Say Yes Quickly

Below is one of my favorite poems by Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi. This one is a translation by the American poet, Coleman Barks.There is an interview with Coleman here, in which he speaks to the idea, near and dear to my heart, that ecstatic states are not necessarily limited to transcendent, meditative states that one patiently works years to experience, but a profound joy experienced in the course of mundane, commonplace occurences.

“Barks gave a precise definition of ecstasy in that Moyers interview: “each moment [is] solid and actual, yet numinous, shot through with divine light and guidance.” He also gave a telling anecdotal definition of ecstasy when I asked him more recently to define it: “I was with my granddaughter, going around the yard lifting up stones to see what was there — there’s always something good, something interesting — and a woman walking by on the street just turned her head and said, ‘You’re going to spoil her.’ This universe is just so incredible that we’re all spoiled, and it’s okay. Rumi said, ‘The eye is meant to see things; the soul is here for its own joy.’ “

I first heard this poem read by Robert Bly at a conference I attended back in the 1990’s. Perhaps you’ve heard it? If not, or if so, enjoy!

Say Yes Quickly

Forget your life. Say God is Great. Get up.
You think you know what time it is. It’s time to pray.
You’ve carved so many little figurines, too many.
Don’t knock on any random door like a beggar.
Reach your long hands out to another door, beyond where
you go on the street, the street
where everyone says, “How are you?”
and no one says How aren’t you?

Tomorrow you’ll see what you’ve broken and torn tonight,
thrashing in the dark. Inside you
there’s an artist you don’t know about.
He’s not interested in how things look different in moonlight.

If you are here unfaithfully with us,
you’re causing terrible damage.
If you’ve opened your loving to God’s love,
you’re helping people you don’t know
and have never seen.

Is what I say true? Say yes quickly,
if you know, if you’ve known it
from before the beginning of the universe.

16 thoughts on “Say Yes Quickly

  1. I loved that poem, Debra! And the lines Hariod pointed out jumped out at me as well, though the first portion of the stanza was also integral to it, the notion that “If you are here unfaithfully with us, you’re causing terrible damage.” For this also suggests the scope of influence of our inner states extends far beyond what we might typically surmise.

    When I read those lines, I align most strongly with the interpretation Hariod suggested, that their influence extends “via ways unseen and unknown to us due to our limited comprehension of the nature of thought, mind, consciousness and so forth.” For in this translation, Rumi never speaks of what we do physically, but of our authenticity and the quality of our loving. When we are ourselves shot through with divine light and guidance, there is something invisibly radiant that ripples through the whole realm… This is the type of “god living through me” that tickles my spine and echoes through the ages of my heart… 🙂

    Michael

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  2. ‘If you’ve opened your loving to God’s love, you’re helping people you don’t know and have never seen.’

    I find this such a moving and powerful sentiment. It suggests to me the purest expression of giving, one in which the boon of any gift is reflected back at us and amplified in our own resultant serenity. I cannot be certain what you mean Debra when you speak of ‘a profound joy experienced in the course of mundane, commonplace occurrences’, though possibly the serenity I speak of has something of the ecstatic joy you refer to, and which may in any case be sensed fully whilst engaged in mundane activities.

    Thank you for this uplifting article.

    Hariod. ❤

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    • Dear Hariod,
      I’m so glad you enjoyed the poem, as I do too! I like your take that “the boon of any gift is reflected back at us and amplified in our own resultant serenity.” I had not thought of it that way, but recognize the truth in what you say.

      Another way to look at the boon of the gift is to know and accept that some kindnesses we do, perhaps do ne with less specific intentionality, may have ripple effects beyond our knowing. Smiling at a stranger, in an instant, with no forethought as to it even being a gift. For the stranger, it may be a much needed affirmation that serendipitously changes their mood, their day or their life, causing them to smile at some other stranger.

      Extrapolating outward from these small kindnesses – anything from picking up the litter on the street, to using the turn signals when we drive – all contribute to the potential for a more peaceful atmosphere.

      When I hear the word serenity, I think of calm waters, feelings of peace and contentedness. Is that what the word means to you? I figure in a conversation such as we have here, it’s probably fitting to first seek understanding of what the ideas mean to each of us.

      Ecstacy, to me, is more emotive, a fluttering of one’s heart, blood pumping a little quicker, tingling up the spine, with a feeling of warmth and that something has come over us in response to extraordinary occurance, or awareness that is pleasurable and unexpected.

      Thank you for leaving the note and for visiting here.

      Love,
      Debra

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      • I very much accord with what you say in your comment above Debra, in that giving of any kind – even if ‘merely’ the silent offering of kind and loving thoughts – when done with no anticipation of a resultant reciprocity, in some way improves not only our lot, but the totality of what we are part of too. Each kind thought finds its mark at some point, whether that may be through the beneficent conditioning of our future thought processes, or via ways unseen and unknown to us due to our limited comprehension of the nature of thought, mind, consciousness and so forth. This perhaps sounds mysterious and unlikely, and yet it is the undeniable experience of many of us. My own route to discovering the truth of this was through Buddhist contemplative practices, notably the so-called ‘Brahmavihara’ or ‘sublime abodes’, though there are of course many equivalent practices in other traditions, and well as those without any tradition.

        In response to your question about my use of the word ‘serenity’, I was really thinking of states known in orthodox Buddhism as ‘sukha’ (pleasurable happiness) and ‘piti’ (tranquil and joyous rapture) – the latter arising more in one-pointedness of thought, which need not of itself be some meditative absorption experienced only in seated practice. Both are very much physically experienced sensations though; they are not tones of mind alone. To unclutter that a bit, it’s really just feeling the beauty of giving selflessly – there’s a sympathetic resonance that reflects back to the body from the purity of any generous gesture.

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      • Thanks Hariod!

        Of course is a non-verbal felt sensation, but I think I understand that what you mean by serenity and see that it resembles ecstacy in some ways. Perhaps they are different variations of intensity?

        In some ways I feel unable to resolve their difference, if any there be, and will leave it at that.

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