The twenty-fifth day of the crossing – the chameleon of the desert

I had just finished my prayer. It was still too early. With a cup of coffee in my hand, I sat on the sand to once again be amazed by the caravanner and his hawk. Perched on the thick leather glove the caravanner wore on the left arm, the bird seemed to understand the words he whispered. On his command, it would take off. It would fly high, in long circles, as if there was no haste, until it retracted its wings and dived at a tremendous speed to capture its prey on the ground. Serpents or small rodents were the most common. That time, it brought in its talons a chameleon. Contrary to what many believe, the desert is not devoid of life. Many species coexist on the sand, in an ongoing symbiosis, even though not always visible at first sight. I mentioned that to the caravanner. He said: “What the eyes don’t see does not mean it does not exist.” He paused briefly and added: “And even if the eyes see, it does not mean they understand.” 

The twenty-fourth day of the crossing – the infinite

The sun. The day had started with a circle of fire not too hot, just enough to warm my body as it emerged from behind the dunes. Seated on the sand, away from the hubbub of the caravan, I waited for the caravanner to start the daily morning training of his hawk, a cup of coffee in my hands. But he did not show up. I said my prayer asking for light and protection. Because there was still some time until camp was broken and we continued on our journey for another day, I let myself be enveloped by thoughts. Time. I thought about time. The mystery it represents. If the universe is curvilinear, as quantum physics teaches, shouldn’t time also be seen in a non-linear, even erratic way? Swift, yet slow; treacherous yet friendly; executioner and yet a master; implacable or a delusion; uniform or variable; master or a tool? I have seen time demolish absolute certainties to build other truths; wrongful convictions to be repaired, despite irrefutable evidence. I have seen people remaking their stories over time; wrongly designed projects leading to good outcomes due to their timing and circumstances previously unthought of. Some paths have led me to the edge of a cliff. When I was about to fall, in due time, despite the hazards, wings grew out so that I could fly over the abyss. 

The twenty-third day of the crossing – the truth of the desert

The caravan was a universe in itself. Family, work, friends are some of the tiny universes that co-exist in the lives of everyone, with their particularities, difficulties, pleasures, lessons, and other evolutionary features specific to each person. This is what I was thinking about on that morning. I was seated on the sand, a bit detached from the caravan, with a cup of coffee in my hand. It was dawn. I had just said my prayer and watched the caravanner doing the morning training of his hawk. My thoughts ran free, as I recalled all the events that had occurred during that crossing of the desert, which was a little under halfway. We were on the twenty-third of the forty days the journey would take to reach the oasis, where I intended to talk to a wise dervish, “who knew many secrets between heaven and earth.” I thought not only about the facts that had occurred, which were the source of valuable lessons, but also about the people I had met. Each one of them was unique and had a beauty of their own. It was interesting to notice that some displayed tremendous power, while others revealed their frailties. As an assiduous student of philosophy and with the many metaphysical experiences I had undergone, I believed myself to be quite knowledgeable about the human soul. At this moment, while I was entranced by my thoughts, I had a pleasant surprise. The beautiful woman of lapis-lazuli eyes appeared and sat next to me. She didn’t say a word, only smiled. Excited, I immediately started a conversation, telling her about the observations I had made about people. I told her about those who seemed self-assured and knew their place in the world and those who were lost and had not yet built their personality. 

The twenty-second day of the crossing – the eyes of the desert

There is nothing like the day after the storm for us to appreciate stillness. It was like that on the twenty-second day of the crossing. The hours passed with a delightful lull after a few days of extreme commotion. However, those who believe stillness necessarily means boredom or stagnation are deceived. I had woken up with the early rays of the sun. I packed my gear in my saddlebag rapidly, so I would have time to enjoy some habits that had turned into a morning ritual in the desert. I would make a brief, sincere prayer asking for light and protection, like the caravanner had taught me. Next, I would grab a cup of fresh coffee and move away from camp, to see, from afar, the caravanner train his hawk. It was the time the staff had to break camp, so that we would go for another day of journey towards the desert’s largest oasis, where I intended to meet and talk to a wise dervish “who knew many secrets between heaven and earth.” I was always trying to meet the beautiful woman with lapis-lazuli eyes, but she did not seem to be available to my eyes and had shown to have her own time to show up and to go away, as if vanishing into thin air. That crossing was making me have an altered perception of reality, or, at least, of what I thought was reality. In the desert, all our senses were superlative, because experienced to the extreme of emotions and ideas, as if to stretch them to their limit and then tear them apart, so that they could turn into others, in an ongoing process of fast transmutations.

The twenty-first day of the crossing – the enigma of the desert

I woke up late, still tired from the emotions experienced on the previous day. Even though I had had a deep sleep, my body ached and was crying for a holiday. I rapidly packed my gear in the saddleback, which I placed on the camel. I was lucky to get a cup of coffee when the tent where meals were served was being disassembled. Without delay, the caravan departed for another stretch towards the biggest oasis of the desert, where a wise dervish “who knew many secrets between heaven and earth” lived. Who paired her camel to mine once again was Ingrid, the pretty ginger-hair astronomer, who was travelling to observe a specific constellation that could be seen only from the oasis. Because we had had an argument a few days earlier, we remained silent for the first couple of hours of the ride, like sulking children. At a particular moment, however, the astronomer broke the foul mood by saying, jokingly, that she would trade her camel for a chocolate ice cream. I laughed and replied saying I would trade my camel and Ingrid’s telescopes for a spring mattress, silk bedsheets and a powerful air conditioner for my tent. Amused, we kept on expressing our desires for the next couple of hours. Some were simple, others, not so much. Others were so common in our daily life we took them for granted, without realizing how pleasurable they were. One must lack to understand. What all had in common was the impossibility of having them materialize on the sands of the desert. 

The twentieth day of the crossing – the point of no return

We were halfway through the journey. On that day, everyone in the caravan, particularly the most seasoned travelers, spoke of the “point of no return”. That was a given point in the desert, between the city and the oasis from which, once reached, returning due to an unforeseeable event was no longer possible. It was best to continue, whatever the hardship we had to face. While we continued, I could see a tremendous hubbub among the travelers. They were talking about a legend that involved the point of no return, but I could not hear distinctly the story about that place. The person whose camel was paired to mine on that day was George, a pilgrim like me, who was also traveling to meet the wise dervish, “who knew many secrets between heaven and earth.” George was very nice and talkative. He said he taught at a school of esoterism and had many students. He declared himself to be a master, because he had climbed many steps of the scale of evolution, thanks to the extraordinary knowledge he had acquired over many years devoted to the “mysteries of the world”. He told me of the books he had read, many of which I hadn’t even heard about. Next, he started to demonstrate the keen perception he had, pointing out the emotional, moral and spiritual difficulties each member of the caravan had, just by looking at them. The hours passed. At one point, I had the chance to ask him what he expected from the meeting with the wise dervish. He said he expected to have a serious conversation with the wise man, because, according to George, the philosopher of the oasis once had said that “just like gold and silver, immaterial treasures also get rusty.” That statement, George explained quite self-assuredly, had two conceptual mistakes. The first is that neither gold nor silver rust, as everyone knows; the second is that immaterial achievements never get lost, as the esoteric tradition teaches. His intention was to have a discussion with the wise dervish. He even had a camcorder in his saddlebag, as he intended to film the conversation to use in future lectures and classes, and on social media, where he posted his extensive knowledge. That impressed me, whether because it was unexpected or unkind. I tried to change the subject and told him I had heard there was a legend about the “point of no return”, but that I did not know exactly what it was.  I asked him if he knew it. George told me that, in that morning, he had seen the caravanner tell the legend to some travelers. However, legends were but nonsense from people’s imagination, and the caravanner was but a rustic man of the desert, who knew nothing about the secrets of life outside the narrow, ordinary universe of the caravan. Therefore, he decided not to waste his time with pointless tales. While the professor was talking about this and other subjects, we reached the point of no return. To my surprise, as I believed that was just a fictional point in the middle of the desert, there was an abandoned train marking the spot.

The nineteenth day of the crossing – the desert physician and the master of all days

Because of the conflicts on the previous nights, I woke up late on the nineteenth day of the crossing. Even though it was still early, the sun was higher than usual. People were in motion to break camp with the habitual hubbub. I usually rose early to watch the caravanner train his hawk, but today I saw him returning from the morning drill, the bird perched on the thick leather glove that extended from his left hand to forearm. I packed my gear in the saddlebag and put it on the camel. I managed to get a cup of coffee and observed the final preparations for the continuation of the crossing. When we set in line for departure, it was Ingrid, the pretty astronomer, who came to pair her camel with mine. With our camels paired side by side, I let jealousy take the best of me and asked her if she wouldn’t ride next to the astrologer, as she had done the past couple of days. Without letting herself be involved by my heavy emotions, she said, in a laid-back way, that she had enjoyed talking to him and understand a bit of his trade, even though she did not agree with his line of reasoning. She admitted, however, that there could be in this millennia-old knowledge something that science might explain one day, but she thought it unlikely to happen. She added that she was guided by science.

The eighteenth day of the crossing – the temptation of the desert

It seemed the eighteenth day of the crossing was going to be different, exciting. We were to make a small detour from our course towards the largest oasis in the desert to stop at another one, smaller, so that the caravan could pick up food and water supplies necessary for the continuation of the crossing. It had been scheduled from the beginning. People from many parts of the world lived at that oasis and, as a trading post, it supported itself from the commerce with the caravans that stopped by. At that stretch of the crossing, after many days in the desert, it was always necessary to replace provisions that were depleted. At the oasis one could have alcoholic beverages, forbidden in the caravan, in one of the bars set up in tents, in addition to fine delicacies that delighted one’s taste, impossible to be served in the simple, however healthy, meals prepared by the caravan staff. On that day, since quite early, people had been excited by the prospect. I also overheard conversations of traders, seasoned desert-crossing travelers, who, between whispers and laughs, maliciously talked about the beauty of many women who worked at these bars. Shortly before arriving at the small oasis, the caravanner gathered everyone to warn about the dangers. He said there were reports of unpleasant events, whether from the intake of alcohol or with the local people, particularly traders and women who worked at the bars. He mentioned theft, robberies and even the vanishing of travelers, probably murdered. He added that no one was forbidden to loiter around the oasis, but each one would be accountable for themselves. We said that we could set up camp close and advised that money and documents be left on camp, under the guard of the caravan staff. 

The seventeenth day of the crossing – the night of the desert

On the seventeenth day of the crossing, things were running smoothly. Paired next to my camel rode a young trader who sold cutlery, pots and pans, very useful utensils for people who live at the oasis. He told me that this was his second crossing. Farid was his name. The first time, he was able to sell all the inventory he had brought, which had yielded him a good profit. This time he had invested even more, hoping to multiply the money he had spent. He explained that the hardships of the crossing increased a lot the final cost of the products he traded, regardless of what they were. When he came to know I was not carrying anything in my luggage that I could make money from, and that the purpose of my journey was only to meet with the wise dervish, he said I was a fool. He made the comment that, as precious as could be the wisdom that existed “in the many secrets between heaven and earth”, that would not be enough to pay the cheapest of my bills. I argued that the value of labor was undeniable, not only for survival, but as a tool for both, material and spiritual evolution. Work is a bridge that connects us to the world, in an ongoing exchange of knowledge, of understanding who we are as we face the difficulties presented by people with whom we relate. In work, regardless of what it may be, we always need the other to complete the productive cycle. Through work, we are led to seek different ways to enhance our gifts and go deeper into our purpose in life. This makes us undergo infinite transformations, without which there is no evolution.

The sixteenth day of the crossing – when there is a will, there is a way

It was dawn in the desert. Away from the caravan, seated on the sand with a cup of fresh coffee in my hands, I watched the caravanner training his hawk. Ingrid, the astronomer, approached me. She wanted to know why I moved away from camp every morning and kept watching the flight of the bird. I said I did not know why, but there was something in it that fascinated me. I said perhaps it was the fact that, despite the barrenness of the desert, of the unlikely and the impossible for many, the hawk always returned with a prey. I added that was likely due to the instinct of survival of the bird, of biologic determinism; however, I had the feeling the bird managed to get its food because it believed it would find it. Ingrid said: “Where there is a will, there is a way.” That sentence had a strong impact on me, for the range of interpretations it allowed. I mentioned it to the astronomer. She lifted the sleeve of her shirt and showed me a tattoo on the forearm. She said it was a Viking symbol known as Inguz. It represented this message. In addition, she had also heard this message in Chinese philosophy, and went further to explain that, in fact, it is present in all traditions. I immediately disagreed. Not so much as to the ubiquity of the truth, but to the fact that the will becomes necessarily a way. Ingrid just shrugged. She excused herself because the caravan wouldn’t take long to leave, and she had some packing to do. I saw when the hawk returned to the caravanner with a small rodent held by its talons.

The fifteenth day of the crossing – sailing on no water

Daybreak. Seated on the sand with a cup of fresh coffee in my hand, I watched the caravanner training his hawk. It was fascinating to see that the bird would always return with a prey, despite the aridness of the desert. The keen eyes of the bird could find something where unprepared eyes saw nothing. As soon as the hawk alighted on the thick leather glove the caravanner wore on the left hand and forearm, I stood up to prepare myself for that day’s crossing. While I was putting the saddlebag on the camel, I listened to the small talk of a group of traders who were also in the caravan, on their way to the oasis. One of them, quite young, said he expected soon to be able to buy a nice house in a pleasant district of Marrakesh, and then he could propose to his girlfriend. He added he needed a good place to raise the kids they planned on having together. Another said he hadn’t taken time off for a long time; he was tired and needed to time to rest. However, he could only go on vacation after opening a rug store in the city’s central market, an endeavor he had dreamed about for a long time, to be able to provide their children with a good education at fine schools. A third merchant, an older man who also participated in the conversation, said that despite owning a number of stores, he also hadn’t taken time off for a long time, and when he did, he intended to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca. He was waiting for his son to return from abroad, where he was studying at a university, to take over the family business. He claimed he did not trust anyone else. Once everyone was packed, the caravan got set to leave. Much to my surprise, who aligned her camel to mine was Ingrid, the astronomer with whom I had had a falling-out the previous day. Her being next to me made my heart happy. 

The fourteenth day of the crossing – the wonders of impermanence

When I woke up, there were stars still sparkling in the sky. To the east, the sun discretely announced its coming, coloring a small band of the horizon in a pastel hue. Ingrid, the astronomer who had fallen asleep next to me on the previous day, had her eyes open and was dazzled with the stars. When she realized I was also awake, she told me about her fascination with celestial bodies and with all the mystery that still exists in the universe. I said that the existence of mysteries is inversely proportional to our knowledge. However, I was curious about why she had said that. “Our sky is the sky of the past”, she answered. I said I had not understood. Ingrid explained that the stars are at a tremendous distance of many light-years from us. This means that the stars we were seeing at that moment were no longer there and could even no longer exist. The astronomer said that the stars blow up when their cycle of existence ends, but because of the huge distance, the image of a fact that took place in the space takes years to reach Earth. This means that what my eyes have seen could no longer exist. She randomly pointed to a star and concluded: “That star can be just an illusion, because it is possible it no longer exists. Illusion and reality mix together all the time when we study astronomy.” I said I had a feeling that in life it was just the same; it wasn’t always easy to distinguish illusion from reality. We remained in silence, looking at the stars until the sun rose some more degrees and the camp came to life. After waking up and preparing our gear to leave for another day of the crossing, we went to have breakfast. While I was having a delicious fresh coffee, I noticed that a huge dune that was in front of us the previous evening, when we set up camp, had vanished, swept away by the night wind. I confessed to Ingrid that the instability of things was very discomforting to me. She shrugged, as if saying that it was unavoidable and moved away to take care of some tasks. I reserved the spot next to me for us to ride together, one camel next to the other. I had thoroughly enjoyed talking to her and wanted her company. When, at the time of starting the march, she hadn’t shown up, I started to scan the entire caravan, looking for her. That was when I saw her ready for the march, next to somebody else. Bad feelings immediately took over me.

The thirteenth day of the crossing – relativity in the desert

The thirteenth day of the crossing had been drowsy. Sun, heat, the nauseating sway of the camel dune after dune, on a sea of endless sand. I caught myself thinking that we, the travelers, were so imbued of some routine actions that, if by chance, one was ceased, most of us would miss it. The warm coffee served, the quick stop in the middle of the day for a quick snack, supper in the early evening, the lighting of the lamps that illuminated the camp, the nice tea man, the swift mounting and dismounting of tents, the appearance and disappearance of the enigmatic woman with lapis-lazuli eyes galloping on her black stallion, as if by magic, were some examples. I too had gotten used to watching the caravanner walking away in the morning and in the evening with his hawk perched on the thick leather glove he wore on the left hand up to the forearm to train the bird. I also became used to watching him on these occasions, just before training time, on his knees on the sand, saying his two-word prayer asking for light and protection, which he had taught me a few days earlier. Another habit that had become common was the halting of the caravan at a certain time of the day, so that the travelers could say their prayers according to their religious beliefs. On that day, a pleasant and pretty European lady paired her camel next to mine and soon started a conversation. I told her I was going to meet a wise dervish who “knew many secrets of heaven and earth”. She said her name was Ingrid and that she was an astronomer. She carried in her luggage some telescopes to observe a constellation she had a particular interest in, because of the privileged location of the oasis in the middle of the desert. As I have always been fascinated by the stars, I swamped her with questions she was happy to answer. When the caravan stopped its march for prayer time, she, with no hint of aggressiveness, regretted the waste of time. She added, always very kindly, that she did not understand why humankind still wasted time and energy in this search she considered pointless. She said she was amazed that, despite the advancement of knowledge for centuries, people were still tied to absurd beliefs or yearning for a senseless metaphysical encounter.  

The twelfth day of the crossing – the branding of the desert

It was dawn of the twelfth day of the crossing. I grabbed a cup of coffee and went to be by myself for the morning meditation. I was floating amidst a thousand thoughts when I saw a man who was traveling with the caravan seated alone on the sand. I had already noticed him because he always detached himself from the group. I had never seen him talking to anyone. I decided to approach him. I asked if I could sit next to him and he nodded. I introduced myself and said that I intended to meet with the dervish. He said his name was Farid and he was returning to the oasis, where he was born, after many years to visit relatives. On a day long ago he had departed seeking better work opportunities. He said he had a small stall where he traded grains and spices in Marrakesh’s central market. I made a comment about the excitement I thought he was feeling with this reunion after such a long time. Farid said he wasn’t that excited; in fact, he explained, he was going to see his mother who was quite ill. He confessed he wanted to return only after becoming a rich merchant, so that everyone would admire him. However, he regretted life did not go according to his expectations. He commented his business was not thriving for reasons he did not know, because he is hardworking and honest. That made him sad. I mentioned that I was in advertising, and my agency had helped build many brands over the past few years. Farid said maybe that did not apply to him, because he was just a grain trader. I assured him that the size or the type of business was not important, what matters is the development of a brand that, in addition to identifying him, set him apart from the competition and made him unique. I told him about a motorcycle brand that had added the idea of freedom to its bikes. I also mentioned a mobile phone manufacturer that stated it did not just sell phones, but devices that could change the world. He looked at me with dismay and asked if that was honest. I replied that, depending on the way one saw things, it was possible to develop a brand that fully reflected the qualities of the product being offered. I added that those instances I mentioned only reinforced the power of creativity and the reach a well-developed brand could achieve. I further explained that a brand should incorporate three important concepts in their products: truth, innovation and usefulness.

The ninth day of the crossing – when the soul looks at itself in the mirror

It was dusk on the ninth day of the crossing. That had been a boring day, particularly when compared to the previous ones. The caravanner ordered camp to be set up a little before the usual time we interrupted the journey for the night. I decided to see the barber. It may seem strange, but yes, there was a barber in the caravan. One of the members of the crew brought along in his baggage a small sink and a mirror, and all the necessary paraphernalia, such as razors, scissors, oils and creams. For many years now I have grown a beard and have made a habit of having it trimmed once a week. Because I had not cared for my beard since a few days before our departure, and because of the harsh conditions of the desert, I felt I had neglected myself when I looked at myself in the mirror. The barber was a nice, talkative guy. Because he was a veteran of many crossings, he enhanced his trade with the many stories he would tell as he trimmed beards and gave haircuts. When I sat on the chair and said I had gotten a fright when I saw myself in the mirror and saw how abusive the desert had been with me, he corrected me by saying that the desert was strict, but each one decided on the care they were to take of themselves. He went on to tell a funny story that he claimed was true, that happened many crossings back of a man who freaked out looking at himself in the mirror: he swore the image he saw was not of himself.

I ascribed that fact to the carelessness of that man with himself, combined with some type of psychotic derangement worsened by the harsh conditions of the crossing. The barber shrugged and said the desert always changed the life of people who crossed it. He added he had seen many odd things during crossings and gave up on trying to understand them. Once the job was done, I paid the price he charged quite contented. Supper was ready. I went to eat and forgot the story the barber had told. My attention was drawn to a rich rug trader, whom I had noticed on previous days, and who was travelling with a retinue of employees, always available to fulfill his slightest whims. He had a luxurious tent, lined with fine silk rugs and pillows. From afar, he noticed I was observing the activities around him and motioned me to get closer. I waffled, and he sent one of his employees to invite me to his tent. When I went in, up close, it all seemed even more luxurious. Silver flatware, crystal glasses and a musician who played a soft music with a sting instrument I had never seen. It was impossible not to be impressed. He told me to make myself comfortable and help myself to whatever I wanted. He soon told me about his business and told me about the palace where he lived, in Marrakesh. Next, one of his employees came with all the outfits to trim the trader’s beard. The trader said we should continue our conversation while he had his beard done. The conversation ran smoothly until I asked if the caravanner had the habit of going to that tent. He frowned. The tone of his voice visibly changed when he said the caravanner had never set foot there. His mood became even worse when, after the beard was trimmed almost to the skin by a sharp razor and his face was bathed in oil, I complimented him on the result. I suggested he could ascertain that by looking in a mirror. In a rude way, quite differently from the affable host he had been so far, the trader said he never looked in the mirror while crossing the desert. Next, he said it was time for him to retire to bed. Without understanding his sudden change of mood, I was escorted out by one of the employees. 

Astonished, I was walking away processing what had happened when I saw the caravanner tending to his hawk after the evening training. I approached him and asked some questions about the bird, less out of curiosity and more because I needed to have someone to talk to. It did not take long for me to tell him about what had happened in the tent a little while ago. The caravanner listened to me patiently and, at the end, did not make any comment. I asked him why he had never been to the trader’s tent. His response was simple: “I have never been invited.” Even though that had caught me by surprise, I had no doubt the caravanner was being sincere. He arched his lips in a discreet smile. There was compassion and no resentment. The caravanner excused himself to go to dinner, because soon the food would be taken away. Alone, I sat on the sand and tried to make sense of the strange facts while watching the early stars appear in the sky. 

Then, the beautiful woman with lapis-lazuli eyes came to sit next to me. She offered me a handful of nuts. We did not utter a word for a little while, until I decided to tell her what had happened in the tent of the rich trader and the subsequent conversation I had with the caravanner. I could not be more surprised when she confided: “They are brothers.” My expression could not hide how astonishing that information had been to me; hence, she decided to tell me more: “They became orphans at an early age. They grew up taking care one of the other. They started in the rug trade business still in their teen years, when an old lady who was moving away gave them all the rugs she had, because she could not take them. They sold them all. With the money they earned, they started to run around town looking for used rugs to resell. At some point, they heard about the rug weavers of the oasis who, despite the excellent quality of their products, had difficulties in trade because of the crossing of the desert. With the resolve typical of the youth, they started to travel, to trade with these wonderful weavers. At that time, people did not dare to endure such a journey. As their wealth increased, so did their travels, and their business consolidated. But the caravanner started to become more excited with the mysteries of the desert than the profits of the trade. Little by little, without realizing it, the crossing became not only a part of their trade but an art in itself. Notwithstanding, it all seemed to go well until one day, during one of the crossings, upon finishing grooming the beard of the caravanner – at that time he was still a rug trader – the barber placed him before a mirror, so that he could check the result. It is said he did not recognize the image the mirror reflected.”

“That was the turning point in the life of the caravanner. He gave up the rug business, leaving all to his brother. With the money he had amassed, he decided to set up a caravan of his own. Of course, it wasn’t easy in the beginning, but his willingness to follow his dream and perfect his gift gave him the strength to overcome the hurdles and carry on.” I asked if the trader’s dream was also to become a caravanner, like his brother. The woman explained: “Probably not. Each one is unique, and in this resides the beauty of being. However, there are two basic things the trader must understand. One is that the fact that the caravanner giving up working in the rug trade business does not demean it, nor it is a criticism of his brother, who carries on the trade. Each one with their gift and dream. The second is the money issue, which seems quite obvious to me. Money is a useful, welcome tool, but to cross the desert only to make and amass a fortune as a form of power and domination, pride and vanity, at some point will inevitably cause a void, impossible to be filled with coins.”

“One day, you end up not recognizing your own face in the mirror, because you have become a stranger to yourself. Some decide to face this personal battle; others prefer to run away.” She opened her arms as if being sorry and added: “We can run away from a place, never from the truth.” 

How could he not have recognized his own face? I interrupted her and asked that she went into more detail. The woman obliged: “To look into the mirror and see the nose, the cheeks, the ears, everyone can do it. However, looking into the mirror to find your soul reflected, very few people can. Sometimes, when you are more sensitive and perceptive, you may find your soul abandoned, forgotten of itself. The outer glitter does not illuminate the darkness from the inner light being off.” After a pause, she continued: “It is a painful, but necessary encounter. Humility, sincerity, love and courage are required, in addition to other virtues for the indispensable rescue.” She gazed at me deeply and observed: “At some point in their existence, everyone needs to see their soul before the mirror. Then, they must bring their soul back to life. To refuse this quest is to relinquish the essence of life. No one can do that for anyone. To find one’s own soul is the major art; to free it from the jails of existence, the great work.”

I said that was a beautiful story, with enough material for reflection. However, I did not understand the fact that the brothers had quarreled: “They did not quarrel. Only the trader refuses to have a relationship with the caravanner, but the opposite is not true.” I said that now I understood even less. She did not give up on trying to explain: “This is because they are alike.” I shook my head, as if saying that didn’t make sense. The beautiful woman educated me: “We deny the beauty of what we do not accept. We escape from the truth when it bothers us. To be next to someone, even without saying a word, shows us an entire life that could have been, but was not, and this makes us sad. So, we take refuge in the sense of safety and power from the illusions with which the shadows’ trading post, located at the edge of life, seduces the ego.” She shrugged and said: “Not everyone is ready to start crossing their own inner desert to reach the oasis of the soul.”

I interrupted her once again to say that there was something that did not make sense. If the lifestyle the caravanner chose was so bothersome for the trader, why he stubbornly engaged himself in his brother’s caravan? Of course, he could have joined another caravan. The woman asked me in return: “Why do we fight so much with people we love? Why do we insist in looking for people who pose serious hurdles in our existence? Have you ever thought of that?” She paused waiting for me to reply. As I remained silent, she continued: “For the simple fact that we admire these people, even if subconsciously. We know that, deep down, these are the people who can teach and strengthen us. They have a light in them that is appealing to us and points the hurdles to overcome. In them the almost inaudible voice of our soul echoes, relentlessly showing a way out for the ego, disoriented and fragmented by various pains. It is the chance of escaping from a dark place despite the many glittering ornaments hanged around the time to distract us. Because clarity will rip off the mask of who is hidden in darkness, we complain, belittle, curse.”  

“However, there is nothing more revealing of who we are than our suffering.” 

I cut her off once more to ask if suffering is essential to evolution. Again, she shook her head and explained: “Of course not. Suffering is not necessary, on the contrary. This is what the desert teaches us. We suffer only when we move in a direction opposite to the light.” She looked me in the eyes and seemed to read my thoughts: “Yes, as ludicrous as it may seem, we suffer only because of our choices. The desert is just the desert. The direction to where one goes and the way one steps on the sand define the dunes and the hardships of the crossing.”

“However, it is at this point that the sufferings are important. They make up the map for the rescue, the trail of transformation. These are the footprints of mastery that tell the story of all of us. They narrate the search for life, light, soul, for oneself.”

“Sufferings have their value in showing what we are not, which is the first step to understand who we can be. One should dissect suffering starting from the circumstance that has caused it until understanding its pointlessness. In the origin of suffering lies its resolution. In suffering one finds the required transformation, the origin of virtues, the portal to the Path. In it hides the key of liberation, the prescription for the cure. All within reach of any individual in precise measure of the improvement of their personal choices. However, understanding is required. In turn, for understanding, love is required so that, instead of guilt and stagnation, there is joy in discovery and excitement to continue on the journey.”

We remained silent for a while until the beautiful woman excused herself and left. She said she had things to do. She added that I needed quietness and solitude. Little by little, those ideas found their right place within me. I understood that the rich trader refused to look at himself in the mirror not to run the risk of finding his own soul abandoned, as a beggar of life. Because he was not willing to change, he suffered. Paradoxically, running away from suffering only increased his pain, making the wheel of conflicts spin and granting powers to personal shadows. The mood swings I witnessed in his tent happened whenever something reminded him of what he was not. Irritation and severity are typical symptoms of people who must hide their fragility by being obsessed with pride and vanity. On the other hand, the caravanner was the one who conveyed the image of possible, simple choices, which are necessary but which one is not always willing to face. Denying his brother was the subconscious reaction of ignoring his own soul, his gift and dreams. Refusing the mirror is relinquishing the truth. It is denying the magic made by the crossing of the desert. Or of life. Herein resides the power of transformation and the power of evolution.

At that moment, I had a distinct feeling the woman with lapis-lazuli eyes was looking at me. But it was only two blue stars sparkling in the desert sky.

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

The eight day of the crossing – sand and soul storms

The caravan was to start its eight day of the journey. The camp was waking up. I distanced myself to have a short meditation when I saw the caravanner even further away, with his hawk perched on the thick leather gloves that covered his left hand and forearm. I got distracted waiting for the bird to fly in search of prey, as it normally hunted early and at the end of the day. I thought it odd that the hawk refused to fly. When I noticed the caravanner going back to camp in hurried steps, I realized there was something wrong. Even though I could not hear, I saw him giving commands to the crew. Soon, news broke that a sandstorm was approaching. We were advised to prepare ourselves to leave as quickly as possible, in search of a place where we could face the storm more safely. I had heard stories of entire caravans that had succumbed to violent sandstorms, equivalent to avalanches for mountain climbers. In minutes, everyone was packed and on their camels and horses, in fasting, ready to leave. We marched in complete silence. Anguished eyes patrolled the horizon, looking for any signs. The sky, with its natural intense-blue color of the desert, seemed no different than on previous days. The temperature was beginning to rise as the sun ascended the celestial vault. Nothing seemed to be different but the fear, which amplified the odd quietness of the march on that day. I noticed that the caravanner led us to open ground, away from the dunes that move at the mercy of the wind and could bury us during the storm. At one point, we stopped for a brief rest. The caravanner moved apart and sat on his haunches, in a praying position. Sensing that I had come near, he opened his eyes and gazed at me. I made a signal asking for permission to come closer, and he consented with a motion of his head. I asked if we could pray together. With his chin, he pointed for a place for me to sit, next to him. I confessed I was afraid and asked if he too was afraid. The caravanner answered with composure: “Everyone feels afraid on the verge of something bad. I ask for light and protection. These are the two words of my prayer.”

The seventh day of the crossing – temperance and the power of the soul

We were on the seventh day of the crossing. The caravan made a small detour in its course to supply itself with water from a well built and kept by a small community of Tuaregs; even though Tuaregs are nomadic, they had established themselves on that site for quite some time. They were friendly people who lived off supplying the needs of caravans. In addition to drinking water they extracted from an underground source, they provided victuals and traded camels. The Tuareg women were known for the colorful textiles of their clothes and the delicious date sweet they baked to sell. After filling up my canteen, I tasted that famous delicacy and understood why it was called “the honey of the desert”. I ate it with my eyes closed, so good was the taste. Because I didn’t know when again I would have another chance to eat it, I bought a huge quantity, enough for many days, and put it in the saddlebag of my camel. It didn’t take long for the caravan to resume its journey. On that day, I kept devouring the sweets, one after the other, obsessively and voluptuously. The more I was eating, the thirstier I was feeling, and had to drink more water than I normally did. By early evening, when the caravan set up camp for the night, I was feeling queasy and my canteen was empty. Bloated, I did not feel like eating dinner and moved away, feeling sick. I went to the crew member in charge of provisions and asked him to fill my canteen. He politely refused. He said he had been instructed by the caravanner to supply water only from the second day after stopping at the well, so that everyone felt committed to collaborate with the rational use of water, because of the harsh conditions the environment imposed. I insisted, but the man remained adamant. I moved away and, shortly, my thirst increased exponentially until it became unbearable. Irritation took over me like an effect of the withdrawal syndrome. From afar I saw another traveler, a trader with the experience of many crossings, drinking water. I approached him and asked for a little. I told him what had happened. He looked at me for a few seconds and told me he would sell a canteen. I saw he had many in his saddlebag. Without blinking, I said I would pay. He smiled, but what an odd smile. Then, he said the price. It was high. Very high.

