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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Rumi - Spiritual Awakening in the Tavern of Life

When I was 15, or so, years sober, and newly returned to Alcoholics Anonymous, following a 4-1/2 year dry drunk, an old-timer took me in hand. We reviewed the essentials of the AA Big Book, and he shared his story and the great spiritual insights he had gained in his 35 years (and more) on the spiritual path. He suggested (as I've noted in a previous blog) that if I was serious in my quest for spiritual awakening I should read Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and The Essential Rumi. Picking up Coleman Bark's masterful translation of the Sufi master's poetry, I read the following:

The Many Wines

God has given us a dark wine so potent that,
drinking it, we leave the two worlds.

God has put into the form of hashish a power
to deliver the taster from self-consciousness.

God has made sleep so
that it erases every thought.

God made Majnun love Layla so much that
just her dog would cause confusion in him.

There are thousands of wines
that can take over our minds.

Don't think all ecstacies
are the same!

Jesus was lost in his love for God.
His donkey was drunk with barley.

Drink from the presence of saints
not from these other jars.

Every object, every being,
is a jar full of delight.

Be a connoisseur,
and taste with caution.

Any wine will get you high.
Judge like a king and choose the purest,

the ones unadulterated with fear,
or some urgency about "what's needed."

Drink the wine that moves you
as a camel moves when it's been untied,
and is just ambling around.

How can I, who knows so little, comment on the poems of the spiritually unparalleled liberated Sufi master?  I suppose, the only way is to set out what the passages have meant to me in my recovery and in my spiritual quest.

As a cross-addicted alcoholic who smoked more than his fair share of hashish, I derive a great message from Rumi's observation that "God into the form of hashish a power to deliver the taster from self-consciousness. I smoked hash and marijuana, drank immoderate amounts of alcohol, and took other drugs as they became available, precisely to alter the state of my self-consciousness, precisely to be relieved from the unconnected and suffering me inside me..  With intoxication, I lost self-consciousness and I seemed to become one with the world.  All my ordinary fears and the image I had of myself as being less than and unacceptable to the people I met in this world disappeared.  I seemed to be at one with the world and the people I loved in it. This effect lasted 16 beautiful years, and I intended to enjoy this for a lifetime.

However, a seed was one day planted in my mind that I might have a problem with the drugs and alcohol.  Thereafter every day as I drank and/or got high, the seed-voice in my mind would say, "Damn! you weren't going to do this today! Contrite, I would promise myself I would stop the next day. This continued for six or eight months. And these were, needless to say crazy days of unnecessary fear and suffering

Of course, in time the progressive and fatal nature of alcoholic addiction caught up with me.  The ordinary self-consciousness which tortured me when sober was no longer overcome, when drinking and drugging that punishing inner voice was even more punishing, where once it had been removed.

I had a moment of clarity looking into a mirror one wasted night.  I said out loud that this was it. That I could no longer go on drinking or drugging.  That  was my sobriety date, November 11, 1989.

I eventually got to AA, went to a lot of meetings, and worked hard with my sponsor to take the suggested 12 steps in the AA program.  Life changed for the better as I was still relatively young.  I completed several university degrees leading to a professional career.  Unfortunately, several "of the thousands of wines that can take over my mind", indeed took me over.  I was a victim, I suppose of the wines that bred fear, and a need for security; wines that fed a greed to try and fill these seemingly fillable, but ultimately unfulfillable "needs."  Of course, I was bound to fail as I had wandered far from the only path in  life that mattered, and I had mistaken a wholly worldly path for the path to life's goodness and wisdom.

With these realizations, I was told by my mentor that I could overcome this "self imposed crisis"- albeit only by exercising determination, devotion and a profound exertion of great will.  The ordinary human self-centered, or ego-centric way of perceiving the world, its contents and inhabitants, is the root of most human ills and problems. Yet, when these same universal human failings manifest in the prospective or active alcoholic addict unless they are delivered (as I once had been) by an act grace, by personal and honest contact with caring friends, or through a higher education of the mind beyond mere rationality, they are apt to die of their alcoholic addiction, thereby missing the only lesson that is essential for all of us to learn.

There are I had learned, "thousands of wines that can take over the mind."  It now became incumbent upon me to "judge like a king" and to only take into my being the purest of wine-thoughts available in this tavern-world; those wine-thoughts that "are unadulterated with fear, or some urgency about "whats needed"."

In this I am reminded of a passage in the Bhagavad Gita, in which he assures Arjuna that "those who worship the gods, go to the gods." "Therefore," he warned Arjuna, "be sure of which god it is you worship!"

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