Looking for your own face

by Farid ud-Din Attar

English version by Coleman Barks
Original Language Persian/Farsi

Your face is neither infinite nor ephemeral.
You can never see your own face,
only a reflection, not the face itself.

So you sigh in front of mirrors
and cloud the surface.

It's better to keep your breath cold.
Hold it, like a diver does in the ocean.
One slight movement, the mirror-image goes.

Don't be dead or asleep or awake.
Don't be anything.

What you most want,
what you travel around wishing to find,
lose yourself as lovers lose themselves,
and you'll be that.

-- from The Hand of Poetry: Five Mystic Poets of Persia, with Lectures by Inayat Khan, Translated by Coleman Barks

<<Previous Poem | More Poems by Farid ud-Din Attar | Next Poem >>


/ Photo by xavi talleda /


View All Poems by Farid ud-Din Attar

Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I like this idea of searching for one's own face -- something so central to our identity but which we can never see directly.

You can never see your own face,
only a reflection, not the face itself.


How then can we see our own face?

We seek its reflection constantly, everywhere. All the world becomes a mirror showing ourselves back to us.

But our vision is unclear, distorted, veiled...

So you sigh in front of mirrors
and cloud the surface.


The ego within us covers our self-perception with a thin film, so we think we are seeing ourselves, but we see only a vague shadow of our true nature behind the ego's haze.

In some traditions, this is represented by the compulsion of the breath, its continuous inflow and outflow perpetually disrupting true, still perception. Some yogic and Sufi techniques seek to profoundly quiet the breath and the rhythms of the body so that the vision of Reality may come through undistorted:

It's better to keep your breath cold.
Hold it, like a diver does in the ocean.
One slight movement, the mirror-image goes.


Most people try to shape what they see of themselves. Seekers try to shape themselves. But if we are wise, we shape neither sight nor self; we lose ourselves, instead. We let the disrupting ego-self melt away in the fires of our fierce love for the Beloved.

What you most want,
what you travel around wishing to find,
lose yourself as lovers lose themselves,
and you'll be that.


In the search for our true face, a reflection will never satisfy. No journey. We stop reaching outside ourselves. We inhabit ourselves, instead.



Recommended Books: Farid ud-Din Attar

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems The Conference of the Birds
More Books >>





Looking for your