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.


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