Why Organize the Universe this way

What does not exist looks so handsome.
What does exist, where is it?
An ocean is hidden. All we see is foam,
shapes of dust, spinning, tall as minarets, but I want wind.
Dust can’t rise up without wind, I know, but can’t I understand this
by some way other than induction?

Invisible ocean, wind. Visible foam and dust: This is speech.
Why can’t we hear thought?
These eyes were born asleep
Why organize a universe this way?

With the merchant close by a magician measures out
five hundred ells of linen moonlight.
It takes all his money, but the merchant buys the lot.
Suddenly there’s no linen, and of course there’s no money.
which was his life spent wrongly, and yours.
Say save me, Thou one, from witches who tie knots
and blow on them. They’re tying them again.
Prayers are not enough. You must do something.

Three companions for you: Number one,
what you own. He won’t even leave the house
for some danger you might be in. He stays inside.
Number two, your good friend. He at least comes to the funeral.
He stands and talks at the gravesite. No further.

The third companion, what you do, your work,
goes down into death to be there with you,
to help. take deep refuge
with that companion, beforehand.

-John Moyne and Coleman Barks, Open Secret: Versions of Rumi, Putney, Vermont: Threshold Books, 1984, p. 79

But what does this have to do with working to make money for nonprofits?

Rumi replies:

A friend remarks to the Prophet, “Why is it
I get screwed in business deals?
It’s like a spell. I become distracted
by business talk and make wrong decisions.”

Muhammad replies, “Stipulate with every transaction
that you need three days to make sure.”

Deliberation is one of the qualities of God.
Throw a dog a bit of something.
He sniffs to see if he wants it.

Be that careful.

Sniff with your wisdom-nose.
Get clear. Then decide.

The universe came into being gradually
over six days. God could have just commanded,


Little by little a person reaches forty and fifty and sixty,
and feels more complete. God could have thrown full-blown prophets
flying through the cosmos in an instant.

Jesus said one word, and a dead man sat up,
but Creation usually unfolds,
like calm breakers.

Constant, slow movement teaches us to keep working
like a small creek that stays clear,
that doesn’t stagnate, but finds a way
through numerous details, deliberately.

Deliberation is born of joy,
like a bird from an egg.

Birds don’t resemble eggs!
Think how different the hatching out is.
a white leathery snake egg, a sparrow’s egg;
a quince seed, an apple seed: Very different things
look similar at one stage.

These leaves, our bodily personalities, seem identical,
but the globe of soul-fruit
we make,
each is elaborately

-Rumi: We are three. trans. Coleman Barks. Athens, GA: Maypop Books, 1987, pp. 28-29

“Outer life can support the inner work when the demands of life are taken as a challenge to one’s attention, as a reminder that one needs to cultivate the question of who I am and what in this moment is devouring my attention, taking more of me than I need to give it. In this world we live in, nothing brings that challenge more often and more dependably than the adventure of money.”

-From Jacob Needleman’s book, Money and the Meaning of Life, page 291.

Why do I share this with you now?

Because I want you to understand my search, and possibly, your own search for meaning, and for what the Buddhists call “Right livelihood.”

Needleman writes, “There is an action, an allowing, a surrender within, that has always been the birthright of every man or woman. The ego experiences it as a kind of stoppage. It is a special quality of silence. In that moment, you know what you are on earth and you know that as you are you cannot serve. You know you must change your life and that this can only happen by searching for companions and conditions that will support the appearance of this moment of opening. On the basis of that moment, a new intention enters into one’s life, a new morality. It is the morality of the search. Whatever supports that search is good. Whatever hinders it is evil. One begins to understand that is is only through that opening that one can love as one wishes to love and as we have heard of love in the teachings of the masters. Then truly, the world and life in this world, with all its pleasures and pains, with all its obligations and difficulties, this world becomes my monastery.” pg 298, ibid.

This happened to me in 2001.

It was October, in western Massachusetts. I was at a meditation retreat. I didn’t have any particular intention for the retreat. I didn’t know this was going to happen. Please don’t think that I’m sharing this with you to prove how “holy” or “good” I am or something like that. It’s not like that at all. This is an origin story.

After day 8 of the retreat, I did feel this stoppage. Something inside of me stopped, maybe all of the voices telling me I wasn’t good enough, I don’t know what to call it, maybe ego.

But a new intention did come into my life. I asked, I did have a question, which is “What am I supposed to do now?” and I heard the answer. “I want to help people.” To be of service, with my writing, with my speaking.

I knew that as I was then, I could not serve. I had to go out of my comfort zone, find people to support my search as I figured out how to serve.

And then my search began. It took me to Korea. It took me to Indonesia’s poorest slums. It took me to the children’s cancer wards of MassGeneral Hospital.

It took me here. I never could have predicted that I would have these two books and a popular blog at that time. And I don’t think this is the end of my search either. Maybe someday I will go do something else. But now you see this work, this is my search. This is how I am creating meaning in my life.

How about you? Where did YOUR search begin?