… without sleep & dreams we’d go mad …

Sonnets to Orpheus    

                Part II

          10

All we gained is threatened by the machine

As it assumes possession rather than obeys the mind,

Ignoring the hesitant gesture of a radiant hand

It wilfully forges ahead, cutting sharp into stone.

Nor does it ever slow down enough for us to win distance,

Yet oiled by itself remains in the silent halls of fact.

It circles in living and claims to know best about living,

And with equal resolve creates, destroys, indifferent to all.

Yet our being remains spun in the mysteries of birthing,

Origins from enchanted wells, a play of pristine powers,

To behold only with eyes closed, and in adoration.

Words still softly dissolve before the unspeakable state,

While the most resonant stones give form to ever new sounds,

Gathering music into the divine unmade.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Translated by Ashen Venema

A friend called earlier, lovingly concerned, wondering why I hadn’t posted anything this month. I don’t plan posts ahead, but asking myself – what lingers in my mind – this poem by R M Rilke asked for attention. I used it to upfront a film degree dissertation (as a mature student) during the mid-90s … ‘Body Electric,’ An Exploration of Human Identity in the Digital Age. Once I discover how to transfer Mac Claris Work from floppy discs into a Word doc. or PDF, I’ll share the dissertation and other articles with my readers.

I like translating poems from German into English, poems by R M Rilke, W Goethe, H Hesse. It’s an adventure to find the right word and phrase. Maybe I should share such translations more often. The title of this post … without sleep and dreams we’d go mad … relates to the above Rilke’s poem, since the internet with its avalanche of information can assume a machine-like relentlessness, and yet, we can’t do without it, which makes me grateful for being able to sleep, so my psyche can assimilate new information during dreams.

8 Comments

Filed under Blog

… among anxieties, a few duende events …

Beginning of June, I had a first visit from my son after nine months not seeing him in person due to the corona lock down, though he lives only an hour away in London. Of late, he is also consumed by the costly bureaucratic process of sorting his late father’s estate in Holland. Over the two days of his presence, his pragmatic, hands-on approach accomplished many tasks in house and garden that were beginning to overwhelm me. Working together in perfect flow and harmony, the accumulated weight on my shoulders vanished as if by magic.

The weekend after, I enjoyed a first small gathering of friends in my garden since two years. By luck, it happened to be on one of those rare warm evenings when it was possible to sit comfortably outside until midnight, among lanterns and candlelight. We relaxed into long-missed story times, and the evening was altogether bliss.

Earlier in June, I experienced many sleepless nights, since I was suddenly urged to apply for the UK settlement scheme, or lose all rights, despite the fact that I had leave to remain here indefinitely since the 1980s, in fact, been living, working and studying here for many decades. I needed support from the citizen advice bureau, since I’m irrationally scared of online forms, and the process was indeed complex (I feel deep gratitude for the volunteers at the CAB.)

I only have a simple emergency mobile, but nowadays it is assumed that everyone owns the newest gadgets and is a techno whiz kid. Anyway, it seems my application was successful. We’ll see if border guards let me back into the UK after a trip abroad in times to come, in whatever future that might happen. I do miss seeing my friends in Europe.

The next challenges lie ahead. For the first time in years my car has not passed the MOT (annual motor test) and will need expensive repairs. Dentist work ahead, computer is due for a clean-up, and I need to safe money for the annual hedge trimming that requires wielding machines on high ladders. While I work hard on clearing and grass cutting, enjoying the physical activity, I’ve decided, wisely, not doing heavy machines on high ladders anymore.
But heck, the peonies have survived the rain so far and the blues are coming. I dare hope more duende events are waiting, and wish them for my readers, too.

I wrote something about duende four years ago, with a link to Garcia Lorca’s wonderful article on duende. Goethe called it the mysterious force that everyone feels but no philosopher has explained.


Still struggling here with the new wordpress format, though I discovered the Toggle blog inserter under the + sign. Now I must find out how to wrap text around smaller images 🙂

8 Comments

Filed under Blog

… out of the house to paint, for sanity …

Painting of Kynance Cove, Lizard UK – Ashen Venema

How did this come about? My son was adamant I had to get out of the house and meet people again. So he signed me up for a day’s local multi-media painting course. After endless months of social exile due to the pandemic lock-downs, this was a momentous adventure. The tutor, Julie Collins, does lovely watercolours. The spaciousness of her work appealed to me.

