Athirst in Love's Desert

The rocks crumbling underfoot went unnoticed next to the burning sun above. The air was dry, and quickly blew all moisture from Majnún’s skin, leaving a brief tingle as the evaporation cooled his arms. There was hardly a cloud to see, and on the ground was only cactus and rough bushes. Likely snakes and scorpions hid all around, but even they avoided the heat of the day. Hiking the desert at midday takes a special kind of madness – or a very special reason.

The next hill remained forever distant from Majnún’s laboring feet. Dust, the color of calfskin, stretched in all directions, with only a few sprays of green in the form of spiny plants. Even breathing took the moisture from one’s lungs, so Majnún drank constantly. His bottle of water grew lighter with every step.

Somewhere in all this chaparral lived a fair maiden – a princess of great reknown. He trekked to find her, and to present his gift of love, that she might favor him with a glance. It was said her gaze could heal wounds, and the shape of her face granted wishes. Certainly the stories he had heard in California promised nothing less. Could it be true? Had he found one who would touch his heart and leave in its place a thing of beauty and light? One foot following the other, he continued on his way to find out.

Even her name was a mystery. A ravishing women from the East, named after a famous nom de plume of a century ago. They say that, in public circles where many came to admire and capture her beauty, she used other names and told other tales. This only heightened the mystery of that precious being, who even now pulled at Majnún’s heart like a magnet deep in the Earth. Although the sun fell dim and blood red in the west, and his bottle carried less than a trickle, he knew the time was drawing near when he would find refreshment simply by her words, “I am here.”

The creatures of the desert regarded the wanderer in silent amusement. No fools for love, they. There is a wisdom in saving the heart, and keeping one’s focus on matters of food and shelter. But the lover who catches a glimpse of his hope – his beloved – cares nothing for the laws that govern ordinary lives. He goes from shelter to rain, from surfeit to famine, just to hear her name one last time. He is a creature foreign to the world of being. How well the Master relates:

Love accepteth no existence and wisheth no life: He seeth life in death, and in shame seeketh glory…. Blessed the neck that is caught in His noose, happy the head that falleth on the dust in the pathway of His love.

And dust there was, everywhere; and Majnún with a longing to throw his head – his life blood! – down upon it! to drain away his life in remembrance of her; to prove, by becoming a stain upon the ground, his undying devotion. To a lover, these are the marks of true living and the heights of glory.

But first, to find her – to tread this barren valley of Search on a mare both intemperate and slow. For Majnún recognized that his own being was the steed he rode, and so he willed each leg to chase the other down dusty trails and up crumbling hills. Each step was an insult to his thirst; every moment, a sliver of time pressing into his heart. But since the Master counsels patience, he whispered to each leg, to each cell, to hold back from their madness, until he could watch her smile and feel the dawn of reunion breaking over the dark night of absence.

The awesome cactii, with dusty arms reaching for heaven, said nothing. The rabbits here and there gave no comment. The first stars peeked in the darkness, and twinkled, but remained shy. The brushing of scaly bodies, and sinuous tracks through the dirt, was all that was heard from the snakes. Only the coyote and his plaintive howl seemed to agree that life without a sun is not enough. But while his sun had passed beyond the hills, Majnún’s had yet to rise in the East of recognition. Where was she?

Searching high and low, under rocks and behind trees, he looked for her. Everyone he passed, he questioned; every broken leaf he pondered for signs of her passing. As the Master told:

In every face, he seeketh the beauty of the Friend; in every country he looketh for the Beloved. He joineth every company, and seeketh fellowship with every soul, that haply in some mind he may uncover the secret of the Friend, or in some face he may behold the beauty of the Loved One.

But he met so few on the trail, and of her there were only hints and stories. He pursued them all, looking for whatever clue might lead to her palace. In the end, he even fell down on the dust, and begin sifting its grains, in case she had made the ground her home.

One must judge of search by the standard of the Majnun of Love. It is related that one day they came upon Majnun sifting the dust, and his tears flowing down. They said, “What doest thou?” He said, “I seek for Layli.” They cried, “Alas for thee! Layli is of pure spirit, and thou seekest her in the dust!” He said, “I seek her everywhere; haply somewhere I shall find her.”

Where could she be? The hapless wanderer was out of food, out of water. He lived now on the energy of his own tissues. He consumed himself like a candle to give forth a weak flame in the night – his only guide. And like the candle, he wept hot tears streaking his face, and guttered whenever biting winds rose from the north. Almost without hope he struggled on, and lived for the one thought that perhaps she was near. His state recalled the Master’s tale:

From the rule of love, his heart was empty of patience, and his body weary of his spirit; he reckoned life without her as a mockery, and time consumed him away. How many a day he found no rest in longing for her; how many a night the pain of her kept him from sleep; his body was worn to a sigh, his heart’s wound had turned him to a cry of sorrow.

When shall it end? Feet numbed from travel, a heart weighing like stone, Majnún pushed ahead. Everything he’d brought fell to his side as he gave up the final impediments. A trail of worthless belongings littered the trail, marking his passage by tokens that offered no solace. Soon even memories were swept away, knowledge – the fragments of his very being. Existence itself he sloughed off, to be replaced by the sole image of his beloved.

Nor shall the seeker reach his goal unless he sacrifice all things. That is, whatever he hath seen, and heard, and understood, all must he set at naught, that he may enter the realm of the spirit, which is the City of God.

How does one follow the track of a ghost? The weary one became invisible to his own eyes, and so perhaps the story must end here. But he’d yet to find the aim of his longing, and the strength of his yearning still sparked the air and thrilled the atoms by its vibration. Everywhere he went he brought life, which he gave freely because he himself sought death. Or rather, he thirsted for the death of absence, to taste the draught of reunion. “He had given a thousand lives for one taste of the cup of her presence…”

A thing of pure spirit, he drifted over the desert sands. The animals were still quiet; the bunnies flopped their ears, and paused to muse the secrets of a blade of grass. What the snakes knew they kept to the trails, and wrote only these lines in their gliding calligraphy:

Love's a stranger to earth and heaven too;
In him are lunacies seventy-and-two.

Some day, fate promises, the aching bellies will reach to the table of bounty, and the parched tongues taste from the meads of delight; the aching travelers will soak in the ocean of nearness, and besotted poets drown their misery in the wine of union. But when shall these things be?

In answer to this, one must recall His words to mind, where He speaks of the life of the soul, and the sweet death of the seeker who vanishes, to enter the heaven of his Goal:

[Love] yieldeth no remedy but death, he walketh not save in the valley of the shadow; yet sweeter than honey is his venom on the lover’s lips, and fairer his destruction in the seeker’s eyes than a hundred thousand lives….

For the head raised up in the love of God will certainly fall by the sword, and the life that is kindled with longing will surely be sacrificed, and the heart which remembereth the Loved One will surely brim with blood. How well is it said:

  Live free of love, for its very peace is anguish;
  Its beginning is pain, its end is death.

Peace be upon him who followeth the Right Path!