(Illustration by my friend Justin Kleinsteuber)
Those who refuse to embrace despair and let go of hope, are the only souls that reach this place.
I’ve been waiting for you.
And you, have finally arrived.
Do you still remember the first lesson of the desert?
Everything that is to come is already near.
I am Abu Nour, a life traveler like yourself.
I was lost in the desert, and wandered for what seemed like an eternity.
And like you, I refused to believe that anything in this world, not even an infinite desert, could conquer my soul.
Look around you…
Can you see just how impossible our existence is; everything that surrounds us is hostile to us, and yet here we are! Out of the chaos of the desert, the order of the Oasis somehow emerges.
This over here is the Sapling of Hope. Look at it.
Look at how small and fragile it is, yet this entire Oasis moves forward because of it! I often think to myself that it must have a sense of humour, for it only seems to perform its miracle when we are not paying attention to it.
Do you believe in Demons?
Then who do you think was responsible for all of those awful thoughts that you had in the desert, all those hopeless and despairing thoughts, all those piercing doubts, all those imaginary fears and worries that whipped you into an anxious frenzy, all those cruel voices that told you again and again that you were less worthy than the dirt beneath your feet?
Look behind you…
DON’T BE AFRAID!
They can’t come any closer. These are the three Demons of Despair, and they are always standing here at the southern edge of the Oasis. Since they can’t uproot the Sapling themselves, they constantly whisper despairing thoughts to you, so that you would uproot it yourself. Despair is a choice; no one can take your hope away from you, only you can give it up.
The first demon whispers awful thoughts to you about your future.
The second demon whispers awful thoughts to you about yourself.
And the last demon whispers awful thoughts to you about everyone else.
Once you’ve given up on all of those things then what is the point of living?
Awareness is the greatest defense against all demons. This is why these green stones are here. They are the Stones of Mindfulness and they encircle the Oasis like a ring. Their purpose is to make visible any demon that tries to enter it.
Come with me. There are so many wonderful things that I want you to see. Keep your eyes open for a great well. I will tell you more about it when we reach it.
The meaning of my name?
Abu Nour means Father of Light. Nour Al Huda is my daughter’s name. It means Light of Guidance. In a way, Abu Nour could not have existed before she came along, for by giving her, her name, she gave me mine. And now whenever I am mentioned, she is mentioned, and whenever she is mentioned, I am mentioned, too. Though we are apart, we remain inseparable, and that, is the power of love…
…. At the Tree of Love
This is the Tree of Love. Love is what connects us to everything and everyone.
Why is one side of the tree missing?
Because we are all one half, traveling through life in search of what could fill our missing half. You see, we all need to love and be loved; to give it and receive it. To love ourselves and to have ourselves love us back. To love our parents and to have them love us back. To love our siblings and to have them love us back. To love our neighbors and to have them love us back. To love our soul mates and to have them love us back. To love our children and to have them love us back. To love all living things and to have them love us back. And no love… no love is greater than to love our Maker, and to have Him love us back.
Every evil… every illness… every wound can only be when love is absent. To love another human being is to be so concerned about their well-being that you are always seeking to fill the voids you find within them, wishing to make them whole.
Come. Look over here.
These engravings were left behind by past travelers.
“Love is the whole, and we are the pieces”
And read this one over here:
“Love is the river of life in this world. Think not that ye know it who stand at the little tinkling rill, the first small fountain. Not until you have gone through the rocky gorges, and not lost the stream; not until you have gone through the meadow, and the stream has widened and deepened until fleets could ride on its bosom; not until beyond the meadow you have come to the unfathomable ocean, and poured your treasures into its depths – not until then can you know what love is.”
When I got lost…
I was not alone…
My soul mate followed me. We both hoped to survive the harsh journey together. But after years of travel with no end in sight, I decided that if I ever felt her grip weaken, then I would let her go in peace without resistance. So when that moment finally arrived and I felt her hand loosen, I told her that I loved her and let her go.
I still see her in my dreams, but even there I can’t bring myself to speak to her. Maybe I am afraid of finding out that she no longer loves me. Or maybe I am afraid of discovering that she is no longer the same person that I was once in love with, and so through silence my memories of her are left preserved. Or maybe I am simply practicing the most perfect form of love. Whoever engraved this message over here knew exactly what that means:
“Perhaps providence had rightly wanted him to be a chaste witness to a beauty that he should never disturb. Was this not the manifestation of the most perfect love, such as he professed to his lady, loving from afar, renouncing the pride of domination? Is aspiration to conquest love?”
Have you ever pondered how the act of love is at its core an act of faith, and how the act of faith is at its core is an act of love?
…At the Tree of Faith
This is the tree of Faith. It stands at the center of the Oasis. When it is young, its weak and fragile; it grows stronger and taller with every good act that you do, and every storm that you preserve, until it finally shoots up to the heavens and connects with our Maker.
When you climb this tree, you can see further in the distance; if you climb a bit higher, you may even see glimpses of the unseen world, and while you are up there, you can look down and gain a better perspective on how things really are…
Who is our Maker?
Only you can answer this question, but I will tell you this much: Just as there is only one of you, there is only one of Him, and the fact that you exist is proof that He exists. Go back to a time when you could not utter a single word or understand it. Go back to the days of innocence, and see the world anew, and then you will realize that what I said is true.
Can this tree be destroyed?
