I am finding solace in this Rumi poem and I want to share it with you:
Who says words with my mouth?
All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that,
and I intend to end up there.
This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I’ll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I’m like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming when I fly off,
but who is it now in my ear who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?
Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way.
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.
This poetry, I never know what I’m going to say.
I don’t plan it.
When I’m outside the saying of it,
I get very quiet and rarely speak at all.
This poem says so much, offering some ways of seeing life that speak to me. Mostly, it puts me in a contemplative mood. What is the soul?
I like Rumi’s referring to our lives as a “prison for drunks”. Sometimes our behavior is like that of a drunk person, our reactivity, the words we say and then regret. He says that if he could have one sip of an answer about the soul, he could break out of this prison. Sometimes human life feels like we are trapped, caught by our own habits and unable to break free. Buddha says that in this life we are dreaming. Christians might say this in this life we are separate from God. Practice invites us to wake up, sober up and connect with our version of God.
There are so many practices for awakening: prayer, chanting, meditation, movement, sitting still, acts of service, giving away all of one’s material goods.
What are your practices? Is there time for reflection, to ponder the soul? Does it seem that you, like Rumi, came from somewhere else? Will you return there? Is that returning home dependent upon your present actions? Is it heaven or nirvana, this place or origin? Or will the soul be released, like smoke, to disperse into the great, eternal sky? Will you be reborn again, into this prison for drunks, finding yourself intoxicated into yet another scenario?
Rumi gives voice to our shared human experience of Not Knowing. We don’t get to know why we’re here and what we’re supposed to be doing. However, sometimes life offers moments of illumination or awakening. I have known moments of feeling utterly connected, so content in my place in the universe, but it never lasts. It’s said that Mother Teresa had a powerful awakening as a young woman, then spent the rest of her life in service, trying to connect again, but it didn’t happen. How could such a selfless life of service fail to reward her?
We can try to use yoga and meditation to achieve a goal, but it’s usually not helpful to approach practice this way. Patanjali advises that we take ‘strong persevering practice (abhyàsa), uninterrupted, over a long time in equal measure to detachment or surrendering the fruits of our labor (vairagya). The practice (abhyàsa) refers to seeking clarity in the mind but doesn’t say exactly how to do this. It seems that we’re meant to work really hard at contemplating things we don’t understand, like the soul, and equally let go of our findings.
The yogic teachings say that we have 5 layers or sheaths or bodies, called Koṣas: physical body, breath or life body, mental body, wisdom body, bliss body. We live through all 5 all of the time with various awareness of each one. Each is more subtle than the prior body, and at the center is our individual soul. More subtle than the individual soul is the universal soul. Yoga is the union of all the bodies and both souls. It is said that we can experience this in our human bodies and truly know oneness. We don’t leave out the physical nor the esoteric. Everything is included as a possible doorway to awakening. This can still sound like a lot of hard work!
This why I like Rumi’s approach: mostly questions, acknowledging how difficult it is to be ignorant and still persevering into this unknown. He clearly persevered, as he wrote thousands of poems. He is candid about his confusion, “Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea.”. Perhaps his last lines are the direction to follow:
“When I’m outside the saying of it,
I get very quiet and rarely speak at all.”
I invite you to experiment with some of Rumi’s offerings: dare to ponder your confusion, spend some time in playing with ideas about the soul, take some time in silence.
If you are feeling imprisoned by your habits, consider a yoga therapy session. I can help you free yourself from outdated habits, gain clarity, and move through transitions. Just shoot me an email if you’re curious.
Enjoy your practice.