Photo of Kynance Cove by Ashen Venema

I enjoyed painting Kynance Cove from a photograph of mine, taken years ago, when a group of Sufi friends visited the Lizard peninsular in Cornwall UK. The arranged visit was in honour of Sitara, a dear old friend and teacher, who fondly remembered her childhood holidays at the Lizard.

Given that thousand-and-one things interest me, since I’ve been working on my novels I closed many doors, in an attempt not to spread my energy too thin. I usually paint an image maybe once a year, but never had any input regarding painting skills. The above image was created with water colour pencils. I stopped before I could mess it up. I like the unfinished feel of it

My next painting project will probably be leaning on a photo of my little soul dance on a beach during the 1980s. A style may emerge or not, depending how much time I’ll devote to practicing with watercolour, which I came to like for its fluidity. I discovered, not for the first time, that painting, well any art, is immersive, like writing … a way to forget oneself. What keeps calling me is ‘collage,’ maybe with incorporated Haiku, since Haiku seem to come of their own accord. The idea is to collect them into a chapbook. So, who knows what will happen.

First I have to overcome an existential problem. Earlier this month a UK Government letter threatened me to apply for settlement, a scheme that’s been going for a while, which I thought did not apply to me, since I have documented leave to remain indefinitely in the UK since the 1980s, despite my Dutch passport. After endless futile attempts to contact a suggested helpline, I nearly knocked down the local citizen’s advice office to get an appointment for help with the application, since online forms terrify me. So wish me luck.

Still struggling with the new wordpress format, SIGH.

21 Comments

Filed under Blog

… inner radio channels …

Some mornings I wake to a cacophony of inner voices. I call them inner radio channels. From my introvert abode, I let the din be and digest impressions, images, readings, dreams and ideas in slow motion, waiting for my mind to clear towards a reflective theme for the day. A trick of light or a robin coming close might mute the noise. Watching the information flow by, my mind’s digestive system tries to keeps a fragile balance, often via leaps of the imagination that defy logic but help me bypass the mood of futility that circles the worldwide wide web these days.

The lockdown phenomenon of this pandemic has brought my sense of time circling like a lullaby round my heart. Lacking the animated exchanges and stimulations during physical meeting with friends, I rely on what I read, dream or observe in nature to feed my dialogues with life. Beyond repetitive daily tasks my memory travels inside, back and forth recent decades, re-examining relationships with people and places I lost.

Many of you may have a similar experience, and many of you, like me, may have put projects on hold.  After my diary from last year yawned at me with blank pages, I didn’t bother getting another for this year, though I friend gifted me a wall calendar to keep track of days. What can we do unless abide in humility, hopefully to receive insights into what this pause in activities has to teach us, what we can be grateful for, and what fresh opportunities lie ahead?

Incidentally, a third novel I started some years ago, Mesa, deals with the theme of time slowing down. I must have felt it coming. Presently I am procrastinating with the final edit of Shapers, the sequel to Course of Mirrors. In the sequel, as well as well as in the threequel, the familiar characters of Course of Mirrors move into the far future. I wish I had the motivation to seek a publisher for these next two novels. I will however do my utmost to make them available as e-books.

Recently I posed a question to my twitter friends, where I am @mushkilgusha, I asked:

‘What is the most mysterious object in our world?’

A fascinating thread ensued; veering into the abstract, until an intuitive woman provided a satisfactory answer. As a reward, a paperback copy of ‘Course of Mirrors’ is in the post.

In 2018 I wrote a fable relating to the above question. It’s a wonderful read, especially today https://courseofmirrors.com/2018/10/02/the-mysterious-object-a-fable/

Meanwhile I’m still struggling with this new word press format.

8 Comments

April 27, 2021 · 2:08 pm

… musings on order and chaos …

As an example, not a general theory, a parent who habitually keeps everything organised, clean and in place, may feel displeasure when their child does not follow this model. Sensing displeasure, the child may feel restrained and controlled, and possibly develop a reaction via contrary behaviour. Of course, reactions to initial conditions are way more complex. But both, excessive order and excessive chaos in the early environment set a tone.

