MONTHLY MUSE: Laying down in Rumi’s field

Op-eds Opinions
Illustration by Christy Shao, Graphics Editor
Illustration by Christy Shao, Graphics Editor

What if I told you that one of the most profound secrets in the Universe is tattooed on Brad Pitt’s bicep?

No, it’s not some leftover renegade mantra from his role as Tyler Durden in Fight Club, but instead an excerpt taken from the poetry of 12-century Sufi mystic, Jalal al-din Muhammad Rumi.

The quote roughly translates from its original Persian to: “Out beyond the ideas of right doing and wrong doing there is a field. I will meet you there.” Interpretations differ slightly depending on the culture and era in which the quote is translated, and some have even suggested that the meaning has been entirely lost in translation.

For my part, I choose to interpret the mystic’s words as pointing to the lack of an absolute or fixed ‘good and bad’ in the world, and implies that when we move outside that binary, even the most steadfast disputes can be resolved.

Now, this might sound like a moral vacuum, and ambiguity can make people uneasy. The idea that there is no definitive good or bad, that there is nothing solid to ground us and guide our decisions, seems to invite anarchy and chaos into the world. What justice can there be for say, a murderer, if we don’t denounce the crime as evil?

While Rumi lived in a society far removed from our own, he certainly did not advocate that violence go unanswered.  Rather, it could be said he understood that labeling an action does little to stall its occurrence, and instead saw the world in terms of choices and consequences.

This pragmatic approach is sorely missed in many of today’s conflicts, both big and small, leading to an endless cycle of self-proclaimed justice, which most of the time is more in the vein of vengeance than anything else.

From personal disagreements to debates amongst the UVSS, and even the rhetoric surrounding growing international conflict, Rumi’s proposal to meet him in this field asks those caught up in the turmoil of an ‘us versus them’ mentality to step back for a moment and become aware of their own subjectivity.

[pullquote][Rumi] urges anyone in confrontation to see that their
idea of ‘right and wrong’ stems from but a single perspective, a lone story in a sea of countless others being told.[/pullquote]It urges anyone in confrontation to see that their idea of ‘right and wrong’ stems from but a single perspective, a lone story in a sea of countless others being told, and to realize that the morals of so called adversaries are all informed by their own unique narrative.

It does not require embracing that lame platitude of ‘agreeing to disagree,’ of being passive and complacent in one’s life — only the willingness to sit down and listen without judgment or presumptions.

Rumi’s field symbolizes the practice of removing ourselves temporarily from the noise of everyday life so that we may share in others’ stories peacefully and without interruption.

So if you feel stuck in a battle with someone, take a moment to dislodge from the story that surrounds it, and drift over to Rumi’s field. You’d be surprised what you may learn, both about your peers and yourself. And hey, you might just even see Brad Pitt there.