Almost 800 years ago, a Sufi mystic and poet lived and penned the wisdom of his age. In the Muslim work he’s known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, but in the English speaking world he’s known simply as “Rumi.”
For me, Rumi’s pithy statements aren’t just ‘feel good’ inspirations, they’re ways for me to navigate my inner space and do a little clean up. While I might have instincts to buck the system and live as I desire, do I REALLY agree with the statement to “Forget safety… Destroy your reputation. Be notorious?”
Rumi puts into words what it’s going to take to get to where I want to go. Had it been up to me to put language to what’s coming down the pike for me, I probably would have sugar-coated it. Now it’s just a matter of doing the inner work necessary to keep congruent with my life mission.
And Rumi can help with that, too.
VI. “Work in the invisible world at least as hard as you do in the visible.”
VII. “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
I’ve written quite a few blog posts on changing the world, or as I’ve referred to it tongue-in-cheek “Saving the World.” There are a few (rather compelling) schools of thought that indicate changing yourself and the changing the world are the same things. There are simple concepts like “perception defines reality,” meaning the act of changing yourself will naturally change your perception of the world, and thus redefines (or changes) the world. (Make sense?)
Another (related) concept indicates that you have no direct experience with the world per se since everything you experience goes through an astonishingly elaborate filtration process set up by your mind. Meaning, if you look at a painting you are actually not experiencing the painting directly. Your eyes are taking in reflections of light and making meaning from them, inferring color and shapes and filling in everything else that can’t be deciphered by adding what’s been ‘seen’ (or, inferred) in the past. (Get it?)
There is also a school of thought that everything we experience in the world is actually just a puppet show, that we’re chained to our world like the people kept captive in pods in The Matrix, and an elaborate story is being presented in front of us as if it’s reality. We don’t know we’re trapped, so we play along with the story, working in it, falling in love in it, marrying and having children in this story, but never realizing that we’re prisoners. (See, “Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.”)
And then there’s the paradigm most of us have been handed, which is that material reality IS reality, and to be a better person you need to learn to navigate the material world in a way that respects the infrastructure that’s been set up for you.
But no matter how stratified beliefs become, there seems to be one constant among them – to have an impact on the world, to make any substantial change, you have to start with yourself. Or, “Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
Even the most staunch Fatalist, believing all things that unfold are entirely in God’s hands, still understands the need to become a better person in order to have a better outcome.
It seems to be a no-brainer. And yet, how many people do you know that run away from themselves, run away from personal development? They get terrified at what they see and the sheer amount of work required to reach their potential. They turn to distractions and anything that will anesthetize them, unconsciously choosing to waste the only possession that really matters – time.
“Work in the invisible world at least as hard as you do in the visible.” For many religionists, this is ‘storing up treasures in heaven’. For others, this is the human potential movement, connecting with the spiritual or the universal. It doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s imperative that focused, directed, intentional time and energy be allocated to personal development.
Who are you? What are your core values? What do you want to do with your life? Where are you now, and where do you want to go? How much time do you spend covering the basic necessities of life? Are you putting in equal time in knowing the above questions? Life will never slow down enough to present this time on a silver platter. To truly change the world, it’s going to require you to carve out substantial time and resource to change (or, develop) yourself.
VIII. “You were born with wings. Why prefer to crawl through life?”
IX. “Become the sky. Take an axe to the prison wall. Escape.”
So, here you are. A clock-punching wage-slave who weaves through traffic to get home, eat some prepackaged chow and watch a reality show where people who you don’t know vote on the relative talent of other people you don’t know and think, “This isn’t a bad life. This is pretty good.”
Now, I can’t really think of any context in which gratitude isn’t a good thing. Realizing you have it good – a fridge full of food, comfortable shelter, a world that isn’t filled with post-apocalyptic zombies trying to eat your brains – is entirely appropriate. Yes, this life IS pretty good. Most of the world goes to bed hungry and most people don’t have adequate shelter. I don’t know anyone who actually fights zombies, but there are a lot of people in seriously war-torn parts of the world dealing with high levels of trauma and stress, the kind that will kill you early even if the war doesn’t. YES. You have it good.
But is it good because it’s ideally suited to help you reach your highest levels of potential, or is it good because you accidentally were born into a time and place with a lot of advantages? Are you capitalizing on these advantages to become the best version of yourself?
There are a lot of prisons. There are the kinds that people physically throw you into against your will, and there are the kinds you create for yourself. There are prisons of the mind, which generally are created by other people and that which you go along with willing.
“Become the sky. Take an axe to the prison wall. Escape.” Which prison are you in at the moment?
I’ll share my prison. At some point I picked up that a woman’s net worth is based almost entirely on the way she looks and that if I’m not radiantly, spectacularly beautiful then I will never amount to anything. As someone who has never been spectacularly beautiful, the result was that I determine I would never amount to anything and I subsequently (and willingly) walked into a mental prison cell, closed the door behind me, locked it from the inside and then swallowed the key.
It took years for me to work that key through my system and unlock the door I’d willingly locked behind me. Sometimes I still run back into that cell, as the programming inside my brain is strong enough to mistake ‘dark, dank, dangerous belief’ with ‘safe and cozy’.
If your belief system (or, as Robert Anton Wilson would call it, your B.S.) is creating a prison, Rumi says the solution isn’t for the weak. He says TAKE AN AXE to your prison. Don’t wait for a passerby to unlock the door for you. Don’t wait for the door to miraculously swing open. TAKE AN AXE to it, and when you’ve obliterated the door of your unhealthy, imprisoning belief, escape! Take flight! Don’t look back, don’t return.
You were born with wings. Why do you prefer to crawl?
p.s. Of course, Part III of 13 Quotes that Can Change Your Life is coming. Keep your eyes peeled.
p.p.s. I’ve gotten a few comments about my proclivity toward swearing. For most of my life I pretty strictly followed the social convention of avoiding swearing to be above reproach and sensitive to other people. As part of my development in using Accuracy, my decision-making Genius which sheds social truth for data-driven truth, I realized I found absolutely no reason why swearing was inherently wrong. The syllables, the phonetics, the way the consonants fall… there is nothing intrinsically offensive. They are offensive based entirely on social convention. Obviously, I use swearing to emphasize phrases and underline points, so clearly I still acknowledge their power. I’m not so delusional as to think they are ‘just words’. But while I believe social truth carries as much weight as ‘objective’ data-driven truth, at this stage in my development and growth I’m embracing those things that feel more congruent to me and shedding elements of myself I’ve developed purely for the sake of social convention. Who knows, maybe in my development I’ll find myself going back to my previous position of being ‘above reproach’. Just not right now.
If, at this stage of your development, this choice of mine costs more than the any benefit that could be derived, that’s okay. Ships passing is a perfectly viable solution, and there’s a LOT of development available online from people who don’t swear. We don’t all have to be BFF’s.
Antonia Dodge is a co-founder of Genius Awakening, a business designed to help people leverage their own mental processes to optimize productivity, communication, job satisfaction, and most importantly – happiness. She has over 10 years in applied psychoanalytics, profiled hundreds of people, and consulted for companies such as Zappos, Zappos Insights, Hot Topic Media, Oracle and Voyage Media. She has helped developed over 20 high level trainings, products and resources and served on the leadership team to plan and orchestrate TEDxSinCity, an independently organized TED event held in Las Vegas, Nevada.