Monday, October 31, 2005

Saturn's play

I am hungry, I am sated with joy.

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

The merest phantom takes my breath away,

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

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

Search word: sat

Today I sought out Saturn, satiation, saturation, satisfaction, the sat parts of which relate back to the same root that makes the word sad. I find Rumi filled with joy and acquisitive energy. As I read the second line, my tongue rolled into mane as the last word, only to find that fame won the day there. Rumi tells us here that he relies on cunning to uphold his lordly reputation. He then tells us he is very sensitive even to a suggestion of danger, fear comes to him quite readily. However, he has an inner determination, a bravery of soul, that can overcome this fear. It is, indeed, said that brave men are those that fear most while those without fear are merely reckless.

This is one of those verses for which I would like to see other translations. The meaning doesn't hang together as well as I would like. Perhaps an original play on words was lost. Perhaps I am being dense. Either way, the devil's in the detail.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

to be or not to be

At first, with endless kindness, he carressed me,

Then roasted me in a fire of endless pain.

At the lash of his kindness, the spur of his love, I galloped.

When I became entirely him, he threw me down again.

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

Today, I decided to go in search of the Rumi verse with the lowest numbering even though I have no reason to believe there is any serial significance to those numbers, that is, they don't represent a chronological order as far as I know or can determine. Today's verse also has an alternative or original translation from Zara Houshmand as follows:
At first, with countless kindnesses, he played his song upon me.
Then he roasted me over a thousand sorrows' flames.
At the lash of his kindness, the spur of his love, I galloped.
When I became entirely him, he tossed me to the ground.


... (as well as a transitional version here)

Whether it's a caress or a song, a sorrow or a pain, it is clear that both pleasure and pain, both cruelty and kindness, drive Rumi toward an identification with the other as "he" (part Shams, part God). Once complete, the identification is then discarded. This is because the identity itself takes part in the play of opposites: on again, off again; somewhat true, somewhat false; both beneficial and dangerous, both ecstatic and hurtful.

In Wikipedia's article on Gnosticism, the author(s) write:
Carl Jung and his associate G. R. S. Mead worked on trying to understand and explain the Gnostic faith from a psychological standpoint. Jung's "analytical psychology" in many ways schematically mirrors ancient Gnostic mythology, particularly those of Valentinus and the "classic" Gnostic doctrine described in most detail in the Apocryphon ("Secret Book") of John. Jung understands the emergance of the Demiurge out of the original, unified monadic source of the spiritual universe by gradual stages to be analogous to (and a symbolic depiction of) the emergence of the ego from the unconscious. However, it is uncertain as to whether the similarities between Jung's psychological teachings and those of the Gnostics are due to their sharing a "perennial philosophy", or whether Jung was unwittingly influenced by the Gnostics in the formation of his theories; Jung's own "Gnostic sermon", the Septem Sermones ad Mortuos, would tend to imply the latter. Uncertain too are Jung's claims that the Gnostics are aware of any psychological meaning behind their myths. On the other hand, what is known is that Jung and his ancient forebears disagreed on the ultimate goal of the individual: whereas the Gnostics clearly sought a return to a supreme, other-worldly Godhead, Jung would see this as analogous to a total identification with the unconscious, a dangerous psychological state.
[my emphasis]

I myself regard Rumi as perhaps the very best example of a highly evolved gnostic, both supremely conscious of the psychological meaning of his formulations and supremely articulate in expressing those meanings. His Islamic heresy was precisely this insight into the psychic origins of myth and religious revelation, an insight certainly gained through his teacher and friend Shams. Given the Zen-like quality of those insights, it would also be fair to surmise that Shams had gained a good deal from more Eastern cultures and from Buddhism in particular.

The lunatic asylums are full of people who suffer from ego-Self identification: In Christian countries, they commonly believe they are Jesus Christ Himself. The ego is but the central organizing principal of consciousness, while the Self stands for the totality of conscious and unconscious, known and unknown, day and night, the alchemical Sol and Luna, and so on. Because the Self is initially unconscious, it is easy to identify it with the unconscious (as Allah was identified as the Lord of the Wasteland). Identification with the Self then means annihilation of the ego, which is equivalent to psychosis.

And yet, again and again, Rumi (like many another Sufi) does advocate madness for it is only through such mini-psychoses (preferably temporary and voluntarily undergone) that one can reach an understanding of the true relationship between God and man (and, by implication, between Goddess and woman, deity and humanity). It is the experience that leads to the knowing or gnosis. At that point, the real power or decision lies in choosing to be "that" or not.

Khândogya Upanishad VI, 8, 7:

'Now that which is that subtile essence (the root of all), in it all that exists has its self. It is the True. It is the Self, and thou, O Svetaketu, art it.'

Also translated:

"Tat tvam asi" - "Thou art that, Svetaketu, thou art that."


Saturday, October 29, 2005

God in the question

You are water; we are all plants that drink.

We are all beggars; you are the king.

We are all voices; you're the one who speaks.

Why don't we all follow? It's you who seeks.

#1621: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: plan

I am making plans to write a novel during November (with the help of and plan yielded plant. I'm taking that as an augury that something will grow from the seed I will plant.

I often have the feeling that it doesn't matter which verse I land on, Rumi will be saying the same thing he has been saying in every other verse. In this verse, he takes this a little further and claims that there is but one source, one person, one "you", who is really doing all the speaking through each of us. Every word I write, every single thing I say, is The One speaking through me.

This is the strongest statement of Islam from Rumi that I have yet encountered, the first three lines being as nice a summary of its essential message as one could hope to find. There is, however, the Zen-like twist at the end. Like many such twists, this is the entry point where the ego and the intellect are confused, where the mind plummets into the abyss. Whenever I seek to understand, my motivation comes from God, from "you", from the water table below. It is God who is seeking through us. We dive ever deeper when we ask what it is that God is seeking. Is His omniscience not already complete? Is it true that, deep down, He needs us as much as we need Him? Is He, after all, the one who is asking these very questions?

Ah, when seen that way, God is so very very close, is He not?

Friday, October 28, 2005

two lips

With a smile biting those two ruby lips,

How beautifully, idol, you've come to life!

Stealing my heart that day was not enough;

Today you're back, intent upon my life.

#1790: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: two

Swirling through my thoughts are the idea of a unity of being and the idea of opposition, of protagonists with different ideas on how the unity of being is constituted. Islam has a simple formula: it simply asserts One-ness of deity. However, it also divides humanity into those who submit to this assertion and those who will not. Thus are the two created out of the one. Two worlds in one world, two factions in one humanity. Is this not absurd? Wasn't Rumi aware of this absurdity?

In today's verse the two has emerged as lips which smile and bite at one and the same time. Surely Rumi intends to shock somewhat through this friendly reference to a female idol. Surely it was the intent of Islam to do away with such worship of mere statues.


