Rumi: Things are such

Things are such, that someone lifting a cup,
Or watching the rain, petting a dog,
Or singing, just singing — could be doing as
Much for this universe as anyone.

– Rumi

Yes, that’s my sense of it as well.

VALUING PRODUCTIVITY

Does this poem have to do with value and productivity? It’s at least easy for us, in our Western culture, to see it that way.

There is nothing wrong with valuing productivity. We need some level of productivity to collectively and individually survive and thrive. (1) It makes sense that it’s part of our culture, and probably any culture. (2)

At the same time, if it goes too far it has downsides. In our Western culture, we have valued productivity to the extent that we often equate our worth with what we do in the world. We have lost sight of our value from just being who we are and being part of existence.

THE VALIDITY OF THE POEM

When I explore what Rumi points to, I find a few different things.

Doing simple things, or just being, does a lot for our universe. For the universe we each are. When I sit outside hearing the birds and looking at the trees and flowers, does as much for my universe as just about anything.

We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. So even the simplest of activities, or just the experience of rest, does as much for the universe as anything.

The idea of productivity or value is mind-made. It’s not inherent in reality. So anything does as much for the universe as anything else.

WHY IT’S APPEALING

So there is no wonder this poem, in this particular translation, is attractive to many in the modern world.

We are trained to (over-) value productivity and equate our worth with what we do. And that comes with downsides. It fuels over-work. It may lead us to ignore our deeper interests and passions. And if or when we are unable to be as productive as our culture tells us we should, our self-worth may take a hit.

So this poem is an antidote to that idea. It’s medicine for that particular condition.

NOTES

(1) And the right kind of productivity. The kind of productivity that puts food on the table, a roof over our heads, and so on.

(2) Although the form this value takes in different cultures probably varies enormously. It can take the form of degrading and devaluing those who are unable to be productive. And it can take the form of valuing everyone and each person’s unique contributions, even if they are not very active in a conventional sense.

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Rumi: Even then tied in a thousand knots, the string is still but one

Even then tied in a thousand knots, the string is still but one.

– Rumi

We can see all our identifications, hangups, beliefs, emotional issues, wounds, traumas, and so on as knots. They are parts of us that knottet themselves in order to protect us.

And yet, as Rumi says, the string is still but one.

To me, all of this happens within and as what I am.

To me, the world and all these knots in my human self happen within and as what I am.

It’s all happening within what a thought can call consciousness.

And that’s one.

It’s already and always undivided – and unknotted.

Rumi: Things are such

Things are such, that someone lifting a cup,
Or watching the rain, petting a dog,
Or singing, just singing — could be doing as
Much for this universe as anyone.

– Rumi in The Purity of Desire: 100 Poems of Rumi, reinterpreted by Daniel Ladinsky

This question sometimes comes up for me as a kind of life-koan. For health reasons, I am doing far less in the world than I used to and imagined I would, so this comes up for me. Does my life have meaning and value even if I am not doing the things I imagined I would do in the world?

What do I find when I look into this?

The essence – taking it literally

We can take the poem literally and look at what our activities do for the universe.

If we are engagest in the simplest of activities, and perhaps appear to be doing very little, how can that be doing as much for the universe as anything? Does our existence, in itself, do as much for the universe as anything?

What first comes to mind is that I cannot know. I cannot know if not laughing, or petting a dog, or singing isn’t doing as much for the universe as anything. Perhaps just existing and experiencing what I am currently experiencing does as much for existence as anything.

We can also look at this from a systems view. We can see the universe as a seamless evolving system, and we and all beings are parts of this system. We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. In this sense, any activity or experience may do as much for the universe as anything.

And if we see the universe as the divine itself, then our experiences and activities are the experiences and activities of the divine. Here too, the simplest of activities and simply existing may do as much for existence as anything.

We can also bring it home. Here, I find that my current experience does as much for me as anything. In other words, it does as much for my universe as anything, and it does as much for this local part of the universe I call “me” as anything. Right here, I find how it’s true.

The essence – bringing it home

Often, these apparently metaphysical questions are about something more immediate and simple.

Does my life have meaning and value? Even if I don’t do what I had imagined? Or as much as I imagined?

This is where it makes sense to talk about meaning and value. My life as it is, even in the simplest of moments, is of immense value to me and to those who love me.

For our personal lives, this is perhaps the most important and the essence of the question.

