The Power of Stories, with Saira Shah
Listen to ISF’s latest webinar, in partnership with UNESCO.
This event was recorded before an audience of teenagers from around the world.
How do stories affect the mind?
Safia Shah shares some of Idries Shah’s teaching stories, and Saira speaks to a diverse group of educators, scientists, therapists and writers, each using stories to better understand how we think and to bring about change.
Her guests include:
- Professor Joe Devlin, Experimental Psychologist, University College London
- Lucy Hawking, Children’s Novelist and Science Educator
- Perry Ground, Storyteller of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation
- Dr. Ayesha Ahmad, Senior Lecturer in Global Health, St. George’s University of London
- Robert Twigger, award-winning author and poet
- Stephen Brooks, Psychotherapist
- Tawona Sitholé, UNESCO Artist-in-Residence, University of Glasgow
Join us for this fascinating, lively discussion!
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The Story of Mushkil Gusha | The Idries Shah Podcast
17:11The Story of Mushkil Gusha Once upon a time, not a thousand miles from here, there lived a poor old wood-cutter, who was a widower, and his little daughter. He used to go every day into the mountains to cut firewood which he brought home and tied into bundles. Then he used to have breakfast and walk into the nearest town, where he would sell his wood and rest for a time before returning home. 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.’ ‘Very well, my child,’ said the old man, ‘tomorrow I shall get up much earlier than I usually do. I shall go further into the mountains where there is more wood, and I shall bring back a much larger quantity than usual. I will get home earlier and I will be able to bundle the wood sooner, and I will go into town and sell it so that we can have more money and I shall bring you back all kinds of nice things to eat.’ The next morning the wood-cutter rose before dawn and went into the mountains. He worked very hard cutting wood and trimming it and made it into a huge bundle which he carried on his back to his little house. When he got home, it was still very early. He put his load of wood down, and knocked on the door, saying, ‘Daughter, Daughter, open the door, for I am hungry and thirsty and I need a meal before I go to market.’ But the door was locked. The wood-cutter was so tired that he lay down and was soon fast asleep beside his bundle. The little girl, having forgotten all about their conversation the night before, was fast asleep in bed. When he woke up a few hours later, the sun was high. The wood-cutter knocked at the door again and again and said, ‘Daughter, Daughter, come quickly; I must have a little food and go to market to sell the wood; for it is already much later than my usual time of starting.’ But, having forgotten all about the conversation the night before, the little girl had meanwhile got up, tidied the house, and gone out for a walk. She had locked the door assuming in her forgetfulness that her father was still in the town. So the wood-cutter thought to himself, ‘It is now rather late to go into the town. I will therefore return to the mountains and cut another bundle of wood, which I will bring home, and tomorrow I will take a double load to market.’ All that day the old man toiled in the mountains cutting wood and shaping the branches. When he got home with the wood on his shoulders, it was evening. He put down his burden behind the house, knocked on the door and said, ‘Daughter, Daughter, open the door for I am tired and I have eaten nothing all the day. I have a double bundle of wood which I hope to take to market tomorrow. Tonight I must sleep well so that I will be strong.’ But there was no answer, for the little girl when she came home had felt very sleepy, and had made a meal for herself, and gone to bed. She had been rather worried at first that her father was not at home, but she decided that he must have arranged to stay in the town overnight. Once again the wood-cutter, finding that he could not get into the house, tired, hungry and thirsty, lay down by his bundles of wood and fell fast asleep. He could not keep awake, although he was fearful for what might have happened to the little girl. Now the wood-cutter, because he was so cold and hungry and tired, woke up very, very early the next morning: before it was even light. He sat up, and looked around, but he could not see anything. And then a strange thing happened. The wood-cutter thought he heard a voice saying: ‘Hurry, hurry! Leave your wood and come this way. If you need enough, and you want little enough, you shall have delicious food.’ The wood-cutter stood up and walked in the direction of the voice. And he walked and he walked; but he found nothing. By now he was colder and hungrier and more tired than ever, and he was 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,’ said the wood-cutter. ‘And what is that?’ said the voice. The old man repeated his tale. ‘Very well,’ said the voice. And then the voice told the old wood-cutter to close his eyes and to mount as it were, a step. ‘But I do not see any step,’ said the old man. ‘Never mind, but do as I say,’ said the voice. The old man did as he was told. As soon as he had closed his eyes he found that he was standing up and as he raised his right foot he felt that there was something like a step under it. He started to ascend what seemed to be a staircase. Suddenly the whole flight of steps started to move, very fast, and the voice said, ‘Do not open your eyes until I tell you to do so.’ In a very short time, the voice told the old man to open his eyes. When he did he found that he was in a place which looked rather like a desert, with the sun beating down on him. He was surrounded by masses and masses of pebbles; pebbles of all colours: red, green, blue and white. But he seemed to be alone. He looked all around him, and could not see anyone, but the voice started to speak again. ‘Take up as many of these stones as you can,’ said the voice, ‘Then close your eyes, and walk down the steps once more.’ The wood-cutter did as he was told, and he found himself, when he opened his eyes again at the voice's bidding, standing before the door of his own house. He knocked at the door and his little daughter answered it. She asked him where he had been, and he told her, although she could hardly understand what he was saying, it all sounded so confusing. They went into the house, and the little girl and her father shared the last food which they had, which was a handful of dried dates. When they had finished, the old man thought that he heard the voice speaking to him again, a voice just like the other one which had told him to climb the stairs. The voice said, ‘Although you may not know it yet, you have been saved by Mushkil Gusha. Remember that Mushkil Gusha is always here. Make sure that every Thursday night you eat some dates and give some to any needy person, and tell the story of Mushkil Gusha. Or give a gift in the name of Mushkil Gusha to someone who will help the needy. Make sure that the story of Mushkil Gusha is never, never forgotten. If you do this, and if this is done by those to whom you tell the story, the people who are in real need will always find their way.’ The wood-cutter put all the stones which he had brought back from the desert in a corner of his little house. They looked very much like ordinary stones, and he did not know what to do with them. The next day he took his two enormous bundles of wood to the market, and sold them easily for a high price. When he got home he took his daughter all sort of delicious kinds of food, which she had never tasted before. And when they had eaten it, the old wood-cutter said, ‘Now I am going to tell you the whole story of Mushkil Gusha. Mushkil Gusha is the remover of all difficulties. Our difficulties have been removed through Mushkil Gusha and we must always remember it.’ For nearly a week after that the old man carried on as usual. He went into the mountains, brought back wood, had a meal, took the wood to market and sold it. He always found a buyer without difficulty. Now the next Thursday came, and, as it is the way of men, the wood-cutter forgot to repeat the tale of Mushkil Gusha. Late that evening, in the house of the wood-cutter's neighbours, the fire had gone out. The neighbours had nothing with which to re-light the fire, and they went to the house of the wood-cutter. They said, ‘Neighbour, neighbour, please give us a light from those wonderful lamps of yours which we see shining through the window.’ ‘What lamps?’ said the wood-cutter. ‘Come outside,’ said the neighbours, ‘and see what we mean.’ So the wood-cutter went outside and then he saw, sure enough, all kinds of brilliant lights shining through the window from the inside. He went back to the house, and saw that the light was streaming from the pile of pebbles which he had put in the corner. But the rays of light were cold, and it was not possible to use them to light a fire. So he went out to the neighbours and said, ‘Neighbours, I am sorry, but I have no fire.’ And he banged the door in their faces. They were annoyed and confused, and went back to their house, muttering. They leave our story here. The wood-cutter and his daughter quickly covered up the brilliant lights with every piece of cloth they could find, for fear that anyone would see what a treasure they had. The next morning, when they uncovered the stones, they discovered that they were precious, luminous gems. They took the jewels, one by one, to neighbouring towns, where they sold them for a huge price. Now the wood-cutter decided to build for himself and for his daughter a wonderful palace. They chose a site just opposite the castle of the king of their country. In a very short time a marvellous building had come into being. Now that particular king had a beautiful daughter, and one day when she got up in the morning, she saw a sort of fairy-tale castle just opposite her father's and she was amazed. She asked her servants, ‘Who has built this castle? What right have these people to do such a thing so near to our home?’ The servants went away and made enquiries and they came back and told the story, as far as they could collect it, to the princess. The princess called for the little daughter of the wood-cutter, for she was angry with her, but when the two girls met and talked they soon became fast friends. They started to meet every day and went to swim and play in the stream which had been made for the princess by her father. A few days after they first met, the princess took off a beautiful and valuable necklace and hung it up on a tree just beside the stream. She forgot to take it down when she came out of the water, and when she got home she thought it must have been lost. The princess thought a little and then decided that the daughter of the wood-cutter had stolen her necklace. So she told her father, and he had the wood-cutter arrested; he confiscated the castle and declared forfeit everything that the wood-cutter had. The old man was thrown into prison, and the daughter was put into an orphanage. As it was the custom in that country, after a period of time the wood-cutter was taken from the dungeon and put in the public square, chained to a post, with a sign around his neck. On the sign was written ‘This is what happens to those who steal from Kings.’ At first people gathered around him, and jeered and threw things at him. He was most unhappy. But quite soon, as is the way of men, everyone became used to the sight of the old man sitting there by his post, and took very little notice of him. Sometimes people threw him scraps of food, sometimes they did not. One day he overheard somebody saying that it was Thursday afternoon. Suddenly, the thought came into his mind that it would soon be the evening of Mushkil Gusha, the remover of all difficulties, and that he had forgotten to commemorate him for so many days. No sooner had this thought come into his head, than a charitable man, passing by, threw him a tiny coin. The wood-cutter called out: ‘Generous friend, you have given me money, which is of no use to me. If, however, your kindness could extend to buying one or two dates and coming and sitting and eating them with me, I would be eternally grateful to you.’ The other man went and bought a few dates. And they sat and ate them together. When they had finished, the wood-cutter told the other man the story of Mushkil Gusha. ‘I think you must be mad,’ said the generous man. But he was a kindly person who himself had many difficulties. When he arrived home after this incident, he found that all his problems had disappeared. And that made him start to think a great deal about Mushkil Gusha. But he leaves our story here. The very next morning the princess went back to her bathing-place. As she was about to go into the water, she saw what looked like her necklace down at the bottom of the stream. As she was going to dive in to try to get it back, she happened to sneeze. Her head went up, and she saw that what she had thought was the necklace was only its reflection in the water. It was hanging on the bough of the tree where she had left it such a long time before. Taking the necklace down, the princess ran excitedly to her father and told him what had happened. The King gave orders for the wood-cutter to be released and given a public apology. The little girl was brought back from the orphanage, and everyone lived happily ever after. These are some of the incidents in the story of Mushkil Gusha. It is a very long tale and it is never ended. It has many forms. Some of them are even not called the story of Mushkil Gusha at all, so people do not recognise it. But it is because of Mushkil Gusha that his story, in whatever form, is remembered by somebody, somewhere in the world, day and night, wherever there are people. As his story had always been recited, so it will always continue to be told. Will you repeat the story of Mushkil Gusha on Thursday nights, and help the work of Mushkil Gusha?
321 | Selections from The World of the Sufi | The Idries Shah Podcast
49:31Welcome to the Idries Shah Foundation podcast, practical psychology for today. This weekly podcast features selections from Idries Shah books, as well as original recordings. It has been made available by The Idries Shah Foundation, and is voiced by David Ault. This episode features selections of The World of the Sufi, by Idries Shah. Assembled by Idries Shah, The World of the Sufi is a comprehensive collection of learned essays and papers on the subject of Sufi thought. One of the book’s attractions is the way that it considers central questions and areas of study from different angles. Sufi literature, the use of humour, and Sufi communities in various cultural settings, are some of the many subjects discussed. In addition, experts in their fields comment on areas such as Sufism and Psychiatry, Indian Thought and the Sufis, and Therapy and the Sufi. Among the book's contributors are Idries Shah, Doris Lessing, Peter Brent and Dr. Arthur J. Deikman.
320 | Selections from World Tales | The Idries Shah Podcast
45:38Welcome to the Idries Shah Foundation podcast, practical psychology for today. This weekly podcast features selections from Idries Shah books, as well as original recordings. It has been made available by The Idries Shah Foundation, and is voiced by David Ault. This episode features a selection of World Tales, by Idries Shah. How can it be that the same story is found in Scotland and also in Pre-Columbian America? What can account for the durability and persistence of tales? Was the tale of Aladdin and his wondrous lamp really taken from Wales (where it has been found) to the ancient East and, if so, when and by whom? These questions and more are answered in Idries Shah’s remarkable volume World Tales, which is subtitled, ‘The extraordinary coincidence of stories told in all times, in all places’. In his introduction, Shah remarks, ‘Working for thirty-five years among the written and oral sources of our world heritage in tales, one feels a truly living element in them which is startlingly evident when one isolates the "basic" stories; the ones which tend to have travelled farthest, to have featured in the largest number of classical collections, to have inspired great writers of the past and present.'
