The Great Heresy
Unfold Your Own Myth
Mevlana Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-1273)
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.
Soloman 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.
But don’t be satisfied with stories, how things
have gone with others. Unfold
your own myth, without complicated explanation;
so everyone will understand the passage,
We have opened you.
Start walking toward Shams. Your legs will get heavy
and tired. Then comes a moment
of feeling the wings you’ve grown,
“We Have Opened You” Intuitive Inquiry in Life, Analysis, and Rumi
The poems of the Sufi-mystic poet, Mevlana Jalal al-Din Rumi, are layered with illuminated meanings, like a solid wall of coal that sparkles with diamonds and, like this mine, reveal further gems if one is inclined to dig with loving subtly. We cannot proceed carelessly, glossing over the richness in the dark, otherwise the operation becomes haphazard: one’s hands become black from the dissection of verses, the diamonds we glean will turn to dust in the sunlight, forgotten, our eyes fill with dust and darkness. This can be fatal. Is my metaphor purely hyperbole? Hardly, friends. Rumi’s poems awe the ageless reader for their non-lyrical directness, transcendence of religious exclusivity, and messages of raw self-empowerment – qualities which are truly astounding when you consider the medieval epoch in which he was active. Rumi has a kingdom of wealth to bestow to his careful listeners/readers, but some time must be spent delicately unpacking his meaning. No scholarship is necessary but what is imperative to a complete understanding, is our approach; it must be a balance of intuitive admiration and scientific analysis that compliment each other. The keys to the kingdom, so to speak. The meaning in “Unfold Your Own Myth” only unfold its puzzling polemic with this dualistic approach, and rewards full comprehension with sea-changing inspiration.
Rumi poses a handful of multi-cultural stories which form the basis of myth, illustrating their roundabout paths to greatness. Each character arrives at their destiny by following an unexpected course, having passed through some extreme trial of grief, vagrancy, or folly. True, these cases are obviously extraordinary yet they’re intuitively instructional and similar in suggestion: we must be willing to be improved, we must allow ourselves to be altered. While examining this poem further, hold in your mind the line “so everyone can understand the passage, we have opened you.” Do you understand this passage yet, reader? Has the light of morning already dawned? We are here to be like the “oyster who opens his mouths to swallow one drop, now there’s a pearl.” It is not a comfortable process, to be opened, but it broadens the heart, and broadens what is possible for us thereby.
This technique of being opened is similar to how we approach poetry. Driven by our honest interest, we proceed both intuitively and logically – is it ever only one way? Sometimes our expectations mislead us, and a rereading proves our previous reading incorrect. Would we ever revel inour prior ignorance and remain rigid? No way! We take what we have learned and reach further, outside of our comfort zone, to formulate a new belief. The qualities we apply to our studious passions are parallel to the core ideas in “Unfold Your Own Myth”: acceptance, perseverance, and openness. Dr. Rosemarie Anderson discusses the effectiveness this approach has in her thesis “Intuitive Inquiry: Subjective and Objective Data.”
“By loving what we study, we approach it tenderly. Such a compassionate knowing brings a softness to the way we ask our questions, set our hypotheses, devise our instruments, conduct our investigations, analyze our data, construct our theories, and speak to our readers or audience. Our loving approach brings the nature of the phenomenon studied alive to our senses. Searching (or re-searching) from that inside view, its essential qualities animate to the researcher’s own experience in both the objective and subjective senses.” (Anderson)
Rumi’s opening lines read as rhetorical questions in a letter that seek to widen our vision more than provoke an attempted answer. The ‘who’ in question is two-fold, acknowledging God, while also hinting how the quality of our vision relates to God’s vision. In short, see the divine, be the divine. “Who gets up early to discover the moment light begins?” God is the first to discover this moment, and Rumi suggests that when we rise early to discover the morning light, it’s as if we share in God’s perspective. “Who finds us here circling, bewildered, like atoms?” Surely, this omniscient macro/micro perspective is God’s, and the bewildered atoms are ourselves, yet now we too see this frantic circling and share in God’s perspective: to see it all reflected in the small, and vice-versa. “Who comes to a spring thirsty, and sees the moon reflected in it?” A thirsty traveler naturally seeks water, and upon finding a spring will immediately set to sating their thirst. Yet Rumi describes a traveler that would find the moon there, he does not miss the significance of this thing reflected in the spring. A greater beauty, a greater truth, awaits the wakened seeker. Likewise, we must strive for something — anything! — but not be attached to desired results, lest we marginalize life experience and possibilities.
