Rumi’s Poetry as a Way Inside
Keep Walking — a reminder that the path through life has no destination (or rather, that destination is death) so the wise person walks with both determination and joy.
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We’re now in Montreal, or will be today! Soon, back to Ontario.
Many moons ago, I wrote a series of articles featuring some of Rumi’s poems. I think it’s time for a revisit.
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 from the book The Illuminated Rumi.
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 and 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.
In typical Rumi fashion, we’re jolted by his concept of living “destination-free.”
So, Marrakech is an interesting place. Not much different from what I imagined, but worlds away from my “normal.” Yesterday, we headed out for a light supper, (no such thing here…) and needed to hit the ATM. We for some reason shifted into “Canada Walking” mode.
Twice, someone came up behind us. The first guy said, “Can I help you find something?” We said “no” and kept going. The next guy said something to the effect of “You’re in such a hurry. Are you lost?” We again said “no,” and declined his offer to take us somewhere.
We also kinda slowed down
What’s weird is that Marrakech, especially in the old part, is one bustling place. I even stomped out of a market — an enclosed building — when three motorcycles roared through. But with us hustling, the impression was that anyone walking that fast had to be lost.
Which is not far from wrong, at least as things go in the West. Reminds me of the old saying, “The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get.”
Rumi wrote, “Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.” The above little story is not really about hustle and bustle. It’s about being present — about noticing what’s going on right in front of you, and responding to that.
Responding to real life — to the moment — to “here, now.”
There is something to be gained by slowing the pace down — including the pace of our thoughts. Meditation teaches us that our endless meandering down the streams of “past” and “future” lead only to distancing ourselves from reality. And really, what’s the rush?”
Back to the point Rumi was making. If you think about it, walking (or driving, or living) without endlessly focussing on the destination 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, when asked, wish to be “any place but here!!” And yet, here is all there is.
Rumi counsels us to “Move within, but don’t move the way fear makes you move,” This is a somewhat directionless or goal-less entry within. Which is not the norm for many of us when we spend time inside our heads.
Mostly, when we’re in there, we end up doing a number on ourselves. We’re drawn that way, as Rumi says, by fear. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of ourselves. Fear of others. Fear, especially, of change. 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 consequences.”
Darbella and I took a 14-hour trip to a Kasbah and back. As it was on the other side of the Atlas Mountains, the trip was switch-back city. On the way home, I was getting a bit cranky with the 5 hour segment, the switch-backs, the dark, and the dust, which is still coming out of my nose 48 hours later. (Sorry! 😉 )
After 4 hours, I said, “This is how I imagine hell. Driving and driving, and never getting anywhere.”
So I gave myself a headache. And an hour later, we got dropped off near our hotel. All those mental complaints, all that feeling sorry for myself, and it ended up as it ended up. Being fearful (in this example, of never seeing home again) was just a mind game.
Fear is an insidious thing to deal with. 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 often too much for our fragile egos. Our egos cause us to doubt, to run, to hide, to fear, to disengage from life.
Rumi knew our nature. That nature is to head in the direction that our fear pushes us. He reminds us that we, in a sense, start every day “empty and frightened” — this is the existential human condition.
But Rumi doesn’t want us to pretend that we’re not empty and fearful. He wants us to express it, not repress it. Thus, Rumi suggests that we avoid the library and enter the conservatory.
This is what he means by:
“Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Our biggest mistake: When confronted by our demons, rather than express them and move on, we head for “the books” — the old stories we tell ourselves — designed to scare us. We reach for distractions; for anything that will “make it all better.” We think 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.
None of this helps us to process what is actually going on in the present moment.
I once read an interview with 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 library is all about distraction and fake explanations. Going into the conservatory and 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 that lead to an enlightened life — “hundreds of ways to kiss the ground.”
The goal of a fulfilling life is not to do what everyone else is doing. The goal is to be you, love you, find you, know you and enact you. And this goal is not really a goal, but a flavour — a way of being. A present moment consisting of reflection 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.