2016-09-12

Love and Death Merge Into One

Celebrating Rumi, part 3

"Like This, Here"
Rumi
If anyone asked you how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting will look, lift your face and say,
‘Like this.’
When someone mentions the gracefulness
of the night sky, climb up on the roof
and dance and say,
‘Like this?’
If anyone wants to know what “spirit” is,
Or what “God’s fragrance” means,
Lean your head toward him or her.
Keep your face there close.
Like this.
When someone quotes the old poetic image about clouds
gradually uncovering the moon,
slowly loosen knot by knot the strings of your robe
like this.
When someone asks what it means to die for love, point
here.
When lovers moan, they’re telling our story
like this.
"Words Swept Out the Window"
Rumi
Praise to the emptiness that blanks out existence. Existence:
This place made from our love for that emptiness,
This existence goes.
Praise to that happening, over and over!
For years I pulled my own existence out of emptiness.
Then one swoop, one swing of the arm,
That work is over.
Free of who I was, free of presence, free of
Dangerous fear, hope,
Free of mountainous wanting.
The here-and-now mountain is a tiny piece of a piece of straw
Blown off into emptiness.
These words I’m saying so much begin to lose meaning:
Existence, emptiness, mountain, straw:
Words and what they try to say swept
Out the window, down the slant of the roof.
Your capacity for sadness is equal to your capacity for joy, and they are the same capacity.

It’s a point that LoraKim and I sometimes make to each other when one of us is forgetting it. We do so reciting a favorite movie quote. From “The Thin Red Line,” about soldiers in World War II. Private Edward Train muses,
“One man looks at a dying bird and thinks there's nothing but unanswered pain. That death's got the final word, it's laughing at him. Another man sees that same bird, feels the glory, feels something smiling through it.”
Those with the capacity to stay with the unanswered pain, fully accepting death is the final word, are the ones who might then come feel the glory smiling through. Herein is discovered the sweetness of sorrow, the blessing of tragedy, as Rumi says:
“I saw grief drinking a cup of sorrow and called out, ‘It tastes sweet, does it not?’
‘You’ve caught me,” Grief answered, “and you’ve ruined my business.
How can I sell sorrow when you know it’s a blessing?”
And elsewhere:
“The cries of those free from pain are cold and dull:
The cries of the agonized spring from ecstasy.”
Throughout his works, Rumi articulates the yearning for union: union with the Beloved, with Reality, with all the pain of joy and sadness of ecstasy. Writes Rumi:
“The authentic human being, then, is one who is never free from striving, who turns restlessly and endlessly about the light of the Majesty.”
This yearning for union is our chief business as living creatures – yet we already have it!
“I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
Knocking on a door. It opens.
I’ve been knocking from the inside!”
That which we seek is given, is present – inescapably always. The seeking is the loving, and the loving itself is that which we seek.
“’Lo, I am with you always,’ means when you look for God,
God is in the look of your eyes,
In the thought of looking.”
As Rumi says it in “Love Dogs”:
“This longing you express
is the return message.”
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness that wants help
is the secret cup.”
The longing is itself the fulfillment. And in our very failings is our insight, our salvation.
“The way of love is not a subtle argument.
The door there is devastation.
Birds make great sky circles of their freedom.
How do they learn it?
They fall and falling, they’re given wings.”
And death may be the final word, but that final word isn’t what you think it is. For one thing, we are the same – no, not the same as if we were two separate beings that happened to be identical. Rather, there is no separation. We are one being. That’s what Rumi means when he says:
“Even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense.”
Because we are all one being.
“I, you, he, she, we.
In the garden of mystic lovers
These are not true distinctions.”
So death is not possible. Rumi’s not talking about some clich├ęd child’s story of an afterlife, the ego’s dream of its own permanence. He’s saying that as long as there is life, that’s you. As long as there is anything, as long as there is existence, that’s you. The death that matters is the death of the ego, the death of the illusion of separation.
“Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence
Proclaims in organ tones,
To Him we shall return.”
In the union of Rumi’s yearning, the oneness with the Beloved, with the love that constitutes reality, there is the death of separation, which is the death of life as we have known it. Love and death merge into one.
“Oh, I would love to kiss you.
The price of kissing is your life.
Now my loving is running toward my life shouting,
‘What a bargain. Let’s buy it.’”
And in this life-love merged with death, we surrender the illusions of control to which the ego so clings.
“You think I know what I’m doing?
That for one breath or half-breath I belong to myself?
As much as a pen knows what it’s writing
or the ball can guess where it’s going next.”
And yet, the ego, too – yours, mine – is itself an aspect of the glory of The Beloved. For all our sameness, our oneness, we also have our individual uniqueness.
“Our bodily personalities seem identical, but the globe of soul fruit we make each is elaborately unique.”
So we do as we are called to do, but we do not know what will come of it.
“Who makes these changes?
I shoot an arrow right, it lands left.
I ride after a deer and find myself chased by a hog.
I plot to get what I want and end up in prison.
I dig pits to trap others and fall in.
I should be suspicious of what I want.”
We are so small – and yet we contain such vastness. I am so small I can barely be seen. How can this great love be inside me? Look at your eyes. They are so small, but they see enormous things. The one-ness and the uniqueness are both traps, but better to err on the side of love, says Rumi:
“If you want what visible reality can give, you’re an employee.
If you want the unseen world, you’re not living your truth.
Both wishes are foolish.
But you’ll be forgiven for forgetting that what you really want is love’s confusing joy.”
Rumi makes one more point I want to mention, and I will conclude with. The work – the yearning for submersion in the ocean of the beloved – is not for you to do alone. We do it together. All of us. Each of us. We get nowhere without community. In one poem Rumi retells the familiar tale of seeking to know about an elephant – but then he surprises us with a solution to the conundrum.
“One by one, we go in the dark and come out saying how we experience the animal.
One of us happens to touch the trunk
'A water-pipe kind of creature.'
Another, the ear, 'A very strong, always moving
Back and forth, fan-animal.'
Another, the leg. 'I find it still
Like a column on a temple.'
Another touches the curved back.
'A leathery throne.'
Another, the cleverest, feels the tusk.
'A rounded sword make of porcelain.'
He’s proud of his description.
Each of us touches one place and understands the whole in that way.
The palm and the fingers feeling in the dark are how the senses explore the reality of the elephant.
If each of us held a candle there,
And if we went in together,
We could see it.”
If we each carry a candle – and if we go in together – we can see it.

May it be so. Amen.

"Let the Beauty We Love Be What We Do"
Rumi
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.
* * *
This is part 3 of 3 of "Celebrating Rumi"
See also
Part 1: Celebrating Rumi
Part 2: Capacity for Sadness, Capacity for Joy

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