“Jacob blind with grief and age, smells the shirt of his lost son, and can see again?” Rumi references the Old Testament story of Joseph, the favored son of Jacob. Envious of the father’s preference for an effeminate useless boy, his brothers abduct Joseph and throw him into a well. Jacob and Joseph have both hit an all-time low and are overcome with despair. Total submission to their suffering becomes their salvation. They are profoundly changed by these dark experiences. Jacob regains his sight! Joseph is favored by God, found by thirsty wanderers, becomes a prophet, and thereafter dons his famous technicolor dream-coat.
The allegory of Moses is common enough to know what Rumi is suggesting when he says “and finds what burns in the sunrise.” Simply by seeking the light, Moses has wandered onto destiny’s doorstep, arriving at the burning bush, the essence of God-itself emanating from it. “Rumi exhorted everyone to descend into the great heresy to experience a union with all that-is. Experience that union and you shatter and annihilate yourself. But out of that, comes a whole new consciousness arises. Who will throw themselves willingly into the divine fire? Divine or not, it’s still going to burn.” (Ergin, Johnson)
“Jesus slips into a house to escape enemies, and opens a door to the other world.” Even if one cannot extract the exact meaning here, these cryptic lines still have a powerful effect. Does it resonate with you reader? Rumi has ingeniously distilled the complex essence of an often over-looked story from the Gospel of Mark (7:24-30).
24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. 27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” 28 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. (KJV)
This is a remarkable story because it shows how human Jesus was, which is to say how prejudiced and limited in vision he could sometimes be. In no uncertain terms Jesus called this woman, and her suffering daughter, “dogs” merely because of their pagan origins. His miracles are not for the likes of her – daaang Jesus, that’s harsh man – and yet she had the courage to retort that, as a dog, she would take the crumbs of what he would offer those of his kind. POW! Her wit hits Jesus in the heart. Suddenly his eyes are opened, he sees the wisdom of her words, and surely feels some shame for his condescension. My God, the savior of the world stands corrected by a pagan woman! That is exactly the point, that no matter who you are, you err in deluding yourself. Thus, Jesus extends his compassion to her private sufferings and her daughter is exorcised. This is an unprecedented breach of religiously exclusive borders. Jesus’ miraculous power, which was previously limited to the ‘lost sheep of Israel’ is unbounded, and a door to a new world is opened. +++
What of Solomon and this golden ring? He finds it in a fish?! The story of this myth is quite lengthy and studded with fateful wonders, and here Rumi has summarized it within one line, as if that’s all there was to know. Even without familiarity with this myth’s specifics, you can already guess at this ring’s importance yes? Even without knowing, it’s as if you somehow know who this ring belonged to, that it was lost, and then found just as Rumi describes. This is the marriage your brain has automatically made between intuitive and scientific analysis. Sensing a thematic pattern, the mind projects a probable hypothesis and tests for validity among further evidence. Amazing how only one line of verse can contain a vast history, that a ring can wield so much power, and that a fish can be such an instrumental vessel for realized destiny. My literary heart loves such devices. For those interested in the full story you need only search Solomon’s name and you will find it, for his entire kingdom, and his very identity, were lost and found again on account of this golden ring. And what did Solomon have to do in order to win this ring back? He had to accept what-is, the reality of having lost his ring, his kingdom, and his identity with some humility; to know what it is to have nothing and Love! despite it all.
“Omar storms in to kill the prophet, and leaves with blessings.” This story features prominently in Islamic cultures. Omar was upset with Muhammad’s command to renounce idols so he went to kill the prophet, but was converted by Muhammad instead. Despite his anger and misdirected intent, Omar allows for a dialogue, and is blessed. An assassin’s course altered. Oh, how many lives could be spared if only the would-be assassins of our days, these child soldiers – their hearts so set on defending ‘the right belief’ – were open to dialogue and blessings?