The sixth day of the crossing – the shadow of dissent and the forgotten soul

The caravan was in its sixth day of crossing. The harsh conditions of a journey through the desert cause unavoidable problems regardless of how careful the travelers are, whether due to the inhospitable climate or the lack of a number of facilities to which we are used to in cities. One should pay heed to mood swings, that are as unpredictable as the moving of the dunes according to the wind, as well as physical health, which tends to deteriorate when one least expects it. The caravanner is in charge of the difficult task of leading the caravan, harmoniously balancing firmness and sympathy. Sensitivity is the virtue that allows these other two virtues, and it is put to the test at all times, at different levels of demand. On that day, there was a rumor that we could face a violent sandstorm. Some said it was just hearsay; others stated it was true and claimed as source of information a seasoned member of the caravan, veteran of many crossings. As if the typical unsanitary conditions of the desert weren’t enough, the tension in face of such a hazard had changed the disposition of some of the travelers. Oftentimes, fear is the root of many diseases and conflicts. One of the travelers was assailed by a sudden illness. As we were already in the middle of the day, the caravanner stopped the progression for the travelers to have a brief rest and the sick person to receive assistance.

By chance, it was I who was travelling next to him on that day. Something in him had been bothering me. He was speaking all the time, bragging about himself. When I drew near him, I noticed his breathing was labored and that he was uttering absurd, senseless sentences. I immediately diagnosed the cause of his ailment: fear. Then, I promptly prescribed the remedy: courage. Another man who also came to assist, a Spaniard named Pablo, a pilgrim like me, disagreed. He said that the words voiced by the man were not delirious, but in fact valuable supernatural lessons that should be listened to, for the sake of all. They were, according to him, the spirits of the desert helping us face the danger that was drawing near. I said that it was nonsense, even worse than the delusional words of the sick man. Pablo replied, saying that I should be a little more sensitive and considerate to others. He accused me of being unsympathetic. A serious argument ensued, and thanks to the intervention of other people, it did not escalate to physical fighting. Inflated, each one was taken aside, carrying with them their reasons. I claimed to those who were next to me, my lack of patience with ignorance disguised as wisdom. In turn, my foe argued the same reasons to those next to him. It didn’t take long for the caravanner to approach and reprove: “However great the dangers a caravan is exposed to, whether a sandstorm or a raid by nomadic tribes, nothing is worse than damages caused by uncontrolled egos and dissent. It is easier for one to defend himself when it is external. Evil, if manifested internally, wreaks serious havoc and, therefore, must be cut at its root. So, my sentence is that both of you will pull your camels next to each other, at the end of the caravan, until we stop and set up camp. It will be an opportunity for reflection.” 

Both Pablo and I called that decision senseless. Each one considered himself wronged, because the other was the one at fault. The caravanner listened to our protests without interrupting us. At the end, he defended his judgement: “I don’t care who is right. When two people argue, both can be right. Reason varies in accordance with the level of awareness of a person. Everyone is entitled to their opinion; it is sacred because it leads us to our choices. However, the way to express them showing respect for the differences is an art.” He paused before completing: “This journey faces the hardships inherent to the desert. There are many and they are not easy to face. In order to reach its destination, the caravan must behave as a single body. Otherwise, if its forces are split, one cannot deal with the many external hardships that will certainly come along during the journey. What matters is appeasing relationships in a way that no one loses their identity. Each one with their truths and beliefs; everyone in peace.”

It did not take long for the caravan to resume its journey. Pablo and I walked next to each other, as the caravanner had ordered. At first, we cursed one another. I was deeply annoyed with the Spaniard, and that was reciprocal. He was traveling with some friends, and one of them decided to keep Pablo company on the stretch we were walking. After a while, they started to interpret the visions the ailing man had, and commented on them, ensuring that I heard that this was a situation he had foreseen. In the hours that followed, my irritation escalated to the point of turning into destructive rage. Anger, sorrow, rage or resentment, whatever it is, is devastating. It makes us break everything around us or destroys the best there is within us. Rage, as all other shadows, when erupts in us, is so bad it seems that the best solution is to spread it around the world. When that happens, it means we allow it to germinate and bear fruits, albeit rotten. It is as if we dwell in a dark, bitter forest. All around us is gloomy; the heart dies of starvation. That happens when we allow the shadows the power of turning off our inner light. Then we lose the battle.

By early evening, when the caravan stopped to set camp for the night, I was exhausted. But I was not hungry or sleepy. I sat in a distant corner, looking for quietness and solitude. I saw the caravanner distancing himself with his hawk perched on the thick leather glove he wore on the left arm. I muttered, so that no one would hear, a number of curses. Pablo and his friends were seated in a circle. I could not hear what they were saying, but I could notice that they talked a lot and I had a distinct feeling they were laughing at me. I suspected they were mocking my comments. My anger started to escalate, and I considered the possibility of confronting them. I would not take that crap. As ludicrous as it may seem, it came to my mind the fact that I had a dagger in the camel’s saddlebag. What deterred me from doing something was the idea that the punishment the caravanner would pass would be much worse, if I got involved in another quarrel. The gall of rage was poisoning me, and after a bout of cough, I vomited. Feeling very queasy, I turned to look for my canteen.

Much to my surprise, it was in the hands of the lapis-lazuli eye woman, who was handing it to me. I had not noticed her coming. I thanked her, drank a little water and, remembering the previous days, I mentioned that she seemed to materialize from, and to fade into, thin air. She laughed heartily and said, in a mocking tone, even though I suspect there was more to it between the lines of her words: “I ride the Wind.” She paused and added: “That is the name of my horse”, referring to the spirited black stallion on which she crossed the desert. Then, I spilled out all my feelings recounting the facts that had occurred on that day. She listened to me kindly. At some point of my utterance, filled with complaints, I had the feeling she was listening to me expecting that I also heard myself. I made this comment to the woman. She nodded and explained: “In the course of a conflict, oftentimes we escalate it, whether to receive from others a word of support for our ideas or in the absurd, unconscious possibility of transferring part of the suffering of responsibility that by chance falls on us. This type of speech, when it is vented to the world, ends up being fruitless as it is inappropriate, because no one but us can solve our problems. Even worse, it may enlarge the shadows if support comes from one who nourishes them. However, when we are capable of having the soul listen to the words spoken by the ego, we take the first step to truly understand what is going on. This is why listening to yourself is important. It is the chance of listening to your own voice and the message it carries. Understanding the conflict is understanding the ego, its dysfunctions and senseless desires; it is understanding the shadows that are involved and cause disarray. Then, little by little, the soul lights up to illuminate the choices of the ego, showing new possibilities of thinking and acting, of being and living. A conflict can either be a big problem or serve as a master. The choice is yours, and you must pay heed to it.”

Those words did not cool me down. I said the discourse was nice, but far from reality. I brought to the attention of the woman that Pablo and his friends had ridiculed me. She gazed at me with endless sweetness and spoke, kindly: “It does not matter. Offenses, irony or contempt are weapons of the shadows that a still primitive and dominating ego uses. These arrows will only hit you if your ego vibrates on the same wavelength. An ego that is aligned with the soul will always be out of reach of the world’s arrows. Love will always be your wings and your best shield.”

I asked if she thought the delusions the man had in the morning could have been a message from the spirits of the desert. She shrugged and commented: “I did not listen and frankly I don’t care. If you believe, make use of them; otherwise, rule them out. As simple as that. Each one is accountable for their choices, with or without the help of the spirits. It is worth remembering that there are all sorts of spirits in the desert. You will always be lucky listening to those whose level of awareness and types of feelings match yours. These are the mechanisms that will determine the role of the soul in the education of the ego and its chances of liberation.” I interrupted her to ask what she meant by liberation. The woman clarified: “liberation from suffering. Precisely, the healing of the pain caused by the hatred that corrodes you now and hides from you the beauty of life.”

“Differences of opinion are healthy because they present us, at times, different perspectives of a given situation or show us limits we have crossed. They may point to a different, better way of being or to an obsolete way of living. Listen to the other with respect and patience; under different disguises, people almost always talk about their pains.” She paused briefly and continued: “However, when there is a fight, no one listens to anyone. What is left is a heavy energy surrounding us. It is necessary that ideas be exposed in a clear, composed way, to be duly understood. Then, they will either be accepted or ignored, according to the value one deems they have. When you argued, dissent made the shadows appear to both of you. The shadows, then, convinced each of you that one should prevail over the other, as if dissenting ideas was a war one had to win. This happens whenever we delude ourselves into believing we are bigger and better than the others. Totally uncalled for.” I interrupted her once again to know which shadows she was referring to. She was straightforward: “The most vulgar ones, which are the worst, pride and vanity.” 

I confessed I was feeling bad and did not know how to react. She was thoughtful in her response: “In these cases, when you feel any of the shadows approaching, do not react out of impulse, because it will probably be governing you. Stop, feel and think. Use your heart as a filter. We must know who our advisors are at each moment of our lives. Search in your soul, give it voice. Your soul is pure love and will be always your best advisor, because it will point to your other cheek, the face of light.”

“In such moments, in order to illuminate the facts, it is necessary that the shadows be enveloped by our inner light. When this happens, we prevent dense feelings to spread out and darkness immediately ends. If, by chance, the necessary love is not available at that moment, it is sufficient not to nourish the shadows. They will become weakened out of starvation. A while later, you will be able to transmute the shadows into the light of virtues.” 

“However, in arguing to show that one is bigger and better than the other, you have granted a huge power to the shadows. So big a power that it came to dominate the ideas and emotions of both of you. Where were the humility, sympathy, patience, respect, sensitivity and love? Virtues ended up imprisoned by pride and vanity. Hence, they were prevented from emerging. When that happens, the outcome is much suffering.” She shrugged and added: “The fruits will taste in accordance with the sap the nourishes the tree.”

I said that it was all too complicated. She replied: “Going through a conflict is like going through the desert. Without courage, wisdom and love you will reach nowhere. Courage to face yourself, wisdom to know yourself and love to forgive everyone, including you.” She paused and completed: “The crossing ends only when all hearts are united.”

I drank another sip of water to moisturize my throat, and for a moment I let my thoughts soar over the sands of the desert, as the caravanner’s hawk. When I turned to continue the conversation with the beautiful woman with lapis-lazuli eyes, the scene was repeated once again, which, despite being predictable, still surprised me: she wasn’t there any longer. I laughed alone.

I remained there, thinking about all the words that had been said. Because I had calmed down, little by little each one of them found their proper place. I admitted that, in truth, all it had been was the dispute of two hot-tempered egos. In the fight to decide who was right, we forgot the principal matter, which was to assist the ailing man, whose needs were neglected by Pablo and me. We fought for senseless victory. When the ego is frail, it wants to feel superior to others and ends up imposing its own point of view over the others’, regardless of being right or wrong. On that day, the ludicrous need of pointing out the ignorance, one to the other, made us forget the sick man. Discord made us overlook the worst ignorance of all: love was left aside.

The last sentence the woman said, “the crossing only ends when all hearts are united”, reverberated in my mind. It came to my mind that the word “discord” was formed from the combination of two Latin words. “Dis”means outside, away, distant; “Cor”or “cordis” means heart. Hence, discord is a word that carries the root of many bad deeds, because it emerges when my heart moves away from the heart of somebody else. On an even deeper level, it means to face my own heart. Living outside of one’s heart is not to understand the importance of love; it means the soul is forgotten.

It was dark and the sky was sprinkled with stars. I stood up and walked towards Pablo and his friends. I was received with suspicion. I apologized to Pablo for my lack of humility and thanked him for the lesson he had given me. To be honest, I am not sure if he and all the others understood, at that time, what I meant, but from the silence that ensued, I was sure at some point they would come to understand, either the difficulties I had, or they had. Even if it took some time for them to understand what had happened, this would not take away the power of forgiveness, which can be unilateral. After all, it would not be fair for one to be bound to the will or authority of someone else to be freed from a situation and move on. Then, I addressed the man who felt ill, expressing my apologies. In his case, due to my lack of sympathy. He hugged me tightly, which I interpreted as a sincere sign of forgiveness.

I distanced myself, to quietness and solitude. For quite some time I watched the beauty of the cloak of stars over the desert’s bed of sand. Peace was sealed, inside me and out. A sense of lightness I cannot describe enraptured me. I had the impossible feeling of being seated a foot over the ground. I silently promised myself next time a similar situation occurred, I would strive to act differently and better, preventing dissent to take root. I thanked all those involved for the lessons I had been allowed to learn on that day. The beautiful woman of lapis-lazuli eyes, the caravanner, Pablo and his friends, the sick man, and the spirits of the desert, which, each one in measure with their capabilities and possibilities, pointed a better way for me to follow the Path. I smiled to the stars, I smiled to myself.

The fifth day of the crossing – the soul of the world

The crossing was on its fifth day. The caravan continued its journey towards an oasis where lived a wise dervish, who knew “many secrets of heaven and earth”, with whom I wished to meet. Dozens of people formed the caravan that traveled on the sands of the Sahara, including pilgrims, traders, tourists and crew members. On the morning of that day, quite early, before we broke camp, I saw the caravanner a bit apart from the group, training his falcon. It caught my attention that whenever possible, he would distance himself from the group to tend to the bird. What an odd way to entertain himself, I thought.  I attributed this habit of his to the inescapable cultural differences of different people. I looked for the gorgeous woman with lapis-lazuli eyes, to no avail. Then, my attention was drawn to a man who, whenever the caravan would make a stop, would roll out a nice carpet and put, in small bowls, some fine cookies. In addition, he would serve tea for those who wanted. Interestingly, this man did not hamper the pace of the caravan, as I had previously thought; once a year he would take the journey to meet relatives. He would make this tea ceremony out of pleasure. I was impressed with the great care he devoted to this task. An English merchant who used to travel to trade rugs with the skilled weavers of the oasis, noticing my interest, came closer to me and said: “This is the best tea I have ever had in my life.” I replied that such commendation from an Englishman should not be taken lightly. Then, I continued with a remark that it seemed to me a bit far-fetched to take all that care just to serve tea and cookies in a camp in the desert. The Englishman retorted as if telling a secret: “They claim he is a master.” Immediately, I became quite interested. I approached the man and asked him if I could take a seat; he smiled and gestured with his hand for me to make myself comfortable. He had just finished making an infusion in the teapot, and carefully poured me some tea in a refined porcelain cup and told me to help myself of cookies. I felt like a king. I sincerely complimented him on the tea. It was indeed delicious. He smiled again and said: “It pleases my heart. I like when people say it is like a nectar of the gods.” I confessed it was exactly what I thought when I tasted it. Next, because I was interested in ascertaining if he was indeed a master, I asked if he liked Blavatsky, a well-known Russian writer in the esoteric milieu. He looked at me with simplicity and replied: “I don’t know who that is.” I insisted in knowing his opinion about Krishnamurti, Yogananda, Kardec, Gibran, among some others. He repeated the answers by shaking his head in negative. Despondent, I asked him what kind of books he enjoyed reading. The man, whose name I later came to know was Kalil, told me with humility: “I don’t know how to read.” And explained: “I was raised in a refugee camp. There were no schools there.” Then, he added with extreme pride: “I learned how to make tea.” Disappointed, I outlined a smile as if saying that I understood the situation. I emptied the cup, complimented him on the tea once again and when I was about to leave, he made a point in explaining: “The tea you just had was made from a flower that is very common in the desert, but rare in cities. It should be placed in infusion fresh, for no more than 3 minutes, or its flavor is altered.  I was lucky to have found a small bunch yesterday.” I said it was indeed a delicacy and thanked him. As I was not interested in knowing more about teas, I left.

The fourth day of the crossing – darkness is the wick of light

It was still the fourth day of the crossing, and there has been more activity than I could have anticipated. All that I wanted was a bit of quietness to think about life while we crossed the seemingly endless desert. Contrary to what I had imagined, there is no boredom when you are in a caravan. The desert is a peculiar universe that pulsates as a living body, undergoes constant changes from the wind hitting the sand, day and night are strongly contrasted, and it is home to a countless variety of beings. Migratory birds and birds of prey, small rodents, reptiles like lizards and serpents, in addition to small invertebrates, some quite dangerous, like spiders and scorpions. I had also heard about the existence of felines, but it seemed to me it was more of a legend; I doubted this species existed in such an inhospitable region. That day had been sluggish, much to my liking. I alternated my time between reflection, while observing the landscape, the many pictures I took to memorialize the journey, and the reading of a book, which I have gotten used to do without getting sick, despite the swaying of the camel. I wanted to be prepared for the meeting with the wise dervish who knew “many secrets from heaven and earth”, who lived at the oasis. The caravanner led the convoy, riding his horse. For a few hours every day he enjoyed trotting on his horse carrying his falcon perched on the thick, long-sleeve leather glove he wore on the left arm. On that day I had not seen the gorgeous woman with lapis lazuli colored eyes. 

The third day of the crossing – the quandary between the word given an the truth

I woke up on the morning of the third day of the crossing with my body still sore from the events of the previous day. The sky was already clear, even though the sun was yet to reach the line of the horizon at the end of the apparently endless sea of sand. The movement to break camp was intense. Everybody was packing their things to move on, towards the Sahara’s largest oasis. The purpose of my journey was to meet a wise dervish, who possessed a tremendous body of knowledge of many secrets “of heaven and earth”, who lived there. Members of the caravan included traders, pilgrims and tourists, all riding camels. The security crew rode horses, strong Arabian thoroughbreds, which were more agile, as did the caravanner and the enigmatic lapis-lazuli woman, whom I had not seen that morning. I also noticed that few other people also rode horses. Because I had not gotten used to the swaying of the camel on the desert sand, which made me queasy, as soon as the caravanner got close, I asked him about the privilege granted to these people who traveled “first class”. I argued that everyone should be treated the same, in face of the inhospitable conditions of the crossing. I said that since that was not the case, I also would like a horse to ride. The caravanner fixed his gaze on me and said: “Everyone is treated fairly and receives a camel for the crossing. However, some brought or bought their own horses. There is nothing wrong with that.” Next, he warned me: “Each one should watch their own selves.” He paused and added: “Everyone is free to act as they wish, as long as they do not disrupt the harmony of the caravan.” 

The second day of the crossing – pain teaches nothing

The caravan moved towards the largest oasis of the Sahara Desert. My intention was to meet a wise dervish, holder of “many secrets of heaven and earth”We were on the second day of the journey, and I was still getting used to the swaying of the camel, which made me a bit sick. I tried to distract myself with the landscape, but it did not help. Huge dunes seemed to duplicate themselves, giving an impression we were moving in circles. The gorgeous woman with lapis-lazuli eyes, who had allowed me to take part in the journey on the previous day, had disappeared. The caravanner, riding his bright white Arabian horse reviewed the caravan; from time to time he shouted orders in a language I did not understand. I was still under the impact of the events of the previous day, and limited myself to following along with the other participants, afraid of doing something that could jeopardize my meeting with the dervish. Despite the intense heat, our bodies were completely covered with clothes to prevent sunburn and dehydration, which could cause death. At some point, an order was given for the caravan to make a brief stop, so that people could have a light meal. Some people took the time to say their daily prayers as prescribed by their religion. Dismounted from the camel, I walked around aimlessly until I found the caravanner, a bit apart and alone, with his hawk perched on the thick leather arm-length glove he wore on his left hand.

The first day of the crossing – when less is more

This was the first day of the journey. I was in a small city at the edge of the Sahara Desert. My intention was to join a caravan that was to leave for an oasis where a wise dervish lived. In the esoteric milieu he was a well-respected sorcerer, believed to have a tremendous body of knowledge of many secrets “of heaven and earth”. I was still in my early steps on the Path, and had been deeply impressed with the stories I had heard about him. This caravan was the only way to reach the oasis and, therefore, to the wise man. It left twice a year, but the dates were uncertain, and the crossing lasted 40 days. I went into an inn that I was told was the meeting point. It was an odd place; not only did it sell food and beverages, there one could also buy anything one would need to survive for many days under the sun, among dunes. My entrance in the place remained unnoticed by all. As the information I had was vague, I went to ask the man who was serving at the counter about the caravan. He looked at me for a few seconds, as if doubting my ability to complete the endeavor I intended to embark on, and with his chin, without saying a word, he pointed to one of the windows. Beyond the dusty glass I saw the blue sky and the yellowish-beige sand that extended endlessly. I fixed my gaze and, from afar, I could see an imposing figure, wearing the typical garb of the people of the desert; he had a hawk perched on his gloved arm. With my sunglasses on because of the light, and holding my panama hat on my head, so that the wind would not blow it away, I clumsily walked over to the designated person. During that short walk, I saw the bird making wonderful circular low passes until it returned, placing its claws on the thick leather glove of his master. I asked the man if he was the one with whom I would have to make arrangements to join the caravan. He simply nodded his head in response. I told him my intention to join the caravan was to meet the wise dervish. I had to know the date of departure and the cost to be a member of caravan. He looked me deep in the eyes and said: “Crossing the desert is dangerous. I cannot make sure each and every member will reach the destination.” 

The law of progress

I was seated on the veranda of the monastery gazing at the beautiful mountains that harbor it when the Old Man, as we affectionately call the oldest monk of the Order, approached. Always with a youthful demeanor despite his advanced age, he had in his hands two cups of fresh coffee which he placed on the coffee table next to me. He sat in a comfortable armchair and asked me, teasingly, to share my thoughts with him. I thanked him for the coffee and told him I was questioning the sacred texts for saying we are made in the image and likeness of God. However, while God is perfect, we still struggle at the first stages of learning. I argued that if the origin of all evil in the world is the prevalence of personal shadows over virtuous choices each one has to make, it would have been more sensible if we were all born perfect, like God, thus avoiding all tragedies and sufferings caused by humankind against itself. Therefore, either the Maker had been mistaken when he designed the creature, or the sacred texts had erred gravely.

The guardian and the master

The lecture that the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, had delivered at a well-known university addressed the need of balancing self and soul. He used a figure of speech Teresa of Avila had used, comparing the core of a person to a castle with many rooms. Each room is the dwelling of a feeling or an idea. Some are dense and heavy, others, light and subtle. At the entry gate, directly in contact with the world, is the self. In the throne room in the castle, where primary decisions are made, lives the soul. The smooth operation of the castle will depend on the harmony and relationship of its residents. Even though this is not a new idea, it is not well-known, and for centuries was spread only among monasteries and esoteric brotherhoods. At the end of the lecture, there were many questions and doubts that should prompt further reflection by the audience. This was the intent of the good monk. When we were to leave, he asked about statistics professor Carl Bacon, a colleague of his at the British University where he studied Economics, and with whom he had developed a close friendship. He was told that professor Bacon was on sick leave due to a strong depression, that he had given up his chair and that it was unlikely he would come back to teach. The Old Man became concerned and wanted to know where professor Bacon could be found. He was told that he seldom left his home except to wander around the woods at the university, alone. They also said it should not be difficult to find him.

The shoemaker, the businessman and the irony

I was walking on the narrow and winding streets of the small village located at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery, not sure if I would find the shop of Loureiro, the shoemaker who loves books and wines still open, for some fresh coffee and good conversation. Loureiro is known for sowing leather as a trade and ideas as an art, and his shop is legendary in the area for its unusual, uncertain hours of operation. So, I was pleased when I turned the corner and saw his vintage bicycle, the only means of transportation he used to commute within the city, leaning against the light pole in front of the shop. At this point, a shiny Mercedes-Benz stopped at the entrance of the shop. The driver got out of the car to open the back door, and it seemed to me it was Loureiro the passenger at the back seat. I thought it odd. Only when I got closer, my near-sighted eyes realized it was not him, but someone who looked very much like him. When I entered the store, the situation became clear. It was Loureiro’s brother; even though they looked pretty much alike, they were not twins. The cobbler introduced us. His brother’s name was Sergei, and he was two years younger. He was as polite and educated as Loureiro, but these were their only similarities. They had different types of elegance, different interests, and opposing looks on life. Sergei did not have the natural, easy smile of the cobbler. Very serious, he made a point of saying he did not have much time because he was a very busy businessman. He owned a big fabric plant in an industrial area some hours away from the village, so he had only a few minutes to enjoy the company of his brother. Loureiro went to make a fresh pot of coffee while we sat at the counter. I asked Sergei what had brought him to our village. The businessman said he had come to take a customer of his, a lady who owned a large retail chain that marketed much of his production, to meet the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order. He had just come from the monastery, uphill. The client went back to her home in her own car, so he decided to stop by his brother’s to say hello and would go to his factory shortly. I asked him how his meeting with the Old Man went. He explained that they had arrived without warning. The monk was busy delivering a lecture at the monastery and had asked them to come back on the following day, when he could see them. I asked if they had arranged for the meeting, and Sergei said they did not. I suggested he spend the night, so that we could have supper together. I added that the village, despite being small, was known for its excellent restaurants, a couple of them internationally acclaimed. I added that I would go up to the monastery early in the morning, and that we could go together. He said he was sorry, but he did not have time. His business had a dynamic of its own; he was a very busy entrepreneur with an agenda filled with meetings and engagements. He complained of the financial and professional losses that trip had caused him, because there was some business he did not close and he would have to deal with the disappointment of his best client, who did not meet with the Old Man as he, Sergei, had promised. He had believed the friendship between his brother and the monk would facilitate the meeting. Next, he made an ironic remark, that the Old Man “was busy, training to replace God.”

The light of the world and a slice of orange cake

Break of day. I was in the quiet station of the small and charming village at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery waiting for the train. The Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, and I were on our way to a boisterous city where a well-known university was located. He receives numerous invitations to deliver lectures in schools, corporations and community centers, and would always accept them. If he was not available on the proposed date due to a previous engagement, he would do whatever it took to find a suitable date. Our train would take a while to arrive, so we went to the cafeteria of the station for some fresh coffee and a slice of orange and ginger cake baked by the kind owner of the place. Seated at our table with two steaming cups before us, I asked the Old Man if he resented not having much time to rest. The monk sipped his coffee and said: “Resting is very important, as is having time to devote to myself and to ‘clean up the house’”. He smiled and added: “To ‘clean oneself up’ from time to time is very important, so that one can sweep away the dust of dense feelings, fix up broken emotions, change an outdated decor of ideas that no longer embellish life, open the ‘windows’ for fresh air and the sun to come in. My ‘home’ is my place of observation and interaction with the world.” He sipped some more coffee and continued: “Likewise, it is also very important for one to have some fun and entertainment. Art, in whatever form, that helps us see beyond the limits drawn by conditionings and the routine of everyday life; meeting family and friends for good conversation and, particularly, laughing a lot, all of this is capable of nourishing the soul.” He looked me in the eyes and completed: “However, only when I serve, do I feel the power of the universe differently. When I share the best in me, I comfort someone’s heart, I help someone to crack a smile or I manage, with a word, to illuminate the darkness of the dungeons of the soul, it is as if the hands of stars held mine, and my entire being burned in fire, so strong is the light that pervades me. That is the ultimate feeling of sacredness.”

The world’s finest magician

Those were slow days. I had been depressed in that period I was at the monastery for my studies. I could not focus on my readings or meditations. The lectures and discussions bore me out of my mind. The physical activities, like yoga or hiking in the mountains didn’t appeal to me either. To those who asked me about my listless gaze, I said I was no longer delusional about humankind. I claimed that the clouds of vanity, envy, greed, lies and fear had kept the world always under their shadows. Until I found the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, comfortably seated in an armchair on the veranda of the monastery, entertained with a book. I offered to go to the mess hall to fetch him a cup of coffee, which he accepted with a beautiful smile. When I placed the cup on the side table next to him, the monk invited me to sit in the other armchair. Without his asking, as soon as I sat, I started to vent an avalanche of regrets about the uselessness of life. I told him I saw no reason to live and that, perhaps, those who were constantly looking for pleasure were right. The Old Man shrugged and said: “It depends on your understanding of what pleasure is.”

He closed the book and continued: “One must establish a sense for the journey. Otherwise, no scenario will bring wonder to your eyes. You will find beauty in nothing or no one. Accordingly, you will have nothing of good to offer, because of the void in yourself. Then, it will all seem boring, sad, abandoned, including you. There should always be flowers and fruits to share in our sacred basket, the heart.”

I replied with the ancient justification that I knew many people who, despite having stolen or accepted kick-backs, enjoyed the best of life, whereas others, who led their lives in accordance with proclaimed moral values, underwent tremendous hardships. I told him I was convinced life was not fair, because not always those who do good are rewarded with the sweetness of existence. I said this was an indisputable fact. The way the Old Man looked at me I will never forget; it was a mix sympathy and kindness. Next, he recited a small excerpt of the Sermon on the Mount that, for centuries has been mistakenly interpreted by those who do not see the large picture, and stick to the shallow, literal interpretation of the letters: “‘If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.’”. Scared, I questioned the absurdity of the suggestion of self-mutilation. The monk laughed heartily, shook his head as if saying ‘you got things wrong’ and was patient to explain: “One must teach the eyes how to see, so that we do not miss what is essential in life, the precious face of all things always in the depth of being, away from the appearances of existence. The choice between glitter or light defines the pleasure, the sense and dimension of life.”

I asked him to go further in his explanation. The Old Man was didactic: “On the surface, there is pure glitter for the self’s short-sighted eyes, which cannot see beyond the primary, immediate sensations; the glitter is the shadow’s favorite costume. On the other hand, deep down, is the enchantment of existence for those who seek light through a refined gaze of the soul when it encounters itself, with noble feelings and ideas, in discovering valuable virtues, because only then can they warmly embrace life. Deciding how our eyes will look at the world defines the world that we want to see, the course that we will follow and the flavor of experiences each one wants and will have for themselves.” He made a brief pause and added: “All the rest is consequence. Disappointment or enchantment for life? It all depends on the eyes of each one.”

“In general, all people, whether they are consciously aware of it or not, search for the five stages of self’s plenitude: happiness, peace, freedom, love and dignity. Where to find them defines the course of the trip through the road of darkness or the path of light. Those who commit crimes, steal or swindle deep down believe that the fruits of such actions will provide them with a better life. This is a mistake, albeit an honest one, because the effects are always related to the causes. Relentlessly. Even though, many a time, they live in mansions or sail in luxurious yachts, they will end up assailed by the storms caused by the shadows, such as anger, depression, fear, lack of honest love, among other silent darknesses of existence. Others who still favor glitter, but perhaps not to such a gloomy stage of darkness, believe plenitude lies in victory over other people, in flaunting luxury, in empty fame and easy applause. Their choices favor what the eyes can see on the surface, in the appearance, far from the honey of essence, abandoned in the core of being. They are delusional by searching for what they will find only within themselves. The most powerful shadow, above all the others, is ignorance.” 

“When we don’t know who we are, we wander around, lost, and give up all our power and magic.”

I interrupted him to ask if he was referring to tricks. I added that since I was a young boy, I loved tricks. The Old Man explained that this was not exactly what he meant, but he would use it as a metaphor to underscore the differences: “We cannot mistake trickery with magic. Trickery is glitter, illusion and shadows. Magic is light, transformation and evolution. One of the shadows’ finest tricks is illusion through appearances. As any good illusionist, the secret of their success is deceiving the eyes of the audience. Often, distraction is the tool used to divert the gaze of the audience from what really matters. It is when the switch that leads us to be deceived takes place. The difference is that when we go to a show, we know the rules beforehand, and are aware that tricks and deceit are to be expected. In life, until we realize we are much more than mere viewers, that we are, in fact, leading characters on the stage of existence, we will be entertained by the tricks, without fully enjoying plenitude, which is hidden within the infinite process of inner transformations that are gradually revealed.”

“There has never been a more sophisticated magician than the shadows, to the point that many even deny their existence. For these people, any top hat is a hiding place of rabbits. The ignorance of the audience about the tricks has sustained the success of magicians over time. Vanity, pride, blame, escape from reality, disbelief, discouragement are some of the tools of the trade. Fear is the illusion with which the shadows, playing the role of a skilled illusionist, engage the audience so that they, without realizing it, come to believe that valuable plenitude can and should be traded for a passing wish that has emerged from the handling of the deck with the many cards of selfishness.” 