My early impressions were in the middle, yet plenty of condensed experiences pull me into repetitive behaviour. But people for whom, let’s say, the organised model felt intolerable, meeting an adult partner who likes order, even in a mild way, easily hooks into their initial reaction. The desire for order is stability, beauty, keeping the wild and unpredictable at bay, and also serves as a buffer against anxiety. But someone who felt restricted by order may easily feel controlled. In this two-way process, any projection also frames the projector, and various complex relationships are such defined, with children, partners, work colleagues, mentors, groups, and even political parties. The irony is that instead of choosing a partner or group where this conflict does not arise, we often unconsciously attract an early model we disliked, maybe because of its familiarity, maybe because of the implied challenge. I assume it’s a psychological trick allowing for lessons in tolerance and, hopefully in time, a reframing of one’s life story.

While periods of stability are necessary, it is from chaos that creativity is born and new forms emerge, which is why some artists embrace chaos, allowing for the spontaneous discovery of new patterns and hidden harmonies.

To voluntary endure the dissonance between order and chaos is a spiritual quest towards an attitude of transcendence.

In this sense, and with the emphasis on becoming, my Sufi teacher, Fazal Inayat-Khan, who was also a musician and poet, used to orchestrate chaos in workshops for his students to great effect. He trained us well for the turbulent cultural changes that are now upon us, a global rite of passage we best consciously engage with. Faith in the unknown tends to signal our guiding spirit to open unsuspected doors towards a deeper resonance with the collective psyche.

“Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the heart of man.’ — Fyodor Dostoevsky

‘The Gods envy the perfection of man, because perfection has no need of the Gods. But since no one is perfect, we need the Gods.’ … Carl Jung, Liber Novus, page 244

‘The ideal is the means; its breaking is the goal.’ Hazrat Inayat Khan

Ever since I came upon James Gleick’s book ‘Chaos,’ the William Heinemann Ltd 1988 edition, I was fascinated by the concept which has radically changed scientific enquiries, as well as giving new meaning to my practice of transpersonal therapy.

James Gleick’s book also contains the amazing Mandelbrot set. Here a short introduction …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3orIIcKD8p4

James Gleick’s newest publication is on ‘Information.’

Phew … here I’m challenged … a new wordpress format with its insistence on ‘blocks,’ disallows me the use of the classic editor. It’s a headache to create a post.

12 Comments

Filed under Blog

… families appear throughout life …

To fill in the distorted or simply incomplete gestalt gathered from early caregivers, we find ourselves during our lifetime in families of various constellations … in groupings of friends, educational settings, teams working towards a project, callings, interest groups, animal care, subcultures, political, vocational and spiritual clusters. In these groups we slot into roles we project, or are projected onto us with qualities others are drawn to engage with, for whatever reason, often to explore a hidden part inside, mother, father, sister, brother, child, lover, hidden in the light or hidden in the dark. Much of this search now happens virtually, through screens, though it can’t replace the actual physical resonance a gestalt needs.

Family can also mean a collection of symbolically meaningful objects, toys, letters, books, art, tools, stones. I collect stones and endow them with memories. My ex-husband extended his loving father role to string instruments. (I wrote about his loss in my previous post.)

In the 1969 movie Alice’s Restaurant … with Arlo Guthrie, Pat Quinn & James Broderick, you can do anything you want. Alice tries to satisfy the motherly expectations of an eccentric hippie group, a powerful dream, which ends when she marries. The last image in the film shows her standing alone in front of the old church her husband plans on selling, to create a more ideal community in the countryside, though Alice’s hippie children have grown and left.  In the poignant last image of the film Alice stands alone, waking from a dream, debts paid and debts made. Psychotherapy can accelerate this archetypal demand for clarity and cohesion of one’s myth, but soul-making must continue for consciousness to expand.

At stages in our life we fit, or are fitted, into a network of psychological potential. These are intense phases. Yet irrespective of time gone since people parted ways,  families dispersed, places were lost … when a former close friend dies, insight descends, rises, arrives from the past, from the future and from spheres unknown. Memories will shift their meaning. Slowly our sense of self is re-aligned. We capture a condensation of what was symbolically exchanged, essence is revealed.

