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Bring the Man to Me by Sufi mystic poet, Hafiz, is my all time favorite poem. The first time I heard it was years ago on a two week silent meditation retreat. My teacher read it one evening during his dharma talk and the beauty of the words pierced my heart. Tears came to my eyes as the medicine of this poem washed over me. I’d never been moved to tears by a poem before. It felt like a pivotal moment of opening, and so this poem will always hold a very special place in my heart.

Bring the Man to Me

by Hafiz

A Perfect One was traveling through the desert.

He was stretched out around the fire one night

And said to one of his close ones,

"There is a slave loose not far from us.

He escaped today from a cruel master.

His hands are still bound behind his back,

His feet are also shackled.

I can see him right now praying for God's help.

Go to him.

Ride to that distant hill;

About a hundred feet up and to the right

You will find a small cave.

He is there.

Do not say a single word to him.

Bring the man to me.

God requests that I personally untie his body

And press my lips to his wounds."

The disciple mounts his horse and within two hours

Arrives at the small mountain cave.

The slave sees him coming, the slave looks frightened.

The disciple, on orders not to speak,

Gestures toward the sky, pantomiming:

God saw you in prayer,

Please come with me,

A great teacher has used his heart's divine eye

To know your whereabouts.

The slave cannot believe this story,

And begins to shout at the man and tries to run

But trips from his bindings.

The disciple becomes forced to subdue him.

Think of this picture as they now travel:

The million candles in the sky are lit and singing.

Every particle of existence is a dancing alter

That some mysterious force worships.

The earth is a church floor whereupon

In the middle of a glorious night

Walks a slave, weeping, tied to a rope behind a horse,

With a speechless rider

Taking him toward the unknown.

Several times with all of his might the slave

Tries to break free,

Feeling he is being returned to captivity.

The rider stops, dismounts-brings his eyes

Near the prisoner's eyes.

A deep kindness there communicates an unbelievable hope.

The rider motions-soon, soon you will be free.

Tears roll down from the rider's cheeks.

In happiness for this man.

Anger, all this fighting and tormenting want,


God has seen you and sent a close one.


God has seen your heart in prayer

And sent me.

For years, I’ve read this poem and reflected upon its deep meaning.

To me it seems to be a profound metaphor for navigating the inevitable friction between our soul’s highest calling and the natural fear, pain, and self doubt we must continually encounter and heal as we walk our unique path of becoming.

The poem contains three main characters - The Perfect One, The Slave, and The Disciple. Ultimately, these three characters exist simultaneously within each of us.

The Perfect One is the vision of our ideal, the highest calling of our soul. It’s the promise of what we might become if we endeavor to strive toward our highest potential. In truth each of us are The Perfect One right now, as we always have been and will be, though it will likely take some serious internal de-cluttering to arrive at this truth as a direct knowing and not just as an idea.

The Slave is less abstract. It’s the accumulation of all of our trauma; all the ways we’ve been hurt and the ways we’ve hurt ourselves. The Slave is the doubting voice that says we cannot! It’s not possible, it’s too scary! It’s too hard! The Slave is the voice that holds us back from stepping into the arena. Having endured so much pain, The Slave cannot believe that life could be beautiful if only we could summon the courage to leave the metaphorical cave of our pain and walk the arduous road to The Perfect One.

The Disciple, sent by The Perfect One to free The Slave, is my favorite character. I like to imagine what he must look like, the way he must be, how his presence must feel. To be given such a sacred mission requires The Disciple is supremely trustable. It is clear he must be strong and capable - as evidenced by the point when he is forced to “subdue” The Slave. This shows The Disciple has cultivated the capacity to be firm and unwavering.

Though strong as he is, he is not brutish. His heart is open, his eyes are clear. In a different moment, “tears roll down [his] cheeks in happiness for this man.” He is available to connect in the space of the heart and to gently encourage The Slave toward the fullness of what he could become.

With unfettered awareness, The Disciple sees the Slave truly. He can bear witness to his pain, his fear, the torture he’s endured, while also holding the vision of greatness The Slave is destined for.

Through the clarity of his seeing, compassion naturally emerges. He knows that if he were The Slave, he would cling to the darkness of the cave as well - he understands. But, because The Disciple knows The Perfect One is waiting, he simply cannot allow The Slave to remain in the darkness. And so, with the perfect balance of strength and compassion, he guides The Slave out of the cave to embark on the healing journey that will bring his salvation.

Any man who would walk the path of purpose with integrity and authenticity must learn to embody both the strength and gentility of The Disciple. One without the other is simply not enough.

Some of us, in our misguided efforts and cultural notions of what it means to be a man, have ignored the broken heart of The Slave. Continually beating back his pain into the cave of our subconscious, we drag the The Slave into scary places with no sensitivity. We never allow the deep pain to surface, thus never allowing for it’s healing.

We equate The Slave’s rightful fear and timidity as weakness, and we cultivate a rigid and unfeeling discipline that spares us from the vulnerability of turning toward the pain we’ve endured.

We may cultivate strength, but if we lack the gentility of The Disciple we leave the work only half done. Examined more deeply, our surface level strength and discipline is actually a defense that spares us from facing our darkest parts. We keep pushing and pushing, but we never really know ourselves.

Some of us take the opposite approach. We feel victimized by the inevitable vicissitudes of life. We collapse into the cave of our trauma and find there a bizarre and intoxicating sweetness. We recognize the cave is not ideal, but it’s at least familiar. The cave pales in comparison to what we might become, but it’s at least safe. Here, in the cave, no one can harm us further. And so at the high cost of our highest potential we purchase momentary safety.

We find ourselves stuck in the cave licking our wounds, lamenting the cards we were dealt and blaming others for our lot in life. We never summon the strength of The Disciple to drag ourselves from the cave kicking and screaming and thrust us into the crucible of our greatness.

Yes, we are aware of our pain, but we fail to summon the strength to transcend it, and so we leave the work only half done. Wallowing as a victim in the cave, we never really take responsibility for ourselves.

The Disciple embodies the central point between the poles of strength and gentility. The Disciple is the archetype we must seek to emulate if we would live and love fully; if we would taste the sweetness of coming into a harmonious relationship with ourselves.

Having cultivated his expression at the extremes of Savagery and Saintliness, The Disciple is prepared to bring spontaneous right action to the demands of the moment. When The Slave refuses to leave to cave, The Disciple efficiently subdues him with the skill of a tenacious warrior. When The Slave is having a difficult moment and lost in his pain, The Disciple dismounts the horse, looks into his eyes, and with the tenderness of a loving mother, gently encourages him to keep going.

"Think of this picture as they now travel:

The million candles in the sky are lit and singing.

Every particle of existence is a dancing alter

That some mysterious force worships.

The earth is a church floor whereupon

In the middle of a glorious night

Walks a slave, weeping, tied to a rope behind a horse,

With a speechless rider

Taking him toward the unknown."

Every moment of our waking lives could be described as such. And if we would arrive at the destination our soul has laid for us, we must cultivate the agility of The Disciple, we must learn to manage ourselves with the balance of both tenderness and firmness.

We must allow The Slave to exist as a very real part of ourselves; a part of ourselves that is worthy of our love and attention, a part of ourselves that will likely never go away.

We must use the The Disciple as our example to discern when it is appropriate to subdue The Slave, and when it is more skillful to dismount the horse of our rigid discipline, and bear loving witness to the pain we carry. Such is the path to harmony.

Your journey to The Perfect One will require you learn to be as hard as you are soft.

Such is the Way of The Savage and The Saint.

May the Great Spirit bless your journey.

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