Tuesday, September 20, 2005

setting out to die

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

My body's stuff will scatter in the dust.

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

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

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

Search word: out

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

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

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

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

Peacock Motif by John Nolan

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


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