Creative Nonfiction Historical Fiction Inspirational

 Manijeh Khorshidi


Sea-like Oasis

A desert wanderer appears within a wrinkle in time before our eyes. We find him walking on an arid land where the horizon meets the edge of the earth, and the hot day merges into a cold night. With no place to live anymore, he has embraced life under the stars. The desert night approaches, so he camps for the night and looks for firewood.

To appease his thirst, he looks for an oasis during the day, but his soul searches for the Sea-like Oasis. Is that what has brought him so far from his home? Is it his inner thirst that has made him bewildered amidst the mountains and deserts? What is he looking for? What has he left behind?

His journey takes him through the landscape of hope and pain. One night searching for sticks and twigs to make a fire, he finds a piece of wood. Holding it in hand and struck by its lightness, he cries out: ‘A no-good empty piece of wood.’

I am the reed o thou fool!’ He hears.

The baffled man, not sure where the sound comes from, throws the wooden piece away. The heat of the day might have made him delirious, he thinks, and being cold and hungry, he starts the fire and prepares his meager dinner.

The last trace of the sun's light fades away, and the star-jeweled sky canopies the land. The not-shy moon that night, immersed in her beauty, sheds a luminous glow on the peaceful and mystical desert with its soft and velvety sand.

The silence of the night, the liberating dance of the fire, beckons any soul to hearken to the unheard sound, any heedless to become awakened.

As Rumi says: Listen to the silence. It has much to say.

Thus, the wanderer within the silence of self and night hears the voice again. He perceives the wooden stick telling him:

Pick me up and breathe in me.’

This time, with trepidation, he holds the piece in his hand and wonders at it. What does it mean to breathe in it?

Years before this night, we see a middle-aged man with his tailored long wool coat roaming at the market with his carriage waiting for him. He trades spices such as Zafran, wool, and silk with India and the Far East. Men at the market pass him with reverence towards him. His generosity and noble family have made him a trustable figure in society.

It is 1844 in Iran. There is an increasing awareness of a Spiritual revival in that country. It seems that many are attracted to the new Spiritual movement. The pages of history testify that people from different strata and social statuses, such as poets, merchants, intellectuals, artists, dervishes, and the rich, have been magnetized by the power of this movement. But the danger of being discovered as a follower of this millennial revival is so grave that most followers try not to be exposed. After all, these scenes happen in an orthodox Islamic country that condemns any adherent to the new religion to a horrific death.

The merchant in the long wool coat at the market has never been in danger, and his affairs are in order with no threat to his life and his family. However, with time, his family and close friends notice changes in him. He has become a happy man with less worry about the affairs of this world. He spends long hours praying, uncharacteristic of him! His family wonders why these changes. His radiant joy betrays him of having an unrevealed secret. But his behavior at night is the most strange one. He disappears in the dark of the night his family notice and returns home before dawn.

The desert night hears the echo of the reed's melody. The searching traveler for the Spiritual Oasis has found refuge in the reed by breathing in it. They both have a tale to tell. A tale of emptying the self. The sound of the reed soothes every atom forming the surrounding matter. The reed confides in the man how it has become the most insightful symbol in poetry and mystical literature, how it has found its oasis which is its reality:

My thirst to find my reality made to carve my woodiness to become empty of wood, for you to breathe in me and let your breath go through me.’

These words remind the traveler of how suddenly, on one particular night, he desired to be like the reed, free of his lower self and all attachment to the world of fame and name, the dogma and prejudices, in order to find his desired Spiritual Oasis, and his true self.

It all began the night when he attended a meeting with a few men gathering in the basement of a house on the outskirt of Tehran. The candle's dancing flame cast a whirling silhouette on the faces of those sitting around. Then, one of the men with such love and respect opened a silk handkerchief, removed a thin blue paper, and started to read words that infused a new life beyond the material existence into his being. That memorable night became the beginning of his new journey in life, which he kept a secret to protect his family. As it came to himself, he swiftly became fearless, an intrepid defender, and a lover of Truth.

After that secret meeting, he returned home, finding himself on his knees with the wordless tongue wishing and communing:

Oh, God, make me a hollowed

from which the pith of self hath been blown

so that I may become a clear channel

through which Thy love may flow to others.

But a secret as colossal as his could not be kept hidden long. The watchful eyes of the dogmatic clergies followed him one night to the meeting place. How well the wayfarer remembers that last time he met with others to study the Writing of the Prophet of Shiraz after midnight at the same friend's house. The joy of his heart had no bound. He was transformed through His Words. They were like an Elixir to him. That night was especially memorable as everyone there rejoiced in exultation and immersed in chanting the Prayers from the Prophet of Shiraz that they had memorized.

Then, suddenly they heard a group of people shouting outside and kicking the door. There was no time for anyone to hide. No one had the opportunity to jump over the wall to flee in the dark of the night.

Then, He heard the voice of the friend gently telling them:

'Swallow it fast, swallow it, and stay calm.’

Swallow what? He asked himself. This was the first time he had seen such a scene.

