Often I dance with abandon and joy when at a live performance, especially if the music has a beat that just will not allow you to be still, which includes many genres of music from many cultures—traditional and new. During those times of abandonment to joy, I feel such love for the musicians as well for those who are also dancing and swaying to the music. Even more, I feel love for life and for my First Lover, my First Beloved—God, the First Source and Center, the Infinite Creator and Upholder, the Universal Father.
Love for the Creator is something experienced within many religions and races. In these present-day times of misunderstanding, distrust, fear, and even hatred between some Jews and Muslims and between some Christians and Muslims, I think that we who claim to know God/Yahweh/Allah need to come to better know some of His children whom we do not know or understand. We need to sing and dance with people of all races, cultures, nationalities, and religions, especially when we are dancing together for our love of the Divine Overcontroller of all.
With this terrible religious and political tension between various Muslims and Jews as well as various Muslims and Christians, there has been centuries of conflict and warring—sometimes in the name of religion and in these contemporary times often in the name of freedom or human rights or justice or democracy or some other secular ideology. Usually decades-old or centuries-old conflicts between peoples have to do with all of the above and more, but unfortunately religion and “God” are pulled into these out-of-divine-pattern acts of violence and brutality that are often supported by the majority of whole nations of citizens.
In my own search for expressions of genuine spirituality, I have discovered the light and brilliance of many individuals from many eras and religions and cultures. I often draw from the poetry and prose of Muslim mystics who have captured the true essence of Muslim spirituality that transcends religious dogma and doctrine and captures the presence of God among humans. One of these poets is Hafiz, whose works have been translated into English and other European languages and read and appreciated by many other people on a spiritual path in Western civilization.
When thinking about dancing with abandon in the joy of loving life and music and people and God, a poem of Hafiz’s comes to my mind.
The God Who Only Knows Four Words
Has known God,
Not the God of names,
Not the God of dont's,
Not the God who ever does
But the God who only knows four words
And keeps repeating them, saying:
“Come dance with Me.”
The title of this article is “Knowing God as Opposed to Knowing About God, the Varied Degrees or Psychic Circle Levels of Experiencing God.” I think that spiritual ascension is a process of getting to know God, not just getting to know about Him. Again, I think of Hafiz and another poem he wrote.
Skinning Your Knees on God
Little by little
You turn into stars.
Even then, my dear,
You will only be
A crawling infant,
Still skinning your knees on God.
Little by little,
You turn into
The whole sweet, amorous Universe
On a wild spring night,
And become so free
In a wonderful, secret
And pure Love
From a conscious,
Infinite need for Light.
Even then, my dear,
The Beloved will have fulfilled
Just a fraction,
Just a fraction!
Of a promise
He wrote upon your heart.
When your soul begins
To ever bloom and laugh
And spin in Eternal Ecstasy—
O little by little,
You will become like God.
When I read the poetry of Shams-ud-din Muhammad Hafiz I know that this fourteenth century Persian Sufi poet knew God, that he experienced God almost daily in his life, that he knew many nuances, many faces of God. He recognized the difference between those who knew God and those who merely knew about God. He often spoke out against false religious leaders who talked a good talk but did not walk their talk.
The Diamond Takes Shape
Have become so skilled with
The human voice
They could give a brilliant discourse
About freedom and God
And an unsighted man nearby might
Even begin applauding with
I just heard jewels fall from a
Great man’s mouth,
Though my Master used to say,
“The diamond takes shape slowly
With integrity’s great force,
The profound courage to never relinquish love.”
Some parrots have become so skilled
The blind turn over their gold
And lives to caged
I like to use Hafiz because he was a devout Muslim who lived and expressed his spirituality with depth and genuiness. I use Hafiz because he was born, lived, and died in the land that today we call Iran, a land that is coveted by our government and corporations, a land that we Americans are supposed to consider as enemy territory. Many of the citizens of Iran are devout religionists who are searching to know God, and they love Hafiz, one of their favorite classical poets.
Hafiz was born poor and had to work hard to pay for his schooling in theology, astronomy, mathematics, and Persian literature. He memorized the Quran (Koran) and mastered the art of caligraphy. As a young man it is said that the angel Gabriel appeared to him and directed him to the human spiritual teacher that he was to serve for more than 40 years. Often he struggled with his human elder, thinking that his teacher was too hard on him, too harsh. But Hafiz remained loyal to serving his spiritual leader because he believed that was what God wanted, and that was what Hafiz in his higher self wanted.
In realizing the value of having a spiritual elder in his life, Hafiz also understood that everyone needs a “Master” who can keep them on the higher path, so he encouraged those he met to look for a human elder.
