“There must always be a discrepncy between concepts and reality, because the former are static and discontinuous while the latter is dynamic and flowing”
William James

Some Problems of Philosophy

Virtue of a Sacred Space


Following is a story told by Peter Brook to John Heilpern in the final chapters of Conference of the Birds: The Story of Peter Brook in Africa.

“Suppose a child is perfectly normal until he’s five years old. Suddenly he goes deaf. And with his deafness, his powers of speech becomes difficult. The child isn’t the same as someone born deaf. He’s had impressions of hearing. But his hearing and speaking are warped – with all the psychological barriers and confusions that involves. He functions in a diminished capacity for almost all his childhood and early youth. Whereupon a new treatment comes into existence.

With it, his hearing begins to come back a fraction. Other treatments are tried, but the hearing is still slight. And then by some miraculous freak, a totally different form of treatment is discovered. This involves transplanting electrodes into the brain which enable the patient to recover his hearing totally. But only for one hour.

The doctors are concerned. Will it be psychologically kind or unkind to return someone’s hearing for so short a time? The patient might blow his mind. The sense of loss could be too great to bear when the deafness returns again. So the doctors put their dilemma to the patient. Is he prepared to take this treatment knowing he’s going to experience some thing quite real, like a vision, which might take him twenty years or more of further experiments to re-acquire? Even then, there can be no guarantee. But the patient says he wants it.

He takes the treatment. And for an hour he can hear perfectly. Suddenly, he’s aware why he’s been struggling almost all his life to decipher half sounds. He understand why he’s been trying to hear and speak the way he can now. Miraculously, everything is in its place. Misunderstanding and confusion are swept away. The treatment confirms all his deepest hunches and memories. The patient is in a totally changed state. Then his hearing goes again.

He is back where he was. And yet at the same time, all isn’t lost. The direction of his life has been clarified. However uncertain and crude the treatment in the future, he’ll take it with a new awareness. And he’ll bring to it renewed hope and confidence. For a short while, he lived in a more complete sense of reality. He woke to a vision of life. And that is the characteristic and virtue of a sacred place.”

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