“Chase a deer and end up everywhere!” This is the most astounding line to me, because there is no referential explanation needed and its inclusion of an exclamation point. We must rely on our intuition to gather its meaning, and I hope to draw yours out with my personal resonance with it. I began this year, minutes after the stroke of midnight New Years morning, chasing a deer through a field of snow. I was in Utah, staying in a vast mountainous valley I’d never been before. The deer wandered across the golf course. My fiancé (at the time), approached one with an open hand and got within a yard of it before the deer took flight. Overcome with the warmth of whiskey and excitement we gave chase at a playful sprint. It zigged and zagged at lightning speeds and then would rest, as if waiting for us to catch up, then again when we drew near it would dash away with ease. It led us into a forest. It led us up the slippery slope of a steep crater. It led us to the stars. We chased after it so long, laughing and jumping all the while, that when we finally gave up we didn’t know where we were. We collapsed in the snow and traded breath. So much has happened since then, so much has been lost… and other things found, and yet, throughout the year, I still feel I’ve been chasing that deer, and now I am here. “…end up everywhere!” This line has become one of just a few mantras which sustains me.
The resonance I’ve shared in my experience is no less of a pseudo-scientific approach. This type of analysis is actually called ‘sympathetic resonance’ and it is responsible for some of physic’s and chemistry’s most notable discoveries, but is particularly useful in poetry analysis.
“So often the poetry of Rumi… points us in the direction of immediate knowing. Meaning somehow passes directly from the writer to the reader or listener, seemingly by pointing to an inchoate experience already shared by both of us. On reading a poem we may recognize our own experience (or a very similar one) expressed within it. That recognition is an immediate kind of sympathetic resonance. Analogously for the intuitive researcher, research findings may present a pattern of descriptions rather like a pattern of acoustical harmonics.” (Anderson, Intuitive Inquiry)
Rumi’s final reference is to his greatest friend and mentor, Shams of Tabriz, whom you will find thousands of references to throughout his writing. In Shams, Rumi found an infinite kinship: “a direct conduit to the divine. Exposed to the heat of Sham’s presence, Rumi would melt, and the mixture of their two souls would merge” (Ergin, Johnson). Rumi is urging us to move towards what moves us. It is a promise of deliverance, but even more than that. Rumi is sharing with us that exact moment when we begin to fly… what sensation lingers? Just in reading those words, it’s as if I can feel gravity releasing its hold on me. Am I rising?
Rumi has told us “of how things have gone for others,” reminding us to not be satisfied by them. “Unfold your own myth” he encourages. Unfold infers a certain ease in doing so. Simply act and act simply, “without complicated explanation.” Nor does Rumi include “complicated explanation” for the myths he has exemplified – the thematic heart of each story is captured in a handful of words at most. And what beats beneath the surface of these myths? Return to the passage, “so everyone will understand the passage, we have opened you.” In every instance, these mythical persons have allowed themselves to be corrected by extraordinary circumstance, which is the source of their respective greatnesses! Being altered by the universal “we” which acts upon “you” – this is the key to your own greatness, the method of your own myth. May this secret alter your perspective and broaden your horizons, dear reader. A divine Destiny awaits those who are brave enough to follow their heart, whereas those who don’t are left to chance it with human fate. §
BIBLIOGRAPHY & OTHER SOURCES
Barks, Coleman, and John Moyne. The Essential Rumi. Harper Collins, 2004. Print.
Ergin, Nevit, and Will Johnson. The Forbidden Rumi: Suppressed Poems of Rumi on Love, Heresy, and Intoxication. Rochester: Inner Traditions, 2006. Print.
Anderson, Dr. Rosemarie. “Intuitive Inquiry: Interpreting Objective and Subjective Data.” Heldref Publication. (2000): n. page. Web. 22 Oct. 2013. <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE|A62402515&v=2.1&u=marylhuniv&it=r&p=ITOF&sw=w>.
The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York: American Bible Society: 1999
Friedlander, Shems, dir. Rumi: The Wings of Love. Safina Productions, 2001. Film. 19 Oct 2013.
+++ I cannot be entirely credited for this interpretation. For months these lines about Jesus in hiding and finding doors to new worlds repeated themselves in my head. My admiration based on intuitive possibilities, I was no less moved by them, as if it were a Zen Koan, but the literal reference perplexed me. My interpretation was inspired by the sermon of Pastor Joel Miller, however there are no quotations derived from the sermon’s transcripts.
Miller, Joel. “Sermon of the Syro-Phoenician Woman.” Joel’s Sermons. 16 July 2007. Web <http://joelsssermons.wordpress.com/2007/07/16>