The Gollum Quality of Our Souls

Thursday, May 28, 2015 - 9:42 am

The Gollum Quality of Our Souls

If you’ve seen the full Lord of the Rings trilogy, you probably remember one of the last scenes: Frodo has to go through Mordor to destroy the “ring to rule them all.” Right when he gets inside the heart of the volcano (finally!), standing on the appropriately named “crack of doom,” he is captured by the allure of the ring again. Just at the point where he has a chance to destroy the ring, he cannot let it go. Gollum jumps on him, a fight ensues, and eventually Gollum dives headfirst into the abyss of the flames, unwilling to let go of the ring even unto his own destruction.

There is a powerful lesson here about love — and ego.

Almost all spiritual paths emphasize the importance of love. Love for God, love for humanity. All these paths are luminous. But when the love of God, the love from God, the love for God spills over to humanity, it’s uniquely lovely.

Why love?

So many of us have tasted pain and suffering on this path of love. Why should the loveliest of paths involve this suffering?

Love is a mystery. It is unfair to love to collapse it to something rational, instrumental, logical, systematic, and explained. Rumi says that when it comes to love even he is ashamed of his own words, and feels like a donkey stuck in a muddy road.

Why love?

Why this magical, divine, infuriating, sweet burning? At one level, because greed is real. Selfishness is real. There is that thing in us that screams, “Mine! Mine!” It clings, it grabs, it claims. It is the Gollum of our soul, one that clings onto “My Precious” — even onto diving headfirst into the abyss of hellfire.

Love is different. Love says not “mine!” but “how can I make you make loved.” Love is kind and a raging fire, rolled into one. Real love, true love, is not about how I feel, but about how I can make you, friend of my heart, feel loved.

Love, when it is real, is less about speaking and more about listening. This is why Rumi’s masterpiece begins with “Listen” (Beshnow az ney)

Love, true love, projects the “I” into the “thou,” making that eternal “we” that is but a reflection of God.

“When a lover and a beloved
become one
You [God]
are that One.”

— Rumi

The sweet burning is necessary because the ego is real, at least in this realm of existence. The ego claims all, clings to all, wants all, demands all.

It, the ego, is the “ring to rule them all,” to rule us all. There can be no peace, no unity, no justice, until the selfishness is purged, burned away.

Love is what burns the ego. The fire of love cooks, burns the ego away, until the divine presence underneath emerges. The cooking, the fire, the flame is never easy, never about comfort.

There is a redemption, an alchemical transformation, that each and every single one of us need, and need to go through. We cannot have peace so long as the Gollum quality of our soul is hovering around.

Frodo, Gollum, and Sam in “Return of the King.”

Frodo does not go through Mordor alone, but accompanied by a loving friend, Samwise Gamgee. We each walk our own path, but we do not go on the path alone. Giving love and receiving love are essential for this path. No one else can walk our path for us, but this is a path that calls for others to serve as mirrors for us, reflecting back to us beauty seen and hidden. There is a beauty in us that we cannot see in our own self. We need mirrors.

How may I be your mirror?
Will you be my mirror?

The Gollum, the Mordor, the ring, the Frodo, and the King, these are all us. All inside us. It’s not that some people in the world are Gollum and some Aragorn. No, like any mythology, these are all tendencies inside us.

Love changes our cosmic orientation. Love is not about “me” or “mine” but about bowing down to the presence of God in you.

How can I make you feel loved?
How do I honor the sacredness in you?

Perhaps that’s not true to say that we have tasted pain on the path of love. It’s not love that hurts. Real love, true love, does not bring injury. Sometimes the suffering comes from the cooking of the ego. Sometimes the pain comes from the shadowy parts, when greed and selfishness creep back into love.

Love is as vast as the ocean. There is no a dust mote in existence that is not illuminated in love. Romantic love, sensual love, sexual love are all lovely, but just some forms of this ocean. Love of a parent, a neighbor, a friend, a child, a puppy, a rose, a forest, a farm, a river, a stranger… these too are love. All love comes from One source, and if it is freed from ego, flows back to the One.

We are meant to be royal beings, created in the image of the King of Kings.

The Return of the King, the last book of the Lord of the Rings, is nothing but this: it is the story of an unsure petty ranger, Strider/Aragorn, who must come to embrace his own destiny, his own true identity. He’s a regal presence, meant to be a king. For this apparent officer to become a king, the ring of ego that wants to rule them all has to be cast into the fire.

May it be that each of us casts the ego into the fire of love, abandons the worship of the clinging, commanding ego, and assumes our destiny, becoming who — and what — we are meant to become.

It is not about who we are
It’s what we are.

May we walk this path of love. How may I, my beloved darling friend, make you feel loved?

Aragorn in “Return of the King,” the final installment of “The Lord of the Rings.”

Share Post

Contributor

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Thursday.

He is Director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam, and the current Chair for Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion. In 2009, he was recognized by the University of North Carolina for mentoring minority students in 2009, and won the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

Omid is the editor of the volume Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism, which offered an understanding of Islam rooted in social justice, gender equality, and religious and ethnic pluralism. His works Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam, dealing with medieval Islamic history and politics, and Voices of Islam: Voices of Change were published 2006. His last book, Memories of Muhammad, deals with the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. He has forthcoming volumes on the famed mystic Rumi, contemporary Islamic debates in Iran, and American Islam.

Omid has been among the most frequently sought speakers on Islam in popular media, appearing in The New York TimesNewsweekWashington Post, PBS, NPR, NBC, CNN and other international media. He leads an educational tour every summer to Turkey, to study the rich multiple religious traditions there. The trip is open to everyone, from every country. More information at Illuminated Tours.

Share Your Reflection

Reflections

apples