desire in a particular direction. So Rumi's will is the active agent and his heart the passive receptacle of what is to come.

Of course, the giving and the receiving go together: Rumi opens his heart but then also gives it away in gratitude. Of course, pain and joy go together: Rumi speaks of calamity in totally ecstatic tones. Of course, the teacher and the student go together: Rumi expresses his great devotion for his lost teacher but he does so with such authority that he assumes the mantle of teacher in the telling. The past, the present, the future, these all coalesce as, right now, his verse carries his own scent to me. It's ironic that these love poems from one man to another should speak so eloquently to a woman many centuries later. It's additionally comic that she should find them especially comforting in her grief over the loss of a cat.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

fish food

Love's intoxication, my disintegration:

My heart's beyond the need for food or sleep.

My body floats at sea; my feet and head

Are nowhere to be found; my soul has fled.

#1645: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: dis-

Despite the potential delight at its being the first day of spring, I've woken this morning feeling disoriented, disconnected and without focus. I find Rumi speaking of disintegration. He is telling me that he has gone, his soul has fled. I imagine, in this verse, that someone has suggested to Rumi that his lost friend and teacher, Shams, was beheaded and feet also amputated with the torso thrown into the sea. There it floats and bloats and bobs about, waiting to become fish food.

My own feet are disconnected
floating out to space
like tiny bubbles
or sad tears I've shed.

A slab of rotting flesh am I
eternally disjointed
I follow my lover
to the realm of death.