Sorrow looted this heart

by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

English version by Vraje Abramian
Original Language Persian/Farsi

Sorrow looted this heart,
and Your Love threw it to the winds.
This is how the secret which saints and seers were denied
was whispered to me.

-- from Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir, Translated by Vraje Abramian

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Why does Abu-Said open this poem with such a gloomy line about sorrow?

Sorrow and loss have an important role in sacred traditions. When we lose something or someone important to us, it is natural to grieve. But there is more going on there -- a painful sort of awakening is occurring.

When things or people become important to us, when we think of them as being necessary to our daily lives, that is a sign that we have begun to identify with them. We see ourselves in those people, things, experiences.

Yet, because we have identified with them and come to believe that they are essential to our ongoing existence, their loss is seen by the confused ego as a form of self-death.

In loss, there is an opportunity: We get to witness our own "death." Over a lifetime, loss happens periodically. Yet, when we start to really pay attention, we are surprised by our continuing life in the midst of that loss. Over time, if we approach loss with heart and attention, we stop identifying with the naturally shifting world around us. This doesn't mean we stop loving the people in our lives, nor do we need to stop valuing important objects and experiences in our lives -- it just means that when they recede from our lives at the proper time, it is no longer a life and death crisis for the ego.

Ultimately, the only sorrow that is real is the burning desire for return to unity with the Divine. This is what Abu-Said is talking about when he opens this poem with the line, "Sorrow looted my heart." That fundamental ache for union takes over the sincere seeker's heart, emptying it of all else.

The irony is that when we finally stop identifying with the endless parade of external experiences -- the many external gains and losses -- we discover that we have never been in any way separated from the essential unity. By clinging to external gain and struggling to prevent external loss, we train our awareness to fixate on the outward shifting phenomena of life... and lose sight of the stable unity that we inherently are amidst that kaleidoscopic show.

Through courageous openness, through utter surrender to the natural process of change and occasional loss, we slowly (at times, painfully) lose our false identification with what was not truly our self. Through fearless "sorrow," possessiveness is slowly lost or, as the poet says, the heart is "looted." We become completely free from false identification and attachments that no longer serve the spirit.

It is at that moment of freedom that the point of identity settles properly within our true nature, finally witnessing our being everywhere, without limit, without true loss. We are flooded with an indescribable joy and love and sense of wholeness. It is as if the heart has been expanded incomprehensibly by that love and thrown "to the [formless, everywhere present] winds."

This is one of the very difficult lessons for us all, the willingness to embrace sorrow, fearlessly, with unedited awareness, with profound self-kindness. This slowly frees us from misidentification with external experiences that come and go. It loosens our grip on the limited ideas of who and what we really are. Slowly, the awareness returns to rest at the center -- and from there expands beyond our imaginings.

It is the broken heart that opens.



Recommended Books: Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir Love's Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition The Mystics of Islam
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