The following Sufi story about a locksmith finding his way out of prison is a wonderful ‘illuminated’ message which appears to be an allegory of the spiritual journey.
Firstly, if you feel so inclined, please read it, and consider what it means to you, before reading further about how I interpreted it, in cooperation with a group of aspiring souls in Brighton.
The Story of the Locksmith
Once there lived a metalworker, a locksmith, who was unjustly accused of crimes and was sentenced to a deep, dark prison. After he had been there awhile, his wife who loved him very much went to the King and beseeched him that she might at least give him a prayer rug so he could observe his five prostrations every day.
The King considered that a lawful request, so he let the woman bring her husband a prayer rug. The prisoner was thankful to get the rug from his wife, and every day he faithfully did his prostrations on the rug. Much later, the man escaped from prison, and when people asked him how he got out, he explained that after years of doing his prostrations and praying for deliverance from the prison, he began to see what was right in front of his nose.
One day he suddenly saw that his wife had woven into the prayer rug the pattern of the lock that imprisoned him. Once he realized this and understood that all the information he needed to escape was already in his possession, he began to make friends with his guards. He also persuaded the guards that they all would have a better life if they cooperated and escaped the prison together. They agreed since, although they were guards, they realized that they were in prison, too. They also wished to escape, but they had no means to do so. So the locksmith and his guards decided on the following plan: they would bring him pieces of metal, and he would fashion useful items from them to sell in the marketplace. Together they would amass resources for their escape, and from the strongest piece of metal they could acquire, the locksmith would fashion a key.
One night, when everything had been prepared, the locksmith and his guards unlocked the prison and walked out into the cool night where his beloved wife was waiting for him. He left the prayer rug behind so that any other prisoner who was clever enough to read the pattern of the rug could also make his escape. Thus, the locksmith was reunited with his loving wife, his former guards became his friends, and everyone lived in harmony. Love and skillfulness prevailed.
My interpretation of this Sufi story follows, with the help of a meet-up group in Brighton called ‘Masters of Wisdom’.
The fact that the locksmith was imprisoned for something he didn’t do suggests that, although ‘unjust’ things appear to happen in our lives; the difficulties we face are the tasks set before us to work with – our unique path. We might be born blind, or deformed or an orphan, or born into poverty, or more likely – a combination of less dramatic, but none-the-less equally painful challenges in their own way. Whatever is set before us; is our divine task.
The fact that the locksmith had prayed on the mat for years before he noticed that he had the answer in front of his nose all the time, suggests that we always have the answers to our life challenges within us; we just need to become conscious enough to see them. The answers come, so the story suggests, through the love that we share with others (symbolized by the locksmith’s wife who weaved the key blueprint into the mat), as well as spiritual law (symbolized by the king who allowed the locksmith to have the prayer mat) and consciousness through spiritual disciplines (i.e. daily praying on the prayer mat, which resulted in the locksmith noticed the key pattern).
For me personally, daily meditation has been my prayer mat. It has been the ‘key’ to my life: helping me hugely to handle stress, face my fears, and become effective in a what I do, and putting in place all the positive habits that have improved my life – such as exercise, healthy eating: all of which help me to improve my life instead of burying my head in the sand. Through all these practices I have forged a soulful life with greater inner peace, achievement, creativity, happiness and self-expression out of the struggle and suffering of my days before meditation.
The prison represents the ‘prison of unconsciousness’. I only recently started to understand what unconsciousness means – it simply means ‘unaware’. For an experiment, try looking out the window in a focused way for an hour or two. I tried it and I noticed that there are many things that I did not ‘see’ initially. I suddenly noticed something right in front of my nose, which startled me because it was so obvious but I couldn’t see it before. I had been unconscious of it. It can be quite an eye-opening experiment and can teach us about life…all around us are the answers and support we need, but we need to cultivate conscious awareness and presence to see them.
Regarding unconsciousness within relationships, I have recently realized how two people when arguing are often unaware or unconscious of certain aspects of themselves.
For example repetitive arguments are usually caused by the fact that pieces of the puzzle are missing i.e. a lack of awareness by both parties of some aspect of their behaviour or feelings. Have you ever been in rows with someone who accused you of blowing up out of the blue for no reason? And you couldn’t believe they had the audacity to say that, for you clearly witnessed them being moody towards you before you ‘blew up’? Or have you ever challenged someone on their behaviour but they had no idea what you were talking about? The astonishing fact is that, in all likelihood, they may not even be aware of their behaviour: they were unconscious! Reviewing such arguments can help to piece together the missing pieces of perception or awareness. Certain skills are needed to carry out a successful argument review. Leaving a good amount of time before the review for both people to self-process, using deep listening through the injustice and blame that first comes out initially, and working from a spirit compassion for each other, knowing the ‘perpetrator’ must be in pain or they wouldn’t have wounded the other person. There is always a misperception in both people, to have created the argument.
Similarly can you recall rowing repeatedly with a partner over the same issue, leading to enormous frustration on both sides…yet you could not seem to resolve it? Whilst both people believe they are rowing over an event or an idea, let’s say, for example, about whether alternative ideas are valid: they think they are rowing about ideas, but dig a little deeper, and the true subtext of the row may well be emotional. The underlying issue is usually an OLD WOUND, for example, about not being heard or being belittled, which BOTH people have from childhood. Once the feelings behind the argument are made conscious; seen and understood, a shift in the argument and relationship occurs for good. It is remarkable that, despite the apparently opposite viewpoints of an argument, look within and both people are often experiencing the SAME FEELINGS. Relating is invariably a hall of mirrors! For so many of us, relationships can be the painful external mirror of our internal and often infernal ‘prison of unconsciousness’.
