by Brandon Nappi
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened.... Let the beauty we love be what we do. – Rumi, as interpreted by Coleman Barks
The most widely read poet today has been dead for 700 years. Yet the voice of Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, otherwise known as Rumi, is as alive as ever. It’s a rather peculiar fact that despite many Americans’ political suspicion of things Middle Eastern, we can’t seem to get enough of this medieval Muslim mystic from thirteenth-century Afghanistan. Why is this? As I prepare to offer a day retreat this spring on the intersection of Rumi’s poetry and mindfulness practice, I’ve been giving my mind and heart to this question. Here are some initial hypotheses:
1. Ageless Wisdom for Our Age
We live in an era of multiplicity. From toilet paper to breakfast cereal, we have exponentially more choices than ever. When we truly look more deeply, many of these options are hollow: we read fake news, wear synthetic clothing, eat artificial food and create superficial relationships. As we process more information than ever before, we crave the truth. If wisdom is the capacity to live the truth in love, then many are longing to discover, experience and live what is lasting and grounded in this rapidly changing world. Rumi’s wisdom offers true nourishment for souls who are hungry for real food.
We are coming to understand how interconnected the world is. The daily choices we make impact everyone and everything. Nearly every spiritual tradition teaches at its essence that there is no separation between what is ultimate, which many name as God, and the world of material phenomena. The creator and the created are inseparably intertwined.
When we fail to recognize this essential oneness, we suffer and we cause others to suffer. When we act from the understanding of unity, we contribute to the flourishing and wellbeing of the world. This act of acting from a place of wholeness and connection with the divine and one another is called love. In a world that is increasingly fragmented, Rumi celebrates this unity and invites us to know it ourselves.
3. Spiritual (but Not Religious) Longing
While Rumi’s wise insight is born from deep within the Islamic tradition, many Americans struggle to find a home within mainstream religious institutions. While fewer Americans are participating in the traditional structures of religion, the deep spiritual hungers of the soul have not gone away. Questions of purpose and meaning along with the longing for connection and love surge within the human heart as much today as ever. Fundamentally, many of us are wondering: Who am I in relationship to the universe, to God and to my neighbor? Fresh translations of Rumi’s verse persistently meet these deep questions which leap forth from within us. Many find in Rumi a guide and friend to assure us that we are not alone in this spiritual odyssey of life.