Rumi’s Poetry as a Way Inside
Strange Journeys — these poems are all about strangeness — as in different from the norms most people adopt. The goal is to accept the strangeness
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We’re back in Costa Rica! What a relief — back to the heat!
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.
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 wanted us to understand one thing — that the path to deep understanding — which could also 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 make the journey difficult or impossible for themselves — they’ve been doing so for 100,000 generations. This interference doesn’t make the path difficult.
The difficulty lies in our resistance to self‐responsibility.
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 have practiced Tai Chi, a soft martial art. Before that, we spent a couple of years ranking in Ninjitsu, another full and soft martial art.
In Ninjitsu, you get to spend a ton of 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.
Balance — in life involves giving up on thinking anything is “so,” and accepting that all things “simply are.”
Balance involves letting go of having to force 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.)
Strength — 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.
Timing — 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 is about not paying attention to timing.
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 journeys — these poems are all about strangeness — as in different from the norms most people adopt.
We seek to accept the strangeness.”
It’s not strange because it’s wrong — it’s strange (or uncommon) because so few people choose to walk it.
Thus, 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 likely say, “paradox.”
While it is so that we will never know much of anything for sure, we all seek 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.
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; just 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, any dumb thing is possible.
- I’ve seen people get this stuff, get a taste of it, and then run away from it, literally trying to run 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.
It is a wisdom that appears foolish to those who don’t get the joke — those who resist strange journeys
Lastly, notice the bit about looking into the sun, “where you’re sometimes crescent, sometimes full.” Often, in therapy, clients expected things to be perfect after they “got it” — whatever the “it” was that brought them there. If they were wise, they’d come back when things got 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.