Of late, I've found good poetry to be the equivalent of the spiritual testimony of my previous paradigm. Recently, I found a wonderful collection of poems for the soul. The book is entitled, ten poems to change your life, by Roger Housden.
One of the poems is by Rumi. It is entitled, "Zero Circle."
by: Rumi (Version by Coleman Barks)
Be helpless, dumbfounded,
Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace
to gather us up.
We are too dull-eyed to see that beauty.
If we say we can, we're lying.
If we say No, we don't see it,
That No will behead us
And shut tight our window onto spirit.
So let us rather not be sure of anything,
Beside ourselves, and only that, so
Miraculous beings come running to help.
Crazed, lying in a zero circle, mute,
We shall be saying finally,
With tremendous eloquence, Lead us.
When we have totally surrendered to that beauty,
We shall be a mighty kindness.
This poem is unlike many poems I read. I didn't really grasp it my first time through. I had to consider it, and roll around with it a while. I allowed myself not to grasp the meaning for a while, to struggle with Rumi's message. The other previous meaningful poems that preceded this one in Housden's book gave me the trust in his judgment to give this puzzling one (for me) some thought.
I think this poem will continue to be more and more meaningful in my life as I re-read it. So far I seemed to identify with it on a few levels.
The first image is the suggestion to be helpless, for then the stretcher of grace will come to gather us up. Rumi deftly moves from that image, to commenting upon its beauty. He says we can't see that beauty, yet if we admit we can't the window of our should is slammed shut.
So, says Rumi, be sure of nothing beside yourself. If we allow ourselves to be unsure of anything, "helpless" in that regard, "Miraculous beings come running to help." Seeing those miraculous beings, we shall then ask to be led, rather than insisting on being in control all the time.
Finally Rumi comments that if we surrender to the beauty of that surrender, we shall be "a mighty kindness."
Getting a basic grasp of the poem, I then tried to pick up on some of the nuances used by Coleman Barks to translate this poem. There were a number of questions I had.
- What specifically is the beauty Rumi is writing about?
- Why are we too dull-eyed to see that beauty?
- What was the imagery Mr. Barks was conveying with the phrase, "Crazed, lying in a zero circle, mute..."?
I thought the "zero circle" might be key, so I bumped around the information super highway to try and decipher it. It seems that in the world of planimeters, the zero circle is a term meant to describe a wheel that spins, but isn't rolling forward or backward--all spin, no progress.
Understanding what Rumi meant with that phrase, but disappointed that it didn't bring me any closer to seeing the beauty he expressed, and at a mental/emotional wall with it, I decided to read what Housden had to say about the poem. With a sliver lining of irony, this surrender for me, was exactly what this poem is about. More on that later.
Rumi's poem goes on to speak of a Beauty that we are "too dull-eyed" to see. In another of his poems, he speaks of going to a place beyond the dawn, toa source of such sweetness that flows and is never less.
I have been shown a beauty there that would confuse both worlds. (From There Is a Passion in Me, by Rumi)
This beauty is beyond dawn, that is, beyond our ordinary categories of light and dark, yes and no. It is a third quality, an eternal spring, confusing to the ordinary mind, beyond its distinctions. So how can we suggest that we have either seen it or not seen it? We shall be lying, whatever we say. This Beauty is not something we can point to; it is a condition to be lived. The heroes of Stendhal's novels, especially Julien Sorel in The Red and the Black, find their fullness in what Stendhal calls "moments of beauty"--moments when they are utterly and unthinkingly at one with life. IN that unified state, there is no one outside of the circle to comment on it. Kathleen Raine, one of England's most venerable living poets, once said to me that "beauty is the supreme value, because it is the mark and signature in outward expression of truth. . . . It is innate, because we ourselves are spiritual beings. Beauty is an experience."
As I pondered over these words, and many of Housden's other comments, I realized a few things. I mentally went through my life history and noted those instances where I fell flat on my face and it always seems that someone was there to help pick me up back to my feet. The few times I can think of where this didn't happen, those were times when, filled with pride, I refused to look for help. I refused to "be helpless, dumbfounded." Yet when I inwardly surrendered, and looked toward what I describe as an inner-energy, invariably whether from other persons, or from a wave of new understanding from within, the stretcher of grace picked me up.
I considered that beauty. I then continued to read Housden's comments:
In this condition, there is absolutely nothing to say. We are mute, yet every cell of our being cries out with an eloquence that no voice could ever attain to: Lead us. In that moment, everything that we are is magnetized in the same direction. All contradictions have fallen away, and we are given utterly to that which is both in and beyond us. Rumi is calling us to that degree of surrender now, in this moment. The world Islam, by the way, means submission, or surrender. Rumi is addressing the very essence, not just of the Muslim faith, but of the Christian faith, too. Turn around, he says, step out of your mind and see who has been there all along. You will never be the same again. And how, exactly, will you be different?When we have totally surrendered to that beauty,
We shall be a mighty kindness.
It is to beauty we surrender, and it is all or nothing, one fell swoop, even though we may have been leading up to it for a lifetime. "Mankind," Dostoevsky once said, "will be saved by beauty." It is this condition of beauty, I think, that he was referring to.
In that beauty, the soul's natural state, we shall exude a fragrance, which in past eras was known as the fragrance of sanctity. No matter how authoritative a person sounds, no matter how knowing they may seem to be, or how high their station, if that scent is not in the air, they are not quite who they say they are, or who others think they are. It is the fragrance of kindness.
How touching. How appropriate. What a mighty kindness, indeed. Thank you Roger Housden for helping me experience just that. How appropriate that this gift would be offered to me by an Afghan Muslim in the wake of the recent events.