Passion, Passion, Passion!

This is a photo of our passiflora loefgrenii, also know as the garlic passion fruit, which is known for its otherworldly beauty, lusciously hued petals and fruit with a translucent pulp that is proven to ward off vampires with hints of garlic midst the sweetness. Geeky gardeners like us are quite smitten with this rare perennial vine from Brazil. What are you passionate about? Faced with insurmountable mountains of work that never reach completion, intractable geopolitical crises seemingly beyond our ability to impact, and the exhausting challenges of mere day to day survival, it's easy for our passion to wilt. Yet without that spark, responsibilities become burdens and generosity degrades into resentment. So how do we reclaim our passion?

I recommend a blast from the past. Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (or just Rumi to those of us who feel like old friends through his unsurpassed Sufi poetry) injected an unstoppable torrent of vivacity into ordinary script. His urgent plea was for everyone to connect with the divine essence beyond words. Yet even that is a limp description of his charismatic fervor. He urged us to forsake everything that does not drip, saturate and overflow with the Beloved juice that makes the universe run.

What's required to do so? Merely a single-minded dedication to pursue it wholeheartedly, and in the process discover that the heart...and everything else...becomes whole. That dedication says an emphatic "no" to extraneous wastes of energy (fool's gold) and "yes" to all that vibrates with the fierceness of being alive (pure gold). It's not about forsaking responsibilities but rediscovering them from a gut-emanating, all-embracing compassion. It is consciously living from our most root Essence until we are once again swept up in the passion of existence itself.

Whether you find that passion in your partner's smile, busting a dance move, singing off-key with every fiber of your being in the car, or exuberantly cultivating a passion flower, the invitation is always toward more life, more expression, more of the real stuff that makes everything else worthwhile. As Rumi said in a poem translated by the nearly-always-spontaneously-combusting Andrew Harvey:

Passion burns down every branch of exhaustion.

Passion is the supreme alchemical elixir, and renews all things.

No-one can grow exhausted when passion is born,

so don’t sigh heavily, your brows bleak with boredom and cynicism and despair—

look for passion! passion! passion! passion!

Futile solutions deceive the force of passion.

They are banded to extort money through lies.

Marshy and stagnant water is no cure for thirst.

No matter how limpid and delicious it might look,

it will only stop and prevent you from looking for fresh rivers

that could feed and make flourish a hundred gardens,

just as each piece of false gold prevents you 

from recognizing real gold and where to find it.

False gold will only cut your feet and bind your wings, 

saying “I will remove your difficulties”

when in fact it is only dregs and defeat in the robes of victory.

So run, my friends, run fast and furious from all false solutions.

Let divine passion triumph, and rebirth you in yourself.

P.S. Happy Birthday Rumi! Last week was your 806 birthday, and you never looked so good!

Mismatched Shoes

Yes, I did it. I was in such a rush to get out the door for an appointment that I put on two shoes that did not match. About a block away from my destination I realized what I had done...too late to turn back. We all had a good laugh when I arrived. [Yes, prepare the meds and set up my psych exam.} Sometimes, however, a mismatch is exactly what is needed. In many spiritual circles, we only dance with sweet qualities: love, peace and joy. God (the LIfe Source), however, is varied and diverse, encompassing a full range of energies.

In Muslim and Sufi communities, a list of 99 names for the divine provides endless opportunities for reflection. In the Sufi tradition, these names are divided into two categories: Jamal and Jalal. Jamal are names which relate to beauty, that is, they have a feminine sense of warmth and loveliness. These qualities include compassion, mercy, forgiveness and love. Jalal refers to those qualities related to majesty, which have more of a masculine feel. These qualities include power, independence, advocacy, and justice.

In the midst of these 99 divine qualities are some that are mystifying and off putting: "The Restrainer", "The Humiliator", "The Reckoner", and "The Distressor". We could chock these strange divine names up to the influence of patriarchal waters that have washed over our great religions. That's too easy. Part of the purpose of such a list is to normalize our human experience by finding in the divine every aspect of the psyche.

These qualities, especially the ones that repel us, are worthy of contemplation and cultivation in order to be well-balanced human beings. For what is the purpose of reflecting on the divine if not to become more divine-like ourselves? Each of us at times needs more restraint or humility. There are moments when we need to call up that divine anger when someone's harmful behavior requires a reckoning. Even distress has its place. An old adage says that Jesus came to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable". Causing distress for the privileged is the first step toward justice and equality. For every beautiful/lovely shoe, there is by necessity a corresponding, seemingly mismatched shoe of majesty/justice.

The key, of course, is to know which quality, which shoe, is appropriate in each moment. If we only step with one foot, we don't move much. [Case in point...Washington, D.C....For most of his two terms, President Obama has focused on the qualities of gathering/relenting. Republicans have displayed firmness. To make progress, each needs to try on the quality displayed by the other.]

So how do we discern which quality is appropriate for the moment? Which do we overemphasize or underemphasize? Which quality does the divine yearn for us to put on? More and more I'm relying on my body to tell me. When my feet, my stomach and my jaw feel open, free, loose and buzzing with energy, then I sense that I'm embodying the appropriate choice for the moment: whether that be the bliss of compassion or the clarity of anger. When I feel constricted, devoid of life, or about to burst with frustration, that's a cue that a different quality is necessary.

Where is Aliveness in this moment? Step, walk, run after it! Whether or not your shoes match makes no difference. It may well be the mismatched pair that brings you closest to the divine and sets you on the truer path you've longed for all these years of forced marching.