Updated: Dec 13, 2020
by Thea Iberall
The second valley in The Conference of the Birds is the Valley of Love where reason is abandoned. It is a place to let one’s mind be blinded to all reason, a place where love consumes one. There is no good or bad—only burning desire. Attar says, “If he who sets out on this way will not engage himself wholly and completely, he will never be free from the sadness and melancholy which weigh him down.”
This is a story Attar uses to explain the Valley of Love:
A beggar once fell in love with a princess. When the princess rode through the street, perfumed with musk, the beggar would run out to see her. Mahmud said: ‘Miserable beggar, do you expect to drink from the same cup as the Sultan?’
The beggar replied, ‘I am not inferior to you in the play of love. You may think you are in love, but your love is commonplace. For true love, a burning heart like mine is necessary. If I sacrifice everything for love, that is a token of my spiritual poverty. If you ever have the experience of real love, sacrifice your life for it; if not, you have no right to speak of love.’
In the Conference of the Birds, the first valley was about patience and learning your own values. Letting go of dogma. This second valley is as confusing, if not more so, than the first. This second valley is about love, about fire, about the lack of reason. Sacrifice is important in the Valley of Love, to not think of only oneself but to make sacrifices for others. This love can be the love of god, or of a person, or of things like fame and power. But focusing on the love of things stops the seeker from progressing because she or he is not discovering anything about themselves.
I wrack my brain trying to understand this valley. It’s hard to try to reason while I am abandoning reason. I know the goal is to learn about myself on a path towards the truth, but how can I stay on the path without using my mental faculties?
And what is love? Scott Peck defines it as “the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth.” It’s a definition I’ve adhered to since the 80s as I extracted myself from the clutches of codependency: I learned to not give myself away and to not become a doormat for love. I learned the five ways people experience love: through words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, gifts, or physical touch. And I worked at learning to extend myself to nurture myself and also to nurture another. How can I align this concept with sacrificing my life for someone else?
I used to walk along the bike path on the Santa Monica beach in California. It went for miles along the coast. It became my model for the kind of relationship I wanted. I would walk along the path looking at my own feet and metaphorically, my partner would walk along a parallel path looking at her own feet. Our arms would reach out wide, our fingertips barely touching. The only thing keeping us together being our faith that our paths will remain parallel no matter what we were doing on our individual paths. No matter the good or the bad that happens. Because there is no difference.
Keeping my eyes on my own feet is not an act of selfishness. Maybe that is what Attar is saying. To live my life by being truly in love: with myself, with a partner, with learning, with the world. Being in passionate acceptance of all. Living by being heart-centered, not mind-centered. Not listening with my ego but with my heart the way I learned to listen to my dad. When Attar says to sacrifice everything, perhaps he is talking about this willingness to extend myself. Not by giving love, but being love. Edna St. Vincent Millay says, “Love in the open hand. No thing but that.” I can tell when I am focusing my thoughts on love because it’s in that state that my biofeedback device makes a low beep and the LED turns green.
Today, I choose to do selfless service for those around me. I choose to be grateful for all the gifts my parents gave me and for all the gifts I receive from the people and living things around me. I choose to be open to learning about myself and the world. I choose to strive for awareness about myself, identifying my flaws and my essence. I choose to live in passionate acceptance. I choose to fill myself with love.