This ambiguity of biting and smiling red lips is most evident in images of the Hindu goddess Kali. She is both sensuous and fearsome at once. To love Her is to love life in both its flowering and its decaying aspects.

My guess is that to love Islam is to love both the unifying and the divisive potential of human consciousness, a consciousness that derives from or has its source in the unconscious, the undifferentiated wasteland of awareness that is ruled by none other than Allah - or Kali, depending on which language one chooses to use.

I'm certain Rumi is referring here to Kali and that he had more than mere respect for this facet of Hindu religious culture. He had a deep understanding of and a strong identification with this kind of idol worship. Given that such an attitude is highly scorned in Islam, I would guess that he simply accepted Her as a challenge to live his life on the edge between the security of conformity and the adventure of new discovery.

Muslim warriors could destroy Her statues down to the last one but they could not destroy Kali Herself. In their very acts of destruction they were offering Her further worship, acting out Her dark side in Her stead. But Kali's true gift is to kill with sensuality and seduction, which is the path that Rumi has taken here. In four brief and simple lines, he has wrought some serious destruction to the very foundations of Islam and thus allowed Kali to triumph over presumptuous phallocentrism.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

alive and breathing

I know, when my heart steps up to speak,

It soon will be openly disgraced.

Obsessed with the memory of your beauty,

Your face appears with every breath it takes.

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

Search word: step

I'm in a mood to step forth, one step at a time. I find Rumi just stepping up to speak and I believe this must have been an early quatrain, earlier than the number 465 would imply. Unless his later magnum opus, the Mathnavi, is what he is referring to. Here is a passage that speaks to the issue of disclosing what is in one's heart:

When your heart becomes the grave of your secret, that desire of yours will be gained more quickly. The Prophet said that anyone who keeps secret his inmost thought will soon attain the object of his desire. When seeds are buried in the earth, their inward secrets become the flourishing garden.


I have searched the hadith database, under secret and thought or desire, without finding a saying of "the Prophet" to the effect that secret thoughts bear fruit.

This is my own take on all this: The secret thought that Rumi held in his heart was his recognition of the inadequacy of "the Prophet" as a hero for contemplation, admiration and imitation. Clearly, Shams filled this role for Rumi. By expressing his love for Shams in his poetry, Rumi was tacitly announcing the movement of his allegiance out of Islam. This did not make him anti-Islamic or even non-Islamic. It simply carried his consciousness beyond the very divide that Islam creates, the divide between believers and non-believers.

I am a little puzzled by the translation of the last two lines. The way it stands, the "obsessed" should relate to the subject of the following statement, that is, "your face". It is then unclear who is doing the breathing. Logically, it is Rumi who is obsessed with the face and it is he who is breathing. This might amount to yet another of Rumi's Zen-like paradoxes or identifications: Rumi is the face and the face really is present, alive, and breathing.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

work and rest

Tonight's a night of weakness, misery.

Tonight I grapple with heart's mystery.

Its secrets, my friend, are all thoughts of you.

O night, pass quickly: I have work to do.

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

I've woken refreshed after a spell of pain and darkness. The Buddha promises respite from this eternal cycle of abundant joy and deep despair. A calm still point can slowly emerge from the turbulence, a tiny centre around which the things that really matter can gather.

For Rumi, what mattered was the meaning inside his love for Shams and his work was to involve the gradual unfolding of that meaning through his poetry. Even within his grief, even within the very night of his weakness and misery, he wrote this quatrain and thus expressed the truth of his soul and the hope that some purpose or value lay in his suffering. He had a sense of work to be done, work that he was undertaking at that very moment.

I'm beginning to understand what Rumi meant when he wrote: "You're sitting beside the road that you seek." The work and the purpose always begin now, even while we sleep at night, even while we seem to rest. The sitting beside the road and the moving along the road are both part of the journey.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

quiet day

Time will soon silence the clamor of bleating cries,

And the wolf of doom devour the whole wooly herd.

Each of their heads is stuffed with bloated pride,

But death's slap on the back of the neck will knock it out for good.

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

I woke to dreams of devastation and upheaval, a headache and eye-ache persisting. I struggle against the pain to make some contribution today. I curled up in bed feeling dead, feeling like decay was setting in, as if I was dissolving into darkness. In the dream, the devastation was caused by political ineptness and loud silly talk, so I was attracted to this motif of a mass of bleating sheep threatened by a fearsome wolf.

Rumi advises simple patience: time will heal. And so I'll let silence rule the day.

Monday, October 24, 2005

coming face to face

Seeking love, I see it winding in your curls.

Seeking life, I see it walking down your street.

Driven by deep thirst, I drink, only to see

A dream upon the water: you face to face with me.

#1283: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: seek

Since I'm stuck inside a seeking rut, I've sought another verse on seeking. Yes, that which we seek is always the self but not as a relationship of I to me but of you to me or, as Rumi so nicely puts it, of "you face to face with me". The I-self sees and the you-self is seen but it also looks back intently enough for the I-self to realise it is being seen as well. Yes, they are indeed face to face.

Waterhouse: Echo and Narcissus @ Timeless Myths

In the classic myth, the nymph Echo fades away from longing for the beautiful youth Narcissus who, in turn, perishes through pining after his own reflection. In this moment captured by the artist J.W. Waterhouse, one can only wish that the youth would look up and notice Echo, thus coming face to face with his true other-self.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

moon blindness

You're sitting beside the road that you seek.

Blinded by moonlight, you search for the moon.

Why seek Joseph's beauty, that dimpled chin?

You yourself are love; Joseph, you are him.

#1714: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I abandoned search words today and simply browsed through first lines, looking for one that seemed apt. Given my recent lack of direction, I chose today's verse for its reference to this theme. Rumi seems to be saying that the answer is right under my nose. And yet I can't see it.

The story of Joseph is told in detail in the Koran, Surah 12, titled Yusuf, and I believe it was the inspiration for Cat Stevens to become a Muslim and adopt Yusuf as his name. This conversion has greatly fascinated me for I see the artistry of the pre-Islamic personality as classy and I don't see the Koran like that. To me, it has been a sinking and an abandonment of talent. Perhaps he was burnt out and needed more stability to his life, something that Islam does promise and can deliver. Daily prayers and rituals, the yearly cycle, the pilgrimage to Mecca, these provide a powerful framework for the sacred.

This verse is one I'll need to mull on. I remain blinded by the moonlight.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

a story without end

Last night I spent with a goddess who dabbles with slaves like me;

Again and again I begged; her answer still: "We'll see"

The night was gone, and left our story hanging.

The night was not to blame, no: our story has no ending.

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

Search word: god

I've been reminded, through a recent conversation with a friend, of the ancient goddess who ruled in that area of the Middle East where Rumi came to make his home. Konya in Turkey is famous for Rumi's mausoleum but nearby are the ruins of Catal Huyuk, an ancient and perhaps the very first city, dotted with shrines and temples to a powerful goddess clearly related to the Sumerian Inanna, Akkadian Ishtar and Semitic Astarte.

