Monday, October 23, 2006

Curiosity Shop (A Story)

Most things in life defy full and, sometimes, even partial explanation. Of course, we have our theories, biases, sciences,theologies, philosophies, ideas, and opinions, but in the end,something always eludes us and, as a result, events often are otherthan we suppose them to be.

For example, there may be certain events which we replay over and over again in our minds, trying to figure out how they came about or why we had them rather than someone else. On a certain level, we know such events are real because we were there, yet we are creatures who tend to be in need of consensual validation, and, as a result, when we can’t find anyone else to verify that, yes, such and such an event went on at such and such a time, we become uncertain – wavering between wanting, on the one hand, to hold our existential ground with respect to the proposed reality of an event and, on the other hand, wanting to fold up our tents and disappear into the night, leaving a disputed occurrence to be blown away by the winds of time.

Hank Cummings was struggling with just such an event via the instant replay machine of his mind and for the 50th time, he was walking himself through an event – actually, several linked events -- which had happened to him – at least, he thought they had.

Tuesday afternoon, following work, he had decided to walk home because it was a beautiful fall day – the kind that makes one glad to be alive ... not that every day shouldn’t be viewed this way. The sun was shining; the wind was light and playfully engaged in a game of tag with the leaves on the ground; the temperature was slightly chilled but inviting.

He remembers walking down Plymouth Avenue and cutting through the market area near Concord Street. He liked this part of the city because it was always so vibrant and filled with interesting places to browse through and, occasionally, buy an item or two.

Something had drawn his attention to a shop on the corner of Lexington and Green. He had tried to slow down his memory tapes and do a frame-by-frame analysis of this part of things, but no matter how closely he scrutinized the tapes, he really couldn’t figure out why he paid any attention to the store. There was nothing about its exterior which was remarkable or out of the ordinary. It was just a store, like hundreds of others in the area.

Yet, the next thing he knew, he was inside looking around. Apparently, it was some sort of ‘box’ store ... Hank didn’t quite know how else to describe it. There were, seemingly, endless shelves filled with boxes of all different descriptions. Wooden boxes of various sizes -- some quite plain, and some very ornately decorated or carved – were staring at one from every corner of the store ... it was nearly overwhelming.

Hank could remember the tightness in his stomach. He always felt this when he walked into a situation which, in some indefinable manner, felt threatening to him. Normally, this sense of vague foreboding would have been enough to make him retreat to the relative safety of the streets. However, resisting the urge to bolt, he stayed and began to wander about the store. There didn’t seem to be any one else in the store, not even a clerk. Perhaps, the person or people running the place were in a back room.

Consequently, after one box in particular had drawn him for an encounter of the closer kind, he was startled when, just as he was about to touch it, a voice from behind said: “That’s a very nice piece of workmanship, don’t you think?” Inside, Hank jumped, but his fright was hardly visible on the surface. Nonetheless, the voice said: “I’m sorry. I’ve startled you.”

Hank turned and was face to face with a tall, thin man who seemed to be around forty-something. The man was smiling in an apologetic sort of fashion. The man pointed down to his feet. Hank saw socks but no shoes.

“Very comfortable,” the man said, “but, sometimes, they are too quiet. You are not the first person to have fallen victim to my primitive form of stealth technology.”

Recovering, Hank smiled and managed: “That’s OK,” and he turned his attention to the box which he had been trying to examine. Hank remembered the man’s question and silently agreed that,yes, the craftsmanship of the box was exquisite. Hank had never seen anything quite like it. Still looking at the box, Hank asked over his shoulder: “How much?”

“Oh, that one goes for, let’s see, ... ah, $10.00,” the shopkeeper replied.

Hank turned around again and said: “In view of its quality, that’s pretty inexpensive. How come?”

“Well, to be frank with you, sir,” the man said, “I was thinking of taking it off the shelf in the next day or so. I don’t like to keep boxes hanging around here for more than a day or so. Whenever boxes remain here too long, I find they sort of lose their usefulness and appeal. “You’ve come at just the right time, as far as this box is concerned. It’s going at a bargain price.”

