It is the last day of April. National Poetry Month has finally come to an end and so has my poetry series. I’ve heard from many of you about how much these posts have meant to you by giving you a moment’s pause each day to reflect on something beautiful, or new. I’m so glad I was able to do that, but the pace is a little much for me to keep up. I can’t sustain a daily practice, but I will try to throw out a poetry post once in a while.

One of the most difficult tasks of the month was deciding which poems to include and today was no exception. If I can only share one more gem from Hafiz, which should it be? Just know that whatever poem I chose, there were dozens left on the table. If you’ve enjoyed the last several days in particular, go buy The Gift as a gift to yourself.

“We Have Not Come to Take Prisoners”

We have not come here to take prisoners,

But to surrender more deeply

To freedom and joy.

 

We have not come into this exquisite world

To hold ourselves hostage from love.

 

Run, my dear,

From anything

That does not strengthen

Your precious budding wings.

 

Run like hell my dear,

From anyone likely

To put a sharp knife

Into the sacred, tender vision

Of your beautiful heart.

 

We have a duty to befriend

Those aspects of obedience

That stand outside of our house

And shout to our reason

“O please, O please,

Come out and play!”

 

For we have not come here to take prisoners

Or to confine our wondrous spirits,

But to experience ever and ever more deeply

Our divine courage, freedom and

Light!

For me, this poem sums up the essence of Hafiz’s mystical vision.  We have a sacred duty and it is first and foremost to recognize the divine Presence within and to act accordingly. This is a radical revisioning of what most of us raised with religion have been taught.  We have been catechized by church and culture to button it up, keep it down, follow the rules, imprison our passion, obey our reason. Hafiz screams at us to “Run!” from those false prophets who would do violence to the nascent Spirit within us, the one that makes it possible for us to be free – free for God to God’s work within us and the world.

And yet, even as it makes me smile, something inside me grimaces and I find some inner resistance to this poem. Do you sense it too? What part of us disapproves of spiritual freedom, play and joy? I don’t think it’s any part of us. I think it’s the “sharp knife” that was stuck in us when we were small and taught the rules of the game. No matter how much we’ve grown, no matter how much larger our vision is, the point is still there, digging in, reminding us to hold something of ourselves back, to be smart and play it safe.

Ultimately, we may never get rid of the knot in our chest, but the poetry of Hafiz empowers us to ignore the discomfort. He also insists that we protect ourselves from anyone who would push that knife deeper, including our scared and shamed selves. We can obey our fear, disguised as “reason,” or we can obey our God. Too often we worship the former and call it the latter. The poetry of Hafiz and other mystics insist there is another way and it’s the way I want to go – the way of Love, joy, freedom, divine courage, connection and cohabitation.

“Come out and play” friends, the poets are calling you!

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Dissolving into God is a theme found in Sufi poetry and mysticism over and over again, but every poet takes a different approach. Here is one of my favorite’s from Hafiz.

“The Seed Cracked Open”

It used to be

That when I would wake in the morning

I could with confidence say,

“What am ‘I’ going to

Do?”

That was before the seed

Cracked open.

Now Hafiz is certain:

There are two of us housed

In this body,

Doing the shopping together in the market and

Tickling each other

While fixing the evening’s food.

Now when I awake

All the internal instruments play the same music:

“God, what love-mischief can ‘We’ do

For the world

Today?”

 

And just for good measure, here’s one more nugget of a poem. Hafiz and God have such a good time together!

“Two Giant Fat People”

God

And I have become

Like two giant fat people

Living in a

Tiny boat.

We

Keep

Bumping into each other and

L

A

U

G

H

I

N

G

.

Union with God is serious business, but once it is taken seriously, it seems like the outcome need not be serious at all. I think we have an image in our mind that when one becomes “at one” with God, then they no longer fully experience life. They are “blissed out,” unattached, or “on another plane,” but Hafiz shakes my conviction about the stereotype of the yogi on their cushion, or the saint on their knees. Hafiz didn’t go anywhere when God moved in – body and soul – he just became a truer version of himself. Maybe we don’t lose ourselves when God comes along. Maybe we find more of ourselves. If God is Love and all good, then maybe being joined by God would mean all the good and all the Love in us would be amplified.

