The dance of a life that loves to happen starts with learning to dance with a day, to dance with the moments. In his poem, What Lives In Us, Rumi reflects on this:
Exuberant is existence, time a husk.
When the moment cracks open, ecstasy leaps out and devours space;
Love goes mad with the blessings, like my words give.
Why lay yourself on the torturer’s rack of the past and future?
The mind that tries to shape tomorrow beyond its capacities will find no rest.
Be kind to yourself, dear—to our innocent follies.
Forget any sounds or touch you knew that did not help you dance.
You will come to see that all evolves us.
Rumi makes three astonishing assertions here.
Astonishing Assertion #1: Time is a husk, but existence is exuberant!
We are all timed. And yet, the dance of joy runs through all existence like a golden thread. Joy to the spiritual universe is like water to the fish—it’s so much a part of our reality that it’s easy to take for granted. Joy is the flip side of tragedy and it may be the deepest thing in the universe.
Astonishing Assertion #2: Joy is the point of present moments.
Every here, every now, every this is a gateway to bliss. And joy in the present brings blessings: (a) It helps reduce tensions, (b) It shows us how to be with others, (c) It helps us bring a spirit of playfulness to our work, (d) It makes life feel meaningful.
Astonishing Assertion #3: The more we “turn loose” of things that hinder our dance of joy, the more these things help us grow.
This is an amazing paradox. If I were to talk about things that have hindered my dance of joy, I could tell about being weighed down with heavy regrets; being overwhelmed at times by fear and anxiety. I could talk about unfortunate decisions.
Rumi says we don’t have to obsess over these things; we can turn loose. But then he says a remarkable thing: The more you turn loose, the more “you will come to see that all evolves us.” You can accept it all! You can use it all! Everything that happens is part of your story. It can all help you grow, help you keep dancing.
So be kind to yourself, he says: Don’t let past regrets or future worries keep you from dancing with your days and dancing with the moments.
Every human being is invited to dance with life that loves to happen. That theme runs like a golden thread through much mystic poetry.
No matter who you are, you’re invited. No matter what has happened in your life (or hasn’t happened, or is happening now), you’re still invited. Hafiz captures the spirit of this invitation in the following poem:
Come to my house late at night—do not be shy.
Hafiz will be barefoot and dancing.
I will be in such a grand and generous mood!…
Come in, my dear, from that harsh world
that has rained elements of stone upon your tender face.
Every soul should receive a toast from us for bravery!…
Let’s dine tonight with exquisite music. I might even hire angels
to play—just for you. Look! Hidden beneath your feet is a
Luminous Stage where we are meant to rehearse our Eternal Dance!
Come to my window, dear world—why ever be shy?
Look inside my playful verse, for Hafiz is Barefoot and Dancing
and in such a Grand and Generous—in such a Fantastic Mood.
We all know about that “harsh world” don’t we? We know about the stones raining down on our faces. We started out in life and it was going to be exciting. Then, life happened. We needed to work, but work brought stress. We wanted relationships, and they brought stress. There were problems, failures, setbacks. Good days and bad days. Some years were better than others.
And pretty soon life can feel a little like a cartoon I saw. Two men, dying of thirst, are crawling on their bellies across a desert looking for water. Suddenly, coming from the other direction, a thirsty camel is crawling on his belly toward them. One man says: “Well, this is not a cheerful sign!”
You see? We even turned our troubles into a moment of laughter! Maybe we do deserve a toast for bravery.
Hafiz is saying, in effect: Don’t let the troubles of life cause you to miss the bliss. If the stresses or wounds or failures of your life have sort of overtaken you, sort of become the dominant story, and life is not loving to happen, you should resolve and decide now that you will spend no more days, no more weeks, and no more years inside the skin where life does not love to happen.
I don’t do this often, but I would like to ask you a favor. Would you tell a friend or two about our new series on The Living Conversation. (If you’re comfortable doing so.)
The theme we’re exploring over the next few months is: Dancing With A Life That Loves To Happen. The posts will draw on mystic poetry, folk stories and other related material, including the popular Life That Loves To Happen seminar with Landon Saunders (attended by thousands across North America in the early 2000s.)