“In the show of shadows, money is no longer a precious tool that serves to change reality on the physical plane to become the representation of victory; professional success is stepping on others, rather than self enhancement and outdoing. Love is exhausted in the belief of one’s control and domination over others, for having others obligated to you. Freedom is mistaken with the facility of visiting different countries during vacation; dignity is lost in gaps of the discourse and fades out due to lack of exercise. Many are deluded that peace is achieved with actions by public order agents, and happiness awaits in bustling parties, without realizing that bustle not always ensures happiness.”

“Elegance is not translated in fancy clothes, circumspection is not a sign of dignity; wandering around does not mean freedom. Wealth is quite different from prosperity. Love is not a trade or a prison; peace is an inner achievement. Happiness may be endless, and not just drops of dew in the night of existence.” 

We spent some time without saying a word. I broke the silence to ask him if he thought the world was a good place to live. The Old Man said composedly: “We live in perfect synch with our level of awareness and loving capacity. The world is according to one’s preferences for their personal life. Each one is stuck with the consequences of their own choices. An anticipated show of illusionism and glitter or daily ceremony of transformation and light? Trickery or magic are defined by the ability of the eyes to see. When all seems gray, chaotic, empty, this may seem a good time to “take the eyes out” and have a new gaze. Good eyes excite, enchant the heart, and allow an enhanced view of life. Depending on the eyes, an existential storm will cause destruction and sadness. Then, there is yearning for another trick of illusion. However, the destruction of self and of the reality around you can be taken as a not-to-be-missed opportunity of deep, infinite transformation through an endless ritual to find light beyond the glitter of fireworks provided by the illusionist of shadows.” 

He looked me in the eyes and added: “Only then can we have a true love affair with life and the world.”

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

The royalty of the word

The train had arrived quite early at the station of the small and charming village located at the foot of the hill that houses the monastery. Because my ride to the headquarters of the Order was in the early evening, I decided to take a chance and drop by the shop of Loureiro, the shoemaker who loved books and wines; he was known for his unique skills in sewing leather and ideas, the shop, for its unusual hours of operation. On that day, his shop was closed, even though the local shops were open for business. The newsstand guy told me my friend had worked all night through and left the shop at dawn. I decided to go to a cafeteria for some fresh coffee and a sandwich grilled with the good local cheese. I bought a newspaper to keep me company. While I walked on the narrow and winding cobblestone streets, typical of the village, I looked at the headlines and read that a well-known queen of a European country passed away. Even though hers was just a protocolary position and she had no actual power, the news reported a major event. The burial would take place with the required pomp.

Whats is sacred

What is sacred

Starry Song, the shaman with the gift of spreading the wisdom of his people through the word, in chant or otherwise, puffed his unmistakable red-rock bowl pipe while we, from the porch of his house, silently watched the colors with which the setting sun painted Arizona’s mountains and sky. In the living room, Starry Song kept a small altar. Differently from my Christian tradition, in which I keep images of Jesus, Our Lady of Fatima and Francis of Assisi, or from Taoist master Li Tzu’s home, where we see small statues of Buddha, Shiva and Ganesh at the garden of bonsais, at the shaman’s altar there lay an eagle feather and a bear claw, his power animals, a two-side drum used in ceremonies, some rocks that he revered as “the ‘oldest’ people, that carried the entire memory and energy of the events the planet has experienced since immemorial time”, and many plants. I had a good understanding of the shamanic language and rituals, with its strong and beautiful earthly connections. However, something baffled me. An old clown shoe, a typical one, huge, colored, with the point purposely open. 

I mustered my courage and asked why that object was on his altar. The shaman took the pipe in his hand, closed his eyes as if memory was taking him on a journey far away, and said: “When I was a teenager, I worked as a clown for a short period, in a circus that travelled around this area. It was a time of much laughter.” He made a brief pause and added: “The shoe is sacred to me.” I argued that it was not a sacred object, but a pleasant memory. Starry Song turned his head to look me in the eyes and said: “All that makes a man better is sacred. The images of master Jesus or master Buddha will be sacred only if they are capable of making you recall the beautiful lessons they left. This is their power.” I asked how a clown shoe could help in his process of evolution. The shaman was patient to explain: “Joy is typical of enlightened spirits. It is a sturdy bridge that connects us to the invisible world. Every day, when I pass by the living room, the shoe has the power of making me remember the importance of joy in life.” He made a brief pause and concluded: “The most effective prayer of gratitude to the Great Mystery for all the blessings of existence is the sowing of joy wherever we go.”

After this conversation, I had to go to a city nearby a few days, to resolve some professional business. I thought at length about the idea Starry Song had about the sacred, and even considered adding a few more objects to the altar I had at home. When I returned, I could not help looking for the clown shoe in Starry Song’s living room. Much to my surprise, it wasn’t there. Later, while we were having coffee and talking on the porch, I asked about the disappearance of the shoe. The shaman simply said: “I gave it to my sister’s son.” I asked why he gave away an object he held dear. Starry Song explained: “My nephew is training to become an actor, and did not know that I, his uncle, had already worked on the stage. He was delighted and asked me to take the shoe as source of inspiration. I was happy to give it to him.” However, I still had not fully understood, and asked him if it was appropriate to get rid of a sacred object. The shaman smiled and said: “It was more important for him than for me. If we are not careful, we might turn our home into a museum, and that is quite different from having an altar with all that helps us connect with the Infinite and transforms us. An altar may be material or immaterial, just like everything else that makes it up.”

I fully disagreed. I said it was a sacrilege not to respect what is sacred. Starry Song arched his lips in a discreet smile and explained: “The object is mundane; sacred is the connection.” I argued that if the shoe reminded him of the importance of joy in life, he shouldn’t have given it away.” The shaman looked closely at me. I noticed in his eyes a mix of patience and sympathy. He just asked: “There is an elderly lady who lives in San Francisco. She is coming to the village for a meeting of the Council in a few days. I ask you to wait for her, and then we will continue this conversation.”

After a week, she arrived. Nayelli was her name. Darker skin, thin, agile, in the same age group as Starry Song, her features had strong ethnic traits. She had her long hair, going grey, tied in a ponytail style. She had a gaze and an attitude that exuded a strange, immeasurable force. Her speech, albeit firm, showed tremendous, sincere kindness. I noticed she was well-liked by everyone. As soon as she changed her clothes, she came to meet us. We were introduced, and she appeared to be quite nice. The three of us went for a walk, to a huge lake not too far away. While we walked, the two of them chatted. Nayelli was successful publisher. She published books about the history, philosophy and mythology of her ancestors, both biographies and novels. The books sold by the thousands, monthly, in different countries of the world. She was a person of simple habits and did not show off the good financial status she had achieved. When we reached the lake, it was almost dusk. Starry Song asked me to light a fire and told me we would spend the night there. He had taken blankets for all of us. Soon the sky became sprinkled with stars; we got close to the fire and set the cold at bay, and a huge full moon came to visit us from behind the mountains close by, at the north of the lake. The shaman tapped on the two-face drum, softly and rhythmically, and Nayelli started to sing a beautiful, heartfelt song. Then, with her face soaked in tears, she stood up and started to dance to the music at the bank of the lake. Starry Song and Nayelli had a composed smile on their faces, they seemed ecstatic; I watched it all in wonder.

After a length of time I cannot gauge, the woman sat next to us, by the fire. Little by little, the rhythm from the two-face drum subsided until it become silent. Starry Song lit his unmistakable red-stone bowl pipe and asked Nayelli to tell me about her life, so that I could understand what I had just witnessed. The publisher told me she had married at a young age with another member of the tribe, a worthy, loving man. Soon came an offspring, a healthy, beautiful baby boy. They were a happy family. A while later, they were in a car accident that put an end to the existence of the husband and son in this life. In the first months, she felt disoriented, lost. In fact, she said she felt destroyed. There were so many chips she questioned if one day she would feel whole again. She did not know what to do of her life, or even how she would make a living, as she had always been a homemaker, doing house chores and looking after the son while the husband worked. They were not rich and had little savings. Until one day she decided to hike up to the mountains and something odd happened. It was as if the wind whispered to her to find strength in the wisdom of her people. 

Nayelli straightened the blanket over her shoulder to protect herself from the cold, that was getting worse as time passed. Then, she continued: “I spent some days without fully grasping the message, but I kept hearing that voice. I recalled that one of the most important philosophical teachings of my people is that all power comes from the self. We are home to the Great Spirit that lies dormant. Each one of us should awaken it within themselves. In Christian tradition, this important virtue is known as Faith.” 

“I started to feel stronger and stronger at each passing day, but I still had no direction to follow. This is when I had a conversation with a shaman, quite young at that time.” At this point, she looked at Starry Song, cracked a thankful smile, and continued: “He advised me to use my gift. I said I did not know what my gift was, and he said that gifts are hidden in dreams. He advised me to go after my dream, because in it I would find my gift. Once again I felt lost, because I thought that too vague. However, that was all I had. I had never thought about what my dreams or gifts were. I even thought one was mixed with the other, as I became a good wife and a devoted mother. Even though that had made me happy, and that these were the dream and gift of many women, they were not mine. These were not the skills that would help me cross the road of this existence.”

“All that I knew I had learned from native storytellers, to whom I had listened since I was a child: dreams and gifts are the pillars of the bridge that connects the heart to life. This was my starting point.”

“At that time, to keep sadness at bay, I started to nourish hope through reading. The most beautiful stories are of outdoing oneself. I started to understand I had to experience mine. Only that could give me the necessary strength and wisdom, as moved forward on the pages of my history. To escape from one’s history is to escape from oneself, is denying reality, is abandoning the dream, is relinquishing the gift, and turning one’s back to the Path. It is not knowing the honey of life; it is refusing the salt of earth.”

“I started to realize the joy and hope the books provided. Books are valuable tools, and I loved them. I realized there were many wonderful native stories, of tremendous wisdom, unknown to the world, confined only to my people. However, I was but a woman alone, inexperienced and without money. Apparently, the odds were against me; what made me move was love, alone. From home, I started to compile the stories, collect the short tales and make a selection of them, and to look for other stories. Pretty soon, I had some excellent material in my hands. Then, I left for St. Francisco, in a quest for publishers for the stories. It was difficult at first, I received many noes until I got the first book published, with quite a satisfactory response from the readers, who were delighted with the universe I presented them. Little by little things grew and, some time later, I established my own publishing house. It is well respected today because of the quality of the texts we publish”. She shrugged and said: “In short, this is my story.” She made a pause, her gaze transported her to the vastness of the sky, and she added: “And it began here, by this lake, under this moon.”

I asked Nayelli to further explain what she meant. She was kind to oblige: “After my husband and son passed away, I felt destroyed, abandoned, and even questioned if I would ever have the joy and will to live. I looked at the boxes with their ashes and drowned myself in sorrow. One day, reading a book, I made an interesting analogy: sadness and cowardice were just the opposite of the spirits of those people I loved so much. They had to be my strength, not my weakness.” 

“I also understood something quite powerful and sacred: the more the destruction, the more the possibilities for transformation.”

“It was a night of full moon. I came up to this lake and threw the ashes to the wind. I prayed to grandma-moon to quietly take their spirits to the arms of the Great Creator.” Bound to my beliefs, I asked if it was not a sacrilege to throw away the ashes of beloved ones who had departed. Nayelli smiled with sympathy and smiled: “I did not throw it away; just the opposite, I liberated the three of us. I wished that they continue their learning journey towards the Infinite and allow me to start a new journey here, with the lessons and chores that were suitable to me.” I argued that the ashes were sacred, but they no longer were in the box. She replied: “I delivered them to the care of the moon. Now, anywhere on the planet that I may be, I just have to look up to the sky to feel them. For me, they are everywhere, not just in the box. The connection is there, whether on the moon, whether in my heart. Sacred is love. All the rest is just bridges.” 

She paused once again and then added: “Bridges can be of mortar, rocks, china or even ashes. The sturdiest ones, have no doubt, are those built with the purest love.” I asked her if she missed them. Nayelli cracked a kind smile and said: “Of course! I like this feeling of yearning. This is a sacred feeling, because yearning only exists where there is love. However, in order to be sacred, the feeling of yearning must be a joyful one, as joyous are love and freedom. When I miss them, whether I am in London or Hong Kong, I look up to the sky, I dance, I sing the beautiful songs that I know, and my heart is appeased. The moon is my altar, it is sacred for me.”

Starry Song once again made a soft and rhythmical music on the two-face drum. I closed my eyes and let the music surround me. It seemed the beats were paced with the pulse of the planet. I sensed a gratifying feeling that I was connected with the Whole. A sacred feeling. At the end, the shaman said: “The sacred is everywhere, it is hidden in the mundane, in the simple everyday chores. The sacred is in the virtues, because it is the way one reacts to the adversities of life that their other face is revealed. The divine face.” 

He made a pause, looked Nayelli in the eyes and completed: “I give thanks to all that destroys me, because it is when I need myself that I find out who I am. Then, I am transformed, and the universe manifests itself as light. This is sacred.” 

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

The deserts of the self

When I entered the mess hall of the monastery to grab a cup of coffee, I saw the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, talking to Valentina, a young and pretty sister of our Order. She is one of the most talented poets of her generation and, in her spare time, works as an engineer in a big airspace company. I had just arrived at the monastery and was not aware she would also be there for her period of studies. I was happy to see her. Only when I was about to approach them did I realize she had tears rolling down her face. I was about to retreat, when she saw me; she smiled and invited me to sit with them. She even joked, saying I should not be afraid of women who cry. Even though I felt a bit embarrassed, I smiled and shook my head saying I had no problems with that, but I did not want to be in the way, in their conversation. She insisted that I sit with them. The Old Man cracked a large smile when he noticed Valentina kept her good mood and kindness despite the pain, pointed with his chin to the chair next to him and said: “Tears are drops that overflow when the seas of the heart are rough.”

The line between wealth and prosperity

One of my partners in the advertisement agency managed to get a hold of me at the only inn in the small Chinese village where Li Tzu lived. Mobile phone and internet services were poor and intermittent because of the area, often assailed by strong winds. The message left at the reception was clear: I was to interrupt my studies on Tao Te Ching with the Taoist master and return home immediately. A well-known global organization had come to us, seeking to close a hefty deal. However, to best serve this organization, we would have to cancel all agreements we had with small and mid-size companies, that formed the bulk of our clients. The peace and happiness that I had from the studies, mediation and the practice of yoga, that I had started on that trip, disappeared entirely. I became tense, and could not make up my mind whether I should go or stay; whether to engage in a multi-million dollar deal that, depending on shifting interests of a global organization, could go south or make me rich; or not to accept the deal and keep on having the many clients that have been with us until now, many since the beginning. The partners were on edge, split in their decision. I even argued with one of them when I returned the phone call.

In the dark alleys of jealousy and lies

The unusual, irregular hours of operation of the shop of Loureiro, the elegant shoemaker who loved books and wines, had become legendary in the charming village located at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery. The only way to know if the shop was open was to go over there. This is why when I turned the corner of the narrow and winding cobblestone street where it was located, I was happy to see his vintage bicycle leaning against the light pole in front. I was received with a sincere smile and a warm hug. I said I was there to have a chat with him about something that had been bothering me for quite some time, jealousy. Patching up leather was a trade Loureiro was skilled in; sewing ideas was an art he handled with uncommon mastery. My good friend decided to call it a day, even though it was still early in the afternoon, and invited me to lunch at a quiet restaurant nearby. Comfortably seated, the waiter poured us a delicious local red wine; I immediately started to tell him about the frequent quarrels I was having with my girlfriend on account of the jealousy that had been tormenting our relationship. Our misunderstandings were escalating, and our arguments were more and more tiring. I told him I was weary from the situation.

A streak of bad luck

That year, during my stay of a month in the monastery for study and reflection, by coincidence, a number of monks, that is how we call all those who were initiated it the Order, also arrived. That forced me to share a room with a fellow monk. Both, him and I, had quite distinct habits, including the hours we went to sleep and woke up. I would go to bed much earlier and woke up also much earlier. Regardless of how careful we were, lights and noises were mutually bothering, depending on the time of day. Little by little, this has taken a toll on our relationship. Concurrently, on the eve of my trip to the monastery, I had a major quarrel with my partners in the company, for disagreeing with how they ran their departments. Therefore, I was quite upset when I arrived at the monastery. To make things worse, I had had an argument with my girlfriend over the phone, because I did not like a post she had made on a social media.

Life isn’t short

It was Saturday evening when the bus arrived at the simple Chinese village where Li Tzu lives. I left my backpack at the only inn of the place and went to the home of the Taoist master. As usual, the gate was open, and the illumination came from candles spread all around, including in the beautiful bonsai garden. Midnight, the black cat that also lived there, accompanied me suspiciously with his eyes. I called the master a number of times, to no avail. Silence was broken by a joyful melody that came from afar. I thought it would not be polite to wait for him at his place. Since I wasn’t sleepy, I let my steps be guided by that happy music. I crossed some winding streets using my eardrums as a compass, until I arrived at a two-story house where the music came from. I went up the wooden stairs of the narrow staircase and I found a sort of an open ball. I was surprised when I saw Li Tzu dancing to lively music with a pretty woman. Next, he went to talk to a group of friends who seemed to be having a great time, from the way they laughed and hugged one another. I found odd the behaviour of the quiet and serene Taoist master.

About masks, scripts and shadows

Loureiro, the shoemaker who loves books and wines, and I had just watched a movie in the only movie theater of the small and charming village located at the foot of the mountain that is home to the monastery. We went to a pleasant bookstore that has a café in the back, to chat and have some coffee. The film was about a couple in their 50s, Dayse and Giovani; both had had previous relationships. He was a quiet high-school math teacher, practiced judo, and was an aspiring screen writer. His dream was to tell the world the stories he had always had in him. He would devote much of his spare time to his writing. She was a cheerful woman who lived off the generous pension her late husband, who passed away years ago, had left her. She was a charitable person, always paying heed to the needs of others; she also liked to go out with her friends and have fun. Many thought they were the perfect couple. However, they had an on-off, intermittent relationship, always for the same reason. Sometimes she would become grumpy and annoyed, whether for the limited display of affection by the boyfriend or for the overly quiet life she had next to him. Giovani, then, preferred to withdraw himself as he felt she was not the person with whom he should share his emotional life. After some days or weeks, the girlfriend would seek him again as if nothing had happened, and they would reconnect, more out of convenience than love. This had happened many times, always for the same reason. The last time they drew apart from each other, even though there was no formal breakup, he had decided they wouldn’t reconnect anymore; even though he acknowledged the many virtues she had, he just did not love her. A romantic relationship based only on convenience is harmful for both parties. This time, by chance, he came to know she was involved with another person. In turn, Dayse was told that Geovani knew about her new love relationship. She then sent him a message saying that the story was not exactly what he had heard. She denied having a new love relationship, stated that Geovani still had a spot in her heart and revisited her typical transparence-and-loyalty speech. She had always regretted that her previous marriage had been badly affected by the constant cheating of her deceased husband, and this is why she had no tolerance for that. She said this was the reason why she also cheated on her late husband during their marriage. But the fact that she was having a new romance was undeniable. Even though he felt jealous, he understood this moment of hers, respected her right to try to be happy with another partner, and thought that sooner or later it would be good if he also found a significant other. The problem is that he decided to stop by her home to return some of her belongings that were at his place, and to say that they could be good friends. Much to his surprise, she was extremely aggressive towards him, making some vague, disjointed accusations. The woman claimed that he was to blame for all that had happened, that she hated the overly quiet life they led when they were together, and that she despised him and had been mistaken about the love she had always said she felt for him. Giovani spent days wondering about the reasons for her reaction. He decided to write a script about their story, so that he could tell it to himself, in order to fully understand their issues. Interestingly, this was the first script he sold to a studio to be turned into a movie. In the opening session, he meets Dayse at the lobby of the movie theater; she is with her new boyfriend, quite happy; he is also happy because his dream came true. The final scene is an exchange of looks between the two of them, leaving the audience to draw the conclusion they see fit.

My town

That year, when I arrived at the monastery for another period of studies, I was disillusioned with humankind. As soon as I met the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, he asked me why I was so downcast, with my shoulders slumped. “It seems you are carrying the weight of the world on your back”, he said. I told him I had been disheartened by so much selfishness and aggressivity. I said I had been contemplating the possibility of moving to a different city, because the city I lived in was becoming uninhabitable. I explained that it was poorly administered, and people only thought about themselves and would do anything to achieve their goals. The good monk said: “Violence, whatever it may be, is very bad. On the other hand, to think of oneself is very good, as long as one is attentive to share the best that they find. Each person should be managed like a city. Feelings are like a city’s inhabitants, they should circulate freely. Because not always they are well-guided nor have a secure dwelling, we should look after them so that they find their due place and the tranquility they deserve. Structural renovation requires constant attention in order not to hinder progress. The dark alleys should be illuminated, so that no unpleasant surprises emerge. Ideas, like free citizens, at times may be conflicting, and should be encouraged to dialogue until they find the perfect communion. Last, but not least, the city gates should always be open for those who want or need to go in, even though, at first, there might be some discomfort. We must bear in mind that hardships, when handled with love and wisdom, end up promoting the necessary improvements.” He made a brief pause before continuing: “A city that is abandoned becomes worthless.” He looked me in the eyes and added: “The same happens with us when we value more what is outside ourselves than within. Each one lives in the city they build within themselves.”

Halves

The house of Starry Song, the shaman who had the gift of transmitting the ancient wisdom of his people through the word, was empty when I walked in. Because the coffee pot was still warm, I got a cup and helped myself, and went to the porch. A nice neighbor told me he was at a school close by, delivering an interesting lecture to a group of teenage students. When I walked into the auditorium, a girl with perceptive eyes was asking what the reason for our existence was. The shaman replied at once: “To evolve; only that, to evolve”. The young lady was far from being happy with the answer and rebuked by asking the meaning of evolution. Starry Song arched his lips in a discreet smile and said: “To evolve is to expand the level of awareness and to expand the capacity to love. Love is the meaning of life. However, because of its tremendous power and complexity, we need wisdom to drive us toward this accomplishment.” He made a brief pause and continued: “Even though love is within our core, we know very little about it.” She insisted on questioning and asked what accomplishment the shaman was taking about. Always polite, he answered: “If love is the meaning of life and the essence of each one of us, the accomplishment I am talking about is the unrevealed portion of ourselves, the other I that we are not aware of.” As a good storyteller, he made a dramatic pause and concluded with a punchline: “I know about half of me; the other half is an enigma.”

The art of helping others out

Loureiro, the shoemaker who loves books and wines, and I had just finished lunch at one of our favorite restaurants in the small and charming village at the foot of the mountain that is home to the monastery. Knowing that we would still talk for some time more, the waiter, whom we have known for a long time, left a pot of fresh coffee on our table. Suddenly, we were surprised by the entrance of Paola, a dear niece of the cobbler. She had stopped by just for a cup of coffee, and to think about some personal issues, and was happy to see us there. She sat with us and said it was good we were there, because she wanted to know her uncle’s opinion about something that had been bothering her in the past few months. I motioned to leave, but Paola kindly said that wasn’t necessary. Next, she said that, as the uncle already knew, she had been dating Giovanni for almost four years. Initially, it had all been joy and discoveries, travels and full harmony. Over time, things had gone astray, and more and more they were having misunderstandings.

A journey between Tao and faith

Li Tzu, the Taoist master, asked me to arrive early at his place. When I left the inn, the sky was a cloak sprinkled with stars. I walked on the streets of the Chinese village, dazzled with the beauty of the Milky Way, lost in my thoughts about the endless number of worlds that existed in the universe. I found Li Tzu concluding his daily meditation. He rolled out two mats, so that I could join him in his yoga practice. Midnight, the black cat that also dwelled in the house watched us with a lazy gaze. Needless to say, I could not do the complex poses the quiet Chinese Elder did with some ease. At the end of the practice, we went to the kitchen. I sat at the table while he poured us a flavorful tea. I asked him, just to start a conversation, if he had the habit of looking up to the sky and think about the mystery that surrounds the sky. He looked at me puzzled, as if I had asked an obvious question, and said: “Understanding the whole helps me in knowing who I am; knowing me makes me feel all the power within myself.”

Beyond the end of the tunnel

Loureiro, the shoemaker who loved books and wines, and I were looking for a restaurant that sill served lunch late in the afternoon. It had poured during the day. Since it had just stopped raining, off we went, sailing the narrow and winding streets of the small and charming village at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery. Heavy clouds left the sky dark, so lamps were lit earlier than usual. We were talking cheerfully and idly, as two friends who are happy just to be together, while we diverted from the puddles formed between century-old cobblestones. When we arrived at the restaurant, we found Carlo, a friend of ours, there. We were baffled. Not by a long shot was he that self-reliant, well-kept, handsome man we knew. We had met him less than a month ago, and he had seemed to be fine. On that day, he was just the opposite of the man we knew. He was downcast, hunched over, sullen; he seemed a specter of himself.

Salt of the earth

I ran into the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, by chance, outside the walls of the monastery. He was coming from a walk in the nearby forest. Because it had rained in the previous days and now the sun had reappeared, the morning was perfect for picking the mushrooms that grew around the oak trees. Probably that evening we would have his well-known soup. I had gone out for a smoke. As usual, the monk was in a good mood, a perfect balance between cheerfulness and composure. He greeted me with a sincere smile, showed me the basket filled with mushrooms and mentioned that picking had been good. He made no comment about the cigarette. As he started to move toward the gate, I said I had resumed smoking so that I would not commit suicide. He made only a concise remark: “How tragic, isn’t it?” And continued. After a few steps, he stopped, turned and said: “I will be in the mess hall.” He winked as if telling a secret and said: “I was told a cup of coffee is perfect after a cigarette.” And moved on. I followed his slow but steady steps until he disappeared behind the walls.

The letter of Paul

A lecture delivered by the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the monastery, to the other members of the Order had addressed love as a core element for all other virtues, and its enormous power of transformation. As usual, at the end of the lecture, discussion ensued. Frank took the floor. He was a young member of the Esoteric Order of the Monks of the Mountain – EOMM, son of one of its founders, already deceased. Despite his young age, he had barely turned thirty, he had a degree in journalism, a master’s and a doctoral degree in the area, and was articulate and cultured in his speech. Recently, due to the economic crisis the country he lived in faced, he was fired by a major newspaper he worked for, in charge of the entertainment and culture section. Frank argued that it could be harmful for a person to present an excess of virtues. He explained that we lived in an unfair world, inhabited by imperfect people, which created complicated, conflicting human relationships. He added that in order to survive in the jungle, as he referred to contemporary civilization, a good amount of evil was required.

The marathon

I was back to the small Chinese village nested in the Himalaya, close to Bhutan. I wanted to spend some more time studying with Li Tzu, the Taoist master. The bus had dropped me off quite early at the only inn of the town. Because the room would be available only after 12 noon, I left my backpack and went to Li Tzu’s, hoping to have a nice hot tea with him. The sun was present in timid rays, and there was almost no one on the streets. The gate to the house of the Taoist master was never locked. I entered without making noise. I felt the scent of incense and complete peacefulness. I found Li Tzu on a small rug rolled out at the bonsai garden, performing complicated yoga poses. A black cat, named Midnight, which also lived in the house, was lying close by and watched it all lazily. I was greeted with a sincere smile and, without interrupting his practice, the Taoist master told me to help myself to tea. I went to the kitchen; on the stove there was a teapot with a delicious mixture of herbs and flowers brewing. I went back with my cup filled, sat next to him and said I could play soft music on my mobile phone to accompany his practice. Li Tzu said: “I thank you, but I enjoy the voice of silence. There is too much noise and sounds during the day. I do not want to miss this delicacy dawn provides.” It was impossible not to notice the difficulty of the yoga poses the Taoist master was practicing, particularly because of his age. He and the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, had been fellow students in a prestigious English university, when they were both young. I mentioned that while we were seated at the table having breakfast. Even though Li Tzu ate frugally and had a lean body, his features looked healthy and he conveyed tremendous composure. I added that despite being much younger, I was not able to perform any of those poses. He looked at me as if to a child and explained: “Tao teaches us that everything is possible. Tao comes from the sky, and we are under the sky.”

The beauty of being unique

Starry Song, the shaman who had the gift of perpetuating his people’s philosophy throughout the word, in chant or otherwise, rolled his two-sided drum, extracting a heartfelt melody while the sun was rising. The music was like a communion prayer for the joy we feel in being a core part of the universe; in response, this strong power resonated within ourselves. We put out the fire and went down the hill. When we arrived at the shaman’s home, a man of the village was waiting; he needed the shaman to help him. He was very annoyed because his son was very insecure and fearful, very different from the other boys his age, and from his own father. He regretted the boy had been born a wimp. Starry Song invited him to sit on the porch and served us coffee. Unhurried, he lit his unmistakable reddish rock-bowl pipe while he listened carefully as the father explained that the son was about to turn 13, and soon he would undergo the coming-of-age ritual, the Initiation Ceremony, which included one-on-one combats among the boys as a display of courage and skill. The shaman took a puff from the pipe and said: “No one is born a wimp. To be strong is a choice everyone can make. However, knowing one’s own power is the core of personal magic; realizing the dimension and the power of the universe within you nourishes courage, teaches humility and transforms the self. Bring your son over tomorrow.”

Bird People

I found the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, seated on the pleasant porch of the monastery, his gaze lost over the wonderful surrounding mountains. I asked him if he would like me to fetch him a cup of coffee, he accepted with a smile. When I placed the cup on the small coffee table next to him, he asked me to sit by his side. He asked if something was bothering me. I said no. Then, the monk asked why my eyes looked sad. It was hard to hide my feelings from the keen perception of the Old Man. I sat in the armchair next to his and told him I had started to date a woman who had an important job in a company with which my agency had signed an agreement involving a large amount of money. We had met during the meetings to close the deal. Our relationship evolved well until, for no reason, it lost its appeal to me. She was a pretty, intelligent, sweet woman. Our conversation was as pleasant as her kisses. However, something had faded in my heart. When I broke up with her, she accused me of having engaged in the relationship because of a business interest, not out of sincere affection. I was sad because I did not want her to have that image of me.

Here and now

Loureiro, the shoemaker who loves books and wines, filled our cups with fresh coffee for us to begin our idle conversation when we were surprised by the arrival of Zinedine, a captivating artist, skilled in carving bronze to make his pieces. Even though he was talented and sensitive, most of his pieces were left unfinished. Either because another came up when he was carving a piece, which was abandoned, or because he did not consider that the piece he was working on was turning out good enough. Time seemed to be flying and was exhausting the inheritance his family had left him. It was urgent that his art come to be a trade and a source for his support, that was making him distressed. He said he had recently arrived from a trip. While it had been pleasant, he said that at some point he started to miss home. Notwithstanding, after a few days back he was already yearning for a new trip. Loureiro gave him a cup of coffee and said: “Travelling may have an effect like renewing the wardrobe of the soul, because we have contact with other cultures, different ways of seeing life and being in the world. This expands possibilities and points to courses never imagined before, which is wonderful. Because we yearn only for what is good, we try to include in our daily life habits that are pleasant and joyful. If, after some time away from home you don’t miss it or your routine activities, there is something wrong with your choices, or you neither know where your home is, nor have understood the routine activities you should create for yourself. A trip can show us the way home.” He made a brief pause and added: “In all senses.”

The bargain

It was a spring Sunday. The Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, and I had gone to the small and charming village located at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery, to attend mass. At times the Old Man was asked by the local priest, a good friend of his, to address the parishioners on any subject he thought important. I asked him what he would be talking about that morning, and he told me he did not know yet. Because we had arrived early, we were waiting seated on a large wooden bench at the square in front of the church, enjoying the warming sun while children, taken by their parents, ran excitedly around, causing quite a hubbub. Because the bench was so large, two men asked permission to share it with us. As they sat, they started to talk to each other. I realized the Old Man was, discretely, paying attention to their conversation, and I looked at him with a stern gaze of reproach. He smiled roguishly but continued to pay heed to the men. That had an infectious effect on me, and I too started to pay attention to the conversation. One was telling the other that business was not good. In fact, they were much worse than they had been in the past. In a serious tone, he said he had bet on the lottery, whose prize had accumulated due to successive rollovers and amounted many millions. If he won, he swore he would adopt a child. He said that his children were grown and settled in life, and perhaps it was about time for him to take this step. However, he would do it only if he was financially secure. The friend agreed and mentioned the high costs of rearing a child. The friend said he had also placed a bet on the lottery. Were he to win, he would not reach the point of adoption, but swore to make a huge donation to a philanthropic organization. Soon the bells started to call to mass, and most people at the square went to church.

