The Tyranny of Happiness

Ari Honarvar
2 min readMar 17, 2016


Painting and Calligraphy by Carmen Costello and Ari Honarvar (copyright 2015)

In the midst of the ocean of love

The mind asks: Where are you?

I cry: I do not know! I do not know!

What path are you taking?
I do not know! I do not know!

You are being led by the madness of love
How can you function?
I do not know! I do not know!

You should be afraid
You could die!

The moon whispers:
It’s okay not to know
You were borne with wings to soar
The real question is:
Why do you remain huddled in your cage? — Rumi

The mind invariably wants to link happiness to knowing. Our mind tells us, first we must know what we want and where we are going. Then we have to find our dreamjob, our soul mate, a certain body type and so on. Like a shrewd master with the promise of a prized reward, the mind bombards us with a relentless barrage of demands andconditions. But with each brief elation, we return to our search burdened by more demands.

What if knowing the future and capturing a certain feeling isn’t the goal? If we allow it, not-knowing can lead to a beautiful state of un-attachment to consequence and knowledge. Letting go of knowing then becomes liberating and frightening at the same time.

This poem speaks to a frightened mind that is in the throes of releasing the compulsion to know. The mind wants to keep grasping and controlling. But inner wisdom whispers: The feeling of happiness is no more or less sacred than any other state of being. So go ahead and sail the uncharted waters of life, and welcome all waves, including anger, sadness, and fear. It is this freedom that shatters the cage of conditions and concepts; it changes our limited perspective into a sky of possibilities.

The man and the woman in the image are both winged. Yet rather than soaring into the sky, they are huddled in the lonely cage of their own imaginary island. The woman is facing the bars instead of the freedom that lies behind her. In the upper left side of the image, the words “I do not know” appear. The words “What is this cage?”, have become bars in the man’s prison. This verse has been translated to: “Why do you remain huddled in your cage?” The moon behind them is their witness and their guide.



Ari Honarvar

Speaker, performer, refugee advocate| @guardian @washingtonpost and more| The author of Rumi’s Gift and upcoming novel, A Girl Called Rumi