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"Avoiding Meanspirited Roadhouses"

Rumi's Poetry as a Way Inside

Index to Rumi Poetry Series

Gamble everything for love,
if you’re a true human being. 
If not, leave this gathering.

Half-heartedness doesn’t reach into majesty.
You set out to find God, but then you keep stopping for long periods at meanspirited roadhouses.

Don’t wait any longer. Dive in the ocean, leave and let the sea be you.
Silent, absent, walking an empty road, all praise.

-- 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.

Or, to quote that famous Jedi master, Yoda, 
"Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try."

Some weeks ago, in a couple of Into the Centre issues, I mentioned two 17 year old clients I was seeing (individually, although I suggested the might want to date . . . I’ve since changed my mind ;-) )


Counselling is pretty much wrapping up for both of them. The young woman is doing quite well. She has taken what we've been talking about quite seriously. Her reason for coming in? She'd had a major communication breakdown with her parents, and, believe it or not, she took responsibility for it. Prior to counselling, she had written them a long letter, pointing out where she had gone wrong, indicating what she'd change (including grades in school and on her violin exam) and she asked for counselling.

The guy had hit a rough spot in his school year too. His parents were worried, as he’d had a year long "depression" two years ago. He indicated to his parents that he'd like to go to counselling and see if he could figure out what was going on.

Both presented as bright, articulate 17 year olds. Therapy consisted of looking at the behaviours and ways of thinking that got each of them into their present state, with the view of finding another way to 'do' their lives.

Last week, the young lady came to counselling with her mother. This was the first time I'd seen mom. Daughter did a review of where she was, compared to where she is now. Mom concurred – daughter is more focused, communicative, her grades are up, and she has restored her relationship with mom. In short, the young woman did what she set out to do, and this was confirmed by an outside source.

The guy was in this week. It is now a week from final exams. In Ontario, if your grade point average is above a certain grade, you are exempt from finals. In his case, he's been bagging school, because "it's boring," so he has to take exams in all of his subjects. He's gone to his teachers and manipulated them, with tales of his 'depression' from two years ago, into letting his exam marks be his grades, effectively wiping out the bad marks due to lack of attendance. He is feeling better, because "summer is coming." He worries that he'll get depressed again next fall.

And he likely will.

Originally, he contracted with me and with his parents, of his own accord, to look deeply at what he was doing to set up the 'depressions.' He hasn't done this, even a little. He is feeling better because he waited out the feelings, and, like everything else in life, "this too shall pass." He is a clever guy, good at manipulation, but certainly is not as wise as his female counterpart.

Now, I'm emphatically not making a judgement here. I am suggesting that there are two approaches to life – one is the path of active involvement. The other is wait and hope.

I'm especially taken with one line in Rumi's poem – "Half-heartedness doesn't reach into majesty. You set out to find God, but then you keep stopping for long periods at meanspirited roadhouses." What a great line!

The stopping and waiting and hoping, I am convinced, has to do with our fear of pain. A client mentioned she was again seeing her estranged husband, but they weren't talking about the reasons for their split. That, she declared, would be too painful, and wasn't it enough that they were spending time together?

In response, I said, "Imagine that you have driven a splinter of wood deep into your arm, and broken it off, so that none of it is sticking out. Your partner rubs a bit of salve on it, and then massages the arm, and says, "There! Doesn't that feel better?" And you think, 'Yes, it does feel better! And he's looking after me! Our problems are solved!' Of course, the arm will become infected.

As opposed to the approach that actually deals with the issue. The only way to assure yourself of the best chance of healing is to go get a big needle, heat it to red hot, dig in to the place where the splinter went in, get it elevated enough to see it, grab it with tweezers and haul it out. Wash it with antiseptic. Then, and only, then, will salve and a massage do any good at all."

Now, if that seems to imply that self-exploration and change is painful, let me state this clearly - self exploration is often painful. Walking a path that is our own is often painful. But, as Rumi says, this is about finding God, purpose, identity – a life-long walk into the depths of yourself. This, I would suggest, makes the pain worthwhile. 

The young lady figured that out. She was ruthless with her self-examination, and in the process uncovered her tendency to lie, to get into trouble, to do things with her friends she knew didn't fit with her self-understanding. As she discovered these things, she determined to let them go. She did so by admitting her lies to her parents, changing some of her friends, and recognizing that she is not responsible for making her boy friend or her friends "happy."

The young man? He discovered a meanspirited roadhouse, and stopped for a beer.

The distractions that cross our path are many, and are all self-created. On the other hand, the solution is found in the willingness to examine our ideas and behaviours, and compassionately make changes. The point is not to exchange the bludgeon of the world with a ball peen hammer we smack ourselves with. The game is all in the noticing, and then in the choosing to walk on, into a new way of seeing and being.

We can be so self protective of the behaviours and understandings we've set up, (despite our self-protective walls getting us nothing that we want) that we forget that we established the walls in the first place. The final line of the Rumi poem is the ideal. Here, the person has immersed herself in the sea of life and stepped out as a new being. The person's ego structure is set aside, and the person finds herself

"Silent, absent, walking an empty road."

Life, lived to the fullest, is about understanding that you are the location of all that you believe about life, others and yourself. There is no one, nor nothing else going on. Stopping by meanspirited roadhouses for a distraction, to find someone to blame, to simply sit and watch your life pass you by – is precisely the route to nowhere. Continuing to walk, continuing to see yourself and continuing to make the changes necessary is the ultimate gamble.

And yet, if you wish to be of service, and to truly exhibit love, it's the only way that leads anywhere.

And where does it lead? To the depths of you. Here and Now. Because Here and Now is all that there ever is.

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