from The Themes of Rumi's World
Ecstasy and Intoxication
Ordinarily we think of spiritual practice, with its images of monks and nuns praying in cells or meditating silently in zendos for long hours, days, and weeks at a time, as sober and serious undertakings. Rumi’s spirituality, however, is anything but a sober affair. Rumi loves the ecstatic dancer (and became one himself), who loses herself in surrendering to the movements of her body, and avoids the sober theologian who tries to convince us with his arguments (that come across as a touch sterile). For Rumi, reason when applied to religion is an impediment to God; the real action of religion is an ecstatic explosion of energies through the body and mind that may leave us looking like a happy drunk on a bender.
There is some controversy as to exactly what kind of wine Rumi keeps urging us to get drunk on. Certainly he is referring to the divine wine of bodily sensation itself that, once kindled and activated, releases forth powerful and profound energies that we have no choice but to surrender to and become totally intoxicated by. Once these bodily energies awaken and start moving in and through us, we may look very drunk indeed.
However, most of us most of the time have little awareness of the divine wine that is bottled up in our body. Research studies suggest that we are using only 5 to 15 percent of the capability and capacity of our brains, but what is also true is that we probably only feel, at any given moment, between 5 and 15 percent of the full range of tactile sensations that fill our body from head to foot. Sensation (wild, alive, vibrant, ecstatic) can be felt to exist on every part of the body down to the smallest cell, but many (more reasonable) people never take advantage of the invitation to drink from this divine open bar. Rumi exhorts us to rekindle an awareness of body as a field of ecstatic, vibratory sensation. As a young man he was taught by his father, who himself was an accomplished mystic, the doctrine of ma’iyya, which tells us that God cannot be found in the mind alone, and not even in the heart, but needs to be felt as a physical sensation in each and every part of the body.
Islam strictly forbids the consumption of alcohol. Even so, Rumi’s shattering revelation during his retreats with his great friend Shams showed him a path beyond the rules and regulations of organized religion. It is known, for example, that Shams would tell Rumi to purchase and consume wine as a way to push his friend beyond his attachment to the orthodox ways. Music and dance are also prohibited in the strictest vision of Islam, and we know that Rumi went far beyond that prohibition. He would keep urging the musicians to keep playing longer so he could keep moving his body in response to the impulses he felt deep within. The word ecstasy can be thought of as ex-stasis, or the coming out of a condition of stillness, and who is less still than the wild dancer surrendering to whatever movements want to erupt through his body?
In any case, Rumi tells us that the cautious and sober-minded person is never going to fall into God’s embrace. Become drunk on the divine, and then drink some more. Rumi wants us to turn ourselves into raging, divine alcoholics, wildly drunk on the energies of God, and certainly this vision is a breath of fresh air for all of us who have felt the longing in our hearts to reunite with the energies of the divine, but who never have been able to satisfy that longing through the sober rituals and ceremonies that take place in the more orthodox churches, mosques, temples, meditation halls, and ashrams of this world.
at the break of dawn
an early morning breeze passes by scattering musk
friend, where does that beautiful smell come from?
why are you sleeping?
life is passing us by
don’t miss that beautiful smell
a caravan of musk is passing right now
forgive this sleepless servant
forgive the thirsty people who don’t have water forgive
because the one who doesn’t know how to forgive
can’t get close to God
there can be no joy or happiness
no harmony in the world
even if hundreds of raindrops fall from the cloud
no secret pearls can be found in the sea
without the rhythms of love
my beauty had his feelings hurt
by my constantly reciting verses
he told me:
“are you measuring me with the meters of the poem?”
“tell me what verse you’d like me to recite”
he answered: “how could I fit into any one verse?”
but this glass of morning wine also exists
I get up
I walk around
I get drunk in front of the tall cypress
then melt completely away
so that nothing remains but him
he clapped his hands when he saw me drunk
“he’s broken his vow again
and is staggering around like a drunk”
repentance is like a glass blower
it’s hard to make a bottle
easy to break it
many struggles take place at the table of union
which has been set since the beginning of time
so much has been eaten at that table
and yet the table remains unchanged
nothing is missing
just like a bird that lands on top of a mountain
and then flies away
look and see
nothing is added to or taken off the mountain
sit next to God’s lovers
so that the smoke of your sorrow can be dispersed
and your confusions cleared away
don’t think about their faults
because they know your thoughts
even before you think them