Have you ever been so deliciously in love that you’ve walked around with a silly grin on your face for no reason at all? Have you ever been so exceedingly happy that you just want to sing out loud and dance down the street?  (Or run. I’m a dancer, but some people are runners.)  Have you ever laughed so hard you could not stop, even though you couldn’t say what in the world was so funny? Maybe sharing the boat of our bodies with God is like that. Maybe letting the seed of ourselves crack open allows all the joy to spill out.

I hope Hafiz inspires you to make a little bit of “love-mischief” with God today.

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A Sunday reminder about the abundance of God

“So Many Gifts”

There are so many gifts

Still unopened from your birthday.

There are so many hand-crafted presents

That have been sent to you by God.

The Beloved does not mind repeating,

“Everything I have is also yours.”

Please forgive Hafiz and the Friend

If we break into a sweet laughter

When your heart complains of being thirsty

When ages ago

Every cell in your soul

Captured forever

Into this golden sea.

Indeed,

A lover’s pain is like holding one’s breath

Too long

In the middle of a vital performance,

In the middle of one of Creation’s favorite Songs.

Indeed a lover’s pain is this sleeping,

This sleeping,

When God just rolled over and gave you

Such a big good morning kiss!

There are so many gifts, my dear,

Still unopened from your birthday.

O, there are so many hand-crafted presents

That have been sent into to your life

From God.

I could use this reminder almost daily: There is nothing I need this day. It’s all been given; everything is available to me.

If I am feeling underwhelmed with how some aspect of my life is going, it’s because the gift remains “unopened.”  Maybe I haven’t found the time to unwrap it yet; maybe I lack the wisdom or perspective. Maybe it’s actually a lack of desire. Sometimes, frustration, and self-pity are more powerful and comfortable than agency. So go ahead and giggle God, and I’ll try to open my eyes, not hold my breath, and turn towards your kiss, so You, Hafiz and I can all start laughing together.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Today Hafiz teaches us about mindfulness.

“Buttering the Sky”

Slipping

On my shoes,

Boiling water,

Toasting bread,

Buttering the sky:

That should be enough contact

With God in one day

To make anyone

Crazy.

“I Want Both of Us”

I want both of us

To start talking about this great love

As if you, I, and the Sun were all married

And living in a tiny room,

 

Helping each other to cook,

Do the wash,

Weave and sew,

Care for our beautiful

Animals.

 

We all leave each morning

To labor on the earth’s field.

No one does not lift a great pack.

 

I want both of us to start singing like two

Traveling minstrels

About this extraordinary existence

We share.

 

As if

You, I, and God were all married

And living in

A tiny

Room.

 

I love these verses, but as I type them up, I wonder what you will think.

Are they too simple? Too silly to be worth noticing? 

I understand the impulse to dismiss poems like these, but just because something is simple, doesn’t mean it’s easy.  To live mindfully is perhaps the greatest challenge of all.

We think our everyday lives are somehow separate from our spiritual path, but Hafiz is inviting us to see them as one and the same. Have you ever thought of God as your roommate? Your office partner? Your sous chef and dishwasher? Why not? Wouldn’t every moment be richer in possibility, bathed in companionship, steeped in meaning? It costs us nothing to try it and we might find that we are getting a much better value for our mortgage.

A few years back, right after I finished at The Living School, I thought I might find some kind of “holy” work to do, but what arose instead was an opportunity to put in more hours at Wavelines, our surf shop.  And so I began what I jokingly referred to as “mindful bikini hanging.” Tim and I would be at the shop in the early hours before the store opened and I would be hanging delicate, expensive nylon triangles on plastic hangars. At first, my ego railed against the smallness of the task before me, but eventually, it stopped. “Mindful bikini hanging” wasn’t a joke any more; it really was a spiritual practice. One day, as I was smoothing out the wrinkles on crop top, Hafiz’s perspective prevailed. The backroom was filled with a soft glow. I looked over at Tim and I thought, “If I never do anything more than this, it is enough. I have everything I need right here.” I had learned to butter the sky and it was “enough contact/ With God in one day” to make me crazy, not every day, of course, but enough to keep me singing.

