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"Strange Journeys"

Rumi's Poetry as a Way Inside

Index to Rumi Poetry Series

Rise up nimbly and go on your strange journey 
to the ocean of meanings.

The stream knows it can't stay on the mountain. 
Leave and don't look away from the sun as you go, 
in whose light you're sometimes crescent, sometimes full.

-- 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.


Rumi wanted us to understand one thing - the path to deep understanding, which could be called the path to enlightenment - is an "easy" path. It is a downhill path. 

It is a guided, illuminated, clear, direct path.

Human beings have been making the journey difficult or impossible for themselves for 100,000 generations. This doesn't make the path difficult. The difficulty lies in our resistance to self-responsibility.

Notice that this poem fragment begins "Rise up nimbly." Many of you know that I've spent the better part of my life involved in one or another martial art. Dar and & I now practice and teach Tai Chi, a soft martial art. Before that, we spent a couple of years ranking in Ninjitsu, another full and soft martial art. Interestingly, we spent much time learning how to rise up nimbly.

You sit Japanese style, with legs tucked under or one leg down, the other "knee up." On command, you rock forward and press your legs and feet downward with your leg muscles alone. Your arms are not involved. Boom. You're up - nimbly.

Don't know if any of you just tried it, but if you did, you likely didn't pull it off very well. Neither did I, at first. Took a bit of practice. It's a matter of balance, strength and timing. Just like life.

in life, involves giving up on thinking anything is "so," and accepting that all things "simply are." Balance involves letting go of having to enforce our judgements on others (we never get over judging - we all judge, all the time. The question is what we do with the judgments. If we beat up on ourselves or others, we have not learned balance.)

in life, is different (as my friends Ben & Jock have written about in  The NEW Manual for Life) from power. Power is what gets exercised against others. Strength is internal and focused at building character, elegance and flow.

in life, is emphatically not about waiting forever, nor is it about mindless activity "right now." Timing is about having our eyes open and our minds alert, so that, when everything is "just so," we are prepared. 

Much of the "non-accomplishment" that plagues us about 
not paying attention.

Rumi was never one to hide the ultimate oddness of the walk he was suggesting - the walk he had chosen for himself. Often he uses the word strange - "strange business", "strange journey." It's not strange because it's wrong - it's strange (or uncommon) because so few people choose to walk it. It's strange from the perspective of "normal." (Whatever that is.)

A journey to the "ocean of meanings" is a confusing clause, as we often talk about the path of 'enlightenment' to be a path of "not knowing." Rumi, were he here, would smile, and say, "paradox."

While it is so that we will never know much of anything for sure, we are all seeking meaning. By this we "mean" we want to enter into the "meaning of life." And perhaps, at that global level, the meaning of life is to get off our butts, (and off of our 'buts' - "but . . . but . . . I can't do that now!") and get moving. I find it interesting that our root chakra, the place where our energy comes from, is what we sit upon. If we are going to move that energy upward, however, the only way possible is to get the energy "off our butts."

Submerging ourselves in the ocean of meaning is to know that each of us is here for a purpose, and that this purpose is larger than us, as the ocean is larger than us. 

We are truly like the river on the mountain, which is incapable of staying there. The nature of water, gravity and a downhill slant precludes any other result than the river flowing downhill. In our physical universe, there is no other outcome possible.

In our lives, however, anything is possible.

I've seen people get this stuff, get a taste of it, and then run away from it, literally running a river uphill. I've seen people put their toes in this water, and then just sit there, frozen, afraid to move, and the water seems to freeze itself and their hearts. And many get so enamored with the feel of the water, the bliss, that they become energy junkies, running from charge to charge, high to high, complement to complement, and forget the journey to the sea never actually happened for them.

And then there are those who dive into the river and body surf to the sea, plunging in, dancing in the water, and finally drinking deeply in the ocean. And they are flooded with meaning - without particularly understanding much of anything. Such people were, in the religious tradition, described as "fools for God." It is a wisdom that appears foolish to those who don't get the joke.

Lastly, notice the bit about looking into the sun, "where you're sometimes crescent, sometimes full." Often, in therapy, people expect things to be perfect after they "get it" - whatever the "it" is that brought them there. They come back when things get difficult.

This path is not about "no problems." It's about awareness and being in the moment, so that, as life unfolds, we can "rise nimbly" and face the challenge - all without whining, griping, complaining, beating up on ourselves - in short, simply dealing with " what's up," be it "crescent or full."

Imagine diving into the ocean of meaning, and in that process giving up having to know

The wise person is the person who knows 
and most of all, 
knows he or she knows nothing.

A paradox, indeed.

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