The genie related his story. He has been trapped in the lamp for years. After a hundred years, he promised, “whoever saves me, I will make him rich beyond his wildest dream.” Then, the second century fled by, and the genie said, “Whoever saves me, I’ll open before him the treasures of the land.” When 400 years passed and no one showed up for him, the genie desperately pledged, “Whoever saves me, I’ll grant him 3 wishes.” Still, no one came for his rescue. The genie remained trapped for 1800 years – and with every passing year, he was becoming angrier and hungrier and ended up swearing, “Who ever saves me must die! I will grant him only one choice… He may choose how he would like me to kill him.” And, this was the choice he gave our poor fisherman.
The fisherman knew that the genie is much stronger, but our wise fisherman also knew that a human being always has the power to outsmart a beast. “I only have one wish, the fisherman said, I am so curious to see how a huge genie like yourself could fit in such a tiny lamp?” And, as soon as the genie squeezed himself back in, the fisherman sealed the lamp.
At this point, the fisherman had the choice to either cast the lamp back in the sea and get rid of the genie forever or make a deal with this angry hungry beast. But, could he trust him?
The fisherman learned his lesson, “the genie may have the muscles, but I have the Intellect.” He needs the genie. He could make use of his talents, if only he could submit him to his service… Despite his fear, the fisherman decided to release the genie after striking a deal that benefited both of them.
The genie in the story is the classic symbol of the soul. A soul entrapped and ignored for years until its anger and passion could no longer be contained. Those feelings are totally legitimate. With years of entrapment, the genie’s anger and passion were his motivation to find an outlet, to keep hope and keep going. Yet, those helpful tools have been percolating for so long that they ended up brewing the deadly concoction of pride, greed, temptations, envy, gluttony, wrath, and apathy.
This time of the Pandemic, if I borrow Charles Dickens’ words, “It was the best of times... It was the worst of times.” It brought up the best out of people… It brought up the worst out of people.
But, the best and the worst have been already there… Lurking in the dark shadow of our hearts.
The pandemic squeezed our hearts revealing what has already been there… it rubbed the lamp and released our genie. For some, the heart was full of pain- denied, unexpressed pain. For some, it was full of anger - stored, percolating anger. Yet for others, it was full of hunger, needs, or maybe compassion or love or yearnings…
Sufis call the moments of challenges and suffering, Contraction. Contraction is sent our way to wake us up. To make us aware of those hidden crevices of our heart that get neglected as we are caught in the grind of everyday life. Contraction rubs the lamp and give an outlet to the genie before his anger and hunger go out of control. It is there to show us this hidden side of our soul. Yet, we have to remember that the choice remains ours: What do we do with the genie?
Embedded in every contraction is the potential for its own expansion. Like the white dot in the dark side of the Yin-Yang symbol.
Or, we can choose to leave our heart in its contraction, expanding the ego and allowing it to take over - letting the genie rule with his angry, hungry, selfish pride.
It seems like an easy choice, doesn’t it? Yet, we all know it is one of the hardest choices to make. The genie is scary. It is hard to contain and even harder to please. On one hand, squeezing him into the lamp makes him angrier and hungrier, not to mention the waste of his tremendous potentials. On the other hand, taming him is a life-long struggle, the Greatest Struggle against the shadows of our own soul.
The fisherman, compared to the genie, seems like this tiny white dot in the black swirl. Yet, this dot is the source of light in the darkness, the wisdom in the chaos. The fisherman chose to tame the genie not to kill it. He knew that he needs it along his journey. The genie, with his anger and passion, is a prodigious source of energy that the fisherman needs for protection and motivation. Yet, the fisherman, with his wise discerning intellect, has to always remain aware and alert. He can never put down his guards.The genie can never be trusted. We can’t let the genie lead the way. We have to remain in control!
The Pandemic with all its aftermath, is in a sense, a global contraction. It rubbed the lamp and released our genie. It squeezed our hearts exuding a fermented brew. Yet, the choice remains ours, will we befriend and tame the genie, or will we let him squeeze our hearts to death?