Sunday, April 26, 2009

Wisdom from Rumi and Martin Seligman

Krista Tippett's "Speaking of Faith" this morning on NPR was a reprise of a 2007 show about the Persian Poet Rumi -- Muhammad Jalal al-Din al-Balkhi al-Rumi, born in 1207 in what is now Afghanistan.

His words -- often offered in the declarative couplet structure called the ghazal -- are startling relevant and refreshing. For instance, "Water the fruit trees and don't water the thorns."

That makes me think about psychology super-star Martin Seligman's notion of "Learned Happiness" -- the bracing follow-up of his earlier, gloomier but pathbreaking conceptualization of "Learned Helplessness." Seligman postulates, with scientific evidence in support, that it is possible to teach oneself to be happier, even in the face of life's challenges, disappointments, chaos, troubles. Seligman, a self-professed pessimist, doesn't offer his ideas in saccharine "don't worry be happy" naivete, but in a sober analysis that we can affect even our brain chemistry by actively choosing what we think and do.

Part of it is simply moving. Rumi was a dervish, who whirled while reciting poetry as, it has been suggested, a way of centering around the meditation. As Persian-American Rumi scholar Fatemeh Keshavarz said, paraphrasing Rumi's ideas, "If you don’t plow the earth, it’s going to get so hard nothing grows in it. You just plow the earth of yourself. You just get moving. And even don’t ask exactly what’s going to happen. You allow yourself to move around, and then you will see the benefit."

When I see my neighbors gardening in these past glorious spring days -- all of us out there raking, planting, pruning -- and when we're all getting re-acquainted with each other's dogs on our daily walks -- I'm thinking we're moving resolutely, sweetly and gently toward happiness, resilient and intrepid even in the face of a scary and depressing year.


Anonymous said...

What quote did she use from Rumi? Something to the effect of learning a different language to learn a different world...

Macy Swain said...

Yes, she quoted him as saying, “'Get yourself a new language and then you will be able to see a new world.” Ah, music to the ears of poets, eh?