Rumi and the Art of Falling and Flying



This is the first poem I ever memorized as an adult.  It’s by Jalaluddin Rumi, a Persian mystic poet, and translated by Coleman Barks.


The way of love is not a subtle argument,

The door there is devastation.

Birds make great, sky-circles of their freedom.

How do they learn it?  They fall.  And in falling

Are given wings.

                                    —Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks


Have you ever felt the devastation of love?  Have you ever ached for someone as you watched them go down roads you knew were destructive?  Have you ever loved someone with such intensity that everything else fell away from your conscious awareness, like leaves from a tree? Have you ever held a sleeping infant on your chest, like a baby bird?  Have you ever been rejected?  Have you ever longed for union with God so deeply that you stayed up all night weeping?  Have you ever chased a dream only to fall and scatter your faith and pride across the floor like a spilled treasure box? 

All true love—the love of spouse, children, friends, dreams, can be devastating.  It can also be sheer ecstasy.  But just as tears are shed while laughing or crying, love both hurts and thrums with the joy of the adventure.  And learning to love and be loved is most definitely an adventure.


I watched my three sons learn to walk.  I watched them all go through the stages where they crawled across the floor, reached up for a hand-hold, grabbed the edge of a table, and slowly lifted themselves onto wobbly knees.  I watched those boys sway, teeter, and fall.  I watched them reach for that table again.  I watched them take their first steps, arms held high at the shoulders, feet stuttering and plodding.  I saw the look of amazement in their faces as they stepped haltingly towards me and then rushed—no, flew–into my arms.  I saw the look of utter frustration as they fell over and over again.  But never once did they stay down and cry for too long.  Every time they fell while learning to walk, every single time, they got up again.  Now they play baseball.  Now they ride bikes.  Now they go to dances.  Now they are in the coolest rock band around.  They fly.

So when you fall, rise again.  The billy club has no place in the adventure of love.  Self pity and remorse have no place in the heart of the one teetering and stumbling towards freedom.  You once had the fierce determination of a baby learning to walk.  Your body remembers, your cells remember, your heart remembers the complete focus you had on your goal.  Deep inside, your heart remembers the spunky, desperate attitude of never giving up.  It remembers wanting to walk so badly it risked bloody lips, skinned knees, and endless befuddlement and feelings of powerlessness.  Of course, many of us were spurred on by the waiting arms of a loving, smiling parent.  So what?  Our dreams are doing the same thing for us. They are waiting, with outstretched arms, encouraging us all the way.  GOD is doing the same thing.  He is looking “a long way off,” like the father of the prodigal son, and yearns with a love for us that is electrifying in intensity. 

And we can do this for each other.  Who doesn’t fall or falter?  Why not catch one another instead of taking everything so horribly seriously and personally?  Are we not mirrors for each other anyway?  Are we not brothers and sisters on the journey?  There are no subtle arguments here.  There’s no room for complaining.  Rise up and grab the edge of something, even if it’s the tattered edge of a childhood dream.  Lift yourself up.  And it’s OK to let someone else carry you once in awhile.  It’s OK to let them take your hand and lead you around the room as you step, looking wide-eyed at the world.  Most of all, it’s OK to fall. 


At least the devastation is a door Rumi says.  At least it leads someplace.  It’s not merely pain for pain’s sake.  It has a purpose, as annoying as that might be for some of us.  Believe that the place it really leads is outwards—it leads to a ledge where the leap of faith must be taken.  You walk through the door of devastation only to step out into open air, a thousand feet high.  But there, about 20 feet away—just across a little cloud, is your goal.  You look down, you leap, and it turns out the 20 feet is an illusion—it’s  really 20 miles and you end up flying for years before you land on the other side.  But think of it—you’ll be flying.  How cool is that?  Heaven is in the journey—literally. 

For the wings are only given after you fall; when you’ve left the safe nest of old, regurgitated ideas, and are hurtling straight down towards the open, gaping jaws of a cat.  It’s then the wings appear.  They sprout from your shoulder blades as you begin wildly flapping your arms.  They don’t form however, if you simply fall—they grow out of your desire to live your dreams.  They grow from your instincts for survival and greatness.  You need to at least try to fly…and then grace will suddenly, and quite unremarkably (since in heaven living your dreams is common place) pull wings from your shoulders and you will find yourself rising, soaring, and circling in freedom.



Copyright Joseph Anthony of the Wonder Child Blog

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