Tumbling Through Life

07/06/2010 04:04 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Once, for six months, I lived on Patmos, a Greek, Dodecanese Island off the coast of Turkey. I had heard of a lovely beach several miles from my cottage and one day I walked there. As I descended the path towards the beach I was struck by the sound, not the normal one I expected, of wave water against sand, but one more metallic and resonant. I understood why when I got to the water for the entire beach was formed of agates and looking into the shallow waters I could see dozens of different colours radiating from the stones in the most vivid tones of reds, blues greens, yellows, and a myriad blend of these. Over the next months I collected samples of the most brilliant of these stones until my little pouch held several pounds.

Two years later my journeys landed me in Kamakura, Japan, where I lived for three years. I still had in my possession, my little bag of stones but by now their surfaces were dulled, gray and lifeless. I had thought of discarding them but I discovered a friendly jeweler in the town who offered to restore the stones to their natural brilliance using a tumbler machine. This apparatus gently tumbled the stones in a mixture of sand, water, and grit. The owner assured me I would be pleased with the result.

Some weeks later I came by the store where he had laid out the finished stones on a table. They were magnificent! Each one was restored to its natural brilliance and color and they were as stunning as when i had first seen them in the water.

I have often thought of this transformation as a good metaphor of our lives. We are the stones. The sand, water, and grit are the challenges, duties, difficulties and suffering we encounter along the way. Just as the stones in their original setting in the ocean; when we first come into the world, the purity, beauty, and joy of the baby radiates outward; captivating and entrancing the beholder. In time, as we age, we leave our original state and our patina dulls. Layers of habits, discrimination, ego, arrogance, and pleasure seeking gradually cover over the radiance and goodness of the child. In Bible class we heard,"except ye become again as little children,ye shall not enter the kingdom of God." In my 30's I began to understand this quote. I knew that I had changed and had seemingly lost the original glow that permeated me as a child. I wanted it back. I started reading about these matters and gradually began to feel that it was possible to recapture that original essence- to become again as a little child- so that perhaps I could enter the 'Kingdom of God.'

My search landed me in Japan in a Zen Monastery where I learned to sit still for hours at a time, watching the mind and discovering I was not the mind. But getting up from the meditation mat, all the things of the mind --desires, habits, doubts, and fears-- flooded back in, crowding out the brief illusory peace I had touched. The monkey mind that interfered with meditative peace was mirrored by the ego's demands and desires in active life.I knew that until that ego and its qualities were scoured away I would never be able to live in that inner place of peace.

I think it was at this point in my life I began to understand and even accept the necessity of the 'tumbler;' the scouring that indeed became an integral part of the path to this inner place this inner gem.
I hear - I forget
I see - I remember
I do - I understand

When the great sufi sage M.R,Bawa Muhaiyaddeen addressed his students, he always began by saying, "Jewelled lights of my eyes," for this is what he saw. He looked through the imperfections and saw the light in each person.

Visualize an uncut diamond. To the untrained eye it looks like an ugly stone with many defects on the surface,misshapen and dull. Yet a jeweller holding it in his skilled hands treasures it, for he sees its intrinsic value. He sees the light emanating from the depths of the stone .He begins his work of cutting, grinding, faceting and polishing until the stone reflects its true perfection and value. Good parents readily do this with an ungainly and insecure child. They know that focusing on the good in the child and nourishing him with good qualities will enable a beautiful person to emerge reflecting what he has been shown and taught.

This is also how a husband and wife should treat each other. The physical beauty that originally attracted them may fade but they saw a spiritual beauty as well. Moving deeper in a marriage they must reach the point that they focus on the gem inherent in each other. It is a pearl of great price but one which takes wisdom and patience to extract.

"In the same way a seed is covered by a skin ,everything you look at is covered by a form.To know what is inside, you must open the covering. It is important for wisdom to open and understand the minute and subtle aspects within. There is a treasure within that resonates as the grace of God within man's heart. It is a brilliant resplendence which knows and understands all the universe. It shines, pulsates and scintillates explaining from within. You must realize this." -M.R.Bawa Muhaiyaddeen