Once a young man came to me and said,
I am feeling strong and brave today,
And I would like to know the truth
About all of my–attachments.”
And I replied,
Do you really want me to speak to you
About all your attachments,
When I can see so clearly
You have built, with so much care,
Such a great brothel
To house all of your pleasures.
You have even surrounded the whole damn place
With armed guards and vicious dogs
To protect your desires
So that you can sneak away
From time to time
And try to squeeze light
Into your parched being
From a source as fruitful
As a dried pit
That even a bird
Is wise enough to spit out.
Your attachments! My dear,
Let’s not speak of those,
For Hafiz understands the sufferings
Of your heart.
The torments and the agonies
every mind on the way to Annihilation in the Sun
So at night in my prayers I often stop
And ask a thousand angels to join in
Anything in this world
That can bring your heart comfort!”
Longing is the core of mystery.
Longing itself brings the cure.
The only rule is suffer the pain.
Your desire must be disciplined,
and what you want to happen
in time, sacrificed.
So you aren’t Tolstoy or St. Francis
or even a well-known singer
of popular songs and will never read Greek
or speak French fluently,
will never see something no one else
has seen before through a lens
or with the naked eye.
You’ve been given just the one life
in this world that matters
and upon which every other life
somehow depends as long as you live,
and also given the costly gifts of hunger,
choice, and pain with which to raise
a modest shrine to meaning.
An Understanding of the Question
Why doesn’t a soul fly when it hears the call?
Fish on the beach always move toward the wave-sound.
A falcon hears the drum and brings the quarry home.
Why isn’t every dervish dancing in the sun?
You have escaped the cage. Your wings
are stretched out. Now, fly.
You have slept in sheds and out-buildings
so long you think you live there.
How many years, like children,
do we have to collect sticks and pieces
of broken pottery and pretend they’re valuable?
Leave childhood. Go to the banquet
of true human beings. Split open the cultural mould.
Put your head up out of the sack.
Hold this book in the air with your right hand.
Are you old enough to know right from left?
God said to clarity, Walk.
To death, Help them with discipline.
To the soul, Move into the invisible
and take what’s there.
Don’t sing the sadness anymore.
Call out that you have been given both
the answer and an understanding of the question.
*translated by Coleman Barks
When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight,
The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.
Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.
The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.
You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.
At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.
Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.
—John O’Donohue, from “Blessings”