In this gentle way we unravel the knots of entangled bonds. I’m wary of this advice … let it go!  Grieving for a loss needs to ripen. While unripe apples fall from trees all the time, it is a sad waste to rip them from branches, we deprive our selves of what a ripe apple is for, to be eaten and digested for nourishment.

My lover, mourner and philosopher could have pulled this theme in ten different directions. I kept it short and leave associations to you.

10 Comments

Filed under Blog

… so now I am dead …

This is an imagined monologue of my ex-husband, Soren (Shamshir) Venema, who died in his sleep last week, a short stretch off his 69th birthday. This morning I sensed a faint sound seeking a body. It took a while to clear. The slow translating voice is of course my own. I better post this before I overthink it

So now I’m dead. Nxt birthday cancelled. I hear yur whispers … yu may hear mine and womder if I fund whut I ws seekn or whut looked for me. Won’t reveal my heart’s desire. Yu must fund yus yuself.

This life was a strange dream with others who wer seekin und hiding.

Yu know em by somthing in the eyes. Afar away up or down look. A longin.

We bump into each other in our blind search. They call it love, a deep term that teared at me. The way I saw it …. at random junctions we hold hands and travel together for a while, deeply connected, but lightly bonded.

My juggling across the deep psychic sea gathered an emotional gravity in others. I still puzzle about the phenomenon. While hidden connections pulled, I wanted em kept safe deep down, not intrude with a flashlight. I trusted the lot, like seeds trust dirt and earth and listen to the music of light.

Marvels happen. A son was called and came. He gave me joy with his joy. Witnessing my child grow fanned some scary heat in the heart.

The mother was a hermit, like me, though a bit over-responsible for the deep stuff, her own and others’, and heck, mine too. I couldn’t help putting up a little fence, which annoyed and upset her. Then again, we both sensed each other’s truth from that dark realm where wishes are embodied, where deep connections attract each other into nets of meaning, though I was never tempted by meaning and order. It seemed a little dull to me.

My friends were gold. And my little sister was a treasure I protected.

I had talents, far too many, confusing, so I wandered as hermit.

My longin ws for a hidden tune. As a writer searches among words, so I searched among sounds, high, low, deep, warm, sharp, strong, or soft breaths quivering in bodies of all forms and ages. A tight string or a tight skin over a hollowed body … they hold echoes from many worlds.

Now I’m hailed as an expert about string instruments, and considered as some kind of genius. An image in the Dutch Parool shows I developed a tower above my brow. That’s where half cooked wisdom lingered and intrigued, deep sounds too, dear and familiar sounds, best shareable through sound alone. Long sensitive fingers help.

Correction: This writer’s sincere apology, the image is actually of Nico Dijkshoorn, a Dutch journalist, the one who wrote a good article about Soren. Uncanny likeness of features and expression.

So let’s say this life was full of sounds, which helped me pitch my instrument to the empty void where my sought tune is hiding. An if ya are tuned too, we’ll swing and sing and dance together. May it bring yu to yur heart’s desire.

In the media they say my collections of guitars are children left in the house without father.

Well, that’s company for my son now.

*   *   *

Only last week, Soren shared, unusually, a dream about a friend and mentor of ours, Abdul Aziz Said, who recently died. I wrote about him here in Nov 2015.

In the dream Abdul Aziz  Said played a mouth harp, and Soren played on a rare flute. He was sad about having forgotten the tune. I hope he’s now found it.

Press this link to a recent poignant documentary about Soren on yourtube … Living treasure.

Every day I ask
What is this Soul
That looks out through my eyes –
I did not arrive here alone
and will not depart alone.
Whoever brought me here
Will have to take me home …       Rumi

17 Comments

Filed under Blog

… to shift my thoughts, I read poems by Wislawa Szymborska …

One book of poems I have always at my bedside, for when I need to shift my thoughts, is Wislawa Szymborka’s New and Collected poems 1957 -1997, translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavenagh, published by Faber and Faber 1999

She lived from July 2, 1923–February 1, 2012

Apologies for not having the photographers’ names for the two images of her that are spanning decades.