Leopard Goddess, 6000 BCE, Catal Huyuk @ anadolu_muzesi

Inanna had the reputation of luring new lovers to her bed and then abandoning them for a new lover. Thus did her son-lovers come and go in a birth-death-rebirth cycle.

Rumi may have been aware of local traditions concerning this ancient goddess and he would certainly have been acquainted with the old Persian collection of myths that formed the basis of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. Since the frame-story of Shahrazad (or Scheherazade) was added only later, perhaps in the 14th century (according to the wikipedia article), it may not have been known in Rumi's time. And yet, surely today's verse is referring to a similar incident. When dawn arrives, a story is left hanging, just as Shahrazad left her tales at moments of suspense in order to tempt her husband, King Shahryar, into delaying her execution one more day. It is most likely that the frame-story had been in oral use perhaps for many centuries before being written up to bind together the many stories.

Books do come to an end, lives do come to an end, and all of our smaller stories do reach some kind of resolution. However, the love story between man and goddess has no ending for it is placed with one foot at least in eternity. For a man, it is She who holds the Final and Ultimate Truth and She will not yield it before the end of time.

In a practical way as well, we can say that Rumi extended the life of his love affair with life. If this verse is indeed his child, then he lives on even to this day.

Friday, October 21, 2005

false gold

Friend, in truth, you're the source of life's own life:

You read my letter when it reaches you!

No matter how strange, you don't tear it up,

Knowing my shattered heart as you do.

#1736: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: truth

Last night my son and I watched Steve Martin's A Simple Twist of Fate, a modern movie adaptation of George Eliot's Silas Marner. I was drawn in by a strong sense of déjà vu, not only because I had read the novel many, many years ago but because that reading itself had triggered strong feelings of déjà vu: it had seemed as if Eliot was writing precisely about me, about my life, as if she had written the novel as a letter to me over a vast distance of time and space. The novel-letter seemed to speak about dark things in my family surroundings, about buried truths and false gold. When I sought out truth in Rumi, I found this theme of the letter sent to the beloved friend.

I feel lost for words, no wonder, since the shattered heart suffers from having lost the source of life's own life. We hoard, we lose all, we start again. Unity breaks up and reforms. Great writers like Rumi, like Eliot, like Frame, write love letters to the world, not only to anyone who might read them today or tomorrow but also to those who have passed away. A part of the energy behind this blog is a long-drawn-out love letter to Rumi. And through him, through one particular poet, to others. A truth must speak to him or it's mere baloney. Perhaps not, perhaps that is too much to ask of truth.

Silas Marner @


Thursday, October 20, 2005

sweet willows

When there's no sign of hope in the desert,

So much hope still lives inside despair.

Heart, don't kill that hope: Even willows bear

Sweet fruit in the garden of the soul.

#1932: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: hope

I have been going through a prolonged doldrum, uninspired, uncertain, bored, directionless. I've been through this many times before. I know I come out again from the darkness but the turning point doesn't happen until despair fully sets in. I've had to abandon some dreams, let go of some things I no longer need. This is a time of culling, of sorting and sifting and reassessing. Some things must be thrown out.

The Power of Positive Thinking, the philosophy of affirmation, would say: Never give up hope, always trust in yourself or in your god. It forgets that gods die. It forgets that the new is born when the old dies. Despair is like a woman dying in childbirth. To keep denying her imminent death is to place her newborn child in greater danger. Accepting, even loving, despair is to accept that she will die and honouring the cause of her death and suffering by focussing on the new, helping to deliver the new child, even in the mother's death throes. It's always what she wants most of all.

The willows of our soul, our times of inactivity, of drooping sadness, are important times. Eternal cheerfulness makes for a cardboard soul. So many people kill their souls by keeping up appearances of energetic capability. That is the real killer of hope for the very best hope is the one that is born of despair.

The masculine version of the willow is the limp penis. There is no more potent moment than that of the limp penis. To cover it up or kill it off with viagra, is to lose the pregnant moment. It is especially bad for the lover. I would rather know that my lover is not feeling up to it than never to know whether his desire is not really just an artifact. I would rather one honest erection than a million phoney ones.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

only one answer

If you don't heed my call and answer me

With joy, with the wine of your words, who will?

Shepherd of the world, refuge of the soul,

If you don't keep us from the wolf, who will?

#1915: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: answer

I have a dream: I want to solve a puzzle, answer a riddle. A Big One. This is a crazy ambition but one which, I'm sure, lies behind the popularity of whodunnits. Wouldn't we all love to have our names attached to the clearing up of a mystery? Especially the mystery of death itself.

Surely Rumi has the following Hebrew psalm in mind:

Psalm 23 (King James Version)

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

There is definitely no mention of shepherds in the Koran. And yet "In God we trust" is the mantra of all religious devotees, whether they call God "Lord", "Jesus", "Allah" or "Krishna". People die, people starve, people languish in jails or gasp for mercy under torture. Wherever they genuinely trust in the Lord, they do not want. It's a brave and a vulnerable trust but, as Rumi asks, what else is there?

earthquake-affected family @ smh


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

trusting a gift

If I bring you to mind, you're there in my thoughts.

If I open my mouth, you're there on my lips.

If I'm happy, you're the secret to it.

If I need cunning, you'll teach me to do it.

#1992: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: mind

Last night I watched on DVD Jane Campion's film about Janet Frame, An Angel at My Table. It is inspiring to follow the story of someone who had such a gift and succeeded in bringing it to fruit. If I have any such gift, it concerns the mind more than the heart that poets sing from. Mystics often put down the mind or intellect, more to point out limitations than to denigrate. Rumi is not hard on the mind in this verse.

I have a standard résumé that I send to prospective employers and I am ever confident that they will not respond. It is bland, it is "as it should be", it is definitely not the truth. I have a more private résumé that does try to tell it like it is. In it, I have a small poor-quality webcam photo of Madam (jan2000-dec2003) at a moment when she was ready to leap on an imaginary prey. It is under the section called "Gifts & Talents" and comes with the caption:
I'm like a cat. I walk by myself. I'm curious...

I'm ready to POUNCE!

(This tells you more about me than all the crap that follows.)

It's no wonder that I mourn the loss of my cat so much for I identify my gifts and talents with her. I must believe that she still lives. I cannot live myself unless I do. I must make that effort for it doesn't come easy to the rational mind.

When I read through today's verse from Rumi, I can say: Yes, when I think of Madam, she is right there in my thoughts, she feels as present as ever and perhaps even more so. Yes, when I speak, she is there behind my words, she informs my every true word. Yes, when I sing or dance with joy, it's as if I'm holding her in my arms as I once did. Our new cat hates being held. She's affectionate and a great one for purring but she struggles as soon as she is picked up. As if to tell us quite emphatically that she is no Madam, no, she is herself and that alone.

