Wednesday, November 30, 2005

God knows

How thirsty I am to see you, God knows.

But when I see you, the thirst only grows.

I'm a slave to those lips, that ruby flood;

That's why the whole world thirsts after my blood.

#1649: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: see

During the time when Shams was around, he and Rumi were inseparable. This verse has a feel that places it in that time. We are told, however, that these verses poured out from Rumi only after Shams' disappearance and probable murder. This one would seem to be part recollection of Shams' presence, part affirmation of him through his very absence.

It is also said that Rumi claimed that these verses were not written by Rumi himself but by Shams. We get that sense here in the third line. The fourth suggests a realistically based paranoia, but it was Shams who was hunted down and killed. The roles are thus reversed.

Yet another rich expression of his deep love and sense of identity with Shams, with just a hint that God is lurking and watching it all.

Alchemical woodcut @


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

a teasing smile

Harmony itself creates our discord.

The teasing smile inside creates my scowl.

This royal falcon wears an owl's face.

The very jaws of death hold life's long grace.

#1361: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: create

I've been discussing with friends the creative power of God and I sought Rumi references to creation. The theme of harmony and discord is pertinent to my recent concerns. I'm aware, for example, that I'll be creating my own disturbance by making waves over the party noise. The seeds of discord have now been sown. I believe, however, that only discord can create harmony. This is well explicated in M. Scott Peck's The Different Drum : Community Making and Peace in which appeasement and empty diplomacy are shown to be quite useless. An open and honest admission of grievance is a better starting point to achieving true community through communication.

In a general sense, Rumi is continuing the theme here of one extreme flowing into the other, much like the Taoist idea of Yang, in its fullness, returning to Yin and vice versa. Rumi loves to relate it to real life, to familiar situations and concrete objects.

For me also, the teasing smile intrigues. It is a ploy I use a lot and it does indeed create many a scowl. I don't have Rumi's insight on this. If I did, the scowl would not so bewilder me. I'll observe this situation more closely next time it happens and try to see how it relates to the theme in this verse.

Having now done that, I see it relating to ideas of hope and expectation. It is like the advertiser's "teasing smile". We are promised joy and contentment but the reality is that the product advertised is a dud in that regard (although it may be effective in the more restrictive way for which it was intended). I think this is why a Shahryar comes to hate women and, through them, to hate life itself. (It can also go the other way around: A man who has come to hate life will hate women.)

That scowl, that disappointment and cynicism, are our autumn and winter and it follows naturally from our spring and summer.

Monday, November 28, 2005

the best joy

No punishment, no threat,

Could make me tell this secret.

Something carries joy inside me

But I can't quite point to it.

#1141: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I'm in a mood to prepare and issue punishment and threat, over the incident on Saturday night when one household played their Lebanese party music loud enough to disturb an entire small neighbourhood. They were expressing their joy that one of their members had reached the esteemed age of 25. If this catches on and we can all celebrate every birthday in this manner, then every evening will be hell, not just every Saturday. I must work to put a stop to this.

Something in me has radically changed through this process of befriending Rumi. I'm becoming more and more aware of carrying this joy he speaks of. Besides the irony that I will be working on curbing the selfish expression of fake joy, I feel full of joy myself. I'm looking forward to rallying the neighbours to an effort to protect their rights to peace. My warrior instinct is aroused and I'm at the ready for a good fight.

The best joy is the secret joy, the quiet joy, the one we can never adequately express. The best joy is the one we want to speak and write about forever and ever.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

seeing red

However long your patience, I will shred it.

If you sleep, I'll steal the dreams from your eyes.

Stand like a mountain, I'll melt you in fire;

Be the sea, and I'll drink your water dry.

#1287: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: red

I was seeing red this morning, furious over an incident with neighbours last night. I decided to allow the red to turn up serendipitously among the first lines of the Rumi quatrains. My patience was, indeed, in shreds.

I'm calmer now, I've taken steps to deal with the matter.

If your patience is in shreds, I'll restore it.
If you're awake, I'll send you back to sleep.
If you flow too much, I'll introduce some starch;
Be a desert, and I'll fill you with flowers.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

the claims of friendship

I've trod in your path until I'm downtrodden.

I'm worn out from being worn out by your love.

I can't eat all day, I can't sleep all night.

Your friendship's the enemy I must fight.

#1444: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Last night I re-watched on DVD the old movie The Elephant Man. I highly recommend it to anyone too young to have caught it when it originally came out and possibly put off by its apparently dreary plot. It tells the tale of John Merrick who suffered a terrible disfiguring disease. He was a hideous freak, exploited and abused and helpless. With a little help and much love from a kind doctor, he was rehabilitated as far as possible and eventually welcomed into Victorian society. At the end of the film the camera pans across a lovely painted cardboard cathedral that he has built. The strains of a lovely adagio accompany it. Great gifts of communication were brought to the making of this film, great love is shown in that. It deeply communicated to me that John Merrick had a rich inner life, that he could make his own great mansion to God. It didn't have the permanence or talented artistic input of a St Peter's basilica, but it was his own particular and poignant expression.

This cardboard cathedral, signed by him "John Merrick", can equally symbolize his own life, his own self, his own acceptance of the hidden beauty inside the hideous material house of his soul. The scene of this signing occurs as he approaches death with acceptance and even longing. We get the strong impression of a union of life and death, of God and ego, of man and soul mate.

