For several decades I've had a series of literary infatuations. I'd fall in love with a mystical/spiritual author or genre and read everything I could on that subject.
I had my Meister Eckhart phase. Along with a Christian mystic phase: St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Pseudo-Dionysius, whoever wrote The Cloud of Unknowing. I devoured writings by and about Plotinus. I was deep into Fritjof Schuon and other Perennialists for a while. And I never stopped being attracted to Buddhist and Taoist books no matter whatever other writings turned me on.
But my biggest love affair was with Rumi. Oh, yeah, he and I hit it off big time.
I ended up with several book shelves dedicated to Rumi. I'd repeatedly wander the Sufi section of Powell's Books, Portland Oregon's amazing literary temple that some say is the largest new and used bookstore in the world, never failing to bring home a new Rumi title. Or two. Or three. Or a half dozen.
About ten days ago I sat at my laptop, picking up books from several boxes and seeing what Amazon's "Sell Your Books" program was offering for them. Many of them were previously-beloved Rumi books.
As I typed in the title of each one to see how much money I could get for it, sometimes I'd feel a mild nostalgia, as if I wasn't completly sure whether I wanted to decisively cut my ties with an old friend. So I'd thumb through a Rumi book, looking at the highlighting I'd made when a passage was especially appealing to me, remembering how much enjoyment I"d once gotten from the book.
Now, though? The thrill was gone. I'd fold the book shut and toss it into either a "ship to Amazon box" or a "donate to Friends of Salem Library" box, if Amazon told me it wasn't salable.
I was not the same Me any longer. Whoever once loved Rumi was not the person who shipped off a bunch of his books to the Amazon buyback program, and was excited to get an email message a few days ago saying that most of the Rumi titles had been purchased.
I'd sold a big chunk of my Rumi soul for about thirty dollars, with more cash coming when I get around to selling or donating my remaining Rumi books.
Not long ago I would have considered my Rumi collection to be priceless, at least in a spiritual sense. I loved reading his words and writings about his teachings so much. For years I felt that Rumi touched me, knew me, spoke to me, in an amazing, wonderful, impossible-to-describe way.
Now, though? He's just a way to get some credits to my Amazon account so I can buy some new books that do appeal to me.
Philosophically-minded neuroscientists often talk about a thought experiment involving the slow but steady replacement of someone else's neurons in a brain. What if, for example -- to take a deeply scary example -- one-time Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin's neurons gradually replaced my own?
At first the part of my brain that wasn't Me would be so tiny as to be unnoticeable. Gradually, though, I'd become a mixture of Me and Sarah Palin. The change would be so gradual it'd be difficult to tell at what point I stopped being Me and started becoming someone else.
(But when I incessantly talked about "mama grizzlies," I guess that'd be a pretty good sign I'd gone over the Palin edge.)
This is pretty close to how I feel about my changing spiritual proclivities. Selling my Rumi books brought this home to me. When did I stop being a person who loved Rumi and became a person who loved selling his Rumi books for a few bucks?
I don't know. I can't tell.
I have no idea how, or when, the Me I used to be, Rumi-wise, became the Me I am now. More generally, I guess I'm constantly changing into someone else, yet the alterations are so gradual it takes a while to realize, "Hey, whatever happened to the old Me?"
Maybe that guy never existed, at least not as the substantial person he superficially appeared to be. If so, that says a lot. Perhaps more than all my Rumi books ever said.