Our sense of meaning and value is often colored by less-than-helpful assumptions we have adopted from our culture, perhaps telling us that our value is tied up with what we do, so it’s helpful to notice these, examine one at a time, and find what’s genuinely more true for us.

Some painful beliefs worth examining may be: My life doesn’t have value. If I don’t do X, my life doesn’t have value. I need to do X to be loved. And so on. What this really is about is often something universal, vulnerable, simple, innocent, childlike, and essential for us as human beings.

IN A BROADER CONTEXT

I’ll go into a few related topics and angles since it has direct consequences for how we live our lives, and the choices and priorities we make individually and collectively.

There are a few related but distinct questions here: What does an activity or our existence do for the universe? What does the activity or existence of anything do for the universe? What’s the value we assign to these things and how does that influence our perception, choices, and life?

Protestant work ethic and value through productivity

Coming from northern Europe, I am familiar with the protestant and capitalist work ethic suggesting that we have our value from what we do in the world. Productivity equals value.

Is that really true? What about a baby? A baby isn’t productive and still considered valuable. Is it just because we expect it to become productive later? Is someone with a handicap not valuable? Someone in a coma? Does nature only have value for what it produces for itself and us?

It all depends on how we look at it. People with a disability are loved by someone, and that makes them valuable to that person – and others who value love. And the same for a baby, and even someone in a coma.

Cannot find value outside of what the mind assigns to it

Of course, the idea of value is an idea created by the mind. It’s not inherent in reality.

We – collectively and individually – decide what’s valuable, and it’s good to remember that this is, quite literally, imagination and fantasy. At a collective level, it does help with coordination and cohesion, and it’s also something we can question. We can recognize it as imagination.

This also means that we can, as individuals and even collectively, assign value to what we find useful to us. For me, it seems useful to assume that all living beings, all ecosystems, and all life has value just from existing. Beyond that, I would assign value to all parts of Earth since the non-living parts of Earth – water, air, rocks – are as integral and essential to this living planet as anything else. All life, including ourselves, depends on it for our life.

Assigning value to all life and Earth as a whole allows us to live in a way that honors the living systems we are part of, and even ourselves independent of productivity or anything else. It’s practically useful since it opens up for some reverence for all life and makes us consider if we can meet our needs in a different way. Perhaps one that minimizes harm to life, and may benefit life overall.

A systems view

If we see the universe as a seamless system, then we see all things as part of this evolving system. All parts of the system have value as parts of this larger dynamic system.

We can also see all beings as the universe locally bringing itself into consciousness. In the words of Carl Sagan said, we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. All life is, in its own way.

If we see it this way, it’s natural to also see all life as having value and all things having value in themselves.

Divine creation or the divine itself

We can see all of existence as divine creation, and as such, it has meaning and value in itself.

We can also see all of existence as the divine. We may see the physical body as the divine taking physical form. And this opens up for even a deeper sense of reverence for all of life and all of existence.

Capacity for the world

When I find myself as capacity for the world, and that which anything I think, feel, see, hear, and so on happens within and as, this all looks a bit different. Here, everything has value. Everything is what I am. Everything happens within and as the one. We can also say that everything is the divine.

Here, the reverence for life and all of existence comes from direct perception.

Values and a pragmatic approach

We can choose to assign value to all life, and that doesn’t mean we won’t prioritize and make difficult choices. For instance, we can choose ecosystems over individual life, and we may choose our own life over that of plants we eat to survive. We always make these kinds of choices, and it’s good to be conscious of it.

Life is a mix of destruction and giving life. We eat life to stay alive. We ourselves are eventually consumed by other life. That’s how things work here.

As mentioned earlier, by assigning value to all life, we may live with more reverence for life and find different strategies that minimizes harm to life and perhaps even benefits life overall.

And as Albert Schweitzer said, by living we put ourselves in debt to life, and we can do our best to repay that debt through how we live our life.

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Rumi: Do not feel lonely, the entire universe is inside you

Do not feel lonely, the entire universe is inside you

– attributed to Rumi, although I can’t find the exact source

Some folks (drama queens like Ken Wilber) say awakening is lonely because there is no “other”.

I have never quite understood it, perhaps because it hasn’t really been my experience.

What I have experienced is loneliness in a very ordinary human sense. I have experienced loneliness because the awakening happened when I was sixteen and, at a human level, there were nobody in my life who understood or could relate to it. And I have experienced loneliness from a belief and emotional issue, rooted in childhood.