And Rumi's first line here, as so many of his lines do, evokes that union. The "I" that treads the path of God is itself trodden on. For the traveller and the path are one. And yet the distinctions must be maintained, else an amorphous blob is the result. The union is also one of coming together and drawing apart, like breathing in and breathing out. Rumi's right here. We must find time to eat and time to sleep. And yet, as ever, he makes this sensible claim so unconvincingly.

Friday, November 25, 2005

owning hatred

Throw greed, jealousy, hatred out of your heart.

Evil thoughts and temper - let them go.

Deny this and you lose, so cut your losses.

Own this and your profits quickly grow.

#1459: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

The more I think about Islam, the more I find myself in a dilemma. I see the Koran as a hate-filled and hate-inspiring manifesto. Perhaps recent events have coloured my perception, but I can never know how it might have appeared beforehand because I never read it then. None of the earlier (20th century, pre-2001) writers whose opinions I've looked up to have promoted the Koran as a book of special wisdom or spiritual insight. Sufism has been promoted in that way but it, like these quatrains of Rumi's, seem to me to bear little relation to the Koran. On the contrary, I am more convinced by writers who have argued or at least suggested that Sufism is an ancient gnostic tradition that existed well before Islam and continued to develop within Islamic civilization, sometimes at odds with the orthodox religious views, but in sufficient harmony to survive.

My dilemma arises in how to deal with what I perceive as a hate-inspiring manifesto. If I "own" it, as Rumi suggests in the last line, do I not "own" the hatred, greed, and jealousy that I see expressed in those pages? If I deny it, do I not express hatred in that denial?

It's important to remember that Rumi is always first and foremost about soul, about the inner world of feelings. It is the feelings within us that we must throw out. He demands that we undertake the spiritual discipline of identifying hateful feelings and letting them go, because they are so destructive to ourselves. Those feelings have been expressed in the Koran, there can be no doubt about that. To burn the Koran would be to yield to similar feelings that urge such denial. It is better to "own" the feelings, acknowledge that we have them ourselves, and then refuse to act on them.

We cannot deny that we have them, these feelings, but we can refuse to act on them, we can refuse to allow them to dictate how we will conduct our lives. We have to develop this self-discipline, each one of us, alone. We cannot impose it on others. If it is a good way to do business, then we can watch the profits quickly grow.

If, like me, one has a talent, or at the least one's best talents, for making enemies, then one lands back in a dilemma. I'm a strife-maker, a hostility inducer. Rumi's lessons are so very hard for me to learn.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

dead or alive

Penniless and ragged, we are happy;

Content in pain, and in fear still happy;

With surrender's wine, happy for all time,

We'll hide the fact that, not being you, we're happy.

#1321: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

My head feels like it's cracking open after sharing some cheap wine with a friend last night. We exchanged many a gripe, a dream and a realization. The first line in today's quatrain appealed because we are both "penniless and ragged" (by local standards), she because she plans to abandon her small, poorly paid work while I've not had paid work in almost twenty years. I'm not so content in the pain of my hangover, so I've called on some aspirin to assist. However, pain and insecurity are ever recurring phenomena in any life. The wine in the poem is the attainment of saintly acceptance, I think, a sense of eternal bliss. And then finally the fourth line comes and I'm at a loss. Grrr ... classic Rumi, this.

I get the feeling that there is something missing in this poem, a missing link, a missing meaning. Who or what is "we"? And who or what is "you"? Given the context, the fact that this poem is one of many written on the theme of Shams' disappearance, it occurs to me that the poem is precisely about something missing. It is about a vacuum left behind. My imagination (my Rumi-nation) tells me this vacuum or non-presence is the "you". Rumi is saying, then, that our deepest most essential joy comes from simple being. I am. That's all. Even in pain, I'm almost smugly happy that I am. And once I am not, I'll not know about it. Happiness will become irrelevant. Whether that thought convincingly alleviates it or not, the fear of death itself cannot take away my deepest happiness at being alive. I am, and I am not dead right now.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

today's story

Reason came forward to lecture the lovers;

Like a bandit in ambush he lay.

But he saw that their heads had no room for reason,

So bowed at their feet and went on his way.

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

Search word: reason

I have, of late, been struggling with this issue of reason. I have been engaging with a man who insists that reason be upheld and reasoning provided for every assertion. When I thought I provided reasoning, he ignored it. It wasn't the kind of reasoning he could accept. His is the dry, unemotional reasoning of the strict and prim school teacher. His whole soul is irremedially starched stiff.

There is no doubt in my own mind that this kind of man is a modern-day Shahryar who needs a corresponding Shahrazad. He probably finds her every day in the wonderful tales that modern poets tell. Those tales are spread throughout any culture: they appear in favourite recipes, they appear on the news from around the world, they appear in the grand dramas on stage and on screen and even in the mini dramas inside advertisements. They appear on the catwalk, they appear at the zoo, they come up in dreams, they're forever 'bout "you".

I also get the feeling that this sour and grumpy Shahryar is there, always there, to prompt the next story to be told to keep Shahrazad alive. Perhaps this is the sense in which reason bows at the feet of lovers. He might go on his way, for a spell, but he will return to ask for another story.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

especially for Bob

(because I know he'll like it)

I wrote a poem that made my love angry

At me, or at the measure of my verse.

"Tell me then," I said, "What should I write?"

"Tell me", said she, "What poem could contain me?"

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

Search word: love

Poetry is, after all, a representation. It uses words and (by Rumi's day) writing. The very earliest human representation that we can still view and even admire is preserved in prehistoric caves such as at Altamira and Lascaux. The more recently discovered Chauvet Cave is considered the oldest (at up to 30,000 years old) and it contains a wide variety of representations, including vulvas of female sapiens sapiens:

(I wonder: Have these vulvas been identified because French eyes saw them? Would other archaeologists have "missed" them or worse?)

