Trudging Along | Spiritual Scams

New Meditation of the Month is HERE.

I wrote most of last week’s newsletter on a train but I omitted one of the most interesting parts: my Uber ride to Grand Central.

Because he had one of the most usual names that I’d ever seen, I asked my driver where he was from.

It was such a distinctly exotic combination of letters, I was curious.

Specifically, his name was:


He laughed and told me that when he came to NYC from India five years ago, they screwed up his application at immigration.

They put his entire name in the last name column.

Thus, FNU isn’t his name.

FNU merely stands for “First Name Unknown.”

That’s what’s on all his official paperwork.

Because of the mistake most of his new friends just call him “Feenoo.”

And while he’s going to have his real given first name corrected eventually, it’s complicated and costly and perhaps not really worth the trouble right now.

Oddly, being driven by “First Name Unknown” seemed a fitting beginning to the entire trip ahead. 

Throughout the weekend, during difficult moments, I kept thinking about the lines from one of my favorite poems by the 14th-century Sufi mystic poet Hafez:

Everyone is trudging along
With as much dignity, courage
And style
As they possibly

Every time I found myself ready to launch into an uncharitably critical internal (and possibly external) monologue, I framed that line between two deep breaths.

(Breathing in)

Everyone is trudging along
With as much dignity, courage
And style
As they possibly

(Breathing out)

And it was supremely helpful.

Most of the time, that is, because I often could not suppress my recently gained awareness that these lines translated from the ancient Persian poet by Daniel Ladinsky are completely not that at all.

In fact, these spiritual verses are somewhere between a literary homage and a total scam.

You see, Daniel Ladinsky doesn’t speak a word of Persian.

Instead, he feels he has some kind of a personal cosmic connection with Hafez.

Mystical appearances in dreams…stuff like that.

Basically, Ladinsky just writes his own poems, then puts Hafez’s name on them.

(Apparently, people who died 700 years ago are extremely unlikely to take you to court for literary fraud).

This non-translation calling itself translation all came out before cancel culture took hold.

It’s hard to imagine what would happen now if someone attempted such an audacious appropriation of not only another writer but of Islamic culture as well.

It doesn’t seem to have hurt Ladinsky/Hafez’s sales.

And even his toughest critics acknowledge that Ladinsky is a truly gifted metaphysical poet.

It confuses me deeply because I’ve taken so much from these poems, drawing on their wisdom and beauty in so many dark moments.…and yet…

Ladinsky’s an uninvited Cyrano, seducing our ears with his own words while pretending they’re from another culture, 700 years ago.

Way back in an interview in 2013, Ladinsky acknowledging his process mused “Is it Hafez or Danny? I don’t know. Does it really matter?”

That’s really the only question….Does it?

Weirdly, he’s simultaneously negating himself as the author and also negating Hafez’s own identity.

But in this case, does a double negative actually equal a positive? 

One of my most treasured possessions (seen above) was given to me by one of my most treasured friends.

Returning from Turkey where she’d grown up, she gifted me with a beautiful but extremely unusual set of mala prayer beads.

Malas always have 108 beads.

The number 108 is considered sacred in Buddhism, Hinduism, and yogic traditions.

In fact, 108 is even India’s 911, the number you dial for Emergency Services.

But this mala had an extra section with 30 beads.

My friend hadn’t asked the shopkeeper in Istanbul why and so I began researching.

And…it was nearly impossible to find anything relevant.

Endless Google searches revealed absolutely nothing. 

Finally, one obscure website finally revealed the extra 30 beads were for either success in obtaining great wealth or in black magic.

(The obvious question is “Can’t I have both?”)

Of course, I delighted even more in my mala––who wouldn’t––knowing it had the power to both increase my good fortune AND crush my enemies.

But here’s the plot twist…

A few years passed and then my friend, on another trip to Turkey, returned to the shop and asked the owner about the 30 extra beads.

It turns out she sometimes just adds random numbers of beads, more or less to confound expectations and mess with people’s heads.

In this case, she definitely succeeded.

After the weekend ended, I learned something new from my next Uber driver, Dennis, who brought me home from Grand Central.

Dennis had posted a set of trivia questions in the car, some of which I nailed and others at which I flailed.

The fifth one––“Which state ends with the letter “K”?–– stumped me completely.

I scanned my mental map of the US and still couldn’t get it.

“Are you sure there really is one?” I asked.

“Almost nobody gets that question,” he replied.

Dennis finally took pity on me, volunteering “What state are you in right now?”

Once revealed, it was so beyond obvious.

I asked Dennis why he thought almost nobody got that question right.

“Most of the time, people just can’t see what’s right in from of them,” he shrugged.

Last weekend’s joys far outweighed its difficulties.

In fact, the worst of it ended up being a more or less just minor awkward moment, no more dramatic than a perfunctory handshake greeting.

(There’s more to resolve ahead, but for the moment we’re in neutral corners.)

Right now, I’m at a wedding in New Mexico which is blissfully conflict-free.

More than that, it’s utterly delightful.

I am still reflecting, however, on last week:

The things unsaid that need eventually to be said.

That sometimes sacred objects are made by people who also want to mess with our heads.

How the things right in front of us, even the state we’re actually living in, remain stubbornly invisible.

Or that suddenly your first name can “evaporate.”

And finally that––whether it was inspired by a poet born in 1315 or one born in 1948––that there’s great comfort in believing that…

Everyone is trudging along
With as much dignity, courage
And style
As they possibly

I know I am…

And I’m pretty sure FNU is.

And I hope you are, too.

Namaste for Now,

P.S. This month’s meditation is HERE.

You’re invited to leave a comment if it speaks to you.

And if you’re feeling ready for the rest of Dennis’ questions, here they are….

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