But the “lonely because there is no other” doesn’t quite fit my experience. When I notice what I am, and the center of gravity shifts more into that, there is no other and also no I here. It’s all just happening. That’s not lonely.

And what the quote points to is equally valid. When I find myself as capacity for the world, the world happens within me. Whatever is here – people, animals, plants, things – happen within me. And any ideas about the world as a whole and the universe as a whole (which are ideas since they are not here in immediate experience) happens within me. That’s not lonely.

So, yes, I sometimes have a feeling of loneliness – in a very ordinary human sense and for ordinary human reasons. As what I am, it’s really neither lonely or not. And any sense of loneliness happens within and as what I am, just like anything else.

Rumi: I belong to the beloved

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim,
not Hindu, Buddhist, sufi, or zen.
Not any religion or cultural system.

I am not from the East or the West,
not out of the ocean or up from the ground,
not natural or ethereal,
not composed of elements at all.

I do not exist, am not an entity
in this world or the next,
did not descend from Adam
or Eve or any origin story.

My place is placeless,
a trace of the traceless.

Neither body or soul.

I belong to the beloved,
have seen the two worlds as one
and that one call to and know,
first, last, outer, inner,
only that breath breathing human being.

– Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi

Rumi: Sorrow prepares you for joy

Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.
– Rumi

Rumi: At the very moment you become content in affliction

Whatever God gives you, be content. At the very moment you become content in affliction, the door of paradise will open.
– Rumi

I find that too, although I would use a bit more sober wording for myself. This morning, I noticed discomfort in me, in my belly and chest area, a sense of unease, fear. Gently and quietly, I opened to it, met it, welcomed it as a friend, a lover. And it shifted. It was no longer something that the labels discomfort, unease, fear fitted. It was no longer discomfort, unease, fear.

There are many facets or layers to this.

One is to meet it, be with it, welcome it as a friend, stay with it. I can ask myself can I be with this? Is it true it’s not already allowed, already welcomed? Is it true it needs to change?

Another is to notice it shifting, changing, and staying with it, with curiosity, interest.

Another is to listen to it, let it speak to me, perhaps wordlessly, be open to what it has to show me.

Another is to let it speak to me in images and words, let it reveal the fears behind it to me, identify these fears and take them to inquiry.

Another is to explore it all in the sense fields. Where and how does the discomfort, unease, fear show up in sensations? How does it show up in images? Where and how does the me or I relating to it show up in sensations? In images? What’s the “substance” of these sensations, these images? Is it true it’s solid? Is it true it’s lasting? Is it all ephemeral? Consciousness itself?

Another is to notice that in my mind, the unease, discomfort and fear is an image, the I or me is an image, and how this I or me relates to the unease is an image. If there is battle and struggle, that happens among images. If there is peace and welcoming, that happens within the world of images. And all of this happens within and as what is, what “I” am.

And a final facet of this is to notice any impulse to want my experience to change, go away, for it to shift into something “I” desire. Is it true, I need it to change? Is it true, it would be better if it changed? Is it true, another experience is better – for me, others, the world? Is it true, I know what’s best for me? How would it be if it never changed? Could I still find peace with it, welcome it, meet it as a friend, a lover?

Rumi: The Guest House

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi ~

Copartner

…. this is the principle: To deem oneself exalted is to claim copartnership with God. As long as you have not died and become living through Him, you are a rebel seeking a realm for your copartnership. 
– Rumi, Mathnawi IV 2763-67. [In Chittick’s The Sufi Path of Love, p. 183] 

This pointer is the homework for our CSS group this week, and also the section of the reading that most speaks to what is going on for me these days. 

I recognize this here and now. “All” is recognized as God, awakeness, form with no substance. And yet, there is also a sense of a separate I here as a doer and observer. Sometimes, it is taken as more real and substantial. And when attention is brought to it, it is recognized as the same as everything else: Content of awareness. Awakeness itself. Form with no substance. 

Taking this separate I gestalt as real is to set it up as a copartner with God, and when it is taken as real it is identified with and taken as what I am, so “I” then appear as a copartner with God. Since it is a lie, it is a precarious situation, and it generates friction which invites attention and questions, which in turn may allow this to be recognized as it happens. (Friction between “my will” – stories of shoulds, and “God’s will” – stories of what is.) 

When there is this copartnership, there may be a sense of being one with God, a separate I (as doer and/or observer) one with God. And when the separate I gestalts are recognized as they happen, there may be a shift into oneness, God as all including any gestalts temporarily appearing. 

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