It has often been concluded that these representations were made for magical purposes. In the case of prey animals, the idea is that they would improve the hunt. The vulvas may then have been engraved as an early form of erotic magic. The predatory animals depicted (large cats and bears) might be kept at bay by a similar controlling process.

There must be at least a grain of truth in all this. Do we not write in order to gain some control over our inner states of mind, our feelings, our emotions, our quirky perceptions and realizations? Are we not trying to capture and control the soul? For a man the soul has traditionally been seen as woman. Is this why he has tried so hard to control her, to repress her and oppress her? To bind her feet, insist she be skinny (or fat), surround her with prohibitions, cover her with veils?

Rumi's muse will have none of that, no. She insists on his coming to know her, she insists on intimacy, on love, and not control. The result was a much loved man in his day. I've found no detail on whether or to what extent women loved him but I can guess he would have been charismatic for them especially.

Almost every quatrain I have examined so far does indeed open up somehow in a way that can indeed reach out to Her totality. This is a kind of worship that does not restrict. Would that it could take over the whole world today.

Monday, November 21, 2005

seeds of sadness

Absolute joy has no room for sadness,

Nor has the heart that rests beyond the sky.

He whose mind dwells in the hanging stars

Will not sow seeds of sadness on this earth.

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

Ah, would that religious fanatics could take such wisdom to heart! If God is really so important to them, if their hearts are truly fixed to the heavens, what business - indeed - do they have creating mischief here on earth?

Today, I'd just like to connect the sentiment in this verse with an incident related in an Introduction to The Discourses of Rumi.

The story is told that one day, while Rumi was in deep contemplation, surrounded by his disciples, a drunkard walked in shouting and stumbling. The man staggered toward Rumi, and then fell on him. To Rumi’s followers such a disgrace of their teacher was intolerable, and they rose as one to rush the ignorant fool. Rumi stopped them with his raised hand, saying, "I thought this intruder was the one who was intoxicated, but now I see it is not he, but my own students who are drunk!"


Sunday, November 20, 2005

a particular joy

All the waters of life are a drop in your pool

And the heavens, moon a mere trace of the light of your face.

Through the long night, I long for the light,

For the moon of your face in the dark night of your hair.

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

Search word: water

Water was an idea that came to mind this morning (mainly because we've had some hot dry days and I must water my garden). I've met a new friend who has such an ebullient personality, I'm quite blown over. I long to embrace that joy. But then reality intrudes like a pall of gloom, a looming figure of sullen and sad despair. I am simply too old, too fat, too ugly, too toothless, to take part in life's carousel. Ah! My spirits are too high to listen to such nonsense.

I think Rumi is saying here that it takes a particular person, a particular beloved, one special focus of interest, to truly move one on. A general joie de vivre is like "all the waters of life". It has nothing on the specific: this glass of wine, this bowl of delicious pasta, this forum discussion, this day with its vast potential but eventual unfolding specificity. Let the moon of today's face come forth from its barely there and let me kiss its every moment, be it of joy or of despair.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

love's jihad

You've had your fill, not me. What's the remedy?

Who can take your place, the place of life's own source?

'Just wait,' you say, 'Have faith, you'll have your due.'

I slave for faith! What faith is there but you?

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

I'm selecting the verse at random again today, just taking what comes along next. The theme here suggests a situation in which there is a completion for one or more parties but not for all. It reminds me of eating with a companion where he finishes first and leaves me feeling lonely over my still laden plate. It's also a common moan of lovers: You finished too soon and left me behind. It has taken me a long time to learn not to take it too personally and more: to find the courage to go back in pursuit of the lover that has ditched me. We leave too many bits of ourselves behind if we try to shrug off these defeats.

There is a passage from the Masnavi that I especially love and, if I've quoted it already, well, here I go again.

65-The prayer that was answered

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

For the man in the story here, "Allah" is the name of the beloved, the one sought after. For Rumi it was "Shams", for Dante "Beatrice", and so on. The name is but a pointer to the same mystery that lies beyond and the mystery of the longing itself is the nearest pointer we can ever find. Despite this commonality, it is crucial that we say the name that is important to us. "Beatrice" will only work for Dante, "Shams" for Rumi, and "Allah" for a devout Muslim. To ask someone to use a different word than that of their beloved is a crime (oft committed by Muslim and Christian alike) for it is the very specificity of the beloved that matters. The "Here am I" can only whisper forth from the name of the very particular person that I have chosen to love or, more correctly, that love has chosen for me. For each of us, the name of the beloved is the true name of God. The great inspiring struggle of these verses is Rumi's hold on this so personal and particular faith of his, his refusal to lose his love despite having lost his beloved. This is Islam's true jihad.

Friday, November 18, 2005

love's crazy high

The whole world worries over your sweet face.

For the love of that face men tear their clothes.

All around you, art flows from those nearby.

Their wisdom fails beside your crazy high.

#1400: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: whole

I sense that I am healing, becoming more whole. This companionship with Rumi, this daily contemplation of a love quatrain, is bringing about healing. A sadness over the rupture with Renata and her subsequent disappearance still hovers but life is made of both clouds and sunshine, fresh acquaintance and loss also. Last night I watched Career Girls on her recommendation. It was a strange, an unusual movie, but simple and sweet in its way. The chemistry and the conversation between the two heroines made classic cinema. Thank you, Renata, for pointing me there.

