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I remember exactly where I was, and the intense pain and fear and pleasure and confusion that I felt, the first time I read this Rumi poem.
I was nestled in the corner of a bookstore, squatting on a footstool, perusing a few books that I couldn’t afford.
Or maybe I could afford them, I just didn’t think I had enough value to buy poetry books for me. A gift for someone’s birthday, perhaps…but little ol’ me, I hadn’t even started on my path of self-love yet.
I remember gasping for air and choking on tears when I read this Rumi poem:
“There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled.
There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled.
You feel it, don’t you?”
“Yes!” I blurted out loud, “yes,” I whispered to myself.
To be honest, I had no clue what that poem meant at the time. They were just a gaggle of gorgeous words—but my body knew. My intuition knew. Some energy pushed me to read it over and over again. What does this mean? Not just what does this combination of words mean, but what does this mean to me?
I wrote the poem down on a scrap of paper and tucked it in my pocket. When I got home, I taped it to my bathroom mirror and stared at the words. What is it? What are you saying to me?
I kept that poem on mirrors as I moved from place to place, country to country over the years. As I was trying to find a home, that poem still held power over me. I did still feel it. I do still feel it. Even typing this out now, I’m choking up with tears and have to take deep breaths.
As Pema Chödrön says, “If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.” But I digress, this is about Rumi and these two poems or quotes (however you want to call them), and I haven’t even got to the second one yet. But that first poem did drive me crazy. There’s no other way around that. It was a mystery how 27 words could be arranged in a way to torment, scare, confuse, and excite me all at the same time.
But what was this message, what was it trying to teach me?
I’ve always felt I had a calling. Even using the words “a calling” sounds cheap and meaningless. An intense need to do something greater than just exist. Maybe that’s closer? In any case, my entire life has been following this quest for “home” or maybe it was more that I was trying to find a feeling of being safe. If that’s what it is, I’ve certainly made some odd choices along the way!
A wonderfully wise friend once told me that before I can heal the world, I need to heal myself. I thought it was incredibly unfair to expect me to do both, but she was right. I had (and still have) some major wounds inside that need tending to. But now I’m at the place of being able to almost care for myself properly and be of benefit to others, almost.
Sure, I could just go ahead and be of benefit (and I’ve done that), but the wounds reopened and I became more of a burden on the system than a help. So I pulled back and focused on my own healing for awhile. That journey was both painful and worth every second.
So now what…where do I go, what do I do? I still feel it. I feel that void. I’m starting to see smoky vapors wafting above that candle I had snuffed out long ago. The feeling is rising again, how can I be of benefit?
How can I move past my quest for well-being and start to focus on well-doing?
And by doing, I absolutely don’t mean go-go-go nonstop run yourself to the ground, or any other icky capitalistic mentality of being a “boss babe” or shattering any glass ceiling in a toxic patriarchal system. This isn’t about getting rich or one-upping my neighbor with a better car or more expensive shoes, and it’s not about hoarding vacation days to look like a top team player. And even though Kurt Vonnegut famously said, “I am a human being, not a human doing,” I think he was talking more about not living in a rat race society, rather than not well-doing for others.
Well-doing is about sharing our talents and experience and time and energy to do for others, especially those who don’t have a voice. You can also call it Ikigai or Right Livelihood. It’s finding our passion and our purpose for something greater beyond ourselves.
So, the need and the want to be well-doing were covered by Rumi’s first poem. The what is covered by his second:
“Whatever lifts the corners of your mouth, trust that.”
Taking the time to reflect on what stirs our emotions, what brings an instant smile to our faces, or lights our passion to care about something beyond ourselves, that’s where we need to be looking.
I think this is the home I’ve been searching for. Over the years, my quest (and avoidance of that quest) has cleared the pathway ahead. Branch by branch, stone by stone, the way forward seems a little less unsure now. There have been guideposts and primitive markings along the way, and I’m thankful for all those teachers (as Pema said).
As you’ve probably figured out, I love quotes. I really wanted to stick with the two Rumi quotes, but now we’re up to four and I can feel another one needs to be added:
“We should care as much about well-doing as well-being. I want to live in a world that values purpose as much as pleasure, contribution as much as contentment, honesty as much as excitement, and justice as much as joy.” ~ Adam Grant
What kindles the flame of your heart? What fills the void of your soul? Can you feel those too? Then, what lifts the corners of your mouth? Where are you on your personal path toward well-doing?
Okay, one more Rumi quote just came to mind. I’ve lost count now, I’m sure there are more, so I’ll end it with, maybe just maybe it’s as simple as:
“What you seek, is seeking you.”
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