Saturday, July 16, 2005

madness and sleep

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

How should a madman know the path to sleep?

God sleeps not and is the purer for it.

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

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

Search words: sleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

source: poetry: rumi @ myownrainbow

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

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


Post a Comment

<< Home