Below is an excerpt from an interview between Krista Tippett (Host of “On Being” and Ms. Keshavarz a scholar on the beloved Sufi poet from the 13th century, Rumi.

In the “Song of the Reed,” Rumi reflects on the human spirit through the metaphor of the ancient reed flute or ney that is popular in Middle Eastern music. This poem opened the Masnavi, Rumi’s compendium of rhyming couplets that explored Sufi theology and the spiritual journey.

Ms. Keshavarz: [Reciting] Listen to the story told by the reed of being separated. Since I was cut from the reed bed, I have made this crying sound. Anyone apart from someone he loves understands what I say. Anyone pulled from a source longs to go back. At any gathering, I’m there, mingling and laughing and grieving — a friend to each, but few will hear the secrets hidden within the notes. No ears for that. Body flowing out of spirit, spirit out from body, no concealing that mixing. But it’s not given us to see, so the reed flute is fire, not wind. Leave that empty.

Ms. Tippett: There’s a theme that is part of that, that runs all the way through, about separation and longing as part of — well, not just the spiritual life, but being human, and also a kind of sense that the separation and the longing themselves are a kind of arrival.

Ms. Keshavarz: On one level, you have to get on the road. You have to get started. You know, just like the earth that, you know, have to plow the earth, you have to get moving. On another level, time and again, he reminds us that the destination is the journey itself. So there isn’t a point where you say, ‘OK, I’m here, I’ve reached, I’m done, I’m perfect. I don’t need to do anything anymore.’ In the incompleteness of that, the need to move forward is inherent in that incompleteness, in the process of going forward, that you make yourself better and better and you, in a way, never reach. So the separation is the powerful force that keeps you going. If you ever felt that, ‘I have arrived, I’ve reached, this is it,’ then you wouldn’t go any further.

Ms. Tippett: You know, and I think it is counterintuitive in our culture — not that we necessarily think this through very often, but we think of desires and longings as something that we need to find something to meet, right?

Ms. Keshavarz: Yes, yes.

Ms. Tippett: And …

Ms. Keshavarz: And we want to meet it really fast and perfect. Yes.

Ms. Tippett: Yes, because, somehow, the feeling of longing and separation from whatever it is, especially if we don’t know what it is we want, that that is unsatisfying and there’s something wrong with that.

Ms. Keshavarz: Yes.

Ms. Tippett: And yet, what Rumi is saying is that, you know, the longing itself is redemptive and is progress, kind of.

Ms. Keshavarz: Yes, and the longing itself — and also not to understand exactly what that longing is in itself is very productive. I think one idea or major concept that the Sufi tradition and Rumi in particular have to contribute to our current culture is value in perplexity, the fact that not knowing is a source of learning, something that propels us forward into finding out. Longing, perplexity, these are all very valuable things. We want to unravel things and get answers and be done, but as far as he’s concerned, it’s a continual process. We can’t be done, and that’s good.