What Should We Do About That Moon?

December 31, 2011

There’s a poem by Hafiz that, laid out in prose, goes like this:

“A wine bottle fell from a wagon and broke open in a field. That night one hundred beetles and all their cousins gathered and did some serious binge drinking. They even found some seed husks nearby and began to play them like drums and whirl. This made God very happy.

“Then the ‘night candle’ rose into the sky and one drunk creature, laying down his instrument, said to his friend  for no apparent reason, “What should we do about that moon?”

“Seems to Hafiz most everyone has laid aside the music to tackle such profoundly useless questions.”

Being one of a global population of  pretty close to 7 billion human beetles tackling such profoundly useless questions a modern man or woman, allowing themselves a moment of drums and dancing, might long for a day when life was more simple and grounded. As it is we’ve built a global Godzilla that’s been nibbling at our Beetleness and is presently chomping an arm and leg or two while we’re distracted by the moon of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.

The problem is that being a millionaire requires becoming an organ of the self-gobbling Godzilla that will eventually consume not only millionaires but billionaires as well.

If you want a glimpse of what becoming a multi-millionaire does to one’s character take a look at cigarette execs. Cigarette executives have to sell their souls to build luxurious lives on the suffering and death of consumers of their product. In fact, regarding the profoundly useless, is there anything more useless than a cigarette? If their business personas are any indication of what’s going on inside the skulls of Marlboro execs I’d rather be a decent human being with a lower-paying, less destructive occupation.

As Hafiz seems to imply, preoccupation with profoundly useless questions and endeavors takes not just a personal toll, but a toll on society and civilization itself. Being so chronically preoccupied, not only do we personally lose something worthy and essential, but so does our community.

Hafiz says the music and dance of his poem “…made God very happy,” so ditching music and dance as we become ever more absorbed in the profoundly useless must bring God great sadness (whether God is real to you or simply a metaphor for the unknown in no way affects truth of the poet’s intent).

In another poem Hafiz tells us to “Change rooms in your mind for a day.” Good advice.

Let’s say one of the rooms in our national mansion is the vault of acquisition —the one in which our national psyche spends way too much useless time clawing its way to the top 1% of the heap; if so, it might be a healthy idea to take Hafiz’s advice and walk down the hall to the alcove of love and spend some time meditating on the words of another poet (these poets often make such useful observations).

“No man is an island entire of itself,” said John Donne, and this is as true today as it was in 1624 —maybe even truer, or at least more immediately important. To see how this might be so we should consider the whole of Donne’s wise remark:

“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume,” Donne wrote, “when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all….No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

It’s safe to say that John Donne would never have made it into the ranks of this year’s Republican presidential hopefuls. With socialist-tinged remarks like that he’d immediately be cast “…into the furnace of fire —the furnace of Grover (No-tax Pledge) Norquist— where there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth,” —which (being biblical) sounds appropriately like a typical day in the currently Republican controlled House of Representatives.

But what John Donne wrote is a bottom-line truth even for those tallying the bottom line of corporations. Like it or not we are bound in a planetary system in which the well-being of one increasingly affects the well-being of “The Other” —that “other” being anyone outside of yourself, your family, your tribe, your ethnicity, your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, your species, your religion or your nation.

We can’t go on like this.  The planet won’t take it.  It’ll pay us back in spades for our addiction to profoundly useless questions and profoundly useless consumptive compulsions.

As Hafiz also says:

“From the large jug, drink the wine of Unity, so that from your heart you can wash away the futility of life’s grief.

“But like this large jug, still keep the heart expansive. Why would you want to keep the heart captive, like an unopened bottle of wine?”

Why indeed.

by Jim Culleny


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