Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ The Sands of Time

The first time I had cancer, I was visited by an old friend of Paul’s family, a fine and loveable man who died earlier this year. To the end of his life, he retained his simply expressed but deep sort of wisdom. You could see it in the smile in his eyes. So there was I back then, worrying whether I should be seeking out different sorts of treatment from the one I was being offered. What this friend said in sum was this: ‘Mary, why don’t you allow yourself to be a package that can be looked after and handed along by those who know what to do?’

The second time I had cancer, back in 2010, I received a card with a story enclosed from a storyteller who’d become a good friend some time before during the week-long storytelling course I ran with Shonaleigh for the Festival at the Edge. I came across the card and story again while sorting through papers in my study this week. The story touched an important nerve in my thoughts during this third time of my being treated for cancer.

The story is The Tale of the Sands.  It’s to be found in Tales of the Dervishes by Idries Shah, the author and teacher who devoted his life to key works from the Sufi tradition, conveying and adapting them to the needs of the West. In my own words, The Tale of the Sands says something like this:

The Tale of the Sands:

A little stream ran down through the mountains until it reached the desert. There it found it could no longer continue as it had before. As fast as it tried to cross the desert, its waters disappeared into the sand. But what else could it do? Where else could it go?

At this point, a quiet voice arose from the desert. It said, ‘The wind crosses the desert and so can the stream.’

The stream could not accept this. Surely, the wind was only able to cross the desert because it was able to fly?  The voice attempted to explain that the stream must allow the wind to carry it over.

The stream protested. ‘How could this happen?’ The answer came: ‘By allowing yourself to be absorbed in the wind.’

The stream also found this hard to accept. It did not want to be absorbed, it didn’t want to lose its own individual self. And how could it trust that the wind would ever allow it to regain its own self?

The voice explained. ‘The wind takes up water, carries it over the desert, then lets it fall again as rain which in its turn becomes a river. If you don’t believe this, you’ll become nothing more than a quagmire which is not the same as a stream.’

Again the stream protested until the voice suggested it allow itself to realise which part of itself was the essential part. Then it was that the stream dimly remembered having been held in the arms of a wind before and, remembering this, understood that although this was not the obvious thing, it was the thing to do again.

So the stream allowed its watery self to rise into the welcoming arms of the wind which then bore it away over the desert, up and along till it reached the roof of a mountain far away.  There, the stream felt it understood what had happened. Realising this, it felt it had become aware of its real identity.

At this point the sands whispered to it:  ‘You see, we reach from the riverside all the way to the mountains. We see the same thing happen every day.’ And – says the story in conclusion – that’s why it’s said that how the stream of life is to continue is written in the sands.

What I say:

What I say is that it’s all about accepting and allowing what has to be done to be done.  As if to emphasise this, one of the songs Paul is currently singing is from Kismet called The Sands of Time.

PS: Sand was the obvious theme for my photos this week. But since I don’t have any photos of the desert, they have to be the sands of my Pembrokeshire beaches.

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4 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ The Sands of Time”

  1. Lesley Dowding Says:

    Dear Mary as you sleep I am awake 12,000miles away.Thank you for sharing the Tale of Sands.
    It never sees to amaze me how story heals us in so many ways.I have sat with many special friends taking your journey.Music and story go hand in hand when the journey takes us to challenging places.
    A friend who had throat cancer was a singer and maker of instruments and another close friend, a talented Flamenco guitarist played at his bedside everyday.healing sounds.
    I thought if was closer and able to visit you I would tell you stories or play to you.I am sure you are aware of the closeness of Maori to Wales.We have a link from Maori broadcasting called Puoro – Short Film – Someday Stories‎.Its very beautiful as Puoro are played for healing.I send you healing notes across the sea and from Mabinogi Rhiannon.
    Its little more than a bump in the land ,a footnote in the catalogue of hills, crags and rides…….soon you will see something more brilliant than lightings snazzy gold… you will slip into yesterday without being now.May story hold you
    and know you are surrounded by us across the sea Aroha Lesley

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Dear Lesley, it’s just wonderful to receive such sympathy and fellow-feeling from the other side of the world. I agree: story and music are healing. Yesterday afternoon, after a radiotherapy visit, I listened to some Granados piano music being played on CD by your NZ musician, Richard Mapp. It was bliss. I shall have to find out more about Puoro – very interesting. Thanks for all your support. Mary

  3. Pam Says:

    Thank you Mary for sharing this beautiful tale of acceptance. I will be looking out for the book too.

    All best wishes

  4. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Thanks in return to you, Pam, for your appreciation of last Saturday’s story and your very lovely message. All the best, Mary

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