Rumi’s Poetry as a Way Inside
Mean-spirited Roadhouses — it’s so very easy to distract ourselves from the truly hard work of self-transformation. It takes great discipline to look deeply at the only thing you can change — your approach to living
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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.
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 mean-spirited 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.
Or, to quote that famous Jedi master, Yoda,
“Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
Half-heartedness doesn’t reach into majesty
Now, there’s a line for you … almost as good as the one that follows. Rumi is definitely into total commitment.
One of the real tests for clients and seekers of all stripes is this: how much are you willing to commit, and when, and how? Rumi makes it clear that the kind of life he lives requires the willingness to “gamble everything.”
I like the idea of this being a gamble. A truer thing was never said. No matter how clever we are, no matter what our advantages (or lack thereof)… it’s all still a crap-shoot. Nothing can guarantee results, nothing can assure success… because… it’s a gamble.
Now, that’s not meant to be a discouragement. True human beings, Rumi tells us, gamble it all for love. He sees it in terms of “setting out to find God,” but it’s clear that his mission is nothing less than the transformation of the self.
So, what’s with the mean-spirited roadhouses?
That’s such a good line. Rumi imagines a wanderer — a pilgrim — seeking the silent, empty road that Zen practitioners know so well. It’s the road of silent inward focus.
And then, just like flying into Vegas, there it is! The distraction. The along-the-side-of-the road, road-side attraction that pulls one out of the walk and into the drama.
This was a common theme for clients. Can’t tell you how many walked into the office all set to straighten things out: to change relationships, to be better parents, to find a path worth walking.
And some, maybe 10%, pulled it off. They found the quiet path of self-knowing, dropped dysfunctional game-playing, and in a sense dissolved into the sea of awareness.
Not common, though
Most simply found themselves them bellying up to the bar of their favourite mean-spirited roadhouses. And by this I mean they simply did what they always do… and it felt oh so familiar. The comfort of the familiar outweighs the commitment to change.
One person I know is convinced that she is the best parent going: she knows this because she does whatever her teens want her to. She’s highly judgy of her ex’s parenting skills, and as far as I can see, she misses the point of parenting — which is doing herself out of a job. But boy does she think she’s in control.
Others, who have learned another, better lesson, let their teens try and fail, pick themselves up, and walk again. Because that’s how young people learn.
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 engagement. The other is “wait and hope” that this time, things will just work out.
The stopping and waiting and hoping, I am convinced, has to do with our fear of pain. 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.
Ruthless self-examination helps us to see how we make our own messes — how we get into trouble, how we let ourselves do things that lead down dark paths.
As we discover these things, we can choose to let them go.
The other folk… the ones who keep praying for magic? They mostly discover mean-spirited roadhouses, and keep stopping in 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 her egoless self.
“Silent, absent, walking an empty road.”
Life, lived to the fullest, is about understanding that you are the source of all that you believe about life, others and yourself. There is nothing else going on.
Stopping by mean-spirited 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.