I like the humour, the ironic style, the contradictions running through the poems like a clear spring.

I thought I share a poem in full, since I posted a fragment on Twitter the other day. And also because I remember the protagonist in my novel, Course Mirrors,’ is in search of The Real.

THE REAL WORLD

The real world doesn’t take flight
the way dreams do.
No muffled voice, no doorbell
can dispel it,
no shriek, no crash
can cut it short.

Images in dream
are hazy and ambiguous,
and can generally be explained
in many different ways.
Reality means reality:
that’s tougher nut to crack.

Dreams have keys.
The real world opens on its own
and can’t be shut.
Report cards and stars
pour from it,
butterflies and flatiron warmers
shower down,
headless caps
and shards of clouds.
Together they form a rebus
that can’t be solved.

Without us dreams couldn’t exist.
The one on whom the real world depends
is still unknown,
and the products of his insomnia
are available to anyone
who wakes up.

Dreams aren’t crazy—
it’s the real world that’s insane,
if only in the stubbornness
with which it sticks
to the current of events.

In dreams our recently deceased
are still alive,
in perfect health, no less,
and restored to the full bloom of youth.
The real world lays the corpse
in front of us.
The real world doesn’t blink an eye.

Dreams are featherweights,
and memory can shake them off with ease.
The real world doesn’t have to fear forgetfulness.
It’s a tough customer.
It sits on our shoulders,
weighs on our hearts,
tumbles to our feet.

There’s no escaping it,
it tags along each time we flee.
And there’s no stop
along our escape route
where reality isn’t expecting us.

Wislawa Szymborska 

Her Nobel Prize speech inspires … if you are shy to call yourself a poet, follow this link and soak it up.

Poets, not being profitable, get little screen-time. Wislawa Szymborska says … ‘Their work is hopelessly unphotogenic. Someone sits at a table or lies on a sofa while staring motionless at a wall or ceiling. Once in a while this person writes down seven lines only to cross out one of them fifteen minutes later, and then another hour passes, during which nothing happens … Who could stand to watch this kind of thing?’

‘I’ve mentioned inspiration. Contemporary poets answer evasively when asked what it is, and if it actually exists. It’s not that they’ve never known the blessing of this inner impulse. It’s just not easy to explain something to someone else that you don’t understand yourself.’

‘Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous “I don’t know.’

Her words bring to mind a Rumi quote: ‘Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.’ 

Follow this link to Brainpickings and find a number of write ups about Wislawa Szymborska

Brainpicking’s Bulgarian creator, Maria Popova honours language, and somehow manages to bring context and coherence to the irrational and the imagination. Her curiosity is unlimited. She writes about my favourite people in the world. Among them are poets like Wislawa Szymborska.

12 Comments

Filed under Blog

… so I had my jab …

The friendly GP at the hospital corona area asked me, ‘Do you like getting the vaccination?’

‘Not really. It’s for peace of mind,’ I said.

He smiled. ‘The main thing is to relax the muscle.’ This I did.

Afterwards I asked, ‘Why don’t they test for antibodies before these vaccinations?’

‘Good questions,’ he said, and added, ‘We just do as we’re told.’ Not reassuring, of course. Then again, I was just curious, not seeking reassurances.

The GP advised me to sit nearby for fifteen minutes, in case any side effects occurred. Nothing! The jab might as well have been a placebo, which, given the massive fear machine in operation would make sense. I shut my eyes while waiting. The murmur of voices from orderlies, the line of vaccination stations and the people waiting in the hall felt like the gentle surf at a sunny sea shore. I had missed the soothing surf of voices for many months. A revelation! I don’t care for noisy crowds, but the quiet chatter of people in close vicinity fills me with a gratitude for kinship and community.

In no way is this post meant as advice. I remain ambivalent about the pandemic phenomena and the measures employed to stem its spread, including conspiracy theories, acknowledging there may be hidden grains of truth with any perspective. I struggled with the decision of getting a jab, having read and explored opinions, a lot. Nothing seemed conclusive. It was an entirely personal decision. I’m not a martyr for rights or wrongs. The choice was for peace of mind. I’ve family, friends, and my writing to attend to, that’s all.

