Two months ago I attended a wedding in the south of The Netherlands. It was held in a beautiful 18th century castle which was converted into a luxury hotel. The structure was massive and the interior was embellished with frescoed walls and marble. It was mid December and the entire estate was illuminated by Christmas decorations. Add in the bride and groom, a large group of finely dressed guests, and a champagne glass tower and you can imagine quite a magical scene before your eyes. But it was outside the wedding party where I encountered a story of true magic.
A few hours into the dinner, sometime between the main course and dessert, I searched for the restroom, and a waitress pointed me to an area outside the dining hall. I passed through large double sided doors into a silent lobby and left the chatter and clatter of the party behind. As I stepped into the grand space, my attention was caught by a man setting up a small display of what appeared to be silver pendants. The arrangement’s simplicity seemed to taunt the extravagance of the building. An extended gaze revealed that these pendants were not ordinary jewelry. There was something uniform about them: every item was a perfect circle. Intrigued, I approached the stand.
“Can you guess what they are?” the man asked me as I took a closer look. Each pendant was slightly different in size and held beautiful tiny details in an empty space encircled by a ring. What could they possibly be besides unusually beautiful pendants? “Haha, they are coins” he answered, “I cut out the background and only leave the details.”
I was stunned. The workmanship was extraordinary. Each element was so refined it looked as if it was floating within the circular space. I gasped as I noticed each item depicted letters of different languages and traditional symbols. I identified an American Silver Dollar and even the small Israeli Shekel. Amazing.
After telling him where I was from he exclaimed “Ah, your country is one of my favorites for coin hunting. You have the best typography.” He began pointing out many coins with Hebrew letters I had never seen before; some being a few decades old and no longer in use, some were oddly large and were not an official currency. I asked how he found them. “Do you want to hear the story?” he asked. Yes, of course I want to hear the story.
“Over 20 years ago I was traveling throughout Asia and the Middle East. At a certain point, I ran out of money. I was a young man and didn’t want to go back home and find a job just to save up money to travel. Who knew how long that would take?! I just wanted to travel. I wanted to continue seeing new places. Whenever I arrived at a new place, I liked hunting for coins. I loved their details. So one day I simply cut out the background to enhance their presence and began selling the cut coins. As I traveled, I collected coins from different countries, cut them and sold them. I continued traveling like that for quite some time. All it took was time and patience, and I had plenty of that.”
He took one of the coins and held it out to me “Look. The details appear to be floating.” Yes, they really did. Each detail hovered individually in the encircled space as if defying the laws of gravity. “Do you know how I do it?” He asked, “Attention, patience, and love.” It was magic; alchemical magic.
He took out a wooden cigar box and opened it. It contained a small assortment of cutting and drilling tools and a few uncut coins. “This is my studio” he exclaimed, “All I need is in this box; My tools and my future projects. It’s best for mobility. I can work anywhere in the world. So that’s what I did, and from there it just evolved. People loved my coins. 20 years later, I get invited to exhibitions in Europe and Abu Dhabi. I present them next to diamonds and exclusive jewelry all over the world. And I can just continue working as I travel because my studio fits in a backpack. I just made it part of the presentation! Now I have the best job in the world: I destroy money only to sell it back to people for more money. It’s perfect because money is weird! It makes people do stupid things.”
I couldn't help but smile at the irony. But the story didn’t end there. “Recently, I was approached by a Swiss tool company. They wanted to know how to improve their cutting tools and reach maximum precision. I now find myself officially advising this big company. And it’s all so funny, because all I wanted to do was travel. The success was just a side effect.”
We chatted a while longer until my bladder reminded me that I left the party for a reason. Before I tore myself away from the magic, I made sure I took a card and followed him on Instagram, as a modern admirer does. But the enchantment lingered for weeks. The simplicity and poetry of the story struck me. I never thought of success as a side effect; we were always taught that success was a destination.
As I reflected on the magical story during the following weeks, I began to understand. The coin-cutter-man wanted neither a destination nor success. He just wanted to travel for the sake of traveling. He wasn’t trying to get anywhere. He was open to wherever life took him, motivated by innocent curiosity. And by allowing himself to follow it, he remained true to himself. He listened to his soul’s wish. So when a challenge presented itself, his soul presented a solution; an undiscovered inner gift. Only intuition is creative enough to come up with the outlandish idea of cutting money and selling it for profit. And only intuition is brave enough to actually do it.
But there was something even more profound about the story. Material was removed from the coins, yet their value increased. They were no longer sufficient as currency, yet they could buy more. How was that possible?
The coins might have had less material, but they were infused with attention, patience, and love. The Native Americans believe that when a person creates something, a part of their soul is left in their creation. And the empty space within each coin was visibly filled with all of it.
The idea of creating space to enhance our lives is not foreign. We are surrounded by scientists, gurus, and healers who advocate the importance of space in our lives. We are told to remove clutter and create more space in our home, to fast and create more space in our stomach between our meals, to learn how to listen and create more present space in our relationships, to meditate and create more space in between our thoughts, to breath and create more space within our bodies. Not neglectful space of inattention, indifference, and absence. But space filled with attention, patience and love. The difference between the two is the presence of a soul. So the only way to enhance the coin’s beautiful details and allow a soul to enter it was to remove the unnecessary matter from it.
But the understanding that value is found in a carefully created space is not modern. It is ancient and described most clearly in the Tao Te Ching. The way this book came into my life and changed it forever is a whole other story, so, for now, I will just end this one with the very fitting verse Eleven:
Thirty spokes converge upon a single hub;
It is on the hole in the center that
The use of the cart hinges.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Carve fine doors and windows,
But the room is useful in its emptiness.
The value of what is
depends on what is not.
~ Lao Tzu