How One Surrenders to the Emptiness

by Rumi, version by Coleman Barks from The Essential Rumi

Love has taken away my practices
and filled me with poetry.

I tried to keep quietly repeating,
No strength but yours,
but I couldn’t.

I had to clap and sing.
I used to be respectable and chaste and stable,
but who can stand in this strong wind
and remember those things?

A mountain keeps an echo deep inside itself.
That’s how I hold your voice.

I am scrap wood thrown in your fire,
and quickly reduced to smoke.

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!

The sky is blue. The world is a blind man
squatting on the road.

But whoever sees your emptiness
sees beyond blue and beyond the blind man.

A great soul hides like Muhammad, or Jesus,
moving through a crowd in a city
where no one knows him.

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 of luck
we could have. It’s a total waking up!

Why should we grieve that we’ve been sleeping?
It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been unconscious.

We’re groggy, but let the guilt go.
Feel the motions of tenderness
around you, the buoyancy.

Intimacy and Longing for Intimacy, One Song

Fatemeh KeshavarzProfessor of Persian and Comparative literature in the Department of Jewish, Islamic, and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Washington University in St. Louis, from "The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi,"On Being

On one level, you have to get on the road. You have to get started. You know, just like the earth that, you know, have to plow the earth, you have to get moving. On another level, time and again, he reminds us that the destination is the journey itself. So there isn't a point where you say, "OK, I'm here, I've reached, I'm done, I'm perfect. I don't need to do anything anymore." In the incompleteness of that, the need to move forward is inherent in that incompleteness, in the process of going forward, that you make yourself better and better and you, in a way, never reach. So the separation is the powerful force that keeps you going. If you ever felt that, "I have arrived, I've reached, this is it," then you wouldn't go any further.

...I think one idea or major concept that the Sufi tradition and Rumi in particular have to contribute to our current culture is value in perplexity, the fact that not knowing is a source of learning, something that propels us forward into finding out. Longing, perplexity, these are all very valuable things. We want to unravel things and get answers and be done, but as far as he's concerned, it's a continual process. We can't be done, and that's good.

Reed Bunting

Song of the Reed
by Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, excerpted from Coleman Barks' translation in The Essential Rumi 

Listen to the story told by the reed, 
of being separated. 

"Since I was cut from the reedbed, 
I have made this crying sound. 

Anyone apart from someone he loves 
understands what I say. 

Anyone pulled from a source 
longs to go back. 

At any gathering I am there, 
mingling in the laughing and grieving, 

a friend to each, but few 
will hear the secrets hidden 

within the notes. No ears for that. 
Body flowing out of spirit, 

spirit up from body: no concealing 
that mixing. But it's not given us 

to see the soul. The reed flute 
is fire, not wind. Be that empty." 

Hear the love fire tangled 
in the reed notes, as bewilderment 

melts into wine. The reed is a friend 
to all who want the fabric torn 

and drawn away. The reed is hurt 
and salve combining. Intimacy
and longing for intimacy, one 
song. A disastrous surrender 

and a fine love, together. The one 
who secretly hears this is senseless. 

A tongue has one customer, the ear. 
A sugarcane flute has such effect 

because it was able to make sugar 
in the reedbed. The sound it makes 

is for everyone. Days full of wanting, 
let them go by without worrying 

that they do. Stay where you are 
inside such a pure, hollow note. 

Every thirst gets satisfied except 
that of these fish, the mystics, 

who swim a vast ocean of grace 
still somehow longing for it! 

No one lives in that without 
being nourished every day. 

But if someone doesn't want to hear 
the song of the reed flute, 

it's best to cut conversation 
short, say good-bye, and leave.


Put the Lid on the Kettle

You Suspect This Could Be Yours
by Rumi, translated by Daniel Liebert

you suspect this could be yours
with a little contrivance

only death to contrivance
will avail you

something good or bad
always comes out of you
it is agony to be still;
the spool turns
when mind pulls the thread

let the water settle;
you will see moon and stars
mirrored in your being

when the kettle boils
fire is revealed
when the millstone turns
the river shows its power

put the lid on the kettle
and be filled
with the boiling of love.