It is when I come to Rumi's fourth line that I stop, puzzled. No, this one does not fit. Madam was vulnerable, she died. She lacked cunning, she was all instinct. How can she teach me to be cunning or clever now?

But then I feel a resonance with Janet Frame's story as re-told by Jane Campion. The writer herself was so vulnerable. She seemed to have no skills at all in living in the world and she spent many painful years in psychiatric institutions. She was clueless about almost everything else except about writing. I guess Madam was clueless about everything else except being Madam.

Every gift comes with a curse. In my case, I have a strong intellect, a mind that readily analyzes, dissects, tears apart, ruthlessly searches out the inconsistency or the logical fallacy. I see human faults and failings with great clarity, my own unfortunately included. If anything gets past me, it must be clean.

If I tame this tiger down to a domestic puss, what's left? Something that is a joy to live with, with just a seed of wildness in it. Something less distinctive but less scary. Ah, Madam, you were good enough, quite quite good enough.


Monday, October 17, 2005

in vino veritas

Each day my lover comes again. She's drunk,

The cup of passion's riot in her hand.

If I take it, reason's flask will break.

If I don't, how can I let go her hand?

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

Search word: she

I'm still under the spell of the TV-movie I watched last night, the girl in the café. I decided to continue to seek out this feminine theme, the girl who speaks from the heart. In the movie, she speaks up, firmly but gently, in defense of children dying in poverty. At one point, she is dining with the forlorn and impotent male hero. He is a public servant who must return to work, so he says "no" when the waiter offers wine. The girl, however, says "yes".

Rumi saw her too, he knew her well. She was always ready to speak out of hand.

The writer of The Girl in the Café, Richard Curtis, says this about the search for the right actress to play the part of the girl:

And then when we got together, we then started to try and find the girl. And it was very hard, because there was a possibility that the girl in the film would either appear to be slightly mad or very Left-wing or you know, a bit obsessed or obsessive.

And that we found one girl who could do it. And she had these extraordinary qualities of sort of patience and every-woman-ness, and ordinary-ness and simplicity. So, it's the same old muddle of influences, which lead to the finished product.


He sounds a bit drunk there, doesn't he?

Basmat Levin: Girl with wine glasses @

I haven't a clue where to go from here.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

mere dust

In their quest for God they have turned away

from all else but Him. Be dust at His door.

We are what we are because of Him,

Be we kings in His grace, or paupers pure.

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

Search word: turn

I feel like I've reached a turning point. No one turned up at the meeting yesterday, it was a flop for me, the end of the road. Finality feels good, however, it feels like it's time to turn over a new leaf, start afresh, start anew.

This morning I don't feel like agreeing with Rumi's verse. I don't like the characterization of God here. I don't like it that it's a "Him". I don't like it that "He" dictates whether I shall be rich or poor. Who the hell is "He" anyway? God is spirit alone, without body, perhaps even without soul. Why turn only to that?

If I ask myself: What am I? Yes, firstly, I would say: I am woman. But I can be man too. Oh yes, I have it in me to be man. Or I can be cat or dog (less likely) or flowering hibiscus. I can be a simple pebble on a path. Or a grain of sand on the beach, or ... OK, dust at the door.

Bouquet d'hibiscus @


Saturday, October 15, 2005

ebb and flow

The tides will take my poetry and song,

And carry off the clothes I did not own.

Good and bad, devotion, empty piety --

Moonlight brings and moonlight takes away.

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

Search word: poet

Today I'm meeting up with others who have an interest in Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. Rumi's art was his poetry and I wondered how he viewed it. According to this quatrain, he saw his poetry as a natural phenomenon like the tides, dictated by a distant heavenly body. His art was not something under his control, something owned. Inspiration comes and goes, quality comes and goes, true insight comes and goes.

It occurs to me that we cannot grieve a loss unless we believed we owned first. There is a fallacy here for we never own those we love. Perhaps that is why we grieve: we grieve, really, at our failure to control; the ego grieves, really, over its own impotence.

This is a good poem about the creative process. It captures a moment of pure acceptance, of pure submission to influences outside of our control. I'll take it with me and share it with artist friends.

Friday, October 14, 2005

drinking like grass

Deep thoughts and sadness dim and do not last

Where wine and song and good kebab are found.

Drink the pleasure, friends, that never ends:

Drink the kiss of water's lips, like flowers do, like grass.

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

Search word: sad

Often, early in the morning while I'm just waking, my grouchy side emerges, grizzling because it's cosy inside the bed and cold out. It moans and groans, whines and whinges, claiming that every task for the day is arduous, every event boring, and generally speaking, there is no fun to be had today. Rumi doesn't use words like grouch or grump, so sad has to stand in.


Oscar the Grouch peering out from his trash can @

Well, today's verse veritably starts as an "eat, drink and be merry" exhortation: so long as there is plenty of wine and good meat in the larder, we want of nothing more. Oh yes, there is a song in there too. We all need a good song. If the numbering of these quatrains reflects the order in which they were written then this very early one shows an astonishing recovery from the grief of Rumi's loss of Shams. It veritably explodes with messages like: "Life is for living", "Get on with your life", "The best things in life are free". Just get on with it, live your life, enjoy every moment, throw your worries and cares away into the trash can. Embrace every cliché of happy optimism and invent one more: drinking the kiss of water's lips, like flowers do, like grass. Soak up the simple joys of sheer existence.

Meanwhile, poor Oscar will crouch lower and lower, pressing his trashcan lid more and more firmly down. Groan, he moans, how silly is all that?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

the bird of destiny

This blooming branch will bend with fruit one day.

This falcon too will seek its prey one day.

His thoughts of you approach, then fly away,

Until at last they'll come to rest one day.

#1759: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: fruit

This morning, my son and I were keen to find out about the Apple launch which happened overnight. I thought it would be kinky to see what Rumi had to say about apples or, failing that, about fruit in general. It's a long hop from a video-capable iPod to Persian mysticism but I'll plunge in undaunted.

Today's quatrain circles around the theme of fulfillment, of becoming what we have it in us to become, of doing what we have it in us to do. It is also nicely connected to yesterday's theme through the metaphor of flying and resting. The bird here represents the thoughts of the beloved and union with the beloved is the lover's goal and a prime image of fulfillment. When at last the lovers are together, the feeling resembles that when a goal is accomplished, a task is completed, or an achievement attained. Here and there throughout our lives, we catch a glimpse of this fulfillment. Some life development will feel especially significant. Common contenders here, of course, are meeting one's future spouse, becoming a parent for the first time, obtaining a critical career opening or study opportunity. Winning the lottery will do too.

Rumi passed away on the evening of December 17, 1273, a time traditionally known as his 'wedding night,' for he was now completely united with god.


