Capacity for Sadness, Capacity for Joy

Celebrating Rumi, part 2

from The Mathnawi
God has helped me understand a supreme grace –
The goodness hidden within cruelties,
The diamond beyond price hidden in dung.
The cruelty that comes from God
Is worth more than a hundred acts of mercy.
In his cruelty lives hidden tenderness.
"The Lame Goat"
You have seen a herd of goats
going down to the water.
The lame and dreamy goat
brings up the rear.
There are worried faces about that one,
but now they're laughing,
because look, as they return,
that one is leading.
There are many different ways of knowing.
The lame goat's kind is a branch
that traces back to the roots of presence.
Learn from the lame goat,
and lead the herd home.
"Grieve Not that We Have Been Sleeping"
I saw you and became empty.
This emptiness, more beautiful than existence,
it obliterates existence, and yet when it comes,
existence thrives and creates more existence.
To praise is to praise
how one surrenders to the emptiness.
To praise the sun is to praise your own eyes.
Praise, the ocean. What we say, a little ship.
So the sea-journey goes on, and who knows where?
Just to be held by the ocean is the best luck
we could have. It is a total waking-up.
Why should we grieve that we have been sleeping?
It does not matter how long we've been unconscious.
We are groggy, but let the guilt go.
Feel the motions of tenderness
around you, the bouyancy.
Sufi’s are known for their spiritual dancing – the whirling dervish. The Sufi Mevlevi Order, also known as the Order of the Whirling Dervishes was founded after Rumi’s death. Rumi’s eldest son and some of Rumi’s followers founded the order to continue and sustain Rumi’s approach and insights.

Rumi was passionate about the use of music, poetry and dance as a path for reaching God. He understood music to help devotees focus their whole being on the divine so intensely that the soul was both destroyed and resurrected. From these ideas, Rumi’s followers developed the whirling Dervish into a ritual form, and based the new order of the Mevlevi on Rumi’s teachings.

The dance represents the spiritual journey. The spinning, circling dance enacts and embodies the gravitational connected of the universe.
“Walk to the well.
Turn as the earth and the moon turn,
circling what they love.
Whatever circles comes from the center.”
The “seeker symbolically turns towards the truth, grows through love, abandons the ego, finds the truth and arrives at the Perfect.” The dance then leads the seeker back to the world, “to love and to be of service to the whole of creation.”

Rumi was clearly and deeply Muslim, grounded in the culture, practices, and literature of Islam. He understood, though, that the Muslim path – as well as the Hindu or Christian path, the Zoroastrian or Jewish path -- when earnestly pursued, leads to a place of universality. He wrote:
“On the seeker’s path, wise men and fools are one.
In His love, brothers and strangers are one.
Go on! Drink the wine of the Beloved!
In that faith, Muslims and pagans are one”
The light that for him was identified as the light of Muhammad, shines upon everyone, regardless of their faith tradition, bringing all who feel astray into the Way, out of the desert.
“We can’t help being thirsty, moving toward the voice of water.
Milk drinkers draw close to the mother.
Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Shamans,
everyone hears the intelligent sound and moves with thirst to meet it.
Clean your ears.
Don’t listen for something you’ve heard before.
Invisible camel bells, slight footfalls in sand almost in sight.
The first word they call out will be the last word of our last poem.”
Rumi was, we say, a mystic, but that doesn’t mean a proponent of magic, of what we would call the supernatural. It’s true that he did not have the modern scientific viewpoint. The truth that science pursues is the truth of reproducible results. The explanations science offers are the kind that allow for prediction and control. Rumi was interested in befriending the world rather than predicting and controlling it. He would, of course, have been astounded at how much predicting and controlling we can do today, but not as astonished as he was by life, love, and reality itself.

“Befriending” is too tame. Rumi ecstatically made love to this world. “Mystic” doesn’t mean that he proffered some magic, some nonscientific technology for making things happen. Nothing he says contradicts the findings of science. He is a mystic just in the sense that the fullness of our lives is not to be found in controlling and predicting.

Reasons and principles – knowledge in the form of true sentences that can be passed on in lectures and books – are important and have their place, but that place is within a larger context, and that context is made of love, not reason. Rumi’s attention, in his writings and in his way of living, is always on that larger context, and that is what makes him what we call a mystic.

The world has such sadness. Animals we are, with bodies made for pain, made for attachment and therefore made for loss. There is only so much of the grief of the world that one person can take in, before feeling the need to step back, turn away, think about something else.

You might read the article about Syria in the morning paper, or you might skip it, or if you do read half of it, you skip over additional articles and analyses of the horrors. A photograph, perhaps, captures my attention and holds me for a moment under the weight of the anguish there epitomized, but many other pictures also offer me that weight, but I glaze over them -- I slip quickly out from under them. I have work to get back to, let me not be weighed down.

There is only so much of the grief of the world that I can be present to before I need a break, before I begin casting about for something pleasant. That’s how it is for me. Is that how it is for you?

I think we notice this fact about ourselves and about each other, and we are generally sensitive to it. We don’t want to be a downer, always talking about the awfulness, oh, the horrible awfulness of it all. (We recognize that mocking, don’t we? It’s a device for pushing away the full experience of our bereavement.)

But here’s something you might not have noticed. It is the same with ecstatic joy. There is only so much we can take at a time before we feel the need to step back, turn away. Time to get serious again, get back to business.

We find ourselves pulled toward the equilibrium of the in-between, our hearts not overwhelmed with either grief or elation. Here, though, is the big truth – let this be remembered when you have forgotten all else from today: Your capacity to hold, take in, and stay with the world’s sadness is equal to your capacity for joy.

In fact, they are the same capacity.

The spiritual path is one of growing that capacity, the one capacity for being present to reality exactly as it is. When we are able to take in the woe, take it all the way in and not turn away, we perceive shining through it a jubilant beauty. When we stay with a euphoria, a rapturous happy celebration, take it all the way in and look at it all the way through, we perceive also its foundation of tragedy and pain. Your capacity for sadness is equal to your capacity for joy, and they are the same capacity.

* * *
This is part 2 of 3 of "Celebrating Rumi"
See also
Part 1: Celebrating Rumi
Part 3: Love and Death Merge Into One

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