No matter what has happened or what hasn’t happened in your life, you deserve a chance to have a life that loves to happen. We all do! But it’s not always easy.
The mystic poets (and others) point to timeless ideas for accessing our own inner resources to keep life dancing day by day, all the way to our last day. This dance was in us as children and it still is; sometimes we just need to be reminded.
Here are some of the issues we’ll be digging into:
- Dancing With the Person in the Mirror. Feeling good about yourself is the foundation of a life that loves to happen.
- Dancing With Relationships. Relationships are the source of our greatest joy, but also our greatest stress. The dance helps us know how to be with others.
- Dancing With Work. Bringing the playful dance to work helps us channel stress in a creative rather than a destructive way
- Dancing With Troubles. You are greater than anything that can happen to you; the dance helps you get an upper hand on fear and sadness.
Chesterton said: “We’re all in the same boat on a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.” I’m writing these posts, in part, because of the loyalty I feel to you as readers. And that’s also why I’m asking you to share this with others.
I want us all to be able to say: I danced with a life that loves to happen.
I don’t do any advertising and I don’t gain any income from this. I rely on word of mouth. So thanks for helping if you can.
And thank you so much for reading my imperfect attempts to share our common quest.
To dance with your own life is to celebrate your life—to celebrate the miracle of being alive and being you. Rumi reflects on that in these lines from, I’m Afraid of the Daylight:
All these miracles are about to drive me crazy:
my elbows, my ears, my nose, my wife’s nagging,
and the sweet darkness of the night,
and this blanket of existence around my soul
and my heart connected to the pulse of
I suspect I know what you’re thinking: He thinks his wife’s nagging is a miracle? And he thinks his nose is a miracle?
Well, maybe he had a little extra wine the day he wrote this. Or maybe he was just trying to keep things light (which is also a characteristic of The Dance).
This reminds me of a poem recited by Henry Gibson on the long-ago show, Laugh-In: “I love my nose, I love my nose, I like my eyebrows too.”
(For some reason, my kids think my nose is funny looking. But I once saw someone walking a homely dog and thought, well, if he can love that dog, I can love my nose!)
So yes, Rumi is keeping things light. But I think he’s also saying something like:
“You don’t have to go on a pilgrimage to India to find a miracle. All you have to do is sit quietly and pay attention to your everyday life. Look at the day, look at the night, look within. There’s something miraculous about you and about every person you meet.
“So go ahead, celebrate your life. Celebrate today. Celebrate yourself and other people. Joy is so important to your life, you don’t even need a reason to celebrate.”
Now, let’s be honest: it may be that the slings and arrows of life have so battered our brains and hearts that we need some practice with this “dance step” of celebration.
I think I’ll start by celebrating my nose.
How to keep the inner person vibrantly alive no matter what life brings?
That question preoccupied Rumi. It led him to write thousands of poems for his Sufi community in Konya (in what is now Turkey) in the 1200s.
But Rumi did something else. He introduced the whirling dervishes, the ecstatic dancers that became part of their gatherings. Why? What was that dancing about?
Part of it was this: the dervishes danced to personify the dance of the universe, the joyful dance of life that surrounds and nurtures us at all times. We see that dance in the play of children, in the play of sunlight on the surface of the water, in the soaring mountains and crashing ocean, in the dancing eyes of a loved one, in a delicious meal that dances on our tongues, in the sunrise, in the full moon, in art and music and poetry, in the joy of work, in the rhythms of an ordinary day and in ten thousand other ways.
Without that dance, our life would not be possible.
But here’s the critical point: Rumi says that the dance that brought the universe into existence, this dance of life that is all around us all the time…that dance is inside you and inside me and inside every human being.
So when Sufis watched the dancers, the dance spoke to them; it called them to join the dance of life. It reminded them that they were not meant to simply put their heads down and slog through life; they were meant to come up, come out, to live, to enjoy, to celebrate life, because human beings were made for the joy of it.