Little big things

I woke up before dawn and went to the porch of the house of Starry Song, the shaman who had the gift of sowing the wisdom of his people though the word and the music, where I was staying. He was seated in a rocking chair, his eyes set on the East, “the home of the eagle”, as he used to say, waiting for the sun to rise. He poured me a cup of coffee and filled with tobacco the red-rock bowl of his unmistakable pipe. He took a few puffs and then got his two-sided drum to sing a heartfelt song in his native dialect. In a non-literal translation, the name of the song was “The cycles of life”, and it thanks the Great Spirit for the infinite opportunities given every day for one to renew oneself and continue on the Long Golden Road. Not much later, still involved with our prayers and reflections, we were interrupted by the shaman’s sister, together with her younger son, who had just become an adult. She had come to ask her brother to advise her son, who, despite being very intelligent, was not interested in the daily chores, believing that his fate was to do something grand. That had made him reckless in dealing with others, because in his understanding, people were not able to realize his huge potential and the brilliant destiny that awaited him. Starry Song just closed his eyes and nodded his head slightly, and if saying he understood what she meant and was willing to comply with her request. The sister smiled, thankfully, and left. I wanted to know if I also should leave, but he gestured with his hands that that was not necessary. The shaman closed his eyes and remained silent. Impatient, the young man could not sit still on the chair, until he said that that was just a waste of time. Starry Song looked at him with sweetness and started to tell a story:

A date

The Old Man, as we affectionally called the oldest monk of the Order, looked at me with reproach, without uttering a word. I was in the inner garden of the monastery speaking on my mobile phone, even though we can only use it at night, in the bedroom, so that we can profit the most from the monastery experience. The EOMM – Esoteric Order of the Monks of the Mountain – is a secular brotherhood devoted to the study of philosophy and metaphysics. The monks and apprentices, as the members are called, are committed to spend at least one month a year in the monastery, for studies, discussion and reflection. After that time, they return to their homes, families, jobs and routine activities, and try to apply what they have learned. Knowledge only turns into wisdom when used in our daily relationships; otherwise, it is but a tool rusted for lack of use. I ended the call and went to apologize to the monk. I told him I was about to close an important contract at my agency and needed to take some precautions. I confessed how tense I was, as I was afraid of being hoodwinked, as had happened before, even though with a different party. The Old Man just listened to my explanations and said nothing.

A delicate virtue

The strong winds of the end of fall were assailing the small and charming village at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery, signaling that winter was about to come. I was walking on its winding streets trying to protect myself from the cold when I saw the vintage bicycle of Loureiro, the shoemaker who loved books and wines, leaning against the light pole in front of his shop. I was received with joy and a cup of coffee. Seated by the old wood counter, we were about to start a conversation when a nephew of his walked in, looking for shelter and a chat. The young man was coming from a hearing of his convoluted divorce in the plain courthouse of the village, and the train that would take him back to the city where he was now living would depart only early evening. He was quite upset and immediately started to vent onto his uncle his annoyance with the divorce. All of it because of the division of their property. He said his ex-wife refused to acknowledge his rights and give him what was rightfully his. He said that the law was clear and defined what belonged to each one. The cobbler interrupted him with a subtle remark: “The law may be clear; justice, not so much.”

The wonders of doubt

“What is the right thing to do?”, asked of me the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, as Socrates, the Greek philosopher did, by answering a question with another as a method of reasoning. We were seated at the refectory of the monastery, a cup of coffee and a piece of oat cake before us. I have always felt uncomfortable with everyday predicaments. From political and social issues that, one way or another, affect us all to uncertainties regarding my personal life, such as breaking up or not with a girlfriend, changing jobs, moving to another city, changing my lifestyle. I argued that at all times we are assailed by doubts that bother us to various degrees, ranging from ordinary to serious ones. The problem is that uncertainty is very discomforting. To make my uncertainties worse, I would talk to people with dissenting opinions, for or against, all of them sure of their convictions and with strong arguments to support them. I said that I wanted to be free from disturbing doubts and to always know the right thing to do. It was then that the Old Man asked me about what the right thing to do was. I told him that if I had asked, it was because I did not know and needed an answer. The monk sipped his coffee and said: “My answer reflects what is true to me, and not necessarily that which will be true to you. You have to work hard to find the truth that will fulfill you, and that is why you feel uncomfortable. Blessed be the doubt!”

Where evil hides

Starry Song, the shaman who had the gift of conveying the ancestral wisdom of his people through the music he played and the stories he told lit the red-stone bowl of his unmistakable pipe and took a puff. It was the end of a fall afternoon, and we had colorful blankets covering us, to keep the typical chill of the Arizona mountains at that time of year at bay. I had just arrived from my trip and the first thing the shaman asked after greeting me was the reason why I seemed to be “carrying so much weight on my back”. Yes, it was true. I was sullen. I cracked a half-hearted smile, as someone who is seen without the clothes of the character they have created to play the character they are not on the stages of life, and said the world was not a good place to live in. Then, I recounted some problems I was facing because of the absurd stance of some people, opposed to mine. I stated that, no question, the world was inhabited by backwards, insensitive, bad people.

How wings are born

It was pouring, and I hastened my pace. I became cheerful as I turned the corner of the narrow and winding street where the shop of Loureiro, the shoemaker who loves books and wines is located, and saw his vintage bicycle leaning against the light pole. When I entered the store, a variety of scents, the smell of leather and fresh coffee mixed with the smell of flowers. I was happy to see Valentina seated by the counter. She had just arrived. Even though she was also a monastic of the Order, we didn’t often meet at the monastery. The commitment we all have is to spend a month per year there, for studies, discussion and reflections. We hadn’t run into each other for a while. Valentina has poetry as art and engineering as a job. I considered her poetry unique, top-notch for her generation. I was greeted with joy by both of them. Soon, I was seated with a steaming cup before me. I asked Valentina about her next book, and she told me she was finishing a compilation of poems about love. She said she was thinking of dividing the book into two parts; in one, she would address the sorrows love causes, in the other, she would show love’s powerful charm. I said that pain was the rotten part of love. She agreed, but the shoemaker interrupted: “You two know very little about love.”

The narrow gate

The Sermon on the Mount is the core of the studies at the Order. All other texts from different philosophical and metaphysical traditions are variants to add depth and shade to the valuable thoughts therein. I was seated in a comfortable armchair in the library of the monastery, my gaze lost in the beautiful landscape framed by its windows, reflecting on the words spoken on the mountain of Kurun Hattin when I was surprised by the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order. He had brought from the mess hall two cups of coffee; placed one on the small coffee table by my side and went to pick a book from the shelves. I smiled in appreciation of his kindness and asked him to sit in the armchair in front of mine. I would take the chance of being alone together in the library to chat a bit with him. He accepted, made himself comfortable in the armchair, sipped his coffee and asked me what I was reading. I told him I was reading the Sermon on the Mount, this precious philosophical legacy, more particularly the part about the narrow door. “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it,” I read the excerpt. I said that the text could be a bit longer, to provide more details and explanations about its content. The Old Man shook his head and said: “The text is perfect in its concision. Remember that is was made not for some, but for all. Therefore, in a way of its own, it should reach different levels of awareness. Each one will reach the depth they are willing to dive. The Sermon on the Mount is the code for the Path; however, I respect those who consider it nonsensical.”

The law of action-reaction

I went to meet Loureiro, the shoemaker who loved books and wines, at a pleasant tavern close to his shop. As the server was filling our glasses with wine, our attention was diverted to a table next to ours. A couple had started to argue in a tone of voice higher than usual, until the woman stood up, told the guy that “everything is about action and reaction”, and left. We remained silent for a few moments until the cobbler commented, matter-of-factly: “The laws of life are unforgiving.” I corrected him by saying that the law of action and reaction was a concept of Physics; in fact, it was one Newton’s laws of motion. As if I were a teacher, I explained that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Loureiro looked at me with the sweetness of someone who looks at a child who is showing off and said: “Exactly. Because it is a Law of Physics, it is a Law of the Universe; therefore, a law of life, that regulates not only things, objects, but also relationships, and defines the next destination of each person. As a wise and loving weaver, the Universe weaves the web of the lives of all of us, using the laws as embroidery, so that no thread is loose.” I thought about those words for a few moments until I gave up and confessed I had not understood what he meant.

The battlefield

The sky was blue at the crack of dawn, after grayish days of much rain. Everybody seemed happy in the monastery but me. A personal dilemma ate me from inside and robbed me of my peace. As I was sitting in the mess hall, the questions I had wandered in my mind, before a cup of coffee and a piece of oat cake until my thoughts were interrupted by the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order. He asked me to help him pick mushrooms in the forest around the monastery. He explained that intense sun heat after rainy days was perfect for these delicacies to sprout at the foot of oak trees. He said he intended to make his famous mushroom soup for dinner. As we entered a trail, the monk said he had realized I was distressed, and asked the reason why. I told him that a good friend of mine had invited me to go with him, during my vacation, to a refugee camp in Africa. He was a member of an international medical NGO that operated in different regions of the globe world where health-care lacked. The Old Man turned to me while he walked with his slow but steady steps and said: “|It is a wonderful, essential job these men and women, physicians and other professionals do, to bring comfort and healing to places where basic survival conditions are lacking. I was in one of these camps years ago, during a senseless local war, and I am overwhelmed with the compassion, mercy and generosity displayed in the form of unconditional love. Despite so much pain and suffering, you understand the greatness of life and the wonders of overcoming adversities, in an effort to do differently and better.”

Shades of prudence

When I turned the corner to take the narrow street where the shop of Loureiro, the shoemaker who loves books and wines, is located, I was happy to see his vintage bicycle leaning against the light pole. It was still early, the sun had just risen to vaporize the dew that moistens the cobblestones, making me feel as if I was walking on the clouds. I had gone to the shop in search of coffee and idle chat. When I entered the shop, I found other friends of the cobbler. They were seated in circle, as if in an informal assembly, and Loureiro was pouring them coffee. When he saw me, he greeted me with the usual joy, indicated a wooden box for me to sit on, and handed me a steaming cup of coffee to keep the cold at bay and to awaken my ideas. All those men had been friends for a long time. Loureiro told me that there had been one more member of that group of friends, René, who owned the most traditional newsstand of the village; he had passed away not long ago. Every day, for years, the friends had met at the newsstand to chat about whatever while waiting for the daily paper. This ritual had been part of the history of all of them. The newsdealer’s son had taken over the business while the father was still undergoing treatment but now, because of a debt they had, the distributor of newspapers and magazines refused to deliver new issues. Without newspapers and new issues of magazines, the newsstand was about to close down. The son had come to them to ask for a loan to pay off the debt, preventing the business from being closed down. The problem was that the son had lived away for a long time and did not have a good reputation in the village.

Going back home

When I turned the corner and did not see the vintage bicycle belonging to Loureiro, the shoemaker who loved books and wines, leaning against the light pole in front of his shop, I thought I was out of luck. The unlikely, unusual hours of operation of his shop had become legendary in the small and charming village located at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery. I was sad. I had always had a complicated relationship with my mother, as if love and sorrow took turns on the stage of life, eliciting memories that disrupted the days I had yet to live. Once again we had had an argument, and I wanted to meet the good cobbler. I needed to talk, to remind me what I already knew and to listen, to learn what I was yet to know. It was lunch time, and I decided to go to a nice eatery close by. As if chance existed, when I entered the restaurant I found the shoemaker seated at a table with a woman much younger than him. I didn’t know her. When I approached, I realized they were holding hands, and their faces were wet from tears. I moved back, but he saw me, cracked a sincere smile and called me to join them. He gave me a tight hug and introduced me to the young lady. She was his younger daughter. She had left home at an early age, after a lot of fights with her father. She had left the university prior to graduation and for years she had no contact with him. I knew the story and knew that Loureiro had looked for her for years, unsuccessfully. She had just returned. The joy of the reunion overwhelmed both of them.

The train station

In the small and charming village located at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery there is a centenarian train station. We were, Loureiro, the elegant shoemaker who loves wines and books, and I, seated on an ancient wood bench waiting for his niece. Her mother, one of the cobbler’s sister, had asked that her daughter come to spend a few days with her uncle. She had been distraught and Loureiro was to help her out of her gloomy mood. It was still too early in the morning, and the sun was yet to be strong enough to put away the chill of the night. I noticed how fascinated he was with all the movement involving arrivals and departures, typical of any train station. Before I spoke to him about that, his niece arrived. She was thirtyish, quite pretty but looking dejected. They hugged tightly, as those who love one another do when they meet. We were introduced, and she was very gracious. Then, she said she needed a coffee. We went to a coffee shop right there, at the station. When the nice waitress placed on the table the steaming cups and warm rolls filled with the delicious local cheese, the niece opened her heart. She regretted that life had been turned inside out.

Hidden beauty

In the morning, it was usual to find the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, in the inner courtyard garden of the monastery, tending the flowers. Roses were his favorite, he devoted hours on end to care for them. Whenever possible, I enjoyed accompanying him and did it whenever possible, not because I liked gardening, but because of the conversations we had. On that day, a young lady came looking for him. She said she was disillusioned with life. All seemed dull, the days were gray, people lacked charm. She even confessed happiness bothered her because it seemed silly. The days were a succession of mistakes and frustrations. There was no reason to smile. At the end of her regrets she asked the Old Man if he was happy. The monk, who had been listening to all she said while tending the garden, showed, on the palm of his hand, a small caterpillar he had taken from the flowers; he put in in the pocket of his tunic to let it loose in the woods later on and said: “There will always be reasons to smile; joy is a seed capable of sprouting even in the desert. It is a choice of wisdom and love.”

The world mirrors your soul

Grief was overpowering me when I entered the library of the monastery, to look for some reading that would lessen my soul’s distress. Seated in a comfortable armchair with a book on his lap, the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, was gazing at the mountains through one of the windows when his attention was diverted to me. When he looked at me, he immediately realized the internal disarray that assailed me, and furrowed his brow as if asking what was going on with me. I complained of how neglectful people were in their personal relationships, of how insensitive, materialistic and individualistic they were. I reported many situations to support my feelings. I mentioned how this behavior caused unnecessary tragedies. I felt abandoned and out of place. Undoubtedly, I concluded, humankind was lost, and the world was not a good place to live. The monk, smiling as someone who is amused with a child that complains for not getting a treat, stood up and placed the book he was holding in the appropriate bookshelf. Then, he went to another shelf, looking for a different book. He picked one, flipped through its pages for a few moments, put it in the pocket of his tunic, grabbed me by the arm and took me out of the library. Then he said: “Let’s talk in the mess hall, I need a cup of coffee.” A few minutes later, before two steaming cups, he started a conversation: “If you are on good terms with yourself, you will be on good terms with the world. The way you look at yourself is the lens through which you will see life. This will define the clearness, the colors and the extent of the universe, which is the same for everyone but different for each one of us. The world, pretty or ugly, will always mirror your soul.”

The amphora of humility

I was back to the Himalayas. I had promised myself to return once a year to the Chinese village close to Tibet to study the Tao with Li Tzu. The only hostel in the village was always fully booked by students from all parts of the world eager to learn more about the ancient Tao Te Ching, The Book of the Way and Its Virtue. Reservations, in practice, were of little use and did not ensure room availability. Complaints were almost never effective, because the old lady in charge of the hostel would respond, always with a smile, in English or Mandarin, depending on her willingness to be understood. In the small area where the reception was located, I was disputing with a huge man, over 6 feet tall, strong as a bodybuilder, who would get the last available room. We both had reservations; mine had been made before his, but he arrived at the hostel some minutes before I did. We were discussing, each one with our reasons and arguments, before the old lady, who seemed to be amused, as she did not stop smiling, even though the tone of our discussion escalated at each word we said. Until the moment he grabbed the room key from the old lady’s hand and said that the matter was settled: he would keep the room unless I could retrieve the key from him. Filled with rage, I did not react. The difference in physical strength declared I was going to be beaten senseless, if I accepted to play by the rules of my opponent. I asked the old lady to do something against that arbitrary act. She just shrugged her shoulders and said something in her language which I interpreted as “there is nothing I can do”. Always with a smile on her face, of course. As if it weren’t enough, and with a devastating effect on me, I still had to listen to some provocations and unpleasant jokes by my adversary while I was leaving the hostel.

Being whole

It was hot the whole day. The breeze that came from the mountains made early evening very pleasant at the monastery. I found the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order seated in a comfortable armchair on one of the verandas from where one had the most beautiful view of the surrounding valleys extending down from our building. I asked permission to sit next to him, and he consented with a nod. Because he has known me for quite some time, he went straight to the point: “What is the matter with you?” I told him that many times, even when I was sure I had taken the right decision, I felt some discomfort, and that was contradictory. He asked me to be more specific: “Tell me about the actual case.”

The flower of simplicity

We were, the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, and I in a prestigious university for a cycle of lectures on the different aspects of intelligence, cognitive, emotional, artistic and spiritual. The guest speakers were scientists, professors, psychoanalysts, philosophers and artists. During a break, after the lecture of a famous academic, we went for coffee at a café. The Fall weather was pleasant, and the outside tables were well integrated into the wooded campus. The sun caressed us through the leaves. I said I did not like this last lecture. In fact, I added, I thought his speech unnecessarily overelaborated, pretentious, filled with words that are not ordinarily used and, worse, confusing. The Old Man sipped his coffee and said: “The waters must be murky so that one does not realize they are shallow.” I asked him to better explain what he meant. He was didactic: “He who wants an idea to be understood expresses it in a clear way, unless the fruit is not yet ripe to be picked from the tree. Some people mix complexity with sophistication. True sophistication lies in simplicity; it consists in making simple an elaborate or difficult-to-understand idea. Wisdom is simple; simplicity is a powerful and rare virtue, indispensable to all other virtues.”

To love is an art of many virtues

I was accompanying the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, in a cycle of lectures he was delivering when I received an invitation for the 80th birthday party of a dear relative of mine. It would be in a city close to the one we were in. I asked the Old Man to join me, and he promptly accepted. I told him about my annoyance in meeting some relatives with whom I still had some unresolved grudges from the past. I mentioned a cousin who had been one of my best friends in my teen years but, at some point we had a falling out and distanced ourselves one from the other. I hadn’t spoken to him in years. I asked the Old Man not to be baffled. The Old Man commented: “Ceremonies, whether of personal, family, professional or religious nature are important rituals not only to celebrate life but to bring together those who are not only equals, but who have the same energetic vibration. In addition, and as important as that, is that they allow those who have dissents that need to be pacified to meet. Differences in the eyes should not be a reason for the distancing of the heart. The flowers of respect, compassion, humility, patience and courage are indispensable in the garden of love. To love is not just wishing well. To love is an art with many virtues.”

The size of a dream

It was a spring morning; the sun counterbalanced the cold of the mountain breeze and provided a pleasant “feels like” temperature. I was at the gate of the monastery, tightening the bolts of the hinges when my attention was drawn to a luxurious car that passed by me and parked at the external area across from the building. From it a dwarf emerged. I immediately recognized him; he was a famous comedian who acted in TV shows. There is no question he was a talented actor who never used his height as pretext for a joke. He had a refined, intelligent humor. Over the past few years he had been hosting a talk-show that had great ratings. He addressed me politely, and asked to speak to the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order. On our way to the refectory, where the Old Man liked to receive visitors, almost always around a table with cakes, cookies, cheese and coffee, making them comfortable as if they were in their own homes, the man told me he had been in the monastery once before, almost twenty years ago, when he was still an aspiring actor, and that had been a cornerstone in his life.

The past is a poison

Loureiro, the elegant shoemaker who loved wines and books, closed his shop at twelve noon and off we went, strolling on the narrow and winding streets of the ancient village located at the foot of the mountain that is home to the monastery. It was a typical Fall Saturday; the sky was clear, cloudless, and the sun over the light coat warmed the skin underneath. We were in good spirits, going to our favorite restaurant for lunch and, needless to say, to have a few glasses of red wine. Pleasantries were on the agenda when, right by the entrance, we bumped into Helen, a common friend. She was very shaken, and the dark circles around her eyes were a record of bad nights’ sleep. She promptly accepted the invitation to join us, and without being asked, immediately started to talk about the causes of the emotional disruption that assailed her. She could not contain her pain within and needed to vent. She had just finished her marriage, the fifth or sixth, she was not sure, for it had lasted too little. She said she was disappointed with people in general. She confided that intimacy revealed unpleasant features that made long-term relationships impossible. Helen spoke for quite some time, unraveling her sorrows. We listened patiently; at some point, the cobbler asked if she had ever been happily in love. At this point, her eyes shone and a smile, which seemed impossible, cracked in her pretty face.

Excitedly, she told us about what she considered the best period of her life, next to her first husband, when she wasn’t even twenty. This had been a long time ago. Her words told a story of an almost perfect love, in which any error was minor, and could easily be amended. Comparison with subsequent marriages was unavoidable. At the table, we all knew that the first marriage reached an end when Jacques, the husband she was referring to, committed suicide when still young. When she made a pause for a sip of wine, Loureiro took the chance to make a terse remark: “The past is a poison.” In face of her astonished look, he continued with his reasoning: “The past can be a dangerous trap if we are not careful enough.”

“The present always presents hardships, which are important exercises for honing, particularly in regard to relationships. No one needs anyone to be whole and happy, but we do need the other to make us better. Relationships with others will always be the cause of disputes that emerge from imperfections of both sides. When we take on the challenge of overcoming them, quitting the bad habit of giving up, is that we crack the shell that hides the light dwelling within ourselves but that we not yet know.”

“It is not always easy to face the typical problems of a couple’s relationship. Often, we believe that some hurdles are unsurpassable, and are beyond our ability to transform. This does not exist when we are dealing with changing oneself, when one seeks their own evolution. Oftentimes we do not believe in the power that moves us, or we have not decoded the challenge. Only the storms can shape a seasoned seadog.”

“However, we tend to allow that our own shadows, believing they will protect us, set up a mean game as an escape route. As if they were stickers, we crop the best moments of the past to stick in an album that never existed. We color the images with vibrant hues, enhance their shine and intensity. These are the shadows making us believe in a model of happiness that does not exist. At least, not in those details and formats. The imbalance between past and present is unavoidable. And cruel, because we now have, as reference, fiction, not reality. When we play this game, we activate a terrible mechanism of comparison between a past written with perfect letter types as opposed to a present that brings all imperfections innate to life, making bigger the battles we are not always willing to fight. The past ends up poisoning the present, making it gloomy and despondent.”

Upset, Helen said that the shoemaker was mistaken. Just like herself, many people had been happy in previous relationships that, for one reason or another, ended. Loureiro kept his smooth tone of voice: “There is no question. I am not talking about separations due to the passing of one of the spouses to other spheres of existence. I am talking about relationships that reached an end due to lack of compatibility between the parties, out of the will of one or both parties. Who is happy with their partner does not end a marriage.” He looked seriously at his friend and shot the silver bullet: “Happy people do not commit suicide.”

Things got nasty. Helen accused the cobbler of being insensitive in his assessment and rude in his words. She added that Jacques committed suicide for reasons other than the marriage. She explained that he was undergoing a professional crisis. Loureiro listened to her outburst and criticism without becoming disturbed; at the end, he said with his typical composure: “When we are sad or happy, we take this feeling from home to work, and vice-versa. You cannot disconnect emotions as an electrical appliance you unplug to stop it from operating, depending on where you are. I understand you do not want to recall the harder moments and prefer to highlight those moments you were happy. Or recreate them in your imagination. This is the instinct of survival offering you the motivation to keep going. Instinct is one of many tools of the shadow’s trick kit. When we are delusional about the past, we end up confronting it through unfair comparisons with the present, thus postponing the necessary changes required to achieve inner peace.”

“Yearning for the past is a gift love gave us; for the future we are blessed with hope and dreams. Only the present gives us the true joy of being and living. To that end, we must look at the mirror of sincerity, be compassionate with hardships of others and humble with our own. We must be willing to renew and transform ourselves always, every single day until the endless day.”

Helen refuted, by saying that the history of any person has value and beauty. Loureiro agreed: “Of course! This is not what I am talking about. I am drawing attention to the risk of not living the present in its fullest for having in the past an unattainable standard. When that happens, we end up by contaminating the value and beauty of what we are yet to live and feel. It is important to take this cup away from you”.

“By tying your life to the past, you refuse to learn new lessons without which you will not be able to operate the due transformations in your being. Soon, there will be no new seeds to share in the gardens of humankind. Hence, you will be prevented from following on the journey and will be trapped in the cell of time.” He made a brief pause before adding: “All that stagnates ends up rotting.”

We became silent. The waiter brought our dishes, we made brief comments about how tasty they were. Then our friend went back to the subject by commenting how difficult it was to have a relationship, as, in intimacy, people are different than how they initially presented themselves to be. Loureiro sipped the wine and remarked: “This goes for everyone, including me and you.” Helen interrupted him to say that as soon as she was introduced to someone, she listed all her flaws so that the other would know whom he or she was dealing with. The cobbler smiled and said: “Yes, this is a good approach, however not always effective. Disclosing a hardship is not an excuse not to face it. On the other hand, you only disclose the hardships you recognize you have. How about the others?”

In face of the woman’s astonishment, the shoemaker continued: “I am talking about the hardships we refuse to see or admit we have; problems that are only revealed in the intense relationships of daily life. Hence the importance of relationships, they serve as mirrors that show improvements we must undertake. Out of complacency, fear or ignorance we insist in blaming others for mismatches originated in the fragmentation of the self, in the misfit between ego and soul. The causes of strangeness and harshness in relationships are an excellent opportunity for learning and evolution. At first, we always offer our best and, have no doubt, it is almost always true. It is what we are or project ourselves to be, which is quite honest of us. Only in intimacy, in the fraying of daily living, we open the cage and let loose the worst within ourselves. This is not necessarily bad, as it can serve as an opportunity to transmute shadows into light. And it is nice when there is the love of someone to help out at this difficult, and yet pretty moment in life. Only stories about overcoming the odds can be called ‘love stories’”.

“All relationships have their beauty, enchantment and lessons. No question many of them are cases of total incompatibility, souls whose tunes are so distant one form the other affinity between them is impossible to maintain. Then, it is time to leave. However, the way we face the other, if a terrible villain or a valuable ally in the battle we fight within ourselves will depend on the gaze, and the cheek we are able to give. The respect you have for the other shows the respect you have for yourself and life itself.”

Silence reigned once again. The words had to find their places. Helen joked by saying that, perhaps due to the wine, she was starting to think the cobbler could be right. Or she was so high with the past she stumbled in the present. We laughed. She admitted that comparisons are indeed baleful because they are unfair, as they compare different moments, situations and people. A clearer lens would make possible finding virtues and flaws in every person she had had a relationship with. Suffice a bit of goodwill towards the other and some amounts or courage and honesty to admit one’s own mistakes. A tear rolled down her cheek. She smiled and said she understood what Loureiro meant when he referred to the past as poison.

“Or a master,” rebuked the cobbler. “The past is filled with precious teachings that should not be wasted, or the same stones can hamper the journey once again. Situations that have been experienced, when contemplated with wisdom and love, become a powerful beacon shedding light over the next steps.” He winked an eye as if telling a secret and completed: “The path can always be smoother. It all depends on the way you walk.”

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

 

 

Independence day

I was happy when I saw the vintage bicycle of Loureiro, the elegant shoemaker who loves wines and books, leaning against the light pole in front of his shop. I was not well. A number of events with different people had made me feel in a cauldron of emotions that ranged from annoyance to sadness. I was greeted with a big hug and heartfelt joy. The craftsman told me to make myself comfortable while he made a fresh pot of coffee to make our conversation more stimulating. I told him I needed to vent and exchange ideas, because it seemed the world was plotting against me. Just like that, many of my relationships had become problematic or frustrating. I mentioned some disagreements and disappointments I had had recently with people I held in high regard. I added that all events had occurred almost at the same time, and I jokingly said that that seemed like karma to me. Loureiro placed two cups filled with coffee on the counter and said: “Karma is learning. Every karma is a master that will improve and strengthen the learner. Once the lessons are understood, the karma vanishes, along with that type of situation, recurrent until then, as there is no reason for it to exist any longer. On the other hand, the karma goes on, and even gets harsher, if we refuse to evolve. If life is a university, karma is the subjects we must take.”

Back to the top of the world

I told the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, that I would spend my birthday at the Takshang Monastery, close to the city of Paro, in Bhutan. I longed for the silence and energy of this hard-to-reach Buddhist monastery, wedged in the Himalayas, to meditate and reflect about my life at that moment, more particularly about the company where I was a partner. We had received a proposal for a merger from another firm, much larger and with international range, which would entail a major financial gain and a substantial change in my lifestyle. From having to wear a suit to moving to a different city, not to mention having to attend numerous meetings and to comply with the routine procedures of big companies. My partners, there were three of us, were very excited with the prospect. My heart did not allow me to share such excitement. Our firm sailed on calm waters; we were not rich, but we did have a comfortable life and, particularly, I had time to devote myself to other activities that are important to me, such as the Order, the studies, writing, meeting friends, spending time with my family among other intangible assets. However, not often does an opportunity arise when you can climb financial ladder, and I was being pressured to make a prompt decision. Changes in my lifestyle were what was distressing me. Doubt corroded me.

The top of the world

I filled a cup with coffee in the mess hall and went to the library of the monastery. It was late afternoon and I was longing for some reading and reflection. There I saw the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, seated in a comfortable armchair with his gaze entertained by the mountains that could be seen through the huge windows. He greeted me with a sincere smile. When he saw me lost among the shelves with a variety of good titles, from Yogananda to Fernando Pessoa, from Chico Xavier to Laozi, touring between Spinoza and Jung, the monk whispered: “Do as Paul, the apostle to the gentiles. It is said that he would always open the Bible randomly whenever he wanted a text to meditate about. As there is no such thing as chance, he always found the words he needed. I sat with the Scriptures in my hand, and the page I opened to was of a passage that had always bothered me since the first time I had read it. It is the one in which master Jesus states that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. I read and re-read the entire chapter. Not satisfied, I asked the Old Man if money precluded illumination. He looked at me as if to a child, and said with a soft voice: “Of course not. Money is a wonderful tool, capable of sowing good fruits, as long as it is properly used.” I argued that that was not what was written.

Love does not have to be perfect

When I entered the shop, they were already talking. Loureiro, the shoemaker who loved wines and books, listened to the sorrows of a nephew of his about the difficulties he had with questions of the heart. We were introduced, and the young man, quite politely, said he had no problems if I took part in the conversation. In fact, he said that it would be good, as he would have yet another opinion to consider. The elegant cobbler went to make a fresh pot of coffee while the young man explained to me, in short, that the more he knew a person, the more he was disappointed with them. He stated that masks cannot be sustained in personal relationships, and what is displayed has definitively never pleased him.

Loureiro, who was pouring fresh coffee in our cups on the counter, took the cue and said: “We all want to be loved and admired. This is a latent will of our ego: the limelight and the applause. So, subconsciously we create characters that we believe are real to interpret roles that achieve that end.” The nephew interrupted to say that that was exactly what he did not like in people. He looked for people who were authentic. “But they are, in a way”, corrected the uncle. The young man said the shoemaker was being contradictory. Loureiro   began his explanation in Socratic style, with a question: “If you are attracted to a girl, do you normally approach her showing how vain, proud, stubborn or selfish you are?”

Valuable pillars

In the charming little village located at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery, all shops closed their doors at twelve noon on Saturdays, except restaurants, coffee-shops and pubs, meeting points for happy luncheons or friends’ get-togethers. The famous exception was the shop of Loureiro, the elegant shoemaker who loved books and wines. The shop’s hours of operation were irregular, unlikely. To find it open at any time of day or night was an authentic game of chance. On that Saturday afternoon, before heading back to the monastery, I took the chance of stopping by, for coffee and idle conversation. The shop was closed. As my ride was later on, in the evening, I went to a quiet tavern I knew he liked to patronize. I found him there, seated in a comfortable armchair, next to a coffee table on which there was a wine glass and a lamp that allowed him to read Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet with enviable tranquility. Almost at the same time I went over to greet him, another friend of his approached. This man had red, swollen eyes from much crying. He immediately started to talk, saying that the night before he was caught by surprise by the end of a romance which, even though it had not lasted long, had been intense. Loureiro, realizing the friend had not noticed me, introduced us. René, this was his name, was polite.  The shoemaker asked us to grab chairs, so that we could sit close to him, as his tone of voice was always soft. He told René that, because I was there, they could talk about his predicament at another time, as my presence could embarrass him. The man said that there was no problem with me being there. He needed to vent, and listen to some words that could soothe his pain.

