How We Move In Grace, by Jelaluddin Rumi
Doing prayer and meditation at a particular time, fasting, and going on pilgrimmage are outward statements of inner intention. Giving to charity and giving up jealousy are ways to say how it is inside us. Serving food and welcoming guests into your house are actions meant to mean, I feel so close to you. Any time you exert yourself by going somewhere, giving money, or taking time to pray, you are saying, There is a priceless jewel inside me. Fasting says, I have not eaten even what is permitted. I must want no connection to what is not. Giving to the poor says, I am distributing my own property. Certainly, I will not steal from others. There are, though, fowlers who throw out grain to snare birds, and cats who pretend to fast, fast-asleep, when they are really peeking through eye-slits to ambush prey. They give generosity a bad name. But despite all the crookedness, water comes from the star Arcturus to wash even the hypoccrites. When our water here becomes saturated with pollution, it gets led back to the original water, the ocean. After a year of receiving starlight, the water returns, sweeping new robes along. Where have you been? In the ocean of purity. Now I'm ready for more cleaning work. Give me your demons. I'll take them to sea. If there were no impurity, what would water do? It shows its glory in how it washes a face, and in other qualities as well, the way it grows the grass and how it lifts a ship across to another port. Every medicinal ointment derives essence from water, as every pearl and every seed. A river is a shop of salves, food for the abandoned, movement for those who are stuck. When the river slows with the weight of silt and corruption, it grows sad and prays, Lord, what you gave me I gave others. Is there more? Can you give more? Clouds then draw up the riverwater, and dissolve it in to the ocean. What this means is we often need to be refreshed. Mingling with surroundings, the soul falls ill. It calls out to the first caller-out, Bilal, reveive us. Beat the drum that glides us along. As the body stands at prayer, the soul says, Peace, my friend, then leaves for a while. When it comes back, you don't have to do ablutions with sand anymore or guess which way to point the prayer rug. Water is the story of how we are helped. Hot baths prepare us to enter fire. Only salamanders can go directly in without an intermediary, salamanders and Abraham. The rest of us need guidance from water. Satisfaction comes from God, but to get there you need to eat bread. Beauty comes from the presence, but those of us in bodies must walk in a garden to feel it. When this body-medium goes, we will see directly the light that lives in the chest. The qualities of water show how we move inside grace.
I make lots of mistakes and I forget myself sometimes and sometimes I start doing things for the wrong reasons; ego instead of truth. It’s a humbling feeling to realize that again. Again I examine my methods, my intentions, my practices, my thought patterns, what I want to create and who I want to be, and reconfigure. I aim to try ways of being that will stick, that will change the way my brain works, and slowly I think I am doing that. But there are traps in trying to lead a spiritual life. Spiritual bypass, doing it for praise or in too public of a manner, taking credit for what “you” accomplish when you have actually been successful at getting out of the way so that spirit, in the form of inspiration, can flow through you. So though I may feel I am on the right path for me, every path has it’s traps and challenges.
Part of my challenge recently has been this writing practice. It opens me up and I love to share, especially the moments where I am laughing at myself. It feels healthy to accept my flawed humanness. But now that I have established it I find myself going back and agonizing over the words, perfecting perfecting perfecting, striving to create something that every day is mind-blowing and insightful….and you can see where I’m going with this. What had begun as a healthy practice my ego has been trying to turn into another venue for launching self-criticism and accumulating praise.
I’m going to keep the practice, but part of it right now is going to be publishing something regardless of whether it comes out right, or sounds good, and then leaving it alone. It will give me a regular opportunity to be humble, seeing and being okay with the distance between what I want to accomplish ultimately with my writing, and where I am really right now. Hopefully it will be a way to work through the places where my ego is in the way. Am I the cat with the slit-eyes playing at fasting, or am I giving up jealousy to say how it really is inside me?
In the end I think we are all both in different moments. In wanting your outer and inner worlds to be one, to manifest each other, there is a lot of work to do, and it is never done. As we go about in the world our motivations are affected, our intentions become blurred and can begin to look like shallow words, conceits that don’t reflect accurately our inner dialogue, but rather what we would like our inner world to be. This may seem harsh, but I think it is really the nature of living in this world. If you don’t live in a monastery (perhaps even if you do) you are going to be confronted by situations that challenge you to be the person you think you are or want to be. When we face those situations unconsciously it becomes pretty easy to slip into an action or thought pattern that doesn’t reflect our deepest desires; patterns perhaps that reflect more fear or selfishness. I can’t say how many times this has happened to me, and it’s humbling every time. The hope is that it gets easier to catch yourself, longer between those moments, and easier to pick yourself up and get back on the horse. I can say that in the short time I have been practicing it has gotten easier. I can laugh easier too. But I want to say that the humility gained from realizing our foibles may be hard to face, but once you do, it does feel purifying. Humility, like the grace of water in the poem, cleans your face, washes your heart and sets in motion your souls refreshment. And then, on this day, you begin again.