Childhood Friends (Part 1 and 2)

     Part 1 (from last week)

     You may have heard, it’s the custom for kings

to let warriors stand on the left, the side of the heart,

and courage. On the right they put the chancellor,

and various secretaries, because the practice

of bookkeeping and writing usually belongs to the right hand. In the center,

      the sufis,

because in meditation they become mirrors.

The king can look at their faces

and see his original state.

      Give the beautiful ones mirrors,

and let them fall in love with themselves.


      That way they polish their souls

and kindle remembering in others.


      A close childhood friend once came to visit Joseph.

They had shared the secrets that children tell each other

when they’re lying on their pillows at night

before they go to sleep. These two

were completely truthful

with each other.


      The friend asked, “What was it like when you realized

your brothers were jealous and what they planned to do?”


      “I felt like a lion with a chain around its neck.

Not degraded by the chain, and not complaining,

but just waiting for my power to be recognized.”


      “How about down in the well, and in prison?

How was it then?”

      “Like the moon when it’s getting

smaller, yet knowing the fullness to come.

Like a seed pearl ground in the mortar for medicine,

that knows it will now be the light in a human eye.


      Like a wheat grain that breaks open in the ground,

then grows, then gets harvested, then crushed in the mill

for flour, then baked, then crushed again between teeth

to become a person’s deepest understanding.

Lost in love, like the songs the planters sing

the night after they sow the seed.”

      There is no end

to any of this.

Part 2

Back to something else the good man

and Joseph talked about.


“Ah my friend, what have you

brought me? You know a traveler should not arrive

empty-handed at the door of a friend like me.

That’s going to the grinding stone without your wheat.


God will ask at the resurrection, ‘Did you bring Me

a present? Did you forget? Did you think

you wouldn’t see me?’”


Joseph kept teasing,

“Let’s have it. I want my gift!”


The guest began, “You can’t imagine how I’ve looked

for something for you. Nothing seemed appropriate.

You don’t take gold down into a goldmine,

or a drop of water to the Sea of Oman!

Everything I thought of was like bringing cumin seed

to Kirmanshah where cumin comes from.


You have all seeds in your barn. You even have my love

and my soul, so I can’t even bring those.


I’ve brought you a mirror. Look at yourself,

and remember me.”


He took the mirror out from his robe

where he was hiding it.


What is the mirror of being?

Non-being. Always bring a mirror of non-existence

as a gift. Any other present is foolish.


Let the poor man look deep into generosity.

Let bread see a hungry man.

Let kindling behold a spark from the flint.


An empty mirror and your worst destructive habits,

when they are held up to each other,

that’s when the real making begins.

That’s what art and crafting are.


A tailor needs a torn garment to practice his expertise.

The trunks of trees must be cut and cut again

so they can be used for fine carpentry.


Your doctor must have a broken leg to doctor.

Your defects are the ways that glory gets manifested.

Whoever sees clearly what’s diseased in himself

begins to gallop on the way.


There is nothing worse

than thinking you are well enough.

More than anything, self-complacency

blocks the workmanship.


Put your vileness up to a mirror and weep.

Get that self-satisfaction flowing out of you!

Satan thought, “I am better than Adam,”

and that better than is still strongly in us.


Your stream water may look clean,

but there’s unstirred matter on the bottom.

Your sheikh can dig a side channel

that will drain that waste off.


Trust your wound to a teacher’s surgery.

Flies collect on a wound. They cover it,

those flies of your self-protecting feelings,

your love for what you think is yours.


Let a teacher wave away the flies

and put a plaster on the wound.


Don’t turn your head. Keep looking

at the bandaged place. That’s where

the light enters you.

And don’t believe for a moment

that you’re healing yourself.


– Rumi in Coleman Barks    The Essential Rumi – reissue: New Expanded Edition