“In a perfect world, there would be no place for goodness.”
As I begin writing this missive, it is late in the evening. There are only embers left in the stove. As I am about to get up and stoke the fire I realize it is Thursday night, which is the eve of the sabbath in the Islamic tradition. It is also the customary time in Central Asian societies to invoke the name of Mushkil Gusha, which, in Farsi, Pashto, and Urdu means “Remover of Difficulties.”
Mushkil Gusha is the spirit of help from an unknown source, perhaps even from an unseen world. There is a traditional story that itself is a kind of formula for accessing this wellspring of relief. The story begins by introducing the listener to a woodcutter and his daughter and their life of hard work and simple pleasures. The father toils long days cutting and collecting wood, which he then brings to town to sell.
“One day, when he got home very late, the girl said to him: ‘Father, I sometimes wish that we would have some nicer food and more and different kinds of things to eat.'”
We hear the formulation of a wish for a finer kind of sustenance, and the woodcutter proceeds to work longer hours, collecting more wood to fulfill his daughter’s yearning. After an arduous day and night toiling in the forest, he finds himself cold, hungry, exhausted, and lost.
“He had been full of hope, but that did not seem to have helped him. Now he felt sad, and he wanted to cry. But he realized that crying would not help him either, so he lay down and fell asleep.
“Quite soon he woke up again. It was too cold, and he was too hungry to sleep. So he decided to tell himself, as if in a story, everything that had happened to him since his little daughter had first said that she wanted a different kind of food.
“As soon as he had finished his story, he thought he heard another voice, saying, somewhere above him, out of the dawn, ‘Old man, what are you doing sitting there?’
“‘I am telling myself my own story.'”
The protagonist must give up, become hopeless, and then inquire into the root causes of his predicament. Then he recapitulates all that has happened and, in this process, metabolizes his experience. His attention to and interaction with his state opens contact with some form of help from beyond the realm in which personal efforts and volition can have any effect. This is Mushkil Gusha, Remover of Difficulties.
The story conveys a kind of formula by which one can become open to receiving help. The sense of hopelessness or helplessness, in this case, is not a negative or bad thing. It is simply a sign that one has exhausted one’s known resources and has become, in a sense, empty. It is into the vessel of emptiness that something can be received. The source of help is both outside and inside, which is neither here nor there. The help arises from beyond the known and familiar.
We find ourselves asking for help when we are full of desire. It could be a desire to be relieved of suffering, to get something we want, or to change something in the world. We are so full of dissatisfaction and reaction that there is no room for the help of a creative insight or a genuine solution to come in. We are left with the question: Can I become empty and open to a creative solution that will lead beyond the realm of my known joys and suffering?
Each one is a microcosm of the whole body of humanity. The work to be liberated from unnecessary suffering and become available to be helped is the same work of humanity as a whole.
Can we human beings become empty, and as the Hadith states “die before we die” to come into a more truly human and harmonious mode of life on this paradise of earth? Can we let go of our attachment to the old beliefs and models and let a new more harmonious and natural mode of human society emerge?
“Will you repeat the story of Mushkil Gusha on Thursday nights, and help the work of Mushkil Gusha?”