Friday, November 18, 2005

Becoming an Artisan (A Story)

There once lived a person who was sincere skeptic concerning the mystical path. In other words, although this individual was willing to allow for the possibility of truths and realities beyond the sensory, material realms, nevertheless, there were a lot of things concerning spirituality which didn’t make a whole lot of sense to him, and over which he puzzled.

For example, he questioned why mysticism seemed to be couched in so much secrecy. Moreover, he didn’t understand why there appeared to be such a hide-and-seek quality to the whole process –- that is, he didn’t understand why the truths of the mystical path just couldn’t be laid out for everyone to see so that those who were interested could obtain what they needed. In addition, he didn’t really see the need for a teacher, or, stated in an alternative way, he wondered why Divinity just didn’t approach people directly through either their rational and/or their spiritual faculties rather than seeming to channel things through a mystical guide.

This man also had a variety of questions about philosophy, government, and science. However, the questions to which he kept returning were the ones he had concerning the mystical path, and these sort of questions seemed, for him, at least, more important than the other questions which preoccupied him from time to time.

Life being what it is, such questions often had to be put aside as he went about trying to earn a living and support his family. In fact, although this person was a hard worker, he had been encountering considerable difficulty finding a steady job because of the condition of the economy.

This person had a college degree, but he preferred working with his hands. Over the years, he had become fairly proficient in a wide variety of skills -– from light carpentry, to electrical work, and, as well, he had a smattering of mechanical abilities.

Since he was a resourceful person, he often was able to scramble sufficiently well to earn enough money to pay rent, purchase food, and buy clothes for his family, but not much more. Nonetheless, through a combination of factors -– among which was the lack of a union card -– he always seemed to be engaged in a financial high wire balancing act in which he worked without a net, and, quite frequently, wondered if the would be able to stretch what little money he had to reach the end of the month.

He had learned to be flexible and adaptable with respect to the jobs he took. Furthermore, he always was looking out for new opportunities -– things that either would allow him to develop additional skills or which might open up new career possibilities that offered more permanent job status.

Currently, he was in between jobs and was scouring the Internet, the newspaper classifieds, and job agencies, looking for work. The only thing which was available involved using his hands -- an apprenticeship position in a pottery shop. The job was located within a reasonable distance from his house.

He called the indicated number, and after several tries, got through to the owner of the shop. She was an elderly woman who was getting too old for certain aspects of her business and was looking for someone who would help her out.

She couldn’t afford to pay much more than minimum wage, but the work would be steady for the foreseeable future, and, as a sort of compensation for the low wages, she was prepared to train the person she hired to become a potter. She even indicated that if she found the right person, she would consider selling the business.

Due, among other things, to an increase in relatively wealthy clientele who, on the one hand, were looking for original works of art, and, who, on the other hand, were searching for certain kinds of pots to use in cooking and baking, the woman’s business was more thriving than it had ever been. People were looking for products of
durability and quality, and they were quite ready to pay good prices for the right sort of pots.

The woman specialized in cooking pots. However, she was an expert craftsperson in all manner of pottery.

After talking with the woman, the man discussed the situation with his wife. He went over the pros and cons of the possibility, and, eventually, they both decided that the job seemed to have considerable potential -- both short-term and long-term.

He phoned the owner of the shop again and said he would like to apply for the job. They arranged to meet the next afternoon, and by the end of the day, he was hired as the woman’s apprentice.

The woman was very meticulous in her training methods, and there was far more to learn than the man originally had suspected. The woman wanted to impress on her newly hired apprentice that there were significant differences between pots which were mass-produced and those which were done in the traditional way. And, so, at the end of the first week, after he had been given enough information which would enable him to make a pot that would be similar in quality to the ones which were mass-produced, she had him fashion several baking pots. The process only took a short time, and when he completed the assignment, she had him set the pots aside, on a storage shelf, as a reminder of his first efforts.

The next day she continued on with his apprenticeship program. After a number of years, he had become quite adept in all facets of making pots, and the owner was quite pleased with his progress.

One day she informed her apprentice that she wanted to retire and, with certain reservations, might be willing to turn the whole business over to him. She knew he was not a wealthy person and said she was prepared to take regular payments for the business until such time as it was completely paid for.

However, before she retired, she wanted to make sure the man really had mastered everything he needed to know about the making of pots. Her shop had developed a considerable reputation, and she didn’t want to see all that hard work go to waste as a result of a decline in the quality of the pots which were sold through the store.

Consequently, she informed him that she wanted to be his first customer, and she commissioned him to make a special cooking pot -– one that was particularly difficult to make because, among other things, it had to impart a certain, precise taste to the foods which were cooked in it. This aspect of taste was very subtle, and if the pot was not made in just the right way, that taste would not be imparted,
even though the pot might be perfectly serviceable in every other respect.

The process for producing such a pot was very complicated and time-consuming. Among other things, not just any kind of clay could be used in making the pot. Furthermore, there were certain natural ingredients that had to be prepared in an exacting manner and which had to be added at precisely the right time during the process, and, finally, the pot had to kept in a kiln for an extended period at a
carefully regulated temperature.