I feel I need to catch up somewhat because I wrote next to nothing on yesterday's verse. It was too big a topic. Our love of life is expressed in our passions, in our fallings in love, in our lust for the intoxication of good food and good comanionship around a table with the wine flowing freely. When we realize this, we realize heaven on earth and, dimly at first but then more solidly, we realize the marriage of heaven and earth. One side of that marriage is eternal, the other is right here now. Rumi, in his way, is both pointing to and realizing the marriage. His is not the last word: this marriage will always want new words written about it.

Rumi seems to address that very point in today's verse. He suggests that the arts flourish as a response to love but then he reminds us that it is the love experience itself that matters. All the words (and paintings and movies) are but dust beside the reality.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

heaven and earth

They say that heaven's a high paradise

Where nymphs and elixirs await.

So now we grasp at love and wine

In sweet anticipation of our fate.

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

Today's quatrain is a strange one for it seems frankly trite. Frankly, it's not.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

the cost of being

A thousand men want to be one with you,

But for whom does that lie within reach?

He who can find it will find complete rest.

The rest, if they don't find suffering, they're blessed.

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

Search word: thousand

"A thousand dollars" was the idea that first came up today and I take it to mean an abundance. A thousand was a larger number in Rumi's day, much closer to infinity than it is now, much closer to the idea of "all". In this quatrain, Rumi puts forward "complete rest" as an ideal, achieved once union with God, the Beloved, is achieved. He asks a question that I often ask myself, over and over again. I have had a long-term interest in Jung and, within Jungian circles, you get the impression that a quality analysis will assist in achieving this union, in acquiring the philosopher's stone or the diamond body, in completing the opus alchymicum, or in becoming conscious of the transcendent function, the Self. This goal is variously described and sometimes it is emphatically denied that it is a goal at all, that it is anything to be achieved or acquired or completed or earned at all. And yet, it is hard to escape the conclusion, from within Jungian circles at least, that a good bit of extra cash that can fund an expensive analysis does help. I've been drawn to the field of self-help, the pop psychology and pop spirituality that abounds in the US, precisely because it promises pathways that don't demand high cash entry fees. Two of my favourites are M. Scott Peck and Julia Cameron but there are many who contribute good food to the table.

To be realistic, I doubt my beloved Rumi was offering his own services for free. His many students and disciples would have been paying probably quite high cash entry fees. The biographies don't indicate that he'd become fabulously rich thereby but he was not a pauper either. Perhaps Shams was and the irony might lie in the fact that he who is without money is most free of it.

When Rumi talks of the goal being "within reach", he could also be referring to natural talent or natural endowments. We often believe we are not smart enough or not attractive enough to "get there". We see human stars and idols who have some special quality or gift and we know we lack that. It is so easy to block our way that way.

Rumi's conclusion is, as always, so gentle and non-judgmental. He suggests that any sense of suffering is reminding us that we are not at that still point of complete rest but that many can be blessed without trying. If we look around we do see so many happy faces, peaceful faces, and if we're honest with ourselves we know that our faces are often like that as well. There are moments, there are always moments. Being at one with the beloved need not be, perhaps cannot be, a permanent state of mind. Some have described it as a dance where the partners come close together, then move apart, then come back together again and again, in an endless flow. Rumi's complete rest lies in acceptance of that flow. We know from other quatrains that he values his own suffering as itself a close experience of the beloved.

It seems to me that he is reminding us here that the lover approaches us and wants to be close to us. Perhaps we don't need to try as hard as we think. A simple and humble patience will sometimes do the trick. And you can just be lucky.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

awaiting a butterfly

That king who made me crazy, and with whom

My heart, for love of him, has shared a home,

Sent a butterfly that signified, "I'm you,"

And fanned a hundred candle flames alight.

#1532: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

It's a bright, bright morning and I'm enthusiastic to set out. If Shams was the king that made Rumi crazy, then Rumi is the king that makes me crazy too. I can but wait and hope and expect that a similar butterfly will come my way. I just need to have my hundred candles at the ready. That means I have a good bit of work to do today. And that, in its turn, means I must off and away.

Monday, November 14, 2005

feeling close

I whispered an offer softly in the ear of your playful heart.

I closed my mouth and spoke to you in a hundred silent ways.

You know what's on my mind, you've heard my thoughts,

And now, what I described to you last night, I'll do today.

#1303: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: close

This morning I feel close to my lover. Not any particular person or animal or thing. Just close. It's a nice feeling and one that I know will go and come and go again. I'm reminded of a saying in the I Ching:

I Ching 41 (Sun/Decrease), line 3:

When three people journey together,
Their number decreases by one.
When one man journeys alone,
He finds a companion.

During the night we dream and during the day we try to realize the dream. Whenever we are successful, even to any small extent, we feel close, close to our dream lover, the one who knows our mind and always hears our thoughts. I look forward to the day, I look forward to my lover's play.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

present joy

We are drunk on the essence without even tasting the wine,

Filled with light in the morning, and joyful into the night.

They say our path leads nowhere--that's alright:

There's joy enough right here to fill all time.

#1319: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: wine

I'm suffering from a hangover, having drunk far too much wine at the gathering last night. The bright light of morning is adding to my pain. Last night, I enjoyed the wine, I enjoyed the food, I enjoyed the company, but most of all, I enjoyed the saqis or cup-bearers, the young men who held trays of drinks and passed them around to the guests. There is a special pleasure in being served like that, it's just not the same when one pours one's own wine into a glass. It is a great indulgence to be served thus.

