Reflections on “This We Have Now” by Rumi

I have been strongly influenced by Rumi, a 13th Century Sufi mystic poet. In this article, I will share my reflections concerning one of his poems: “This We Have Now,” which is a poem about Enlightenment or the process of Awakening. Such a process has been, of course, of intense interest in Eastern religions for centuries. In the last few decades, this process has been studied and explored much more earnestly in Western culture. Related components, such as mindfulness training, have recently been integrated into mental health treatment processes and Wellness Programs in hospitals, businesses and in the U.S. military.

My experience in reading Rumi is to flow into a kind of contemplation that has been very helpful in my own awakening process. Nevertheless to add commentary to Rumi’s words feels a bit pretentious. One could argue that great poems ought to be left alone. Let the poem speak for itself. I heartily agree with this. Whenever my comments take away from the message, I hope the reader will discount my words and listen ever more intently to Rumi. However, I have found other commentaries to be helpful in better understanding the context of the words spoken, and I proceed with the hope that my comments will occasionally do the same for the reader.

Here is the poem in its entirety as it appears in The Essential Rumi: New Expanded Edition by Jalal ad-Din Rumi as translated by Coleman Barks, published by HarperCollins e-books.

This We Have Now

This we have now is not imagination.   
This is not grief or joy.
Not a judging state, or an elation, or sadness. 
Those come and go.   
This is the presence that doesn’t.
It’s dawn, Husam, here in the splendor of coral, inside the Friend, the simple truth of what Hallaj said. 
What else could human beings want?   
When grapes turn to wine, they’re wanting this. 
When the nightsky pours by, it’s really a crowd of beggars, and they all want some of this! 
This that we are now created the body, cell by cell, like bees building a honeycomb. 
The human body and the universe grew from this, not this from the universe and the human body.
 
What It Is Not

This we have now is not imagination.   
This is not grief or joy. 
Not a judging state, or an elation, or sadness. 
Those come and go.   
This is the presence that doesn’t.
_______________
Within most religions, there is a mystical movement that seeks enlightenment or union with the divine. In Christianity, there are numerous examples of individuals who have explored these realms: Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Thomas Merton to name a few. In Judaism there is the Kabbalah. Hinduism is known by its ascetic traditions. In Buddhism, we have Zen. In many Indigenous religions, there are shaman or other holy persons who interact with beings on the other side. Currently in Western culture there is an increase of those who are seeking a deeper spiritual understanding of the world and our place in it who do not follow any particular religious tradition, but often embrace particular components of various practices based on what most resonates with them.

The mystical arm of Islam is called Sufism. Rumi was part of a learning community of Sufi in Turkey in the 13th Century. They were called whirling dervishes due to a special dance called the Sama which was invented by Rumi and which became institutionalized after his death. This poem describes the experience of Rumi’s group after staying up all night meditating, dancing, and reciting poems. At dawn, the community had come to a certain state which could be called Awakening or Enlightenment. This poem is an attempt by Rumi to give the reader a taste of this experience, since at its deepest level, it cannot be described in language.

This we have now is not imagination.   
Rumi tells us what Enlightenment is not. Firstly, it is not imagination. On a superficial level, this means that Rumi is not imagining the experience, that it is real. When we go a little deeper however, we discover that Rumi is trying to get the reader to understand that the experience is something quite different from imagination. Rather, it is reality.

Adyashanti is a contemporary teacher who comes from the Zen Buddhism tradition, and teaches a direct method of Enlightenment.
“Being the nature of everything, there is nothing outside of being. . . Being is unborn and uncreated – the source and substance of all.” (The Way of Liberation p.34)
I believe that Adyashanti’s description of Being and Rumi’s description of “this we have now” point us to the same Awakening experience. However, if this internal experience of Enlightenment is reality, then what is the outside physical world? Would it then be imagination?

In A Brief History of Time the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking promotes a theory which describes the universe using quantum gravity combined with the uncertainty principle. Using imaginary numbers and imaginary time, he describes a curved space-time that is finite, self contained, with no boundary or edge, and no beginning or end.
Hawking states:
So maybe what we call imaginary time is really more basic, and what we call real is just an idea that we invent to help us describe what we think the universe is like. . . (Hawking, chapter 8)

This suggests that what Rumi and Adyashanti are implying may have some scientific validity; that is, what we think of as real (our minds’ understandings of having a self in a real world) is in fact imagination, and what would normally be considered imagination (Presence, the Awakening, “this we have now”) is the more basic or fundamental reality.

This is not grief or joy. Not a judging state, or an elation, or sadness.
These are very common human emotions. When we suffer a terrible loss, we experience grief. When something wonderful happens, we feel joy. Rumi is telling us that Awakening is neither of these. Nor is it an elation or sadness. These represent polarities, and describe our usual experience of seeing things as black or white, good or bad. The mind is constantly weighing experiences according to its usual conditioning. In order to see something as good or bad, as desirable or undesirable, one must make a judgment. From the perspective of the Awakening, there is no judgment. It is a great challenge for us to contemplate a nonjudgmental stance to life, as it goes against our usual way of thinking. 
 
