Rumi, the Sufi poet, once told a story about a guy who worked for years as a tanner. His job was to soften rawhide, using manure to turn it into fine leather. So, he breathed in the stink of manure all day and every day. Walking through a perfume market on his way to work one morning, the tanner passed out. He fainted from the scents of jasmine and rosewater, and no medicine could revive him.
His brother walked by, saw what was going on, and knew immediately what to do. He picked up some dog poop and held it under the tanner’s nose. Smelling the awful stuff, the tanner woke up. He was revived, and felt fine. The poor man simply had no defense against the power of pleasant things.
The tanner had a couple of choices to make after that: he could avoid perfume markets for the rest of his life, or he could teach himself how to love the smell of flowers again. As we say in this teaching, he could remain a fly…or become a bee.
It’s important to be aware of our emotional appetites. We often seem hungry for poison, unaware of the harm it does to us. On most days, we feed on bad news and harmful gossip. We judge people. We judge ourselves. We use words to do lasting damage– and we think it’s all normal. Doesn’t everybody do the same, the world over?
Most of us hardly notice the emotional poison we consume. We’re not aware of how certain words make us feel, or how a single thought can ruin our day. We don’t seem concerned about what other people are feeding us, or how willing we are to let them do it. Our eating habits seem normal, until we try another kind of food.
We were all born to behave like bees, wanting the sweet taste of honey. At some point, however, we started to want what everyone else was eating. We developed a taste for poop. You might be thinking, “Okay, but how do I change my diet?” Believe it or not, you can refuse to eat anymore poison. If it’s handed to you, you can say no. You can refuse to gossip at other people’s expense. You can stop complaining, blaming, or plotting someone else’s misery. You can take inventory of all the toxins you put in your mind and cut back a little. Isn’t that what you try to do for your body?
What is it you like to eat? We all have our preferences. Some of us grew up on a diet of shame, or guilt, or both. A lot of us got used to being afraid as children, and still look for ways to justify our fears. Some of us have a taste for disappointment; we just can’t get enough of it. For others, it’s anger, or the occasional dose of indignation. It’s hard to say no to a familiar food. And it’s hard to stop hunting for it.
“What am I…and what am I eating?” are two potentially transformational questions. Are you acting like a bee or a fly right now? Are you dining on your own emotional pain, as usual, or enjoying a bit of someone else’s pain? Are you using memories to hurt yourself? Are you using love to hurt yourself– love?
Just by asking the right questions, you get back to the simple truth of you. You’re not a fly. You’re not a bee. You’re a human being, and we humans use our words to trigger strong emotions. Instead of recognizing what is, we assume and we speculate. We exaggerate. We fabricate. We let our minds run the show.
Instead, let your body choose good food from bad, and ask your mind to get with the program. You’ve been recoiling from jasmine and rosewater for too long. End the idle gossip. Say no to your irrational fears. Get used to “the nourishment of revelation” and enjoy a steady diet of truth.
You’re not going to pass out, I promise. You may have to let go of a few of those poop-eaters in your life, but you’ll attract a host of honeybees. And who knows? You might even become the nectar everyone else is craving.
♥️ More love, from Barbara