Celestial Perspective

“If you could seek the unseen you would find

Love’s home, which is not reason or the mind,

And love’s intoxication tumbles down

The world’s designs for glory and renown-

If you could penetrate their passing show

And see the world’s wild atoms, you would know

That reason’s eyes will never glimpse one spark

Of shining love to mitigate the dark.

Love leads whoever starts along our Way;

The noblest bow to love and must obey-

But you, unwilling both to love and tread

The pilgrim’s path, you might as well be dead!

The lover chafes, impatient to depart,

And longs to sacrifice his life and his heart.”

The Conference of the Birds, Farid ud-Din Attar

"Monk by the Sea" by Caspar David Friedrich, 1808-1810

"Monk by the Sea" by Caspar David Friedrich, 1808-1810

There is a curious fusion to be found within Sufic poetry, one of mysticism and intense, romantic love.  I recognize love as an elemental, vast force, as the sky depicted in this painting.  It dwarfs individual cravings and desires, much like the monk is dwarfed, rendered as a tiny figure at the bottom.  The massive pain and longing grants unreasonable, irrational hope, and overawed by limerence, the luminescence of existing near this ominous power can burn like staring into the sun.  I could throw a lot of “why” questions at this…but Farid is right, reason need not apply at the gates of such a realm.  So what makes such love divine or mystical in nature?  Mainly it seems this way because of the scorched-earth treatment the small, petty, petulant self receives.  Once overtaken by this fire, the ego can never truly recover.  And although the trembling is fierce and the bandages may injure sharply when torn off, I can’t say that this is a bad thing.  The sky and ocean that this painter saw were things beyond the monk, things that dwarfed the monk- leading to a place of celestial perspective, a humility and fragility rarely seen in the pomposity and domineering competitive arrogance that humans tend to embrace.

Maybe this level of love is crazy, dangerous, ill-advised.  Maybe the monk’s very identity can be lost in his wide appreciation of the sky and sea.  Maybe recovery from such agony can never truly be found.  But for the people I have truly loved in this way, and the people incapable of allowing themselves to journey down this garden path, taking in every detail along the way, I must respond that these crazy lovers are the lucky ones.  And, smiling, recognizing when such madness comes around again, may an open sky always illuminate their Way.


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