A life is not fulfilled until the end which is why some see death as the consummate lover. Until then, the bird of destiny visits us ever so briefly to remind us why we are here. The most we can do is make it welcome and offer it a friendly branch to land on. It cannot be captured or caged, it cannot be greedily grasped. We can but be thankful when it comes, we can but pause to reflect on the wonder of our lives.

Shrine of Jalaluddin Rumi, Konya @


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

abiding treasure

A few flies are brawling over sugar

Like it's treasure. Why should the sugar care?

A bird lands on the mountain, flies again.

Is the mountain bigger or smaller then?

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

Search word: work

I'm in a mood to get to work, to get started on projects that have been neglected. Only one first line in Houshmand's Rumi index contains the word work, so I glanced up at the line above and was intrigued by the flies and sugar. The verse doesn't make too much sense unless it's placed in the context of jealousy surrounding Rumi's relationship with Shams. The sugar could be Shams himself, or Rumi, or more specifically the special bond between them. Rumi seems to say that the attention paid to this couple and their love bond has no relevance at all to either of them or to their relationship.

It is an interesting pair of metaphors, this flies on sugar and bird on mountain. If we take the second metaphor first, we can interpret it two ways: the mountain is someone jealous over Rumi who is the bird paying the mountain a little attention, or the mountain is the loving couple that is unmoved and unchanged by insignificant attention being paid to it. In either case, no harm comes to the mountain or to the bird. Nothing serious has happened.

By contrast, in the first metaphor, the mountain is now tiny pieces of sugar and the flying creature is large in comparison and also joined by its fellows. The sugar is being consumed and does indeed have good reason to care. The jealousy of others did bring suffering down on both Shams and Rumi. The first probably paid with his life and possibly also with a cruel death by flaying. Rumi paid with the loss of his friend and uncertainty surrounding the disappearance. However, sugar remains sugar while being consumed and there is plenty more sugar where it came from. Rumi stayed true to his love for his friend and he stayed true to himself. Some essential things were not destroyed.

Sufism can be characterized as "the essence of essences" (see anulios for this quote from Idries Shah). All spiritual searches seem to be characterized by this striving for the essential, for something that is not or cannot be destroyed. It is sometimes expressed as a search for immortality. The alchemists called it the elixir of life and the philosopher's stone. One way or another, I'm pretty sure all the variants on the spiritual search would agree: the flies can pick at the sugar for all eternity but will not find the treasure that way, the mountain can draw one bird after another to pay it a visit but it will not become the treasure that way.

The Islamists and the universalists can also brawl over whether Rumi (or Sufism generally) is "really" an essential part of Islam or has flown free of it. Rumi himself has made it quite clear that he lies most comfortably outside these categories (see under my eternal strife). This doesn't mean he cannot lie uncomfortably within either.

Each morning the bird of my reflections lands briefly on Rumi's mountain and then flies off to other adventures. The mountain abides, unchanged.

flute player

adapted from image @ the hermit


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

this life, this world

Tell me, life of this world, does anyone exist but you?

Without life, or this world, does anything exist but you?

I do wrong, and you inflict harsh punishment for wrong.

Then between us, is there really any difference, tell me?

#1545: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: life

I'm staying with the idea of life as I continue to feel more awake and alive, seeking out new possibilities. I'm struck with the realization that I don't really know what "life" is or means. Breathing is the basics but is there more to life and living? If so, then what? I can only think of it as a kind of freedom, a kind of letting go of usual restraints and letting oneself fly, imagine impossible things and then do them.

Today's verse has puzzled me more than usual probably because Rumi is making very global assertions. He addresses his beloved as "life of this world" and suggests that no one else matters or exists. In the second line, life and the world are removed and the question still raised as to whether anything else matters or exists. Even God as transcendental other-worldly Being is thus dismissed. Rumi then acknowledges his own wrong-doing or errors or sinfulness, perhaps. My own guess or feeling about this wrong-doing in this context is that it refers to identifying with the other and especially with the other as conceived as deity. This is a classic trap or delusion on the way to the mystic perception. Within Islam it was famously expressed by Mansur Al-Hallaj in his Ana al-Haqq - I am the Truth - which amounted to saying he was God. The trouble with this delusion, as Rumi then suggests on the last line, is that it contains more than a grain of truth. The little "I" or ego is but one enacting in the world of the greater "I" or self of God. Underlying all of our apparently separate lives and selves is one life and one self. This is the deepest conviction of the mystic.

In an objective or scientific or strictly intellectual sense, there is no way of knowing whether such an underlying unity is the real reality. However, really, that does not matter. It is the experience and its consequences that have undoubted reality. When we feel connected to this underlying unity or all-encompassing whole, we feel so much more alive and moreover, we have little concern for whether the "truth" label applies from outside. It is the truth from the inside that counts and the only one that can be known. I cannot know "you" unless I am there.

And yet, in the day-to-day world, we constantly lose that sense of unity, that sense of connectedness. We bump against each other and the world. The no-nonsense, anti-mysticism, down-to-earth bloke would say that this jolting and jarring is the real reality. Life's road is bumpy and Rumi's silken threads of mystical poetry have no place there. This is to forget or fail to realize that Rumi's beloved is precisely this rough and ready world we live in. This beloved, this love experience, is not some static thing, frozen in time and space. It is alive, it is the very life of the world, and if the world bumps along then it is because love does.

It is strange to walk through the park and see how seemingly safe and solid the trees and grass and ground seem and to think of what happened recently in Kashmir when the ground moved, shuddered and shook, devastating the lives of so many. Right now, it is so very hard for some to love this life, this world.

AFP photo

Pakistan survivor @ smh


Monday, October 10, 2005

magical eyes

My love, my life, you ask why I'm so hard.

Go ask your eyebrows, ask your wild hair.

Your tight lips will tell why my heart feels no peace.

Your magical eyes will explain my disease.

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

Search word: life

Last night I watched an excellent TV doco-drama, Agatha Christie: A Life In Pictures. I was impressed by a certain survivor instinct and zest for life expressed especially in her later years and portrayed by the older actress, Anna Massey. I woke this morning aware of breathing, simply breathing. Life is living, just being alive.

Today's quatrain could readily lend itself to an erotic homosexual reading, what with the reference to being "hard" and to his lover's "tight lips". However, to me, the key always lies with Rumi's use of paradoxical statements, in this case the "tight lips will tell", suggesting that Shams' most powerful communication was never through words alone. The reference to eyebrows suggests that his facial expression was engrossing; the wild hair points to an uncultivated or spontaneous outpouring; the tight lips to powerful presence; but the magical eyes, for me, refer to Shams' special way of seeing. Rumi was entranced by how Shams saw the world, how he saw life, love, self, deity, being. I'm convinced that these magical eyes saw with a mystic vision that can never be fully expressed in words. However, to see that way is to write in a magical way such as is evident in Rumi's verses.

I drink from that seeing each morning and a thirst is quenched for a day at least.

