Falling in love you remain a child; rising in love you mature. By and by love becomes not a relationship, it becomes a state of your being. Not that you are in love—now you are love.
None of the great poets of the twentieth century that we so revere have come close to understanding what Rumi and the great mystics understand. This is why a poet like Rumi is so important because in him we find the progression of spiritual love. We find both the record of the bliss and joy of union, and a record of the price, the cost, the stages, the evasions.
Love is a battlefield. But when our hearts are on fire, we can seek shelter in love’s glory, or as Rumi, the great love poet, so eloquently put into words:
What do you hope to find
In the soul’s streets
In the bloody streets of the heart
That have no news even of yourself?
At least you loved enough, in order to be transformed by love—to have felt something so deeply, powerfully in the marrow of your bones that your life will never be the same. I believe that life is worth living in any condition, and I know what it feels like to wish you were dead. Because I am not missing my limbs, nor was my face burned off in a fire, over all, I have been pretty lucky.
This is why Rumi says:
Heart, be brave, if you cannot bear grief—go
Love’s glory is not a small thing.
Come in if you are fearless;
Shudder, and this is not your house.
Rumi always missed his beloved. We see it in some of the last odes when he says, “Today somebody said his name, Shams, and all the beauty of my youth came back and I was lost in tears.”
There is profound tenderness in that grief because Rumi has opened himself to his utmost vulnerability. To accept that you can love someone with every cell of your being, that their separation from you is actually killing you, is to open yourself completely to the beautiful fragility of love, loneliness, desolation, suffering of the human experience—to be cut open by love, because love’s glory has blood all over it.
Until finally, the lover and the beloved are united with the entire cosmic love. Rumi writes:
“You could have anything,” you once said.
I laughed. What could anything be
Without you? All the world is driftwood
Thrown up from your sea.
Everything could be stripped from me, but my happiness would still remain. We must be willing to dissect our hearts, and shed blood, all over the Goddamned place, in order to be transformed by love—to empty ourselves enough in order to be filled with the joy and bliss of opening our hearts to a universal and greater love. As Rumi says in these poems in Love’s Fire:
Have you no dignity, my heart,
Scattering always like dust in the wind?
You are in the fire? Let’s leave you there.
Terror will make you subtle.
Anyone that has lived through heartbreak, loss, death, and all of the writhing of the ego as it burns to death, knows that the most difficult thing is to recognize how little we want to love, and how afraid we are to find ourselves broken, empty, desolate and lost. This is a necessary condition to the beauty of opening to love. To shed the walls, and barriers of love is the key to love—but not to seek for love. We must break our own hearts, over and over again. We must be destroyed by love in order to become love. We want the joy and bliss of love, but we do not want to make ourselves empty enough in order to receive them.
I groaned, he burnt me while I groaned.
I fell silent, his fire fell on me.
He drove me out beyond all limit,
I ran inside, he burnt me there.
Let us now talk more precisely about the burning. The author of The way of Passion: A Celebration of Rumi, mystic Andrew Harvey, offers his keen insight:
“…First, take a damp, dank log into a roaring fire. There is a lot of spitting, and the dark grimy smoke comes out of that dank log. The fire has to enter the log, but the log is damp and covered with grimy, old, dank moss—I am so depressed, my mother abused me, I lost my job, I lost seventeen girlfriends in a row, I want to kill myself, the world is ending, I am just sick of the whole experience, I want to die—that is the damp, dank log that we identify with, that is the ego, the endless whining, self-piteous, dreary voice that goes on and on. What happens first is purification. Purification is frightening, because in the fire a lot of spitting and black smoke, a lot of difficulty happens. Then expansion: the fire enters the log and the Light enters. You burn in the fire and the blaze is without interference now because the impurities have been burnt away. The final stage can never be talked about and no one, not even Rumi, has ever described it.”
I groaned, “Be quiet,” he said,
I was quiet: he said, “Groan!”
I grew feverish, he said, “Be calm!”
I grew calm, he said, “I want you to burn.”
You have to ride it out, you have to make a commitment to suffering. It’s too late to turn back at this point, you just have to say, “I am going to go through this.” I have been burning in love for you all these years waiting for you to catch fire.
The first stage is like falling in love. The second stage is being in love and the third stage is being love. From falling in love to being in love to being love is the progression.
Harvey shares with his readers a beautiful story of love. Once, at a cemetery in India, he witnessed an old woman sobbing and sobbing at the grave of her son who had been tortured by Tamil terrorists. He continues:
“And I thought to myself and said to my companion, ‘I don’t want to love if that is what love is,’ and he said, ‘Are you crazy? What she feels is so immeasurably beautiful because she grieves that much, she loves that much, and love lives on in her.’ Love’s glory was in her weeping, love’s glory was in her sobbing, love’s glory was in the abandonment of her grief. That is love’s glory, and love’s glory has blood all over it.”
“When somebody dies of AIDS in your arms, love’s glory is the blood they spit onto your shirt as they are dying.
“Love’s glory is holding the two year old child dying of AIDS against your breast so that he can have some warmth before he goes, and knowing that as he goes, he will break your heart in a way that you never had your heart broken. Love’s glory is accepting the heartbreak and opening to it, not once, not a thousand times, but every second. Every second has a new heartbreak. Every piece of news has a disaster. Every turn of this desolate world brings new agonies, and love’s glory means accepting, opening, embracing them all, and giving love completely, unconditionally, at all moments, including the torturer and murderer.”
If you are burning alive in a crowded place and no one stops to see if you’re alright, and if you are bleeding, bleeding, bleeding to death—seek shelter in love’s fullest glory, the abandonment of your sorrow, the acceptance that you are just going to have to burn like the sphinx in order to rise from your own ashes. But remain open all of our lives—open yourself completely to feeling life’s experience it in its fullest glory.
We could sit at home in stupid meditation, blissing out, while people are dying in the streets—we should do something, love, break your heart. What you are going through is the most extremely difficult thing that you can possibly do. It is horrible to face just how little you want to love.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta