Making room for Rumi and other teachers

I am inspired again by Rumi this week.  I have a couple of collections of his poetry and find much of it hard to access.  For me, it’s worth the time to keep reading on and on, finding those pieces that speak to me and wondering if other parts might  be just the right medicine one day in the future.  Who could have guessed that all the hours I spent in college, perusing poetry for an essay topic, would be the practice I use today, to teach yoga?  More aptly, I use poetry to guide my life and feel for connection to other souls who also feel lost sometimes.  I continue to delight in the way that everything I’ve ever done can return, to give me a deeper understanding of this mysterious life.

Here is the poem I found to be especially poignant for me now:


Your grief for what you’ve lost lifts a mirror
up to where you’re bravely working.
Expecting the worst, you look, and instead,
here’s the joyful face you’ve been wanting to see.
Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralyzed.
Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
as birdwings.

The eight limbs of yoga include Svādyāya, or self-study, as one of the ten founding principles for moral support.  This is one of the niyamas, which, along with the yamas, which are the first two limbs of yoga practice.  Westerners tend to see āsana and maybe prānayama as the whole practice, but there is so much more for those who continue to study and seek growth.  Svādyāya encourages us to look at ourselves deeply, and also to study the lives of those we admire.  I also include studying the works of artists and creators of beauty in my practice.  We are encouraged to look to works of literature that endure, such as the yoga sutras, the Buddhist teachings, the Bible, the Koran.  I also love to read Shakespeare, Steinbeck and Rumi.  All of these writers convey stories that are still very much alive, right now!

When I look to ancient teachings and find myself right there in the text, I feel connected and affirmed.  I can kind of laugh, because we humans seem to keep repeating the same story lines, falling into the same obvious pits, and feeling we are so alone, as if no one has ever felt this way before.  In short, we suffer.

There is an adage I actually learned from a Mad magazine in my adolescence:  Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.  The comic showed a man picking up a stack of books, standing fully upright only to hit his head on the low ceiling, swearing and then dropping the stack of books.  As he gathers them again, he’s trying to remember the adage but keeps scrambling the words. As he stretches up again, he hits his head again, swears, drops the books again, and has to start all over.  Have you ever been there?  Swearing, frustrated, feeling the familiarity yet unable to see any way out?  I sure have!

Maybe Mad magazine should be included in my cannon of texts that can endure and keep teaching beyond the life of their pages!

Rumi’s poem helps me remember that I am neither a closed nor open hand, that I am always in process.  Whenever someone asks me how I am these days, the answer is some variation of, “Up and down, up and down”.  I am relieved to hear that this “up and down” is just like the birdwings, that I actually need both ends of the spectrum, and all the points in between.

Who inspires you?  Is it a writer, film maker, musician?  Consider learning about their life.  Usually we see a great master and that life looks like a good one.  Inquiry into their biography usually shows strong, persevering practice (known as abhyasa in the yoga sutras) as well as letting go, honoring that this individual could never have done the work without support, in other people as well as maybe the divine (vairagya, from the sutras).  The image of birdwings is often used for these two ideas as well – practice and detachment.

Well friends, I hope this is some support to you today.  I encourage you to learn more about the people you admire, living or not.  Notice how your life may be similar or different, ponder what you’d like to do.  En route, notice all of the increments of change in each day, each moment.  If you feel like a tight fist, open more.  If you’re feeling untethered, consider how to strengthen.