The tools of love

When the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, entered the cozy library of the monastery, I was immersed in reflecting on an excerpt from a book of Rumi’s parables. The monk took a book from a shelf and sat comfortably on an armchair next to mine. I noticed he had picked Laozi’s ancient Tao Te Ching or Book of the Path of Virtue. Because there were just the two of us in the library, I dared to start a conversation. I said that, by chance, I was reading a book that also addressed the value of virtues and, in addition to exalting courage as one of them, also stated that “love is for the strong’’. The monk, with his typical smooth voice, was laconic in his remark: “Yes, this is true”. I disagreed, reasoning that love, because of its utmost importance, was available to everyone, no exceptions made. The Old Man looked at me with tremendous patience and said: “Yes, this is also true.” I shook my head and moved my hands, as if these motions could enhance my reasons, and said he was not making sense: was love for everyone or only for the strong ones? I asked him to make a decision. The monk arched his lips in a mild smile and started to explain: “You are mixing things up, Yoskhaz. Don’t you realize we are dealing with different things? Or rather, of situations in which love presents itself in different ways?”

The sense of victory – a different perspective

I was accompanying the carpenter who was changing the hinges of the monastery gate when I was surprised by the arrival of a nephew of the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order. The young man, in his early thirties, looked distraught and had come to hear from his uncle some words that could explain the storm that had assailed his marriage. We went looking for the Old Man and found him in the library, reading the Parables of Rumi. Even though silence was required there, because we were alone the monk decided to speak to his nephew there, at least until someone else arrived. I was about to leave, but the monk asked me to stay. Immediately the young man vented all his puzzlement and sorrow about what was going on. He explained that early on, the marriage was too complicated; only after a lot of quarreling he had been able to convince his wife that she had to change her behavior regarding different aspects of her social and professional life. She had to understand that she had become a married woman. He added the wife’s shift of attitude after much quarreling had been an accomplishment. However, shortly after, she became sad about herself for no apparent reason. Depressed, she sought help from a well-known psychoanalyst. The treatment was effective, as, little by little, she regained her open, charming smile. However, few days ago, she told him she wanted a divorce. The young man did not understand the lack of acknowledgement by his wife, as he had been by her side in the darkest period of their time together, and now, when everything seemed to be solved, she had decided to leave. No, he did not understand nor agree with the separation. However, the woman had left, carrying with her just what fitted in a suitcase.

The seed

I was walking in the Arizona mountains next to Starry Song, the shaman who had the gift of using music to perpetuate the wisdom of his people. Eventually, we reached a plateau with a charming view. He laid a multicolored blanket on the ground, lit his unmistakable pipe with a bowl made of red rock, and asked me to prepare a campfire. Then, with his two-sided drum, he set the rhythm for a heartfelt ancient song which asked for protection to never ‘abandon the sunny side of the road’. We remained silent for I don’t know how long, as travelers in the world of ideas, until the shaman broke the silence: “There are many elements in nature that I consider sacred because they are symbolic. Dawn, as light is important in our lives; the flight of the eagle, as it teaches me to see things from the heights; the stars, because they remind me there are other worlds in addition to this one; the four seasons, as they teach that cycles are renewed; the butterfly, that reminds me that a caterpillar can have wings; the river, so that I never forget that eventually, all waters will reach the sea. However, nothing fascinates me more than the seed.” He gave his pipe a puff and continued: “There are lessons all around us. The sacred is mixed with the mundane, waiting to be revealed.” I was about to interrupt him, to ask about the seed, the conversation changed course. It was when he added: “Just like magic awaits the timing of the sorcerer.”

The biggest lie

Loureiro, the shoemaker who sewed leather as trade and ideas as art was walking by my side on the narrow cobblestone streets of the charming village located at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery. We were looking for a restaurant to have lunch. He picked a quiet one, so that we could chat without being disturbed. As soon as we walked in, he met a long-time friend, an artist who had become famous for her paintings. Even though she had to travel extensively, due to invitations and exhibits, whenever she could she would come back to the small village where her roots were, in order not to forget the core essence that propelled her to move on. ‘Knowing my village grants me power over the world’, she repeated this well-known quote when the shoemaker asked her what she was doing there, rather than being in New York, London or Paris. She immediately invited us to sit at her table. I had known her from pictures, and was impressed with her elegance and, particularly, her personal magnetism; it seemed both features were innate, as apparently she made no effort to present them. She was about Loureiro’s age, and had grayish, short hair, like his. She had decided not to have them dyed any longer, and she wore almost no makeup. She claimed ‘it is too troublesome, and there is already too much paint in my life’. We laughed. I asked myself if her elegance lay in her sophisticated simplicity. When she asked what was new, she said she would have to go to Madrid in a few days, as one of her paintings had been selected for an exhibition at the Prado Museum about ‘hidden feelings’. She took out from her purse a picture of the painting to show us. It was a gorgeous painting of a huge size, one of those that take an entire wall, in which she portrayed a young woman alone in a ballroom. She said she had named the painting “The Biggest Lie”. I asked her why. She said that once she had completed the painting, she found the smile of the portrayed woman sad. She confessed she felt bothered by the painting, but, she emphasized, she did not know nor tried to understand the reason for that interpretation; she painted with her subconscious mind.

The revelation

My first stage as a disciple of the Order involved many questions about the mysteries of life. I always thought that positive, as it prompted me into reflection and also taught me a lot about patience and serenity, as we only find responses once we are ready to understand them. It is as if they were under a cloak of invisibility, until there was a change in our eyes. I had just finished sweeping the garden and, before heading to the monastery’s library, I stopped at the refectory to grab a cup of coffee. Books and coffee is a combination I have always enjoyed. I found the Old Man before a piece of oat cake, with a distant gaze. I asked permission to interrupt his thoughts and sit next to him, to chat for a bit. He consented with a sweet smile. I told him I had read a poem attributed to an ancient Persian alchemist that reported a conversation between a caravanner and a grain of sand. There was a part that intrigued me:

“Grain of sand: I am the desert.

Caravanner: No, you are just part of the desert. Without you, the desert will continue to be the desert.

Grain of sand: You are mistaken. If I go missing, the desert will be incomplete, and will travel in my search.

Caravanner: Your mind wanders between hubris and madness.

Grain of sand: I understand your judgment. Each one makes theirs with the eyes they have at the time. Trust me, seeing is an art.

Caravanner: So, tell me what I am missing.

Grain of sand: The source where I drink from. There is not the whole without a part.

Caravanner: As simple as that?

Grain of sand: The part brings the whole in itself; I carry the desert within me. In order to know the desert, one must unveil the grain. This is the power and the revelation.”

The recipient of love

It was a cold Fall morning. The sun tried to warm the body under a heavy wool coat. I was walking on the narrow and winding streets of the charming village located at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery, on my way to Loureiro’s shop, for a cup of coffee and some conversation. I was sad as I felt some close relations of mine did not return my love for them. The shoemaker, who sewed leather by trade and ideas as art, greeted me with the usual joy, and soon we were seated by the counter with two steaming cups before us. After I explained my dissatisfaction, I asked my friend why love caused so much suffering. I found that conflicting, as this feeling is undeniably connected to good and light. Ultimately, if love was so good, no one should suffer for it. The cobbler sipped the coffee and replied, as if speaking the obvious: “They suffer just because they don’t understand love.” I disagreed. I said that love is intrinsic to everyone. I added that there should not be a human being on the face of Earth who did not know love. Loureiro smiled and said: “Yes, this is true. However, feeling love does not mean we know how to decipher it. Furthermore, love is not the only feeling that runs in the veins of everyone, all feelings do, the better and the worse. No exception. Identifying each one of them is essential; not allowing one to contaminate another is part of the skill set of the walker.”

“But let’s stick to love, or else this conversation will be too long. Who suffers for love is he who has not understood the rightful recipient of this most important feeling or its mechanics.” I said I had not understood. The shoemaker reasoned: “The root of suffering is to love the way a merchant registers inventory in and out. If we give affection, tenderness and attention we demand the same in return, as “payment”, if you will. This means, we only allow ourselves to love if we are loved back with the same intensity. Isn’t it so?”

I agreed that it was so. Loureiro shrugged and said: “Wrong recipient.”

I said I had not understood. He explained: “When we act like that, we show we are more concerned with ourselves than with others. This attitude shows that we love for what we will receive in return, and the other is a mere channel through which the love we give will be sent back. This is not love, this is selfishness. This is like sending a letter to ourselves. What is the sense of writing a letter to oneself? Love is a poem we write haphazardly, without worrying about signing it. Gestures that stem from the purity of heart are the best verses written about love’s imperishable role. It is the poetry that one puts in a bottle and throws it in the ocean with the joyful purpose of filling the soul of whoever finds it, with no other agenda. Love, to be actually so, should be committed to not being bound to the reaction of the other in returning it. The love you feel is not the one you receive, but the one you give. Love is a strange commodity, the more you let it flow out, the larger your inventory.”

I argued that love is exchange. Everyone wants to receive in the exact amount they give. The cobbler shook his head and said: “Exchange is trade; love is sharing the beauty and joy of life that pulsates within you. Without payments, taxes or levies of any kind. Like flowers we plant at the side of the road to enrich the life of those who will come after, without the concern on whether or not they will enjoy the colors and scents. To love is to offer the light within us to illuminate the dark dungeons of the world without presenting a bill of charges for services delivered. Or it is not love. This understanding is an important step to be free from any emotional or love dependency, and, therefore, to end all suffering. If you look carefully, you will realize that we suffer for jealousy, envy, selfishness or other less noble feelings, but never for love.”

“Think about the sun, which provides light and warmth, allows and renews life and asks for nothing in return. Hence its greatness and power. Love transcends magnetism, propelling everything and everyone to orbit around its generating station. It is like the sun: when you ask for nothing in return, you get everything.” He paused briefly, and added: “This is the strange and fantastic equation of life that we persist in not understanding. Then we suffer.”

I said I had always heard that love was an exchange. Loureiro was emphatic: “You learned the wrong lesson. If you want to stop the pain you must quit the classes of selfishness and jealousy, and attend a different school.”

I argued that he was insane. I remembered the wonderful feeling of being loved. He arched his lips in a smile and said: “I agree with you. This feeling is exhilarating and I want to feel it every day. However, this is precisely where danger lies. This feeling is good and fair, but it cannot turn into the object and goal of love one gives, in which case it becomes a selfish attitude that aims to benefit oneself, not the other. Then, it is no longer love; this is why we suffer. One must pay heed so that the recipient of love is not the sender, in which case the letter loses its sense and love gets lost in itself, ceasing to exist.”

I wanted some more coffee and asked him to refill my cup. That entire conversation was too disconcerting and, I must confess, it was difficult for me to grasp it. When I thought that Loureiro was going to relieve my intellectual discomfort, he struck the final blow: “Only in the infancy of the soul we insist on thinking we are the center of the world and that the universe turns around our ego. From this stemmed the word ‘selfishness’. The natural outcome of love-related selfishness is jealousy, a feeling so strong we mistake it for love. The worse is that jealousy is connected to the feeling of insecurity and outdated ideas of domination.” Once again I asked the cobbler to further explain his thoughts. He was didactic: “The idea that we are absolute and the center of the world makes us believe that we have exclusive rights on everything and everyone. We use the word ‘engagement’ for our relations improperly, to hide the true feelings that move us: jealousy and selfishness. We want to dominate others due to conditionings and faulty education. When we become involved with someone who is a source of joy for us, we display the fear of their leaving.” He paused and added: “But how can you lose what is not yours to have?” Then, he said: “We have the delusion that happiness is only possible if we have in our hands all that involves us and all people we believe are important for our happiness. This is the origin of imprisonment. To tame causes pain, taming people brings along unavoidable suffering. We suffer due to other much less noble feelings, and we blame love for something it is innocent of. No one suffers from love.”

“We forget the lesson given by the sun and charge for heat and light, emptying the joy of those who orbit round us. Love is not demand or commitment; in fact, love is the remedy for this condition. It is freedom and plenitude. It triggers the magnetism that attracts everything.”

I wanted to know what was necessary to stop suffering. He furrowed his brow and said, seriously: “We often feel an existential void whose origin it is hard for us to identify. Then, we look for someone who can fill it up, and transfer the responsibility for our happiness. This is the perfect formula for failure and pain. Instead of treading the path of self-knowledge to heal the emotional fractures that prevent us from moving forward, instead of illuminating our own shadows that prevent us from evolving because they blame others for our suffering, we prefer to take the shortcut of finding someone who will solve the misery we feel. In short, we have the delusional idea that to love is to have someone who will make us happy. This causes stagnation which, in turn, makes us boring; this causes dependence that builds prisons with no bars.”

“What if we invert the equation? Taking over responsibility for one’s own happiness is to be ready to initiate on the Path. Honestly and boldly undertaking the process of self-knowledge to transform oneself is the first step. Not to demand anything from others and focus on the responsibility of sharing the virtues that blossom in your soul is a sign of evolution and fertile ground for love to flourish in one’s heart. This brings lightness, the freedom of being. This brings peace, the plenitude of being.”

“This change, in fact, is the breaking of the shell that prevents us from being whole and denies love in its entire dimension. One must renounce making any demands, just because no one owes us anything. If one claims any rights over the other, rest assured there is no love involved. If we feel like someone’s owner or creditor, it is not love that is guiding us. Love refuses domination because it is libertarian in its core. Demands cease to make sense once we realize they are like letters written to the wrong recipient.”

“Once we realize we are accountable for our happiness, and that no one owes us anything, all that is given to us, as little as it may be. No fruit grows off season. Love requires patience. Because it knows it cannot offer perfection, love allows compassion with the imperfections of the other to grow.”

“Only when we accept that the recipient of our love is not ourselves, but others we will feel the love’s entire power and strength pulsate. It is the process of developing wings that will allow flight to the High Lands. There is no other.”

We spent some time without uttering a word. I broke the silence and, moved, said that I had to go. I was late in re-writing all my letters, because I did not want to postpone an important meeting. Loureiro smiled.

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

 

Truth does not hurt

We were walking on the narrow and winding streets of the charming village that sits at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery. The early-evening sun highlighted the colors of the houses and the cobblestones. Loureiro, the shoemaker who mended leather as trade and sew ideas as art was hungry. We were on our way to Sophie’s coffee shop, where the best sandwiches on the planet are made, so that he could have his favorite, slices of ham, a little honey and cinnamon, generous shavings of parmesan cheese and an over-easy egg on a brioche roll. It goes in the oven for grating. To drink, coffee until sunset; after, only wine. The house is strict in its rules. The waitress was Regina, a long-time acquaintance who was happy to see us. She said her shift was over and asked if she could join us. Permission granted, apron off, and we had, seated next to us, someone who needed to talk like a child who wants to show all the toys to a visitor. Immediately, she disclosed a serious matrimonial crisis. For quite some time now she had been living with another woman, much younger, whom she was in love with. However, she had always introduced her as a niece who had come to spend some time in the village. On the night before, they had a serious argument, because the girlfriend accused her of prejudice for not admitting before everyone the love they felt one for the other, either due to the age difference or the fact that they both are women.

The good fight

I was unhappy with my life. I was strolling on the winding and narrow streets of the small and charming village located at the foot of the mountain where sits the monastery when I passed by a bakery. The smell of freshly baked bread was irresistible. I sat at a table and ordered a sandwich with butter, honey, cinnamon and a generous slice of cheese. To go with it, a cup of coffee. At this moment, Loureiro, the elegant shoemaker came through the door. When he saw me, he cracked a sincere smile and came to me with open arms. After a strong hug, I asked if it was the smell of the bread or just chance that had attracted him there. He looked at me as one looks at a child and said: “There is no such thing as chance.” I said I had even thought about stopping by his shop, but I did not want to get in his way in mid-afternoon, while he was working. Well-known in the city for having unusual working hours, he said: “I called it a day. I came to talk to you.” I laughed and said he had no way to know I would be there. I myself would not have imagined it five minutes ago. Loureiro shrugged, as if indicating that was obvious, and said: “I also did not know, at least until I got here and found distress marked on your face. Then I understood.” I lowered my eyes and silently gave thanks.

The keys to evolution

The Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, had just delivered a lecture at a prestigious university. I had been assigned to accompany him on the trip. On our way out to hail a cab, to take us to the train station, we were approached by a professor of the university. Politely, she told us that she had attended the lecture and was intrigued. She invited us for lunch at the university’s cafeteria, because she would like to talk to the monk. The invitation was accepted. The woman got straight to the point. She said she had enjoyed the presentation, but something the monk said made her thoughtful. From what she had understood, the Old Man said that the only purpose we all had was to evolve. Period. The monk nodded in agreement. Always very kindly, she said she disagreed. She claimed she did not believe there was life after death. In her point of view, the ideas about reincarnation or any type of god were the product of less developed or superstitious minds that were afraid of facing the reality that death was the end. Therefore, she argued, the meaning of life was just a quest for happiness.

The door

Of all places in the monastery, the library has always been my favorite. Choosing one of the many books available, sitting in one of its comfortable armchairs and splitting my attention between the letters and the wonderful landscape of the mountains, whose view the huge windows allow, provide moments of pure magic. Many a time I found the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, seated in a corner, entranced by readings or traveling in the deep seas of reflection. On that day I had just picked a book when I realized he had been watching me. He arched his brow as if asking which book I had selected. I showed him the cover and he smiled approvingly. It was a collection of lectures by Yogananda. There was an empty armchair next to his, so I took it. I asked him what he was reading. He answered in a whisper: “The Sermon on the Mount.” He had once told me he read this small text every day before reading anything else, but I did not think he meant that literally. Seeing my display of surprise, the Old Man said: “The words of the Sermon are alive, and have always provided me endless teachings.” I had read it many times, and asked him what part he was meditating about. He said with his soft voice: “That part that says that ‘small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.’” I said I knew what he was talking about, and wanted to show off all the knowledge I thought I had. I said that the purpose of that excerpt was to drive us away from the wide roads to perdition. I added that its interpretation was not that hard, suffice that we be honest. As simple as that. The Old Man thanked me in form of a sweet smile and returned to his reading and thoughts. I was proud of myself.

The tools of the Light

Dawn was yet to come when I reached the small and charming village at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery. I had taken a ride on a delivery truck and was wandering aimlessly on the beautiful, narrow and winding cobblestone streets. The moisture from dew reflected the flickering light of the light poles, making up a beautiful setting. The noise of my steps disrupted the silence that ruled at that early hour. I decided to take a chance and walked to Loureiro’s shop. He was a shoemaker who loved wines and books; reds and philosophy were his favorite. Mending leather was his trade; sowing ideas, his art. His shop was known for the unlikely, inconstant hours of operation. When I turned the corner, from afar I saw his old, classic bicycle leaning against the light pole. I felt that it was going to be a good day. I was received with the usual joy, and soon we were seated with two steaming cups of coffee before us, on the counter. I told him I needed to chat a bit and vent, as I was facing a delicate issue. On a recent trip to a big city, where I had gone accompanying the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the order who had been invited to deliver a number of lectures at a prestigious university, I saw the wife of a cousin of mine in a clear scene of marital cheating. When she realized I had seen it, she came to me and asked me not to disclose it. She said it was an old fling of hers and she needed to resolve it within herself. She added she loved my cousin and did not want to destroy the family she had built with him and the two children they had. She also said that once she solved the enigma of her heart, she would be an even better wife. It seemed to me she was being sincere. Indeed, she and my cousin with their two kids seemed to be a happy family. However, omission is, at times, almost a lie. To tell my cousin or not, this is my dilemma, since I was committed to always being honest, always sticking to the truth and never distancing myself from good morals.

 

Loureiro listened without saying a word. At the end, he sipped a little coffee and made a comment: “I see no dilemma.” What did he mean? I was surprised. I told him that every good person should guide their choices according to good morals, which are formed by virtues that dignify the human character. The craftsman nodded in agreement. I added that being fateful to the truth was a cardinal virtue. This time the shoemaker shook his head and said: “Not always.”

 

I said I had not understood. Loureiro explained: “The purpose of exercising the virtues is to direct people towards doing good. Humility, justice, courage, compassion, among others, in addition to love, of course, are some of the essential virtues whose function is to guide the walker on the Path. Out of logic, it is necessary to fit them inside you in a harmonious way, so that one does not clash against the other. Had that happened, ironically or tragically, good would end up being lost, for the inadequate use of the virtue to reach good itself. Common sense is also another precious virtue, as it is used to create a set of priorities that are suitable for each particular case.” I said I would understand it more easily if he explained it to me through an example. The craftsman obliged: “Let’s focus on the important and undeniable commitment we have with the virtue of honesty, the one that prompts us to always tell the truth.” He sipped a little coffee and continued: “Imagine an executioner goes to your home searching for a friend of yours who is hiding in a room. The murderer asks if you know where your friend is. Do you tell the truth or do you lie to save a life?”

 

I lowered my eyes. I was beginning to understand the importance having a balance of the virtues. Loureiro continued: “Any virtue that is not committed to the light, to doing good, is not a virtue at all, even if it is disguised as such. Any action that does not have love as a goal is not a virtuous one. This is where the difference between moral and moralism lies. Moral is the endpoint of virtue. Like virtue, moral needs to be flexible to suit the actual case, to be light to adjust to reality, and it needs love to do good. Obstinacy and intolerance imprison moral and disfigure it into moralism. Then the light goes off and the shadows reign again.” I wanted to know the difference between moral and virtue. He obliged “Moral commands; virtues are the instruments. Light maps moral; the virtues allow you to get there. Moral is the canvas; the virtues, the paints.” I think Loureiro noticed a quizzical expression on my face, and went further: “The good is the dwelling of the good morals we try to build; the virtues are the bricks. Knowing how to align them requires wisdom for the house not to collapse.” He paused briefly and then gave another example: “A mother’s love for her child is of precious moral and fundamental importance. It is a wonderful, necessary base for a life. But that is not enough. It is necessary to understand the wisdom of “yes” and “no”. She needs the virtues to educate the child about the differences between shadows and light. Values such as dignity, patience, generosity, purity, among others, are essential to form the character she will help shape, particularly during infancy.”

 

“Just like the virtues are tools of the moral, the wisdom is necessary for love to be exerted in all its magnitude.” He drank a little more coffee and continued: “In the good mother example, love without wisdom may weaken itself, preventing the child from moving forward and giving room to narcissism, spoiledness and weaknesses. On the other hand, wisdom without love may be too dangerous, for leading the child away from the sunny side of the Road, by making him excessively brute, insensitive or harsh. Just like the morals and virtues complement each other, love and wisdom complete the circle of light.”

 

I said that I understood, in theory, the reasons presented by the cobbler. However, in practice, the situation of my cousin still elicited distress and questions in me. So, I used a valuable, but dangerous reasoning. I said that if I were in my cousin’s shoes, I would like to be told the secret. Loureiro furrowed his brow and rebuked, gravely: “In the example of the murderer that we used earlier, if you were in the executioner’s shoes you would like to be told where the victim was hiding, right? What if you were the victim, what would you like the friend to do?”

 

Ashamed, I lowered my eyes once again. The shoemaker paused briefly to complete: “To put yourself in someone else’s shoes is an extremely important exercise. However, that is not enough. There is not only one other person, but many, each one with their own interest and values, not always in sync with yours. Isn’t the choice up to you? Therefore, one should have the discretion to realize the true feeling that drives one’s actions, and which of the virtues should be the instrument for making that decision, so that light is formed at that moment.”

 

“If you are distressed for not knowing what to do, you should not forget that all suffering is due to unbalance between ideas and emotions; new and outdated ideas that still clash, one against the other; feelings that are confused, opposing. It is all because you are thinking only of you.” I asked if he was saying I was being selfish. He winked an eye and said, in a roguish way: “In a way, yes.” Then he adopted a serious tone:  “By putting yourself in the shoes of the other, your purpose should only be their best. That is great. However, oftentimes we let our own shadows bring the sorrows and memories of our past that still corrode us and, out of inattentiveness, they end up tainting our decision and, in consequence, the life of others. Hence, ultimately, they use the shadows, not the light, to examine the issue. This is terrible. Light and shadows are available for a decision to be made and a word to be uttered. Can you see how delicate and important a choice is?”

 

“I would go even further. Who knows the intimacy of your cousin’s marriage, its pains and pleasures? What if, instead of putting yourself in his shoes, you put yourself in his wife’s? What is her story? What are the wounds, traumas, deceptions she has yet to heal? How much help does she need and what is the best way to help? We know so little about ourselves, how can we decide to be masters of the truth and of the fate of others? Didn’t you say they seem a happy family? The fact is until now you were only concerned with yourself and what to do with the truth you became aware of, regardless of anything. So let me ask this, is your intention to construct or to destroy? The answer will define if virtue is in talking or silencing.”

 

I took the cue and said that nothing happens by accident. If the secret was somehow revealed to me, it is because I should do something good with it. The craftsman nodded in agreement, and added: “Yes, of course you should do something good, not only with the secret itself but with the entire situation related to the issue at stake, and take the best lesson from it. The secret is just part of the lesson that life is generously providing you with. What to do with the secret will reveal much more about you than about your cousin’s wife. Does good lie in disclosing the secret or in the lesson of learning how to deal better with your own virtues, a precious opportunity for personal improvement?”

 

He made a brief pause, and continued to question me: “If you are still distressed, doesn’t that mean anything? Would a sound soul allow itself to be invaded by the pain of moral inadequacy? What is yet to be transformed so that doubt is always a factor for growth, not unbalance?”

 

I lowered my eyes one more time. Yes, I suffered. ‘If there is suffering, this means there is still a lesson to be learned, something to be transformed within yourself’, I recalled the Old Man, who kept saying this all the time.

 

Life is extremely generous, but it has an odd way of teaching. However, it is extremely effective, there is no question about it. We remained silent for a long while. Little by little, the ideas settled in my mind and the feelings found a place in my heart. I understood that virtues, despite their undeniable importance, are not an end in themselves, but tools that must be wisely used to let there be light. The moral, in turn, will have value only if coated by love, without which nothing will make sense. One more veil was removed. I smiled.

 

Loureiro realized that, gave me back a nice smile and concluded: “Love will always be the crossing and the destination. Wisdom, in turn, plays the role of guardian of the Path.”

 

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

The thief of magic

Whenever I could, I would go to the Arizona mountains to spend time with Starry Song, the shaman who sowed the ancestral wisdom of his people throughout the word, in chant or otherwise. I had been there for about a month when he called me for a conversation by a campfire. I was always honored to receive such an invitation, and looked forward it whenever I went for a visit. Our meetings took place at night, under a roof of stars. Most times, when I arrived the shaman was already waiting for me by the campfire. As he once explained, fire is an important elemental that helps old forms to transmute. He motioned with his head for me to sit on a blanket next to him. Starry Song sang a heartfelt song, his two-sided drum to provide the rhythm, in which he gave thanks to the Maker for the opportunity of being there, at that moment, and for the intuitions and inspirations to be granted, and expressed through words. Then he lit his unfailing red stone-bowl pipe. In these small rituals we would share the pipe as a sign of admiration of the wisdom and courage we had one for the other.

The baggage

The Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, had been invited to deliver a number of lectures on various issues in another monastery, far away from ours, whose brotherhood had precepts quite different from ours. In essence, the differences brought us closer together than further apart. On that occasion, I was the disciple assigned to accompany the monk. They were all dazzled by the Old Man. A composed figure, always with a discrete smile on his face, a gaze that mirrored patience, wise words spoken in a soft voice and, particularly, attitudes that, even in minor gestures, overflowed with purest love. He would say that to be a role model is the most powerful statement one can make, it is the “living truth”. Twice on this trip the monk asked me to open the lecture of the day with brief presentations on the issue he would address, which has yielded me some compliments, more as a reflex of his lectures than merit of my own. However, I was not OK. A student of that monastery in whose room I was sleeping kept pestering me with a hail of criticisms, whether about the brief presentation I had made before the lectures or any other behavior I had he would consider unsuitable. Everything I did was filled with flaws. When the Old Man came to the room to check if I was ready for our trip back, he found me packing the suitcase the way my heart was, in total mess and disarray.

 

When he asked me what was going on, I told him the reasons for my annoyance. The Old Man asked me to stop packing and go walking with him for a bit. I told him we had to leave, and he said: “We must understand what we carry in our baggage in order to continue the journey.” I said that I was packing only my clothes and personal belongings. The good monk pointed to the suitcase over the bed with his chin and corrected me: “I am not talking about this suitcase.” He placed his hand over his chest and added: “I am talking about the sacred baggage, the one we carry in the heart.”

 

While we walked around the beautiful garden of that monastery, I told him how the other disciple pestered me. I spoke and spoke until all my complaints were exhausted. The Old Man listened to me with tremendous patience, and then said: “Buddha taught that ‘whenever I allow anger to dwell in me, I will lose the battle.’” He paused briefly to continue: “The fiercest battle is the one we fight inside ourselves. It is illuminating the shadows that dwell within us. They are many, and various. Anger, annoyance and sorrow are just a few of its many species. Social relations bring the allies, those people who help and makes us strong, so that we are able to keep the light that illuminates our steps lit. They also bring the foes, whose mission seems to be nourishing the shadows that are hidden within ourselves. The former are as important as the latter. While allies are unequivocal in their help, the foes act in an implicit way, by hampering. Antagonists operate, on a subconscious level, as hidden masters who teach us, through conflicts, the precise lesson we are ready for.” I interrupted him and said I did not understand what he meant. The Old Man explained: “When you allow your shadow to manifest itself, you become aware not only of its existence, but of how much it hampers and deceives you. But if your mind is alert, you can begin the process of perfecting this feature of your core.”

 

I told him I still did not understand. The Old Man was more didactic: “It is like a film. The good guy needs the bad one to exercise his abilities. Otherwise, he will live a sluggish life, devoid of charm or interest. Hence, the more sophisticated the villain is, the better the story, as the hero will have to develop powers he is not aware he is capable of, so that he can outdo himself. Do you realize it is the conflict that sets the narrative in motion? In life it is no different. Each one is the hero of their own story and, therefore, the villain of the stories of others because, one way or another, whether or not we are fair, at some point we act against someone’s expectations. In order to play the part, the hero needs the villain to understand how to react facing the hardships that come about. How to react facing adversities? This is what gauges us. Take the opportunity to learn about yourself, smooth the rough edges that cut you and others; give your best and move forward, always seeking the wholesomeness and the plenitude of being.”

 

I asked him if, indeed, conflict is necessary. The Old Man patiently explained: “We live on a plane of existence where conflicts are still important tools to achieve personal harmony. The greatest proof is the existence of personal shadows. While you believe that frustrations are motivated by the other, there will be conflicts and stagnation. Perceiving the shadows makes you realize the huge and essential work you must do on yourself. In relationships, regardless of type, unpleasant interlocutors have the sacred mission of making the shadows manifest themselves through adversity and setbacks. Thank them for that. This makes it possible to identify and illuminate what must be transmuted within yourself. If you pay attention and are sincere on the journey of self-knowledge, you will come to the conclusion that the adversary is never the other, but yourself. As a guardian of the threshold, he has just shown you, even if in a coarse way, where the fight to overcome the next portal of the Path will be fought.” He pointed to my chest and added: “Inside yourself.”

 

“Do you understand the importance of each person in your life?”, asked the Old Man. I replied that I saw no value in a lad whose only purpose in life seemed to be harassing me. I said I would like to live in peace with everyone. The monk smiled and said: “Yes! And because you have not yet achieved this you are in this station. Everyone wants to live in peace, but few are ready to take over their own evolutionary responsibility. Most prefer to blame others. Do you understand that his behavior, even though inappropriate, provides valuable lessons?” I confessed I did not see any good thing in all that annoyance. The Old Man arched his lips in a beautiful smile and reasoned: “Can you realize that maybe something in you also bothers the other disciple? It is likely a quality or a gift he admires, but because he is not able yet to manage with humility the virtues he does not command, he allows vanity or envy to be manifested through aggressive attitudes. Or it might be the opposite. He sees in you a problem he also has and, subconsciously, is unable to admit. Therefore, he reacts by harshly criticizing you, so that he can deceive himself by believing he has reached perfection when he has not.” I asked why it had to be like that. The Old Man looked at me with compassion and said: “It is like that with everyone. Since the shadows have the task of disguising the hardships of the ego, they are going to target the features of others, either by coloring their faults with strong colors or placing eventual flaws under powerful magnifying lenses. What bothers this disciple is not Yoskhaz’s mistakes, but his own difficulties, which he is not able to deal with, or evolutionary levels he has yet to reach. Do you see how tricky the shadows are? Under the disguise of protection, they prevent the best gaze. Hence, each one becomes the main victim of their shadows and, worse, without realizing it. Then the villain emerges, trying to wake the hero asleep in each and every one of us. While he does not understand himself, he will not be able to improve. Therefore, one must be very patient with the other and pay heed to oneself.”

 

“You, in turn, showed how difficult it is for you to handle criticism. This is the second lesson,” added the monk. I immediately rebuked, and said that the criticisms were unfair. The Old Man furrowed his brow and said in a sweet, and yet grave tone: “I did not see you question compliments, when you received them. Would these be adequate? If not all criticisms are fair, not all compliments are deserved. If, on one hand, we cannot allow any criticism to defeat us, and be just an element of reflexion and transformation, on the other wisdom dictates that the honey of compliments does not smear the ego, preventing the next steps towards evolution. Once again I recall Buddha’s teaching of treading on the Middle Path as a point of balance so that one extreme does not eliminate the other, and therefore does not prevent the wholesomeness of being from being achieved.”

