“Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious. ……I have tried prudent planning long enough. From now on I’ll be mad”–Rumi

That quote has been doing the rounds in my corner of FaceBook.

OED: (of facts) known or talked about; (of person or thing) known to deserve his or its ill-name; unfavorably known.
Random House: widely but unfavorably known; generally known (this feels kinder and less judgmental.)
Searching through the Synonyms book there is not a single word that is in some way something we would like to be known as! (Except possibly outrageous.)

So why did so many people, myself included, jump on this and say ‘Oh, that is wonderful.’ And then things like ‘I need to remember that’, ‘I want to be more like that.’

I also felt quite nervous because I thought I recognized myself. I have run from what is comfortable many times, deliberately chosen to live where I fear to live (and I don’t mean in war-torn countries but in my heart and Soul) and my reputation seems to be constantly taking a battering. Just when it gets almost settled and understood, off I go again. Indeed in some circles ‘notorious’ indeed.

It is not Fun and it is often dark and difficult. So what about the mad bit? I searched for more of the entire piece. Of course I googled, not having a library handy out here in the canyon. The first page I pulled up was Spiritual Recovery, a blog by a man (I think) who has been through a transformative experience variously labeled as psychotic to, in other cultures and settings, ‘kundalini awakening, the psychotic-visionary episode, the dark night of the soul, ego death, the alchemical process, positive disintegration, post traumatic stress disorder with psychotic features, or spiritual emergency.’ I don’t know if he is still writing. I hope so.

He had posted this version of the Rumi piece:

The nafs is a sea of calm until it roars.
The nafs is a Hell that radiates little heat.
The nafs is an ankle-deep river you drown in.
Better to be ignorant of worldly concerns,
better to be mad and flee from self-interest,
better to drink poison and spill the water of life,
better to revile those who praise you,
and lend both the capital and the interest to
the poor, forgo safety and make a home in danger.
Sacrifice your reputation and become notorious.
I have tried caution and forethought;
from now on I will make myself mad.

Of course then I had to look up ‘nafs’. ‘In Sufi mysticism, the “nafs” is the word for the “ego-self,” that awareness of oneself as separate from others and God.’ This I found at Madness & Liberation: A Journey to Cader Idris (a link on the page I was already on) by Brent Dean Robbins. He is now, I think, editor of the Janus Head Journal. (I had trouble finding current dates here.)

I didn’t read all of his article, although I have bookmarked it. The first few paragraphs buzzed and clicked and rang like, well, crazy! Robbins writes:

‘Rumi, as presented by Helminski (1998), writes as if there are two kinds of madness which should be distinguished. When Rumi writes that he will, from now on, make himself “mad,” he means that his madness will take the form of “the freedom from all self-seeking pursuits” (Helminski, 1998, p. 10). Yet, this type of madness is different from our Western conception of madness as a form of psychopathology; that is, as a form of suffering. What are we to make of this? Why would anyone want to go mad?’

So, there I had met Helminski and that led me to The Rumi Collection, By Jelaluddin Rumi, Kabir Edmund Helminski. Here I found a more entire excerpt: p207 in a section called Mercy, which includes the story of Muhammad and The Sick Companion.

Suddenly, the name rang a bell. I leaped to my bookshelf. Sitting on top of the pile with Ghibran, Pema Chodron, Great Speeches and the Gandhi qu0tes, is my little pocket Rumi, edited by – Kabir Helminski. I found it there as well; p113, To Clutch at Madness.

So where has all this led me? Returning to the Robbins article, I was struck by his use of the word ‘Play’ as a way to talk about madness, and the links between play as a means to abandon ‘caution and forethought’, (from the Rumi selection). He then links that to the line between/continuum of  madman and mystic. As one who believes in the power of the creative endeavor (or play) to access Spirit, to know your truth and find your true expression in the world (Personal Magic) this made perfect sense.

Later in this lengthy article, he takes us to Cader Idris, a mountain in Wales and the focus of a Celtic myth/story. In this story ‘those who traveled there and spent the night were destined either to die, go mad, or to become a visionary poet.’

Or another way to understand it, to become a kind of Shaman to the community. Simply, to be able to, by letting go of the conventions and rules of the current culture and society, re-vision the world and it’s possibilities, often through mediation with Spirit, the other world, God, whatever language works for you.

I believe that we are all seeking to commune directly with our Soul and thus the Spirit/Godhead of which we are part. In that way we reclaim our freedom, our voice and our personal empowerment. We know, either through experience or intuitively, that it requires considerable personal challenge, periods of great uncertainty, self-discipline and most of all, compassion to ourselves and others.

For when we shed the ego-self, the ‘nafs’, we are indeed one with all. Thus we can afford to be both mad and of this world, independent and free as well as caring and responsible.

No wonder we all leaped on the quote and longed for it to be true for each of us, in our very deepest being. No wonder I was nervous. No wonder, as I posted in response, I feel hugged whenever I read it. Safe, embraced and encouraged, I will be quite mad – notoriously so!