Capable of Making Distinctions

Excerpt from “The Muslims in the Middle,” editorial by William Dalrymple, New York Times, Aug. 16, 2010:

Most of us are perfectly capable of making distinctions within the Christian world. The fact that someone is a Boston Roman Catholic doesn’t mean he’s in league with Irish Republican Army bomb makers, just as not all Orthodox Christians have ties to Serbian war criminals or Southern Baptists to the murderers of abortion doctors.

Yet many of our leaders have a tendency to see the Islamic world as a single, terrifying monolith. Had the George W. Bush administration been more aware of the irreconcilable differences between the Salafist jihadists of Al Qaeda and the secular Baathists of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the United States might never have blundered into a disastrous war, and instead kept its focus on rebuilding post-Taliban Afghanistan while the hearts and minds of the Afghans were still open to persuasion.

Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative is one of America’s leading thinkers of Sufism, the mystical form of Islam, which in terms of goals and outlook couldn’t be farther from the violent Wahhabism of the jihadists.His videos and sermons preach love, the remembrance of God (or “zikr”) and reconciliation. His slightly New Agey rhetoric makes him sound, for better or worse, like a Muslim Deepak Chopra. But in the eyes of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, he is an infidel-loving, grave-worshiping apostate; they no doubt regard him as a legitimate target for assassination.

For such moderate, pluralistic Sufi imams are the front line against the most violent forms of Islam. In the most radical parts of the Muslim world, Sufi leaders risk their lives for their tolerant beliefs, every bit as bravely as American troops on the ground in Baghdad and Kabul do. Sufism is the most pluralistic incarnation of Islam — accessible to the learned and the ignorant, the faithful and nonbelievers — and is thus a uniquely valuable bridge between East and West.

The great Sufi saints like the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi held that all existence and all religions were one, all manifestations of the same divine reality. What was important was not the empty ritual of the mosque, church, synagogue or temple, but the striving to understand that divinity can best be reached through the gateway of the human heart: that we all can find paradise within us, if we know where to look.

Read the entire editorial…

May 20, 2010. Press Conference outside site of planned Cordoba House with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and city government officials in support of the Cordoba House.


Unfold Your Own Myth

Who gets up early to discover the moment light begins?
Who finds us here circling, bewildered, like atoms?
Who comes to a spring thirsty
and sees the moon reflected in it?
Who, like Jacob blind with grief and age,
smells the shirt of his lost son
and can see again?
Who lets a bucket down and brings up
a flowing prophet? Or like Moses goes for fire
and finds what burns inside the sunrise?

Jesus slips into a house to escape enemies,
and opens a door to the other world.
Solomon cuts open a fish, and there's a gold ring.
Omar storms in to kill the prophet
and leaves with blessings.
Chase a deer and end up everywhere!
An oyster opens his mouth to swallow one drop
Now there's a pearl.
A vagrant wanders empty ruins,
Suddenly he's wealthy.

Don't be satisfied with stories, with how
others have done things. Unfold
your own myth, simply and directly,
Let yourself open to your truth.

Start on the path. Your legs may get heavy
and tired. Then comes a moment of feeling
the wings you have grown, lifting you

~ Rumi

A Human Being is a Dialogue

"Rumi teaches the opening heart. Rumi says that whatever was said to the rose was said to me here in my chest. The implication being that for Coleman Barkssomething to open into its own beauty and handsomeness, it has to be talked to. And so that idea of a human being as a dialogue—maybe an inaudible dialogue—is part of his model for what a human being is. He says we are a conversation between the one who takes bodily form and something else that is flowing through that was never born and doesn't die. So that intersection, that conversation is what a human being is. I just love that, because it's like we're both parts of the synapse."

~ Coleman Barks, from  “A Valentine to the World,” a BookPage interview with Linda Stankard

There You Are

By Jalalu'l-Din Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

The Book of Love : Poems of ecstasy and longing You’re inside every kindness. When a sick
person feels better, you’re that,

and the onset of disease too. You’re sudden,
terrible screaming. Some problems require

we go for help. When we knock on a stranger’s
door, you sent us. Nobody answers. It’s

you! When work feels necessary, you
are the way workers move in rhythm.

