It is said we learn most from those we would wish to emulate. Not copy, perhaps, but take from them an essence of thought, of action. If we are younger, of style, even…
There must have been a thousand people in the room. The university hall was full. When he stood up to speak, his movements were relaxed. His body language gentle, open.
What was it, that air? It wasn’t bravado…. just a sense of being at home, there.
Before him, there had been a speaker giving lots of do’s and don’ts – mainly don’ts. The celebratory mood with which we had all gathered had been blunted. The new speaker looked around the room to encompass the space – as though drawing in all the negative energy and using it as raw material for something very different – like crushed stones in roadbuilding. That act, alone, taught me so much; that you can always ‘dance on’ negativity and treat it as a foundation layer, thereby giving it a home, rather than resisting it. Therein is true magic…
He looked around, drawing in breath to begin. Then smiled…. just that; a silent smile. I swear that all of us leaned forward when he did that, waiting for him to fill the pause: the not-thing, the empty glass he had just created. Instead of words, he filled it with gesture. There was a hush as everyone realised that they were not smiling and addressed it accordingly.
“Good morning,” he said, not looking or sounding like anyone should after a recent transatlantic flight.
Everyone responded, some twice and more loudly the second time. Laughing, good-natured. So far all he had done was to speak those three words; yet most of those watching were already with him, already a joyous part of what was being created.
And that was when I had the mind-picture of drifting sand; sand making lazy, curling and twisting patterns in the hot breeze…
“So the question is…” He spoke fluently, breathing and talking in measured beats, letting the rounded language sink in before moving to the next idea in what he was building. The rise and fall reminded me of a wave… and then I saw where the wave and the tumbling sand were headed. And I saw the dune – a vast wind-blown barchan, set in the middle of a hot desert, with a beautiful blue sky. A savage place to be, perhaps, but not in this projected mental space.
“I need a couple of people to help me?”
My raised hand was too far back to be noticed. His playful eyes ranged over the first few rows, picking out a man and a woman. They rose from their chairs as assured as I was that they would form part of something wonderful – that they needed to have no apprehension, let alone fear, in the spiritual composition to come.
He gave them each a simple prop and asked them to describe it, moving with the microphone to stand alongside them – not across – as they spoke. He nodded at the answers, taking what he needed from each.
“So what happens when we combine any two of these?” he asked.
As in a dance, he moved the two of them around the small stage, being playful but purposeful. At each key angle of his imagined circle, he stopped to check the arrangement and smiled. Whatever was being built grew…. there was no doubt in anyone’s mind; we could feel it. We might recognise the elements being used, and the circular pattern, but what he was creating was still a mystery.
“And now any three of them…” From his battered leather document case he produced a crescent of silver… and the beautiful desert in my mind was suddenly under faint stars and a bright moon. His two volunteers saw the pattern, and each, independently, began moving towards their host.
Three figures stood at the top of the dune. He took their hands and aligned them, stepping behind both and disappearing…
For a moment before the thunder of applause struck, the hall was full of a beauty that could never be rehearsed. Then the wind blew and the beautiful grains of desert sand dispersed into the imagined night…
I never forgot the Bedouin… and I have carried his lesson with me ever since.
©Copyright Stephen Tanham
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.
The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.