Sunday, October 09, 2005


Galliano in Paris @ smh

pixel patterns

A lover's one who must drink, day and night,

To tear off reason's veil and his own shame.

Mind, body, heart, or soul cannot be part

Of one who is, with love, one and the same.

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

Search word: one

I have been feeling scattered of late, my energies and time dissipated in this and that activity, with no central purpose to it all. I seek to meditate on "one" to bring it all together. We do divide up our time and our lives and even our selves. We have time for work and time for rest, time for war and time for peace; we have our private and our public lives, our private and our public faces; we see our minds and bodies as separate entities, our mind and heart as opposed, our soul as even further distant from our bodies since it alone survives death and decay.

Often, when I feel scattered like this, I turn to the technique of drawing a mandala, a simple circle within a square perhaps, but filled, then, with my concerns. I try to discover the name or image of my central concern. Or I try to build up form from scattered pieces. Some of the results of this effort, carried out using the medium of pixels, can be seen at my alchemical meditations site. Shown below is a series of mandalas created during my immediate grief at the death of my cat.

I feel better now. A couple more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle have been connected.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

love's open sea

Pouring envy and greed from love's open sea,

We steal from each other the waters of bliss.

No fish ever hoards its own portion of water;

Without the ocean, there's nothing that is.

#1463: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: envy

There is a fierce wind blowing today and it feels awesome. I wonder at the emotions that a hurricane would release. Emotions themselves are elemental things and wind, rain, sunshine have been drawn into service to describe them. Some, like envy, are viewed as negative and to be repressed. I'm not so sure. When we are hit by a negative emotion, we can harvest something from it first. I'm convinced that, when we do, we make friends with that emotion and it turns into an asset instead of a liability.

Rumi certainly suffered as a consequence of others' envy, as the stories about Shams' disappearance suggest. In this quatrain he sources envy and greed in the same place from which positive emotions emerge, the same vast ocean of the soul, and he thus characterizes them as forms of love. To repress envy is to turn away from the soul but to respond to it by trying to reduce the bliss of another is pointless. Nothing is gained from that. The ocean was available to us before the attempted theft and it is available afterwards.

When I look at the love between Rumi and Shams from the perspective of homosexual love alone, it just doesn't make adequate sense. There is no hint that Shams had the kind of youthful physical beauty that would arouse envy in those lusting after him and seeing Rumi as standing in the way. He must still have had an extraordinary beauty in the eyes of Rumi, a kind of beauty of being that is often found in the innocence and unselfconsciousness of youth. The onlookers who envied this attention that Rumi paid to Shams were really longing for their own Shams quality. The logic, I think, is this: If Shams is removed, then Rumi must cast his gaze elsewhere and since it was his loving gaze that rendered Shams beautiful, then that gaze will miraculously transform everyone else toward whom it is turned. Sadly, it just doesn't work that way.

Or perhaps is does, or did work that way, although not in a direct or obvious way. Perhaps Shams' disappearance (which might, like an earlier disappearance, have been self-imposed) was a necessary catalyst for Rumi to turn away from such focussed attention and gradually come to write about love in a way that could communicate more widely. Perhaps Shams, perhaps indirectly his murderers, sensed that Rumi needed this pain to jolt him out of a too-limited obsession with one man and into a writer who could reach across religious, cultural and language divides and far into future centuries.

A spectacular interest in Rumi has emerged in the West. No mere poet has ever attracted so much attention. Some attribute this to the brilliant poetic renderings of the modern poet-translator, Coleman Barks. However, even the humble efforts of Zara Houshmand that I use in this blog reveal much richness of thought and emotion. Rumi has been compared to Shakespeare but I strongly doubt that Shakespeare in Arabic or Urdu or Malay could have as strong an impact on the Muslim world as Rumi has had on the Christian. No, Rumi is a more special phenomenon than a Shakespeare. His huge and rich opus has the potential to form a cultural space within which all world religions have a place and to which any genuine spirituality can relate. The world certainly needs something like this right now.

If the ocean of love can be embodied in writing then Rumi's opus is it. But the same ocean of love that fed his writing is available to any and every writer, no matter how little or greatly talented. Every one of us can plunge into this ocean and feel its vastness as our home. As Rumi says, it belongs to no single fish. All of us are swimming here.

Friday, October 07, 2005

turning times

Without your blessing, my heart would not have turned to you.

It felt no fellow-pain till blessed with the pain of you.

Too much of anything becomes a thorn.

Too much pain you bring, but your welcome is not worn.

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

Search word: turn

I'm picking up the thread or theme of turning away or towards the other. My own heart has been turning away. As I've been reading Spong of late (This Hebrew Lord), I have felt less enthusiastic. I can too clearly hear the Christian preacher in him and this is not my own voice at all. I can't believe that the Christian message was worth all the pain and suffering that the early Christian martyrs endured. I think I am attracted to Rumi precisely because he knew how to maintain his integrity while escaping such martyrdom.

At the same time I feel a turning away from my friend and she from me. We see each other rarely but we've seen too much of each other of late. We each need our own spaces for a while.

My adolescence was coloured by the erotic and love songs of Elvis Presley and the Beatles. In our present culture we are encouraged to fall in love at that age. It is astonishing, then, to discover that Rumi first fell in love only when he met Shams. It is astonishing that he fathered children without feeling this fellow-pain, not even towards the children themselves. It is hard to escape the conclusion that he was homosexually inclined.

It is perhaps not fair to compare this fellow-pain with adolescent love which, while pointing to deeper things, lacks depth in itself. Rumi brought many years of experience and learning to this critical moment when he fell in love with another man. So many complex threads, impossibly entangled threads, characterize that love. It was the catalyst, indeed, for extracting and revealing to Rumi the various threads of his personality or soul, very much like the strings of associations that Freud first drew attention to as an aid to healing. The drawing out of these threads brings pain, primarily the recognition of a pain that dwells eternally within the human soul. We can never be satisfied with how we are. We yearn constantly for new horizons, for the next expansion of our souls. This is the pain of longing that opens us up to new possibilities and keeps us alive today.

However, we also need to consolidate our gains, to settle into new situations, else this expansion would cause us to vaporise. It is then we turn inwards, we turn our backs on adventure and back towards our home comforts. Today, I intend to work in my own garden and in my kitchen, processing the harvest from my lemon tree. It is what my soul needs today.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

eternal strife

How long will I keep burning in your flame?

How long will you still turn away from me?

How many friends will turn from me in shame?

How long will I still hurt? How long will you be free?

#1957: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: long

My mind and emotions remain unsettled after a turbulent meeting last night, one community pitted against another, a mini-war in suburbia. Both sides are part of the long, long story and every drama, no matter how small, reflects the larger drama of life's dynamism. Change happens. Settled spaces are invaded by new elements. Settled populations are invaded by new creatures, new people, new cultures. What is expansion for one is contraction and even death for another.

