Today, like every other day,
we wake up empty and frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
From Rumi: The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing, by Jalal al-Din Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks.
Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, but love isn’t just for courting couples. Rumi said that we start off each day empty and frightened. We tend to resort to books, even holy books, to find the meaning, love and sense of safety that we’re longing for.
However, there is another more spontaneous way: play a musical instrument, sing a song, create something beautiful. Rather than looking for beauty outside, in a metaphysical realm, look for it in our actions, in our daily life. Enact the beauty that we love. There are many ways to find the deep sense of meaning, beauty and love that we enjoy in prayer.
For the Rumi and the Sufis, beauty was the goal of the spiritual life, and love was the path that leads to it. Similarly, what we love, we find beautiful. Rumi is telling us that there are many ways to experience this love, this beauty.
But what is love? Is it the feeling you get when you are in contact with something (or someone!) you find beautiful? Is it a warm, fuzzy, tingly, perhaps even gooey feeling? Or is it the universal human longing for warmth, safety, closeness and connection?
We seem to use the same word at different times for both the feeling and the longing. If we’re talking about the longing, then it’s a two-way street. Love includes loving and being loved. But rather than a street, perhaps a better metaphor for love is a garden. A beautiful circular walled garden, with many doorways around the outside.
So what are these doorways that open onto the garden of love and beauty? One door has a sign over it saying emotional warmth, closeness and connection. The sign over another door says being heard, seen and understood. Walking round, there’s to be valued, to matter and belong. Close by, there’s the doorway of being taken into account, consideration, respect and acceptance. Another door read simply ‘Touch’. A final door reads ‘Support and care’.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, here are four things that you can do to spend more time in the garden of love and beauty:
- Close your eyes and visualize the garden of love. Which doorway did you come in? Are there other doorways that you sometimes use?
- Meditate on letting love in. Wherever you find it, without the strain of trying to make something happen, allow love into your heart from your partner, friends, teachers, spiritual figures, and all beings. Allow love in and allow it through. Allow it through your heart, so that it circles back out through you towards those you love and all beings.
- Express your appreciation and gratitude to your partner and loved ones on a daily basis. Tell them specifically what they did and how it made your life more wonderful.
- Listen deeply to your partner and loved ones. Listen to what’s in their hearts. Let them know what you’ve heard: how they are feeling and what they are longing for at the moment. There’s a great secret here: empathy can be received by the other person as love.