 

I lowered my eyes and said no word. I knew what the monk was talking about, but it was difficult for me to live according to that guidance, and did not allow the lessons to turn into wisdom, as a loaf of bread that rots, forgotten in the window. The Old Man continued: “It is precisely to find inner harmony that we go back to the beginning of this conversation: learning how to pack. What we carry in our baggage defines the way we tread the Path. Lightness is necessary if you want to use your wings. Therefore, the suitcase cannot carry the heavy burden of anger, sorrow, envy, jealousy, insecurity and so many other shadows, or you won’t be able to carry it, so heavy is the weight. The winds of forgiveness, tolerance, respect and love make you soar.” He paused briefly so that I could put my ideas together, and completed: “Nothing or no one can bother us. When that happens, have no doubt, there is something wrong in your baggage. It is time to open and change its contents.”

 

“Don’t waste time or energy with regrets or attempts to change others. Only fools do that. Always give your best and express your beliefs in a quiet, clear way. Then move on. Each one has their own journey to cover.”

 

“Plenitude is the sacred art of keeping inner peace above the unavoidable external conflicts. Having allowed the other disciple to shake your peace revealed many flaws that must be improved. Don’t forget to thank him before leaving.” I remained in silence and nodded my head in agreement. Before I could say anything, the Old Man added: “It is time to go, or else we will miss the train. Go get you baggage in your room.” He blinked his eye in a roguish way and asked: “Do you know what you will pack to take home?”

 

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

 

 

 

The perfect girlfriend

When I walked into Loureiro’s shop, the elegant shoemaker decided to call it a day, even though we were still in the middle of the afternoon. A lover of red wines and philosophy books, he had the hammer and the plier as the tools of his trade; the ideas with which he colored the mosaic of his life were the instruments of his art. His shop did not have fixed hours for opening or closing. The hours of operation varied according to the will of the cobbler, and in the small village, the unlikely hours of operation had become legendary. We would go, both of us, to watch a soccer match on TV at a boisterous tavern. That was a much-expected play-off match. Loureiro thought we would have time for a chat before heading on, and went to make a fresh pot of coffee to loosen up his words. He had barely placed two steaming cups on the counter and we were taken by surprise by a tornado in human form. The shoemaker’s youngest sister busted into the shop with such energy that all around seemed to shake. Lucy was her name. She had long ceased to be a girl. Despite her half a century of existence, she still had the fire of youth. Her blue eyes contrasted with her dark skin and dark hair; she was very pretty. She was very pleasant to deal with, attentive and a good friend. She thoroughly enjoyed studying and had become a respectable judge of the local court, and that provided her with a comfortable financial life. Her features notwithstanding, she was not happy. One of her wishes was to have a stable marriage with someone she could share all moments of life. However, despite her personal qualities, her love relationships were ephemeral; for a reason she did not know, they just did not last. This was the reason of that sudden visit: her last boyfriend had just broken up with her.

The other and I

The waiter opened the bottle and kindly filled our glasses. I was in one of those days in which we feel like talking about life, and listening to the opinion of those we respect. I was concerned with a very dear uncle who had recently undergone some difficult situations and wasn’t able to balance his emotional side. I had gone to the small and ancient village located at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery and took the opportunity to ask Loureiro, the elegant shoemaker who loved wines and books, to meet me. He favored reds and philosophy. Mending the leather was his trade; sowing life, his art. The tavern was empty and quiet; in the background, jazz from a radio could be overheard, nothing that would make us raise our low tone of voice. I told the good cobbler what had happened to this uncle of mine, whom I liked a lot and with whom I had been very close from childhood until my teen years. He had lost his only son in a car accident; because of that, his marriage had collapsed, culminating in divorce. I had been with him and had found him very depressed. He clearly expected me to take time off from work and drop my chores at the Order to go support him. If on one hand I felt like helping him out, on the other I did not want to change my life to such an extent. I was divided.

Shadow play

Dawn was yet to come when I went into the kitchen of the monastery. I had had a poor, intermittent sleep, the ideas were raging in my mind. When the mind is unable to rest, the body suffers the disarray that assails it, degrading one’s being as a whole. Tiredness, because it potentiates annoyance and sorrow, will always be a poor advisor. That was my exact state of being at that moment. For a few days now I had been in a growing feud with a fellow disciple of the Order. It had all begun for a silly reason, a minor criticism he had made about the philanthropic work I was coordinating. I reciprocated by pointing out flaws in his behavior. He retorted by escalating the tone of his criticism. The clash reached unexpected dimensions and, on the previous afternoon, after a harsh exchange of words, we almost got into a physical fight. We were so close to exchanging kicks and punches. Verbal offenses we could not avoid.

Suffering is a choice

I had arrived early at the small and charming village at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery. All seemed sleepy on its ancient streets when, much to my surprise, or almost, I see the old bicycle of Loureiro, the shoemaker who loved books and wines, leaning against the light pole in front of his shop. His hours of operation were unpredictable and unlikely. We never knew when we would find it open. I was received with joy and a sincere smile. My friend had just made a fresh pot of coffee; we sat at the counter with two steaming cups for an idle chat. The elegant craftsman mended leather by trade; sowing life with the threads of his unique philosophy was his art. On that day it was no different. Once again he left me disconcerted with the unexpected. The shoemaker told that one of his nieces, his sister’s daughter, had just left the shop. She was much shaken because her husband had decided to dissolve the marriage. She had come over for consolation, seeking an idea that would serve as a flashlight to illuminate her steps.  I asked if she had felt better after talking to her uncle. Then Loureiro startled me: “I don’t think so. In fact, she left worse than when she arrived. But in time she will understand what I tried to explain.” I wanted to know what he had said to relieve her affliction and that had triggered the opposite effect. Loureiro answered naturally: “All suffering is a choice.”

No wonder! I asked if my wise friend had gone mad. What kind of advice was that? Who in their right mind would choose to suffer? The craftsman, collectedly, sipped his coffee and said: “All those who cannot yet see beyond the haze of illusion.”

The best of both worlds

At the monastery, a few months a year, a small quantity of much appreciated chocolate bars are made. A cottage industry using the best cocoa seeds from tropical countries, vanilla and honey provided by attentive producers of the area, the chocolate is made in strict accordance with an ancient recipe known only by the monks. The chocolate is well-known among aficionados, and its entire production is sold immediately, even with the limitation of individual purchases. The revenue helps pay for much of the expenses of the Order, not all of it.

On one occasion, the Old Man, as we affectionately call the dean of the Order, had to travel to attend to some engagements and left me in charge of assisting Lucca, a composed monk who, for decades, had been in charge of making the chocolate. Scrupulous, he did not allow anything to stray from the original recipe or change the flavor. Anecdotes told as legends from a period prior to my joining the Order report that on one occasion he forbade the sale when an assistant made minute changes to the exact quantities of the ingredients. He was unyielding, despite everyone in the monastery having commended the flavor, saying it was almost indistinguishable from the one of the original recipe. On another occasion, he refused to make the chocolate for understanding the quality of the cocoa seeds provided was below par. In those years the monastery faced financial hardships due to lack of revenue from the sales.

The Law of Infinite Opportunities

The Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, had spoken to me about the unwritten code, a set of universal laws that regulates life in different planes of existence, and that drives the destiny of everyone. The understanding of how these rules work expands awareness, refines the choices and paves the Path. We had already spoken about the Law of Cycles and its importance. I had previously heard about the Law of Evolution, of Affinity, of Action and Reaction, among others. When I had the chance of being alone with him once again, I asked for further explanation about the Law of Infinite Opportunities. The Old Man was by the stove preparing a fresh mushroom soup, which everyone in the monastery enjoyed. He suggested that I help him while he cooked: “Alchemy was born in the kitchen,” he said in a roguish way. Then, he explained: “Perhaps no other law so clearly demonstrates the unfathomable generosity of life and the tremendous wisdom of the universe. It addresses our errors and the love we are treated with.”

The wall

The building of the monastery is a solid construction made of stone walls, and has crossed the centuries as firmly as the mountain that houses it. Or almost. One of the walls started to present signs of deterioration, and I was put in charge of its maintenance. Among the many contractors, I selected one whose owner was a high-school friend who seemed to be able to carry out the task. Despite the warnings that it was not just a mere fix-up but a restoration through which all original features must be kept, the outcome was a disaster. I was extremely annoyed when I met the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order. It was late afternoon, the time of day he dedicated to reading. He asked me to follow him to the library. We sat in comfortable armchairs next to huge windows, the beautiful forest around as landscape. He served us steaming coffee. Soon I started to unravel a rosary of complaints and regrets about the renovation of the wall. I said I was very disappointed with that friend of mine, whose job fell well short of what had been agreed upon and worse, of what had been promised. The Old Man sweetly agreed: “It was very bad, indeed. The work will have to be redone.”

The bridge to happiness

I and the Old Man, as we affectionately called the dean of the Order, were arriving at the monastery after a trip when we were approached by a young man at the gate, who politely asked the monk for two minutes of his time. As if he did not know tiredness, the Old Man invited the visitor to a have cup of coffee at the refectory with him, so that they could chat more quietly. While I put the water to boil, I overheard the conversation they were having. The young man was disillusioned with the world. None of the chances life had provided seemed to be suitable and capable of making him a happy man. He felt he was stuck in the patterns imposed by society, which he blamed for his misery; he said friends and relatives did not understand him, and that all that put together made him unhappy.  The monk immediately reflected on what the man had said: “No one can prevent you from being happy but you yourself. Not blaming others is a good way to begin.”

Dracula and the myth of immortality

When I got there, the shop of Loureiro, the shoemaker who loved books and wines, was closed. Philosophy and red were his favorites. So, I went to a cozy tavern nearby, where my friend used to go for a glass before heading home. I was lucky. He was there, seated on a comfortable armchair next to a lamp, entertaining himself with a book. I was greeted with the usual joy by the craftsman, always elegant in the way he dressed and acted. When he laid the book on the coffee table, I noticed it was Dracula, by Irish writer Bram Stoker, a classic of literature. I said I had never read that book, even though the story of the vampire was known by everyone, and I had seen Coppola’s film. I ordered a glass of wine to accompany the cobbler, and asked if the film lived up to the book. Loureiro returned to his seat and said: “This is the least important.” Before I could say anything, he continued: “The core issue of Dracula lies in its background; it is the myth of immortality. The fascination for vampires comes before Dracula, and stems from the uncontrollable desire of humankind, since the beginning of time, to overcome death. Among all inconstancies of life, death is the only certainty, and has always bothered people because it is related to the idea of end.”

A free spirit

Starry Song, the shaman who had the gift of sowing his people’s philosophy through the word, in chant or otherwise, was talking to a niece of his at a table outdoors, under a huge, leafy tree. The springtime sun made the body warm and the soul cozy. I saw them from afar. The old man and the nice young woman around 20 years old, long tresses and eyes slanted as her uncle’s, were laughing heartily. She was on vacation from the university and decided to visit her family. She was dressed like any other girl her age, with jeans, T-shirt and sneakers. When he saw me, the shaman signaled me to come sit with them. They were talking about her disagreeing with some behaviors her classmates had. However, such behaviors were so ingrained no colleague of hers even thought about acting differently. Their actions were automated, and they did not allow new possibilities to emerge. Of course people looked sideways at her, and even showed hostility. The niece then excused herself, she had to help her mother with house chores. After kissing goodbye, Starry Song looked her in the eyes and said, softly: “The new often scares lazy minds. It is like finding a stranger at home. Over time, we realize the house belongs to the stranger, not to us. But the stranger does not want you to leave, he only wishes that you learn a new way to relate to reality. Bear in mind that the free spirit is keen to what is new.”

Embracing the shadows

All disciples of the Order were informed that, shortly, one of us would be consecrated monk in a ceremony only those who were initiated could attend. There was no question in my mind I would be the chosen one. Even though I was not the oldest student, I was the closest to the Old Man, as we affectionately called the dean of the monastery. Anxiety overtook me. I was feeling proud and spent some nights awake imagining the rite of passage, so much talked about between closed walls, from disciple to monk. Until news broke that it would be another apprentice who was going to be consecrated. What seemed day turned into night. The pleasant breeze that caressed my ego turned into a violent thunderstorm capable of sweeping my finest feelings to a place so far away I felt I would never find them again.

The other cheek, once again

The library of the monastery is very charming. A huge variety of publications in an environment of silence and comfort, in addition to the spectacular view of the mountains provided by large windows were a stimulating invitation to reflection. There we would often find the Old Man, as we affectionately called oldest monk of the Order, by early evening, seated in an armchair, his gaze lost between letters and landscape. I recall this one time, still in my early days there, when I approached him to ask for a list of books he recommended, so that I could go deeper in my studies. He looked at me with kindness and said: “You can select any book; the important thing is that you start reading. Little by little your interests will direct you to readings according to your needs.” I argued that the explanation was flawed, I could not let chance randomly guide me in my studies. The monk arched his lips in a mild smile and said: “Chance does not exist. What is important is that you are entirely in each page you read, and that you like it enough not to give up the reading. In some odd way, all paths lead to the destination.” I refused that answer, and asked him that, if, hypothetically, he could read a single book in his entire life, which one would it be. He was quick and objective in his answer: “The Sermon on the Mount.”

Never ever

We were on the train. The Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the monastery, and I were on a long ride to a city where he would deliver a lecture in a well-known university. I took the chance to ask him about the hardships of personal improvement. I suggested there should be an easy-to-read textbook to guide us in the Path, as the sacred texts are too complex, often with hard-to-understand, coded interpretations. The Old Man shrugged his shoulders and said: “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.” He paused briefly for me to think about what he had just said, and added: “The improvement of the being is the practice of this paramount teaching. Do you want anything more simple than that?”

The best mantra

Those were my first days at the monastery, when I hardly thought about becoming a disciple of the Order. I had been invited to spend a few days there. My life was buffeted by strong turbulence, one problem after the other. As if this wasn’t enough, I was assailed by existential doubts. I was there looking for the formula that would solve my inner conflicts. The Old Man, as we affectionately called the dean of the monastery, was the person who drew my attention the most, either due to his captivating demeanor or his disconcerting view in regards to life. On that morning he spoke about the transformational power of love. His words elicited a number of questions in my mind, but I did not hear anything that would help me in an objective way. Immediately after, I found him in the refectory, having coffee. I took the chance to tell him about a recent quarrel with a relative of mine about inheritance issues, which had escalated and spread around the family. I said I did not know how to appease it. The monk spoke with his soft voice: “You must realize that people can only travel to the limits of their own consciousness. To see the shadows of other people is an important step to illuminate yours. However, in order to transmute it, your choices should be different and better than they have been so far.” I immediately asked how I should act. The Old Man arched his lips in a nice smile and answered: “Is it bad? Sprinkle love on it.” On one hand I found that interesting; on the other, enigmatic.

The deceit of domination

“The need to dominate the other permeates evil since the beginning of times”, said Starry Song, the shaman who had the gift of teaching the wisdom of his people through the word, chanted or not. Evening was slowly approaching, rolling out its beautiful cloak of stars in the sky. He had asked me to light the campfire while he filled with tobacco the red-stone bowl of his unfailing pipe. We were talking about the thread that sows the curtain of shadows that prevents the clarity of the gaze. He expressed his point of view: “The root of this evil is ignorance and its mistaken understanding of fear. The Great Spirit has given us fear as a tool to warn us about life’s intrinsic dangers, common in nature. Noises in the dead of night, treacherous predators, the slippery edge of a cliff. But rather than becoming integrated with nature, respecting all living beings that exist, we have decided to dominate all that it includes, a sign of how deranged our insecure ego is. Some animals we tame; others for which this was not possible due to their wild nature, we kill or place in jails, as trophies displayed for visitation. Not being satisfied, we have decided to also dominate everyone we have a relationship with. In a primitive stage of wisdom, the freedom of others is scary, as we believe we will only be safe if we dominate everything and everyone around us. The joy of having a relationship is overshadowed by the senseless desire to be the masters of people and things we have a connection with. We lose our lightness. We end up by favoring conflicts over harmony. Many become delusional in the practice of this idle power, without realizing they have become slaves of unnecessary things, and unfortunate victims of their own mistakes.” He paused briefly to puff on the pipe to keep the pipe lit, and continued: “Then, the suffering innate to those who wish to halter their desires to their life arise. They are the sowers of distress and tears.”

Transgression is necessary

It was study time. Reading and reflection in the library of the monastery. Silence and quietness. The early evening light entered through the window, providing light and the beautiful landscape of the mountains. As usual, I stopped by the refectory before getting a cup of coffee. The Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order was talking to a young man who had come for a visit, seated at the head of the huge table. When I got closer, I was surprised by the words of the monk that I had overheard: “Transgression is necessary.” Realizing the impact that sentence had caused on me, he signaled to me with his eyes to sit with them.

To let go is transformational

It was there. The bicycle leaning against the lightpost was the first thing I noticed when I turned into the narrow and winding street Loureiro’s shop was located on, in the charming village at the foot of the mountain that is home to the monastery. The pre-dusk sun was reflected on the cobbled stone streets and gave ancient buildings some pastel colors. Since the shop operated at random hours, to find Loureiro, the shoemaker who loved philosophy books and red wines was always a game of chance. I was greeted with his usual joy and elegance. He made a fresh pot of coffee pot and, as soon as we sat before our steaming cups, we were surprised with the arrival of the shoemaker’s niece. A pretty and polite young woman with a countenance of colorful uncertainties who had come to spend some days resting in the countryside. After the usual greetings, the young lady was very straightforward. She had always heard her uncle talk about the importance of letting go. However, she was a patient of a well-known therapist in the capital, and in her last consultation she was advised not to give up on her dreams, as that would mean abandonment, a sign of weakness.

Law of Renovation

“From time to time, it is necessary to empty the drawers of the heart,” said to me the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the monastery. He had asked me to go for a walk into the woods close by, after noticing my restlessness and irritation with the other monks and disciples of the Order. A new family problem had elicited unpleasant memories that changed my mood when dealing with people, and the sense of peace within myself. I complained a lot of the way people had hurt me in the past. He looked at me with tremendous compassion and said: “Resentment creates an energetic handcuff that keeps you tied to the offender in a terrible jail without bars. Sorrow clogs your sacred cupboard, the heart, with dust. Anger poisons the waters that supply the source of life, love.” He paused briefly and added: “It is impossible to be happy without being forgiving.”

Dancing with longing

I first met Loureiro, the wise shoemaker, many years ago, in a cemetery.

I had just joined the Order and was assigned to accompany the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the order to the wake of a good friend of his, who had departed. We managed to get a ride, and, on the winding road down the mountain towards the small and charming village located at the base, the monk kept whistling a happy tune. He seemed happy. I thought it odd, but I did not say anything. At the wake, the chapel was small for so many people who showed up; the widow was leaning on the coffin, crying disconsolately. Hers was a strong grief. To whoever came to offer condolences she asked how she could go home knowing the deceased would not be there. She said she lacked energy to empty the drawers, or to sleep in the couple’s bedroom. Some told her to be brave, others advised her to have faith. I thought the environment was appropriately dramatic for a burial and I relaxed. The Old Man, in turn, had a constant smile on his face; he spoke to everyone in a discreet, yet easy way. He was the only one who seemed to be comfortable there. I sat on a corner observing the room, when the brother of the deceased arrived. It was Loureiro, the elegant shoemaker, who loved books and wines. He looked like an Italian actor, and his poise was one of a Spanish dancer. At that time his hair was still salt-and-pepper, he was wearing elegantly tailored khakis and a smart, immaculately white shirt that strongly contrasted with the dark colors of the environment. Just like the Old Man, he was smiling, and I even suspected he was happy. He greeted everyone with discretion, but did not change the nice smile that adorned his face, which rendered some reproachful glances. When he went to greet the widow, he had his hug rejected. Without feeling offended, the shoemaker took out a small harmonica from the pants pocket and politely asked permission to play a tune. In a self-effacing tribute, he would play the music his brother liked the most. It was an old Irish song with a happy tune, whose lyrics were about the beauty of living. In rage, the widow accused him of gloating about the death of her husband, behaving disrespectfully both by the light colors of the clothes he was wearing and by his blithe manners. I overheard some comments of support for the wife.

To be free is just to be

The Old Man, as we affectionately called the dean of the Order, was always invited to deliver lectures in universities and schools around the world. Typically, these institutions are located in big cities, where we would stay for two or three days. At the time I had already got used to the quietness of the monastery, and for a period I would feel bothered by the change in the environment, in contrast to the monk, who had an amazing capacity to adjust. He would stroll along large avenues appreciating people dashing about, going in and coming out of stores, or even the noise of the city with the same lightness and enchantment with which he would hike through the mountain in silence, observing the wild flowers and picking mushrooms for the soups he enjoyed so much. Whenever he saw me annoyed with all the hubbub and haste, he would remind me: “The peace dwells within you. Do not grant permission for anything or anyone to disturb it.” Then, he arched his lips in a mild smile and added: “You have this power, learn how to use it.”

One time, I told him about how difficult it was for me to be in such a different environment than the one where I felt sheltered. The monk immediately replied: “Not always it is possible for us to be surrounded by ideal external conditions of comfort and pleasantness. Regrets do not help to overcome hardships. On the contrary, they only postpone the understanding and the movement that are necessary to construct peace and to sow happiness, essential to our balance. The best place in the world is here, and now. Any place is fine for the sincere soul that wishes to go deep into the rough seas of self-enhancement in a sacred connection, to stand before itself and bathe in the calm waters of plenitude. The good gardener believes that any corner is fine to plant flowers and suitable to make a nice garden.”

The peace trap

“Every time you think, speak or act moved by dense, heavy passion, you will nourish the power of the shadows. Inside you and out,” said the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order. And added: “As ludicrous as it may be, you’d better believe, no one can cause you more harm than you to yourself. This goes for everyone.”

We were seated in the refectory of the monastery, just the two of us, enjoying a flavorful tea the Old Man had prepared with a mix of herbs he had picked in the surrounding bushes while admiring the sun setting behind the mountains. He wanted to talk to me. He had noticed how upset I became after a phone call that had annoyed me. He handed me a cup accompanied by a question: “Which is the only precept of the Order’s Code of Ethics?” As I remained silent, he answered himself: “Never nourish the shadows.” He paused for a few moments so that, little by little, I grasped the idea, and added: “That is simple, right? After all, we are all for the good and, in principle, want no dealings with the evil.” The monk waited until I agreed with that statement before correcting me: “Wrong, it is not easy at all. It is quite difficult for us to identify our own shadows and all that makes them thrive, within ourselves and out.” He became silent once again for a few moments, and continued: “The trick used by the shadows are the thousand disguises they put on, to the point you feel they do not hide in your guts.”

The improbable balance

I was walking through the Arizona mountains next to Starry Song, the shaman who had the gift of transmitting the wisdom of his ancestors through the word, chanted or not. He wanted to show me his “Place of Power”, as the Native mythology refers to the place where one feels more comfortable to connect with the cosmic intelligence. “From every place in the planet one can open a channel or a bridge. However, for different reasons, there are places where the connection is more intense. The sea is a sanctuary; the mountain, a cathedral; your home, a temple, whether due to quietness, the sound of the stars or integration with Mother Earth. For any personal reason or because it is a place where for centuries people have been going to pray, like churches they harness the strong vibration of the Universe, everyone should find a place where they feel the intensity of this connection,” the shaman explained. When we reached Starry Song’s Place of Power, a small plateau close to the summit, I could not avoid noticing a tree clinging by the tips of its root at the edge of a cliff, in a very elegant, inconceivable way, bravely resisting the wind, the rain, the snow and gravity. I told him the tree would not stand much longer. The shaman, his face wrinkled by dozens of winters, smiled and said: “It has been like that since I was a kid, when I would come to this mountain with my grandfather. It probably will continue like that much after I take the great journey.” He paused briefly, and went on: “A strong root is essential to face the storms of life. It goes for everyone.” I immediately asked what was necessary for me to have a root so powerful it would be unshakable even in the worst storms.

The hidden face of jealousy

On Sundays, whenever I can, I go to mass at the cathedral of the small and charming village located at the foot of the mountain that shelters the monastery. On that day, in his sermon, the priest warned about what he considered a trivialization of love relationships, as, according to him, people would not work hard to construct and make adjustments in life as a couple but also in social relationships per se. He claimed one should be patient and compassionate with the other. In his words, mankind is giving up on itself very easily. Once the ceremony was over, I went walking around the silent narrow cobblestone streets, thinking about all that was said, and the many aspects related to the issue when, surprisingly, I bumped into Loureiro, the wine and book-loving shoemaker, on his bicycle. That was a good sign, as the cobbler was one of the last bastions in mending purses and shoes as an alternative to having to buy new ones. Shoemaking was his trade, philosophy was his art. Happy to see me, he suggested we went to a coffee place close by.

The law of cycles

The Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the monastery, had been invited to deliver a lecture at a university. At that time, I was the disciple assigned to accompany him. At the end of the lecture, as usual, he had to answer a variety of questions. His approach to the different aspects of life was always disconcerting. This time was no different. He talked to everyone with affection and patience. In the subway, on our way back to the hotel, a woman approached us. She said she had attended the lecture and invited us for lunch. She joked by saying it was a way to get some extra insights from the monk. We accepted the invitation and went to a restaurant close by. Once we were seated, she talked a little about her life, and regretted that a given situation had been happening over and over, like a story that was being told again and again, which made her sad; she regretted her karma, she told us. The Old Man looked at her with kindness and said: “I think you are mistaken in your understanding of what ancient people called karma. Today, it is spoken as if it meant punishment. Absolutely not. Karma is learning.”

Punishment beyond the sentence

Whenever I had to go to the small and charming village located at the foot of the mountain that is home to the monastery, I would not miss the chance to visit Loureiro, the elegant shoemaker, who loved books and wines. Mending leather was his trade; sewing ideas, his art. Not always I could find him, because his shop was open at random hours. On that day, at the end of the afternoon, I was happy to see his vintage bicycle leaning against the light pole in front of the store. That was a good sign. My good friend asked me to wait a little while he finished the job he was doing; then we went to a quite tavern to chat over a glass of red. He asked the waiter to bring us some cheese of a well-known brand to pair with our wine. I immediately told him that the owner of that dairy company had been convicted of a serious felony. I said I did not feel comfortable to eat that brand, and I suggested we order something else. Puzzled, the craftsman asked: “Eating that cheese will make you an accomplice of the crime?” I replied that I was not going to flagrantly condone it, and that it was my conscience that dictated me to do so. He looked at me with kindness before speaking: “Yes, we should act according to our finest reasons, always. It is really too bad when that does not occur. However, allowing your conscience to expand beyond social and cultural conditionings will always be an exercise for transformation and lightness. So, the question we should ask is: what is the feeling that moves us? Because we define who we are from the choices we make.”

The enchantment of rituals

That was a sluggish morning. It was the last day of the year and I followed the New Year’s celebration in different parts of the world on the Internet. All the newspapers had the same news. Laziness and foul mood were ingrained in my guts. After breakfast, the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, realizing my dejection, asked me to walk with him through a track in the forest on the mountain that shelters the monastery. For a reason I can’t explain, walking activates the mind, and I started to rant about the New Year’s celebrations and how unnecessary they were; after all it was a night like any other, with clouds or stars, and the sun inevitably would rise in the morning. The monk said nothing. Excited, as I believed he was agreeing with me, I asked him to voice his thoughts. The Old Man rapidly glanced at me, gave me a roguish smile and said: “I think you are being obnoxious, Yoskhaz,” and kept walking.

Wonderful villains

In the small and ancient village located at the base of the mountain that shelters the monastery there is an old and charming movie theater in front of the church square. I would go see a movie whenever my chores at the Order allowed me to. One evening, I went with Loureiro, a cobbler friend of mine, who loved books and wines. Philosophy and red were his favorites. Fixing shoes was his trade; mending souls, his skill. After the film, he invited me for a glass in a quiet tavern close by. We talked about the film we had just watched. I told him that what impressed me the most was the fact that the villain had stolen the scene, due to the excellent performance of the actor in playing the character. The elegant craftsman took a sip before talking: “The better the villain the more interesting the hero. The villain is essential in the life of the hero, to help hone him or her, in art and in life.”

I strongly disagreed with him. I knew insufferable people, and I just wanted to make them disappear, like magic. Loureiro laughed and said: “If we had such a power, we would waste the best opportunities to learn, and therefore, to evolve. The villains play an important role, both in our lives and on the screen. Conflicts make the stories move, in real life and in fiction; thus, it is important that the antagonist incites the protagonist to find the best in himself.”

The subtleties of truth

The Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, was tending to the garden in the internal yard of the monastery when a man, who was seeking solace for his afflictions came by. He felt tormented by a series of actions he had taken in the past and that were now corroding his consciousness. The Old Man gave me a signal indicating that I should attend to the man, seated on a bench at the shade of the rosebush. The man told me a sad story about having caused pain and suffering to other people. Outraged, I was harsh in my words, displaying how disgusted I was with what I had just heard. Visibly embarrassed, he thanked me out of politeness, not actually feeling thankful, and left. The monk saw it all, and said: “The wisdom of the ages teaches us that ‘no’ means ‘no’, and ‘yes’ means ‘yes’, but we can coat the truth with honey or gall.” I retorted by saying that we cannot fumble with the truth. Hard or bitter, it must be said. “In this case, he knew precisely the mistakes of the past, and he needed compassion rather than reproval”, the monk said to present his point of view.

The best part

When the man arrived at the gate of the monastery, the sky was still a cloak of stars. He got out of the car to appreciate the outline of the beautiful construction, which was possible from the few lamps that were lit. Someone had spoken to him about the Order, of its secular origin, of the philosophical and metaphysical studies the monks were dedicated to, in addition to community work. The only audible sounds were those made by nocturnal animals in the woods nearby. He was still a young man, who had abandoned the practice of medicine two years after graduation, upon finishing a training period in psychiatry, to enter a commercial venture with a good friend of his. The business was successful, and he had made a lot of money. He bought a comfortable apartment in a trendy district of a major city whose postcards were enjoyed worldwide; he had expensive cars, beautiful and coveted women, traveled around the globe, but nothing filled the void he felt in his chest, a sort of black hole that little by little seemed to engulf all his light. He was surprised with the sound of steps coming out of the bushes, but did not feel frightened. He turned around and saw a beacon of light getting closer and closer. A monk, his head covered by the hood to protect himself from the cold, walked with slow but steady steps, carrying a basket in one hand and a flashlight in the other. “The blackberries taste better when they are picked with the dew,” said the monk getting close to the man, showing the small fruits in the basket. “I love jam,” he added with the absurd naturalness of someone who seemed to be expecting a visit from a stranger at such an early time. He invited the man in, for a cup of coffee. The young man introduced himself on the way to the mess hall, and asked what the monk’s name was. “I am known as the Old Man”. Because of the bewildered look of the man, the monk added: “I think this name suits me fine. Old age brought evident physical limitations, a warning for me to realize the next station is close. On the other hand, it has freed me from fears and illuminated the shadows. It made me understand the Path, be light, learn the value of dignity, the sense of freedom and the importance of love for every person and everything. It gave me a feeling of plentifulness that the vigor of my youth failed to provide, and it has the merit of having brought me over here.” He lifted the hood for the man to see his wrinkled face, and completed: “When I look in the mirror, I see each wrinkle as a chapter of my life, telling the wars I had to fight to appreciate the value of peace, as a caravanner who must face the desolate desert to understand the beauty and the value of an oasis. Ironically, this has always been hidden inside himself, waiting to be unveiled,” he said with soft voice and sincere smile.

Poor creditors

The cool wind of fall was blowing, circulating with me on the narrow and winding cobbled streets of the ancient village at the bottom of the mountain that is home to the monastery. The afternoon was only halfway through, but I was already done with my errands, and had to wait for my ride later on, in the early evening. I huddled my body close to walls and crevices of the charming constructions to protect it from the gusts, until I saw the old bicycle of Loureiro, the elegant shoemaker who loved books and wines, leaning against the light pole in front of his shop. Fixing shoes was his trade; mending souls, his skill. I was pleased; there is nothing better than a cup of hot coffee to accompany good conversation in an idle late afternoon. As soon as I entered the shop, I was almost knocked over by a pretty middle-age woman, who was leaving like a train derailed by anger. The good cobbler greeted me with his warmest smile and, as soon as we were seated by the workbench before two steaming cups of coffee, he talked about the woman who almost threw me on the floor: “She is an emotional creditor. A poor, eternal creditor.” He paused briefly and added: “At least, this is how she acts with anyone that crosses her.”