Today's verse is interesting as a reality check about love. Here Rumi is expressing his anguish at rejection, at being abandoned by his beloved. It's easy to fall into the trap, when reading mystic love poetry, of imagining that blissful union is some kind of permanent state, achieved once and for all as a kind of enlightenment goal. The bliss of mystic union is far more akin to sexual climax, with a building up, an explosive intoxication, and a more gentle and peaceful decline back to the normal greyness of existence. Like the experiences of adolescent love, endlessly explored in popular song lyrics, mystic love has its ups and downs, its times of being wrapped in close embrace and its times of being separated, distant, alienated from one another and from one's self.

Both states, whether of blissful union or of hellish despair, have an eternal feel to them despite the fact that we seem to enter them and leave them. It is the human capacity for recollection (memory of the past) and imagination (envisioning the future) that renders these states eternal for we can always walk through the door into the room that conjures up either state. At any moment I can feel myself into bliss or despair.

And yet, like the good mystic he is, Rumi asks these despairing questions with just enough hint of rhetoric to suggest a delusional aspect to this despair (and therefore also to the bliss of eternal union). I'm strongly reminded of another quatrain of his, not included in the Zara Houshmand translations I refer to daily, but also from the same collection dedicated to Shams:

There is a world outside Islam and Disbelief,
We are enamoured of the atmosphere therein.
The mystic lays down his head when he reaches there.
There is neither Islam nor Disbelief in this place.

source: Divani Shamsi Tabriz @

Beyond or outside the opposites of believing and disbelieving, of faith and despair, of love and war, of union and separation, of life and death ... beyond all these is a place to rest one's head, stop thinking at all, and just be.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

a very, very long story

Sharing my secrets with you is no help at all,

But without you I don't have the gall to air my secrets at all.

You surely are not the remedy for what ails me;

What ails poor me is a very, very long story.

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

Search word: help

Today I've agreed to help out a friend, to do her a favour. She has given me this gift of asking me for my help. It makes me feel useful and valued. This afternoon, I'll be writing down notes, taking minutes, during a potentially conflict-ridden meeting. It will be a nice little challenge as I've never taken minutes like this before. Long ago, I took minutes when I was secretary for the local Jung Society but it was a small familiar group that met regularly. This time it will be a room full of strangers and the issues discussed are to me but sketchy. I will bring to the meeting an element of objectivity, which I daresay is what my friend really wants of me.

One of the differences between my friend and me is that she pooh-poohs everything to do with psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, counselling, any and every type of "talking cure". With my background interest in Jung, naturally I treat all these forms of healing seriously although the Jungian influence causes me to focus more on the mind expanding, enlightenment or self-knowledge aspects of analysis (as the Jungians describe the one-on-one relationship set up between analyst and analysand). I do respect her view on this because I am troubled myself by many aspects of what might best be categorized generally under "psychotherapy".

There are quite a few parallels between Sufi meditation sessions and psychotherapy groups, between the relationship of Sufi teacher to pupil and that of therapist to client. Rumi also stressed the friendship or peer relationship that arose within or alongside the teacher-pupil bond, as was most strongly evident between him and Shams. This is also stressed by Jung, most notably in his small book, The Psychology of the Transference, which uses the images from the Rosarium philosophorum as a basis for discussion.

Perhaps I am reading my own preoccupations into Rumi's verse (sure, I am always doing that but hopefully a little more as well) but I see him summarizing succinctly what is valuable and what is limited in psychotherapy. Sharing one's worries, anxieties and fears does not dispel them. Sharing one's dreams, hopes and longings does not make them real. Jungians are realistic about these angels and demons that benefit from an eternal life and can never be killed off. At best we can become better acquainted with them and come to love and accept them as a part of what we are.

One way that human beings do this is to collect or re-collect their history through tribal legends and hero tales. The individual can do this through autobiography but plunging into wider human history is also important. My life, my problems and my dreams, did not begin at my birth. They began at the very beginning. I cannot fully understand myself unless I incorporate that greater vision into the picture of self I hold. That larger self is our god-self and without it, we are the loneliest creatures on the planet.

It is so true what Rumi says: What ails us is indeed a very, very long story. It is probably without beginning, equally probably without end; unlikely to have a merely happy ending, but equally unlikely to be all bad. I doubt that we can truly love and accept ourselves and our fellow creatures unless we can learn to love the story we are all in.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

a love-sick roué

All day, Saghi, I was drunk on you.

God knows, all day I waited for you.

Give me the wine, let the world keep its traps.

I stalked you all day, tonight I will too.

#1251: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: drunk

I spent time yesterday in the company of a friend and, without drinking a drop of wine, I was happy, excited, agitated, intoxicated. I thought I would explore further this theme of drunkenness which is referred to ad nauseam by Persian poets. In an earlier entry, a simple wine, I first encountered this cupbearer, saqi or here Saghi, a young man who serves the wine at all-male drinking parties. Despite all the assurances that Rumi meant his wine to refer to spiritual things only, I find it more plausible to believe that homosexual practices were a common and regular feature of these parties. The following photo, taken by segovius on his travels, shows a sketch of such spiritually drunken males. The artist has expressed the latent eroticism most blatantly in the formation of tree trunks in the upper right hand corner.

Dancing Dervishes @ Anulios Flickr Gallery

As with any spiritual or archetypal symbol, homosexual love must have been lived out very commonly long before the penny dropped as to its more subtle spiritual meaning. Islamic historians writing about Rumi are very careful how they describe his relationship with Shams and later male friends. His repeated expressions of desire for the saqi are treated strictly as metaphor. It's hard to believe that earthy reality was not mixed in with spiritual allegory.

One of the loveable characteristics of Rumi is the ease and comfort with which he can identify with human traits that are normally seen as negative. Here he portrays himself as a love-sick roué, driven to stalking his prey, the young man - any young man - who serves up the wine (and is probably also required to be available for homosexual favours). This earthy image of unadulterated lust projects such a solid, substantial sense of the devotee's love for the beloved. Why should the love between our human and our divine natures be portrayed only in divine terms? No, that is silly. This love between (wo)man and God(dess) is as lusty as it is light. It is empty if it is not lived out in some way. (OK, and shallow if lived out without insight.)

Again, in this short verse, Rumi overlays opposite tendencies so that the erotic union occurs within and between the very lines of verse. In the third line he affirms the other-worldliness of the wine, he turns his back on the traps of literal interpretation (living out without insight). And yet the whole tone of the verse is so earthy and even banal, pulling us downward into everyday life. Just as his act of stalking continues on from day into night, so too is there a mutual penetration between lover and beloved, both male, both female, both neither, both both.

Monday, October 03, 2005

each day a new adventure

Now is our time for traveling the earth:

We leave the cities to their civic pride.

Now our ship is idling on the sea,

Each night sees another port, another home each day.