This Sufi story, re-posted last year is interesting in that respect. https://courseofmirrors.com/2020/04/12/when-the-waters-were-changed-2/

 

10 Comments

Filed under Blog

The Story of Mushkil Gusha – a Sufi Tale

When life was a little more predictable, I used to host fortnightly small dream-sharing groups on Thursdays. Our regular way to start out was reading ‘The Story of Mushkil Gusha,’ as it appears in ‘Caravan of Dreams’ by Idries Shah. As often happens with traditional Sufi stories, we discovered ever new aspects of personal interpretations. At times we also made sketches of particular images that impressed us, just as we did for the dreams we shared.

Today, it being Thursday in the UK, I’ll share this story with you, while eating dates. Find out why. If you’re not into reading a few pages, you can listen to The Story of Mushkil Gusha on Your Tube. (15 minutes) The link opens a new tab. You won’t lose this page.

           

The Story of Mushkil Gusha

ONCE upon a time, not a thousand miles from here, there lived a poor old woodcutter, who was a widower, and his little daughter. He used to go every day into the mountains to cut firewood which he brought home and tied into bundles. Then he used to have breakfast and walk into the nearest town, where he would sell his wood and rest for a time before returning home.

One day, when he got home very late, the girl said to him: ‘Father, I sometimes wish that we would have some nicer food, and more and different kinds of things to eat.’

‘Very well, my child,’ said the old man, ‘tomorrow I shall get up much earlier than I usually do. I shall go further into the mountains where there is more wood, and I shall bring back a much larger quantity than usual. I will get home earlier and I will be able to bundle the wood sooner, and I will go into town and sell it so that we can have more money and I shall bring you back all kinds of nice things to eat.’

The next morning the woodcutter rose before dawn and went into the mountains. He worked very hard cutting wood and trimming it and made it into a huge bundle which he carried on his back to his little house.

When he got home, it was still very early. He put his load of wood down, and knocked on the door, saying, ‘Daughter, Daughter, open the door, for I am hungry and thirsty and I need a meal before I go to market.’

But the door was locked. The woodcutter was so tired that he lay down and was soon fast asleep beside his bundle. The little girl, having forgotten all about their conversation the night before, was fast asleep in bed. When he woke up a few hours later, the sun was high. The woodcutter knocked at the door again and again and said, ‘Daughter, Daughter, come quickly; I must have a little food and go to market to sell the wood; for it is already much later than my usual time of starting.’

But, having forgotten all about the conversation the night before, the little girl had meanwhile got up, tidied the house, and gone out for a walk. She had locked the door assuming in her forgetfulness that her father was still in the town.

So the woodcutter thought to himself, ‘It is now rather late to go into the town. I will therefore return to the mountains and cut another bundle of wood, which I will bring home, and tomorrow I will take a double load to market.’

All that day the old man toiled in the mountains cutting wood and shaping the branches. When he got home with the wood on his shoulders, it was evening.

He put down his burden behind the house, knocked on the door and said, ‘Daughter, Daughter, open the door for I am tired and I have eaten nothing all the day. I have a double bundle of wood, which I hope to take to market tomorrow. Tonight I must sleep well so that I will be strong.’

But there was no answer, for the little girl when she came home had felt very sleepy  and had made a meal for herself, and gone to bed. She had been rather worried at first that her father was not at home, but she decided that he must have arranged to stay in the town overnight.

Once again the woodcutter, finding that he could not get into the house, tired, hungry and thirsty, lay down by his bundles of wood and fell fast asleep. He could not keep awake, although he was fearful for what might have happened to the little girl.

Now the woodcutter, because he was so cold and hungry and tired, woke up very, very early the next morning: before it was even light.

He sat up, and looked around, but he could not see anything. And then a strange thing happened. The woodcutter thought he heard a voice saying: ‘Hurry, hurry! Leave your wood and come this way. If you need enough, and you want little enough, you shall have delicious food.’

The woodcutter stood up and walked in the direction of the voice. And he walked and he walked; but he found nothing.

By now he was colder and hungrier and more tired than ever, and he was lost. He had been full of hope, but that did not seem to have helped him. Now he felt sad, and he wanted to cry. But he realized that crying would not help him either, so he lay down and fell asleep.