As the man was speaking, Hank’s eyes had been glancing at a nearby table, laden with several boxes, roughly the same size as the one he liked and, seemingly, just as nicely down.

“How much for either of those?” Hank inquired, nodding in the direction of the table.

The man followed Hank’s gaze, paused briefly, and replied: “Each of those goes for $125.00.”

Taking a step closer to the table for a more careful look, Hank said: “They all appear to be pretty much the same. Why the price difference?”

“Your question is quite reasonable,” the man remarked, “but a reasonable answer is much harder to give. Let’s just say there are subtle differences between the boxes which would be readily apparent to a trained observer but not so apparent to someone who is unfamiliar with the story of how these boxes came into being.”

Hank thought over the man’s reply and accepted it even though he really didn’t know what the shopkeeper actually meant. Hank removed his wallet from his jacket pocket and plucked out a twenty dollar bill.

“I’ve got just the place for this box in my living room,” Hank said as he returned his attention to the first box at which he had been looking. He handed the money to the shopkeeper. The man lifted Hank’s box off the shelf and carried it over to the cash register. He rung up the purchase, took what was owed to Hank from the drawer, and gave the change to Hank.

As the man gave Hank his money, the shopkeeper said: “WhatI’m going to say may sound strange, but you shouldn’t open the box until midnight.”

“Why?” Hank asked. “Will it turn into a pumpkin or something if I do?”

“Not quite,” the man countered. “Rather, we have found that customers tend to get their full purchase value only if they follow the instructions accompanying the box. But i'ts yours now, so you do what you want with it. I’m, just trying to offer a helpful suggestion.”

Actually, Hank hadn’t even been thinking about the box’s interior. He liked its exterior craftsmanship, and, therefore, he only had been thinking of putting it in the living room as a piece of art and a conversation piece, and the idea of what might be inside the box never crossed his mind.

The man said: “Can I put this in a bag for you?” Hank shook his head and responded with: “No, it’s fine as it is. I don’t have far to go.”

The two men exchanged final post-transaction pleasantries, andHank left the store with the box under his arm.

He was home in ten minutes. He went into the living room and placed the box on the coffee table. Some people had books on the coffee table. He had a box ... a very attractive box. He sat on the couch admiring his new acquisition. While doing this, a number of thoughts occurred to him: ‘I wonder what’s inside and why I should wait until midnight before opening it? The whole idea of waiting seems ludicrous ... what difference could waiting possibly make? ... surely, whatever is in the box now will be in the box at midnight.’

Going with his rational judgment, Hank reached over and opened the box. He was unprepared for what happened next. His eyes and nose were assaulted by an array of sensations. Strange colored lights emanated from inside and various kinds of smells as well. The interior of the box seemed to be sectioned off into cubbyhole-like compartments -- maybe twenty or more -- except that the top of each section was open. Lights were shining from only some of the compartments, and when Hank tried to see the nature of the light source, something prevented him from examining that part of the box, as if there were a force-field of some kind in place.

Some of the compartments seemed quite dark – a sort of preternatural darkness. When he poked his index finger into one of these holes, that part of his hand seemed to become engulfed in shadows which couldn’t be penetrated by normal vision, despite the fact there was still plenty of daylight seeping into the room.

He brought his nose down near the box. There was no doubt about it – some of the compartments had smells and some didn’t. The ones which had an aroma arising out of them varied in character. Hank tried to look down into these holes to see what was generating the smell, and he also felt around with some of his fingers, but in neither case could he get to the bottom of things. Some of the compartments had a very pleasant smell, although he couldn’t identify what the smell was. His nose wrinkled with disagreeableness in relation to some of the other holes, and in a few cases, his head involuntarily shot back because the stench was so strong.

A few of the compartments had a sort of grayish hue to them. When he dipped his index finger into these holes, his fingertip didn’t disappear as in the case of the ‘black’ holes, but his fingertip did seem to be washed in a grayish kind of aura.

