Rumi and the Quest for the Infinite

I have a thirsty fish in me
that can never find enough
of what it’s thirsty for!
Show me the way to the ocean!
Break these half-measures,
these small containers.
~Rumi

We are a composite of personalities, a composite of viewpoints that we had at earlier points in our life. When I was in high school I was a fundamentalist Christian, already a “hell fire and damnation” Baptist preacher who interpreted the Bible and everything very literally. So, when I came across literature in high school…poetry in particular…and was asked to understand and even interpret it, I was so frustrated and often angry as it made no sense to me. “There is nothing to interpret,” I would exclaim, “It means what it says” and often I could not understand it in the least. And Shakespeare, who I now love passionately and quote obsessively, was the worst of the offenders back then.

So, when I approach this beautiful poem by Rumi in the depths of my heart I can still feel that old high school Lew approach the poem with concrete thinking and remember my frustration and anger. But, that is only a faint memory for now there is another Lew, “literarylew”, and I grasp the metaphor and the imagery and am deeply moved by his wisdom. But I can always imagine how it must grab some people who might have the misfortune of stumbling across this blog. I’m sure they read this poem and, with furrowed brow and bewilderment, replay, “Huh?” And that is okay as our world needs all types of thinkers. This poem, and most poetry, is just not for them.

Now what happened between my high school days and this poetic awakening in my mid-thirties is another story for another time. Let me just briefly say, my life began to “come apart” (but in a good way) and the concrete thinking began to fracture and words began to come to life for me. To summarize, a spiritual awakening began which continues today three decades later.

Rumi’s poem reflects the passion of the Infinite that is always seeking expression in our life. To be more precise, we are Infinite in that we are an expression of our Source, the Divine, but we are trapped in this time-space continuum and often feel a longing to make our way back to the “Ocean.”

So, how do we get there? Well, we don’t want to go the Jim Morrison route of drugs and alcohol as it cost him his life at an early age. I think through spiritual practice, mature religious devotion, including prayer and meditation, we can occasionally get glimpses of that Ocean which we will swim in freely only when we “cross over” and return to our Source, the “Ocean” in this poem. And, I do think there are gifted souls such as Rumi who can “take a swim” occasionally or even quite often while still trapped in this time-space continuum.

But most of us must take the advice of T.S. Eliot who advised that spiritual practice is patient and humble, “prayer, discipline, thought, and action.” And, I like the observation of W. H. Auden who noted:

In the desert of my heart,
Let the healing fountain start.
In the prison of my days,
Teach this poor man how to praise.

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14 thoughts on “Rumi and the Quest for the Infinite

  1. Pingback: Rumi and the Quest for the Infinite | ChristianBookBarn.com

  2. N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ

    Your comment was thought provoking. Your past reminds me of my own. During those years I came to believe that the ocean was somewhere ‘out there’. Several years ago I had a life-changing epiphany, an awakening, if you will. I realized I had been in the ocean the whole time. I was unable to perceive this due to indoctrination since childhood, which placed focus on some future paradise beyond human life on this planet. I realized I had been living to die.

    The longing I felt was due to my inability to appreciate life as a human being, on this planet, now. With this realization, I stopped gazing upwards. I stopped yearning for life beyond this one. I stopped striving. I became aware of things I’d taken for granted. I felt fully alive.

    I’m not a Buddhist, but I respect some of its teachings.

    Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment. ~Buddha

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    1. literary lew Post author

      The “out there” problem is pervasive in human experience and, of course, I see it acutely present in Christianity…as do you. It is the basic sociological problem of alienation. I’m glad you had your epiphany and now feel fully alive; I hope to get “there” myself some day!

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  3. Alfred Lehtinen

    “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”

    An interesting read—I would have liked to read on about your poetic awakening. Maybe another time?

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    1. literary lew Post author

      Thanks for dropping by. And thanks for your curiosity re my “poetic awakening.” I was already thinking about discoursing re the matter as it is interesting…I think…but kind of personal. But, I think I can discuss it without erring into “spilling my guts” territory! Thanks so much for your response. And I love your Shakespeare quote. That guy was awesome. What a gift to humankind.

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    2. literary lew Post author

      Re my “poetic awakening”, I was in the middle of life and to make a long story short, kind of “dropped out” for a while. Someone who knew me well appeared to think I might be open to a book of Shakespeare’s sonnets and The Collected Poetry of W. H. Auden. These two books proved to be a black hole for me…in a good sense…sucking me into a whole new dimension of life that I had always avoided. It was the realm of metaphor, meaning, and…yes…the threat of meaninglessness. I certainly understand why most people avoid that “black hole” and probably describe it as such as one is left alone, existentially, to deal with the uncertainty of life. But there is comfort that comes from knowing that I am living more honestly than when I was ensconced in concrete thinking. Thanks for your query. I’m going to try to write more fully about this at some point but right now I’m having trouble writing very much about anything! A writer’s block is rearing its ugly head.

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      1. Alfred Lehtinen

        There is great comfort in the meaningless. I used to think that poetry was worthless because of it, too, but I then realized the opposite was the case. “Concrete thinking”, as you call it, feels like it really leads (one) nowhere.

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  4. silentfingers

    Am stunned Lew. I don’t recall often reading a blogpost on Rumi’s wisdom from this perspective, especially by someone whose faith is not that of Rumi’s. I feel only a “Sufic Heart” could truly fathom the real essence of what Mewlana expressed in his poetry — specifically, the ones on the Beloved.
    Kudos to your heart, Lew! Needless to say why.

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    1. literary lew Post author

      Thanks so much for your kind words, my dear friend. I needed them. I’m swimming in deep water and it helps immensely to receive affirmation from someone of your deep spiritual roots. Rumi and I come from the same source. Somehow or another, here in the deep south of the United States, sixty one years ago or so I was closely attuned to the same Reality that he was. And I’m trying to open up to that Source, faint memories of which I clearly have. Thanks so much for your kind words.

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      1. silentfingers

        Ah, so glad to be here again, Lew. For a moment I thought I’d lost your amazing blog — an abode that touch a deep chord within me. Shall stroll around with your kind permission, sire.

        Hmmm, you speak of the “source” through which Mewlana Rumi came — and you spoke of yourself. Am very intrigued to know more. My belief is we are all “one” as human beings — and as absurd as it may sound, but, I believe even the animals and we are “one”. They carry bits of us and we them. Perhaps I am wrong. If so forgive me.. Am just a soul passing through this “moment” of a transitory life, which is just a fragment of a long journey, no? Hence, I have stopped “searching” and surrendered. Now, I just “be” in my being….. I rarely share such beliefs nor impose any on anyone, as I strongly believe that each of our souls “feel, sense and breathe” differently. With you, for some strange reason, I feel at ease to express. I suppose because you are an intelligent soul with many windows to it — readily, simply welcoming and seeing “light as light”.

        Well, yet again my loquacious pen got carried away. hehe..

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      2. literary lew Post author

        Wow, I am so touched. I’m deeply moved by your thoughts. You and I are so very much on the very same path, so very much in tune with the same Source, the same one that coursed through the veins of Rumi centuries ago. I will share a few more thoughts in an email.

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  5. Pingback: The Self we share.. | Candid Concourse

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