A Story of Transformation
By Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
The Golden Sufi Center Copyright © 2005 The Golden Sufi Center
All rights reserved.
The Needs of the Soul
The story of Moskel Gosha is about Baba Kharkan, a prickly-bush digger, and his daughter. A prickly-bush digger is a Persian equivalent to the woodcutter — a frequent figure in European folk tales. Both represent honest, simple folk, who live and work in the natural world. In contrast to the civilized environment of the town, or the cultivated landscape of the farmer, the bush-digger works in the uncultivated scrubland, a world belonging solely to the forces of nature. He images the part of our own, ordinary self that is open to our inner nature and able to be touched by its transformative qualities.
The bush-digger lives outside the town with his wife and daughter. He makes a simple living by selling his wood in the town, and they always have enough to eat. But there comes a time when his daughter is no longer satisfied with their simple diet, and she demands different kinds of food. The bush-digger's daughter can be understood as his anima or soul-figure. Thus his soul-figure demands to be nurtured in a different way; the food given by the ordinary experiences of life is no longer sufficient.
The demand by the inner self for a new form of nourishment can manifest in people's lives in many different ways. It can surface as a discontent with one's present job or relationship, a desire to be more creative, or even the need to follow a spiritual path. And people respond to this call in a variety of ways. In this story, the response of the bush-digger is to go further out into the scrub-land and find more wood, which he can then sell and thus be able to buy his daughter what she wants. And yet, when he returns after a day of work, he finds the door of his house locked against him. His wife and daughter are asleep and do not answer to his knocking.
Why does this happen to the hardworking bush-digger? What is amiss with his plan? It would seem that his response to his daughter's request is very rational, and possibly this is the problem. For when the inner self requests more nourishment, to offer merely more of the same form of nourishment is not the answer.
The inner self is asking for a different quality, not quantity, of nourishment. For example, if one works hard and accumulates material wealth and then feels an inner discontent, to work harder and accumulate more will not help. The inner self needs a different quality of life. Maybe it is time to look to the inner life rather than the outer, to be more creative or reflective. The bush-digger's response was not appropriate; thus he finds himself locked out of his house.
The bush-digger knocks on his door three times before events begin to change and he encounters Moshkel Gosha. There is an esoteric tradition that if you knock three times, the door must be opened; if you ask a question three times, it must be answered. A well-known example of this is in the Katha Upanishad when the boy Nachiketas meets the Spirit of Death and three times asks to be told the truth about death before he is answered. The bush-digger knocks three times, and another world is opened to him.
First, the bush-digger hears a voice saying: "Wake up! Leave your bundle of bushes and come this way. If you need enough and want little enough, you shall find wonderful food." The first step for the bush-digger is to leave his wood, which represents his own conditioned approach to supporting and nourishing himself and his daughter. Before anyone can enter into the inner world and be given a different form of nourishment, whether in a psychological or a spiritual sense, he must "wake up" and leave behind his conditioned approach, often the values of the outer world.
But the second half of the voice's statement, comparing need and want, is also profound. For in the process of inner transformation, the discrimination between "need" and "want" is of utmost importance. "Need" is what is necessary for our life. It can refer to the physical need for food, clothing, shelter, etc., or it can be an inner need, for love, security, understanding, etc. It can also be a need of the soul, for creativity or spiritual nourishment. However, "want" always refers to the desires of the ego, which do not have to be fulfilled. In fact, the desires of the ego often deafen an individual to the call of his true needs, especially when these are needs of the soul, which may take him beyond the realm of the ego.
But the voice not only differentiates between "need" and "want," it also says the "need" must be "enough." One's inner need, the need of the soul, is only answered if it is great enough, for then the human being calls out in such a way that the call must be answered: answered essentially by the higher Self. This is the value of despair, for when one reaches a point of total despair then one calls out in great need, and such a call is always answered. But here lies the significance of the voice's second condition, to "want little enough." For while the answer is always there, once again the demands of the ego can be so loud that one does not hear it.
The need of the soul is like an empty cup waiting, indeed longing, to be filled. The need must be great, and yet the seeker should not want anything, for the cup is always filled through the grace of God in whom we must put our total trust. To want something is to condition or define the response, and how can we define the response of God? How can the ego know either the need of the soul or how God might respond? To want something is to cover the cup with our desires and conditioning, to put our ego before God. Thus the correct attitude, according to the Sufi saint in Irina Tweedie's Daughter of Fire, is that of the devotee:
"If you ask the devotee what he wants,
he will answer: nothing!"
