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.


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