The whole experience was unnerving. Hank didn’t have a cluewhat to make of the situation. He decided to contact his next-door neighbor and have him take a look at things. For whatever reason, events always seem more real when they are shared by two or more people, even when everybody disagrees about what they believe the nature of that commonly-held experience may be.

He left his house, went to the one on his right, knocked on the door, and waited for the knock to be answered. As he waited, he suddenly remembered his friend had a meeting that night and wasn’t going to be home until very late. Hank turned around on the porch of his friend’s house, surveyed the neighborhood, and briefly considered going to another house but rejected the idea. He wouldn’t feel comfortable approaching anyone else with this – at least, not quite yet.

He headed back to his house, went through, and closed the front door he had left open, and returned to the couch. Hank would wai tfor his friend and ask him to come over after he got back from his meeting.

Throughout the evening, Hank stared at the item on his table. He fixed and ate his supper, preoccupied with his new box the entire time, hardly tasting anything. As the evening wore on, Hank became convinced the box’s interior was changing in various subtle ways. The lights were altered somehow, and there were a few new smells which were somewhat nondescript in character.

Around 11 p.m. Hank saw the lights of his neighbor’s car flash past the window as his friend pulled into the garage area. Immediately, Hank jumped up and rushed out of the house, hoping to reach his friend before the latter disappeared into the house. His friend waved to Hank as Hank rounded the corner. Hank merely said: “I need to show you something. Please come with me.”

His friend was obviously tired, but he trudged along behind Hank like good friends are sometimes called upon to do.

The two men entered Hank’s house, and Hank ushered his friend into the living room and pointed to the box on the coffee table. His friend approached the box, picked it up, looked it over for a few moments, and, then, placed it back on the table. “Nice,” he said. “Where did you get it?”

Ignoring his friend’s query, Hank looked at him and asked: “Do you see anything strange about it, or do you smell anything out of the ordinary when you are near the box?”

His friend looked at the box and back at Hank. He shook his head. “Not really,” he said, and then quickly added: “It’s a nicely-done box, but that’s about as far as it goes.”

“How would you describe the interior of the box?” Hank inquired nervously.

His friend returned his gaze to the box and studied it for a few seconds. Shrugging, he said: “There are a bunch of compartments.” He paused and said: “Am I missing something here?”

Hank was lost in thought. He came out of his reverie long enough to smile somewhat embarrassedly, replying: “No, it must be just me. I thought there was something odd about the box and wanted to get your take on it, that’s all. It’s just one of those things, I guess. I’m sorry to have dragged you over here.”

As an afterthought and a way of changing focus, Hank asked:“How’d your meeting go?” His friend rolled his eyes and smiled: “You know meetings. They go on forever and never seem to accomplish much except paving the way for further meetings. I think meetings use humans to make other meetings possible, like flowers use bees.” His friend waved goodbye to Hank and said: “I can show myself out, thanks.”

Hank gave a weak imitation of a wave and watched his friend leave. He sat on the couch, looking at the box again and sniffing at it here and there. The smells were still there, but the lights had nearly vanished. In addition, Hank noticed that most of the areas which previously seemed to be protected by some sort of force-field were now accessible to him. Most of these compartments had become dusted with a greyish tinge similar to the aura that characterized a number of the other compartments.

Suddenly, Hank was very tired. He gave one last, long look at the bo and, then, went off to bed.

When Hank awoke the next morning, he rushed downstairs to view his box. It was pretty much as he had left it last night, except that, now, all the light had disappeared, leaving only the smells. Hank dressed quickly, picked up the box, and headed for the store where he had purchased it.

He covered the distance quickly and entered the shop and saw the same man who had assisted him the previous day sweeping the store floor. The man acknowledged his entrance, noted the box beneath his arm, and continued to sweep.

Finally, the shopkeeper said: “Can I help you with anything?”

Hank put the box down on the counter and said: “So, what’s going on?”