And before he knew it, the fine parchment of blue vellum paper containing the Writing of the new Prophet was divided into small pieces and given to all to be chewed and swallowed.

A task well done by all, and here went the vanishing of the hot evidence that could have killed them all immediately. Thus, by swallowing the Words that night, they became atoms of his existence.

They arrested all men gathering there, vandalizing the house, looting the precious items, and smashing whatever else came into their hands. They searched for the Writings of the new religion, but they failed. Finding any Writing meant torturous death for the possessor. Although the attackers could not find any evidence, they were sure these men belonged to the new religion. Thus their fate was sealed to imprisonment, torture, and banishment. Only by paying off whatever the arrested ones owned to detainers might have spared their lives.

That night the merchant witnesses his own first persecution for searching the Spiritual Oasis. He witnessed how easily he and others became the prisoners of conscience in that land. And in his case, the clerics and their agents served him with a good beating. This beating almost disjointed his bones, but it was a prelude to his extended punishment. Later, they confiscated his lucrative business, forcing him to leave his family behind and leave town.

He had to leave his loved ones to save their lives. He had to sever his bonds to protect them. The pain of saving others by distancing ourselves can be one of the most mystical and painful choices for anyone. He was expelled from his town and banished to the wilderness. And no family member or friend could help him as he was announced ‘Infidel’ by the religious authorities.

With no proper clothing or any other material means, with an aching body and anguished soul, the banished man headed out of town lonely and withered. With meager dried bread and little goat cheese, his wife was able with difficulty to pass it on to him, sustaining him a few hard days. Until that starry night, the merchant, now a desert-dweller, and the hollow reed found each other and became united in their loneliness and utter abandonment.

The wanderer realizes that emptying the self is painful. Listening to the lamentation of the reed telling him to liberate himself from all attachments of self, he finds out he has to let go of all his material and physical ties. By carving the self and detachment, the light of the Divine may shine through him and aid him in perceiving the object of his heart, the One over the mountains far from him. An overwhelming emotion that might be beyond the ken of mortal minds and only experienced by those who echo what Khalil Gibran says:

'Faith is an Oasis in the heart that will never be reached by the caravan of thinking.'

Thus, from that night, he leaves every thought of the past and his comfortable life behind. He looks for the thirst of his heart and transport of his soul. For the Sea-like Oasis, the Source of those Words, which changed his heart and life. He wants to know Who is He? He wants to find Him and hear His voice, to be in His presence. But how can he get himself to His place? He has found out the Source of those Divine utterances has been imprisoned. A fortress in the heart of the mountain of Mahku has become the dwelling of the Prophet.

With a lack of resources, he becomes resourceful. Living on the grass of the wild and drinking the water of creeks, he travels on foot for months. With a worn-out outfit and bony features, he reaches the Fortress' gate at the mountain’s skirt, where his Beloved is incarcerated. The guards deny him to visit Him flatly with abuse. It is 1848. Being so close to the Beloved and his Spiritual Oasis, yet laying out of the gate becomes his fate. He fades away but remains in praise of becoming a hollow reed.

His search for relief from the dullness of material life wandered him in the wilderness. To find refuge from the unpleasantness of self-absorption, he became a wayfarer.

Did he remember in his last breath his days of joy and ecstasy of gathering in the basement of that faraway house in Tehran to read the Writing of the One whose at the gate of His prison he fell to die?

He was letting go of this dust heap as he had perceived the aroma of the fresh flower like the searching mouth finding the candle, released at last.

In the silence of self, we might hear a sublime soliloquy with the last breath of the wayfarer at the threshold of his Beloved:

When I started on the path He is my guide

when I look for the love He is my enchanter...

In the mine He is the ruby

in the sea He is the pearl.

In the desert He is the oasis

in the heavenly spheres He is a star…


Thus, it came to an end the life of a man whom the pages of history avoided as his tale entailed only a spiritual journey and the search for a Spiritual Oasis. That quiet and unassuming passage in life which with its crimson transcendence glows the dark nights of the soul and manifests itself as the auroras on the horizon of the inner expedition.

His lifeless body was thrown into a ditch. Then they found the reed in his coat. The book of nature hears the cries of the reed over its separation from the wayfarer. His family never found out what happened to their noble husband and father. But the ink of the poet's pen in any era can fill the pages portraying his pain of separation and the joy of looking for the Spiritual Oasis in life.

August 22, 2022 19:31

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F.O. Morier
06:06 Sep 01, 2022

Wow 🤩 I felt like diving into middle eastern mysticism . Beautiful,


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Jethro Pili
03:51 Sep 01, 2022

Oh, wow! What can I say? This is fantastic! You mentioned Rumi. I felt like I was reading Rumi or some other ancient Muslim poet or philosopher. Your imagery is astoundingly beautiful, especially "The last trace of the sun's light fades away, and the star-jeweled sky canopies the land. The not-shy moon that night, immersed in her beauty, sheds a luminous glow on the peaceful and mystical desert with its soft and velvety sand." That is brilliant writing, friend! I love it! It was very engaging to the end.


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