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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Emrys

The Old Hag at the Door

Let me say something about the truth of spiritual discipline that goes far beyond daily meditations. You might remember Rumi’s tale about the pilgrim who came to the house of a renown spiritual master. I’m not entirely sure of the details of the story, so I’ll tell it my way. Please bear with me.

*

This humble seeker reached the home of the Illuminated One, and knocked on the door. It was opened by a particularly unpleasant woman who greeted him with a scowl. “Is your master in?”

The young man asked politely.

The old woman scoffed. “I have no master! If you mean the idiot who lives here, he’ll be in the forest behind you, grubbing for mulberries.”

“Madame,” said the man. “I speak of the Holy One, in whose wisdom I wish to bathe, if for only a few precious moments.”

“I see,” said the woman. “Then by all means go to the forest. There’s a worthless fool lingering there. You may bathe in his stupidity as long as you please.” With that, she slammed the door in his face.

Shocked and confused, the pilgrim turned hesitantly toward the forest. After a long, meandering walk, he came upon an elderly man carrying a woven basket in one hand as the other hand danced lightly through the berry bushes. When he saw the young man coming toward him, the older man smiled a smile that lit up the world.

“Master!” said the pilgrim, recognizing him as the Benevolent One at once. “It is an honor to meet you! I have traveled far to benefit from your wisdom and blessing.”

The Old One waved to him to come closer. “Is this true, child?” he exclaimed. “Then sit with me now, and be welcome!” Together they rested on an old log, both of them breathing the sweet morning air and taking in the sounds of the forest. They spoke no words, but the pilgrim soon felt the world of common men falling away, along with all its conflicts and contradictions. His heart felt light and his mind grew still. It was as if he’d been transported to paradise.

The two men sat there, side by side, until the sun had risen to the top of the trees and was slipping toward the west. Only then did the Master get to his feet. He beckoned the pilgrim to come home with him for the evening meal.

Suddenly recalling the face of the woman who greeted him earlier, the young man hesitated. “Oh, Revered One,” he began. “I would come happily, but it fills me with dread to encounter the old hag I met at your door this morning.”

“Ah!” said the Old One. “You refer to my beloved wife.”

“Your wife?” exclaimed the man. “Forgive me, Master, but how is it possible that you, filled with pure love, could be wed to a such a venomous creature?”

The Wise One laughed brightly. “The woman you speak of is my reason for gathering these succulent berries today. It is for her that I wake each morning with a smile on my face.” The old man’s eyes sparkled with love. “She is my cherished partner…and my discipline”

“Your discipline?” marveled the pilgrim.

“My Sacred Discipline,” he nodded, as the two walked on toward home.

*

Okay. I embellished the story a lot, I know. But the lesson remains. Enlightenment doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It doesn’t happen in a cave on a mountaintop. It happens right here, in the world you created and are blessed to occupy.  It happens, not in spite of all the distractions and temptations, but because of them.

Your reality is built on lies. You desperately want to glimpse the truth, but hardly bother to look past the distortions. Like any artist, you want to see beauty in everything, but you still focus on the ugliness. You want to hear angels singing, but you can only hear the dissonance. You say you’re going crazy, but life is offering you peace and sanity at every turn.

Nothing is what you say it is. Stop insisting you know. Stop thinking you’re wise, and let all the chaos teach you something you never imagined before. This world is your spiritual discipline. The dream of humanity– with its wild and noisy contradictions– is your sacred practice. It’s your beloved partner, as long as you exist on Earth. Look upon it lovingly.

This Grand Deception is your life. Make the effort to see through it and beyond it. Give thanks for it, because you can’t reach spiritual mastery without facing some stubborn illusions.  And, for sure, you can’t do it all by your self.

💜 B. E.

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