• Julie-Anne Wood

Quitting

A Sufi Teaching Story


One time, not so long ago, I was discontented, agitated, and depressed. Something was wrong but I did not know what it was, so I decided to go into the woods and think. I followed a trail along a stream bed that led through a spacious world of trees, with huge boulders and mossy banks, which created a succession of pictures, very composed and still. I walked, noticing the beauty, but my distress continued, as if hiking with me along a parallel trail. Finally, I stopped, sat upon the ground, and rested, gazing rather blankly before me. I was enclosed by trees that sheltered everything beneath them, creating a roof of green leaves and light in place of the sky.

A fantasy came to my mind. I saw myself as a troubled, intense, and angry young man who had gone to see a Teacher. I told him of my disgust at the world, how people hurt each other, did stupid things, and would not listen when you offered help. No matter what I did, I told him, the same old thing happened, and even when things seemed to improve a little, sooner they went right back to where they had been before. Parents abused their children, creating more parents who would abuse their children and on……. and on. People were obstinate and self centred and kept ruining every chance they had. The misery of the world kept increasing, not decreasing, and Buddha and Christ have made no difference. Education hasn’t made any difference, nothing makes any difference- it gets worse, and more and more horrible.

The Teacher listened and then he asked, “You hate the world?

“Yes I hate it, it’s so mean and stupid, it destroys everything; and the more beautiful something is, the quicker it will destroy it. I’m fed up, I’ve had it. I don’t know what to do now, there seems no point in anything. I feel awful!”

The Teacher was silent for a while and then he said, “I have an idea of something that might help you, but I am afraid it may prove too severe a task for you.”

“No, it won’t, not after all the things I’ve done, how hard I’ve worked, how desperate I am. I care nothing about myself now. No matter how difficult or painful your task might be, I’d do it if I thought there was some hope.”

“Very well,” said the Teacher, “but I am afraid if may be too difficult for you. It is this: Whatever you do you must enjoy, or you may not do it. No matter what it is, if you find that you are not enjoying it, you must stop right at that moment. It doesn’t matter if you are driving your car, or eating, or doing your work, or doing anything else. If you are not enjoying it, you may not do it. It is up to you to find a way to enjoy anything that you do. Nothing is exempt: you may have to give up your work, you may have to stop in the middle of the street, you may look to others like an idiot, and you may sit on the floor and starve to death, but unless you enjoy whatever you are doing you may not do it. Do you understand?”

For a moment the young man’s eyes were wide, incredulous, then they narrowed and his brow wrinkled in annoyance and disbelief. “That’s impossible!” he exclaimed. “No one can enjoy everything and, besides, there are damn few things that are enjoyable. “ You are trying to trick me or have a joke!”

The Teacher smiled. “I was afraid it would be too difficult for you, and now you see what I mean. Nevertheless, I know of nothing else that would be of help to you. You must go away now. See if you can do it for a year and then come back.”

A year later the young man returned. His face was open and glowing.

“Good,” said the Teacher. “Now that you love the world, perhaps you can be of some use to it.”





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