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"Walking the Walk"

Rumi's Poetry as a Way Inside

Index to Rumi Poetry Series

Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to. 
Don’t try to see through the distances. 
That’s not for human beings. 
Move within, but don’t move the way fear makes you move.

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty & frightened. 
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. 
Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

-- Rumi

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.

joy of living

Boy, doesn’t this just fly in the face of "normal western thought." Life, without a destination.

I was driving home yesterday, and I’d have to admit that I’m not one of the most patient of drivers. I’m one of those people who have a lot to say, and loudly, about the driving habits of everyone else. But I also had a moment, a week ago or so, of letting go of a big piece of my "ego stuff." I’ve been feeling a little "wooly headed" ever since, and a bit more willing to see how I play the game.

Anyway, I was halfway home, stopped behind a van at a traffic light. One of my present favourite songs, "Can’t Stop," by Jacksoul, was playing on the radio. I was enjoying the moment. The light changed. The guy in the van immediately started moving, despite the fact that there were two transports and a car in front of him, dead stopped. In other words, he accelerated for exactly three feet, slammed on his brakes, and sat there, in his new position, for, oh, 30 seconds, while the trucks got going. It was at least two minutes before any of us got up to speed.

I ended up with a case of the giggles that lasted pretty much the rest of the drive. Jazz, our Australian Shepherd, was along for the ride. She kept looking at me strangely, but eventually got the joke, and got a dog smile on her face, too.

I thought about the guy in the van, and about how often we think we really need to be some place other than where we are, and how, because of this, our ride through life is full of impatient accelerations, three feet of frenetic movement and the slamming on of our brakes. And meanwhile, the sky is blue, the crops are rising, and Jacksoul is singing.

Notice that Rumi says, "Keep walking, though there's no place to get to." The above little story is not about stopping. It's about being present -- noticing what's actually going on, and responding to that. Responding to real life -- to the moment -- to "here, now." 

There was clearly some place the nice man in the van was heading, and that's so for all of us, but you can't get there any faster than the traffic will bear. Despite what we may wish. And really, what's the rush?

Back to Rumi. If you think about it, walking (or driving, or living) without the destination in mind means that your mind could conceivably be clear, and you could actually notice where you are. In other words, by focusing on "now, here" -- you're real, as opposed to thinking about the destination, which isn't real until you get there! 

Most people, most clients, when asked, wish to be "any place but here!!" And yet, here is all there is.

This is not a paean to non-planning. It's a plea for presence.

Rumi counsels us to "move within, but don't move the way fear makes you move," but again, I think, this is a somewhat directionless or goal-less entry within. Which, if we are honest, is not the normal entranceway to the interior landscape.

Mostly, we go inside with the specific goal of doing a number on ourselves. We're drawn that way by fear. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of ourselves. Fear of others. Fear, especially, of change. And again, the fear causes us to push the moment, the present, the "now" -- away. Fear causes us to project ourselves, mentally, into the land of "dire, eventual (or immediate) consequences."

Fear is an insidious thing to deal with. Fear breeds fear and doubt. Yet, unless the fearful thing is actually standing there, right in front of us, swinging an axe and screaming "Off with your head!"  -- fear is simply a fantasy.

So, why do we scare ourselves? It's a way our ego has devised to keep us stuck in old patterns. Nothing more, nothing less. To be in the moment and to be comfortable in our own skin is altogether too much for our fragile egos. Fear causes us to doubt, to run, to hide, to disengage from life. Calm, focused attention is life.

Rumi knew our natures. Our nature is to head in the direction that fear pushes us. We do notice our emptiness. This is the existential human condition. Rumi doesn't want us to pretend that we're not mortal and fearful. He wants us to express it, not repress it. Thus, Rumi suggests that we avoid the library and head for the conservatory. What might he mean?

Often, when confronted with our demons, rather than express them and move on, we head for "the books." For distractions. For anything that will "take our minds off of it" (whatever "it" is today… ) We assume that if we hide from our fear or emptiness, it might go away. If that doesn't work, we scare ourselves further with future horrors. In neither case have we processed the information.

I was watching a Much Music segment on Alanis Morissette, famous Canadian and one of my favourite singers. She was talking about "stream of consciousness" music writing -- she just starts singing, and her life (both pain and pleasure) comes out in her words. I suspect this is what Rumi had in mind. Reading in the conservatory is about distraction. Playing an instrument is about getting what is inside out. 

Our internal theatre needs enacting. Through conversation with intimates. Through dance, song, Bodywork. What is in, needs out.

Finally, Rumi reminds us that there are a thousand paths along the way -- "hundreds of ways to kiss the ground." The goal of a fulfilling life is not to fit in to what everyone else is doing. The goal is to be you, love you, find you, know you (as much as you can) and enact you through vocation. And this goal is not really a goal, but a flavour -- a way of being. A present moment of reflecting and focus.

We are complex, deep, interesting, passionate beings, caught in a world of both illusion and lessons. The wise soul dedicates the here and now to one thing --learning to tell the difference.

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