You are what is: the field, the players,
the ball, those watching. Someone claims to

have evidence that you do not exist.
You’re the one who brings the evidence in,

and the evidence itself! You are inside
the soul’s great fear, every natural

pleasure, every vicious cruelty. Someone
loves something, someone else hates

the same. There you are. Whatever anyone
wants or not: political power, injustice,

material possessions, those are your script,
the handwriting we study. Body, soul,

shadow. Whether reckless or careful,
you are what we do. It’s absurd to ask

your pardon. You’re inside repentance,
and sin! The wonder of various jewels,

agate, emerald. How we are during the day,
then at night, you are those moods and

the pure compassion we feel for each
other. Every encampment has a tent

where the leader is, and also the wide
truth of your imperial tent overall.


A night full of talking that hurts,
my worst held-back secrets: everything
has to do with loving and not loving.

This night will pass.
Then we have work to do.


There’s a shredding that’s really a healing,
that makes you more alive!

A lion holds you in his arms.
Fingers rake the fretbridge for music.


Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance, in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you’re perfectly free.


All I know of spirit
is this love.


Life Unfolds in the Present

Psychology TodayFrom “The Art of Now: Six Steps to Living in the Moment,” by Jay Dixit, Psychology Today (Nov-Dec 2008):

We live in the age of distraction. Yet one of life's sharpest paradoxes is that your brightest future hinges on your ability to pay attention to the present…Life unfolds in the present. But so often, we let the present slip away, allowing time to rush past unobserved and unseized, and squandering the precious seconds of our lives as we worry about the future and ruminate about what's past.

  1. To improve your performance, stop thinking about it (unselfconsciousness).
  2. To avoid worrying about the future, focus on the present (savoring).
  3. If you want a future with your significant other, inhabit the present (breathe).
  4. To make the most of time, lose track of it (flow).
  5. If something is bothering you, move toward it rather than away from it (acceptance).
  6. Know that you don't know (engagement).

[Thanks Janine!]

Speak in the Language of Birds

This is love: to fly upward
toward the endless heavens.
To rend a hundred veils at every moment.
At the first breath, to give up life;
At the final step, to go without feet.
To see the world as a dream
and not as it appears.

I said, O heart
What a blessing it is
To join the circle of lovers,
To see beyond sight,
To know the secrets within every breast.

I said, O soul
From where comes your life
And the power of your spirit?
Tell me, speak in the language of birds,
And I will understand.

My soul said to me:
They brought me to God's workshop
Where all things take form--and I flew.
Before this form of mine
Was even shaped--I flew and I flew.

And when I could fly no longer
They dragged me into this form,
and locked me into this house
of water and clay.

~ Rumi

Practice and Commitment

“Practice is the best of all instructors.” -Publilius Syrus

"Submit to a daily practice. Your loyalty to that is a ring on the door. Keep knocking, and the joy inside will eventually open a window and look out to see who's there." -Rumi

"This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way." - W.H. Murray

Strange Conversation

Kris Delmhorst was inspired by the work of well-known poets (Walt Whitman, Robert Browning, E.E. Cummings, Lord Byron, George Eliot and Edna St. Vincent Millay, etc.) to compose the songs on her latest album, Strange Conversation. "Some of the poems are set verbatim to music, some dismantled and reassembled in significantly new renditions, others merely used as the jumping-off point for Delmhorst's own literate lyrical take."

Excerpt from From Light of the Light
lyrics adapted from: Walt Whitman, "A Passage to India"

O my soul.
Steer us to uncharted waters, hoist the anchor, shake out every sail.
My brave soul.
If they’re all the seas of heaven
Why should we not go where all maps fail?

Everything is Music
lyrics adapted from Rumi, "Where Everything Is Music"

We've come to the place where everything is music
Everything is music, let it play.

Why do you stay in jail when the door is wide open?
Let the beauty that you love be what you do.

Stop talking now, open up the window
The one right there in the middle of your heart
Give us your hands, sit down in this circle
You know you got no need to keep yourself apart

Today you wake up sad and empty, don't go back to sleep.
There's a million ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Don't worry now, about saving all these songs,
There's so many more just waiting to be found.
And if all these instruments should disappear
We would still hear something coming up from way down in the ground

Because we've come to the place where everything is music
Everything is music, let it play.

NPR interview from November 16, 2006 (thanks rrobinson)