This past week I had the immense pleasure of attending a workshop at Goddard College facilitated by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg. The workshop was called “Seven Poets to Change Your Life.” Caryn herself is a poet who has changed my life, so I had high expectations. They were more than met. The first poem Caryn shared was Love Dogs by Rumi–via this reading by Coleman Barks.
I know not everyone is into link-clicking. And maybe some of you are sitting somewhere where you can’t play a video because you’re pretending to work or do your taxes or something. For you, I’m posting the text of the poem below. But it’s not the same thing, man. You really ought to hear that reading.
A Poem by Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks
One night a man was crying Allah! Allah!
His lips grew sweet with praising,
until a cynic said, “So!
I’ve heard you calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”
The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.
“Why did you stop praising?” “Because
I’ve never heard anything back.”
“This longing you express
is the return message.”
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.
Give your life
to be one of them.
“This longing you express is the return message.” We so often brace against longing–whether the longing is for a disengaged lover or a life we can no longer lead or the people we have loved that have passed away. What an intense feeling longing is, what an uncomfortable, painful, concave place to be.
But recently I’ve been coming to terms with longing. Accepting it as something to embrace, enjoy, learn from. Remember the absolute thrill of daydreaming as a child? That was enough. To sit and imagine some fantastic future–and to be genuinely happy in the moment. The daydream wasn’t tied to expectation, or at least not tied to any timeline. The imagining was enough. The way candles seem to make people happy by reminding them of past joy without present tense gratification (try eating a cinnamon apple pie candle and see how that works out). Longing is rooted in beautiful experience, and allowing yourself to bathe in that, while potentially indulgent, can be beautiful in itself. Upon conscious unpacking and examination, meditating on the unattainable can lead you to identify, in more and more specific terms, what it is you are missing and help you bring that into your reality even though the larger object of your longing may remain out of grasp.
This even extends to the really awful incomprehensible mind-muddling longing known as unrequited love. To long for someone is to value them, to have experienced some joy as a result of their existence–whether it’s justified or not. To feel that way about another person is an expression of your highest self, an unselfishness you ought to be proud of. I will tell you this now, with the complete understanding that no one in history has ever maintained knowledge of this from one love affair to the next (myself included): There is nothing you can do to make feelings of love be returned if they are not. But the memories can be a beautiful place to rest, for short spurts, and the details of those memories and how those moments made us feel can be guides.
When you write to this, try not to get too caught up in feelings of loss. Because if you can write these moments and remember them, they are as much yours as they ever were.
What do you long for?
Which moment in particular?
Give it all to the page–the smells the sounds, the way the light slanted in.
Write more of these moments, go from subject to subject, moment to moment. Be specific, but be brief.
What do you discover? What is common between your moments of beauty? How can you reproduce elements of that for yourself right now?
As always, I welcome your poems in my inbox or in the comments here. As always, I am in awe of your courage. Much love, beauties.