Recommended Reading for Dietas 3. “One-Handed Basket Weaving” – Poems on the Theme of Work by Rumi
At the last moment I threw this book of poems by Rumi into my rucksack, along with the seven other books I had decided to take to my thirty day dieta. My friends keep advising me to buy a Kindle. I can see it would make traveling much lighter, but I like the feel of a book in my hands. I like physically turning the pages.
This is a collection of poems by Rumi (1207-1273), the great Sufi teacher and mystic, translated by Coleman Barks and selected by him from the Mathnawi, Rumi’s six volume masterpiece that he wrote in the last twelve years of his life.
I have to say, too, that to my mind, Coleman Barks is by far and away the best translator of Rumi. He manages to use a mixture of contemporary and ancient language in a way that deeply honors the spirit of the poems and gives the poems an eternally present feel.
One of the advantages of the internet is that it makes people accessible. I tracked down his publisher’s site and wrote to Coleman Barks expressing my appreciation for his work in translating the poems in this collection. He replied: “I love that book too. It got put together by something other than my ego.”
I already knew many of the poems in this collection. I had found consolation in the book in the darkest of days fifteen or so years ago when I was struggling with my work as a management consultant. At that time, the following poem was particularly meaningful.
The City of Saba
Once in the city of Saba
there was a glut of wealth.
Everyone had more than enough.
Even the bath-stokers wore gold belts.
Huge grape clusters hung down
on every street and brushed the faces
of the citizens. No one had to do
You could balance
an empty basket on your head and walk
through any orchard, and it would fill
by itself with overripe fruit
dropping into it.
Stray dogs strayed
in lanes full of thrown-out scraps
with barely a notice.
The lean desert wolf
got indigestion from the rich food.
Everyone was fat and satiated
with all the extra.
There were no robbers.
There was no energy for crime,
or for gratitude.
And no one wondered
about the unseen world. The people of Saba
felt bored with just the mention of prophecy.
They had no desire of any kind. Maybe
Some idle curiosity about miracles,
but that was it.
is a subtle disease. Those who have it
are blind to what’s wrong, and deaf
to anyone who points it out.
The city of Saba
can not be understood from within itself!
But there is a cure,
an individual medicine,
not a social remedy:
Sit quietly, and listen
for a voice within that will say,
Be more silent.
As that happens,
your soul starts to revive.
Give up talking, and your positions of power.
Give up the excessive money.
Turn towards the teachers
and the prophets who don’t live in Saba.
They can help you grow sweet again
and fragrant and wild and fresh
and thankful for any small event.
Writing that poem out now, it feels extraordinary. I can’t think of a better critique of contemporary capitalism.
In some of the ceremonies, the poems would return to me and, hopefully this will not sound overly pretentious or aggrandizing, I understood, (or better said), I saw more clearly, their spiritual truth.
For example, and bear with me whilst I quote the first half of another poem:
The King’s Falcon
The king had a noble falcon,
who wandered away one day,
and into the tent of an old woman,
who was making dumpling stew
for her children.
“Who’s been taking care
of you?”, she asked, quickly tying
the falcon’s foot.
his magnificent wings and cut
his fierce talons and fed him straw.
who doesn’t know how to treat falcons,”
she answered herself,
“but your mother knows!”
Friend, this kind of talk is a prison.
The king spent all day
looking for his falcon, and came at last
to that tent and saw his fine raptor
standing on a shelf in the smoky steam
of the old women’s cooking.
“You left me
The falcon rubbed his wings
against the king’s hand, feeling wordlessly
what was almost lost.
This falcon is one who,
through grace, gets to sit close to the king,
and so thinks he’s on the same level
as the king.
Then he turns his head for a moment,
and he’s in the old woman’s tent.
Don’t feel special
in the king’s presence.
be mannerly and thankful
and very humble.
A falcon is an image of that part of you
that belongs with the king.
The first four of the last six lines are the best advice you could get about how to approach La Madre Ayahuasca.
It’s going to be hard not to include every poem. Best to get hold of the book yourself. Here is one more poem which I think expresses beautifully that feeling that sometimes come to all of us at the end of a ceremony:
This We have Now
This we have now
is not imagination.
This is not
grief or joy.
Not a judging state,
or an elation
This is the presence
It’s dawn, Husam,
here in the splendor of coral,
inside the Friend, the simple truth
of what Hallaj said.
What else could human beings want?
When grapes turn to wine,
When the nightsky pours by,
it’s really a crowd of beggars,
and they all want some of this!
that we are now
created the body, cell by cell,
like bees building a honeycomb.
The human body and the universe
grew from this, not this
from the universe and the human body.
And just to show that Rumi was way ahead of the film ‘The Matrix’ and that furthermore, whilst optimistic, he is not peddling any kind of wishy washy, new-age philosophy, but has an uncompromising fierceness:
The Dream That Must be Interpreted
This place is a dream.
Only a sleeper considers it real.
Then death comes like dawn,
and you wake up laughing
at what you thought was your grief.
But there’s a difference with this dream.
Everything cruel and unconscious
done in the illusion of the present world,
all that does not fade away at the death-waking.
and it must be interpreted.
All the mean laughing,
all the quick, sexual wanting, those torn coats of Joseph,
they change into powerful wolves
that you must face.
The retaliation that sometimes comes now,
the swift, payback hit,
is just a boy’s game
to what the other will be.
You know about circumcision here.
It’s full castration there!
And this groggy time we live,
this is what it’s like:
A man goes to sleep in the town
where he has always lived, and he dreams he’s living
in another town.
In the dream, he doesn’t remember
the town he’s sleeping in his bed in. He believes
the reality of the dream-town.
This world is that kind of sleep.
Well worth thinking about what are “those torn coats of Joseph” that we each wear.
Finally, to conclude, two short passages from poems that could be the best advice you will ever receive.
1. From ‘Humble and Active’:
The saying, Whatever God wills will happen,
does not end, “Therefore be passive.”
Rather, it means, Forget yourself,
and get ready to help.
2. Turning Towards Kindness
Anyone who genuinely and constantly with both hands
looks for something, will find it.
Though you are lame and bent over, keep moving
toward the Friend. With speech, with silence,
with sniffing about, stay on the track.
Whenever some kindness comes to you, turn
that way, towards the source of kindness.
Love-things originate in the ocean.
Restlessness leads to rest.