The man went behind the counter and commented: “I take it, against advice, you opened the box before midnight. Is that right?” he said with one eyebrow raised as if a prosecutor were making a charge.

Momentarily flustered with the man’s question, Hank hemmed and hawed. Shortly later, he confessed.

The man waved his hand in a dismissive way. “Well, there’s no real harm done, but I warned you about not getting full value for your money.”

Hank was mystified. Again, he asked: “What’s going on?”

Finally, the dam broke and a flood of questions burst forth: “What is this all about? Why am I, apparently, the only one who can see the lights and smell the aromas arising out of the box? Why canI put my fingers in some of the compartments and not others? And,why does the box appear to change? What does it all mean?”

The man had an amused expression on his face, followed by a mock sense of surprise as he said: “My, my, so many questions.”

The shopkeeper took the box which Hank had brought with him and threw it in a garbage bin, commenting, as he did this: “I guess you’re all through with this one.”

Hank was upset: “Wait! What are you doing? That’s my box. Why are you throwing it out?”

“Don’t worry,” said the man. “I’ll give you a discount on your next box.”

The shopkeeper stopped, hesitated, and, then, asked cautiously: “You do want another one, don’t you?”

“Not without an explanation, I don’t,” Hank said defiantly.

“Very well,” the man said. “What do you want to know?”

“Everything!” demanded Hank.

The shopkeeper shook his head and replied: “Sorry. I don’tknow everything. I can only tell you what I know. You’ll have to be satisfied with that.”

Hank thought this over and said: “All right. Tell me what you know.”

The man shook his head again: “Sorry. I’m not allowed to tell you everything I know ... I can only tell you some things.”

Frustrated, Hank exploded: “Then, for God’s sake, tell me what you can.”

A very pleased expression came over the man’s face. “I would be happy to do that,” he said. Clearing his throat, the shopkeeper began: “The box has 24 compartments. Each compartment contains one hour of your life. If you had waited until midnight, the box would have had 24 fresh opportunities shining forth for you to take advantage of, but since you opened the box prematurely, the box could only show what was left of your day and what already had transpired.

“You couldn’t access certain areas of the box because that time was not, yet, yours. Those compartments glowed with the light of potential but otherwise were off limits to you.

“The black holes which you saw give expression to the time when you were sleeping and doing nothing with the time allotted you. The gray-tinged areas encompassed the times when you did nothing with the hours of the day to either help, or hurt, your seeking to realize the purpose of your life, and since last night you wasted a lot of time just looking at the box and wondering about things, there are a lot of gray areas in your box.

“The smells coming from the box constitute the things you have done throughout the day which have either aided the purpose of your life or have served to undermine it. If you will think back to what took place yesterday and are honest with yourself, I believe you will be able to map various smells onto different deeds which you did during those particular hours.

“As far as why no one but you can see what is in the box is concerned, well, they are your hours, after all, aren’t they? You’reresponsible for them, and out of courtesy, certain forces are present which help keep those contents hidden from the view of others ... but the smells, well, sometimes even those can’t be camouflaged, and, I should warn you that, under certain circumstances, those smells may follow a person through eternity.”

The man smiled in summation, adding: “So, would you like to get another box for tomorrow, or would you prefer another bargain box like you purchased yesterday – the kind with respect to which you don’t follow instructions, and, therefore, lose the value of the box?” The shopkeeper’s eyebrows were both raised to punctuate his question.

Hank stood in a sort of stupor. He was nonplused by the whole situation. The man noted Hank’s condition and said: “If you purchase something other than one of our daily bargains, there are differen tcosts associated with any of the selections which you might make. IfI were you, I would choose carefully.”

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


The Prophet said: 'Shall I tell you about your illness and its remedy?' They replied: 'Indeed, O Messenger of Allah.' He said: 'Your illness is your sins, and your remedy is repentance.' - Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)

Heedlessness is a quality of our spiritual darkness. To be heedless is to be a servant of the ego. Heedlessness is to prefer our own ideas to Divine meanings. Heedlessness is to favor our own opinions over the teachings of the Prophets, saints, and spiritual guides.

