By Igor Goldkind
I open the envelope to look inside. A teal-colored box wrapped in transparent plastic peers back up at me. My knife’s edge slits open the plastic so that I can pull the surface away.
I hear the crinkle of the paper as I crumple and cast it aside to reveal the gloss surface of the laminated cardboard box as wide as my hands.
It is a beautiful box cover decorated by Persian glyph patterns of abstract petals from half seen flowers. Behind the title is a woman, eyes closed with a smile of repose upon her lips.
The title stands in front of her:
The only other two words on the surface of the box is the name of the woman whose gift this is:
A silken tongue sticks out from under the cover of the box tempting me to pull open its lid and look inside.
I pull the tongue, pause and then open ribboned hinge of my gift.
First the sight of a 126-page booklet of mat paper, the size and shape of the box that contains it. Before skipping to the introduction to my gift, I dislodge what appears to be a deck of square rounded corner cards, also laminated, all teal-green on one side. On the other side of each card there are two types of image; one of text, verse from the work of Rumi and the other an image accompanied by a word Courage, Perspective, Service, Union, Transformation.
Are these virtues? Is this a booklet and cards of divination? I knew the name Rumi to be that of the Sufi mystic and poet, the whirling, twirling dervishes I had once witnessed in a ceremony. But what was this?
Shoshin (初心) is a word from Zen Buddhism means “beginner’s mind.” It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would. It is this Shoshin that grants courage to my ignorance. To see with unfettered eyes.
I know nothing of Rumi apart from his name, that he was a Sufi mystic and the image of a bearded 13th-Century Persian mystic; a teacher and a poet revered by the multitudes of devotees who know his work better than me. I am as wary of Rumi as I am of Jesus because of his devotees. His name is owned by too many followers. Too many adamant interpreters coil like clouds of dust around his reputation. I do not want to breathe in the dust, I want to know the body that gave and still gives rise to the dust.
And it is the name Ari Honarvar that takes my ignorance in hand to explore the contents of this box, this Rumi’s Gift that has passed from his hands to hers and now to mine.
I first met Ari at a reading in a church some years ago. I had at the time determined to embark on a new direction in my own poetry. To begin to read aloud in public and invade the public space with my words. So I was on a quest to learn, to take in the performances of spoken word artists in order to see what there was to hear. Ari was one of a line of poets, many earnest, most sincere and each trying hard to reach out to their audience to my ears.
But when Ari began to read, something changed for me. I experienced what I can only describe as lateral vertigo. I was pulled from my perspective, from my distance to a sharpened focus on this poet. I was pulled out from my remote looking for clues. Out of my cynical spectator’s gaze into her voice and her gestures. Ari was not performing, she was reciting the facts of her life. She was pulling me to the streets of Tehran with the Iraqi bombs falling around her. She showed me her mother running out into the street, shaking her fist at the sky and reciting at the top of her lungs a poem by Rumi.
Ari took me into her frightened childhood with her words. Into her confusion and her terror at the thundering menace of war. She showed me the streets that once were her childhood safety, now rendered deathly traps of billowing dust and falling rubble. And her mother with her human fist raised in defiance uttering the words of a poet at the sky. This was my vertigo come stark relief. Baghdad, Tehran, Beirut were all political, geographical abstracts to me. The names uttered by news journalists, talking heads in boxes and occasionally by people I might meet who told me where they were from and then studied my face and my eyes to see if I had any real recognition of what that actually meant.
We Americans think that but for bad luck, the rest of the world would wish to be American. It is past this blindness that the rest of world searches our American faces.
I trusted this Rumi’s Gift because I trusted its author who had shown me a previous truth with her words and her Farsi gestures. I knew that this was reliable, local knowledge as remote as we both were now from its origin. And as intimate 800 years ago.
Rumi himself was a refugee. A boy his scholarly father had taken 2,000 miles west to Turkey to escape the greed-driven hoards of Genghis Khan.
In his introduction to an English edition of Spiritual Verses, translator Alan Williams wrote: “Rumi is both a poet and a mystic, but he is a teacher first, trying to communicate what he knows to his audience. Like all good teachers, he trusts that ultimately, when the means to go any further fail him and his voice falls silent, his students will have learnt to understand on their own.”
Ari Honarvar’s Rumi’s Gift is not a book. It is a deck of cards with a map in the form of a booklet. The leap to Tarot-like divination is an easy mistake to make. But whereas Tarot and Tarot reading convey hermeneutic meanings, a reflection back on reality; Ari’s cards of her versions of Rumi’s verses are a direct pointing at the meaning within experience itself. The titles on the cards indicate not the “experience of life” but the experiences within life that all point towards that nameless center of being. The Being in this world as part of this world.
