The Tale of the Sands
Sufism is the mystical tradition in Islam. Put simply, it can be defined as a practical path leading to God, learned from and practised under the supervision of a spiritual teacher called a Murshid or Shaykh. The Sufis produced many works of poetry and storytelling to convey their spiritual messages and wisdom. One such story, short, but charming nonetheless, is the tale of the sands:
A stream, happily tumbling down from its source in the mountains, gushing forth with great energy first this way and then that, suddenly came to a halt. It had reached a desert. Having crossed many barriers on its long journey from the mountain top, the stream was confident that it would be able to cross the sands without much difficulty. Yet, try as it might, it could not find a way. It was stuck. As the stream wondered what to do next, it became aware of a sound, which if truth be known, it found rather startling at first.
The stream stopped dashing itself on the sand and listened. The sound, or rather the voice, whispered, “The wind crosses the desert.…”
Somewhat puzzled, the stream thought, “The wind can fly. Of course it can cross the desert.”
The voice continued, “You’ll disappear if you carry on dashing yourself upon the sands. Allow the wind to carry you.”
“Carry me?” thought the stream. “How can the wind carry me?”
The voice of the sands insisted, “The wind performs this function all the time. It lifts the water up, carries it across the desert, and then drops it down on the other side.”
“How can this be?” thought the stream.
“It is simply so. If you don’t let the wind carry you, put simply, you will be absorbed by the sands until there is not a single drop of you left. Why else is this known as the desert?”
“But if I listen to you, I don’t know what will happen. There is no guarantee that what you are telling me is true.”
“True,” said the voice. “Your problem stems from the fact that you are unaware of your essential nature. If you knew that, you would happily rise up into the arms of the wind. So you have a choice, you can either take a leap of faith and believe that what I am telling you is true, or you can carry on as you are, in which case, I am sorry to say, you will cease to exist.”
As the stream heard this, memories began to surface, accompanied by a strange yet not unfamiliar sensation and, eventually, a realization that, yes, it had indeed once before been held in the arms of the wind.
And so, the stream, slowly at first, began to stop thrashing and writhing about in its attempt to cross the sands. Eventually, it became still and waited. Waited for the wind to lift it into the skies and carry it across to safety. Its patience was rewarded and just as the voice had said, the stream turned into vapour and was carried many, many miles across the desert. Finally reaching a mountain range at the far side of the desert, it began to turn to rain, fall to the ground and to run back towards the ocean.
In abandoning itself to the wind, the stream was able to acknowledge its true nature: a vapour from the great ocean which it was now able to rejoin. The sands meanwhile ruminated on how it was given to them to witness this transformation every day – and thus it is said that the way in which the stream of life fulfils its destiny is “written in the sands”.
Retold from P. Hemenway, The Little Book of Eastern Wisdom