Appreciation. At any moment of the day or night, I can appreciate. It's really really easy if one is but open to it. Last night, I declared: "It's all crap!" but I was drunk and exclaimed it so joyously, I guess you could say I was thankful for the opportunity to see through all the crap.

It's funny how Rumi shrugs off the idea of purpose. Live for each moment, that's all. And yet elsewhere he encourages us to take up some purposeful work, in a piece that has deservedly become very popular.

These spiritual window-shoppers,
who idly ask, 'How much is that?' Oh, I'm just looking.
They handle a hundred items and put them down,
shadows with no capital.

What is spent is love and two eyes wet with weeping.
But these walk into a shop,
and their whole lives pass suddenly in that moment,
in that shop.

Where did you go? "Nowhere."
What did you have to eat? "Nothing much."

Even if you don't know what you want,
buy _something,_ to be part of the exchanging flow.

Start a huge, foolish project,
like Noah.

It makes absolutely no difference
what people think of you.

Rumi, 'We Are Three', Mathnawi VI, 831-845

So, it's fine to be aimless and it's great to be involved in making something, no matter what it is, no matter how foolish. There are times to be aimless and times to be purposeful and each is fine in God's eyes. It's all joyous, foolish crap.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

echoes of Maria

Come, treasure, home to these ancient ruins.

Come, hair, don't fly from these shoulders: rest tame.

Come, bird, don't turn away, this seed is yours.

Come, house of God, come home to your own home.

#1019: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I feel apprehensive this morning for I am to attend a gathering tonight, a gathering of people who have shared an interest but who have also spread apart both through the drift of time and circumstance and through the divisions of conflict. I would like to believe that what we share is strong enough to bring us back together again.

This reiterated idea of coming home, in today's verse, has appeal and speaks to my current circumstances. It gives me a sense of forces coming together from four directions symbolized by the treasure, the hair, the bird, and the house of God. The last is both one of the four directions and the place where all of the elements come together. It is structures like this that convince me that Shams had taught alchemy to Rumi. This structure resonates so strongly with the Axiom of Maria Prophetissa, who is acknowledged as a key founder of the alchemical arts.

Axiom of Maria Prophetissa:

One becomes two,
two becomes three,
and out of the third
comes the one as the fourth.


Friday, November 11, 2005

clap without a song

You've stripped me of all signs and name: a soul

With hands that you make clap without a song.

No place holds a soul: Where should I go?

You've made me homeless; free as soul to flow.

#1812: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Last night, I watched the airing here of 30 Days: Muslims and America (originally aired in the US in June of this year). Some aspects of it troubled me, mainly the careful avoidance of the dark side of Islam today. Most of my concerns are adequately dealt with by Debbie Schlussel in Unreal for 30 Days, in The Wall Street Journal.

There has been quite a bit of discussion of late (sadly much of it painful) in which I have spoken out against Arabs as a whole and Muslims as a whole. We undoubtedly do people an injury when we label them, set them apart, and then discriminate against them. However, we also all suffer from self-labelling, from strong identifications with certain groups. I believe that both Arabs and Muslims but especially Arab Muslims are especially guilty of that and I don't know how to say that without colluding in the labelling.

The morally preferable path may be to increase the good in the world rather than try to destroy what is perceived as evil or wrong. My talent, however, is in the latter. That is why I love Rumi so: his talent is in the former. Here he is today, having abandoned all labels, lost in a sea of non-identification. I can but embrace that ecstasy myself and, letting go of those labels, fly.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

eyes dripping blood

The liquid that flows from my eyes like blood

Is truly blood. Come see how it pours.

It's obvious what this flood will bring about:

My heart will be devoured, my eyes ripped out.

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

I was attracted to this first line by the blood since it evokes the strong emotions associated with red: anger, alarm, horror. Rumi's words are made of blood, real blood. Strong emotions pour into every word. In gruesome detail he foresees his heart's expression consumed, his insights violently extracted. He seems to lay himself out, Jesus-like, as a sacrificial offering: here I am, take what you need from me. I see an echo there of the cannibalism of Jesus' critical offering:

Luke 22:19-20 (KJV)

And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.

Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

I can't help but draw back in some disgust. Am I being asked to eat of this man's body and drink of his blood? And in Rumi's case, am I but one of many who fall upon his heart's joys and sorrows, seeking to find wisdom there? I feel shame because I know there is at least a grain of truth in that. I stand back and hope not to suffer too much, to merely watch another's suffering and feel the emotions but vicariously.

I feel the horror of the turmoil in France but without being there. I am at a safe distance. In fact, it is my homeland that is in distress. I have family links to Paris. I see France also as the home of the Enlightenment, however limited it may have been. That philosophy underlies much of French culture even today and it must have rubbed uncomfortably against the gradually invading Muslim superstitions. The modern French have no room for beliefs in an Allah who communicates via an angel with a carefully chosen messenger-prophet. They have no room for djinn, for any disembodied supernatural spirit at all. The French left those far behind a long long time ago.

And yet France now is a battleground of angels and demons, for Islam, however misguided it may be, still does cling to religious values. That is the heartache here, the dreadful irony. In the simple Muslim prayer, in the simple bowing down to God, a very primal religious awe and humility is expressed, one that would not go astray within the French mentality. On the other hand, the Muslims must learn to refine their own arrogance. All humans can be, perhaps must be, arrogant. However, most Muslims look like clowns when behaving arrogantly, while the French know best how to do it, at least, in style.