The Step Into the Unknown
The bush-digger "followed the direction of the voice into the darkness, but there was nothing there...." And now, not only is he tired and hungry, but he is "lost." How often before we find, or are shown, a new direction do we come to a place in ourself and our life where we feel totally lost. We do not know where to go or what to do. Like the bush-digger we are tired and exhausted and there seems nothing in our life, in our job or relationships, to sustain us.
This is what has happened to our bush-digger. Lying on the ground, unable to sleep, he tells himself the story of "everything that had happened to him since his daughter had asked for something more than their simple diet," and it is in telling this story that he is finally answered.
The telling of a story has great mythic significance; it is as if through the simple act of telling one's tale the magical doors to the inner world can open. Through the telling of one's story, something is made conscious; we are no longer completely caught in the play of events. A space is created, and into this space help can come. Telling one's story, either to oneself or a receptive listener, has a great healing quality, and it can open us to something beyond the ego.
The moment the bush-digger finishes telling himself his story, the voice speaks to him again, and asks him why he is so miserable. Again the poor man tells his story, and the voice tells him to close his eyes and climb a step. When the bush-digger says that he doesn't see any step, he is answered, "Just do as you are told."
The first step is always a step into the dark and must be an act of faith. Furthermore, the bush-digger is even told to close his eyes, for he has to make the transition from the outer world of the senses into the inner, imaginal world of the soul. The bush-digger does as he is told and finds the steps into the inner world easy to climb.
When the bush-digger finally opens his eyes, he finds himself in another world, a desert with the sun beating down on him. He has been taken into the inner world of the soul, which appears as a desert because it is a transcendent dimension, a place of revelation. The desert traditionally symbolizes the most propitious place for divine revelation. "This is because the desert, in so far as it is in a way a negative landscape, is outside the sphere of existence, susceptible only to things transcendent. Furthermore, the desert is the domain of the sun, not as the creator of energy upon earth but as pure celestial radiance, blinding in its manifestation."
In the desert, with the sun beating down, the bush-digger finds masses of pebbles. When we are taken, through need and grace, into the inner world, we find something both most ordinary and of great value, our real Self. In the inner world the qualities of our true being are plentiful — they are just lying around on the ground. They are part of the substance of our being, the real ground on which we walk. The fact that the pebbles are many and of different colors expresses the many and varied manifestations of the Self, for, "smaller than small, greater than great," the Self can be seen as both One and many:
That, many-formed, sustains the
That, uniting, becomes One only.
The voice then tells him, "Pick up as many of these stones as you can. Then close your eyes and go back down the steps." What does it mean to take these stones from the imaginal world down into the ordinary world? For when the bush-digger opens his eyes he finds himself "in front of his own house." Carl Jung, whose work has helped us to understand the dynamics of the symbolic world, continually asserts that these images from within only have meaning if they are integrated into the ordinary life of the individual, if they are "lived." If an archetypal symbol remains solely as an imaginal, inner experience, it has no value.
It is easy to be given a glimpse of the inner world, to experience that moment of grace when the veils lift and we are taken into the reality of the Self. In this moment everything is just as it should be, simple and profound, and we experience the oneness that is. We might taste a harmony, completeness, or love that is within us, or sense the infinite nature of our true being, its beauty and mystery. There are many ways the Self reveals itself to us. The work is always to bring this inner experience into the fabric of our everyday life, to live the Self not as a spiritual fantasy but as a grounded experience that nourishes us. The bush-digger must take home as many of the stones as he can; he must attempt to integrate as much of these numinous inner qualities, which symbolize his own wholeness, as he is able. It is this process of integration and the mistakes he makes in it that occupy the rest of the tale.
Moshkel Gosha And The Remembrance of the Inner World
When the bush-digger knocks this time on his door, it is, of course, opened by his daughter. Then he goes into the house and shares some dried fruit with his family as he tells them what has happened. The sharing of dried fruit forms an important part of the Persian ritual Ajil-e Moshkel Gosha, as it has been practiced for centuries and continues to be practiced today. Moshkel Gosha is the remover of obstacles, and so this ritual is performed by anyone who wishes to have a problem resolved.
The person performing this ritual ties some money, usually in coins, in the corner of a handkerchief and hands it over to the dried fruit seller. The shopkeeper or stallkeeper will then make up exactly the correct traditional combination of dried fruits and nuts. The shopkeeper passes this over to the customer, neither of whom utters a word during the course of the transaction. It should be noted that the Ajil (dried fruits and nuts) must be purchased from a shop facing Mecca. The ritual takes place either on the first or the last Thursday of each lunar month.
