from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

the spaces of the heart 1: Rumi

Totnes is a great place to have as one's local town (though I'm also glad I don't actually live in it). It's unique, really: a small riverside town where the Transition Town movement started and has a very strong hold; home to the organic movement's navel in the shape of Guy Watson's Riverford organic veg box scheme; home to Satish Kumar's 'Resurgence' magazine (green spirituality informed by politics, economics, social change and the arts) and SK's Schumacher College, founded to further the vision of Mr Small is Beautiful and sitting at the centre of a network of creative and inspiring cutting-edge thinkers in the holistic field. It is too a creative innovative cultural centre with a very dense population of artists, musicians, writers; and a spiritual centre. It's a place of a ferment of ideas.

Much of this is due to the Elmhirsts who, early in the C20th, rebuilt and opened up the mediaeval Dartington Hall  estate which houses many of these initiatives, and which has served as a nexus of artistic, cultural, social, spiritual and ecological enquiry and facilitation since then.

This week sees the Tagore festival. Indian sage, poet and mystic Rabindranath Tagore was a friend of the Elmhirsts; as far as I know this is the first festival put on at Dartington in his name.

I've booked to see Coleman Barks; a good poet in his own right but also an iconic translator of the much-loved Sufi ecstatic poet Rumi (?C13th?), due to read Rumi's poems and speak on love. I learn five minutes before the start that Barks is ill and a replacement is coming in. I feel grumpy and disheartened; I'd cleared some space of work and election stuff to make this gig in what is a very full week; and there simply isn't a replacement for Barks. Roger, an old friend who's just told me that Barks isn't coming, assures me I won't be disappointed.

He was right. Duncan Mackintosh has toured with Ashley Ramsden, whom I know and rate, with the poems and songs of Rumi in Bark's translations with Bark's blessings - and what a performer he is.

Rumi is perhaps best-known for his passionate love poems. In this tradition, as in the later Courtly Love tradition in Europe which was specifically ignited, via the Troubadours or Trouveres, from Moorish sources which would have been influenced by Sufism in general and Rumi too, the beloved is also the earthly counterpart of the Divine. Through earthly love for the face of God (whatever one conceives of that as being; let's say simply 'the One', or 'union with all that is') as projected onto another human one could transcend the limitations of form, and experience the Oneness of which all spiritual systems speak. This approach is found too in the Tibetan Tantric teachings, and also in aspects of the Western Mystery Tradition, in which my own spiritual path, albeit through the lens of Zen, is rooted.

Here are some Rumi snippets as delivered by Mackintosh and according to my paraphrasing memory:

The reed flute is blown by fire, not by wind... yet all the breath of the world blows it

The reed, cut from the bed, laments its source...

We live in amnesia... Every morning we wake up empty and lonely. There is nothing we want and need more than love. We can get by, we can deaden that yearning, but we can't destroy it...

Oh wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving... At some point in our lives we begin to feel the absence of a presence we've never known. A great sorrow wells up in the heart... Welcome this pain; it opens the dark passages of the heart...

When the ocean comes to you, marry it at once.

Like a thief I crept and entered a house – and it was my own home.

Mohammed said: 'Anyone who knows God stammers – speaking is an astrolabe pointing at the sky...'

There are many ways to praise the earth. Take the companionship of love as your guide.

There is a rope of light between his (His) heart and yours that nothing can sever. The heart doesn't need directions, or saddle, or bridle; it is the mind and body that need these.

Manifestation contains a deep truth hidden in lies, like the taste of butter in buttermilk. Thus is spirit contained in form.


Mackintosh is followed by a brief lecture from Dr H M Ghomshei, a scholar immersed in the philosophy of both Rumi and Tagore. He opens by saying: 'Rumi's wine is ginger, flaming, hot. Tagore's wine is softer, more serene. It's the same wine.'

Dr Ghomshei is also in his quieter way inspiring. Something that I bring away with me is also his emphasis on seeing the 'One in the many'; this has always seemed to me to be a good indicator of the value of a spiritual system.

And he speaks of the universe as being founded in a great harmony. Within it we move, he says, from light to light.

This is also from memory, a bit of a riff on Ghomshei's words, and probably not as elegantly put:

Harmony is everything.
It is the role of philosophy to understand harmony.
It is the role of science to explain harmony.
It is the role of art to express harmony.
It is the role of religion/spirituality to follow the path of harmony.
It is love that lives in harmony.

'The whole endeavour of science, art, religion is to bring the many back into the one... the major problem in the world is that we don't really understand the truth that we are all one.'

He also addressed the concerns of art, and succinctly describes my felt but not so clearly articulated own views: 'Any art that takes you out of time, or place, is sacred. That is the secret of all good art – it speaks of and from eternity. Listening to, for instance, sublime music brings you back in tune again. Harmony is the best therapy.'


Tomorrow, notes from a very different, but harmonising, approach to heart; also from Dartington.

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