In Rumi, we see the marks of both a saint and a genius. He could know that his work would have a great impact but he would have the humility to depict it as hardly different from a carcass being set upon by a pride of lions.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

the caravan of life

Wake up, my heart! The world is passing by;

Life froths and flows by, free for the asking.

Don't sleep in your body, oblivious,

As the caravan of life goes by your house.

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

This morning I've chosen a verse at random. I've been mulling over the world stage and I'm attracted to the imagery of froth in the second line. It suggests the lightening up, the loosening up, the freeing up, that comes of a party mood. And we in Australia are in a party mood, after the extensive police raids on alleged terrorist cells. We have yet to wait and see whether the courts will also see it that way but, even if the outcome is in doubt there is a hope here that we are finding ways to handle this problem more forcefully.

Here in Australia we have about 300,000 Muslims, about half of them in Sydney. One of the news stories (on Seven News) referred to the arrested men as belonging to the Salafi sect of Islam. The news reader quoted a figure of 10,000 for the overall number of members of that sect in Australia. That's a whacking 3% of the Muslim population here. Far too much to be regarded as a mere fringe group. Salafis and Wahhabis (pretty much identical) are hardline radicals. However, many a mainstream Muslim view varies very little from this and since the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia have the money and the influence (being custodians of the Muslim sacred sites), they can dictate much of the direction of Islam in current times. Muslims who are trying to be moderate and to fit into modern Western democracies are having a hard time expressing views that go contrary to these supposedly Islamic purists.

It was noteworthy in the media coverage that Muslim spokespeople were not applauding the police success in uncovering a terrorist cell, they were merely whingeing about Muslims being the target of racial and religious vilification. They will be accepted here sooner if they more strongly disassociate themselves from the elements within their Islamic community that are breeding the world-wide terrorist threats. They just don't do that and by failing there, they are leaving themselves open to identification with these gangs of thugs. They must decide their allegiance: either to misguided but nevertheless fellow Muslims, or to kafirs (non-Muslims and therefore infidels) who run countries in ways they are irresistably drawn to.

It seems to me that Muslims are caught in a trap, a logical trap with no obvious way out. I see their only hope being to follow the spiritually progressive elements of their faith, the Sufis especially. The Salafis and Wahhabis are generally opposed to both Sufism and Shi'a Islam but the subcontinental Muslims are attracted to Sufi mysticism which was influenced in its turn by subcontinental mysticism. How influential they can be, not being of Arab descent, is hard to say.

The Arab component of the terrorist threat cannot be ignored. There is a strong racial element there, a strong push to gain more ground in the world for Arab genes. This is done through a far higher breeding rate than is now usual in the West, combined with destructive actions against non-Arab civilians, our own gene pool. It is no coincidence that children and young people are targeted as at Beslan and in the nightclubs of Tel Aviv and Bali. These are ways of diminishing us, not only in numbers but in spirit as well.

There is an overlap, of course. This is not a purely Arab problem or a purely Muslim problem, not a purely racial or a purely religious problem. However, more and more, I am tiring of the restrictions of political correctness. I see the terrorists as acting for a larger group (Arabs, Muslims) which is not disidentifying enough. It is becoming more and more sensible to trust an Arab Muslim far less than the average man or woman. It is not the same as homophobia because I have never been hurt by a gay man or woman. On the other hand, I am repeatedly being hurt by Arab Muslims whenever they maim, kill, and terrorize my fellow citizens, my brothers and sisters in humanity.

Ah, Rumi! You did ask me to get out there into the world!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

burning issues

Why complain of my anguish and suffering?

Rather rejoice that we joined so sweetly.

Why do you flee from me, why this shouting?

Rather fear our sweet union's memory.

#1673: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: union

The Paris riots have brought Islam back into view: Does it ever stay out of the headlines for long? Islam is, ironically, the face of the impossibility of union, of the impossibility of One set of values for humanity, of One way forward, of One unity of purpose, of (in short) One God. It is Islam that stands between humanity and its One God. If God is what humanity dreams of becoming, essentially what God Himself dreams of becoming, then we must all agree on some basics.

Of late, it has occurred to me that homosexuality is the key issue. It's been a struggle - and still is - even for Christians to accept the God-givenness of homosexuality. Muslims are lagging way behind. As a Lesbian, Irshad Manji is carrying on a good fight but her platform is the difficult one of allowing free and open questioning. One senses that her own homosexuality is too hot a topic (yet) to handle. It is, nevertheless, the one issue over which mainstream Muslims deny her credibility. They say she is doing all this just to justify her own evil ways. And, of course, to make lots and lots of money. (Which, she will say, she needs, in order to pay for all her body guards.)

Today, when I sought out One-ness or union in Rumi, I am so much reminded that the great passion of his life was another man. It is abundantly clear that Rumi went way beyond the particularity of this love: He speaks of love for woman, love for God and Goddess. However, a particular love glistens with universal love for love's chief characteristic is precisely to be particular. Rumi formed other love bonds, later, after a long period of grieving, but he never fell out of love with Shams.

I believe Rumi could foresee the long-term impact of his love. His prolific poetic outpouring was his way to immortalize it, to deify it, to assert and proclaim its God-givenness. To my mind, the only kind of Muslim that can truly contribute to God's One-ness is the kind who can own Rumi fully and with open eyes, own him as a fellow Muslim and own him as a man who deeply loved another man. To whatever extent the love was expressed physically through the especially erogenous parts of the body, this is really not relevant. Either way. It is no justification if it did happen like that and it is no exoneration if it didn't.

