I’m taking a seminar in poetry and mysticism that I’m finding very interesting. In our first class, the professor suggested that absolute language is impossible to describe ecstasy either in terms of religion or love. We try to approximate it but it really can’t be done.
Both tilt toward the enigmatic yet there seems to be new found traction in popular culture for both. Madonna’s fervor for Kabbalah, a Jewish interpretation of mysticism, has raised awareness of the mystical side of all the mainstream religions; and new age language of spirituality and search for simplicity, has brought about a resurgence of interest in the 13th and 14th century poets Rumi and Hafiz whose humble nuggets of joy resonate with us.
An example of a Hafiz poem: Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you.
Who would want to argue with that whether or not you think the subject is love or God?
And Rumi: The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep.
Or how about this? Let the beauty we love be what we do/There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
What we want and think hasn’t changed much over the years, has it?
The use of metaphor in our lives isn’t always for the best. Most of us think metaphor as incomprehensible poetry from high school English class. But when it comes right down to it, we live our lives in metaphor. In the simplest definition, metaphor is a symbol, a stand-in of one thing for another.
We do a really good job in finding things to substitute for what we really want. We engage in retail therapy, the finding of things to fill up something intangible—loneliness, an unreasonable boss, an estrangement with a parent. As we eat a gallon of ice cream or bag of potato chips, we swallow our self- pity. We either give up the foods we love or consume them in excess to mask what’s really going on within us. We nitpick each other instead of honestly talking over the big problems.
I like to read the simple words of the mystics when I feel like I’m losing myself, losing some grounding in my life. My favorite Hafiz poem is a great way to start a day.
“Even After All this time/The Sun never says to the Earth,/”You owe me.”
Look/What happens/With a love like that,/It lights the whole sky.”
Here are a few maybes to consider:
Maybe metaphor and mysticism aren’t so mysterious after all.
Maybe we should try to live with less metaphor and shoot for the real thing.
And maybe the mystics are trying to tell us what we already know to be true.