Yes, there are oodles of articles written about Rumi. But there’s a reason for that: His combination of wisdom and eloquence is unmatched — at least in this writer’s opinion.
The inspiration for today’s Rumi piece comes from a loyal and wise reader of mine whose Medium name is…Rumi Quoter! At the bottom of their Medium profile is this wonderful Rumi quote:
“Your task is not to seek for love but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” — Rumi
One could look at this from the macro viewpoint as seeking love from friends, family and romantic partners — in other words, seeking love from the world, writ large.
Romantic love best exemplifies this
I’m going to focus this piece on only one of those areas — romantic love. Why? Because I think Rumi’s quote applies especially strongly there. It’s also mega-relatable to the 21st century world we live in.
In my experience, most people, unconsciously, seek love to remedy what ails them inside. General examples that apply to many of us would be:
– “I’m lonely. I want a partner who will fill that loneliness.”
– “I have low self-esteem. I want a partner who makes me feel confident about myself.”
– “I have a fragile ego and need my partner to constantly build me up and tell me how great I am.”
Then there are more specific examples, like:
– Your dad left the family when you were twelve and you barely saw him again. Anytime you get into a relationship, you become scared to death of your partner breaking up with you.
– Your mom was distant and aloof and didn’t listen to you. You get into a relationship, and you absolutely lose it on your partner if you feel they’ve drifted off while you’re talking.
– You were an only child who was doted on and spoiled by your parents. As an adult, you demand, again unconsciously, that your partners place you front and center in their lives, or else…
All of the above are examples of the barriers to love we have built inside ourselves that Rumi is referring to. The key is that so many of us look outside ourselves for love.
WE need to fix what ails us
What Rumi is saying is that we should go inside and fix what is preventing us from experiencing love. And make no mistake: Those inner ailments need to be fixed if we are going to receive the love we seek.
That adult whose dad left the family when they were twelve? That person is going to struggle mightily and likely never have a successful relationship unless they dig deep and let go of all the emotional trauma dad’s abandonment caused them.
Ditto for the lonely one, the one with low self-esteem and on down the line. We can’t expect our partners to fix us.
They can, however, help US remove the barriers for ourselves. What would it take for our partners to be able to do that? To be helpful to us in this regard?
Awareness is everything
One main thing: Before they can help us, WE have to become aware of what is going on inside us. We have to do the hard work of diving inside ourselves to understand the reality of why we are the way we are.
Some inner maladies need to be fixed before even entering a relationship. That fearful twelve year old whose dad left but who is now 35 can never get beyond a third date. He or she may say it’s because “there’s just no chemistry” or “I need a guy to be at least four inches taller than me.” But the reality is that, deep down, they can’t get past their fear of being abandoned.
In other cases, our partners can help us remove our barriers; again, as long as we’re aware of those barriers. Like the person whose mom didn’t listen to them. The partner can be cognizant of this history and do their best to tune in when the other is talking.
Or, if they can’t listen for some reason, they make a point of telling them so. “I’m sorry, I got my ass kicked at work today and I’m exhausted and don’t feel like talking. Nothing to do with you whatsoever.”
Therapy can help tremendously
How can we become aware of what ails us inside? One obvious option is psychotherapy. I did it for years and it did me a world of good. The way I’ve always described what therapy is all about is this: It’s about helping us understand why we are the way we are.
There is, however, a second half of the “what to do” equation. And that is, once we’ve figured out what our inner baggage/emotional traumas are, we need to let them go.
This is where I think the therapy world sometimes falls short. We can’t just realize our reality and then let it stay there. That can lead to interminable wallowing. “Woe is me. X happened thirty years ago. I’ll never get over it.”
Mickey Singer’s emphasis on letting go
This is the main reason I like Mickey Singer so much. He’s into getting quiet and doing all kinds of spiritual practices, but his bottom line is that if we don’t let go of our “stuff,” it isn’t going to go anywhere. It’s just going to torment us until our last days.
So, with great deference to the wonderful Rumi, I would add four words to the end of his sublime quote.
“Your task is not to seek for love but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it AND LET THEM GO.”
Well Rumi Quoter, I hope I’ve done justice to the beautiful quote on your profile page. One way or the other, I’m sure you’ll let me know…