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Rabi’a’s poetry tackles the reality of death. She doesn’t find it frightening, but nor does she long for it as an escape route from her difficult circumstances. Death will simply and beautifully bring her to her Beloved. It may feel like an interruption of the Easter joy, but it is simply another side of it.

A prayer

Kill my ego, God,

the empty, troublemaking

version of myself.

Burn away the darkness

of my false self

and then my true Self

will shine like sunlight.

Dissolve my ego

into the Being

who is everything.

 

“Cherish Myself”

I know how it will be when I die,

my beauty will be so extraordinary that God will worship me.

He will not worship me from a distance, for our minds will have wed,

our souls will have flowed into each other.

How to say this: God and I

will forever cherish

Myself.

“Die before you die,” the Prophet Mohammed said and Rabi’a took to heart. The prayer I shared is a reflection of her desire to live by that teaching, which echoes that of Jesus: “Unless a grain of what shall die, it remains but a single grain.” It is a question humans have wrestled with for thousands of years: How do we do that?

Rabi’a’s two reflections here – the prayer and the poem – offer a contrast of methods. The first method, of “killing the ego” isn’t a truly holy one, but for thousands of years, it was thought to be the only one. Self-abuse and self-sacrifice dominated the spiritual path to holiness. What else were the fires of hell and flames of purgatory for, but to “burn away the darkness” that kept us from the everlasting Light?

But there has always been another way, revealed by the mystics and sages throughout the ages and the second poem reveals the secret. Dissolving into Love, we become one with God, so we do not need to deny, or destroy any part of ourselves. We simply have to let Love do the work of loving us – all of us – bringing the darkness into the light. The Love of the Divine does not reject any of it, not the wounds, the scars, the pain. If God really is all powerful, then we have nothing to fear.

A final reminder from Rabi’a: “So beautiful my death appeared – knowing who then I would kiss, I died a thousand times before I died… I was born [again] when all I once feared – I could love.”

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Though Rumi may be the most popular Sufi poet, he was preceded by hundreds of years by Rabi’a, a revered Islamic saint and Sufi. I didn’t want to let this final week go by without including some of her beautiful work.

 

“It Acts Like Love”

It acts like love – music,

it reaches toward the face, touches it, and tries to let you know

His promise: that all will be okay.

 

It acts like love – music, and

tells the feet, “You do not have to be so burdened.”

 

My body is covered with wounds

this world made,

but I still longed to kiss Him, even when God said,

“Could you also kiss the hand that caused

each scar,

for you will not find me until

you do.”

 

It does that – music – helps us

to forgive.

 

As a young woman, Rabi’a was forced into slavery. You can imagine what that meant for her as a woman, but her state in life never determined the state of her soul. All her poems, especially the erotic ones, proclaim her truth: “Never once did God look at me as if I were impure.” Rather, she encouraged other women on their path: “Dear sisters, all we do in this world, whatever happens, is bringing us closer to God.”

What I most appreciate about Rabi’a is that she found her voice and used it. Against overwhelming odds, this woman found her way to Love, even though her life belonged to the men who purchased her. That Love gave her a new Life, which could never be determined by her circumstances. To find such purpose and healing in music is surely a sign of spiritual freedom and depth most of us can only long for.

What is the music that moves you like Rabi’a?

What song insists that you dance? What melody calms your soul? What moves you to forgive not just humanity, but even God?

 

 

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“The Love Religion”

The inner space inside

that we call the heart

has become many different

living scenes and stories.

 

A pasture for sleek gazelles,

a monastery for Christian monks,

a temple with Shiva dancing,

a kaaba for pilgrimage.

 

The tablets of Moses are there,

the Qur’an, the Vedas,

the sutras, and the gospels.

