A friend recently asked me to explain a verse of Rumi:
Sell your cleverness,
and buy bewilderment.
I tried explaining it like this:
The heart of mysticism is realizing the Mystery of God. Realizing is not understanding in the intellectual sense. A young child realizes God’s beauty, order and perfection through their absorption, curiosity and naked openness to the world. Hence, Jesus said we must come as little children or we cannot enter the Kingdom of God (the realm where God is all).
You might also call it the difference between apprehending and comprehending. Luther says, “bewilderment is the true comprehension” to be lost in God is to be more “found” than anyone can be with a GPS!
“Lose your psyche for my sake, and you will find it.”
Rumi’s “sell your understanding” means do not attempt to seek the holy Presence through your mind. The mind has its own purposes, but that’s not one of them. It’s not knowledge, but emptiness, openness, spaciousness of the heart. Room for God, or Capax dei. The “capacity” toward God that Mary had, and brought forth Christ.
“Buy bewilderment” means that as you begin to see God anew, stop trying to constantly note distinctions and comparisons, and allow yourself to be amazed and even confused.
Isaiah recorded God saying “as heaven/sky is higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, my thoughts than your thoughts.”
We can not understand God’s thoughts, because he does not have them in the sense that we do. When God—the Source of all that is, moves in any way, the result is appearance in the manifest world we call Creation. If God thinks “tree,” a tree appears.
Encountering God’s presence is bewildering. It cannot be “understood” for it is beyond mind. Kierkegaard said, “if you think you understand, then it isn’t God.” In fact, it is the nature of the ego, what Paul called “the flesh,” to recoil from this Presence. It’s like dipping your toe in a swimming pool and deciding it’s too cold. But if you just jump in, after the initial “bewilderment,” you begin adjusting to the water.
In the same way, as we begin to rein in the egoic mind, we become more and more accustomed to this bewilderment, and start realizing it as our natural resting place.
In the Gospel of Thomas verse 2, Jesus is recorded as saying: “Blessed are they who do not cease seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. And being disturbed, they will marvel and reign over All.”
After being disturbed and marveling, the culmination of the process is “ruling over All,” which I believe is a reference to divine transformation, or theosis—a state of union with God, in which the human soul becomes so permeated by God’s Spirit that we become like Christ, fully human, yet fully divine. The imago dei (image of God), the essence of our being, becomes clear. Like Mary, we bring forth Christ’s presence into the world. With Jesus, we become “other members” of the Body of Christ, and yet no less Christ than He is.
When I read Paul now, I sense his dismay that this wasn’t happening to everyone in the Church. “How is it that you act as mere men,” he says, as though he expected Christians to become “gods with God” (as one of the Church Fathers put it). After all, that’s exactly what happened to him after his blinding, bewildering encounter on the way to Damascus.
For most though, it takes ongoing work to subjugate the ego. And it’s not by trying to do better, pray harder, believe more strongly, doing more good deeds, or anything like that, but by constant releasing and emptying. What Jesus called self-denial and “carrying the cross” (to die), and Paul called putting off the “old man” and “dying to self.”
Enlightened teachers talk about the “death” of the self or the dismantling of the ego, (although in fact there always is some egoic remnant that remains.) My own teacher told me that it is very bewildering to find yourself without a “self.” But it does happen, whether in ever-so-gradual stages, or in an unexpected blast of enlightening grace, as with Paul.
My greatest difficulty on the path is I keep buying understanding. Knowing stuff is SO comforting to my ego. I’m smart. I’m a Christian mystic. I’m somebody. And being “somebody” keeps me from being the nobody, the empty vessel ready to be filled.