One of the great things about tai chi, is that you meet people from so many different walks of life.

Karen's article below seems at first glance to be something quite out of the tai chi range, yet by the end she has shown how living a life with simplicity can lead to accomplishing the things that really matter... read and enjoy!

No big deal

It was an honour and a privilege to work for the sheikh, to assist in his charity work and to shine a light and help alleviate suffering rather than cursing the darkness. I always remembered the Chinese proverb that it is better to light just one candle than to curse the darkness and the sheikh list hundreds of candles through his sponsorship of medical missions to Sudan.

He was 90 and during the past sixty years he never ceased to provide assistance to his beloved homeland. He set up adult education centres,   sponsored students in overseas universities,  arranged for artists and singers to take part in festivals in Europe. But his greatest joy came from medical convoys. Doctors from Britain, both Sudanese and British, would travel to Khartoum and other areas and provide intensive training courses for the local doctors as well as treating patients. Over 500,000 people benefited from these missions which the sheikh lovingly described as convoys.

When he was in good health he would welcome the convoy participants and there would always be a lavish meal and traditional singers. He observed the work of the doctors and spoke to the patients like a loving father. As his health declined  and he  could no longer go out in the field, he would welcome the convoy leaders and listen attentively as they briefed him about the numerous projects he was sponsoring.

The Sudanese people loved him. He was well known in Khartoum and other areas. The Committee of the Sudanese Working Abroad wanted to pay a tribute to him as his 91st birthday approached. But it would be no ordinary tribute. A presidential honour would be bestowed on the sheikh.

A delegation would travel to Sudan from London and the sheikh would come from Kano in northern Nigeria where he lived most of the time. He left Sudan with his uncle, a traditional teacher of the Quran, for Nigeria at an early age and soon became a successful entrepreneur in the import-export business  and helped set up Islamic banks and financial institutions which shunned the charging of interest.

But as the time for the celebration approached the sheikh was not as enthusiastic as he was when it was  first mentioned to him and I realized from the tone of his voice as he spoke to me on the telephone that he seemed troubled and in pain. He could hardly walk and his long term back  problem was now exacerbated by a severe pain  in the hip. When it was time to book the tickets for the London delegation he said to wait as he was not sure he would be able to travel and in the end he said he would not be able to make the trip.

I was anxious and troubled as he dictated a letter to the Committee thanking them sincerely for the festivities planned in his honour and apologizing that his health would not permit him to be there in person. He informed them  about the representative he would be sending and wished them every success for their sixth conference which  attracted Sudanese ex-pats from all corners of the globe, many of them millionaires.

I informed the London participants that the delegation  had been cancelled. The office phone did not stop ringing. Everyone wanted a piece of the sheikh, to speak to him, to wish him well, to try and persuade him to make the journey. But the old man had not left Kano for three years, he did not attend the board meetings of the bank he founded, he did not attend his grandson’s wedding. He needed to be left in peace.

I turned off my mobile outside the tai chi academy. It was time for training. But how could I train consumed by thoughts of the sheikh. As I entered the academy and looked at the photos of the masters of our tradition I felt a profound sense of peace. It was as if they were saying “no big deal, all is taken care of, just connect with the silence,” -  the silence that is the start and end of every movement, the silence with which we start and end our form. It was a peaceful class.

The next day I went to the house of the sheikh in London. I went there every week with the house keeper and she kept it immaculate. It was how the sheikh liked it, an elegant house with traditional Sudanese crafts, original paintings of rural scenes, shelves packed with religious and philosophical books.

Above all the sheikh liked the garden on the balcony. He would sit there for hours and look at the flowers blooming, especially the roses. And when he prayed he would always open the doors that led to the balcony. It was if he was paying homage to the creator of the flowers  - the architect of the universe.

The sun was shining. It was a pleasant autumn day. I sat on the out door garden furniture. And the sheikh was there, dressed in the traditional immaculate white Sudanese robes with a turban on his head. He was smiling, looking at each flower in turn, He was very happy. Everything was as  it should be. “No big deal,” he said and disappeared as silently as he had come.

Simplicity is the key to truth. There are no big deals. There is a single, simple truth underlying the creation, the silence and peace, the unmanifest which give rise to the manifest.  When we  establish a link with the silence we are in perfect harmony, in perfect peace. This is what tai chi teaches, what the sheikh taught: this was his message about the cycle of life which was beginning again for him. When we realize that the silence, the “no big deal’ is the biggest deal in the universe and beyond we can touch every heart with a message without words, a message of pure love that says all that needs to be said and leaves us in a state of peace profound.

Karen Dabrowska 10.9.2014