A Poem by Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks
One night a man was crying Allah! Allah!
His lips grew sweet with praising,
until a cynic said, “So!
I’ve heard you calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”
The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.
“Why did you stop praising?” “Because
I’ve never heard anything back.”
“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.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.
Give your life
to be one of them.
Eight hundred years ago, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, known today simply as Rumi, stepped beyond the limits of his own Persian culture and Islamic religion to articulate in poetry a profound understanding of the experience of the Divine within human life. Rumi and his followers sought out connections between the Divine and human experience in ordinary events: watching animals, sharing in frivolity in taverns, making music, and dancing.
Among Rumi’s timeless insights is an understanding of desire as the primary characteristic of spirituality. For Rumi, desire is not just the aspiration toward union with the Divine. Instead, desire is both the human aspiration and the Divine inspiration of connection, union, and communion.
I find the language of desire to be both attractive as well as uncomfortable. Desire conveys to me a sense of something mysterious and primordial – a deep longing in my gut that isn’t easily satisfied. At the same time, my Christian up-bringing has taught me that desire is related to selfishness and somehow leads to sin. My discomfort with the concept of desire is only made more complex from my study of Buddhism which views desire and attachment as the root of suffering.
Rather than falling prey to confusion by the use of the word desire, I’ve thought about my own experience in meditation. When I sit in silence, my awareness of things around me fades away and my attention turns toward an inner reality. Resting in this inner reality, I experience a complex set of feelings and sensations. It’s as though something within me grows larger and begins to fill me up. As I become more aware of something filling me from the inside, I turn myself over to it and allow it to become my reality. Sometimes there are physical sensations that accompany the experience. I find myself not simply at peace but beyond peace in a state where I feel as though I’m both floating and securely tethered. Whether the experience lasts a few moments or for thirty minutes, I simply want more. I want it to last longer, to go deeper, and to grow larger. Yet, I don’t find it disconcerting to return to my ordinary sense of time and place because something of the experience remains with me.
In the experience, I find myself at union with something more than myself. There is a deep communion and sharing of myself with the Divine Other. In that encounter, I remain myself while I find myself becoming smaller as the Divine Other encompasses me.
Out of this experience, I understand what Rumi means that the desire for union with Allah is itself the response from Allah of the Divine presence. Words to describe the experience reduce the encounter to something less than it is. Yet, Rumi’s use of the word desire does encapsulate something of it. It’s not a selfish kind of desire aimed at my own pleasure nor the kind of desire that absorbs one into some unnecessary attachment. Instead, it is the pure desire that comes with love for another, that simply draws a person to open self fully and without condition.
Perhaps the words of Rumi’s poetry can help capture something of this experience. And so, I close by encouraging you to listen to this recitation of Love Dogs by Rumi scholar Coleman Barks.
© 2012, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.