After a luminous piece of poetry attributed to Rumi was used as a conclusion to the award-winning movie “The Shape of Water”, the 13th-century mystic poet has been enjoying a tsunami of renewed attention. There appears to be a Rumi quote for every occasion or concept under the sun. Because of his connection to the movie, I wrote an exploration of Rumi on the subject of love in a previous post HERE. But I found so much more than that, when I went looking. So, the RUMInations continue – this time, it’s Rumi on wisdom.
“Study me as much as you like, you will not know me, for I differ in a hundred ways from what you see me to be. Put yourself behind my eyes and see me as I see myself, for I have chosen to dwell in a place you cannot see.” ~ Rumi
I was a teenager of some description when I found myself in a position where I could get a T-shirt on which I could put any slogan I liked. What did I pick? “I’m just me”. The T-shirt is long defunct, and that teenage rebellion long over, but the statement endures.
You can only be the thing that you truly are. Anything else will exhaust you and grind you down. You can only pretend for so long before it all breaks apart and the truth comes out.
There has been much talk about how a personality comes across when you’re online and whether you can create and maintain a completely different persona. Well, I’ve been active online for a long time, gaining a foothold in the cyberworld. I’ve met a lot of people out there. And it’s funny, but somehow they all eventually turn out to be no more than themselves.
People who tried a persona that was radically different, a grafted-on personalities, always fail. Sooner or later something will slip, and you’ll glimpse the real face behind the mask. Some fundamental thing will escape. And if there’s a dark core to someone who seems to be SUCH a nice person… it will eventually shine through the niceness, like black mold coming through on a pale wall.
Like the long-gone T-shirt said, “I’m just me”, and that’s all you can ever be. And people who glory in that – who aren’t desperately trying to hide every little fault because they’re afraid of judgment but are honest and sincere in their beliefs – are at least people you can trust. Not necessarily like, some people’s sincerely held beliefs may be enough to make you run for the horizon. But TRUST. You know what you’re getting.
In one sense, that’s precisely what Rumi advocates. But in another sense – understanding another being at this kind of level IS putting yourself “behind their eyes” and looking at the world through those eyes, not your own. You may not like what you see through that filter, that prism, those other eyes. But that’s the way that other person sees the world.
And you either accept that fact – that there IS a different way of seeing the world, whether you agree with that or not – or you simply declare that your way is the only way and close your mind to everything else around you. That’s almost always tragic.
Look, you don’t have to agree with everyone on everything. You don’t even have to think that someone else’s way of thinking and speaking and living are remotely defensible on any kind of grounds that you can bring yourself to bear on the situation. But they exist, those “others”. You can understand that they exist. And then you have a choice – you can agree with them, you can disagree with them and ignore them, or you can (if you believe in something strongly enough and believe that they are an existential threat to that thing) fight them.
Rumi has a quote for that too:
“Ignore those that make you fearful and sad, that degrade you back towards disease and death.”
You have to begin by understanding that you will never completely understand those others. That they will always be just alien enough from you that you will find something about them to not understand.
Philosophy is hard.
However, and here’s Rumi again,
“If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?”
There are times you need to be rubbed up against by things you find difficult or irritating or annoying. That’s part of being human, of growing older, of growing wiser. And you never ever stop learning. If you think that too much of this – of rubbing away at your rough edges – is not really going to smooth them over so much as rub you out, or hurt you – Rumi says,
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
I heard that one before, In a Leonard Cohen song I love. Who knew that this wisdom gets around so widely, that it’s out there everywhere, that all you need to learn about it is to open yourself to receiving it when it crosses your path, brushes against your spirit and your mind and asks to be let in?
You will get hurt, living. That’s what living does. That’s what living means. You’re constantly emerging from some chrysalis or another, shedding your skin or your carapace, emerging as a vulnerable new being with new lessons learned. But – to paraphrase another saying – what the uninitiated might see as the death of the caterpillar, the master sees as the birth of the butterfly.
A butterfly who might be ready to beat its wings and change the future.
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
You will lose things, along the way. Things you loved and treasured. Irreplaceable people whose absence you will feel all the rest of your days without them. Animals who gave you their heart and their trust, and who take a piece of your own heart with them when their too-short lives are over and they leave you behind. Living is loss, by definition – but with every loss comes a kind of gain, too. Rumi knew:
“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.”
The only way to live life in wisdom is to live it as fully and completely as you are able. Rumi has several appropriate quotes that touch on that subject:
“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.”
Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation.
“There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled.
There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled.
You feel it, don’t you?”
And finally – one that speaks to me personally, as a storyteller:
“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.”
That’s all I can do, in the end. Tell my own story, my own stories, give voice to whispers out of the shadows. My own distillation of a dose of this wisdom is simply this: “Be who you are”. And I am one who dreams, who watches, who listens, who writes.
My own myth is a work in progress.
Rumi on love, my first RUMInations essay HERE
‘Looking at our world sideways’
“For Women’s History Month“, Irene Radford writes in a guest blog for Gillian Polack’, “I have chosen to write about a modern woman who I feel is making history in the stories she writes by granting us the privilege of looking at our world sideways.”
She is talking about me and I am honored by her words and grateful to Gillian for providing the platform, You can read it HERE