Seek It, And It Recedes; Ignore It, And It Comes To You

shadow

The biographer Ibn Khallikan relates the following anecdote about a man named Abu Amir Orwa Ibn Uzaina, a scholar and poet who died around A.D. 736.  Not much is known of his life except that he was a member of the Iraqi tribe of al-Laith.  It illustrates the importance of not chasing things in life too much.  From personal experience I can attest to this principle’s soundness.  When I was younger, there were times when I would try too much to chase things or control events.

These efforts would leave me exhausted and frustrated.  But I found that when I relaxed and just focused on doing my “due diligence,” then things seemed to go well for me.  The Andalusian poet Mohammad Ibn Idris is quoted has having made the same point in one of his verses, which read as follows:

The favors which you pursue are like your own shadow.

Follow them, and you cannot catch them;

Turn away from them, and they will follow you.[1]

But let us relate the anecdote about Ibn Uzaina.  He once set out from the Hijaz to visit the court of the caliph Hisham Ibn Abd al-Malik in Damascus, Syria.  The caliph as a patron of the arts and a lover of fine things, and was much addicted to poetry.  He asked Ibn Uzaina, “Are you, sir, the author of the following lines?”:

I am not inclined to wastefulness, and I know that He who is my purveyor will come
To my assistance. If I strive to attain his favors, my efforts fatigue me; and if
I abstain from seeking them, I receive them without undergoing any toil.[2]

The poet replied in the affirmative.  The caliph (and caliphs loved to toy with people) said, “Well, I see that you do not practice your own words.  For you have come all the way from the Hijaz to seek favors from me.”

The poet blushed and said, “Yes, commander of the faithful, you have reminded me of those words which I should not have forgotten.”  He left the court and then departed back for the Hijaz the next day.

But the caliph too began to feel uncomfortable.  That night, as he lay in bed, he began to think about the incident.  He said to himself, “That poet is a skilled man and a clever wordsmith.  It is unwise to offend such men who wield the power of the pen.  I might be exposed to his satires.”  The next day he asked about the poet but learned he had already left Damascus.  “Well,” he said to himself, “I will show him that favors can come chasing after him.”

So the caliph had a messenger sent in pursuit of Ibn Uzaina.  This messenger tracked him all the way from Damascus to the Hijaz.  He then came calling at the home of the poet and knocked on his door.  When the poet answered, the messenger presented him with the money.  Ibn Uzaina smiled and said:

See how the caliph has demonstrated the proof of my words.  I toiled for hours on that poem and was called a liar.  But when I remained silent and returned home, favor sought me out.

These are the words of Ibn Uzaina on the wisdom of not chasing frantically after favors.

_____________________________

  1.  Trans. by MacGuckin de Slane, Biog. Dict. I.583 (entry for Sayyida Sukaina).
  2.  Id. (with slight modification by author).

11 thoughts on “Seek It, And It Recedes; Ignore It, And It Comes To You

  1. This is great.

    It’s not being a lazy asshole that does nothing, but to pick an choose what you focus on. If its worth while and you put your dues in, you don’t need any reward. If you ignore it but save face, then it usually has a way of helping.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point. The thrust of the message is not that we should sit on our hands and do nothing. It doesn’t mean that. What it does mean is that AFTER you’ve done the work, you need to know when to leave things alone and just let events play out.

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  2. How do we then draw the line/distinction between when to apply drive and pursue that which we desire with a passion that attracts it to us, and leaving things to chase us?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Therein lies the challenge, brother.
      There is a tension between these two things. On the one hand you need to work very, very hard to perfect your craft and improve yourself. And on the other hand, we need to know when to leave things alone and back off.
      Wisdom is the act of finding the balance between these two poles. Experience, trial and error, and advice from good sources can help us find this balance.

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    • Just a comment on some of your stuff. You and Zuck-sis both interested in classics. But they will bring her nothing in life. As she is a collectivist. Dudes actually integrate it as an individual for self-betterment. Women just want to be the same as others, not excell personally.

      The take back the night crap is an example. “Strong women” of the feminist borg will not even applaud the girl who kicks a rapist in the nuts who is trying to rape her. Or the girl who pulls a magnum from her purse and blows his shit away. Because they have no need or desire for personal strength.

      No, the strong woman for them is the bitch who pressure the collective to look after her. So she can get drunk, lie in a dark alley with her p…. hanging out. And just have people accept her coddled state as normal.

      Women may yet create a standard borg hive where there is no individuality and we are all conformists. Where there is no personal accountability, acheivement etc.

      It is becoming more and more evident that conformity, hive mind, matriarchy, and leftism are one in the same. Yes, there is a place for some of that for civilization. But a true matriarchy is an Orwellian nightmare. Big Brother should be called Big Sis.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Just curious: what do you make of the New Testament encouragement, “Seek and you shall find; ask and it shall be given unto you,” in light of the wisdom you’ve written of here? Are they speaking to different ends or dispelling different crippling mindsets that plague mankind? Or perhaps is an intermediary philosophy suitable – find the aurea mediocritas and avoid the Scylla and Charybdis of both hubristic self-sufficiency and blind pursuit?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think the answer may be that both views are correct in different circumstances. There are times when one must chase; and times when one must sit back and watch events unfold. Sometimes one must act aggressively; and at other times he must adopt a more passive posture. Wisdom lies in knowing when to use one strategy or the other.

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