Dr. Ali Sahebi

Throughout the history of mankind, metaphors have played a part in learning at all levels; from everyday to the sacred. This has happened because metaphors teach us through their knots of relevance. It has been my good luck to have been influenced by Rumi. Rumi helped me develop a deeper understanding of connectedness the ways in which metaphors serve to promote systemic thinking and systemic living. Metaphors, as Rumi narrates for us, facilitate problem solving, helps us manage transition, and formulate dreams. In Rumi’s Mathnavi, I found the power of metaphors one of the most important tools for communicating through a framework that allows the maximum number of participants the possibility to understand a teaching point. For Rumi, metaphors serve as models that close the gap between our experience as human beings and the theories we can create to explain our experience. This thought process is referred to as adductive thinking, the thinking which allows us to close the gap between inductive thinking and deductive thinking. Rumi’s metaphors offer the structures that help us go from the specific domain of life to the relationship of life.

Why Are Rumi’s Metaphors are so powerful?

As Leonard Shalin stated “metaphor is the right brain’s unique contribution to the left brain’s language capability”. In Rumi’s Mathnavi, every story combines an inner logic and narrative sequence expressed through words (left brain preference) together with aspects of creativity, cohesion and pattern forming expressed through tone and emotion (right brain preference). In this way, both hemispheres of our brain are stimulated. These factors considerably contribute to our understanding of the following: the attention of metaphors as meaning carrying vehicles, the memorability of metaphors, and the appeal of metaphors to different ages, cultures, and information-processing styles. Rumi’s metaphors in Mathnavi carry the history, the culture, the values, and the customs of people. Rumi’s metaphors are a form of social glue that serves to entertain, instruct, and challenge the listener or reader. And because they strike deep chords in shared communal experience, they operate at both conscious and unconscious levels, conveying “messages” directly and indirectly.

Three Metaphors from the Mathnavi

The Grammarian and sense of superiority

A Businessman had invited his friend the schoolmaster for a trip on his boat. It was hot day, and while the Businessman attended to the steering and navigation, the Schoolmaster relaxed on the deck. After a while, the Schoolmaster asked, "What will the weather be like?"

The businessman looked at the sky, sniffed the air, and checked the direction of the wind. "We's going to have a storm," he said. The Schoolmaster was shocked. "You can't say 'We's! Don't you know grammar? You should say, 'We're…. We're going to have a storm.' My friends, if you don't know grammar you've wasted half your life." The businessman merely shrugged his shoulders and carried on navigating the boat with skill and an eye on the horizon.

Some time later, as the Businessman had predicted, a huge storm blew up. The wind was high, the waves were huge, and the little boat was swamped with water. Over the roar of the storm, the Businessman shouted to the Schoolmaster, "Have you ever learned how to swim?" "No. Why on earth should I have learned to swim?"
"In that case," said the Businessman grinning from ear to ear, "You've wasted all your life, because we's going to sink."

The three fishes

Three fishes once lived in a pool. They were: a clever fish, a half clever fish and a stupid fish. Life continued for them very much as it was for fishes everywhere until one day came-a man. He was carrying a net, and a clever saw him through the water. Calling upon his experience, the stories he had heard, and his cleverness, he decided to take action. ‘There are few places to hide in this pool, he thought. ‘I shall therefore play dead. He summoned his strength and jumped out of the pool, landing at the feet of the fisherman, who was rather surprised. But as the clever fish was holding his breath, The fisherman supposed he was dead: and threw him back. This fish now glided into a small hole under the bank.

Now the second fish, the half-clever one, did not quite understand what had happened. So he swam next to the clever fish and asked him all about it. ‘SIMPLE; said the clever fish, I played dead so he threw me back.’ so the half clever-fish immediately leaped out of the water, at the fisherman’s feet. ‘STRANGE; thought the fisherman, ‘they are leaping about all over the place.’ And because the half-clever fish had forgotten to hold his breath the fisherman realized that he was alive so he put him in his satchel. He turned back to peer into the water, and because he had been slightly confused from the fishes jumping onto dry land in front of him, he did not close the flap of his bag. The half-clever fish, when he realized this, was just able to ease himself out and, flipping over and over, got back into the water. He sought out the first fish and lay panting beside him.
Now the third fish, the stupid one was not able to make anything at all of this, even when he heard the first and second fishes’ versions. So they went over every point with him, stressing the importance of not breathing, in order to play dead. ‘Thank you so much: now I understand, said the stupid fish. With these words he hurled himself out of the water, landing just beside the fisherman. Now the fisherman, having lost two fish already, put this one into his bag without bothering to look at whether it breathing or not. He cast the net again and again into the pool, but the first two fish were crouched into the depression under the bank. And the flap on the fisherman’s bag this time was fully closed. Finally the fisherman gave up. He opened the bag, realized the stupid fish was not breathing, and took him home for the cat .

Three pieces of advices

A man once caught a bird. The bird said to him, “I am no use to you as a captive. But let me free, and I will tell you three valuable pieces of advice”. The bird promised to give the first piece of advice while still in the man’s grasp, the second when he reached a branch, the third after he had gained the top of a mountain.The man agreed, and asked for the first piece of advice. The bird said: “If you lose something, even if it be valued by you as much as life itself – do not regret it”.

Now the man let the bird go, and it hopped to a branch. It continued with the second piece of advice:
“Never believe anything that is contrary to sense, without proof”. Then the bird flew to the mountain-top. From here it said: “O unfortunate one! Within me are two huge jewels, and if you had only killed me they would have been yours!” The man was anguished at the thought of what he had lost, but he said: “At least now tell me the third piece of advice.”

The bird replied: “What a fool you are, asking for more advice when you have not given thought to the first two pieces! I told you not to worry about what had been lost, and not to believe in something contrary to sense. Now you are doing both. You are believing something ridiculous and grieving because you have lost something! I am not big enough to have inside me huge jewels. “You are a fool. Therefore you must stay within the usual restrictions imposed on man”.

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