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Celebrating Love and Poetry

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Whether you believe in Hallmark Card holidays like Valentine's Day or not, this month is a good time to think about someone you love, either alive or passed. But instead of sending flowers, giving chocolate, or going out to dinner, consider writing a letter or poem. If the person is deceased, you obviously can't send the letter, but it's a nice way to remain connected to that individual. My dad passed away twenty-eight years ago, and I always use this month as an excuse to write him a letter telling him how much I miss him, and letting him know what's going on in my life.

For creative inspiration, you might consider reading some love poetry. The poetry of our beloved Leonard Cohen is always inspiring, especially his book of Love Poems, more commonly called, The Book of Longing. More recently, for spiritual inspiration and to surround myself with love, I've been reading the works of the Sufi poet Rumi, and I've been blown away by his words and sentiments. There are numerous translations of Rumi's work, but I've found those by Coleman Barks to be the most powerful and compelling. As Barks says in his introduction to The Essential Rumi, the poems "are food and drink, nourishment for the part that is hungry for what they give. Call it soul" (p. xv). Barks goes on to say that Rumi's poems help us feel what living in "the ruins feels like . . . heartbroken, wandering, wordless, lost, and ecstatic for no reason. It's the psychic space his poems inhabit" (p. xvi).

These feelings are what many of us experience now and then, which is why Rumi's poems have resonated with me and so many others over the years. They fill us up when we're empty, and illuminate all that is wonderful when we feel good.

Barks's introduction shared a lot about Rumi, his history, and his life. This timeless poet was born in Balkh (in what is now northern Afghanistan) on September 30, 1207. As a teenager he was identified as a great spirit, and in his 30s he met Shams Tabriz, with whom he shared many mystical conversations, resulting in a strong and magical friendship that inspired and informed Rumi's poetry.

Rumi died in 1273, and on his tomb is the inscription: "Do not look for him here, but rather in the hearts of those who love him." For many, Rumi's poems deepen their overall sense of faith and hope. He was a wonderful soul and spiritual teacher. As Barks says, "He shows us glory. He wants us to be more alive, to wake up . . . he wants us to see our beauty in the mirror and in each other." Rumi's poems in their original form have no Persian titles. Barks says this is because "they are works in progress in a life in progress, oceanic living tissue always reconfiguring itself"; however, for the purposes of his book, Barks assigned titles for each poem to facilitate accessibility.
It's not easy choosing one of my favorite Rumi love poems--I simply adore all of them--but here's an excerpt from one of my favorite ones, "Buoyancy," which coincides with February, the Month of Love:

Love has taken away my practices
and filled me with poetry.

I tried to keep quietly repeating,
No strength but yours,
but I couldn't.

I had to clap and sing.
I used to be respectable and chaste and stable,
but who can stand in this strong wind
and remember those things?

A mountain keeps an echo deep inside itself.
That's how I hold your voice.

Happy Month of Love to all!