Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Dismissing The Critics

Awoke a couple of mornings ago with the last two lines of this wonderful poem calling me up out of dreams. Written by the Mirabai, who lived in the sixteenth century this version is translated by Robert Bly. I once saw Robert recite this poem, and was deeply moved by the way he embodied the voice of the feminine claiming her own life. As he read the final two lines his hand moved in a slow and graceful circle as he embodied Mirabai's dismissal of her critics. 

Conflicting stories of Mirabai abound, She was from Rajasthan, one of the most significant figures of the Sant tradition of the Vaishnava bhakti movement. Unhappy in the marriage her family had arranged for her, she did the unthinkable- she left. Not only that, she left to wander the countryside with few possessions as a mystic, a poet, a singer and devotee of Lord Krishna. One of the stories is that her aristocratic family, mortified by Mirabai's behaviour, hired men to bring her back home. When she refused, they hired assasins who tried to kill her.

Bly presented this poem as Mirabai's answer to those who said she must submit to the role her family and culture assigned to her. "The Dark One" referred to in the poem is Krishna, often pictured with dark blue skin. I love the passionate commitment to her own direct experience of the divine expressed here, her indifference to others' approval or disapproval.

May we each allow our lives to be penetrated by the direct experience of the sacred, the divine as it appears to us. May we all find that which is, for us, "the sway of the elephant's shoulders."

Why Mira Can't Come Back to Her Old House

The colors of the Dark One have penetrated Mira's body;
    all the other colors washed out.
Making love with the Dark One and eating little-
    those are my pearls and my carnelians.
Meditation beads and the forehead streak-
    those are my scarves and my rings.
That's enough feminine wiles for me.
    My teacher taught me this.

Approve me or disapprove me;
    I praise the Mountain Energy night and day.
I take the path that ecstatic human beings
    have taken for centuries.
I don't steal money, nor hit anyone;
    what will you charge me with?

I have felt the swaying of the elephant's shoulders. . . .
    and now you want me to climb on a jackass?
Try to be serious!

~ Mirabai [Translated by Robert Bly]

From News of the Universe: poems of twofold consciousness, chosen and edited by Robert Bly Published by Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1980.


  1. Oriah, For me it is always important to be reminded of expressing myself in a world that can easily swallow someone like me. So I am grateful for the reminder. But I am also grateful for all the times you present to your readers a writer, a poet, a musician or artist that you have learned about. It leads us to learn more and opens our world of experience. From you I have learned about poets and writers that I did not know. My life, my "environment" did not expose me to these things. So much of my learning about the sacred in writing has been reading one thing then it leads to another and another. It has been and continues to be a solitary journey with no support community. However I have the books, the poems, the music, the lessons of nature to guide me. Thank you for introducing me to this woman and her poetry. BrendaP

    1. Brenda, it is such a pleasure to share some of the writers who touch me deeply- and thankyou for letting me know the sharing is received, Oriah

  2. Dear Oriah,
    I've been struggling with a new feeling/thought lately. I finished leading a one-day workshop, and I had not liked the group very much. Set in a big corporation, enough people in the group were , and remained, self-centered and kept interrupting each other...well, they acted annoyingly and I was annoyed. Even just writing this, I feel that I should not have these thoughts, because for over 20 years, I have always looked at myself to see what I did to cause that. But with these last 2 groups, I keep thinking: It's not only you , Sylvie, the group has an energy, too. It's ok to look at the energy of the group, too...
    I continue my reflexion on this new enquiry, and there is no coincidence that I am readin Bly's poem about the critics.Maybe it is telling me that it's ok to not take everything on my shoulders, that there are elephants AND jackass.
    Oriah, thank you for sharing your world with us.

    1. Sylvie, the idea that everything is JUST a reflection of me is solopsism- a kind of narcissistic philosophy of life. Others- including groups- have their own history, dynamic etc that is not dependent upon me.

      Having said that, as someone who has facilitated groups for decades, I know that when something comes up in my work repeatedly, it does have some meaning for me. Maybe I'm just over-extended, or perhaps something about the set-up (group setting or context, group composition or process) is not working for/is not a fit for me and/or the group.

      Recently I realized that I do not like faciliating groups where the container of place is unfamiliar to me and completely out of my control. Part of what I love about facilitation is setting the container on different levels- physically, culturally (as in establishing group norms) and energetically. If I cannot set things up for the process I want to facilitate, I do not much enjoy the process.

      I offer these examples to suggest that although the group does indeed have its own life/energy, if you are finding yourself not "liking" more than one group, there may be some factor that is not about you OR the group but about you AND the group- ie: what you need now to feel you are doing the group work you love is missing (and may have changed.)

      All the best in your work and in the sorting of what is mine, yours and ours, Oriah

  3. Thank you for reminding me not to go back where I don't belong any more... ;-)

    1. Nora, great way to put that. I have myself occasionally "gone back," driven by some old nostalgia or unconsciousness only to remember I don't belong there anymore. :-)

  4. Dear Oriah, thank you. Peace.

  5. Oriah,
    What a beautiful poem by Meerabai, that you selected to present your thoughts! Thanks for your reflections. I am reading you for the first time, and it is very moving.
    —jc patel