As One humanity, we really really must agree that:
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 2

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
[my own emphasized and particularized addition]

If Islam insists on its traditional homophobia (and indeed if particular sects of Christianity also so insist) then we, as (potentially) One humanity, simply cannot tolerate all religions and all religious points of view without any discrimination. The Christian West has been guilty of gross injustice toward Jews but we must move forward past that guilt and openly express our disapproval of (at least) this homophobic element in traditional Islam. There has to be a well-defined cultural and religious battleground. And to my mind, this is it. It is not a battle for gays alone. It is a battle for all of us. No man or woman is without an eccentricity, without at least one small cause for social discrimination.

It is time to rid the civilized world of people who carry this homophobic disease. Those who cannot stand up in public and affirm and assent to the above amended Article should be asked to return to places where their views hold sway. For Muslims, that can be Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and many another Muslim majority country.

For Christians, it is harder to say where they might go. They are no longer seen as immigrants in their Bible belt stronghold. We need to find ways to put the pressure on there. There is much about the US that I admire and love, but Bible belt homophobia is not one of them. It drags with it many another ugly feature such as self-righteousness and general joy killing. We need to find ways to turn in love toward the US while yet turning our backs on this religious community that is not one whit better than its Muslim variant.

A lot of blood will spill while we mull too long on these things.

Monday, November 07, 2005

my beloved's face

Don't shut my ears to the secret of life.

Don't turn my eyes from my beloved's face.

Don't bar the flute and the wine from my feast.

Don't let me draw one breath without you, friend.

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

I've been seeking a formula of late. I've been bored, lacking enthusiasm and direction. A formula seems like a nice comfortable thing to run with. Do it this way and that way, no further decisions to make, no further puzzlings to engage in. Here is the formula: simply follow it. Like a recipe for life or a strict diet. Weighing out every ounce (or gram) of flour or sugar that goes into that cake, weighing out every ounce (or gram) of carbohydrate or fat or calorie (or KiloJoule) that goes into a meal. Measure everything and take everything in, in good measure.

There is a formula in this quatrain. It is about mystery and love and art and companionship. There are so many pathways here. If one seems to fail, why not try another? If I fear I'm out of tune with the secret of life, I can listen to music or sip a glass of wine. If I feel lonely because I have lost sight of my beloved's face, I can notice my breathing and recall my closest friend. This quatrain is so neatly packaged, it would make a nice wall poster. Then, whenever I glanced at it, I would be turning my eyes to my beloved's face.


Persian script for #915 @


Sunday, November 06, 2005

day and night

My heart is your student; it studies love,

And, like the night, waits at the gates of dawn.

Where I go, I follow where love's face leads

Because oil flows to the flame that it feeds.

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

Search word: heart

Following where passion leads, it's as simple as that. Why is it so hard to do, most of the time? Perhaps, when we seem to be getting nowhere, it is because we lack a singleness of purpose. It is as if we have several lovers, never committing to one. We can only advance in love's game, in passion's true pursuit, by marrying. And staying married too. Sticking with it through thick and thin, as marriage used to be.

I once danced in a duet in which I played Night and another dancer played Day. She pranced out in her bright yellow tutu and danced for a while and then I pounced dramatically onto the stage and challenged her. At the end she collapsed onto the floor and I stood over her with my black toe shoe pinning her to the ground. Night had conquered Day.

In this quatrain, Rumi also identifies with night, here waiting for its turn to display its wares to the world. In modern psychological terms we could say that he had discovered the unconscious and the richness to be found there. In the language of alchemy, the sun or Sol represents the ego, the centre of consciousness, and it is the moon or Luna who rules over the unconscious.

However, Sol and Luna are destined to be married and night for Rumi is not trying to overcome day, but rather it is longing to be united with it as lover with beloved. It can, indeed, be argued that all love poetry is spiritual or mystical poetry since an underlying theme is this alchemical marriage of Sol and Luna, of the ego with the unconscious, or put another way, of the soul with the world or universe as a whole.

As so often happens in Rumi's quatrains, there is a surprise twist at the end. Just when I am worrying that his attitude is too passive, too vulnerable, too powerless, it turns out that he is like the fuel for the flame. It is then that I realise that the flame needs him, that enlightenment needs the passion that itself longs for that light. We give so much of ourselves, of our own life energy, to feed our passion for understanding and sometimes we can stop for a moment and ask whence comes this passion and what is it for. We can seek to understand our very passion for understanding. Some Zen twist, that.

For me, in the end, I can but note or try to be aware of whatever passion is driving me or demanding satisfaction. I doubt I have many options after that. I can assent to the passion and go with it voluntarily, or I can struggle against it and be dragged along involuntarily. The choice is as stark as that.

In the roller-coaster cycle of manic depression, triumph occurs when the ego regains control (or believes it does) while despair returns when it realizes the truth, when it "gets real" about the limitations of its control. It is this cycle that the Buddha was trying to break through the achievement of enlightenment. For the alchemists, for Rumi, for modern Jungians and neo-gnostics, the cycle is only broken through the sacred marriage of these two elements that need not battle for control but can or could simply live in peace (ho hum). However, like any marriage here on earth, this sacred marriage can be turbulent and, indeed, itself a roller-coaster ride.

Again, I doubt we have much option apart from accepting or struggling against this conclusion: this is how it is, let it be. Or else say "no" and try to invent something better. It is part and parcel of how things are that we will say "no" eternally.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

doctor's orders

This burning in my chest comes of following her sect.

