Joan Poelvoorde

Psychotherapy & Healing Arts

Absence and the Art of Active Receptivity

From Middle English absence, from Old French absence, from Latin absentia, from absēns ("‘absent'"), present active participle of absum ("‘I am away or absent'"), from ab ("‘of, by, from'") + sum ("‘I am'").

We begin where we left off last month, with Rumi's response to the human dilemma of the absence of the Divine:

Love Dogs

One night a man crying, Allah! Allah!
His lips grew sweet with the praising.
Until a cynic said,
"So! I have heard you calling out,
but have you ever gotten any response?"

The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.

He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
In a thick, green foliage.

"Why did you stop praising?"
"Because I've never heard anything back."

"This longing you express is the return message."

The grief you cry out from
Draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness
That wants help
Is the secret cup.

Listen to the moaning of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.

There are love dogs
No one knows the names of.

Give your life
To be one of them.

The Essential Rumi
Translation by Coleman Barks

The poem is, in so many ways, inspiring, pointed, compelling, and, frustrating. Frustrating, in that it challenges the illusory dream of remaining consistently in the state of blissful union. This is an illusion inflicted upon us by the New Age—and it arises out of our misunderstanding of enlightenment as a constant state. Even for the great mystics, the ecstatic is an uneven journey—gaining, losing, gaining, losing all—falling into the dark night of the soul, perhaps regaining—perhaps not. From this we must gather that the ecstatic cannot be contracted into an unchanging static state—a contradiction in terms. In addition, there would be no room for expansion, growth, newness, and creation.

How are we to think/feel/behave while we patiently or impatiently await reconnection? How do we hold what has happened? Rumi tells us, in the above poem, that longing is the thread that keeps us connected, even when we cannot feel that connection.

Here is John of the Cross with another look at the dark night—in connection …

The Dark Night

In the midnight that was dark,
Made fiery by the furies of love
—oh blessed moment!—
I left without being noticed,
All the doors of my house closed for the night …

In the delicious night
In privacy where no one saw me
Nor did I see one thing
I had no light or guide
But the fire that burned inside my chest.

That fire showed me more clearly than the blaze of Noon
To where, waiting for me,
Was the one I knew so well
In that place where no one ever is.

Oh night, sweet guider,
Oh night more marvelous than dawn
Oh night which joins
The lover and the beloved
So that the lover and the beloved change bodies.

St John of the Cross
The Soul is Here For Its Own Joy
Robert Bly, Ed., Ecco Companions, 1980

… and Mirabai in "vacated space":

Where Did You Go?

Where did you go, Holy One?
Your flame jumped to the wick, and then you disappeared and left the lamp alone.
You put the boat into the surf, and then walked inland,
Leaving the boat in the ocean of parting.
Mira says: Tell me when you will come to meet me.

Mirabai Versions
Robert Bly, The Red Ozier Press, 1980

The task in disconnection, then, is to keep the longing alive as much as we are able, and to enter into what the Kabbalists call "vacated space", the space that seems empty even of the Divine; to enter it with whatever feelings we might bring—grief, anger, sadness, despair; to begin to notice how that reactivity attempts to fill the intrinsic emptiness of that vessel; to enter the process of releasing the feelings, and to re-establish within the receptive emptiness of the container, to ready it for the return of the Guest who contracted him/herself, so that we might grow into blessed newness.

Rumi again:

My desire-body, don't come
Strolling over this way.
Sit where you are, that's a good place …

So just be quiet and sit down,
The reason is: you are drunk,
and this is the edge of the roof.

"The Edge of the Roof", The Soul Is Here For Its Own Joy
Robert Bly, Ed., Ecco 1991

We resist vacated space by filling it with our striving, demanding, doubting, despairing reactions. There is no blame in this, it is merely a part of the process. We resist vacated space also by clinging to a New Age vision of what it means to be spiritual. Instead, we must invite the wholeness of our human selves into the struggle.

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an expected visitor …

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing
And invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.

The Open Secret
Coleman Barks, Shambala 1999

Finally it is for us to be with the task of celebrating Creation in the very ordinariness of our lives, as well as in those exceptional, privileged moments of mystical connection.

Joan Poelvoorde, a professional psychotherapist in Manhattan (NY) offering relationship, personal growth, anger management, creativity, shamanistic & Imago Relationship Therapy