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A Tale of the Sands

(Traditional Sufi Tale)

A Stream, from its source in far-off mountains, passing
through every kind of countryside, at last reached the
sands of the desert. Just as it had crossed every other
barrier, the stream tried to cross this one, but it found
that as fast as it ran into the sand, its waters disappeared.

It was convinced, however, that its destiny was to cross
this desert, and yet there was no way.

Now a hidden voice, coming from the desert itself,
whispered: “The Wind crosses the desert, and so can the stream.”

The stream objected that it was dashing itself against the
sand, and only getting absorbed — that the wind could fly,
and this was why it could cross a desert.

“By hurtling in your own accustomed way you cannot get
across. You will either disappear or become a marsh.
You must allow the wind to carry you over, to your destination.”

But how could this happen? “By allowing yourself to be
absorbed in the wind,” said the desert.

This idea was not acceptable to the stream. After all, it
had never been absorbed before. It did not want to lose
its individuality. And, once having lost it, how was one to
know that it could ever be regained?

“The wind,” said the sand, “performs this function. It
takes up water, carries it over the desert, and then lets it
fall again. Falling as rain, the water again becomes a river.”

“How can I know that this is true?” asked the stream.

“It is so, and if you do not believe it, you cannot become
more than a quagmire, and even that could take many,
many years, and it certainly is not the same as a stream.”

“But can I not remain the same desert stream that I am today?”

“You cannot remain so,” the desert whisper said. “Your
essential part is carried away and forms a stream again.
You are called what you are even today because you do
not know which part of you is the essential one.”

When he heard this, certain echoes began to arise in the
thoughts of the stream. Dimly, he remembered a state in
which he — or some part of him, was it? — had been held
in the arms of a wind. He also remembered — or did he? —
that this was the real thing, not necessarily the obvious thing, to do.

And the stream raised his vapour into the welcoming
arms of the wind, which gently and easily bore it upwards
and along, letting it fall softly as soon as they reached the
roof of a mountain, many miles away. And because he
had his doubts, the stream was able to remember and
record more strongly in his mind the details of the
experience. He reflected, “Yes, now I have learned my true identity.”

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