Escape from the world

It was a typical winter day. The blue, cloudless sky allowed the sun to caress our skin under the wool coat, making us feel cozy. The day was still coming to life when I was asked to go to the gate. An older gentleman had come to speak to the Old Man, as we affectionately called the dean of the Order, and I was supposed to escort him. Since it was early in the morning, the monk had suggested the meeting take place in the mess hall, as he believed the older gentleman had left in the wee hours, considering the time he had arrived at the monastery. We had already meditated, which was the first activity of the day, to be performed while fasting; so, the three of us took a seat around the huge table. When the other monks left to take care of their chores, the Old Man asked the older gentleman how he could help him. The man said he felt like running away from the world; he felt lonely inside as he felt abandoned by his kids and grandkids, whose visits were scarcer and scarcer. He was strongly resolved to embrace monastic life by joining the Order. With a soft gaze and kind voice, the monk started to explain: “Loneliness does not mean giving up, nor escaping the world will bring you peace. One must understand the quest to set the direction of destiny’s rudder.” The man stated he was tired of the ungratefulness of life in society, that he had devoted all his life to work and family, and in return he received oblivion. Bitter, he said that if he was no longer important to his kin, it was better for him to step away.

The sense of victory

It was late afternoon. We were seated in the station, waiting for the train that would take us back to the small village at the base of the mountain that houses the monastery. We had gone to a larger city not too far away, to visit a young lady who was undergoing cancer treatment in a modern hospital. As usual, the Old Man, as we affectionally called the oldest monk of the Order, seemed amused with everything around him. The movement of people going back and forth, the stores, the joy and sadness of arrivals and departures; the heartfelt hugs, the smiles and cries of meetings and separations; people who were alone. “This station is the world abridged”, he said without looking at me, knowing that I was observing him. I said I thought odd that he found beauty in everything and everyone. “You must practice seeing beyond the appearances, the shapes and, particularly the illusion. To be enchanted with the essence is necessary. The Master taught us that ‘the eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light,’” he quoted an excerpt of the Sermon of the Mount.

The power of choices

“To be strong is a choice. No one is born brave or a coward; however, every day, at all times, we decide whether to run away or face the battle that presents itself within and outside ourselves,” said Starry Song, the shaman who, through the word, chanted or not, recounted the ancestral wisdom of his people. There were just the two of us seated around a small campfire, under the cloak of stars to inspire conversation. On that day, a ceremony for the youths of the tribe took place, marking the passage from adolescence to adulthood. I recalled the words the shaman said at the closing of the ritual: “Understanding that you are able to solve the problems that appear, to accept your responsibilities, and the courage to fight design the maturity that forges the warrior, who, after being shaped by many battles, is ready to sit among the wise men.”

The shield against evil

“To ask for help from the enlightened forces of the universe to deal with a hardship over which one has no control is commendable, as it is a sign of humility,” said the Old Man, as we affectionally called the oldest monk of the Order, to a man who came to the monastery seeking help to deal with a situation afflicting him. Then, he warned: “However, asking help for them to do your duties only reveals a lack of understanding of the Laws, as it will not happen. Life does not get hard in order to abuse, but in order to teach. There are no privileges, only lessons.”

As a storm that arrives without warning, the life of this man seemed, all of a sudden, turned upside down. Senseless family feuds and professional troubles leading to unexpected financial hardships were the immediate, visible consequences of the hell he was living on earth. With teary eyes, he said he lacked orientation to go on with the struggle. The three of us were in the mess hall, and I was serving them coffee and corn cake. The man was good-looking and highly educated, and said that until few weeks ago he was sailing on calm waters on the seas of life. His family was apparently well-structured; he was a partner in a company that generated enough profit to allow him an above-average lifestyle. Until the day things went south.

No one suffers for love

It was that undefined hour we don’t know if it is daytime or night already. Some stores were about to close. I hastened my pace on the narrow and winding streets of the ancient village close to the mountain that is home to the monastery of the Order. I wanted to find Loureiro’s shop still open, and invite him for a glass of wine and a chat. The elegant shoemaker loved books and wines. Philosophy and red were his favorites. His old bicycle leaning against the light pole in front of the shop was a sign that I was lucky. When I entered the shop, I bumped into a pretty young woman who was leaving. I noticed her sad face and her eyes red from crying. I was joyfully welcomed by Loureiro, as usual. Loureiro was a prince, his kingdom was the nobility with which he interacted with everyone, the elegance in his gestures and thoughts. He would say that “One must lighten the steps, not push into the abyss. Using words in the right time and manner is a skill for masters.” Without my asking, he said that the young lady was his niece, and had come over to talk about her recent separation. She was disconsolate.

The enigma of patience

The Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the monastery, seemed fascinated with the rose bushes in the yard, and pruned them as a fine gardener. I asked if I could keep him company. He nodded, and his eyes pointed to a bench close by, where I should sit. We remained silent for a long while, nourishing the soul with the quietness of the hours. At some point, I asked him if we could talk. The monk arched his lips in a mild smile, which I interpreted as permission. I told him my reflections and questionings about the virtue of patience and its importance for happiness. He listened without saying a word, put the pliers in his pocket and sat comfortably on a bench next to mine, under the shade. While amusing himself with a small caterpillar on the palm of his hand he had just pulled out from the rose bush, he said: “Patience is indispensable nourishment for the soul on the road towards completeness of being, where peace resides.” He made a brief pause, as if seeking the best words, and continued: “Patience is a valuable virtue with a precious enigma. The key to decipher it is sensitivity.”

Immediately I wanted to know more. He looked me in the eyes and said: “Before anything else, one must have good will with everything and everyone. To understand that people behave according to their level of awareness and their emotional load of that moment and from the past helps patience find its place within ourselves. It is no good to teach a child to calculate a square root if they do not know the four basic math operations, or to explain anything to them while they are asleep. In our personal relations this is no different. Once you have realized that, you are able to figure out the pace of the world, and to understand that relationships are developed according to the evolvement and possibilities of the interlocutors. Nature does not leap. Little by little, everything and everyone are honed.”

I thought I had understood, and said that one had to hope each one expanded their horizons for the indispensable transformations in the core of the being. Immediately, he rebuked: “Just hope? This is not the enigma of patience. We must offer our best for any event that comes about, from the most banal to the most complex situations, and patience is an essential component of this package. This is a premise for the walker of the Path. However, not always patience rules out energetic action in some situations of daily life. On the contrary, it must be present particularly at times that require firm actions.”

He placed the small caterpillar inside a matchbox, to free it later in the woods, and said: “To be patient does not mean to condone evil, or to be blind to injustice, or tolerant with violence, or negligent in regards to errors, once the responsibility to act is present. As a variant, there is a time to clarify and help, as a lighthouse illuminating the ship in the dark of the night, preventing it from sinking on the rocks of existence. Not always will you be able to prevent disaster, but you may see another possible course.” He paused briefly, watched me for a moment, and continued: “However, this indispensable interference is quite delicate, and reveals a lot about you. Therefore, it must be done very carefully, so that it does not become an exercise of pride and vanity of the ego, which is pleased in imagining itself, for moments, superior to the other. Nor should there be a big fuss, so that the person in error is not embarrassed; only a different light is shed on a given situation. Do not forget that patience is not to convince but only to illuminate, as it is an act of love. Kindness, generosity and above all, humility, are indispensable requirements of patience”, explained the monk.

I mentioned that I had never realized how complex patience was. “Yes. Contrary to what many may think, to be patient does not mean to be a conformist, but a transformer. Quietly, away from the repressive morality, with no honest desire of causing humiliation, revenge or the limelight. On the other hand, patience cannot be used to disguise cowardice or laziness. Patience is for the strong ones, those who made the choice of renouncing violence to face hardships. He who masters the virtue of patience is peaceful and a peacemaker, and uses peace as the power for transformation. He is tender yet firm, not aggressive. His words and attitudes are a balm soothing the hearts of forlorn travelers, enlightening sailors lost in the gloom courses of existence”.

I asked him how to know when to act or wait, faced with each situation. The monk looked at me as if expecting that question, and answered: “This is the enigma of patience, Yoskhaz. In the beginning of our conversation, I told you that sensitivity was the key to the secret. Sensitivity is nothing more than a keen perception of the Path. This prompts the walker always to offer his or her best, endlessly perfecting the metamorphoses indispensable for evolution. That is his or her task, and no one will do it for them. On the other hand, they are appeased in knowing that the Unwritten Laws are inexorable, even when the expected outcome is not immediate, particularly because it often involves issues the walker is unaware of. Nothing in the universe will escape the comprehensiveness and power of the Code. Hence, one is to continue to sow diligently and wait for the magic of life in springtime, which will always come.”

I said I understood, but asked him to further explain more clearly. He laughed and tried his best: “I am talking about the Laws of Love, Return, Affinity, Cycles, among many others. They are the Keepers of the Path, and guide the process of evolution. Little by little, the mind decodes them, and shows us that when we change the way we walk, the Path and the landscape also change. The heart is dazzled with the new lightness of being. The desires of the ego slowly become aligned with the worthy principles of the soul. Wisdom enlightens the wounds of the soul, and love embraces them with its incommensurable healing power. Hence we move from bruteness to sensitivity, from agony to peace”. After a small pause, he added: “We learn when to act or wait with wisdom and love, but with no patience these virtues vanish.”

I closed my eyes for a length of time I cannot measure. When I opened them, he was still seated close to me. He looked at me with his sweet eyes, and added: “I did not say anything new. Wisdom and love are ancient; in fact, they exist from the beginning of time. Changing lead into gold was the ceaseless quest of alchemists, as this is the great battle of life. It is, in fact, a metaphor for shedding light on the shadows that dwell in each one of us. This is the Philosopher’s Stone. And believe me, patience is a powerful ingredient in the magic of this cauldron”.

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

My favorite character

I was with Loureiro in a tavern, in a small and ancient city close to the mountain that is home to the monastery. We had just exchanged ideas on suffering and disappointment. The good cobbler had reasoned, flawlessly, that love causes no pain, and therefore has always been taken unfairly – we always listen to our shadows, which are emotions that lack nobility, rather than trying to understand in its entirety the grandness of a feeling capable of changing the world by allowing the best within ourselves to flourish. We had already asked for the check when, all of a sudden, he says: “I don’t think that is all. Whenever we talk about the shadows, we mean those that we know best, like envy, fear, jealousy, vanity and ignorance. We often forget about the lie, perhaps because it is so close to us.” I must confess I was astonished. He realized it, laughed and explained: “Of all the shadows, the lie is perhaps the one most difficult to be freed from, because it is the sneakiest. I am talking about the lie we tell ourselves. It leads us to escape reality by comforting ourselves with the delusion that we are fighting the good fight. This shadow leads us to create and interpret roles far from the truth.” He paused briefly and then continued: “There is more of our essence in the part we hide than in the one we show; there is more stuff hidden in the bottom of the drawer than what is exposed in the store window. This is what we sell; that is what we are. This accounts for much frustration.”

Rejoice, rejoice

The Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, had been invited by the vicar of the church in the small and charming village close to the mountain that is home to the monastery, a long-time friend, to deliver some words during mass on Sunday. He asked me to go with him, and made us arrive early and wait on a bench in the square across from the church. The Old Man liked to feel the sun warm his body up in the chilly morning of Fall. The sun, the cold, the squirrels, parents walking with their young kids, adult sons and daughters walking with their ageing parents, the noise of children, the gardens, the birds, in short, life pulsating in its many manifestations, fascinated the monk. “All of this nourishes my silence”, he said.

The mass went smoothly until the Old Man was called to the pulpit. The vicar warned the parishioners not to be surprised by the monk’s speech, who, despite being a devout Christian, belonged to a lay esoteric order dedicated to the study of philosophy and metaphysics. The Old Man thanked him, and began: “I will say a few words about the greatness of gratitude, a virtue that is so poorly understood.”

The great adventure

I was walking on the medieval streets of the small village at the base of the mountain that harbors the monastery. I was being whipped by the cold fall winds, forcing me to seek protection between the clearances of walls of the old constructions. I was glad to see Loureiro’s classic and well-kept bicycle leaning against the pole before his shop. I found the good shoemaker elegantly dressed, as usual, working on an expensive purse of a gorgeous woman, who was waiting for it to be fixed. We were introduced, and the skilled craftsman told me the young lady had been a school friend of his daughter, and that he knew her since she was a small child. Loureiro was happy that I went in, and asked me to wait, as he wanted to talk to me about a new book of philosophy over coffee. Working the leather was his trade; talking about philosophy, his art. I had barely sat in a corner, and the pretty woman kept talking about her travels to exotic places. Balloon rides over volcanos, free-fall parachute jumps, kayaking in running rivers, among other feats. She concluded by stating how much she enjoyed adventures. The wise craftsman, immersed his toil, did not say a word. Soon after, as if quietness and silence were heard to bear, the young lady said she could not wait to start the Everest climb she had planned for the following summer, and started to describe the preparations and risks of the new endeavor. During her narrative, she said the taste for adventure came from her ex-husband. At this point, the cobbler, without raising his head, looked at me over his reading glasses, remained silent and continued his task. As in a predictable opera, she then said how happy she had been in those years, but made a point of stressing, without seeming too sincere, that she would not like to meet him on one of these trips. Soon after, she let transpire some sorrow for the end of the marriage, which evidently occurred against her will. Loureiro raised his head, looked the beautiful lady in the eyes and said, kindly: “The most interesting thing about people is not what they show, but what they hide”.

Homework

I had finished a long and profitable period of studies. Readings, meditations, reflections, deep conversations were an important part of the search for knowledge in that phase that was completed. The Old Man, as we affectionately called the dean of the monastery, told me that theory without practice is like medicine forgotten in a drawer that does not have a reason to exist for it will not cure anything. “Knowledge only turns into wisdom when it is experienced in all our relations”, the monk would advise the disciples. I looked at myself in a different way, as if I had an important tool and had to figure out the best possible way to use it. I asked the old monk what would be, for me, the best use of my gifts and talents. He was busy pruning rose bushes, but, being most patient with everyone, he looked at me over his glasses and said: “Who am I to tell you that? Every choice is important, and it is not advisable to pass it to anyone else, no matter how dear or well-intended that person may be. The power to decide about one’s destiny is, or should be, most personal. Do not abdicate the freedom life grants you of making choices, as, whether you follow your heart or somebody else’s logic, you will not escape from the responsibilities or consequences. Therefore, whether you get things right or wrong, do it according to what you believe is true. Life imposes walking as the only way to understand the Path”.

Not happy with the response, I argued that I saw no harm in asking for advice, in order to make a more clarified decision. This time, the Old Man replied to me immediately, without even raising his head: “Just a piece of advice?” He paused briefly and went on: “Take a sabbatical. Travel to renew the soul’s wardrobe, take a breath of fresh air, experience living with people who have a different way of life than yours, who have a fresh perspective on all things. Nothing can be more enriching. By doing that, I believe you will find the answer you need. Don’t be surprised if you realize it is dormant within you, just waiting that you have the courage to bring it to life”.

Hence I crossed the ocean for another period in the village of Starry Song, native shaman of the Red Path People. I was welcomed with all with their usual joy, as I had cultivated good feelings in my previous stays. The shaman had travelled to participate in a meeting of the Council of Elders, and would return in two days, a time that was filled with news received from all corners. I had changed a lot, and I would use every conversation to convey an enlightened word or a more in-depth thought. When Starry Song arrived, he soon became aware of the admiration I had created among everyone in the tribe. He heard many compliments about my change, but did not say a word. At night, he invited me to smoke his inseparable rock-bowl pipe before a small campfire under the cloak of stars.

We remained in silence for quite a while, until the shaman, after a puff, said: “Not all that glitters is gold”. I wanted to know what he was talking about, and he was sincere as usual: “I have heard many praises about you. Everyone in the village is sincerely impressed with the changes you underwent, whether about the always appropriate words or the kind attitudes. However, the discourse goes where we are yet to arrive”. I took the chance to say, with some pride, that the time had come to put what I had learned into practice, so that I could help mankind towards a better world. I had listed some urgent possibilities, such as engaging in the fights against infant mortality in Africa, or the deforestation of the Amazon tropical forest, or the extinction of whales in all oceans of the planet. Starry Song looked deep into my eyes, and said: “All these problems are urgent, priceless, and need brave warriors. However, one must understand two things: the first is that there are numerous ways to collaborate to make this a better world, and they are all valid; the second is to know the right time, and be ready to fight each one of the different battles”.

I claimed I was ready, and interpreted the words of everyone in the tribe as irrefutable proof of my skills. Furthermore, I said that all that life expects from us is courage. He smiled with compassion, and said: “Ahoo! Yes, and may we never lack courage.” He puffed his pipe once again and continued: “Or wisdom. One step at a time, Yoskhaz”, he advised.

“When did you last visit your family?” asked the shaman, catching me by surprise. I said some years back, as I had always had a difficult relationship with my parents and siblings. Starry Song arched his lips in a mild smile, and said: “Every family is like a workshop on personal adjustments and enhancements. Not only due to ancestral debts that force us to exercise love in its many branches, such as forgiveness, renunciation, wisdom, patience and compassion, but also because the eyes of the family are more keen in regards to our shortcomings. Often they know us much better than all others. A discourse with nice words and catchphrases enchant more easily those who do not know us in depth. In intimacy we reveal the worst of ourselves. To mend family bonds that were undone in the wake of time forges the character of the warrior, sharpens the mind of the wise, and dignifies the heart of the Great Spirit’s children”.

“What is the value of leaving to take care of the world when your house is in flames?” he asked. I replied that it would be selfish of me to put the individual before the collective. “There are priorities, and a hierarchy of urgent matters. First you do your homework, then you save the planet”, he explained. “Just like we become more understanding of others when we know ourselves better, the honing of family relations will give you the square and compass of the world. Sooner or later we will have to advance beyond good impressions conveyed by shallower relationships”, he completed. I ended up confessing I did not feel encouraged to reach out to my family, as there was a long history of misunderstandings, and I honestly believed that nothing would have changed. I added that I had found the perfect solution for the problem: brief visits on celebratory dates within the limits of what I would call “good-neighborhood policy”. Starry Song smiled once again, realizing I had opened my heart and disclosed feelings that did not match the nice, uncomplicated discourse I had used during my visit to the village, believing those were tools I believed I mastered. “Do you realize now how you should hone and strengthen your spirit before fighting other battles? The unprepared warrior is an easy prey in the shadows of disillusion and despondency. The battle for reconciliation with your family is the biggest one in your life; it is the one you fight every day within yourself, trying to shed light on your own shadows, in the demanding effort to sharpen the sword of wisdom, to forge the shield of character and to roll out the carpet of flowers of the best love”.

Unhappy that I had not heard what I expected, I argued that intolerance runs high in my family, and that I felt more at ease with friends, who are gifts that life has given me. “It is the opportunity and the grandness of offering the best in you to those who do not understand or accept us. Being nice only to those who are good, weak people can do”. I said that my family thought very differently than I did, and I would never be able to convince them. The shaman looked at me as if I was a child, and asked me: “Convince them of what? There is nothing more stupid than trying to convince people we are right. We give our hearts with purity and serenity, as if it were a seed waiting for the rain that one day will fertilize the soil, knowing that sooner or later the flowers of peace will germinate in the big garden of love. This is the law, Yoskhaz”.

Still far from feeling beaten, as my ego secretly nourished the desire to work on issues that would be a hit in society, I told him about some frustrated attempts, and even that I had been rudely treated on some occasions. Starry Song listened to me with apparently endless patience, and when I finished expressing my regrets, he said: “You avoid removing the mud that holds you, giving any pretense as an excuse. Of course you will face the suspicion and sorrows of your relatives. They have known you forever, and there are still quibbles without Light. Your most noble intentions will be put at stake, and your values will be tested to their limits, so that your soul can be shaped to perfection. Be thankful for that, only the heat of fire casts the best steel”.

I said that some people in my family were very tough, and would certainly make a point of humiliating me. I did not want this type of situation in my life. Starry Song arched his lips in a mild smile, passed me the pipe and looked at the stars. He knew that at that moment we were dancing in the core of my being. The shaman said softly: “The limit between humility and humiliation lies in the fact that we allow ourselves to be offended by the words of others. If you understand that the offenses only reveal what people have in their hearts, you will realize they are talking about their essence, and not the truth about yours. Ignoring that will make you feel humiliated, for having been offended, and will make the conflict endless. Truth, however, is far beyond appearances. The harasser has a fit of protest, not because he is being victimized, but because the soul is maladjusted in an abusive darkness. Even though they deny because they are not able to see beyond the veil of pride and ignorance, they are crying for help. Only those who have walked through the paths of love and wisdom can realize the beautiful dimension of humility. The humble person is able to float over the wake of abuse. There is a reason why, due to the magic of transforming each and any offense into stardust, humility is the first bridge on the Path”.

We spent some time without saying a word. He got out his pipe, took a long puff and closed his eyes to conclude: “To be great, you must honestly be small before others to serve them, using your heart as a tray. This is the power of humility and one of the lessons of the butterfly, which is not afraid of crawling until its own wings are mature”.

Nothing else was said that night. I understood that I had to go back home and fulfill my destiny, which had started in the cradle of this existence. A family is not formed out of the blue, one must understand why. That was the time and the place for me to offer my best; to practice and enhance my learnings; to strengthen the spirit in the face of inner hardships, which are the toughest ones because they will disclose the truths I don’t know about my essence; to expand the limits of my heart and leave it open for those who want to enter; to continuously transmute my feelings and ideas, which can always be different and better. Ultimately, to rebuild the house that was demolished – my family. That was one of the hardest lessons. Only then I would be ready to conquer the world.

The day dawned in peace.

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

 

 

Through the prism of light

“What makes us good or bad is not what happens to us, but how we react to that”, said the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the monastery, triggering a big discussion at a university of a major city, where he was invited to take part in a panel with philosophers, professors, scientists and artists. A professor, an educated, kind man, totally disagreed with him, arguing that people are shaped by the environment they live in. Articulate and with fine rhetoric, he advocated that social relations impose and limit our choices, depending on how successful or traumatic these relations are. The Old Man held his ground: “To ascribe to the world responsibility for our mistakes is to wear the mask of a helpless victim. This does not help anyone with anything. It is essential to take off the costume and realize you can act differently. You must move on without guilt, which constrains, but with the responsibility of doing better from then on, as you have engaged in a commitment with the Light”.

The light of truth

I was sulking in the corners of the monastery. I had avoided chores that required talking to other disciples or monks. Everything upset me. Noticing my foul mood, the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, invited me for a walk in the garden. While he was trying to engage me in conversation, my monosyllabic responses displayed my annoyance. At a certain point, the Old Man said: “The more a spirit is lightened, the better is his behavior. The Higher Spheres, regardless of how you imagine them, are layered with joy. Contrary to what many intellectuals believe, it is not wise to be taken by irritation or impatience. Truth is liberating, and therefore the source of endless joy and peace”. At this moment, I stopped walking, looked at the monk and told him this was the reason I was so disheartened about humankind, because what was true for one person would not necessarily be the truth for another. Therefore, I did not foresee a happy ending for the world. The Old Man took his time to sit on a wooden bench, as spoke in his soft voice: “Truth is apparently unstable, as the awareness of people is constantly evolving, and in different levels of evolution”. I interrupted him claiming that in there lies the reason for eternal conflicts. “No”, rebuked the monk. “It is exactly in there that the Cosmic Intelligence lies. By forcing the relationship among people in different stages of evolution, it allows some to teach others. It makes us masters and apprentices in ceaseless lessons. We have the chance to experience the beauty of sharing love and wisdom through our relationships. As our understanding expands, people, each one at their own time, begin to realize the importance of non-material goods over material wealth; the appreciation of the most sublime feelings rather than the more sensory emotions. Little by little, love displays its greatness in the face of hatred; forgiveness liberates us from sorrow. Only in the beauty of individual transformation will it be able to modify and align the planet”.

I told him of my distress seeing the world engaged in so much iniquity and senseless fights due to pride and vanity. Then, I listed many afflicting situations of our time. The monk listened to my complaints with extreme patience, until talking tired me out. Then he said: “The world is exactly as it should, as it always reflects the precise measure of intellectual, emotional and spiritual evolution of its people. Elephants do not fly”.

Dumbo, the character of Disney’s movie came to mind, and of course I could not let that slip. The Old Man did not play hard to get, and laughed a lot. Then he said: “It is true. But have you noticed that that little elephant was a wealth of good feelings, perhaps much higher than one would find in his kind. For the sake of argument, one could believe that his high grade of evolution made the difference among those of his kind, as his ears were turned into wings. I think the same happens with us; the perception of truth hones our feelings and allows us to fly higher and higher”.

I insisted that I still could not identify which was the ultimate, liberating truth. The Old Man arched his lips as if about to smile, and said: “Have you noticed that what you have believed was true in the past may no longer be so, now? Do you know why? For the simple fact that you are not the same as before. The truth expands in tandem with our evolution. As truths are decoded by the conscious mind, sent and placed definitively on the shelves of feelings for internal, external and eternal use, transformations occur within your being, as knowledge is incorporated into the feeling. Heart and mind tuned with the same fork, as musicians in a well-tuned orchestra.”

“Final truth lies in experiencing love with no limits. This is liberating, and yet difficult to be understood and accepted at this point of our evolution. We have realized, but it is still hard to experience unconditionally the most valuable energy that exists in the world. The wisdom to understand that the great battle is fought within us makes the ceaseless exercise of shedding light on our own shadows a decisive step in the search for truth. We all know love and know how important it is as source of light; however, we have yet to experience it in all its intensity. Unfortunately we still waste its power. This is a pity, as love is the essential component for miracles, which are but hidden transformations within us”. He paused briefly, smiled with his eyes, and added: “The more the love, the more the power. This is the truth in all its comprehensiveness and simplicity”.

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

 

The voice of the heart

I met Starry Song – the shaman was given this name due to his gift for preserving and seeding the tradition of his people through the word, chanted or not – changing the leather of his two-sided drum in front of his tent. I had decided to leave town for a while, upset with the tough reviews the originals of my last novel had received, leading me to question my talent as a writer. I did receive some praise, but the criticisms were harsh and sadness was eating me up inside. As soon as I saw him, I spilled all my sorrows out. He kept on with his toil and, without raising his eyes, said: “You do not give the right appreciation to the opinion of others. Not every praise is sincere, not every criticism is fair”. He stopped stringing the drum for a moment, looked me in the eyes and said with his soft and yet coarse voice: “I have taught you about the Southern Gate; it is now time to talk about the Western Gate, where the bear lives in the Healing Wheel”. He told me to rest and to meet him when “the Great Mystery covered the Earth with its cloak of stars”.

At night I met the shaman seated, alone, in front of a small fire. He gave me his distinctive rock-bowl pipe for us to smoke it together. After a few puffs in silence, he said: “The Healing Wheel is the sacred symbol that represents the life of each one in this existence. Life is the treatment to heal the spirit. At each lesson learned or wound healed we move forward one spoke of the Wheel”. He paused briefly and continued: “West of the Wheel, where the sun sets, is the sacred space of the Bear, its cave, to where it withdraws for the winter sleep after tasting all types of food from the other seasons”. I waited without saying a word, as I did not understand the point Starry Song wanted to make. “The bear seeks the silence of the cave to quiet down and spend a long time digesting all it ate. When spring arrives, it wakes up stronger to face and live life. This is the lesson and the power of the bear. With us it is no different”. I insisted I still did not understand what he meant. He looked at me and, very patiently, said: “More and more, people listen to all the voices, rather than the words of their own hearts. They listen a lot, but they understand little. I see this tremendous craving for distractions and fun. This is not bad in itself, but the fact is people are forgetting to listen to their own truth, as it is hard for them to keep to themselves, not understanding that loneliness is needed for one to listen to the voice of the heart. Why are they avoiding an encounter with themselves? What do they fear?”

I reasoned that it is important to listen, as we learn a lot from others. “There is no question about that, but the fact is you are the one to choose which direction to take”, he replied, and continued: “For that, you must filter, refine and set in context the voices of the world, bearing in mind that only you know about your life and can make decisions about it. You cannot fear your choices, as they are the instruments you have to hone yourself, making you, and you alone, able to perform the gifts and skills you possess. Following the herd will not allow you to divert from your responsibilities, it will only prevent the best in you from blossoming. Those who Walk in Beauty cannot give up the valuable lesson of the bear, the search for yourself and finding the truth within you”.

I asked him how I could experience the lessons provided by the West Gate. The shaman took a long puff, his eyes lost on the stars. He explained: “There are three steps. The first is self-contemplation. In quietness and silence, enter your sacred space, diving deeply in the still waters of the core of your being. To be alone with yourself is wonderful”. He looked at me for a moment, and asked: “I do like to celebrate with my people, but do you realize the importance of loneliness?” That was a rhetorical question, because he did not wait for an answer, and kept talking: “The second step is to be wise enough to listen to your own voice and differentiate the voice of the self from the voice of the soul. Only the latter will tell you the truth about the Path; while the self relates to passion, the soul points to all the love that is necessary. Placate the ego, allow your soul to shine with all its light and be dazzled!”

I wanted to know about the third step. Starry Song said: “Then, you must structure your life according to the truth that was revealed. Don’t think it will be easy; courage and selflessness are required for one to abandon the old forms comprised in ideas and behaviors that no longer suit you, as they were imposed by cultural and social standards or by expectations others have about you. Even worse are the limits established by those who do not believe in their ability to create and transform their own being and, therefore, life itself. However, at the end of the winter introspection period, the bear is ready to leave the cave, it has honed itself and tuned its choices using the tuning fork of truth. It is aware of its ability and talent. No storm will prevent it from moving forward, as it carries within the power of the Path. This is the time to reveal all its power and magic!”

We kept staring at the infinite without saying a word for a time I cannot quantify, until Starry Song broke the silence: “To understand the cycles each one of us is subjected to is essential to living with serenity. Each cycle will only end when we are honed and strong enough for the new one, just like the caterpillar only breaks the cocoon when it has turned into a butterfly with wings strong enough to take flight”. I wanted to know how I could apply all those words to my current professional status. “You can learn from others, but never allow anyone to shake or rob your peace. If that still happens, it does so because you have yet to find yourself and your wings are not yet mature enough to take flight”.

I told him I suspected that was my case. Starry Song smiled with his eyes, and concluded: “It is time to put the bear skin on, go to the cave for an important meeting with yourself, and get the precious diamond that awaits you”. Before I could ask what he was talking about, he added: “The voices of the world have always compared people. Learning how to listen to the voice of the heart is to discover the beauty of being unique”.

Kindle translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

We know more than what we are

One more day of work came to an end in the small and ancient village close to the mountain that harbors the monastery of the Order. I hastened my steps in the hope of finding Loureiro’s shop still open. Not that I had anything that needed to be fixed, I just wanted to chat with that dear friend of mine. From afar, I could see his bike leaning against the light pole, an indication that I was lucky. The shoemaker, elegant as always in the way he dressed and acted, was very happy to see me. To my surprise, he was with Sarah, morena mia, as he affectionately called his daughter, a young and beautiful woman with long, dark hair that explained the nickname. She was now living in the capital, where she studied for a doctoral degree at a prestigious university, and had come to spend some days with her father. Very sweet and polite, she said she would leave us alone to chat, and would wait for the father later at home. Loureiro showed me the new philosophy books the daughter had brought him as a gift. Philosophy was one of his passions. He invited me for a glass of wine in a quiet tavern close by. We walked over, and even before arriving, I asked him about the experience of bringing up a daughter by himself. “We know more than what we are. We all have knowledge that we are not able to put into practice. Hence, life, in its infinite intelligence, forces upon us conflicts and hardships so that, by experiencing them, we understand its beauty. It is up to us to enjoy the precious lessons with joyful resignation”, he said, showing the line of reasoning he would further develop.

Seated at the table with our two glasses of wine, we resumed our talk. “We are not what we think or what we talk about, but what we do. Our choices define us”. He paused briefly and continued: “When Sarah’s mother went away, to pursue her dream of becoming an actress, she left me the responsibility of caring for and bringing up a little girl, still a toddler. Initially, I felt out of my mind, as I felt betrayed and abandoned with my little daughter. The funny thing is that, at that time, I already had in my mind the idea of respecting the freedom of others”. I interrupted him, and argued that any freedom brings, in its wake, a precise measure of responsibility, and it was also the mother’s duty to look after Sarah. “No question”, said the dashing shoemaker. “However, we cannot be sorrowful, annoyed, bound or dependent on the choices of others. I was already responsible for raising my daughter even before her mother left, wasn’t’ I?  So, it was only a matter of changing the way I looked at things, of adapting, of learning how to suit myself to a different situation, of forcing myself to close a cycle already surpassed and allow a new one to begin”. I refuted by saying that sharing a task makes it lighter. “But not as strong and wise”, he retorted, and explained: “There are always gains, you can bet on that. I learned as much, or even more, than from philosophy books. In fact, I had to put into practice all the knowledge I acquired in thousands of pages. Only then that made sense, and I allowed knowledge to turn into wisdom. This was, perhaps, the best knowledge of all”.