Those come and go. This is the presence that doesn’t.
Now Rumi is giving us a brief glimpse of what “this” may be, that is, it is a presence. He doesn’t attempt to define what he means by “presence,” but he tell us what it doesn’t do. Unlike quickly changing emotions, it is something that doesn’t come and go. If we enquire deeply we see that every possible emotion or feeling is changeable. Thoughts are even more fleeting. Physical sensations such as chronic pain may seem to be constant. However, the closer we look the more we find variability. The pain may not ever go away completely but it is worse some days than others. Consequently it is better some days. The intensity comes and goes. Rumi is then challenging us as follows. If we wish to experience the Presence, if we wish to find Enlightenment, if we wish to Awaken, then we must discover that which is constant and unchanging and which does not stand in judgment.

Perception

It’s dawn, Husam, here in the splendor of coral, inside the Friend, the simple truth of what Hallaj said.
_______________

Since the experience of Awakening cannot be described in words or concepts, Rumi is now giving the reader the opportunity to see through the eyes of one who is awake.
It’s dawn, Husam.
Husam was Rumi’s scribe for several decades, and he addresses him for emphasis. The humans have been up all night meditating, dancing, reciting poems, experiencing the moment, and dawn arrives. We have all seen beautiful sunrises. This dawn, however is different. It is more glorious. The colors are richer. There is an intensity of experience. It is a new beginning. Because of the Awakening experience, everything is now new, fresh.
. . . here in the splendor of coral
We can almost see the sunrise sparkling off the coral. Rumi refers to the beauty of coral, but suggests a higher level of beauty, to an experience of sitting in its splendor. This parallels the experience of Awakening, as we sit in the splendor of “this we have now.”
. . . inside the Friend
There are many paths to Awakening. In many of his other poems, Rumi talks about the Friend in reference to Shams, who was his companion for many years. To be “inside the Friend” is a description of a specific method of waking up, through the intense love of another person. In Rumi’s poem “I’ll meet you there,” we learn a bit more about this process:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing
there is a field. I will meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.

In this poem, Rumi refers to the possibility of living in a world beyond duality, a world outside of ideas or thinking, even outside of language itself. By merging with Shams, the concept of “each other” no longer makes sense because the two have become one being. This oneness is a powerful taste of the Awakening process.

. . . the simple truth of what Hallaj said.
In this passage, Rumi is referring to Mansur al-Hallaj, a Muslim Sufi mystic who was born around the year 858 CE. As a Sufi, it was not customary to share mystical experiences or truths with the common man, but Hallaj did so regularly. He referred to God as his Beloved and his Friend. He frequently said “Ana al-Haqq” which means “I am the truth.” He was imprisoned for ten years and finally executed as a martyr on March 26, 922 as his teachings were considered heretical and blasphemous.

Hallaj’s life, teachings and martyrdom were kept alive in Sufi circles, so Rumi was well aware of Hallaj’s life and death even though it had occurred some three hundred years earlier. He refers to Hallaj’s “simple truth,” which is of course “I am the truth.” So we learn that “this we have now” is identical to Hallaj’s experience of being one with the truth.

Louis Massignon, (1883-1962), a French scholar of Islam and its history, who extensively studied al-Hallaj’s writings and teachings, coined the phrase “le pointe vierge” or the virgin point, to describe al-Hallaj’s references to the “inviolable virgin,” which is secret place within the heart of every human where the sacred is intimately experienced. After corresponding with Massignon, the Christian mystic Thomas Merton (1915-1968) refers to this virgin point, and like Rumi, compares the dawn to that of a mystical experience:
The first chirps of the waking day mark the “point vierge” of the dawn under a sky as yet without real light, a moment of awe and inexpressible innocence . . . All wisdom seeks to collect and manifest itself at that blind sweet point . . . . Here is an unspeakable secret; paradise is all around us and we do not understand (Conjectures of a guilty bystander: 1968 pp.131-132)
In spite of the fact that uttering “I am the truth” was a death sentence for al-Hallaj, Rumi insists that it becomes a “simple” truth. When one comes to an awakened state of consciousness, when one experientially unites with the divine, it is uncomplicated. It is what it is. Awakening and the Truth are the same. There is no distinction. The God within and the God without cannot be divided.