From her I caught the fever, now I'm sick.

I'll follow doctor's orders, in all respects but this:

I won't forego my wine or her sweet lips.

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

As I continue to nurse my lower back pain, I've wondered why I often feel so desperate regarding my health. A good part of the reason is because I just don't trust doctors. I don't have a doctor I know well and whose advice I'd take. I feel here that I'm listening to a kindred soul in Rumi. Bear with pain and distress but don't give up your dreams.

A doctor would tell me to be sensible, to take a prescribed pill, sedate any over-excitement, kick start sagging endorphins with the latest anti-depressant, manipulate the body and soul into conformity. Stop being the weird wayout wacko that I am.

I'm not being wacko enough. That's my problem.

Friday, November 04, 2005

pain's harvest

The harvest of my pain was its own peace and remedy.

As low as I had sunk, I rose, faith restored from blasphemy.

Body, heart, and soul obscured the path, until

Body melted into heart, heart in soul, and soul in love itself.

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

Search word: pain

A pain in my lower back has intruded on my peace of mind but I'm keeping it wrapped in warmth and hoping for the best. Each cycle of pain and recovery can bring new consciousness if one approaches it with the right mind. A bodily ailment can represent a frustrated desire and even the most trivial desire can be just one more need of the soul to express itself, ultimately to love itself and its companion manifestations in body, heart and mind.

The best exploration of this theme of uniting the elements split by intellectual discrimination - body, soul, spirit (as Christian alchemists have expressed it) or body, heart, soul (as Rumi puts it) - is in a book by Jung's colleague, Marie-Louise von Franz, Alchemical Active Imagination. In it, she discusses the work of a 16th century alchemist, Gerhard Dorn, in which he conducts dialogues (active imagination) between these apparently disparate parts of the self. "The body" is, after all, just one way that we see ourselves, "the soul" another, and so also "the mind", "the spirit", "the heart". We become One when we can see how each relates to every other.

The fact that Rumi binds it all inside love is what gives his views such direct humanity and earthiness. The aim of unification is not so much to reach some high platform of spiritual enlightenment, it is to see the inter-connectedness of all things and to understand that it is love that draws us to that insight. It seems like something we can achieve in our daily lives, not something that necessitates a withdrawal from the world or access to good libraries. The ordinary pain of living is enough. It brings its own harvest to the one on the lookout for it.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

harping on

Now that I can't touch the dust at your door,

The friends that I keep are cries and groans.

I'm a candle melting, my face drips tears.

I'm a harp: I make music from moans.

#1128: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I've still failed to start writing my NaNoWriMo novel. I feel too grumbly. And yet here is Rumi suggesting that I make music from those moans. Is that what writing is about? Expressing our eternal discontent? We seem never to be satisfied.

I dreamt that the mulberry tree out the back was growing excessively, sending branches forth to the back walls of the house, sending tendrils out to grip onto the house walls and clutch at this boundary between wild nature and civilized human habitation.

Kasha stared at her face in the mirror and saw no redeeming feature. The murky pools of her pupils nested inside yellowing sour cream intricately patterned with red rivers of weariness. Those once bright eyes were now dull with the weight of years.

I guess that's a start.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

the magic of winning

Go away, logic, there's no thinker here,

Nor room for even your finest split hair.

When the day comes, whatever lamp gives light

Is shamed by the face of the sun's bright glare.

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

I'm weary of talk of lovers so I searched around for something else among Rumi's first lines at Zara Houshmand's index. At least here the word love has been avoided.

I can see that the negative feelings are rolling in, as I procrastinate in writing the first word of my NaNoWriMo novel. Apart from all the usual self-slandering thoughts - I'm a Loser, I'm a Lazy Slob, I'm Sad, Angry, Frustrated, Disappointed - I've come to the following conclusion: I don't like the story that I'm in. I'm not entirely sure what story that is, so I'm not sure what I don't like and how I would like it changed. Perhaps this novel writing exercise will help me to clarify that somewhat.

When Rumi writes of "the sun's bright glare", he is talking of an Ultimate Truth and an Ultimate Purpose, some central consuming passion that fuels both life and creativity. In my heart that passion feels dead and gone as if the sun has gone out. And yet the sun is shining brightly outside my room, sending its light and warmth in through the window. It is my heart's sun that is darkened.

Yesterday, with many others, I watched the horse race that is so popular here, the Melbourne Cup. A beautiful mare called Makybe Diva won the race for the third time running, an historic feat. It was magic, sheer magic.

Glen Boss on Makybe Diva on her way to win her third Melbourne Cup.
Photo: Sebastian Costanzo @ smh

Just for now, a brave horse carries the light of the sun on her strong shoulders. It makes no real sense, there is no logic to it. But that's how it is.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

love's holy waters

Tell the night that it cannot claim our day.

No religion claims love's holy faith.

Love's an ocean, vast and without shores.

When lovers drown, they don't cry out or pray.

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

It's day 1 of my NaNoWriMo participation. I have some ideas to work on but I'm here as part of my daily routine and so I've yet to make a start with actual novel writing. At this stage I'm still tentative, not sure about this commitment. If I do get fired up, I know it will be just like a love affair: torrid, turbulent, exciting, all-consuming. However, I've yet to poke my toes into the waters. I stand on the edge and wonder whether I am not too old for such adventures. All of the participants at my local forum are much much younger than me and I've failed to acquire any older writing buddies. Perhaps I will find one later.

I will go now and play in the waters of love.