Quite soon he woke up again. It was too cold, and he was too hungry, to sleep. So he decided to tell himself, as if in a story, everything that had happened to him since his little daughter had first said that she wanted a different kind of food.

As soon as he had finished his story, he thought he heard another voice, saying, somewhere above him, out of the dawn, ‘Old man, what are you doing sitting there?’

‘I am telling myself my own story,’ said the woodcutter.

‘And what is that?’ said the voice.

The old man repeated his tale. ‘Very well,’ said the voice. And then the voice told the old woodcutter to close his eyes and to mount as it were, a step. ‘But I do not see any step,’ said the old man. ‘Never mind, but do as I say,’ said the voice.

The old man did as he was told. As soon as he had closed his eyes he found that he was standing up and as he raised his right foot he felt that there was something like a step under it. He started to ascend what seemed to be a staircase. Suddenly the whole flight of steps started to move, very fast, and the voice said, ‘Do not open your eyes until I tell you to do so.’

In a very short time, the voice told the old man to open his eyes. When he did he found that he was in a place, which looked rather like a desert, with the sun beating down on him. He was surrounded by masses and masses of pebbles; pebbles of all colours: red, green, blue and white. But he seemed to be alone. He looked all around him, and could not see anyone, but the voice started to speak again.

‘Take up as many of these stones as you can,’ said the voice, ‘Then close your eyes, and walk down the steps once more.’

The woodcutter did as he was told, and he found himself, when he opened his eyes again at the voice’s bidding, standing before the door of his own house.

He knocked at the door and his little daughter answered it. She asked him where he had been, and he told her, although she could hardly understand what he was saying, it all sounded so confusing.

They went into the house, and the little girl and her father shared the last food which they had, which was a handful of dried dates. When they had finished, the old man thought that he heard the voice speaking to him again, a voice just like the other one which had told him to climb the stairs.

The voice said, ‘Although you may not know it yet, you have been saved by Mushkil Gusha. Remember that Mushkil Gusha is always here. Make sure that every Thursday night you eat some dates and give some to any needy person, and tell the story of Mushkil Gusha. Or give a gift in the name of Mushkil Gusha to someone who will help the needy. Make sure that the story of Mushkil Gusha is never, never forgotten. If you do this, and if this is done by those to whom you tell the story, the people who are in real need will always find their way.’

The woodcutter put all the stones which he had brought back from the desert in a corner of his little house. They looked very much like ordinary stones, and he did not know what to do with them.

The next day he took his two enormous bundles of wood to the market, and sold them easily for a high price. When he got home he took his daughter all sort of delicious kinds of food, which she had never tasted before. And when they had eaten it, the old woodcutter said, ‘Now I am going to tell you the whole story of Mushkil Gusha. Mushkil Gusha is the remover of all difficulties. Our difficulties have been removed through Mushkil Gusha and we must always remember it.’

For nearly a week after that the old man carried on as usual. He went into the mountains, brought back wood, had a meal, took the wood to market and sold it. He always found a buyer without difficulty.

Now the next Thursday came, and, as it is the way of men, the woodcutter forgot to repeat the tale of Mushkil Gusha.

Late that evening, in the house of the woodcutter’s neighbours, the fire had gone out. The neighbours had nothing with which to re-light the fire, and they went to the house of the woodcutter. They said, ‘Neighbour, neighbour, please give us a light from those wonderful lamps of yours which we see shining through the window.’

‘What lamps?’ said the woodcutter.

‘Come outside,’ said the neighbours, ‘and see what we mean.’

So the woodcutter went outside and then he saw, sure enough, all kinds brilliant lights shining through the window from the inside.

He went back to the house, and saw that the light was streaming from the pile of pebbles which he had put in the corner. But the rays of light were cold, and it was not possible to use them to light a fire. So he went out to the neighbors and said, ‘Neighbors, I am sorry, but I have no fire.’ And he banged the door in their faces. They were annoyed and confused, and went back to their house, muttering. They leave our story here.

The woodcutter and his daughter quickly covered up the brilliant lights with every piece of cloth they could find, for fear that anyone would see what a
treasure they had. The next morning, when they uncovered the stones, they discovered that they were precious, luminous gems.