Similarly, astrology has taught me much about unconsciousness in ourselves. I came across Liz Greene’s book ‘Saturn: A New Look at an Old Devil’ when I was 27 and it taught me the nature of my unconscious or shadow side. Saturn shows us the part of our lives where we experience unconsciousness and reflects our unique set of fears, struggles and challenge in our lives. We each have a sign and a house position where Saturn sits in our birth chart, which provides information about our personal unconscious – for example my shadow is in aries in the 8th house. This means that my area of unconsciousness is around a lack of assertiveness and sense of self (aries) – in the areas of life ruled by the 8th house i.e. deep relationships, spirituality, the kundalini, altered states of consciousness. But these days, having worked on these problems consciously, the joy and gifts in these areas, once filled with pain, are emerging. Once we work cooperatively with our fear and pain, we realize how these parts hide a gift, and bring joy, wholeness and completion to our lives. This brings us on to what the guards symbolize.
We decided that the guards represent that which keeps our consciousness in prison i.e. our Saturn as discussed above: our own personal devil or the unique collection of fears, addictions, attitudes and our worst character traits. Our addictions might range from work, cigarettes, food, bad relationships, drugs, alcohol, TV, gambling, shopping. Our fears could be anything from self-doubt, shyness, to a range of phobia’s, whereas our worst character traits could range from all 7 of the 7 deadly sins to being way too nice, and therefore not having good boundaries and honouring ourselves!. So in summary: the guards represent any part of us that is in the darkness. They are usually the painful parts of our lives around which we carry a degree of unconsciousness, but we just don’t know it!
However instead of hating these parts of ourselves, the locksmith story suggests that it is only by befriending the guards, (our problems) that we make our escape. Befriending could mean giving attention to our problems, getting to know ourselves, re-parenting the addictive, damaged parts, not simply judging them and hoping they’ll go away by themselves. By not truly addressing my own part in my relationship patterns, I repeated the same mistakes in my relationships for 30 years. I could not break the unconscious pattern that led me repeatedly into difficult relationships and kept me stuck there. A combination of naivity, programmed behaviours and beliefs around sex, self-worth, unacknowledged feelings and needs all led to me being unable to change my
pattern…until I had befriended enough of my darkness and had enough of the pieces of metal from the guards to bring light to my unconscious and liberate myself.
Equally we need to look at the addictions that we think eases our stress, but which deep down, we know, keep us small and make us very unhappy. For example, I have had a food obsession all my life, and thought about food constantly as a replacement for being able to relate to people happily and get my emotional needs met. Instead I had a relationship with food. As I have worked with my addiction through transforming to a raw food diet plus worked on my relating, shyness, and insecurity around people, my emotions and food addictions have healed and set my spirit freed, and given me the chance of new types of relationships.
We also need to lovingly face our fears. As Carl Jung said it is not by adding more light that we become enlightened, but by bringing the light to the darkness. These parts of ourselves are, in fact, the greatest gifts of our lives.
Indeed it is the guards that bring a piece of metal each to the locksmith, enabling him to fashion the key. This suggests it is our dark side, as symbolized by the guards that hold our power to transform, but it is our task, the centre of the self as symbolized by the locksmith, to fashion the key i.e. to make something of ourselves. Indeed this was the goal of the ancient art of alchemy.
Regarding the ‘cleverness’ and ‘skillfulness’ mentioned at the end of the story, we thought instead that ‘awareness’ and ‘self-development’ might be more appropriate words. We have to become aware of ourselves, and practice the art of self-creation or self-development. Any effort to raise our consciousness through spiritual work or development in any area of life makes a difference to our journey of consciousness. Even if we feel inadequate and think that we could never do or be enough, it is said that, for every 1 step you take towards your higher self, your higher self takes 2 steps towards you. So we can take heart!
The happy ending where the locksmith, his loving wife and the guards all live together in freedom and harmony suggest that the goal is internal harmony between all the parts of ourselves and consequently external harmony. Internally, the locksmith symbolizes the centre of our being; the wife symbolizes our feminine side, feelings and love, and the guards; the transformed parts of ourselves. Externally, the locksmith lives in harmony and freedom with his wife and the community of former guards – happily ever after! The fragmented pieces become one integrated whole at the end.
Afterthought – Meeting the Darkness in the Wider World
In the group, one person suggested unconsciousness links to the famous biblical term ‘forgive them, for they know not what they do’, in other words, they are unconscious of what they do. We all have a personal shadow whereby we do things we may not be aware of, so we need to forgive ourselves and others transgressions. However we do need to see the shadow but there is a difference between seeing and judging. In the bigger picture too, whatever part of society we see as the big bad wolf, we need to be aware of those we judge, for they are unconscious too. For me, the big bad wolf is the elite that perpetrate war and the manipulation of the humanity causing untold suffering. But ultimately we are all one consciousness; the good and the bad, and we cannot resolve the divisions of humanity by standing on one side and judging the other.
Forgive them for they know not what they do.
As the documentary ‘Thrive’ points out – if we love the butterfly, we must not tread on the caterpillar. We are emerging into something entirely new, so we must see the personal and collective darkness, forgive and send our love, and use the power from retrieved from the shadow of unconsciousness to create the world we want to see.