I am grateful for a Rumi poem. It’s the opening poem to the beautiful book, The Illuminated Rumi.
“Come, come, whoever you are! Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again , come , come!”
I love this poem because it is like a flower. Flowers are beautiful. But they grow in the shit and death of the micro organismic world that we pretend we are different from. Without death and shit, no flowers.
I used to think that “spiritual practice” was about striving to be a better person. About being compassionate and practicing meditation and acceptance, and feeling empathy and connection. And maybe it is. But that’s not all.
Spiritual practice is also about depression. It’s about turning away from anything positive because…..you don’t deserve it. Antidotes seem like a good thing, but not to Poison. It’s about feeling the Poison that you are, at least in part.
Spiritual practice is about the terror that we cannot face so we euphemistically call it “anxiety” and try to learn to cope with it. Sometimes, you can, and you live in the world. Sometimes, you can’t, and you lay immobilized through the dark of the night, and then the light of a new day, and then the dark of another night and the light of another day, unmoving, because you are sure that if you move, you will shatter and all of existence will end. You embrace Nothing, because if you allow Something to be, you….just can’t….
Spiritual practice is about addiction. All the addictions. People. Sex. Drugs. Causes. Status. Ego. Travel. Excitement. Competition. Isolation. Pleasure. Daydreaming. Sometimes, some of these addictions get so strong, they become Everything. Weeks, months, years, even decades can pass in their cocoon.
Spiritual practice is about failure. It’s about standing really, really close to a mirror, looking, deeply, into your eyes, searching, trying to find what is so wrong in you. Where is the fundamental Flaw? Can you remove it? Or….is it everything? Is there anything else? A fundamental Spark? Something, anything, Good? You look, and look, and look, and find nothing but just more looking. But when you turn away from the mirror and towards the world, you find that out of that Abyss there is Nothing except your own self, looking. If you run towards yourself, or away from yourself, it is the same in the end.
You feel sure that if you “accept” this, Something Will Happen. Like, you’ll be happy? So you “accept” it. And nothing happens.
Spiritual practice is about feeling so empty that you can’t cry. When feelings do start to surface and the tears fill your eyes, you…..just fade away…..you cannot feel these things so you just …..stop…..and everything goes away for a while. “A distant ship smoke on the horizon, you are only coming through in waves, your lips move, but I can’t hear what you’re saying.” It’s about feeling this non-feeling, over and over and over and over again, making promises to yourself to change, to work on things, to get better, to get help, to take one step at a time, to reach out…..and then not doing those things. Or doing them, and then quitting again.
Spiritual practice is about being a ghost. Invisibly walking through the world looking at the Others. All those people who Live. Who talk, and laugh, and eat, and drink. Who know each other and share experiences. Who buy all the things, do all the things, go to all the places, take all the pictures, make all the memories, hold the hands, laugh the laughs, tell the stories. The people with groups that gather, families that gather, friends that gather, and with all that gathering, there must be such abundance, and you look for it, but ghosts cannot, by definition, touch Life. How to do that, is Mystery.
Spiritual practice is about Mystery.
Is it about finding God? I don’t know. But I do know it’s about not being able to.
Is it about self-acceptance? Self-love? Self-compassion? Or Selflessness? Letting go of yourself? I don’t know. But I do know it’s about not knowing how to…..do…..any of that.
Is it about finding peace? About being enough? About wisdom? I don’t know. But I do know it’s about not having, finding, or being any of those.
Rumi says this is not a caravan of despair. Because he knew that being broken is not the end. Everything is broken.
I remember, at different points, but one in particular stands out, when I was truly past the point of caring about anything about myself. I cared about people, indeed, I have always cared about people, but the best way to express that caring was to remove the toxin of myself from their lives. It’s surprisingly easy to convince yourself that’s the right thing to do. Other people seem like Good Things, and you can convince yourself it’s the right thing to turn away from all Good Things. Self-respect. Music. Food. Sex. Even humour.
It was beauty that, for me, was the most surprising thing to stop caring about. That instantaneous response to something beautiful, like trees, like the sky, like birds in flight, just stopped happening. So I stopped looking at the sky, or trees, or birds in flight. Or much of anything. You can stare straight ahead, and see nothing, if you want to.
You can spend a very long time inside your own mental deprivation chamber. You can drop everything. Everyone. You can even drop “wanting to get better”. If someone came along with a purported solution, even a magic wish or Ancient Artifact, I would have said, no thanks, give it to someone else, I don’t care.
Eventually, without trying to do anything in particular, I glimpsed the sky one morning. I just looked up, for no apparent reason, and there it was. Overcast, a beautiful, subtle blending of greys.
I thought, for just a few seconds, “wow…..” And then I put my head back down and kept walking. I would have liked to have been the kind of person to take that moment and turn it into an epiphany, a new way of being, to make it my turnaround moment.
But I wasn’t that person. I just had those few seconds. Many weeks passed before I had a few more.
This is what spiritual practice is. Having those moments and feeling yourself open. Or, not having them and feeling yourself close. Can “you” increase those moments, stretch them out, savour them more? Can “you” shorten the length of down-time in between them? Can you accept the shit, and appreciate the flower too? Is the Mystery of your Being, your Will, your Intentionality, able to make any difference?
Maybe. Maybe not today. But each day, each moment, is another chance to raise your eyes to the sky and reconnect with What Is. The offer is always there. Even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.