"Flames vs. Dry Rot"
Rumi's Poetry as a Way Inside
Index to Rumi Poetry Series
Can you endure silence? Are you a night fighter?
Or more a child bored with outgrown toys
trying to win at tip-the-cat?
If you have any patience left, we know what to do.
If you love sleep, we’ll tear you away.
If you change into a mountain, we’ll melt you.
If you become an ocean, we’ll drain you.
Jelaluddin Rumi lived during the 13th century. He was a theologian with his own divinity school. At age 37, through a relationship with a dervish monk, Shams, Rumi began to transform his being, and in the process, to write some of the most beautiful mystical poetry ever written. For the next several weeks, we’ll reflect on some of his poems.
I’m using a translation found in the book The Illuminated Rumi.
I love getting e-mail, not the least because people send me the most interesting stuff. I have a friend (actually, I have several . . . ) up in Barrie (hi, Jen!) Who sent me the following quote, which I assume is from THE Jack London:
"I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me a significant glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not spend my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time."
-- Jack London
The most interesting element, to me, of the quotes we’ve been looking at, and, of course, of the two quotes above, is how action oriented they are. In the Rumi quote, we’re looking at a world view that says, "No matter what you are doing, if you are stuck there, and that's the same as giving up." So, the person who is stuck in their self-exploration is just as stuck as the person who never looks at their selves at all.
Often, it appears that we think that we have all the time in the world to become more whole. Or, we have a vision, (complete or fragmented) of whom we might be and what contribution we might make, but we creep up on it over years, and somehow our vocation seems to elude us, to be just one step ahead of us.
Now, we’ll have developed all kinds of reasons and justifications for taking our time. No money. No time (to busy working on what we hate, too busy doing what doesn’t work). Too scared. Or the infamous, "What if I don’t like who I find in there?" All of these things are excuses. And Rumi’s prescription is to destroy the excuse.
If you prefer sleep, we’ll tear you away from your dozing. If you solidify and lock down and refuse to budge, we’ll melt your resistance. If you become so insubstantial and fluid that no one can get anywhere near you, we’ll drain you of your pretense, and leave you stripped and bare, seemingly as dry as ashes. And from there, from the place where resistance is past, we will begin, yet again.
Begin what? To live.
Look at the London quote. Read it a couple of times. The pull here is to make something extraordinary happen. Which, to me, begs the question – given the unique nature of each of us, and given the unique skill set of each of us, how is it that we need to be reminded to be unique?
Because for many, that’s what it takes. Re-minding. (Putting in a new mind in place of the old one. Figuratively, of course . . . although in a couple of cases I know . . . ;-) ) Thus, Into the Centre.
My subjective judgment is that we live in a world of dust, of dry rot and sterile planet-like people. We see around us the results, wherein the vast majority seem to live for two things – to see how many toys they can accumulate and to be hard on themselves for not being perfect.
London indicates, and Rumi concurs, that the mark of a whole person is not wealth nor perfection. The mark is their ruthless resistance to staying stuck, to being predictable, to building a shallow life by denying the life within, by an endless conformity to what society wants. A whole person is not anything – other than themselves. The whole person is not driven to convert others, or save others or rescue others. The whole person is focused on living brightly, immediately, with movement, with passion, with fire – fire between the ears, fire up the spine, fire in the belly and fire, especially, in the heart.
To live – not just to exist – is the proper focus of a human being. This is a short, juicy, meaningful walk, this life we are given, measured not in the number of days in our life, but rather in the life we put into our limited and numbered days. We don’t have forever – we, rather, have this moment. Why, then, would we choose to waste this precious moment in fear, recrimination, doubt, inactivity or self-pity? Why would we not choose, actively choose, to be a comet streaking across the sky?
How? By coming into the moment, fully and deeply. By connecting to
all of ourselves, body, spirit and mind, rather than living in our heads. By actively seeking our vocation, rather than settling for some boring and meaningless job the "pays the bills." By, in short, choosing to walk consciously.
I’ve watched many, many people over the years do exactly this, and I certainly work at doing it myself. I would not, for a moment, argue that this walk is easy. I’ve equally seen many, many people stop their walk because they judged it to be too difficulty, they were too tired, they had obligations. And truly, as London said, it is not long before dry rot sets in.
We are here to support you in your walk. We take our responsibility seriously, and love hearing from you as you find your paths and walk them. The world is a vast, gray landscape, dotted with spots of great colour and depth. You choose, of course. Will you be dust, or will you soar? Will you fit in, or will you illuminate your little spot with incredible colour? Will you be whom everyone else wants you to be, or will you be you?
It is, always and ever, with each breath, your choice.