The way of love is not a subtle argument. The door there is devastation.
Birds make great sky circles of their freedom. How do they learn it?
They fall, and in falling, they’re given wings. — Rumi
The fantasy of love in my early twenties.
My new boyfriend had given me the book containing this poem, and I was hooked. I had learned about Rumi in school, but never had one of his poems spoken to me, like this one did, till now.
My boyfriend and I had been together, at this point, for a little over a month. I had never been a type who enjoyed reading love poems, but I was in the mood, given how obsessively I was infatuated with him.
Here I was, having just had an extremely romantic Valentine’s Day, in my early twenties, with a guy who was two years younger than me.
We both exerted so much effort to curate the perfect, fantasy-driven Valentine’s Day for each other.
I created a scavenger hunt around the city, and had spent a week preparing little gifts and clues, as well as getting local businesses to keep them for me in their shops. I also wrote love notes, and spent a whole lot of my free time fantasizing about how to truly show him what I felt for him.
He had created a beautiful bouquet of flowers, gifted me these Rumi love poems, and self-paired a wine and charcuterie plate. Then he surprised me further, with having me watch clips of certain movies pieced together to form a narrative of his feelings for me. Finally, he ended the evening with taking me out for a fancy dinner.
We had cried various times during that day, and professed how deeply in love we were with each other.
Then, out of nowhere, no more than two weeks later, things fell apart.
He became cold, withdrawn and critical, and I became insecure, anxious and demanding. I broke it off with him because I felt he had betrayed and abandoned me, after a pregnancy scare. This break up felt like a suicide of my own heart, but it felt at the time, like my only option.
I then spent the next two years getting over him, and also sometimes wishing he had wanted me back.
This poem carried me through.
This poem has stuck with me, since its introduction. I revisit it with each partner I have, through each break-up, and also in periods of embracing being single.
Now, in my thirties, I have a very different perspective on the love that Rumi shares about.
The two parts of this poem I now believe I understand, are the experiences of devastation and falling. In other words, (I think) I get how love is a devastating fall to freedom.
My understanding of devastation.
In my younger years, I believed the devastation Rumi was referring to, was simply the pain of longing, low self-worth or low self-confidence, the anxiety of wondering if someone loved me back, heartbreak, betrayal, conflict, and disappointment.
I hadn’t yet learned to tolerate the intense pain, and the past traumas that love triggered in me, and because of this, I would have assessed my feelings or experience to be “devastating”.
As I healed and matured, through the very process of trying to figure out how to be in love in a way that felt less painful for me, I began to realize something. A core element of empowering myself to heal, was in recognizing in the moment, when it was time to overcome my own ego, and my automatic, defensive (trauma-based) responses encoded within me.
In other words, I had to let go of seeing the other, our relationship, and reality in a certain way, where I painted myself as a justified victim, in order to open myself to changing my experience of love.
This process of empowering myself to heal, by opening up to a different reality than the one fueled by the trauma-based sensation, emotion, and narratives, in the moment, has been nothing short of a devastation.
I have completely taken a wrecking ball to my ego, my identity, and thus my orientation to the world.
I have done this in the name of overcoming destructive patterns that have been created (and also perpetuated) by not loving myself, feeling disconnected, feeling not adequately loved by others and chronically disappointed, and feeling fearful, bitter, and blame-y.
I had hit a new level of rock-bottom so many times, where I realized the deeper issues I avoided, kept me from changing in the ways I needed to. These deeper issues functioning in my subconscious, where I had yet to take accountability for them and the ways I embodied them in my life, served to keep me in the same patterns, over and over again. In repeating the same scenarios and choices, over and over again, my fortress of fear, blame, self-pity, self-righteousness, and arrogance, stood impenetrable, and undestroy-able.
My understanding of falling.
The simultaneous act of empowering and opening myself to the process of devastation, in love, is also letting myself fall.
I used to think to fall, was simply just allowing myself to not be deterred by the fear and anxiety of falling in love, and to have the courage to let myself open ever deeper to another person.
The above, is part of what I think Rumi meant, by referring to birds gaining freedom through flight, in this metaphor on love. However, I think he was referring to much more.
I believe Rumi wanted to highlight a paradox inherent in true, deep love. Rumi alludes, that to truly be transformed and experience ever greater liberation from ego and fear (which both disconnect us from love), we must go towards the very feelings and scenarios that scare us, and cause us to feel the most confused and trapped * . Read below this article to see the caveat that the asterisk alludes to.
We realize WE MUST “fly” (e.g. love), and as an act of continuing the love we create and experience with another, we need to face things in our selves we never would have been motivated to face, otherwise.
Through facing the possibility of plummeting 10,000 feet through the air to our death, like the birds who start with no wings, yet feel the call to fly and let themselves fall, we grow “wings”, just like these birds. These wings represent the capacity to truly love another and our self, as well as to have an ever greater vantage point of perspective on self, love, life, and reality. We must trust as we fall that we won’t be destroyed, surrendering to our whole reality, perspective, and self, being deepened and transformed by the hands of (the process of) love.
Additionally, just as birds starting without wings are not recognizable as birds, they must go through this process because it makes them become more of who they are. So shall we go through this process with love. We find who we truly are, as a result of this falling, and being granted “wings” , while we fall.
Love has completely fucked me up.
I, being my ego and defensive structure, still fight these realizations, and resist the lessons I share with you all here. I also assume that as I continue this path, and experience greater devastation, falling, and freedom, the concepts in this poem will reveal ever deeper meaning and relevance to me.
But, for now, I am pausing to appreciate how love has completely fucked up my self and my life, in the best possible ways.
My wish is for each of you, is that you find the courage and surrender to fall, and accept the devastation of love. This will give you the greatest freedom you have ever known.
Thank you for reading!
*Before anyone writes an essay in the comments about abusive relationships, I want to stop you here. I understand the whole challenge of being in an abusive relationship and watching others be in them, is seeing the confusion about when, where, why, and how to leave the relationship, paired with the experience of re-committing to the abuser and the relationship, over and over again. I want to express here, that learning when the right time FOR YOU to leave an abusive relationship, is a decision that falls squarely in the hands of a victim of abuse, and that I respect the process we all need to go through to get to this point.
I have been in abusive relationships, and I grew as much as I could, and then left when I was able. I am privileged enough that the obstacles in my life, to my leaving, were not as great as many other women’s. I respect that the devastation and falling in this type of love, where we bring what scares us (our partner) closer, is a combination of re-traumatization, as well as tranformation. To be done with an abusive relationship, it is often required that a woman find a level of strength, self-love, and resourcefulness, before she can successfully leave, rebuild her life, avoid relapsing, and remain alive.
I could write a book on the nuance of this, but abusive dynamics are not what this article is about.