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  • Javier Romano

Diving in the Ocean of Perception (Learning how to Swim)

“Deep in the sea are riches beyond compare.

But if you seek safety, it is on the shore.”

Saadi. Rose Garden

Tomb of the Diver at Paestum

“Nasrudin, ferrying a pedant across a piece of rough water, said something ungrammatical to him. ‘Have you never studied grammar?’ asked the scholar.


‘Then half of your life has been wasted.’

A few minutes later Nasrudin turned to the passenger.

‘Have you ever learned how to swim?’

‘No. Why?’

‘Then all your life is wasted — we are sinking!’”

The game of Quaternity is obviously delimited by the dimensions of the board, the number of squares and the particular arrangement of the pieces in their initial positions. Also by the way the pieces can move, what they can and cannot do according to their assigned function. And finally by the rules of the game, the framework that gives structure and support to the action. But beyond the form, behind this peculiar showcase lies a boundless sea, a vast ocean to be perceived.   

   But you have to go in and dive in, forget yourself and, if you have enough guts, dare to «be the sea», because you cannot exist in that ocean. It's either it or you, there is no place for both in that space. At first you will swim only on the surface, staying afloat at all costs, avoiding going down. With a little more confidence, after some time of experimentation, you might dare to stick your head in and open your eyes to see what's there. And then maybe you will let your body slide down gently and realise that not only is there no danger, but on the contrary, a universe waiting to be discovered.         

   But this immensity can cause more than one fear for those who are not used to swimming. A friend who plays often at this game expressed this idea very eloquently:  

"I think Quaternity has a telling factor in that it immediately brings to light the knots that tie us to the shore; when we see them, we are faced with a choice: justify them and thus tighten them even more or untie them and dive into the depths, where there is no certainty of finding pearls immediately."     

Or in the words of K.S. Perl:                  

“…Yet inside the magnificent ocean are great currents in constant motion, taking those fish who learn to let go on an incredible journey… The knowledge and ocean wisdom that can be gained from these deeper strata are overlooked by the many.”

What incentive or incentives does it take for someone standing on the beach, with their feet barely touching the water, to take the plunge into the sea?                             

There must be a desire to venture into the unknown; an innate thirst to see something new and wonderful; the feeling and certainty of having already seen everything on land (or at least enough to have lost interest in seeing more of the same). And above all there must be no fear, that great immobiliser. Also, the potential swimmer must have heard something about the riches that exist in the deep sea. Something of those ancestral, perhaps epic, tales must have found resonance in his or her deep memory. And that echo, that distant memory may have fuelled a desire to explore and recover something lost.

It may have been motivated by reading sentences like this one: 

“The difference between all evolution up to date and the present need for evolution is that for the past ten thousand years or so we have been given the possibility of a conscious evolution. So essential is this more rarefied evolution that our future depends upon it. It can be called ‘learning how to swim’, in the words of our fable.”      

Or this one:

“...This ‘secret’, the method of effecting the transition, was nothing more or less than the knowledge of maritime skills and their application. The escape needed an instructor, raw materials, people, effort and understanding. Given these, people could learn to swim, and also to build ships.”

Or even this one:

“...This book is about some of the swimmers and builders of ships, and also about some of the others who tried to follow them, with more or less success. The fable is not ended, because there are still people on the island.”

Idries Shah. The Sufis. The Islanders/ The elephant in the dark          

But let us not underestimate - apart from the aforementioned 'fear' factor - the different impediments that the potential swimmer may be facing; real internal obstacles that prevent him/her not only from correctly assessing his/her situation but also his/her real possibilities of projection and development.

—Unfounded prejudices based on ignorance:

“…Most of the fish near to the surface ignore these lower depths of the ocean. They have come to the opinion that nothing of consequence can be found there; or nothing of importance can be learnt there. All the fun and excitement belong to the ocean surface."

K. S. Perl. Own your Truth.

— Assumptions:

“…Here and there a candidate still presented himself to a swimming instructor, to make his bargain. Usually what amounted to a stereotyped conversation took place.                

‘I want to learn to swim.’                                                                                

‘Do you want to make a bargain about it?’                                                    

‘No. I only have to take my ton of cabbage.’                                                   

‘What cabbage?’                                                                                    

‘The food which I will need on the other island.’                                           

‘There is better food there.’                                                                             

‘I don’t know what you mean. I cannot be sure. I must take my cabbage.’              

‘You cannot swim, for one thing, with a ton of cabbage.’                                        

‘Then I cannot go. You call it a load. I call it my essential nutrition.’           

‘Suppose as an allegory, we say not “cabbage”, but “assumptions”, or “destructive ideas”?’

‘I am going to take my cabbage to some instructor who understands my needs.’"

Idries Shah. The Sufis. The Islanders

—Attachment to familiarity:

“…Western readers of this book will all know the story of Hans Christian Andersen, generally called the tale of the Ugly Duckling. The duckling thought that it was ugly; and so it was, seen from the point of view of the ducks. All ended well, because it was discovered that he was a swan. The germ of this story is to be found in Jalaluddin Rumi’s Mathnawi, where a point is stressed which has been lost in the Danish version, aimed at a different audience. Rumi tells his hearers that they are ‘ducks, being brought up by hens’. They have to realise that their destiny is to swim, not to try to be chickens.”

Idries Shah. The Sufis. Miracles and Magic

And perhaps the most difficult obstacle to eradicate is the:                                    

 —Identification with the secondary self:                           

“…Perhaps you do not want to lose your ‘identity’, that illusion that means so much to Western man. You have no identity! You are a faceless wanderer through the corridors of time, with no intrinsic value and no right to progress merely because of the accident of your birth. You earn your place in the sun or forever sit in the shadow of your ‘identity’! Know yourself by dedication, and when you have done that you can and will absorb yourself gladly into the matrix of Truth.”

Rafael Lefort. The Teachers of Gurdjieff.

A balanced combination of two things becomes necessary: on the one hand, the effective elimination of inner limitations and barriers; on the other hand, the continuous nurturing and stimulation of genuine aspiration, that inner flame that pushes us to want to reach higher goals and to better ourselves more and more. And the highest goal that a human being can wish to achieve is to know the true reason for his existence and to harmonise with his essential being.

But what relationship can there be between the practice of this game and the exploration of the perceptive depths? Perhaps we need to take a step back and see - recognise - where we are situated in relation to our own perception. Maybe it needs to take a quantum leap that opens the way to a bigger picture.                                                                                   

Or in other words:                          

“…The coherent, linear thinker has to make a jump of energetic attention to grasp things which lie beyond the reach of his sequentially-operating brain alone. His education has to take a new turn, when he is ready for it.”

 Idries Shah. A Perfumed Scorpion.


The following phrases were said in relation to chess, but how much more can they be applied to Quaternity: 

“…About a thousand years ago, the Persian writer, scholar, and theologian Abul-Qasim ar-Raghib al-Isfahani (who died in 1108) wrote a treatise on the ethics of Shatranj. (Chess)

“In Shatranj, everything depends on the player and the player alone; he needs the passion of the avenger, the energy of the explorer, the determination of the jumper, the readiness of one who is eager.”

   Yuri Averbakh. A History of Chess. From Chaturanga to the Present Day.

   So, friends, if you are still pondering whether to play or not to play, to dive or not to dive, to explore or not to explore, remember the quote by the English poetess Kathleen Raine:      

“Jump, there's nowhere to land...”

And why not also remember the endearing Brazilian song:

🎶 «Quem te ensinou a nadar,

quem te ensinou a nadar,

foi, foi marinheiro,

foi os peixinhos do mar...» 🎶


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