That’s the Whole Idea
Fire has a love for itself—
It wants to keep burning.
It is like a woman
Who is at last making love
To the person she most desires.
Find a Master who is like the Sun.
Go to his house
In the middle of the night.
Smash a window.
Act like a great burglar—
Gather all your courage—
Throw yourself into his bed!
He will probably kill you.
That’s the whole idea!
Of course, in the last lines of the poem above, Hafiz did not mean killing the body of the person, just the lower self, the ego, the false identity that is not part of the true personality of the person. He understood the need for a “soul surgeon” and that in order to become a spiritual leader yourself, you needed to submit first to your own spiritual elder(s) and undergo the “sword of truth” that will cut to the error and sin and bring it out.
What happens when your soul
Begins to awaken
And your heart
And the cells of your body
To the great Journey of Love?
First there is wonderful laughter
And probably precious tears
And a hundred sweet promises
And those heroic vows
No one can ever keep.
But still God is delighted and amused
You once tried to be a saint.
What happens when your soul
Begins to awake in this world
To our deep need to love
And serve the Friend?
O the Beloved
Will send you
One of His wonderful, wild companions—
During his life Hafiz at times was in favor with those in political and religious power and at other times he was not. He was blacklisted, jailed, and even exiled at times because of his outspoken poetry and teachings that challenged the status quo of established thinking. He also at times in his life was a court poet, a college professor, and highly respected. In his later years Hafiz became a great spiritual teacher with a following of students who lived with him in a type of intentional community, a religious order. What made Hafiz so great a spiritual teacher was that he was first a student, understanding the need for spiritual eldership in his own life. He reportedly was very short and considered physically unattractive, and yet he attained great inner beauty.
His poetry reflects his life-long process of unfolding into knowing God more intimately. Hafiz knew that God is indeed what a later English poet referred to as “the Hound of Heaven” and is continually reaching out to touch us, to awaken us, to invite us to sup with Him. In this next poem, we see God as The Friend whose love we cannot escape. Yet how we come to embrace that love is our choice.
A Divine Invitation
You have been invited to meet
No one can resist a Divine Invitation.
That narrows down all our choices
To just two:
We can come to God
Dressed for Dancing,
Be carried on a stretcher
To God’s Ward.
You don’t have to act crazy anymore—
We all know you were good at that.
Now retire, my dear,
From all that hard work you do
Of bringing pain to your sweet eyes and heart.
Look in a clear mountain mirror—
See the Beautiful Ancient Warrior
And the Divine elements
You always carry inside
That infused this Universe with sacred Life
So long ago
And join you Eternally
With all Existence—with God!
I think of the culture here in the religious community of Global Community Communications Alliance (at Avalon Organic Gardens & EcoVillage in Tumacácori, Arizona) as both a place for dancing and a rehabilitation ward. Wherever any of us aligned here happen to be psychospiritually in the moment will determine whether we are dancing or acting crazed and conflicted.
We should make all spiritual talk
God is trying to sell you something,
But you don’t want to buy.
That is what your suffering is:
Your fantastic haggling,
Your manic screaming over the price!
In our negotiating with God over the proverbial “pearl of great price,” we sometimes just refuse to pay the high price of making the deep changes necessary for really knowing and dancing with Him.
Once a young man came to me and said,
I am feeling strong and brave today,
And I would like to know the truth
About all of my—attachments.”
And I replied,
Do you really want me to speak to you
About all your attachments,
When I can see so clearly
You have built, with so much care,
Such a great brothel
To house all of your pleasures.
You have even surrounded the whole damn place
With armed guards and vicious dogs
To protect your desires
So that you can sneak away
From time to time
And try to squeeze light
Into your parched being
From a source as fruitful
As a dried date pit
That even a bird
Is wise enough to spit out.
Your attachments! My dear,
Let’s not speak of those,
For Hafiz understands the sufferings
Of your heart.
The torments and the agonies
That every mind on the way to Annihilation in the Sun
So at night in my prayers I often stop
And ask a thousand angels to join in
Anything in this world
That can bring your heart comfort!”
In my own walk in getting to know God more intimately, I too have had my moments of neurosis, my moments of being the “Dragon Lady.” Like Hafiz who said, “I know the way you can get” to those of his family, friends, and students, my own human friends have said to me, “I know the way you can get when you forget who you really are.” Another poem by Hafiz:
I Know the Way You Can Get
I know the way you can get
When you have not had a drink of [God’s] Love:
Your face hardens,
Your sweet muscles cramp.
Children become concerned
About a strange look that appears in your eyes
Which even begins to worry your own mirror
Squirrels and birds sense your sadness
And call an important conference in a tall tree.
They decide which secret code to chant
To help your mind and soul.
