Saki Santorelli: New ways of seeing and understanding

We will continue with Saki´s comments on this tale. It is amazing that when you change your point of view the whole picture is changing.

Please join us in Saki Santorelli and Florence Meleo-Meyer ´s MBSR in Mind-Body Medicine 2.-9.4.2017 for inspiring teachings about the essence of MBSR.

MBSR in Mind-Body Medicine

And here is what Saki says about this old story written by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob (1785–1863) and Willhelm Grimm (1786–1859).  

This tale often draws strong reactions from people who feel that “making a pact with the devil” is not an honorable enterprise.  Yet since the “devil” comes in such an endless variety of packages, I suspect that each of us can identify with having made some sorts of deals with the devil.

But since this story unfolds in mythological time and place, archetypal patterns they exist within each one of us. If we allow for the possibility that all of the characters, objects, and situations in the story are aspects of our own internal architecture rather than an external set of circumstances and personalities to be taken literally, we may find ourselves becoming free enough to discover new ways of seeing and understanding.

In order for this kind of understanding to blossom, our curiosity, our sense of not knowing, and our feeling of place within a larger unfolding universe will have to take center stage.

The Devil’s Sooty Brother

A DISCHARGED SOLDIER HAD nothing to live on and no longer knew what to do with his life. So he went out into the forest, and after walking for a little while, he met a little man who was actually the devil himself.
“What’s the matter?” the little man said to him. “You look so gloomy.”
“I’m hungry and have no money,” said the soldier.
 “If you hire yourself out to me and will be my servant,” the devil said, “you’ll have enough to eat for the rest of your life. But you’ve got to serve me for seven years, and after that you’ll be free. There’s just one other thing I’ve got to tell you: you’re not allowed to wash yourself, comb your hair, trim your beard, cut your nails or hair, or wipe your eyes.”
“If that’s the way it must be, let’s get on with it,” the soldier said, and he went away with the little man, who led him straight to hell and told him what his chores were: he was to tend the fires under the kettles in which the damned souls were sitting, sweep the house clean and carry the dirt out the door, and keep everything in order. However, he was never to peek into the kettles, or things would go badly for him.  “I understand,” said the soldier. “I’ll take good care of everything.”

So the old devil set out again on his travels, and the soldier began his duty. He put fuel on the fires, swept and carried the dirt out the door, and did everything just as he was ordered. When the old devil returned, he checked to see if everything had been done according to his instructions, nodded his approval, and went off again. Now, for the first time, the soldier took a good look around hell.
There were kettles all about, and they were boiling and bubbling with tremendous fires under each one of them. He would have given his life to know what was in them if the devil had not strictly forbidden it. Finally, he could no longer restrain himself: he lifted the lid of the first kettle a little and looked inside, only to see his old sergeant sitting there. “Aha, you crumb!” he said. “Fancy meeting you here! You used to step on me, but now I’ve got you under my foot.” He let the lid drop quickly, stirred the fire, and added fresh wood. After that he moved to the second kettle, lifted the lid a little, and peeked inside. There sat his lieutenant.
“Aha, you crumb!” he said. “Fancy meeting you here. You used to step on me, but now I’ve got you under my foot.” He shut the lid again and added a log to the fire to make it really good and hot for him. Now he wanted to see who was sitting in the third kettle, and it turned out to be his general. “Aha, you crumb! Fancy meeting you here! You used to step on me, but now I’ve got you under my foot.” He got out a bellows and pumped it until the fire of hell was blazing hot under him.

And so it is that he served out his seven years in hell. He never washed, combed himself, trimmed his beard, cut his nails, or wiped his eyes. The seven years passed so quickly that he was convinced that only six months had gone by. When his time was completely up, the devil came and said, “Well, Hans, what’ve you been doing all this time?”
“I’ve tended the fires under the kettles, and I’ve swept and carried the dirt out the door.”
“But you also peeked into the kettles. Well, you’re just lucky that you added more wood to the fire; otherwise you would have forfeited your life. Now your time is up. Do you want to go back home?”
“Yes,” said the soldier. “I’d like to see how my father’s doing at home.”
“All right, if you want to get your proper reward, you must go and fill your knapsack with the dirt you’ve swept up and take it home with you. And you must also go unwashed and uncombed, with long hair on your head and a long beard, with uncut nails, and with bleary eyes. And if anyone asks you where you’re coming from, you’ve got to say, ‘From hell.’ And if anyone asks you who you are, you’re to say, ‘I’m the devil’s sooty brother and my king as well.’”

The soldier said nothing. Indeed, he carried out the devil’s instructions, but he was not at all satisfied with his reward. As soon as he was out in the forest again, he took the knapsack and wanted to shake it out. But when he opened it, he discovered that the dirt had turned into pure gold. “Never in my life would I have imagined that,” said the soldier, who was delighted and went into the city. An innkeeper was standing in front of his inn as Hans approached, and when he caught sight of Hans, the innkeeper was terrified because the soldier looked so dreadful, even more frightening than a scarecrow. He called out to him and asked, “Where are you coming from?”
“From hell.”
“Who are you?”
“The devil’s sooty brother and my king as well.”
The innkeeper did not want to let him inside, but when Hans showed him the gold, he went and unlatched the door himself. Then Hans ordered the best room and insisted on the finest service. He ate and drank his fill but did not wash or comb himself as the devil instructed. Finally, he lay down to sleep, but the innkeeper could not get the knapsack out of his mind. Just the thought of it left him no peace. So he crept into the room during the night and stole it.

When Hans got up the next morning and went to pay the innkeeper before leaving, his knapsack was gone. However, he wasted no words and thought, It’s not your fault that this happened, and he turned around and went straight back to hell, where he complained about his misfortune to the devil and asked for help.

Saki Santorelli

    Picture by Otto Ubbelohde (1907)

“Sit down,” said the devil. “I’m going to wash and comb you, trim your beard, cut your hair and nails, and wash out your eyes.”

When he was finished with the soldier, he gave him a knapsack full of dirt again and said, “Go there and tell the innkeeper to give you back your gold; otherwise I’ll come and fetch him, and he’ll have to tend the fires in your place.”
Hans went back and said to the innkeeper, “You stole my money, and if you don’t give it back, you’ll go to hell in my place and you’ll look just as awful as I did.”
The innkeeper gave him back the money and even more besides. Then he begged him to be quiet about what had happened.

Now Hans was a rich man and set out on his way home. He bought himself a pair of rough linen overalls and wandered here and there playing music, for he had learned that from the devil in hell.

Once he happened to play before an old king in a certain country, and the king was so pleased that he promised Hans his oldest daughter in marriage. However, when she heard that she was to marry a commoner in white overalls, she said, “I’ll go drown myself in the deepest lake before I do that.” So the king gave Hans to his youngest daughter, who was willing to marry him out of love for her father. So the devil’s sooty brother got the king’s daughter, and when the old king died, he got the whole kingdom as well.

From the book Santorelli, Saki, Heal Thy Self: Lessons on Mindfulness in Medicine (pp. 87-94). Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony. Kindle Edition.