From My Commonplace Book - 40

from Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran

by Jason Elliot

I had come to a small village on the edge of the desert to follow an unlikely clue. Years before, I had read an enigmatic mention of "a monastery in Persia" where visitors were said to weep spontaneously on entering a particular room. I had often wondered if such a place might really exist, and was skeptical of the universality of the claim. There are no monasteries in Iran, but there are shrines raised to the saints of the Sufi tradition, whose followers dedicated themselves to the life of the spirit.

In one such place, a kindly dervish showed me to the shrine-room of the saint. I could not have guessed that I had found the place until sitting there alone, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. Not with tears of joy or pain, but of feeling in the grip of a presence, a force of unutterable goodness. Others have described a similar experience. Religious persuasion, or lack of it, does not seem to be relevant. All testify to an encounter with an entity of overwhelming benevolence, and a feeling of having been overcome and reduced, momentarily, as if to dust.

Besides Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran, British travel writer and novelist Jason Elliot has written An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan and The Network.

I like his self-effacing introduction at his website:



Hi, L'engle.

Geomagnetic field stimulation of temporal lobes? Let's find out! Except I don't have the energy to spare to sob uncontrollably.

Later: Pardon me, L'engle, I didn't mean to undercut your interest in Sufism. When I studied Islam, Sufism is the branch that appealed to me most.
Just lovely - very high spiritually when lucky to meet unutterable goodness. Must read more of Jason Elliot - he himself sounds delightful. Don't understand about geomagnetics and temporal lobes - is that a new science ?.
Dear Enid,

I'm delighted that you like the excerpt from Jason Elliot's book on Iran. I mean to check to see if the library also has his book on Afghanistan.

Some scientists have stimulated people's brains with magnetic fields to create "religious" feelings and visions. I don't know much about this and don't know if the research is widely accepted.
I was joking Merry - some and we have them here want to reduce the whole of existance to brain structures/waves etc. - I'm sure this piece will be very much enjoyed by those who read of his experiences.

And very best wishes to you Merry.

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