She had taught him everything he needed to know to accomplish the task. Now, however, she wanted to determine if the appropriate lessons had been learned. If he was able to produce the desired pot, then, whatever reservations the woman had about turning the shop over to him would disappear, and she would be able to retire with a
clear conscience.

The man set about making the pot, and nearly six week later, the pot was completed. Now, the quality of the pot had to be tested.

The woman prepared some food to put in the pot. Since she had made more food than the pot could hold, she took several more pots down from the shelf, and filled them, as well. All three pots were covered and placed in the cooking oven.

An hour later, the oven was opened, and the woman set about removing the cooked food. Unfortunately, one of the pots had shattered, although the other two were intact.

After cleaning up the mess from the shattered container, the woman turned her attention to the other two pots. She took several wooden spoons and dipped each spoon into a different pot.

She tasted from the first spoon, and her nose wrinkled. She shook her head in a disapproving manner.

She tasted from the second spoon. A gleam came into her eyes, and her countenance radiated with approval.

Then, she invited her apprentice to dip the two spoons into the respective pots and taste the contents of the spoons as she had done. Upon tasting, the apprentice’s reactions were much as the shop’s owner had been.

The shop owner turned to her former apprentice and said: “The pot which shattered was one of the two you had made when you first came here. It was made in haste and, as a result, was not able to withstand the heat of the oven.

“The pot which yielded the distasteful food was the other pot you made shortly after you first arrived. Although it managed to survive the heat intact, nonetheless, it spoiled the taste of the food because of its poor quality. The average person might not have been able to notice the problem, but a true artisan would have detected the defect and its effect upon the food.

“The pot which contained the very tasty food was the one you just completed, and, I am happy to say it was made perfectly. So, you, obviously, have mastered everything which I tried to teach you, and you are no longer an apprentice, but, now you are an artisan. Furthermore, I see no reason why we can’t go ahead and draw up the
papers for transferring the shop to you.”

The man was very happy with the outcome of things and thanked her for all her help, knowledge, and patience across the years. He was excited and wanted to call his wife and tell her the good news.

The man was about to make the call when the woman stopped him, and said: “There is something more which I have to say to you.” The man put the phone down and waited for her to speak.

She said: “You not only know how to make pots, you also have the answer to some of your questions about the mystical path which you had when you first started working with me.”

The man was rather startled because he had never talked to the woman about such matters. While he was trying to figure out how she knew, she continued on.

“Many of the techniques which I have taught you are secret because if they were to fall into the hands of the wrong people who had little, or no, appreciation for the artistry of pot-making, they would exploit such knowledge by trying to cut corners and, in the process, produce pots which either were not able to withstand the
heat or which imparted an offensive taste to the food. The same is true in mysticism.

“Secondly, just as it took time for you to learn the intricacies of pottery through combining knowledge and an appropriate set of experiences, so, too, it takes time to learn the intricacies of the mystical path. One needs more than information in order to be able to accomplish this -- one also needs the right set of experiences, and,
as well, one needs to work with someone who knows how to utilize those experiences in order to help an apprentice develop a deeper understanding of what is needed to become an artisan.

“And, the former point leads into my final comment. There are many books on pottery which are available in trade stores. You could have read all of those books and still not have understood what you have learned by interacting with me over an extended time. The learning which takes place between an artisan and her or his
apprentice is much different than the learning that occurs when someone reads a book.

“You could not have made the pot you just did merely by reading books. There has been a special chemistry between the two of us which has developed over the years, and it is that chemistry which has found its way into this pot you recently made, and it is that chemistry which an artisan passes on to an apprentice and which transforms the apprentice into an artisan.”

The woman, paused for a moment, and, then, said: “The questions you have had about the realm of spirituality were sincere ones, and Divinity responded to that sincerity by sending you to me. If you are ready and interested, perhaps, I could use my retirement to help you learn about the real purpose of life -– which, by the way, is not to make pots ... even ones of quality. Rather, the making of
quality pots merely represents a worthwhile point of departure.”

1 comment:

Manijhé said...

Dear Anab,

Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah.

I enjoyed this story very much. Especially since I woke up today with a fever and was feeling very restless and having to force myself to sit and read instead of feeling worse by getting on to working like usual, with the uneasiness that follows a fever.

So I began skimming through the words at first, knowing that the story's purpose was being missed out on by not actually becoming calm and reading. I was sipping tea, which usually helps to get me into the 'reading mood'. I was even suffering from the effects of a strange dream I had last night- in that I was shown how much deeper my confusion about reality is at the moment.

Nevertheless, I slowly began focusing on the story- putting aside my tea so I could use intelligence instead to do so. As my mind began to calm down, so did the story, and it ended up becoming too precise and relevant to my former feelings. I could even suppose that you understand the synchrony made between a soul finding the object of his search- it was just like that.

There are still questions in my heart regarding the suffering of my confused soul- actions it is waiting for me to take- for answers that I possess in my deeper conscience- answers I have too often ignored over two years since I've been strong enough to embrace them.

Just like the man who wanted to become an artisan of pots, I'm hoping sincerity will find the needed strength in me, so I may develop from being shown the truth to actually knowing it too.