To be heedless is a clear sign of our deep addiction to our false self. To be heedless is to be preoccupied with the whims and fantasies of the ego. Heedlessness entails denying the rights which God has over us. Heedlessness involves denying the rights which our families and neighbors and all of creation have over us.

To be heedless, we must reject the call of our spirit. To be heedless, we must abandon our hearts to the decay and corruption of our egos. Heedlessness gives expression to criticism of God's creation. Heedlessness exists in our finding fault with God's way of handling and managing our affairs.

To fail to realize the purpose of our existence is to be heedless. To continue to allow the activities of our passion and anger to transfix us is to be heedless. Heedlessness blinds us to the signs of God. To be heedless is to be mute in our praise of God. To be heedless is to not realize God is closer to us than life itself.

Heedlessness means we do not understand our essence is rooted in Divinity. To ignore the countless forms of kindness God extends to us every day is to be heedless. To fail to cherish the spiritual opportunity which this life offers is to be heedless. To fail to assume our responsibilities with respect to the care and protection of nature is to be heedless. To allow the soil of soul to remain fallow is to be heedless.

Heedlessness is to treat love as if it were a four-letter word. Heedlessness is to be attracted to hostility, hatred, and malice. Heedlessness is to have lost access to our capacity to distinguish between the real and the illusory. To be heedless is to savor the taste of worldly things. To be heedless is to be willing participants in the spread of the diseases of the ego.

Heedlessness is to be inactive in helping the poor, the hungry, and the homeless. To believe we are independent of God, is to be heedless. To prefer gratification to sacrifice is to be heedless.

Heedlessness consists in placing trust in ourselves rather than God. To be heedless is to prostitute our spiritual potential. To separate ourselves from Divine guidance is to be heedless. To go through life intoxicated with our own likes and dislikes is to be heedless.

Heedlessness is to show inadequate respect for sacred ground. Heedlessness is to confuse our false self for our real self. To be heedless is to take license with God's forgiveness. To be heedless is to seek worldly knowledge rather than gnosis.

Heedlessness is to believe we will not be held accountable for what we omit and commit in this life. Heedlessness is to waste our lives worshiping the idols of the ego.

To not understand the depth of our vulnerability to the forces within and without us is to be heedless. To believe we are awake when we are fast asleep is to be heedless.

To ridicule, and show contempt for, the servants of God is to be heedless. To take the world as a friend is to be heedless.

Heedlessness is to prefer rebellion over obedience in relation to God. Heedlessness is to betray one's essential identity.T o be caught up with the diversions of avocations rather than the work of our spiritual vocation is to be heedless.

To treat time as if it were a renewable resource, is to be heedless. To consider truth to be relative to one's point of view is to be heedless. To believe there are no absolutes is to be heedless.

Heedlessness is to object to the imposition of constraints on the activities of the ego. Heedlessness is to suppose we are the source of our rights and not God. To be heedless is to rest our hope on other than God. To be heedless is to suppose that our successes are the direct result of our efforts.

To be indifferent to the misery and pain we cause others, is to be heedless. To believe God is not intimately aware of all that we do is to be heedless.

To suppose the answers to the problems of life can be found in science, medicine, economics, psychology, politics, mathematics, theology, and/or philosophy is to be heedless.

To set about changing the world before we transform ourselves is to be heedless. To mouth spiritual platitudes without sincere commitment to implementing spiritual principles in our lives is to be heedless. To be preoccupied with finding fault with others rather than ourselves is to be heedless.

To believe a life of spirituality can be gained without struggle is to be heedless. To assume one's struggles are sufficient for spiritual success is to be heedless.

To be heedless is not to be immersed in the remembrance of God. To be heedless is to consider our death to be far away. To be heedless is to assume anything can occur without permission of God. To be heedless is to blame God for what we permit to come into our lives.

Heedlessness is to believe we can realize Divinity in our lives while holding on to our false selves.

Heedlessness is to be inattentive to the fact all things pass away.