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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Tavern of Ecstatic Experience

"In the tavern," writes Rumi translator and poet Coleman Barks, "are many wines - the wine of delight in color and form and taste, the wine of the intellect's agility, the fine port of stories, and the cabernet of soul singing. Being human means entering this place where entrancing varieties of desire are served. The grapeskin of ego breaks and a pouring begins. Fermentation is one of the oldest symbols for human transformation. When grapes combine their juice and are closed up together for a time in a dark place, the results are spectacular. This is what lets two drunks meet so that they don't know who is who. Pronouns no longer apply in the tavern's mud-world of excited confusion and half-articulated wantings."

"But after some time in the tavern," Barks observes, "a point comes, a memory of elsewhere, a longing for the source, and the drunks must set off from the tavern and begin the return. The Qur'an says, "We are all returning." The tavern is a kind of glorious hell that human beings enjoy and suffer and then push off from in their search for truth. The tavern is a dangerous region where sometimes disguises are necessary, but never hide your heart, Rumi urges. Keep open there. A breaking apart, a crying out into the street, begins in the tavern, and the human soul turns to find its way home."

"Alcohol in Latin," Carl Jung pointed out to to Bill W., "is 'spiritus" and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum."

In the attached video this recognition of alcohol as a surrogate (or in Barks' case, a symbol) for spiritual awakening is continued. In it Dr. Robert Johnson, a Jungian analyst and author, notes that "if we do not get our ecstasy, which is an archetypal quality, in a legitimate way we will get it in an illegitimate way, which accounts for much of the chaos in our culture now. We have to have an ecstatic dimension of our lives."

The following poem by the great Sufi poet, Rumi, who is often called "the Shakespeare of mysticism," is from the first chapter in Coleman Barks' "The Essential Rumi."
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .


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 ecstasies
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 those 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 of "what's needed."

Drink the wine that moves you
as a camel moves when its untied
and is just ambling about.

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