We hear that call in this poem from Hafiz, another Sufi poet from the 1200s.
I know the voice of depression still calls to you.
I know those habits that can ruin your life still
send their invitations.
But you are with the Friend now and look so much stronger.
You can stay that way and even bloom!
Keep squeezing drops of the Sun
from your prayers and work and music
and from your companion’s beautiful laughter
and from the most insignificant movements
of your own holy body.
Now, sweet one, be wise.
Cast all your votes for dancing!
Notice: Hafiz is not talking about a kind of rah-rah, pep rally dance. This is not about escaping from life’s troubles or pasting a smile on our faces.
This call to the dance is quiet and thoughtful. It embraces life as it is. Yes, the dark side of life is there, emptiness is there. That’s part of being human. But so are the little joys that we can wring out of everyday experiences.
And then, Hafiz says: “Now, sweet one, be wise.”
He’s saying: If you’re quiet, if you’re thoughtful, if you’re paying attention, you may find yourself face to face with your own life as it opens its arms and says…“Shall we dance?”
Guest post by Landon Saunders
Arthur Brooks in a thoughtful article in Atlantic Magazine wrote about choices we make, particularly choices that keep “midlife crisis” at bay. He wrote that in the first half of our lives we are adding, but in the second half he counseled that we should choose subtraction.
He said that in our early life we are filling up an empty canvas, but by midlife that canvas is pretty full and more brushstrokes make the painting worse, not better. At that point he thought things would be better if we changed from canvas to sculpture.
We are all sculpting what we hope will be a beautiful life. Sculpture works better if one begins with good material, and as a general rule, we all begin with something good. Michelangelo began with a good piece of marble, then chipped away, and his “David” emerged.
To become a better human being we work from within, don’t we? We deal with the outward—expectations, appearances, judgments, role-playing—and while influenced by such forces, we are hopefully guided from what’s within, what’s authentically us.
And, at times it’s all a bit messy—chips flying in all directions, piling up. But, we must never forget: a work of art is emerging. We’re sculpting something beautiful, something others enjoy, something deeply satisfying within.
So, while this is a good way to think about mid-life, it’s also not a bad way to think about our total life.
Personally, today…I’m chipping away!
Here’s a poem from Rumi called, I Guess You Won’t Mind.
Great lions can find peace in a cage.
But we should only do that
as a last resort.
So those bars I see that restrain your wings,
I guess you won’t mind
if I pry them
That reminds me of the ancient story of the lion cub whose mother was killed. The cub is adopted by goats and grows up thinking he is a goat.
One day an older male lion sees this young lion, now almost grown, bleating and eating grass like a goat. Offended, the older lion drags the young lion to the water and says, “Look at yourself! You’re a lion, like me! You’re not a goat.” But the young lion has been well trained. He just doesn’t get it.
So the older lion kills an antelope and drags the carcass to the younger lion and says, “Eat!” At first, the younger lion refuses; he’s used to eating grass. But the older lion forces him, and finally the younger lion gags and chokes down some of the antelope meat. As the meat goes down, he begins to feel different. Stronger. More alive. He eats more of the meat and then, suddenly, he lets out a roar!
Rumi is trying to get us to think seriously about this question: Is there something truly great about being a human being?
Are we destined to live in a succession of cages—the cage of fear, the cage of being comfortably numb, the cage of security, the cage of imitation, or other cages? Or are we meant to break out of the cage and live a life that loves to happen?
Imagine that you’re in a cage, but you’ve been planning your escape. Finally, the great day comes, but early that morning while it’s still dark, before leaving the cell, you write on the wall:
Today, I am breaking out of this cage. Today, I will affirm my life. Today, I’ll live! I will not compromise my commitment to myself or to the people I love. I will do things I have to do, but I will also make time for things that truly matter in my life. I will bring my whole self to even the unimportant moments and I’ll discover there are no unimportant moments. I’ll give others the gift of a me that’s fun to be with. Today, I won’t just settle or drift; I’ll reach for the stars. I may not get one, but I won’t end up with a handful of mud either. I didn’t make today, but I won’t let today make me.