THE ISLANDERS (part 3 of 3)
Sep 24, 2003 01:41 PM
by Morten Nymann Olesen
HI all of you,
Here is an interesting piece of teaching.
It is taken partly from Idries Shah's book - the bestselling "The Sufis" (1964)
- This is the first chapter of the book !!!
I have cut size - so it runs three emails.
Part 3 of 3
The insular society became more and more complex, and we can
look at only a few of its outstanding features. Its literature was a rich
one. In addition to cultural compositions there were numerous books
which explained the values and achievements of the nation. There
was also a system of allegorical fiction which portrayed how terrible
life might have been, had society not arranged itself in the present
>From time to time instructors tried to help the whole community
to escape. Captains sacrificed themselves for the reestablishment of a
climate in which the now concealed shipbuilders could continue
their work. All these efforts were interpreted by historians and
sociologists with reference to conditions on the island, without thought
for any contact outside this closed society. Plausible explanations of
almost anything were comparatively easy to produce. No principle
of ethics was involved, because scholars continued to study with
genuine dedication what seemed to be true. "What more can we do?"
they asked, implying by the word "more" that the alternative might
be an effort of quantity. Or they asked each other, "What else can we
do?" assuming that the answer might be in "else"- something
different. Their real problem was that they assumed themselves able
to formulate the questions, and ignored the fact that the questions
were every bit as important as the answers.
Of course the islanders had plenty of scope for thought and action
within their own small domain. The variations of ideas and differences
of opinion gave the impression of freedom of thought. Thought was
encouraged, providing that it was not "absurd."
Freedom of speech was allowed. It was of little use without the
development of understanding, which was not pursued.
The work and the emphasis of the navigators had to take on
different aspects in accordance with the changes in the community.
This made their reality even more baffling to the students who tried
to follow them from the island point of view.
Amid all the confusion, even the capacity to remember the
possibility of escape could at times become an obstacle. The stirring
consciousness of escape potential was not very discriminating. More
often than not the eager would-be escapers settled for any kind of
substitute. A vague concept of navigation cannot become useful without
orientation. Even the most eager potential shipbuilders had been trained
to believe that they already had the orientation. They were already
mature. They hated anyone who pointed out that they might need a
Bizarre versions of swimming or shipbuilding often crowded out
possibilities of real progress. Very much to blame were the advocates
of pseudoswimming or allegorical ships, mere hucksters, who offered
lessons to those as yet too weak to swim, or passages on ships which
they could not build.
The needs of the society had originally made necessary certain
forms of efficiency and thinking which developed into what was
known as science. This admirable approach , so essential in the fields
where it had an application, finally outran its real meaning. The
approach called "scientific," soon after the "Please" revolution,
became stretched until it covered all manner of ideas. Eventually
things which could not be brought within its bounds became known
as "unscientific," another convenient synonym for "bad". Words
were unknowingly taken prisoner and then automatically enslaved.
In the absence of a suitable attitude, like people who, thrown upon
their own resources in a waiting room, feverishly read magazines,
the islanders absorbed themselves in finding substitutes for the fulfillment
which was the original (and indeed the final) purpose of this community's
Some were to divert their attention more or less successfully
into mainly emotional communities. There were different ranges of
emotion, but no adequate scale for measuring them. All emotion was
considered to be "deep" or "profound"- at any rate more profound
than nonemotion. Emotion, which was seen to move people to the
most extreme physical and mental acts known, was automatically
The majority of people set themselves targets, or allowed others
to set them for them. They might pursue one cult after another, or
money, or social prominence. Some worshiped some things and felt
themselves superior to all the rest. Some, by repudiating what they
thought worship was, thought that they had no idols, and could
therefore safely sneer at all the rest.
As the centuries passed, the island was littered with the debris of
these cults. Worse than ordinary debris, it was self-perpetuating.
Well-meaning and other people combined the cults and recombined
them, and they spread anew. For the amateur and intellectual, this
constituted a mine of academic or "initiatory" material, giving a
comforting sense of variety.
Magnificent facilities for the indulging of limited "satisfactions"
proliferated. Palaces and monuments, museums and universities,
Institutes of learning, theaters and sports stadiums almost filled the
island. The people naturally prided themselves on these endowments,
many of which they considered to be linked in a general way with
ultimate truth, though exactly how this was so escaped almost all of
Shipbuilding was connected with some dimensions of this activity,
but in a way unknown to almost everyone.
Clandestinely the ships raised their sails, the swimmers continued
to teach swimming..
The conditions on the island did not entirely fill these dedicated
people with dismay. After all, they too had originated in the very
same community, and had indissoluble bonds with it, and with its
But they often had to preserve themselves from the attentions
of their fellow citizens. Some "normal" islanders tried to save them
from themselves. Others tried to kill them, for an equally sublime
reason. Some even sought their help eagerly, but could not find them.
All these reactions to the existence of the swimmers were the result
of the same cause, filtered through different kinds of minds. This
cause was that hardly anyone now knew what a swimmer really was,
what he was doing, or where he could be found.
As life of the island became more and more civilized, a strange
but logical industry grew up. It was devoted to ascribing doubts to
the validity of the system under which society lived. It succeeded
in absorbing doubts about social values by laughing at them or
satirizing them. The activity could wear a sad or happy face, but it
really became a repetitious ritual. A potentially valuable industry, it
was often prevented from exercising its really creative function.
People felt that, having allowed their doubts to have temporary
expression, they would in some way assuage them, exorcise them,
almost propitiate them. Satire passed for meaningful allegory;
allegory was accepted but not digested. Plays, books, films, poems,
lampoons were the usual media for this development, though there was a
strong section of it in more academic fields. For many islanders it
seemed more emancipated, more modern or progressive, to follow this
cult rather than older ones.
Here and there a candidate still presented himself to a swimming
instructor, to make his bargain. Usually what amounted to a stereotyped
conversation took place:
"I want to learn to swim."
"Do you want to make a bargain about it?"
"No. I only have to take my ton of cabbage."
"The food which I will need on the other island."
"There is better food there."
"I don't know what you mean. I cannot be sure. I must take
"You cannot swim, for one thing with a ton of cabbage."
"Then I cannot go. You call it a load. I call it my essential
"Suppose, as an allegory, we say 'not cabbage,' but 'assumptions,'
or 'destructive ideas'?"
"I am going to take my cabbage to some instructor who understand
This book is about some of the swimmers and builders of ships,
and also about some of the others who tried to follow them, with
more or less success. The fable is not ended, because there are still
people on the island.
The Theosophists use various ciphers to convey their meaning. Rearrange
the name of the original community - El Ar - to spell "Real." Perhaps
you had already noticed that the name adapted by the revolutionaries
- "Please" - rearranges to form the word "Asleep."
end part 3 of 3
M. Sufilight with peace and love...and his friend Khidr - the Green Guide...
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