319 | Selections from Sufi Thought and Action | The Idries Shah Podcast
28:51Welcome to the Idries Shah Foundation podcast, practical psychology for today. This weekly podcast features selections from Idries Shah books, as well as original recordings. It has been made available by The Idries Shah Foundation, and is voiced by David Ault. This episode features a selection of Sufi Thought and Action, by Idries Shah. Previously published only as separate essays, Sufi Thought and Action – assembled and introduced by Idries Shah – covers an extraordinary diversity of Sufi ideas and activities in many countries and cultures. Included in the volume are papers on Sufi Principles and Learning Methods; Ritual, Initiation and Secrets in Sufi Circles; and Key Concepts in Sufi Understanding. The volume stands as a clear and simple handbook to many facets of Sufi study and thought. Shah’s introduction begins, ‘The object of Sufi spiritual teaching can be expressed as: to help to refine the individual’s consciousness so that it may reach the Radiances of Truth, from which one is cut off by ordinary activities of the world’.
318 | Selections from The Secret Lore of Magic | The Idries Shah Podcast
25:54Welcome to the Idries Shah Foundation podcast, practical psychology for today. This weekly podcast features selections from Idries Shah books, as well as original recordings. It has been made available by The Idries Shah Foundation, and is voiced by David Ault. This episode features selections of The Secret Lore of Magic, by Idries Shah. First published in 1957, The Secret Lore of Magic contains within it a series of major source-books of magical arts. Many of them translated into English for the first time, these works are annotated and fully illustrated. The book’s title in itself signalled the fact that the bulk of material in this bibliographical study had never been published openly before. Together with Oriental Magic which appeared in the preceding year, it provided a complete survey of fundamental magical literature, and thus a comprehensive reference system for psychologists, ethnologists and others interested in the rise and development of human beliefs. Both books also introduced the general reader to dependable information about what was a shadowy and confusing subject.
317 | Selections from Seeker After Truth| The Idries Shah Podcast
21:09Welcome to the Idries Shah Foundation podcast, practical psychology for today. This weekly podcast features selections from Idries Shah books, as well as original recordings. It has been made available by The Idries Shah Foundation, and is voiced by David Ault. This episode features selections of Seeker After Truth, by Idries Shah. A treasure house of teaching materials, assembled in the Sufi manner. Seeker after Truth contains both traditional tales and stories gleaned from contemporary sources, and snippets of table talk, discussions and teachings, letters and lectures by Idries Shah. Taken together, it constitutes a handbook of materials designed to provoke a different kind of thought.
316 | Selections from The Englishman's Handbook | The Idries Shah Podcast
27:01Welcome to the Idries Shah Foundation podcast, practical psychology for today. This weekly podcast features selections from Idries Shah books, as well as original recordings. It has been made available by The Idries Shah Foundation, and is voiced by David Ault. This episode features selections of The Englishman's Handbook, by Idries Shah. The Englishman’s Handbook is the third book in Idries Shah’s best-selling trilogy on why the English are as strange as they are. He examines the ‘baffling phenomena of the British and Britishness’, presenting a manual of handy tips on how to muddle through while visiting English shores. An illuminating and often hilarious read, the book is just as valuable to the British as it is to foreigners. It contains all sorts of extraordinary information on how to confuse foreigners with sheer Englishness, if any do manage to break through the barriers.
315 | Selections from The Natives are Restless | The Idries Shah Podcast
37:28Welcome to the Idries Shah Foundation podcast, practical psychology for today. This weekly podcast features selections from Idries Shah books, as well as original recordings. It has been made available by The Idries Shah Foundation, and is voiced by David Ault. This episode features selections of The Natives are Restless, by Idries Shah. The Natives Are Restless chronicles some of the amazing, amusing, and thought-provoking adventures of the Afghan traveller and writer, Idries Shah, among members of what he calls the ‘English tribe’. It is an enthralling sequel to his bestselling Darkest England, the narrative illustrating his practised eye as an anthropologist. Shah observes how the English see themselves, and contrasts it with how the rest of the world views this eccentric island race. He also speculates on the likely continuing effect of Englishness on the future development of global society, offering unsuspecting parallels between English attitudes and Oriental wisdom.