Tuesday, April 28, 2009


The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill
Where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.

-- Jalaluddin Rumi.

A friend gave me a copy of this poem several years when I was on the cusp of a major change in my life. She'd seen me going back and forth; making up my mind and then trying to talk myself out of it for many months. It was a timely gift and it has hovered in the back of my mind ever since. It held great meaning for me then and, as time has gone on, it continues to, but the meaning has shifted for me a couple of times.

Originally, it reminded me not to go backwards and to awaken to new possibilities. The repeated line of "don't go back to sleep" became a kind of mantra for me during that time. Later on, when I was wrestling with an internal change, the line "you must ask for what you really want" became very important and it still reminds me of things I sometimes forget. And then, more recently, the concluding line of "the door is round and open" has moved into my consciousness as an invitation to move actively towards those things that I want in my life.

I fully realize that Rumi's poetry is primarily mystical, but interpretation is in the eye of the beholder. There are other poems of his that do touch me on a spiritual level, but this one speaks to an approach to everyday life for me. And the meaning shifts as I evolve.

It seems to be a given that this applies to any text with which we find meaningful. For those following an organized religion, I'm certain that their holy books must act this way as the individual progresses through life. Whether it be the Bible, the Torah, the Qur'an or the Gita, a person's understanding must change as he grows older and views them through the lens of different experiences. This is not limited to accepted texts, any writing that is meaningful to the individual can hold such a place in their life.

It is in the varying interpretations that problems arise, or rather in the rigidity of some interpretations. When we believe that what has meaning in our lives must be universalized to everyone else, it can only lead to conflict. All Christians hold the Bible as their sacred and most meaningful text and yet there is a plethora of differing interpretations that has resulted in who-knows-how-many different denominations. I imagine something similar must be going on in other religions that have had splits within the group.

Many adherents of the various interpretations and sects truly have considered their beliefs and the understanding of their texts. Others, however, may be just following tradition or the preaching of someone else rather than asking themselves what has meaning for them. And some must hold on to the rightness of their understandings with anger and violence toward anyone who disagrees. This is evident in the intra-religious conflicts throughout history. It is very rare for people to split from an established group without a great deal of conflict or violence from one side or the other, if not both. It is also obvious in the conflicts between totally different religions. As long as people must have the market cornered on The Truth, mutual respect is impossible. Perhaps it is just the human condition to do this, but it is ironic in the extreme and terribly sad. Many seem incapable of recognizing that most people are following whatever light has been given them and respect the effort. There is no need for absolute agreement because every person is living a different life and, therefore, has different understandings about how to do that and understand it.

It could be that I am quite odd, but I've come to accept the shifting sands of meaning and approach them with a measure of curiosity. Certainly, I go through periods of comfortably toddling along with little thought or self-examination. Inevitably, however, something new will pop-up in my awareness and require that I give it attention. It may stick with me or I may reject it, but it is unavoidable that it will come. The only consideration is what to do about it when it happens.

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