House of the Wise Man
Translated by Raphael Cohen
Doing turns around the same spot in the same place will never lead to anything. Every day you need what’s new and extraordinary. Set off then: run through impossible pathways so you touch limits, so you’re the first to make a discovery and reach the truth. You have to realise that before every beginning, every step, must come song, joy and a leap. Open your heart and start with do on the scale. You only have to say it, and the rest of the notes will come flowing in harmony, just like the waves of a limitless sea – the sea of freedom that awaits you. You don’t realise yet how close it is: closer than your shadow.
Removing dread from the pathways, the north wind blows. Follow it, if you want to become free. Pursue the thoughts that padlock your soul, get them out of your head and cast them into the mire. To be cleansed of the torments of the hour, always wash in the water of dreams. Slip off the garb of confusion and dry it in the sun of certainty. Do not shroud doubt, for it is your grave. If you desire, try to fill the vase with water from the valley, not from a rusted tap. Then you will realise that the sea never thirsts for rain, that the wind is always in motion, for if it stays in one spot it dies.
Meaningful birth comes when you stop sitting in front of the illusory screen – in front of the mirror that does not reflect your true face nor show the beam of your heart. You are a white mirage placed atop a passing cloud. Your place is between the wings of the bird of freedom soaring in the impossible, lapping up the embrace of the sun. Like that, it decides to take wing; leaving the cowards and the fearful prisoner on the seats of office and obedience, heads sunk over calendars of regret, hearts barely, echolessly, beating. Go far, then, to meet yourself in the surface of the water, speak to yourself face to face and discover your lost truth.
Far off, kick the boredom of days and head out to the fruits of life.
Cut the cords of despair with the scalpel of ecstasy.
Run swift among ideas. Free them from a prison of paper.
Sit at the front of seafaring ships.
Raise your sail, fill it and set forth.
Sound a lost note for your first melody. You don’t need words or a hand to shake. Listen to the rhythm of your heart in an instant of love and say: The essence of life is joy. All silence is death. All stasis is disaster. All waiting is despair. Set your right foot on the threshold of beginning and leap into the void of eternity, to return to your original essence. The rose will applaud you. All the stars beam at your fate.
Languish no more
The birds migrate in the direction of Spring
The sea swells and roars
but you are drowning in the calm of days and don’t sing,
just sketching void within void
observing life with eyes shut and mouth closed
Kick the chair and unhinge the door.
The gazelle of the valley awaits you beyond the mountain,
now is the time to sing.
Ten thousand faces has the path of glory. Some dance in a circle and become light while all those around them are shadow. Some plunge into the sea and become a bridge between the surface and the depths. Perhaps you too will grasp the bird of glory and soar with it. You only have to open the window and allow the light to draw you from your garb to the destiny you fear.
Musical chairs may be simple, but it truly symbolises what happens in life when people fight and compete with each other to win the best seats: at work, in power or even on a plane – all they boast is a hollow victory, transient possession. Others, even if holding royal regalia and wearing a gold crown, find sitting on a seat to be true imprisonment. The difference between one sitting and one standing is vast. The first is rooted to the spot, confined by the significance of the seat – but he is superfluous to this meaning. The second is always moving, confined by the next step. He belongs to the way more than to a single place.
In life, some prefer to sit forever in a chair in one place and never get up. They’ve been trained since childhood to sit down at school and listen to teacher. They grow up to regurgitate rote and rule. Then on to university and employment, till they retire after fifty years, more or less expelled from the job. Heavy and flabby they taste the pleasure of walking, but it’s a rare pleasure.
Others are not drawn to seats. They spend their lives exploring, leaping, venturing. Some bestride the sea, hoisting a sail to the migrant wind, heading to the unknown. They may die drowned or struck by lightning, but some defeat distance and reach the far virgin shore. There they excavate the caves of myth to decipher obscure and dormant memory; or sleep naked in the valley of the foxes; or dangle their legs over the edge of the volcano. What draws them to bestride hardship, and why do they see chairs as only suited to executions?
How many chairs do we get through in a day? In the morning we sit for a quick breakfast as we flip through photos of the dead in the papers. Then a seat in the company car and the blare of traffic; followed by a seat at work where we’re told what to do, and say “at your service, sir” and jump to it. Next the barber’s chair and a seat at the cinema, in a café or restaurant, in the sitting room at home. We flit from one piece of wood to another. Sparrows observe us as they flit free from branch to branch.
There are chairs devoted to cruelty, including the electric chair and those in the corridors of the monotonous ministries. There’s also the seat of justice, where no one sits.
* * *
We run among the chairs in the fun game
The lazy lame man beats us to the seat
The cripple wins the cup of waiting first.
Let’s go behind the plains and meet in our names
Let’s sit on the rock of impossibility and whinny,
the sun sketching our two upright shadows with no one between us.
From the author’s book of reflections Maskan el-Hakeem, (House of the Wise Man), published in Arabic
by Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture & Heritage Cultural Foundation, 2010