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"Under the Surface"

Rumi's Poetry as a Way Inside

Index to Rumi Poetry Series

Late, by myself, in the boat of myself, no light and no land anywhere, cloud cover thick.
I try to stay just above the surface, yet I’m already under and living within the ocean.

-- 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.


Some days, we’re simply buried under the cloud of illusion. One deadly illusion is that we can think our way into control. It is an illusion, as Rumi reminds us, because control is ultimately impossible. Trying to "stay just above the surface" is fundamentally a fiction. With one breath, the reality hidden within the reality appears.

So, how was that for an obscure opening?

It’s been a great long weekend here in the Great White North. I did wake up on Sunday morning with a kidney stone thing happening. Some of you with long memories and longer subscriptions to Into the Centre will remember I had my first kidney stone "migration" last September, and it lasted 8 days. The timing was such as to keep from going out to The Haven to do a workshop. The stone yesterday hurt a whole lot, and I did some breath work while lying in bed… well… hurting. The intensity of the breath work freed a real flow of energy in me. An hour later, on the way to the hospital for some pain killer, the pain passed like someone flipped a switch, as, apparently, did the stone. My judgement is that the energy work I did with myself shifted something. Did it? Who knows? I suspect my friends Ben & Jock will be smiling over this. I seem to have finally learned that illness is just, as Jock & Ben say, a symptom of the tightness of the square box.

Which flips us back to the Rumi quote. Why do we believe what we believe? As I wrote in my book, Living Life in Growing Orbits, our beliefs are imbedded in us by our culture and our tribes. This would include our beliefs about illness and healing and wholeness, and would assuredly include our beliefs about what we are capable of. Most people spend their lives in ignorance of the beliefs they hold despite the problems unrecognized or unacknowledged beliefs lead to. We thus are prone to confuse figure with ground, and surface meaning with depth. Until we choose to go deeply, deeply inside.

We’ve had quite the crowd of friends and clients and family about this Holiday weekend, swimming in the pool, eating barbeque and talking. Lots of talking. I did a couple of Bodywork sessions too. The conversation, last night, was about bodywork, psychotherapy and "getting it."

There were three women having the conversation, in the main, while I and a few others listened. They were comparing notes. In general, they all agreed that the turning point in their Bodywork and their internal search, for each of them, in their own way, came when they stopped trying to "understand."

It’s very western of us to look for explanations for everything. Our little heads want to think and think, and come up with the meaning of, say, our feelings. (I'm amazed at how many people want to think a feeling.) We desperately want to understand why "I am unhappy while everyone else is happy, successful, whatever." We want to pretend that the only real or important game is the one played in our head -- and that the rules for this game are clear, and that we’re stupid for not getting it. But what if all of this is simply an illusion? What if this version of "reality" -- isn't?

As Rumi points out, just under the surface of the illusory game of "figuring it all out" is the real game. It’s like Rumi is suggesting that he had been deluding himself forever, thinking he was in a slow and heavily laden boat, making time, keeping afloat. And then, he wakes up to discover that he’s always been in another realm altogether. This level seems "just below the surface." He discovers that he is living in the ocean of underlying purpose.

Within what often happens in Bodywork is an example of what I’m describing. Often in Bodywork, there is a nattering chatter in the head, trying to "understand" (and therefore "control") of the experience. (Or, as Dar describes it when she's being cute about how she does Bodywork, "I don't care what I do as long as I do it right." As if there is a "right" way, as opposed to a Dar way.) The three women spoke of the need to simply let the chatter fade to background. To, in other words, get out of the way. As that happens, another understanding takes place, a visceral understanding. The world becomes imbued with color, and meaning.

This approach also and of course applies to any aspect of life - to relationships, jobs, whatever. It's another, deeper way of seeing.  In this process (which I am in no way minimizing - this is hard work) of "deepening," the blocks we erect to change and to shifts in direction seem to disappear. It seems magical, until you realize that, always, the way we see the world isn’t real. It’s just this moment’s story.

The smaller the story you tell yourself, the more you limit yourself, the more stalling around you do with regards to beginning to operate from another perspective, the more miserable you become. On the other hand, the more you open yourself to the possibility of doing things differently, the more open you are to experimentation and pushing the limits, the more you notice that you are submerged in a field of possibility so vast as to be unlimited.

The fear is that you will get lost, that you will lose control, that things will cease being predictable. The joke is that nothing is predictable, there is no control possible and there is no "there" to get lost in.

Dar and I have chosen a path of inclusive exclusivity. I am on my walk for me, and I choose to share it with Dar (and vice versa), and together to share that walk with others in general. And specifically we have drawn around us a company of intimate friends to walk with and to be close with and to touch and be touched by, deeply, at our depths. We do this to learn what is possible.

Our learning so far is this: no matter how far we go, we’ve only scratched the surface of the possible. With each breath, with each dive beneath the surface, vistas open before us. The limit is not in the ocean. The limit arises if I choose, in my fear and doubt, to close my eyes, run away and stop the process.

We’re glad you’re along for the walk. Now, open your eyes and see, breathe and feel, and notice – life lived at the boundary and in the depths is the only bliss there is. Unless you’re willing to settle for being stuck.

And you’re not doing that, are you??

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