Don’t worry about saving these songs!
And if one of our instruments breaks,
it doesn’t matter.
We have fallen into the place
where everything is music.
The strumming and the flute notes
rise into the atmosphere,
and even if the whole world’s harp
should burn up, there will still be
hidden instruments playing.
So the candle flickers and goes out.
We have a piece of flint, and a spark.
This singing art is sea foam.
The graceful movements come from a pearl
somewhere on the ocean floor.
Poems reach up like spindrift and the edge
of driftwood along the beach, wanting!
from a slow and powerful root
that we can’t see.
Stop the words now.
Open the window in the center of your chest,
and let the spirit fly in and out.
by Rumi – translated by Coleman Barks (although there are many experts who say that Coleman Banks’ ‘translations’ are more interpretations of Rumi’s original words or poems ‘inspired by’)
This is one of those poems that I liked on first reading and have been carrying with me in my red poem folder to courses and retreats. I’ve even read it out from time to time for its quality of resting: the sense of everything happening by itself and we can let go, witness and be present without trying so hard to make everything happen.
Witnessing my husband move through life after he had a stroke three weeks ago, has suddenly made it an important poem for me in a way it wasn’t before, because it points at what is seeming to sustain him in a challenging time of adjusting to a body and mind that are functioning different from before. And ‘different’ doesn’t quite cover it: where Rumi speaks of ‘broken instruments’, Alexander suddenly can’t speak or type or draw with his right hand in the way he was used to for all these years, and that’s quite something for a coach, storyteller and artist.
And yet I can see he’s anything but crushed by it. In fact he’s been telling me about this wellness that lives in him since the stroke, and said that not for a moment did he wish it hadn’t happened (who is the mindfulness teacher here, living acceptance like that?! I can’t say I’ve been quite as equanimous…). But somehow this poem helps me to understand. If we realise we’ve ‘fallen into the place where everything is music’, then maybe our idea of what it’s supposed to sound like isn’t the most important anymore. And ‘if one (or several!) of our instruments break, it doesn’t matter’ – or at least the ‘hidden instruments’ sing completely unimpeded. It requires a shift in orientation of course, letting go of wanting to ‘save these songs’ and instead listening to the ‘graceful movements’ of this ‘singing art’.
So this is the practice: tuning my inner ear to where everything is music, and opening ‘the window in the center of my chest’. So much to be grateful for, also in the midst of challenges…
PS. of course that doesn’t mean there may not also be some very human disappointment, worry and pain going on, and they deserve heaps of compassion from self and others. I’ve noticed both in myself and others that it can be tempting to skip to the bigger picture to avoid the struggle of the moment, and I doubt that’s what Rumi intended to point at!