“We should split the sack
of this culture
and stick our heads out.”
If we were to crash land on a planet where the alien beings knew nothing of love – that is, to be completely devoid of ever feeling it, receiving it or expressing it – how might we describe the emotion to them and prove it exists? This descriptive task is harder than may first appear. Many have tried and succeeded in describing what love is and how it feels. However, their descriptions have only been successful on the condition that the reader has, at some point, experienced love before. Within this framework, such descriptive pieces succeed only in invoking a mere memory – not love itself. There is a significant difference between feeling something and remembering it. More importantly, we cannot invoke a memory that has not previously existed in the mind.
“Don’t try to see through the distances.
That’s not for human beings.
but don’t move the way
fear makes you move.”
So the question remains, how can we prove the human experience of love to beings who are unable to feel it? We cannot show them love in a jar so that they can glimpse what it looks like, nor can we allow them to touch it, smell it or taste it. We may point to examples around us, but love often takes an abstract form and is difficult to understand empirically as an oblivious onlooker. The giving of flowers, the sharing of milkshakes and the small notes lovers write all seem meaningless without an experiential understanding of the underlying emotion. Scientific reasoning as proof, thus seems insufficient in this instance and if we are unable to provide any convincing arguments for love, our alien beings may, justifiably, be inclined to dismiss it as a collective delusion of the human mind.
“The ocean takes care of each wave till it gets to shore.
You need more help than you know.”
The analogy of inter-galactic beings incapable, but curious, of human love presents an interesting problem. It shows us that we have a unifying understanding of love through a shared experience, we are, however, unable to fully explain it without making specific reference to the feelings it invokes. The poetry of Jalal Ad-Din Muhammad, better known as Rumi, offers the best rebuttal to this assumption. The 13th Century Sufi poet believed that we could transcend the material barriers to God through feelings of deep love. Following the death of his friend and mentor, Shams Tabriz, Rumi’s poetry captured the rays of the sun, the waves of the ocean, the flight of the birds and the song of the soul. He did the impossible, he wrote about love in a way our hypothetical alien beings might just understand.
“Lovers find secret places
inside the violent world
where they make transactions
The poetry of Rumi transcends the walls of experience through abstraction and manifests itself inside the reader as that very thing which it is evoking. A prior experience of love is not needed, for his poetry captures your soul and strikes a chord with it as if your entire being was a guitar pick, the reverberations of each note deepening your conviction. You are no longer listening to music, you are the music. Words no longer suffice in this place, they lose all meaning yet you still understand. The Sufi mystic’s poetry resonates so powerfully because it avoids the specificity of a culturally and linguistically shaped love. Instead, Rumi taps into a dormant, timeless ‘divine love’ which exists within each and every one of us. The enduring power of his poetry 800 years on is perhaps the strongest testament to this.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field
i’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”
Rumi’s verse is so profound because it deals with the abstract, the intangible on appropriate terms. He, like the great Zen masters before him, understood the limitations of a fixed, rigid language. Attempting to define something as free, changing and fleeting as love with a finite language is impossible – like trying to capture the air with a net. Bruce Lee famously stated in ‘Enter the Dragon’: “It is like a finger pointing away at the moon, don’t look at the finger or you will miss the moon in all its heavenly glory.” This Toaist principle underpins the success of Rumi’s work. His writing is not a finger pointed at love or God or anything for that matter. Instead, it presents a looking glass for the reader and for that reason the reader can access something unique to themselves. Herein lies the advantage of poetry over prescriptive literature when attempting to transcribe the metaphysical and transient nature of the world.
“This intensity is invisible.
Have you seen love?
Or heard it?”
Ultimately, love is central to the completion of all art, sport and writing. In attempting to chase and capture their passions, humans translate their endeavours onto canvas, courts, stages and books – these manifestations stand as monuments to the love that guides all human action. The work of Rumi is perhaps the most direct address of this guiding force which is why I argue that it is humanities greatest proof that this invisible, but powerful, emotion does exist as far more than a delusion of the mind. For this reason, Rumi remains one of the many historical figures I would love to visit were time travel possible. His insights on love and connection to God ranks him among the most enlightened figures to walk the earth.
“Let the beauty we love be what we do”
Throughout this post I have interwoven some of my favourite verses. They are not necessarily relevant to each paragraph they precede nor do they hold a hidden meaning. Perhaps, at the same time, they are indeed telling their own narrative with immense meaning. What does it matter? In true Sufi fashion, let us leave behind logic for feeling – at least momentarily – so we may drink from the cup of Rumi.
“The taste of this life comes from you,
soul moving like a mountain stream
under a sky of flowers.”