For several years, a few decades ago, I became obsessed with the great Sufi poet, Rumi. I devoured every English translation of his writings I could find, also buying books that weren't literal translations, but were written in the spirit of Rumi.
Eventually I donated most of my Rumi books when my obsession abated. But I kept a few, including William C. Chittick's translation of Rumi, The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi.
One reason I held on to that book was that it contained my favorite Rumi quotation, from his Masnavi.
Fear the existence in which you are now!
Your imagination is nothing, and you are nothing,
A nothing has fallen in love with a nothing,
a nothing-at-all has waylaid a nothing-at-all.
When these images have departed,
your misunderstanding will be clear to you.
I've memorized this passage. I ponder it fairly frequently.
It's become sort of a koan for me -- an intriguing bit of spiritual poetry that defies easy explanation, though it also has a seemingly clear meaning that is compatible with Zen and Buddhism in general.
I readily admit that different people will view this quotation in markedly different ways. All I can say is how it speaks to me.
Yes, there is reason to fear the existence in which I am now. However, this is the same existence that virtually everybody on this planet inhabits: an existence filled with imaginings of things that don't actually exist, of a past that is no more, of a future that is yet to be.
My imagination, though a wellspring of creativity and mental fascination, can lead me into dead ends, dark alleys, wasted cognition, detachment from the non-imaginary here and now.
Worse, I tend to believe that the being doing the imagining, me, possesses more inherent existence than is warranted. The self that I thought for much of my life was eternal, a soul drop of a divine ocean, actually is, as Rumi says, nothing.
Nothing, at least, that is independent, freestanding, immutable. Whoever or whatever I am, my strong suspicion is that I'm as insubstantial as the imaginings I so frequently engage in.
Yet as Rumi's poem observes, my imagination and me are in love with each other, though neither of us possesses any enduring substance. We are two nothings engaged in dancing together in a wispy ballroom of frothy existence.
Still, Rumi holds out hope for me. And for everybody in a similar situation. Who, again, is almost all of the eight billion people who cling to the dual delusions of barely-existent imagination and selfhood.
For if I were to be able to exist without imagining what isn't there, which includes the solid self that also is a nothing rather than a something, Rumi says that my current misunderstanding of what life is all about would be cleared up.
Is this a fantasy? Perhaps. Rumi's words just seem to me like they have a ring of truth, though I have no reason to assert that they are true. I simply am attracted to this bit of tantalizing Rumi poetry.
How we talk online is much different from how we talk in person
Next year I'll celebrate the 20th anniversary from when I started this blog in 2004. But, hey, I figure that I might as well spread out the festivities by making some observations from time to time about this here Church of the Churchless.
Like, right now.
The most important thing I want to say is gratitude. Over the years I've learned a great deal from the people who visit this blog and leave comments. Typepad, my blogging service, says there have been 70,198 comments on 3,390 posts.
So that's about 21 comments, on average, per post that I've written. I read most comments, though if I'm busy, I'll just take a glance at a comment, especially if it's a lengthy one.
Those comments are my blog's way of having a conversation -- with me, and with other blog visitors. I wish Typepad allowed for editing of comments by the people who share them, and that it was possible to organize the comments in a different fashion than in a chronological fashion.
But wishes aren't reality. Anyway, I deeply appreciate the time and effort people put into their comments, though obviously the quality varies from a high quality essay to random observations that make little sense.
Which is no different from the conversations all of us have in everyday life. But otherwise, there's big differences between how people communicate online versus in person.
Online, many choose to not use their real name. I can understand why in certain circumstances. For example, on this blog criticism of a religious leader, or the religion itself, can be problematic if someone uses their real name and is still involved with the organization they're criticizing.
That's why most people who write to me with an interesting story about their faith ask that I share it anonymously. The downside of anonymity, though, is that it enables people to say things in cyberspace that they'd be reluctant to say to someone face-to-face.
I'm definitely guilty of this myself at times. So if I'm directing a blog post or a comment at a specific person, I need to do better at visualizing that person standing in front of me as I say what I want to say about them.
Another problem with online conversations is that in ordinary life communication doesn't just involve words. It also involves a tone of voice, facial expressions, body language. And of course, an ability to say things like "I don't quite understand; please elaborate on what you meant when you said _______"
So its easy to misunderstand those with whom we interact online.
I like to express strong opinions. Many commenters on my blog posts also like to express strong opinions. So we’re going to feel misunderstood by other people at times. That comes with the territory of expressing strong opinions in a setting where only written words can be shared, not the other ways we use to communicate with people.
In a way it's surprising that comment conversations on this blog are as friendly and productive as they usually are, given how many obstacles there are to understanding another person in cyberspace.
But sometimes feelings get hurt. This is unfortunate, though often unavoidable. Partly it's due to different ways of communicating between men and women. I don't want to overemphasize this. It just seems like a reality to me.
I talked about this in a 2005 post on my HinesSight blog, "Why men don't share their feelings."
“How’re you doing?” says Dennis as I walk into the Pacific Martial Arts changing room. Instead of replying with my habitual robotic “Fine, how’re you?” I have a crazy impulse to actually tell him. I’ll share my feelings!
“Well, my feet have been tingling for about a week. I don’t know what’s going on. I’ve got an appointment to see a doctor tomorrow.” Without missing a beat (appropriately: Dennis is a drummer) I hear, “You’ve got a brain tumor. No doubt about it. You’re going to die.”
For the rest of our hour and a half training session, whenever I stop to check on how my feet are doing Dennis again says, “Oh yeah, you’ve got a brain tumor. Your time is up.”
Sensei Warren, our regular martial arts instructor, came in late. After telling him my tale of tingling feet I got a marginally better prognosis: “You’ve got diabetic neuropathy. No doubt about it. You’re going to lose your feet.” And I don’t even have diabetes.
Now, I know both Dennis and Warren care a lot about me. They demonstrated their manly concern by telling me that I’m either going to die or lose my feet. If one of them had given me a big hug and said “Don’t worry, everything is going to be all right,” I would have begun to worry that he had a brain tumor.
If I want sympathy, I’ll tell my troubles to my wife. From my marital arts buddies I get camaraderie and support that isn’t expressed in words. Dennis taught the class that evening. He started off by saying, “Let’s work on kicks tonight since your feet are giving you a problem.”
Which is what we did. For almost an hour. The unspoken message was, “Your feet are OK. Suck it up. This is no big deal.” That’s pretty much what the doctor said the next day: “Your feet look fine; I’ll do a blood test anyway; call me in a month if you’re not better.”
I'm sharing this anecdote because it points to a seeming fact: men are more comfortable with the rough-and-tumble of online communications because they're more used to joking around with each other in some rough ways.
This is fine.
But I worry when a woman shares something on this blog, then gets attacked in an intense fashion. Mostly or entirely by men. That's when I feel protective toward the woman, since I feel responsible for providing a safe space for people to share their ideas without feeling like they're in some sort of danger.
Well, those are my thoughts for tonight. Thanks for listening. I'll get back to a regular Church of the Churchless blog post soon.
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