Yes, it can. You see, every traveler must one day confront the Demons of Darkness. Not long ago, they descended upon the Oasis in their thousands. They came from every direction with blinding sand storms, under the cover of pitch-black clouds that resembled moving mountains. They wore dark cloaks and hoods that concealed their faces.
When I saw them approaching, I quickly dug a hole and hid in it after covering its mouth with branches and leaves. From there, I watched with sheer terror as these demons invaded the Oasis and destroyed everything in their path with fire and fury.
When they finally reached the Tree of Faith, it refused to burn, so they began digging at its base, determined to uproot it all together.
After everything that I endured. After everything that I survived. There I was, huddled in a hole, cowardly watching everything be destroyed, as if it never was, as if it meant nothing. At that moment I heard the voice of an old friend of mine repeating an advice of his, “Abu Nour! Why do you always run away from your troubles? Don’t you realize that even if you managed to fly to another planet, there too they would find you?”
As I was hearing these words, I saw the thread that weaved through my entire life. I saw myself running from my troubles, from my loved ones, from myself, and from my life…
I finally saw the pattern…
I finally pulled the thread…
And that’s when it happened…
Feeling a surge of newfound strength, I climbed out of my hiding place without hesitation, and threw myself at the first demon that I saw. As we both went down, the back of his head landed hard on a rock, which instantly rendered him unconscious. As I attempted to get off him and stand back on my feet, my face came within inches of his, and I could see his face clearly, now that his hood had receded…
There are some truths in this universe, which upon contact with, can alter you, transform you, transfigure you, utterly change your very being, instantly do to you what Alchemists have long tried to do to common metals.
The demon on that ground was not a demon…
He was a man…
And that man was me.
The edges of my old universe began to roll back like a scroll being folded, while a new universe began to unfold. Tears from my eyes fell into his open mouth, and with every drop, a gentle light began to shine forth from it. As I looked around, I saw the forces of darkness collapse to the ground one after the other. The light grew in brightness and intensity, spreading in every direction, as the overwhelming darkness began to retreat like a wounded animal.
You too will experience your own battle with darkness, and if you find a way to see through it – even if you stumble as you try – you will emerge transformed. Just remember that faith without wisdom is blind, while wisdom without faith is heartless.
Do you still remember the well that I told you about in the beginning?
Look ahead. Do you see it?
…At the Well of Wisdom
The water of this well never overflows nor is too shallow to be reached by hand. They say that wisdom is to do the right thing, in the right manner, at the right time.
Go ahead and drink from it.
You see, in the beginning, I simply informed you about the existence of this well. Then, you saw it with your own eyes. Finally, you drank from it yourself. Wisdom can’t actually be taught. It can only be gained through experience. Can you place a fruit on a tree? Of course not! It must grow from within. Everything that you learnt so far will only serve you once your soul is ready to bear its fruits.
Do you see these blue butterflies flying around?
They are the Butterflies of Forgiveness. They help keep the Oasis cool and pleasant. If they were to disappear, the desert’s scorching heat would invade this place, and everything in it would begin to die.
Only you can nourish these butterflies. Do you want me to teach you how?
Before you fall asleep every night, take a moment to forgive every being that ever hurt you, and then ask your Maker to inspire those whom you hurt to forgive you. It’s much more difficult than it sounds, but a wise man once said that “Forgiveness is a gift that we give to ourselves”. The first victims of the flames of anger and hatred are their carriers.
The sun is about to set and the night will soon arrive. Come with me, there is one last thing that I want you to see.
…At the Tree of Reliance
We have reached the northern edge of the Oasis, and this here is the Tree of Reliance. It looks like a Willow tree that is about to fall over from the sheer weight that it has burdened itself with.
Look ahead to the north. Do you see those giant frightening shadows? They are an illusion created by the Demons of Fear. I know this, and yet they still fill me with worry and anxiety. Sometimes their sight cripples me with such fear that I stay frozen in place until the sun mercifully sets, and the shadows disappear, and my fear thaws away. That’s why I often come to this tree and sit beneath its shade. Here, I can law down my burdens and place them into the hands of my Maker.
Do you know what the last lesson of the desert is?
It’s engraved right here:
“What hit you was never meant to miss you, and what missed you was never meant to hit you. Destiny’s pens have been lifted, and its pages have long dried”
This is the last lesson because it is the most difficult to master. Let go of your illusions of control, and realize from deep within, that what shall be will be. Do what you can do, and to your Maker leave the rest.
It is a paradox. How can we have free will and predestined fate existing at the same time? I can’t explain it to you in words, but if you travel long enough you will realize that it’s true.
Come. Let’s sit under the tree and watch the sun set.
…Under the Tree of Reliance
Do you want me to tell you what will happen tomorrow?
Tomorrow, if our Maker wills, the sun will rise, and you too will rise with it. But unlike the shining bright sun, your heart will be veiled by dark clouds of discontent. You will rise pretending as if you woke up to the wrong life; suspecting that perhaps while you were asleep, a mishap must have occurred in the realm of the souls, and you were somehow assigned someone else’s fate.
You will remain in this state for weeks, maybe months, and possibly years. Then one day, an unexpected single moment of clarity will arrive that will dispel the clouds, and help you see as you never saw before. This is when you will realize that what you found here are in fact life’s greatest treasures; and that if this is where your journey has led you so far, then maybe you were never lost after all. And that’s when you will decide to walk down to the Sapling of Hope, and stand there waiting…
… waiting there, as I waited for you.