Where you fear to live

I recently saw a post on Facebook of a quote from the Persian poet Rumi written on a USPS priority mail label, and apparently pasted in a public bathroom.а It said: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise so I am changing myself.” It even has two hashtags: #onebathroomatatime and #sodamndeep. Rumi would be amused!

Rumi on FB

This reminded me of a blog I wrote in 2012 and posted on my WordPress site, which since went belly up thanks to technical snafus. I’ve resurrected and updated it, as it seems like a good follow up to that bathroom posting.а Here it is.


Where you fear to live

“Forget safety.

Live where you fear to live.

Destroy your reputation.

Be notorious.

I have tried prudent planning

long enough. From now on

I’ll be mad.”

– Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks)

I couldn’t help doing a mental fist pump the first time I read this poem by the brilliant 13th century Persian mystic, Rumi.а It’s so counter-intuitive that my second instinct was to bring up my hands in a defensive stance and duck my head. Forget safety? Be notorious? Are you mad?

Except for the truly, brilliantly mad – artists, scientists, mystics, fools – this sounds more like social suicide to mere mortals like me. The fact is that this wildness of spirit and boldness of mind has been bred out of most of us.а

I have a theory that because of the way the world works, we are conditioned to live in a constant state of fear. Fear of failing. Fear of not getting what the other guy has. Fear of not measuring up. Fear of not finding love. Fear of losing it once we find it. Hating our job, but afraid to quit. Fear of being different. And fear that if we do try to be different, we’ll be like the proverbial nail head sticking up begging to be hammered down. Better to pull our heads in and be satisfied with having unrealized lives. As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them.”

Is this any way to live?а Enter Rumi, the subversive dissident with a revolutionary idea. аWhat would happen if we all decided to screw safety and live where we fear to live?

Can you imagine? Whatever you fear, do it anyway. You may be anxious about coming up with a truly honest list of the things you fear. So, let me start.

One caveat: I have an advantage over most of you as I’ve lived long enough to check off all the ones I’ve already listed. I will admit that fear has been a powerful motivating factor in my life, which may well be part of the reason why I am where I am today. For example, I’m modestly well off and still working, even though I’m still afraid of not having enough and maybe even losing it all.а I’m in pretty good health for my age and do take care of myself, but dread the idea of frailty and dementia – not to mention incontinence and the humiliation of adult diapers!а Where once I might have been afraid to be different, now I’m terrified of being ignored as older folks tend to become invisible. We may joke about it (“Yeah, I’m saving up my stash of drugs!”), but we all fear ending up in an old folks home where everyone is drooling and waiting to die.а

Depressing, isn’t it? Except that …

I once had the amazing pleasure of meeting 92-year-old Jim. Tall, slim and elegant, he would ride the bus followed by a short walk to our painting class wearing his jaunty straw cap and aided by a stylish cane.а He said he always looked forward to class but sometimes he would take a morning nap and lose track of time or forget. But he showed up. And he would stand for two hours, totally immersed in his painting. аHe had mastered many things in his long life, but painting was not one of them. He was afraid to try because he didn’t think he would be “good enough.”а Yet, there he was, at age 92, daring to dive in where he feared to live. He has since had his work exhibited in a small gallery.

“Life is so beautiful,” he said.

Yes, life is so beautiful. Too beautiful to live in fear and longing and regret.а Perhaps the real challenge is to let go of all our fears. As one Buddhist teacher said, “Fear is the resistance to letting go of yourself completely.”а

And for those of us who’ve never allowed ourselves to sing by letting go completely, it’s never too late to discover the music in us.а

Let go of your fears

and sing the song in your heart.

It’s so beautiful.

ай Maya Leland 2014