The Ajil is taken home and cleaned by several people. The inedible parts are always collected with care and thrown into a running stream. Then the fruit and nuts are laid out on a cloth in five piles, one at each corner and one in the center. Moshkel Gosha is remembered and in his name problems are discussed while the Ajil is shared with friends. The symbolic significance of this ritualistic custom lies not only in the remembering of Moshkel Gosha, for the handkerchief and its five piles of Ajil form a mandala, a symbol of wholeness. The ritual helps bring forth wholeness through the resolution of psychological conflict.
Ajil comes from the Sufi tradition, for the original Ajil, and nuts in particular, are traditionally the only source of nourishment taken by Sufis going into retreat, which usually lasts for forty days. They consume nothing, it is said, but a single nut per day, thus depriving themselves of any other kind of food. At the end of forty days their wish, the object of their fast, will be granted. It is also said that at the end of the forty-day retreat Khidr, the archetypal figure of direct revelation, appears to those who have successfully completed the period of the retreat and grants their wishes.
It is evident that Ajil symbolizes spiritual nourishment, and what is important in the story of Moshkel Gosha is that this nourishment be shared. At first the bush-digger shares the dried fruit with his wife and daughter and tells them his story. Then he hears the same voice that told him to climb the stairs:
"What has happened to you has been through the grace of Moshkel Gosha. You must remember that Moshkel Gosha is always present, even if you do not realize it. Each Thursday you must eat some dried fruit, and give some to someone in need. Then you must tell the story of Moshkel Gosha. If you do this, the story of Moshkel Gosha will always be remembered, and those who are in real need will be able to find their way."
This is the first mention of Moshkel Gosha, the "remover of all difficulties." It is Moshkel Gosha who has helped the bush-digger discover the nourishment of the inner worlds, and the man must "remember that Moshkel Gosha is always present." Remembrance not only functions as a mental recall, it is also an act of re-membering, or reconnecting an individual with that spiritual principle within, the wholeness that is our essential nature. For the Sufi the remembrance of God is a central spiritual practice, often combined with the repetition of a name of God in a dhikr.
For the bush-digger the act of remembrance is to be focused on Thursday, when he is to share some dried fruit and tell the story of Moshkel Gosha. Whilst Sunday is the Christian day of worship, Saturday the Jewish Sabbath, and Friday prayers the most important for the Muslim, the Sufi day is traditionally Thursday. Both Monday and Thursday were days of special fasting and spiritual observance for the Sufi, but over the course of time this became focused on Thursday. Thus the remembrance of Moshkel Gosha is firmly placed within a Sufi context.
The bush-digger is told to share some dried fruit with "someone in need" and tell the story of Moshkel Gosha. As our deepest needs are miraculously answered, we pass on this inner nourishment. It is a spiritual law that one is never given to for oneself, only for others:
We are never given for ourselves, never; we are given for others. And the more you will give, the more you will receive; this is how the Essence works.
The sharing of dried fruit symbolizes the sharing of spiritual or psychological sustenance, similar to the loaves and fishes that Christ gave the multitude. But what is the significance of sharing a story? How can that help us?
Stories of the inner worlds have a great healing and transformative quality, as was known by our ancestors who ritually shared their myths. Through the telling of a mythic or archetypal story, the receptive listener is transported into the inner dimensions, where the soul can be directly nourished. Sadly, our contemporary culture has lost contact with this dimension of storytelling, and aside from our children's fairy tales, our stories themselves have lost their potency. They no longer evoke the archetypal world for the listener. The recent popularity of Harry Potter and Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, though, suggests that our hunger for stories, which connect us with the magic of the inner worlds, is very present.
Just as we have lost touch with the power of storytelling in general, we have also forgotten the power of an individual telling his or her own tale. The archetypal world does not belong just to kings, witches, and princesses, but is within each of us; it makes its presence felt in our lives through dreams, visions, and synchronistic or magical events. The inner world is more present than our rational consciousness allows us to realize, but when we hear someone share such an experience, it awakens our own inner connection. We are no longer strangers exiled from ourself. This is one of the great benefits of dreamwork in a group; listening to another's dream brings alive our own dream world and the value and nourishment it has to offer us. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Moshkel Gosha by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee. Copyright © 2005 The Golden Sufi Center. Excerpted by permission of The Golden Sufi Center.
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