Even angels fear that brand of madness
That arrays itself against the world
And throws sharp stones and spears into
And into one’s self.
O I know the way you can get
If you have not been out drinking [God’s] Love.
You might rip apart
Every sentence your friends and teachers say,
Looking for hidden clauses.
You might weigh every word on a scale
Like a dead fish.
You might pull out a ruler to measure
From every angle in your darkness
The beautiful dimensions of a heart you once
I know the way you can get
If you have not had a drink from Love’s
That is why all the Great Ones speak of
The vital need
To keep remembering God,
So you will come to know and see Him
As being so Playful
Just wanting to help.
I think all of us who are on a spiritual path can recognize that we have at times fled God. Actually we still do that when we fear what He wants of us, and Hafiz speaks of this:
Has roared near you.
The most intimate parts of your body
Of course you have run
From your marriages into a
That will shelter you
From embracing every aspect of Him.
Roared near us.
The lashes on our heart’s eye got burnt.
Of course we have
Sweet flaming breath
That proposed an annihilation
God’s roaring and scorching, His annihilation, is part of our growth process, part of our healing and rehabilitation process, part of our ascension. This process has been referred to in the Christian tradition as “the dark night of the soul.” In order to continue to know God, we have to continue to dwell in the dark nights of the soul, which results in health, dance, and joy. Hafiz tells us to stay in those dark nights of the soul.
My Eyes So Soft
Your loneliness so quickly.
Let it cut more
Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even Divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice so
My need of God
We need to overcome our temptations to regress, to go backwards into our old madness. We need to continue to accept God’s constant invitations for us to rejoin Him. Hafiz tells us:
Divine Invitation to Dance
I know the voice of depression
Still calls to you.
I know those habits that can ruin your life
Still send their invitations.
But you are with the Friend now
And look so much stronger.
You can stay that way
And even bloom!
Keep squeezing drops of the Sun
From your prayers and work and music
And from your companions’ beautiful laughter.
Keep squeezing drops of the Sun
From the sacred hands and glance of your Beloved
And, my dear,
From the most insignificant movements
Of your own holy body.
Learn to recognize the counterfeit coins
That may buy you just a moment of pleasure,
But then drag you for days
Like a broken man
Behind a farting camel.
You are with the Friend now.
Learn what actions of yours delight Him,
What actions of yours bring freedom
Whenever you say God’s name, dear pilgrim,
My ears wish my head was missing
So they could finally kiss each other
And applaud your nourishing wisdom.
O keep squeezing drops of the Sun
From your prayers and work and music
And from your companions’ beautiful laughter
And from the most insignificant movements
Of your own holy body.
Now, sweet one,
Cast all your votes for Dancing.
In spite of our discomfort at the sharp cutting of the soul surgeon and our struggles to die to our lower selves, the spiritual elder, the soul surgeon, the true minister, the true friend also calls out to our real selves, our higher selves.
We Should Talk About This Problem
There is a Beautiful Creature
Living in a hole you have dug.
So at night
I set fruit and grains
And little pots of wine and milk
Beside your soft earthen mounds,
And I often sing.
But still, my dear,
You do not come out.
I have fallen in love with Someone
Who hides inside you.
We should talk about this problem—
I will never leave you alone.
As we ascend and become stabilized in our higher psychic circles, we become more compassionate and loving, caring deeply about others’ well-being, experiencing grief and sadness over other people’s suffering. Yet we are lightened, as Hafiz was, and have humor and joy, loving music and dance and poetry and good stories and food and nature and each other. We celebrate life every day, for we have the Beloved within us and all around us.
A Wild, Holy Band
Your breath is a sacred clock, my dear—
Why not use it to keep time with God’s Name?
And if your feet are ever mobile
Upon this ancient drum, the earth,
O do not let your precious movements
Come to naught.
Let your steps dance silently
To the rhythm of the Beloved’s Name!
My fingers and my hands
Never move through empty space,
For there are
Invisible golden lute strings all around,
Sending Resplendent Chords
Throughout the Universe.
I hear the voice
Of every creature and plant,
Every world and sun and galaxy—
Singing the Beloved’s Name!
I have awakened to find violin and cello,
Flute, harp and trumpet,
Cymbal, bell and drum—
All with me!
From head to toe, every part of my body
Is chanting and clapping!
The Beloved has made you
Such a Luminous Person!
For with constant remembrance of God,
One’s whole body will become
A Wonderful and Wild
 The renderings in English of Hafiz’s poems in this article by Daniel Ladinsky are based upon the translation from Persian to English by H. Wilberforce Clark (originally published in 1891). The intent of Ladinsky was to capture the living spirit of Hafiz’s poetry.