What you really love

essential rumiI am one of those people who would like to quote 13th-century Persian mystic Rumi at you in times of trouble, woe, and general discombobulation—but I refrain. I refrain because I don’t want to seem like a crazy person flimsily disguised as a smugly spiritual person. I may sometimes be smug, but I would never describe myself as spiritual—I like The Trailer Park Boys and the expletive “shitty balls!” too much to fit anywhere within that category.

But it would also be disingenuous not to admit that reading Rumi’s mystical poetry has radically improved my outlook on life, and therefore my actual life, many times over the years. It is not, to me, a contradiction to admit to having had a number of profound spiritual experiences and to also be possessed of a stolid and unconcerned agnosticism. If it is a contradiction, I don’t care; life, like rock n’ roll, isn’t a theory: YOU GOTTA LIVE IT. And living, being harder even than accepting that some people sincerely believe that Madonna was better than Cyndi Lauper in their respective 80s heydays, requires all the outside, inside and otherworldly help that can be got at.

I take my help where I can get it: whether that be from the people who unaccountably love me very much but are also comfortable enough to make fun of my maudlin self-regard, or from Fergie songs, fat novels, chocolate-covered almonds and British panel shows (in no particular order). Rumi has been my most consistent source of help from a non-living person; his poetry has helped me break up with people when needed and mend relationships ditto. In the absence of any sane adults, Rumi’s been good to have around.

The thing about Rumi, though, is that a lot of it doesn’t make sense on first (or tenth) read; and it’s always a toss-up whether that incomprehensibility is my fault (not mature, thoughtful, open-minded enough) or his (punch-drunk, God-drunk, love-drunk). One bit in particular has stumped me over the years, but not for any of the above reasons; on the contrary, it’s been too terribly clear what the question is and that I have had no answer at all:

Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love.

Until very recently (said the 39-year-old with multiple degrees and an often very decided manner about her), I had no idea what this might be. Reading this line would make me feel sad and crazy and lost because I thought I really should know.

I did know, of course, at some level. But life isn’t only a thing to be lived rather than theorized about, it’s also a pile-on; it can be difficult to have spiritual experiences or make basic life decisions when the past has you in a vicious, choking headlock. Sometimes mere survival has to take precedence. The past can cast a terribly long and heavy shadow; that must be wrangled and wrestled with first.

Wrangling is still in progress but for the most part, I’m the one doing the head-locking these days, and all this fresh air and increasing lung capacity is making me a little giddy. It’s so clear now what it is that I really love, what I should be doing every moment I can: writing and writing and writing. No spiritual platitudes here about things happening for a reason, or fate, or any similar mush: writing is My Best Thing (my best thing that isn’t a person, or a relationship with a person) but I get to do it now only because besides being smart, beautiful, kind, loving, hilarious, possessed of a fine ass, and a lover of books and cats, my husband is a steady sort able to work consistently in 9-5 environments. Starting now, we’re going to have to tighten our belts—but we’re still going to have belts to tighten.

And here we are, back at Rumi; I promise not to go back to sleep.

For years, copying other people, I tried to know myself.

From within, I couldn’t decide what to do.

Unable to see, I heard my name being called.

Then I walked outside.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.

Don’t go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.

Don’t go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill

where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.

Don’t go back to sleep.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Brook says:

    I knew poetry could be good for me and good at the same time.

    1. Colleen says:

      Your incurable optimism is another reason I love you so damned much.

  2. “So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.” Virginia Woolf

    1. Colleen says:

      Bless V. Woolf. 🙂

      1. On her birthday even : )

  3. heidenkind says:

    It’s a good decision. Rumi was absolutely right.

  4. Stefanie says:

    I love Rumi! He is the awesomest of awesome. He is good to have around. Have your read Hafiz at all? He’s a lot like Rumi in many ways but Rumi will always be my go-to man. Those Sufi poets knew what was what. All the best on your writing adventures!

    1. Colleen says:

      Thanks, Stefanie! Yes, I have read Hafiz but like you, Rumi is my main squeeze.

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