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Esteemed Reader: January 2011 

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Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:

The December full moon coincided with the winter solstice, and a total lunar eclipse. Witnessing the beautiful interaction of extraterrestrial bodies was worth staying awake until 3 am, and not just because it was an uncommon coincidence, but because it was a refreshingly cosmic event originating outside our human-contrived machinations.

Much could be said about the potent confluence of the celestial symbols—the returning of the light, lunar fullness, earth's interruption of that fullness—each has a strong inner significance.

But the event itself invites a direct expansion of context and consciousness when, for a moment, attention stops fixating on the personal and human conversations that define our worldview, and expands like a psychic soap bubble to include the solar system.

Looking out past the atmosphere to a vast world that humans can barely comprehend, I was reminded of the allegory of a certain gnat, named Namouss, told by the Persian Sheikh Hamza Maqtul of the Malamati order of dervishes (also known as the Blame-Takers).

Once upon a time there was a gnat. His name was Namouss, and he was known, because of his sensitivity, as Perceptive Namouss. Namouss decided, after reflection upon his state, and for good and sufficient reasons, to move house. The place which he chose as eminently suitable was the ear of a certain elephant.

All that remained to do was to make the move, and quite soon Namouss had installed himself in the large and highly attractive quarters. Time passed. The gnat reared several families of gnatlets, and he sent them out into the world. As the years rolled past, he knew the usual moments of tension and relaxation, the feelings of joy and sorrow, of questing and achievement which are the lot of the gnat wherever he may be found.

The elephant's ear was his home; and, as is always the case, he felt (and the feeling persisted until it became quite permanent) that there was a close connection between his life, his history, his very being and this place. The ear was so warm, so welcoming, so vast, the scene of so many experiences.

Naturally Namouss had not moved into the house without due ceremony and a regard for the proper observances of the situation. On the very first day, just before moving in, he had cried, at the top of his tiny voice, his decision. "O Elephant!"—he had shouted—"Know that none other than I, Namouss the Gnat, known as Perceptive Namouss, propose to make this place my abode. As it is your ear, I am giving you the customary notice of my intention."

The elephant had raised no objection.

But Namouss did not know that the elephant had not heard him at all. Neither, for that matter, had his host felt the entry (or even the presence and absence) of the gnat and his various families. Not to labor the point unduly, he had no idea that gnats were there at all.

And when the time came when Namouss the Perceptive decided, for what were to him compelling and important reasons, that he would move house again, he reflected that he must do so in accordance with established and hallowed custom. He prepared himself for the formal declaration of his abandonment of the Elephant's Ear.

Thus it was that, the decision finally and irrevocably taken and his words sufficiently rehearsed, Namouss shouted once more down the elephant's ear. He shouted once, and no answer came. He shouted again, and the elephant was still silent. The third time, gathering the whole strength of his voice in his determination to register his urgent yet eloquent words, he cried: "O Elephant! Know that I, the Gnat Perceptive Namouss, propose to leave my hearth and home, to quit my residence in this ear of yours where I have dwelt for so very long. And this is for a sufficient and significant reason which I am prepared to explain to you."

Now finally the words of the gnat came to the hearing of the elephant, and the gnat-cry penetrated. As the elephant pondered the words, Namouss shouted: "What have you to say in answer to my news? What are your feelings about my departure?"

The elephant raised his great head and trumpeted a little. And this trumpeting contained the sense: "Go in peace—for in truth your going is of as much interest and significance to me as was your coming."*

So perhaps such large events as the solstice/full moon/eclipse can lead us to look beyond the machinations of our lives to a larger center of gravity. As we enter the new year we might consider the cosmos as the backdrop, and for a moment allow the impulses of gratitude and wonder to penetrate and permeate our lives like a few drops of potent medicine.

*Excerpted from Idries Shah's Tales of the Dervishes

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