A Sufi Tale
There was once a seeker who had heard of a Dervish monastery hidden somewhere deep in the Caucasus mountains, where certain secrets were kept in trust for those few people who found their way to the sanctuary and proved themselves worthy. Having heard, he set his heart on finding this monastery and acquiring the treasure that it held.
After a long a perilous search lasting many months the seeker, whose name was Yorge, found himself in front of a pair of large iron bound doors set into the wall surrounding a convent built on the saddleback between two peaks. There was an old copper bell hanging beside the door, Yorge reached out and rang it.
A short while later the doors swung slowly open, and Yorge’s gaze was met by the smiling eyes of an old man. Or at least at first glance the man appeared to be old, with white hair and beard, but this outward sign of age was contradicted by a quality of vital energy that emanated from the man like subtle perfume.
“Good afternoon.” The old man said. “I am Brother Sohs. How may I be of service to you?”
Yorge explained that he had come to petition for admission to the fraternity of this monastery.
“You are blessed young sir.” Brother Sohs replied with a smile. “Two days hence is the Hilal al Akbar, the first new moon of Spring. It is at this time that we test new applicants for admission to our mysteries.”
The old man led Yorge into the monastery and took him to a small, but clean and surprisingly comfortable cell. He instructed Yorge to await the evening meal in meditation, and with a smile and a nod, departed.
At the hour of sunset the old man returned with two bowls of rice and vegetables. Brother Sohs invited Yorge out onto a terrace to relax and eat while watching the beautiful mountain sunset. After their meal, the old man said, “Tomorrow you will spend your day in meditation and fasting as preparation for your challenge.” “During your time of testing you must speak to no one save me and you may as no questions, even of me, about your test. I will meet you again to break our fast in two day’s time and give you your instructions.”
On the morning of the second day Brother Sohs arrived with food at Yorge’s cell door. They ate in silence, the old man beckoned Yorge to follow him.
They went to a low building that was separated from the main body of the monastery called a Semakhanah or “house of attention”.
Yorge was led in and Brother Sohs motioned him to sit. The room was exceptional size, and in its center was a large octagonal space lowered three feet into the floor. In the lowered area was a group of people, men and women; each dressed in a long white shirt and pants with a sash tied about their waists. Each was standing in a different pose and all of them appeared to be perfectly still. There were several other people sitting around the periphery of the octagon, each of them watching the individuals standing in their poses. Though the room was silent and all of the occupants were motionless there was an electric feeling to the air that was quite stimulating, like a strong cup of Turkish coffee on a cold morning.
After a time Brother Sohs motioned Yorge to stand and accompany him from the building.
The old man offered Yorge a seat under a tree and then sat beside him. “What you have just seen,” Brother Sohs said, “was the Dance of the New Moon.” “This is your trial. Every day for the next twenty-eight days you will spend one hour in the Semakhanah observing the dance. You may attend any time after you break your fast in the morning until tenth hour of the day, you may not attend after sundown. You may not ask questions or discuss what you have seen with any other of the people attending. At the end of the twenty-eight days I will ask you to explain to me the meaning of the Dance. If you can answer the riddle of the Dance you will be accepted into our Brotherhood and initiated into our teachings. May your endeavor be blessed by The Real.”
With these words the old man stood up with remarkable energy and walked away.
The next morning Yorge returned to the Semakhanah and spent an hour watching the group of men and women standing, kneeling, sitting or laying in various postures.
He began to wonder why this was called a dance, as the participants were obviously not moving. Yorge also wondered why there was such a palpable feeling of kinetic energy in the room. After the allotted hour, Yorge returned to his cell to ponder what he had seen.
Day after day Yorge returned to the hall, but try as he might, he was unable to penetrate the mystery of the Dance.
He examined each of the dancers individually, trying to see a pattern. Each dancer was in a different posture from day to day but there seemed to be no sense to how they changed. No two dancers were ever in the same posture on any given day, but certain postures seemed to be held by different dancers on different days.
Yorge counted the number of dancers, there were twenty-eight, fourteen men and fourteen women. But other than the obvious symmetries, he could not see the pattern.
Day after day Yorge came and watched the dancers, and each day the dancers remained in seeming stillness. Other than the intense feeling of energy in the room, there was just a group of people in a seemingly random grouping of positions.
Yorge became more confused daily. As much as he tried to penetrate to the meaning of the dance, all he had for his effort was frustration.
Finally the last day came and went.
Yorge’s mind was in a panic, his thoughts ran through every teaching he had ever received hoping that something would help make the meaning of this so called dance become clear. He even began to wonder if this were some sort of trick that the members of this brotherhood played on seekers so that they would not be overwhelmed with new members. Sleep escaped him that night.
The next morning, Brother Sohs appeared at the door of Yorge’s cell with a pot of tea and two cups.
“Come sit with me young Sir, and enjoy the morning.” The old man requested.
Yorge accompanied Brother Sohs to the monastery garden with no little trepidation, dreading the moment when the question would be asked.
Brother Sohs gestured for Yorge to be seated on a bench under a magnificent mulberry tree, and pouring two cups of tea, asked “Young sir, have you penetrated the mystery of the dance?