Ari offers a suggested arrangement for the cards, a hierarchy of purpose. As well as guided meditation through the cards as well exercises in poetic expression. But the truth is in the reading of the cards themselves, in the engagement with the symbols that point to a tangible, to the mystical (not the spiritual) world we occupy. Although a distinction is often superfluous to meaning for the sake of clarity the difference between the spiritual and the mystical is that the spiritual is an inner journey and the mystical, an outer one into the world we are a part of. In this way, Ari Honarvar’s Rumi’s Gift has some relationship to the casting of the I-Ching in real time.
It is best to turn to the words of the poet himself in order to grasp this superfluous distinction between the mystical and the spiritual:
Silence. Dance. Trust. Transformation. Work. Teacher. Perspective. Laughter. Letting Go. The Unknown. The Path, are all features of the world. Value and action we engage in:
Wisdom: I asked the moon, Show me the pearl of Wisdom. The moon gestured towards the sea: go ahead and dive in deep!
Service: Love has set fire to my past and freed the bird of truth. I was a happy pearl but the storm of love shattered me Now I am the ocean water making thousands of pearls.
The Source: I have seen both words And call them one. My place is the placeless. a race of the traceless. I am not the body. I am not the mind I am the source of life itself.
Words more often than not mere representations of experience we wish to rate or convey, but they are not the experiences in themselves and that is too often the error we all make with language. The map is not the territory and the language is not the experience. However, sign, symbol, and poetry can indicate the truth of that experience better than an account or a story. It is the poetic that circumvents the representation of experience and instead points directly at the experience itself.
This is the actual mystical experience anyone can have in reading Rumi’s verse and interacting with Ari’s cards. It is much simpler that one might think and the orientation is one of relinquishment rather than acquisition so alien to the western mind and yet so essential to lasting well-being
So what is this mystical experience that you can “get” with Rumi’s Gift? It depends entirely on who you are and what direction you look when following the pointers. There can be no dogma to the mystical because the point is in the moment that you are in and the angle of the light that you are seeing at that moment in time, in the timeless.
In this way Rumi’s Gift is not divination or a reading of experience, it is instead a direct pointing at the source of one’s own truer nature. A direct pointing at what is too often camouflaged by insecurities, doubts, and despair; the building blocks of illusion.
Underlying all of this. the one current that runs through it all, is great love, great love and devotion to the reality we all find ourselves within:
Union: You are the sun and also my shadow
You are the silence and the words of this poem
Once I thought I lost you
Now I see the world through your eyes.
Come come my beloved
You are you are my speech
Tell me, tell me my secrets.
Die, die in this love
When you die in this love
You become life itself
Die, die in this love
Become the radiant moon
parting the clouds of this and that
This death will gift you will silence
And in the silence you merge with
the heartbeat of the unknown.
Love: Love said: Oh candle, you are using your light to attract others
I screamed: take my light!
And I became nothing but smoke
This interaction with Rumi’s verses in the form of dynamic cards is really the most effective way of understanding the meanings of his words. Rather than static verse laid out in a linear sequence of page after page, Ari’s cards give wings to Rumi’s fragments so that they dart in and out of our focus, pointing away from Concept towards Wisdom. Our interaction is the shuffling of the contents, the arrangement of the focus of our awareness towards the constant that is ever changing. That which connects us to the truer nature of our self.
Be it in her prescriptions for using the beautifully rendered cards in her deck as meditations or her invocation to write poetry as a means of finding clarity in one’s life, the voice is firm but supportive and always hinting at the loving devotion by which both Ari Honarvar and Rumi see the world.
This is also a deeply feminine work although not gender specific; rather Ari Honarvar adopts a maternal tone of nurturing birth. Each card in this collection, be it text or image, is marked on the other side by the Farsi spelling of Hu, one of the many Sufi names for g/d. But the nuance in the cryptogram is that of pregnancy in the sense that each one of us, male and female is pregnant with the Hu inside of us. The potential of our own path towards connection to the divine.
But the other feminine nuance has to do with the author Ari Honarvar’s voice itself. Women are accustomed to hearing the male voice internalized when reading the works of men. And many women writers have either adopted a mimicry of the male voice or adjust to a gender neutrality that does not discern the male ear. Not in this instance. Although Ari is channeling the mystical sensibility of Rumi, a male poet; her interpretation is unmistakably feminine and strongly maternal. In this sense, man or woman we are all our mothers’ child and if I understand Rumi correctly it is by this sense of the maternal that we are all, each of us cradled by a mother’s love.
I would highly recommend this dynamic collection of verse as a respite from a world that too often seems to point away from us rather than towards us.
I return the cards carefully to their plastic band and place them back in the box. I lower the booklet on top of them and then close the lid.
I am a peace with my gift.
Rumi’s Gift by Ari Honarvar.
Images by Ari Honarvar and Carmen Costello
Published by Sciffer Publishing Ltd.
$29.99 ISBN: 978-0-7643-5454-0
Igor Goldkind was born April 20, 1960, in Lansing, Michigan and raised in San Diego, California. He is an author, poet, and lecturer who currently specializes in Digital Storytelling and Information Architecture. His published works include: Is She Available?, It’s Not Just Semantics: Driving Conversion with the Inference Engine