Desires

What else could human beings want?
_______________
It would appear that human beings want more of lots of things: money, power, comfort, pleasure, attention, recognition, acknowledgment. If I were to ask 100 people which they would rather have, one million dollars or enlightenment, I would be lucky to find one who would elect enlightenment. This is not surprising if we were to simply observe ourselves. How do we spend most of our time and energy? Distracting ourselves. Keeping busy. Remembering the past and worrying about or planning the future. Thinking. Feeling. Anticipating. Seeking recognition. Trying to get other humans to like us or do things for us. Doing things for other people. Feeling disappointed. Judging other people and ourselves. Working. Manipulating. Trying. Putting ourselves or others down. Praising ourselves or others.

All these actions serve to strengthen our egos and our sense of identity. Rumi is telling us that all these aspirations are in vain. If we truly understood what is at stake we would want nothing more than to awaken from our carefully created identities. We would in fact delight in letting go of those identities and experiencing who or what we really are.

The problem of course is that we have created a closed loop. It is the mind that is trapped in its own prison of thinking. Thoughts can only produce other thoughts. So even if we pursue or seek after enlightenment, the mind takes over and tries to find or create it, so it can add Awakening to its already crowded stores of experience and memory. Such a project is doomed to failure. The waking up process involves a subtraction rather than an addition. We must let go of our identity constructions simply by realizing on a deep experiential level that it is in fact a construction, and as such, has no weight, no reality to it.

Metaphors

When grapes turn to wine, they’re wanting this. 
When the nightsky pours by, it’s really a crowd of beggars, and they all want some of this!
_______________
Now that Rumi has us interested in this Awakening process, he provides us with a couple of very rich metaphors designed to assist us in catching further glimpses of the process.
When grapes turn to wine, they’re wanting this. 
Incredibly, in these eight words he stimulates our senses by suggesting the sweetness of the grapes, the physical sensations of their crushing, the exquisite taste of the finished product, and the pleasure of its intoxication. At the same time he emphasizes the transformation process involved in this “turning,” also reminding us of the turning or whirling of the dervish dance. He then surprises us by anthropomorphizing the grapes. He tells us that they want “this we have.” They too want to awaken from their sleep. However they have no such desire when they are experiencing life as grapes, nor do they have this desire when they end up as wine. They only want “this” when they are in the process of change. This gives us a powerful clue as to how the process might work for us as well.

It is easy to become complacent in our lives. Whether happy or miserable, we often avoid change, especially any sort of radical change. We prefer the pain or the comfort that we are used to. This is the reason why many people find themselves re-examining and initiating important changes in their lives only in the case of a crisis such as the death of a loved one, serious illness, accident, financial hardship, breakup of an important relationship, loss of a job, adult children leaving home, elder parents needing care, children getting into trouble, drug addiction, or legal troubles. Such a traumatic episode creates the potential for a change of attitude, a reexamination of underlying values or beliefs, a change in circumstance, or an alteration of identity.

At the same time, Rumi gives us a clue as to how radical the Awakening process is for a human. We we come out on the other side, we will be something completely different. Although we all know that wine is made from grapes, when we drink a fine wine we are experiencing something entirely different than that of eating a bunch of grapes.

When the nightsky pours by, it’s really a crowd of beggars, and they all want some of this!
From the gustatory to the majestic, Rumi leads us from sipping wine to star gazing. In a magical distortion of time, the progression of the stars across the sky is multiplied many times, like time-lapse photography centuries before its invention. These billions of stars, hundreds and thousands of light years away, turn into a crowd of beggars. In a cosmological twist of fate, they are hungry for the very thing that we have, but which remains allusive to us. As we look within, we may find that we still avoid “this” and find ourselves seeking so many other superficial things as discussed in the previous chapter.

Cosmology

This that we are now created the body, cell by cell, like bees building a honeycomb. 
The human body and the universe grew from this, not this from the universe and the human body.
_______________
Rumi changes “this we have” to “this that we are now,” reflecting another transformation in understanding and experiencing the wonder of Awakening. To “have Awakening” requires that there is still a “me” or a “self” that holds it. Now we are at a new phase. It is the Awakening that is awake. The Awakening has us, rather than the other way around.
This that we are now created the body, cell by cell, like bees building a honeycomb. 
Rumi is telling us that the Awakening, the Presence of which we are, is that which has created our bodies and minds. The image of the bees building our bodies cell by cell is intensely visceral, and serves to ensure that we are grounded, centered into our bodies, reminding us that the Awakening process is not for the purpose of achieving some sort of ephemeral state of consciousness.

The human body and the universe grew from this, not this from the universe and the human body.

Now that we have re-connected with our corporeal bodies, Rumi equates the human body with the entire universe, and places the Awakening as the primal force, the originating power, the Creator. The Presence comes first. By connecting to this original Presence, we cease to be individual identities; the Presence itself becomes what we are. This same Presence must be in everyone and everything. My human body grew from it, as did yours. The stars and galaxies did as well. It is our job then, our purpose, to be a unique expression of that underlying eternal Presence. So we return to the simple truth of what al-Hallaj said. Each of us is the Truth, the One. I am God also. You are God also.

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