They took the jewels, one by one, to neighboring towns, where they sold them for a huge price. Now the woodcutter decided to build for himself and for his daughter a wonderful palace. They chose a site just opposite the castle of the king of their country. In a very short time a marvelous building had come into being.

Now that particular king had a beautiful daughter, and one day when she got up in the morning, she saw a sort of fairy-tale castle just opposite her father’s and she was amazed. She asked her servants, ‘Who has built this castle? What right have these people to do such a thing so near to our home?’

The servants went away and made enquiries and they came back and told the story, as far as they could collect it, to the princess.

The princess called for the little daughter of the woodcutter, for she was angry with her, but when the two girls met and talked they soon became fast friends. They started to meet every day and went to swim and play in the stream which had been made for the princess by her father. A few days after they first met, the princess took off a beautiful and valuable necklace and hung it up on a tree just beside the stream. She forgot to take it down when she came out of the water, and when she got home she thought it must have been lost.

The princess thought a little and then decided that the daughter of the woodcutter had stolen her necklace. So she told her father, and he had the
woodcutter arrested; he confiscated the castle and declared forfeit everything that the woodcutter had. The old man was thrown into prison, and the daughter was put into an orphanage.

As it was the custom in that country, after a period of time the woodcutter was taken from the dungeon and put in the public square, chained to a post, with a sign around his neck. On the sign was written ‘This is what happens to those who steal from Kings.’

At first people gathered around him, and jeered and threw things at him. He was most unhappy.

But quite soon, as is the way of men, everyone became used to the sight of the old man sitting there by his post, and took very little notice of him. Sometimes people threw him scraps of food, sometimes they did not.

One day he overheard somebody saying that it was Thursday afternoon. Suddenly, the thought came into his mind that it would soon be the evening of Mushkil Gusha, the remover of all difficulties, and that he had forgotten to commemorate him for so many days. No sooner had this thought come into his head, than a charitable man, passing by, threw him a tiny coin. The woodcutter called out: ‘Generous friend, you have given me money, which is of no use to me. If, however, your kindness could extend to buying one or two dates and coming and sitting and eating them with me, I would be eternally grateful to you.’

The other man went and bought a few dates. And they sat and ate them together. When they had finished, the woodcutter told the other man the story of Mushkil Gusha. ‘I think you must be mad,’ said the generous man. But he was a kindly person who himself had many difficulties. When he arrived home after this incident, he found that all his problems had disappeared. And that made him start to think a great deal about Mushkil Gusha. But he leaves our story here.

The very next morning the princess went back to her bathing-place. As she was about to go into the water, she saw what looked like her necklace down at the bottom of the stream. As she was going to dive in to try to get it back, she happened to sneeze. Her head went up, and she saw that what she had thought was the necklace was only its reflection in the water. It was hanging on the bough of the tree where she had left it such a long time before. Taking the necklace down, the princess ran excitedly to her father and told him what had happened. The King gave orders for the woodcutter to be released and given a public apology. The little girl was brought back from the orphanage, and everyone lived happily ever after.

These are some of the incidents in the story of Mushkil Gusha. It is a very long tale and it is never ended. It has many forms. Some of them are even not called the story of Mushkil Gusha at all, so people do not recognise it. But it is because of Mushkil Gusha that his story, in whatever form, is remembered by somebody, somewhere in the world, day and night, wherever there are people. As his story had always been recited, so it will always continue to be told.

*    *    *

While searching for the podcast, I spotted this lovely site by Jason Stern … learning to be human. I liked this paragraph he used when introducing The Story of Mushkil Gusha …

… ‘The story conveys a kind of formula by which one can become open to receiving help. The sense of hopelessness or helplessness, in this case, is not a negative or bad thing. It is simply a sign that one has exhausted one’s known resources and has become, in a sense, empty. It is into the vessel of emptiness that something can be received. The source of help is both outside and inside, which is neither here nor there. The help arises from beyond the known and familiar.’ …

Seems appropriate to the present situation around the globe.

If it’s of interest, @mushkilgusha is my twitter handle, in case anyone wants to follow me there.

18 Comments

Filed under Blog