#1952: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: earth

I figured I'd stick with the earth today and here I find Rumi travelling it rather than digging into it to find treasure. With characteristic irony, Rumi speaks of travelling when in fact he stayed put in his maturer years. It was his youth that was unsettled by many changes of home as his family fled the terror of the Mongol invasions. The lifestyle referred to here is closer to that of a wandering dervish as Shams had been. As Rumi processed his grief at the loss of Shams he would have begun to assimilate Shams into his being, becoming conscious of Shams' qualities as potentially his own.

Each of us contains the opposites whether in reality or in potential inside of us: in this case, the opposites are our civilized stay-at-home selves as contrasted with our wandering gypsy selves. Labelled "farmer" and "hunter" these two ways of life have been linked to human genetics and offered as an explanation for the ADD/ADHD epidemic by Thom Hartmann. In a far different context, Emily Bronte's novel, Wuthering Heights, explores the tension in a woman between her desire for social respectability (Rumi's "civic pride") and a romantic longing to explore her wilder nature (Renata's Rahan). Even if Hartmann is correct that these tendencies are gene-related, I doubt it is a black-and-white relationship. Perhaps the "natural" or genetically programmed hunter will live out a more restless urge while the natural farmer will settle nicely into societal norms. However, within each lies the other, just waiting to find expression in the nooks and crannies of life.

What is most powerful of all is the attitude embodied by each. Whether we have lived in the same place for decades (as Rumi lived in Konya) or wandered the earth restlessly (as Shams did), we can nurture both attitudes at any moment of any day. We can build up our small comforts and securities, our routines and neat formulas, while still facing each new day as a new adventure and a new challenge. We can keep our hunter-self happy and our farmer-self satisfied, acknowledging and loving each other.

And so it is with this blog: My farmer-self is comforted in the assurance that it will happen but my hunter-self looks forward to the surprises that Shams-in-Rumi (almost) never fails to deliver.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

love revealed

It is treasure buried in earth, concealed;

Both from the pious and faithless, concealed.

We saw that it surely was love, concealed:

This hidden thing left us naked, revealed.

#1640: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: earth

I woke this morning with earthy erotic dreams which I view as a good sign! I continue to be entranced with the Hebrew spirit of joy as expressed in the most popular song from Fiddler on the Roof:

If I were a rich man,
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.
If I were a wealthy man.
I wouldn't have to work hard.
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
If I were a biddy biddy rich,
Yidle-diddle-didle-didle man.

My son is working hard towards making his first million but I tell him that I wish him to be rich in spirit, first and foremost. Though I don't mind him being or becoming both.

In this verse today, Rumi characterizes the Self, the divine, the alchemical goal, however one wishes to name it, as a treasure buried in earth. This is a very gnostic idea, that the divine spark dwells in each of us and in the world about us if only we have eyes to see. Blake expressed it most popularly and most succinctly in his:

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour

As Rumi so shrewdly observes, the pious person fails to see the divine because he looks to heaven for it; the faithless person fixes his gaze on the earth but is not on the lookout for the divine. Both, therefore, are blind to it. Neither can achieve gnosis.

It is love that reveals and is revealed in this treasure. It is love in the form of a mother's love, of unconditional acceptance and nurturance: of one's self, of one's fellow man and woman, and also of one's fellow creatures of the earth. I loved my cat that way and she taught me to extend that love, to spread it around. She taught me this through her death for what else can it mean that she left me so bereft of her? Perhaps that is also why Jesus had to die, so His disciples could learn from the loss. Perhaps that is why Shams had to disappear, so Rumi could discover his own qualities of saintliness and religious authority in himself, buried deep inside himself.

In my dream I am naked in a communal living environment. I am worried about what others will think and I hurry back to my private room. Now, as I read Rumi, I no longer care about being naked for naked is my natural self. I love me like I am.

Finally, a "thank you" to YmirGF at free2code's religion forum for bringing us this other succinct treasure from another poet:
To be nobody-but-yourself -- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else -- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
-- e e cummings


Saturday, October 01, 2005

distilling the wine

Though distance has broken hope's own back,

Though cruelty has tied desire's hands,

The drunken lover's heart will not give up.

The goal's in reach if you try hard enough.

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

Search word: hope

It being the first day of the month, I'm in a mood for setting out again, on some new adventure. I'm in a hopeful mood. I have been recently feeling down and I woke in the night with a bad headache, a common symptom of stress and tension. I wonder why this happens again and again, why tension builds up, why hope seems to evaporate, why we feel disconnected, disempowered, disoriented. Why does it keep happening? Clearly Rumi's been in a place like this and known the power of perseverance. This is the moment when the goal is in sight and just one more effort will bring one home to it.

In Rumi's case, the immediate object of hope and desire was Shams, his beloved friend and teacher, who had suddenly disappeared. As time wore on the hope of seeing him again diminished. Some histories relate that Shams experienced the martyrdom of being flayed alive. I think it most likely that Rumi was told that this had happened but without real evidence. It was but one cruel possibility among others. It must have been very difficult for him to stay true to his love. This verse, I think, expresses a moment when despair seemed to be winning but a determination carried him through. The wine that Shams delivered would be spilt and lost if Rumi allowed his disappearance thus to overcome him.

A similar agony of grief must have been experienced by Jesus' disciples after He was so cruelly tortured and executed, degraded and humiliated in public. How could the values that He stood for survive such a catastrophe? Spong, in his Resurrection, describes in vivid and loving detail how Peter, especially, came to terms with this setback and was able to take on the leadership of the new religious movement. Out of the darkness of his grief and despair, a new light emerged and a new vision of what Jesus had stood for. At that point, for Peter, his goal had been reached, he had found his purpose and mission in life, he knew God's plan for him.

My own feeling about Rumi's verses grieving the disappearance of Shams is that they represent his own renewed vision of what his life was about. It was up to him to distill, process, package and deliver the wine of Shams' truth. This had to be done in a way that would protect Rumi as much as possible from charges of heresy, which came anyway but which he managed to defend himself against. How better than to write love poems? To my mind, Rumi's verses to Shams are the Islamic equivalent of the New Testament gospels. Here "Islamic" is not a parallel with Judaism, but with the Roman Empire. Islam is, after all, an empire-building and empire-maintaining ideology far more than a structure to aid spiritual development. Judaism also had that component to it but it was but a small part. Where Islam teaches how to win and stay on top, Judaism taught both how to win and how to deal with defeat. The culmination of the latter element is found in the Christian development of Judaism. This is why Jesus Himself claimed to fulfill the ancient laws.

If Jesus, then, is like a new Moses, Rumi is like a new Muhammad. Even his more comprehensive magnum opus, the Mathnawi, is commonly characterized as "the Koran in Persian". Since tradition around Muhammad makes the preposterous claim that he was the final prophet, Islam is thus set up for stagnation. It took the brilliance of a Rumi to get round this little difficulty and deliver his treasure nonetheless.