 

Love is the religion in me.

Whichever way love’s camel goes,

that way becomes my faith,

the source of beauty and a light

of sacredness over everything.

 

Ibn Arabi, a 12th century great Sufi master and saint

When we encounter one of the “great ones,” we tend to believe they are completely original in their thoughts, radically different in their teachings, from everyone who came before them.  But when you dig deeper into their history, you often find they are following in the footsteps of another. We are all standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us. In the case of Rumi, Arabi came first.

I appreciate this poem’s definition of the “heart,” not just as an internal organ, but as that sacred space where we find ourselves most at home, most alive to our inner life, soul and consciousness. The heart is a place, a teaching, a community. Most of us find our “heart” in one place, one tribe, or one text, but Arabi knows no such limitation. His heart’s home is anywhere permeated by the scent, beauty and sacred light of Love.

Though born, raised and worshipping in Catholic Christian communities, I found early on that my heart, like Arabi’s, tended to follow “love’s camel.”

 

 

 

 

Was it just me, or did anyone else confuse a Tasmanian Devil with a whirling dervish in their childhood? When I was younger, I knew of only one difference: Taz was an actual star of a cartoon show. That was it. I had no idea whether a whirling dervish was man or beast, good or evil, though I tended to think the latter. Whenever the phrase was used in my childhood home, it had a negative connotation. It meant I needed to slow down, to stop being so wild. For the sake of my mother’s nerves and my backside, I needed to be still.

I hadn’t thought about my juvenile transposition of those terms for many, many years, but recently a friend posted this picture of me on Facebook, which was taken at her wedding last summer.

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Uh-oh, I thought, but I figured that it might get even worse, or better, depending on how you look at it. I was right. Apparently, we were just getting started. This moment followed.

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My partner and I were like turbines picking up steam. Though I haven’t seen the photographic evidence, I have vague memories of being sprawled across the dance floor, on our bums, laughing hysterically.

When I saw these photos, my mother’s phrase “whirling dervish” immediately came to mind. It had been 30 years since it had been used to scold me for playing so wildly with my friends. It was always followed by an encouragement to read instead, to pick up our messes, or at the very least to go outside! And since I am now an adult with access to cool technology like the Internet and Wikipedia, I decided to look up the term for myself. Imagine my surprise when I saw beautiful images like this one below.

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Whirling dervishes are not a menace to society, some wild, uncontrollable animal, or a tic that overtakes someone like a seizure, or a stroke. A whirling dervish is someone who dances in circles in order worship and discover God. They don’t even refer to themselves by that name. Technically, they are the Mevlevi sect of Sufism.

 In my research, I also discovered a beautiful quote by a member of that sect, Sherif Baba. He said,  “The dervish whirls so that the true form of the world can be seen. When we whirl, all the individual pieces we think are separate blend together and we begin to sense the totality that is God.”

Amen to that. When I read why a dervish whirls, my need to spin on the dance floor with my lovely friend on my arm became crystal clear. We had joyously celebrated her marriage a few short years before and now, she is going through some events that are unexpected, unwanted and frankly, unpleasant and yet together, we were celebrating the marriage of another friend. The bride’s childhood had been marked by a tragic loss, but her commitment to her new husband signified a belief in hope, joy, love, and the promise of all those blessings in greater measure in her future. Life spins on its axis and we are constantly called to accept changes in our circumstances and perspective.

 I tend to seek God in stillness, in the slow, silent moments of the dark morning, or the star-filled night. I find it difficult to see the Divine Presence in the fractal events of my life, particularly when they are upsetting or tragic. I am more likely to view them as something to be borne, something to be gotten through, rather than an opportunity to “sense the totality of God.”

 But the dance floor offers me another way. If I follow the example of the whirling dervishes, I might remember that sometimes, God can best be found in chaos, in change, in the very eye of the storm. If the Divine Presence is the centrifugal force of life, then sometimes we must spin in order to lose our own egos as the central reference point for all things. There is wisdom in letting go, in dancing through life, “so that the true form of the world can be seen.”