I asked him to elaborate on that. Loureiro took a sip of wine and obliged:  “To provide guidance to a child on the value of good virtues is extremely important; to lead by example is mandatory. In social relations, when discourse is divorced from practice, the good word loses its power, just like pure water when spilled on the floor becomes muddy”. He remained silent for a few moments, looked me in the eyes, and continued: “What is the good of having an entire theory about freedom of choice and the choice of others if my daughter could see my sorrow with her mother’s decision to leave?” The shoemaker was visibly moved, perhaps from the memories of an entire life. I thought about changing the subject, but his voice was again composed, as usual. He continued, with his soft demeanor: “I came to understand that to evolve is but shedding light on one’s own shadows. The sorrow of the abandonment had to be transmuted out of respect for the dream of Sarah’s mother in deciding her own life, even though I totally disagreed with that. My daughter could be raised in a home where she would hear her mother was crazy and irresponsible, or in a harmonious place where she would understand that her mother gave up important things to search for her dreams, and she would respect her mother for that. There were two ways to look into this: what would feed the shadows or what would lighten the morrow for the three of us. Can you realize there is always a choice for us to make? Hence, it was possible for my daughter to understand the actual importance and respect for the freedom of choice the others have, and grow up with no resentments or blames. Thanks to that, I have learned how sacred life is, by propelling us to exercise the purest love and the clearest wisdom through trails that, oftentimes, we will only understand much later. Those were valuable lessons on common sense, tolerance and patience, sweet fruits from hard sowing, as life has a time of its own for everything to ripe. Our relationships and social relations are the fertilizer of the garden, allowing us to put into practice what we already know but are yet to act on, much like the seed that needs the pressure of the sand to burst and germinate. This is how Sarah became a beautiful, precious flower”.

I did agree with him about the importance of our good attitudes to support our good words, or else we have a society that does not believe in human virtues, those that elevate and give existence its meaning. He watched me in silence. When I finished, it was his turn: “Yes, but let’s consider things. Every tribe is known according to the behavior of their members. That shows the stage it is in, now, and teaches that evolution will occur according to the inner transformations of each citizen. There is no other way to change the reality of a people”. He drank the last drop of wine, and we decided to order one more glass each. Then, he continued: “As I told you, we know more than what we are”, and went on to conclude the premise of the beginning of our conversation: “I think this is a natural process, but it must be a conscious one. In theory, we are all good; in practice, not so much. And that goes for me and you. The mind takes on the values we must learn, and, little by little, it insists on the heart experiencing them. Gradually, we abandon some ingrained behaviors, understanding they are far from doing good; we start practicing good deeds according to our awareness, prompted by our reasoning. Little by little we change out attitudes, as we set ourselves according to new vibration standards that have been shifted by our new, enlightened way of acting. The virtues, then, become gradually embedded into our new being, indissociable from it and becoming a definite component of the soul. Their practice of good is no longer related to ‘thinking’, but to ‘feeling’. Wisdom has turned into love and moved from the mind to the heart”.

The waiter brought our glasses of wine. Loureiro proposed a toast: “To all the transformations made possible by the generous lessons of the Path!” With teary eyes, he added, almost in a whisper as if telling a secret to himself: “Hardships are the tools that force and teach us to build bridges over the voids of existence. Only then are we able to continue our journey”.

We continued to talk about the magic of life and its fantastic revelations for I don’t know how long, until we were kindly invited to leave. They needed to close the tavern.

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

The dream trader

It was very late at night and I couldn’t fall asleep. When I left the tent to wander around a bit, I met Starry Song – the shaman was given this name because of his skill of sharing the native knowledge through stories, in chant or not – smoking his distinctive rock-bowl pipe. I asked his permission to sit by his side, saying that I was distressed by the difficulty I had in falling asleep. He looked at me with his self-possessed way, took a long puff on his pipe, and said: “You must have a serious conversation with the Dream Trader”. Of course I did not understand what he was talking about, and asked him to explain. “Do you know why Indians paint their faces when they attend a ceremony, or, in the past, when they went to war? His question made things even more confusing in my mind. When I said I did not, he explained: “The paintings are not made at random nor have aesthetic purposes. Their colors and shapes reveal the magic of each one.” Magic? I wanted to know what he meant by that. “All of us, no exceptions made, have our gifts and talents that we should use with creativity. It is your magic that makes you special. It can be expressed in different ways, from the gift of wisdom through the skills of teaching, to the compassion in sheltering the needy, to the truth to sow justice, to the courage to give security, to sensitivity to help feelings flourish. There are countless gifts and talents that manifest themselves in the core of each person, reflecting the way he or she will Walk in Beauty, sowing good fruits wherever they go. It is the sword of the warrior, as the ancestors would say, metaphorically. This must be applied in your job or profession, as when the warrior does not use the sword, it gets rusty and he or she becomes bitter”.

I told him his words were nice and wise, but I did not understand how they related to my sleepless nights. “Oftentimes we sell our dreams to the Trader”. I said I was lost even more, now. He looked deep into my eyes, and said: “Often we give up on our dreams, where our gifts and talents dwell in favor of what we mistakenly call objectivity or pragmatism. For the need to make ends meet, ambition or fear, rather than engaging in a profession through which our dreams would come true, we offer them to the Trader in exchange of a money-making job that will make our life more comfortable more quickly. At first, money will give you a good feeling, and will make you forget your dreams; it may even lead you to think dreaming is for children. Then, you will wear a mask or live like a character, deluding yourself that you will be happy. Do you know why children are so happy? Because they are authentic and believe in their dreams. Do you want to sadden a kid? Steal their best dreams from them”.

Starry Song became silent for a little while, looking at the stars as if asking them the cue for words. He puffed his pipe once again and moved on: “The thing is, dreams never die. At night, when you close your eyes to meet with yourself, your gifts and talents will come and ask you to dance with them, or will remind you that you have abandoned the best you had in you. Then, it is difficult to fall asleep”.

“Your gift is the boat that will help sail the seas of this existence; your talent is the rudder, steering it to the golden wharf of fullness. Therefore, to give them up is to be adrift in the storm and to lose sight of the guiding star”, he explained. “To be able to sleep again you must negotiate with the Trader, so that you have your dreams back”, he concluded.

I became pensive for a while, and told him that I thought I knew some people who might have traded with the Dream Trader. There was this guy who had been a financial-market broker and renounced the money and the hurried life at the Stock Exchange to be a chef in a restaurant of a small countryside village; a doctor who became a plastic artist; an electric-guitar player who abandoned the stage and fame to study law and became a good judge. He interrupted me: “There is no right or wrong. Only the dreams.

I asked him how I could understand this process. “It all starts with you being unhappy about the world, where everything seems wrong. At this point, we tend to become depressed, annoyed, regretful. In fact, the world mirrors the people who dwell in it, and we are part of the tribe of this big planetary village; it lights up or darkens according to the light we have in our eyes. The only way to change our life is to change ourselves, this is the seed of transformation. Just like the snake changes its skin to move on, bigger and stronger, we must abandon what is no longer of use in ourselves to give room to the new that must emerge. This will be reflected in your appearance and behavior. The free expression of all your longings, feelings and ideas with creativity has a strong healing power. Bear in mind that living is an exercise to perfect the self. Therefore, to live is to heal oneself”.

“To transform yourself is essential. To put to use your gifts and talents is to enjoy all the magic that the Great Mystery has offered you. To give that up is to abdicate your power and to renounce the fullest of the self”. I asked the wise man what I should do to restart my process. “You must travel in search of your essence to understand what your actual needs are and to identify your true gifts and talents. We often mistake our magic with our wishes to shine and be acknowledged that derive from insecurity and vanity, seeds of fear. If that happens, the Trader will not negotiate with you, because he will have nothing to deliver”.

I asked him how I would recognize my true magic. “It is on the surface of your skin. It makes your eyes shine, it makes you forget tiredness and work for sheer joy. Even though you must learn techniques to further develop yourself, you will always have the feeling you were born knowing how to do that. You will see your creativity flourish and embellish the life of whomever crosses your path, because your best feelings and thoughts are innate to your new art or trade. You will have no doubt when you are face to face with your magic”.

I asked about the possibility of the Trader refusing to give my dream back. “No one can do everything. We are all subjected to the Unwritten Laws. If, preposterous as it may seem, the Trader refuses to give you back what belongs to you, it is because he doubts your good intentions. In this case, commit yourself to use your magic with dignity, to spread joy to everyone, and wherever you go. Thus, the dream will return to you as powerful as it was when you were a child. Use it to lighten the world!”

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

 

 

I need that

He was a young and promising lawyer. He had taken a few says off to meet the Old Man, of whom he had heard about, to seek his advice. While I walked with him to the room where the meeting would take place, I tried to show him the beauty of our monastery, its beautifully carved columns and centuries old walls on which the peace of silence, of prayers, of studies and of philanthropic deeds was anchored. However, he was in haste. He interrupted me in the middle of the story about the monastery I was telling him, to tell me about the legal suits he was working on, and how he could bend the conviction of judges from the weight of his intelligence.  He was in a hurry to meet the Old Man, because important work was waiting for him. Before we got to the room where the old monk liked to receive people to chat, we bumped into him in the monastery’s inner garden, tending some plants. The old man was, typically, sincerely happy to meet the young lawyer, even though it was the first time they met. The lawyer immediately started to talk about a lawsuit he was involved in against a powerful multinational organization, which would yield millions in fees. He said he would have to present a motion by the end of the following day, and asked to go straight to the reason of his visit. “Money is an important tool, and people can do a lot of good things with it. It is like your profession, which aims at reaching balance and understanding among people. Both should be employed wisely”, commented the monk. Next, he asked the young lawyer: “What can I do for you?”

The other cheek

Deeply annoyed, I went to sit at the end of the huge table where all of us, disciples and monks together, have our meals at the monastery. A little while ago, in the yard, I had had a serious discussion with another young disciple. The Old Man, as we affectionately called the dean of the Order, watched me for a few moments, but left me alone during lunch. After everybody had left in silence, the old monk approached me and invited me for a walk in the garden. Before he asked anything, I vented all my indignation with the colleague who had been very harsh in his criticisms about me. A mother had come to us seeking emotional and spiritual support, due to the insurmountable pain of having lost a child. I suggested she go to the orphanage our brotherhood kept at the small village at the base of the mountain that harbors the monastery, and work there as a volunteer for two weeks; she should come back to talk to us after that. My intention, I immediately explained to the old monk, was for that mother to understand that there are always hardships bigger than ours, and that the orphanage could be a good place for her to deposit the love she had in her heart. To pass on the feelings she had for her departed child to children who had no parents would soothe her pain, give sense to her life, and lighten her steps. Upon her return to talk to us, she would be more receptive to listen to the words that would appease her and explain the Unwritten Laws of the Path. The other disciple, however, reproved me. In his opinion, I had been insensitive in not making myself more available to console the mother at the time she needed it the most, as a good word is powerful enough to alleviate a stinging pain. This was the conflict and the reason we had argued.

The pillars of peace

The small village at the base of the mountain that houses the monastery was coming alive. Its ancient streets, narrow and crooked, were still moist from the night’s dew. I had arrived early to run some errands, and went to the small shop of Loureiro, to invite him to have a cup of coffee with me. From afar, I could see his old bicycle, leaning against the post in front of the door, already open. I was received with the usual joy by my friend, always very elegant in his attires and attitudes. Tall and lean, his thick white hair did not disguise the advanced age. His black pants tight around the waist contrasted well with an immaculate white shirt, both exquisitely tailored. The shoemaker laid his tools over the bench and the two of us left, as good boys, laughing on the streets towards the bakery. Seated with steaming hot cups before us, waiting for fresh rolls, I couldn’t help noticing, once again, what has always drawn my attention: the sense of perpetual peace that radiated from the looks and words of that shoemaker. I have always asked myself about that feature of his. As usual, our conversation was about philosophy, a subject Loureiro was passionate about, readily reading all the books he could get a hold of. “Despite all advances, which are undeniable, I still favor the Greeks. All we had to learn we did three thousand years ago”, he said. I asked if that was the source he drank from, to exude the serenity I so admired. “All the peace you need comes from the understanding that no event in the world, as tragic as it may seem, can shake the pillars of your soul without your permission”.

The labyrinths of life

Every Saturday morning there is a wonderful market in the main square of the village close to the mountain where the monastery is located. The streets are winding and narrow, and are still paved with cobblestones that confirm its medieval origin. Delicacies, crafts, sausages, cheeses, fruits and vegetables are sold by residents and farmers of the vicinity. The cheerful music played by young and old in the center of the square colors the good spirits that radiate in everyone’s face. On that day, the pleasant spring sun warmed the cold early morning, and showcased the typical colors of the season. The Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, had asked me to accompany him to the market, saying that he need to buy honey, a necessary ingredient to bake a cake all the monks enjoyed. As a matter of fact, he appreciated the spiritual exchange among all people, whether inside the monastery or out. With an open smile, shining eyes and soft voice, he would speak to anyone who crossed his slow, but steady steps. It was amazing to see how people held him dear, even though he did not have a penny to spare. At a certain point, he met a young woman, very pretty and well dressed, whose family, who owned large tracts of land in the vicinity, had aristocratic ancestry in bygone times, and that now was about to disappear. She had a gloomy look, her eyes were listless. She seemed happy to meet the Old Man, and invited us to sit at a cafe close by.

With steaming cups of coffee before us, the woman started to vent her sadness with the miseries of fate. Despite the huge inheritance she received, which gave her access to the most expensive stuff the world had, she was not happy nor saw the beauty of things. Nothing made her happy. The old monk listened with genuine interest for long minutes, without a word. At the end, her watery eyes shed a tear down her pretty face. He gave her a comforting smile, and asked: “Do you know what a labyrinth is?” The young lady nodded her head, and said it was a tangle of passageways that seem to go nowhere, and whose exit is difficult to find. “Life, sometimes, has the shape of a labyrinth”, said the Old Man in an enigmatic way, still developing his reasoning. The woman wanted to know more. He looked her kindly in the eyes, and added: “Who does not know where to go is forever lost”. The traveler looks for the exit in the outer walls of the passageway when, in fact, the door is within. This is the secret of the most sophisticated labyrinth that exists: life”.

You mirror my soul

“The perfect gaze is the one capable of finding beauty where everyone sees disaster”, said the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order when I passed by him without noticing him, so annoyed I was. His mature perception realized my heart was a thunderstorm. I turned to him and vented all my unhappiness with recent events. In a long speech, I told the Old Man how outraged I was about the ignorance that is still loose in the world. He listened to me patiently, until I unloaded the last vestige of intolerance, then he commented in a soft voice: “What bothers us the most in others reflects our most serious shortcomings”.

I was most emphatic in disagreeing with him, as certain behaviors were absolutely incompatible with mine. He pondered, “Most certainly are, some are not. And these are the ones that your soul, manifested through your subconscious mind, acknowledges as its own shortcomings; your ego, believing it is protecting you, rejects the shadows of others, as it fears the world will see a similar shadow in you”. He paused briefly, watched me for a few seconds, and added: “Can you realize that what takes you off-track and makes you lose your temper is living with the shortcomings of other people that remind you of your own difficulties? Precisely the ones you want to forget, or you deceive yourself by pretending they are not part of your personality. This affinity is like a mirror, and Narcissus does not want to see himself ugly. However, what the ego hides, the soul points out, so that it can be transformed”. I lowered my eyes and said nothing.

The star hunter

I have spent some periods of my life close to Starry Song, shaman of the Red Path native people, from whom I have learned a lot. Once, it was the Old Man himself, the oldest monk of our Order, who suggested I should go for a visit. The reason was that I was often quarreling with other monks at the monastery, or with the shop owners of the small town close by, or even with friends and family members. “When we feel he world hampers our dreams, is because something is quite wrong within ourselves”, he said to explain why I should breathe a different air.

I was received with the usual joy by the shaman, but it did not take long – a couple of days, in fact – for me to start quarreling with some members of the tribe. Of course I was unhappy with myself, I saw some situations in a blurred way; in particular, I always blamed someone for my misery. On one hand, I did not realize it; on the other, I lacked the courage to admit to myself my own difficulties that bothered me so much and caused those many small conflicts. Starry Song observed me for some days without saying a word, until one night he invited me to sit by his side in front of a camp-fire. There were just the two of us. I watched his movements while he unhurriedly filled the rock bowl of his pipe with tobacco, with the Milky Way as a work of art hanging on the wall of the Infinite. It was still early at night. I wanted to know why he always called me to talk in front of the flames. “The Great Mystery uses the power of the four elements – water, air, earth and fire – to purify and feed the planet. I feel at ease before the power of the fire that lights, warms and burns old forms”, he said with the first puff. I interrupted him to ask what he meant by ‘old forms’. “These are feelings and ideas that are no longer good to us, and, for our own good, because they are outdated, should be transmuted. Life needs room for the new, always, whether on the planet or within ourselves”, he explained. Next, he passed me the pipe, his eyes looking at mine, as the customary sign of friendship and respect. I saw the fire reflecting in his pupils while he spoke: “It is about time for us to talk about the Star Hunter”. Before I could ask him what was that all about, he explained: “Anyone who travels through the Golden Path of Illumination”.

The art of renouncing

I had gone down the mountain where the monastery of the Order is located and walked through the narrow and old streets of the closest lay village. It was pouring rain, and darker than what would be expected for that time of the day. It was quite early, and the shops were about to open. From afar, I saw Loureiro’s bicycle parked in front of his small store. For decades it had been the only means of transportation that old man allowed himself to use. I smiled to myself anticipating the joy of spending some moments with such a distinguished man. As soon as I went in, Loureiro looked at me over his glasses, put the plyers he was holding down on the bench, lifted his lips and stood up with open arms to greet me. As usual, the tall and lean man was impeccably dressed. The black pleated pants taken in the waist were a good match to his elegant white shirt buttoned up to the neck, with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow not to hamper his trade. His hair was the same color as his shirt and, even though plentiful and well-combed, signaled his advanced age. Loureiro was a lifetime cobbler. In his spare time, he enjoyed good wine and loved books. He favored reds and philosophy.

I had gone to the shop because the leather straps of my sandals had torn from so much wear. Despite being old, they were very comfortable; it was as if my feet and the sandals had made peace a long time ago. After the greetings and a steaming hot cup of coffee to keep the cold at bay, I asked if the sandals could be fixed or I if would need to buy new ones. “I think people are losing the good habit of having things fixed, and that may reflect in their relations. One must be sensitive enough to realize what is no longer mendable and what can be fixed. If life and everything within it become disposable, soon my trade and the reason why I exist will become senseless”, he said, half mockingly, while he took the sandals to his workbench. “Take a seat. Let’s chat while I mend”.

I took advantage of this cue and, provokingly, asked him when we should fix, when we should let go. “Understanding the difference of each one of the choices is essential. This is the art”. I sat on a small stool, as I felt that would be a sunny morning.

The beauty of forgiveness

“It is impossible to be happy without being forgiving”, said the Old Man to a young lady who went to the monastery seeking consolation. We were seated in the refectory and I was pouring them a hot cup of coffee. She had just finished telling her personal drama, and was disconsolate, as she believed she did not deserve her fate. Distressed, the woman confessed that what was keeping her on her feet was watching the suffering of those who had caused her harm, which she would never forgive. The Old Man frowned in the face of such intolerance; however, his shining eyes on his wrinkled face overflowed with mercy. “Eternal sentences are typical of the shadows, but make no sense with the ideas that the Light works with, always willing to give a new chance. Mistakes and errors are part of learning, and therefore they require numberless opportunities. Only an angel will be able to count all of life’s mistakes”.

The woman rebuked by saying she had made some mistakes, but never out of meanness. The monk kept his voice down. “People get disconnected for judging one another in strict accordance with facts, from the wounds they made in us and for wishing we were tried for our intentions. Well, we always have reasons that justify our actions, don’t we?” He made a brief pause for the woman to ponder his words, and went on: “This is the problem. Such incongruity is the root of relationship conflicts. Thus the need to go deep into yourself. Forget the masks and the social personae we create with our ego in an effort to protect ourselves and to be praised by others. I talk about the shadows we hide that yearn for light in the still dark dungeon of the soul, which reinforces the imperfections of others in the vain hope of hiding our own. We waste too much time in the illusion of correcting the mistakes of others instead of honing our own heart for it to reflect the beauty of attitudes we are yet to possess. You can bet, once we know who we really are, we become more tolerant with others”.

The magic of having an encounter with yourself

Starry Song was seated at the entrance of his tent. He was smoking his unfailing stone-bowl pipe. It was that hour at which the day turns into night. The sun was gone, but the moon was yet to arrive. I felt tired; I had just got into town, and was quite upset because of some personal problems. For days I had been in a foul mood. “Sometimes I feel like disappearing”, I regretted my circumstances when I passed by the shaman. “Escaping from the world will not make you escape from life”, he retorted with an ironic smile. I shut up and tried to move on. I wanted to take a bath and sleep, but he asked me to sit. “Today I will teach you about the Southern Door”, he said, handing his pipe over to me, so that I smoked with him, a sign of trust and respect. He got his two-sided drum to provide the rhythm of a heartfelt native song. I closed my eyes and let myself be enraptured by that environment of peace. “In the Red Path Tradition, the Wheel of Life, or Wheel of Healing, as life is but an infinite spirit-healing process according to the precise measure of its evolution, has four gateways, represented by the magnetic directions of the planet. I generally like to start at the East, where my forbearers who have learned how to ride with the wind live. With you, however, I will begin at the South”, he said. Before I had the chance to ask why, he explained. “There is an urgent need for you to peel off the character you have created within yourself, that deludes you into believing you will be protected from everything and everyone. Where you try to deceive by pretending to be strong lies your weakness. This led you to give your actual power up. All that is not part of ourselves hampers because it is unsuitable”.

I claimed, almost hurt, that I was authentic and generous. Starry Song gave me a compassionate smile and some good words: “If you don’t find the essence within yourself, you will never put to use all the gifts and talents life gave you. If we can be whole, why be content in being half?” I lowered my head, and he kept on: “To be a good person is extremely important, but it isn’t enough. You must take a step forward so that the best within us blossoms. To do that, you must meet someone very important”. I frowned with curiosity, wondering with whom that meeting would be. “With yourself”, he explained, sedately.

Unhurried, he took the pipe, puffed it, blew the smoke to the wind, closed his eyes and moved on. “Forget the delusional self-image you have created to protect yourself from the world and be admired by all. In general, what embellishes the most hides the most. Oftentimes, the essential is not in what people show, but in what they hide. That is a pity”. He probably noticed my bewilderment and, with extreme patience, made himself clearer. “One must lose the moorings of pre-established ways of behaving. Every being is unique, and in this lies his beauty”.

I told him that I understood his words, but it would be very hard to free myself from attitudes and ideas that, because they were so old, were embedded in my soul, and led me to think and act mechanically, without realizing what I was doing. The shaman replied in a coarse voice: “No one said it was easy, only that it was necessary. To do so, you must go through the Journey of the Little Ones, through the trails of happiness, humbleness, trust, creativity, and purity”.

In the days that followed, I took part in a number of rituals with different people of the tribe, who gave me the token of their experience and the true understanding of children’s typical virtues. At the end of each stage, they sent me to talk to Starry Song.

– Happiness was about the lightness a child has in laughing about himself; of the easiness of not taking myself so seriously and not to be pointlessly concerned with situations that bear no importance. One’s ability to make fun of one’s own shortcomings and difficulties is a good exercise so that, in addition to demystifying them, helps one realize how ridiculous pride and vanity are, which, deep down, everybody uses as shields with the pretense of protection. “This peels off all the masks you have been wearing for years, and have come to accept them as real because they are so old. Find yourself and be amazed. Only then you will find the best of the world”.

– Humility reminded me of the simplicity of a child who is not yet able to do the same things an adult does, but who is capable of doing anything if he is willing to learn, always. Humility is the virtue of the eternal apprentice that must live within you. To Learn, Transform, Share and Move on. Forever and ever. Humility is in the core of your best choices, and each one writes their own history through them. “Pay attention to your choices, they can either harm or heal. With each decision you disclose what you carry in your sacred bag, your heart. When the shine lures you, thank it but refuse the invitation. Make your choices out of love, always. Humbly understand that only love hones and strengthens you, makes your choice sacred and open the gateways to wisdom and new gifts”.

– A child trusts the protection the parents provide, as we believe the Cosmic Intelligence will provide each one with the essential conditions for that moment in life. “It is impossible to be happy without trust. Even though a father or mother will not give up the task of educating a child and correcting their course, more or less strictly, depending also on the child’s stubbornness, they love their child unconditionally and will never turn their back on him, if he needs them. Similarly, the Great Mystery with its infinite wisdom and love delivers to each one the perfect instrument capable of playing in the Universe’s Great Symphony and, therefore, leverage their evolution. Accept that difficulties are masters in disguise, providing you with valuable lessons. This is understanding the Path, and not giving up on it is called Faith”.

– Do you know when a child destroys a toy and with the broken pieces builds a different one, with which he will have new possibilities for amusement? He is only letting his creativity surface, to open the possibilities of joy. To break old patterns and to reinvent life is a healthy attitude that we must practice every day. Only then we will give room for the new to emerge and amaze us with its infinite and fantastic adventures. “Creativity is nothing other than the magic connected to the creation and transformation of our lives, and, therefore, of the world. We are all Children of Creation. Thus, you have this power in the core of your soul. Use it and be amazed!”

– Just like in that well-known tale, it is a boy that reveals that the king is naked. Only with the purity of a boy, without malice and without meanness, we will be able to reach the core of being and see through the veils of the world. “The most important day of your life is the day you meet with yourself. Only when we have pure mind and heart we can see the outline of our being without the smoke of mundane illusions. We will thus be able to gauge the distance that separates the part from the whole. Then, the time has come to put into action the skills we have, that make us capable of aligning the ego with the soul, in the fullness of the whole being. You meeting your essence is what we call Healing Through the Truth”.

On the last day, a beautiful and magical closing ceremony took place, with the entire tribe in attendance. Late at night, I found Starry Song seated before the fire, the flames reflecting in his eyes. He played a nice and slow rhythm song in his two-sided drum, and he sang it in his native tongue as if seeking the poetry at the bottom of the heart. “I sing to pay tribute to those who went to the other side, and tell them that one day we will meet. It will be a beautiful party”, he said when he saw me seated next to him. I thanked him from the bottom of my heart for all the opportunities and teachings he and his people lovingly gave me. I joked by saying that the Journey of the Little Ones had made me big. The shaman gave a good laugh, made fun of my lack of humility, but loved the joke. “This is a good sign. I think you have started to learn, and I like this flippancy of yours. Enlightened spirits are committed to good mood”, he said. “Perhaps in a few centuries you will be ready”, he joked back. We laughed together. I told him I was feeling oddly light. “You set in motion one rim of the Wheel of Life, Yoskhaz. When you met with yourself, you came to understand how the Cure Through the Truth works. Now, the most important is to never forget to exercise it, forever, in yourself”.

We kept silent for I don’t know how long, until dawn.

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

Love is not an exchange

I often hear people saying that “we give love and we want to receive love. Love is an exchange”, as a final statement. No, love is not an exchange. Exchange is the basis of trade, which, indeed, helps move the planet and lessen differences between people; love, however, is not a commodity to be traded. Love must be unconditional; nothing should be asked in return, or it is not love. Love is not a currency people use to relate to one another, but the actual sense of relationships. In fact, when one complains the other did not give back the love offered, we make a third party accountable for our existential void. A whole being on the way to inner harmony knows that all the peace and happiness he needs for his fulfillment is developed within himself, by himself. Then, he starts sharing with everyone the good feeling that delights his heart. As a coat that was knitted with the needle of wisdom and the threads of love, one selflessly gives to someone who is cold without expecting anything in return other than the inner joy of having given someone a bit of comfort. You have to understand that you alone are accountable for your happiness. To pass onto others the responsibility to make you happy is improper, foolish, and, sooner or later, the typical conflicts of those who carry a burden they cannot stand will emerge. One cannot ask the other to fill the void of one’s soul; this is a personal challenge intrinsic to the evolution of each one. No one has the obligation to make anyone else happy. This does not mean you should not do your best for someone to smile or feel comfortable. To be loved is wonderful, and one of life’s divine gifts, but one must accept that the love of the other is not, nor it will be, the basis of your happiness. It must be built little by little within you. Each one of us, no exceptions made, has the necessary tools to strengthen the soul to achieve its fulfillment totally free, devoid of any emotional dependency. Depending on others, affectionately or sentimentally, is like being in a prison without bars – even though some may be well disguised in sweet, golden cages – where we cannot let ourselves rot.

Miracles are transformations hidden within ourselves

“What we call magic other traditions call miracles. There is a change in name, but the power and the strength are the same”, said Starry Song, an old native of the People of the Red Path while putting tobacco in his stone-bowl pipe. We were seated around a small campfire under the fantastic cloak of the Milky Way eliciting our ponderings on the mysteries of the universe. I waited for him to puff on the pipe as an invitation to his ancestors who are riding with the wind to take part in our conversation. He then looked at me, the flames reflecting in his eyes, and said: “Magic or miracles are how we call the transformations we cannot yet explain. The important thing is to understand you are part of the miracle, just like the seed that will germinate only if the ground is fertile. Each one tends to their own garden, and if no work is done, no rose will blossom. The sun and the rain are available to everyone, but the sowing is personal and nontransferable. It is essential to understand that each one has to play their part in order to be dazzled by the magic of life”.

He also explained that there is a ceaseless exchange between spheres, but the allies of the invisible plan can only enhance their work with us if we are prepared: “We are the pillars of the bridge they cross; therefore, the stronger the foundation, the more they can transit over it. Without the establishment of one’s moral code, according to which no harm can be caused against anything or anyone, one will reach nowhere. These concepts are the solid grounds of the soul”, he added.

Maturity brings true freedom

“Maturity is no more than understanding oneself, and the willingness to change. This is liberating”, said the Old Man while we were looking for mushrooms in a forest close to the monastery after a rainy night. The sun shone among the leaves, caressing our faces and making the still cold morning a bit warmer. “To understand who we are, our difficulties and graces, allows us to leave behind what in ourselves is no longer good and gives us the chance to invent what we want to be. This is the power of the Path”, he added. A beautiful nightingale landed on a branch of a tree close by, and gave us the gift of a small symphony that one hears only in forests. Then it flew away. I said that everyone would like to have wings, like the birds, to reach the heights. He immediately rebuked me: “Birds fly due to biological determinism. But the wings of freedom are metaphorical, they stem from wisdom and love, and grow from the choices one makes at each step on the Path”.

Tainted memories

One of the tasks I enjoyed most was to help the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, in taking care of the inner garden at the monastery. I have learned that all in the world reacts according to the real measure of our feelings, in unceasing exchange. The same goes for plants. In addition, I still had the chance to talk to the monk, and to listen to his conversations with other people. All of that was a learning experience. On that day, I remember well, it was cold, but not too intense, the sky was blue and the warmth of the sun cozily caressed the body, the monk was surprised by the visit of a niece. The young lady, in her 20s, had her soul all messed up. She was unable to her keep ideas and feelings aligned.

The reason was her relationship with her father. Since she was a baby she had lived with her mother. It didn’t take long for the mother to remarry and have another child. She had always got along well with her brother and her mother’s husband. The father, despite the hardships in the relationship with the mother, kept visiting the daughter, but perhaps not in the way the daughter would have liked or thought fit, or was told how he should have done. Lately, the father’s attempts to be more present bothered her in a way she could not explain. Even though she did not admit it, that showed a dark emotional gap that needed to be filled with colors. Oftentimes she would react poorly to her father’s attempts to be closer.

Gardeners of the Soul

“We are our heirs”, said the Old Man, as we called, affectionately, the oldest monk of the Order. We were going up a small mountain close to the monastery, through a narrow path, in a still cold spring morning. We were received by small and colorful wild flowers that portrayed the resplendence of that season, and subliminally taught us the stages of life: after the harshness of winter, which is indispensable to strengthen the determination of the spirit, the sweetness of spring will come to warm our hearts. All personal cycles – the Path is a big circle formed by numberless smaller ones – have their purpose, and carry valuable hidden teachings indispensable to evolution. Conflicting situations that occur over and over, to the point we question ourselves why so many repetitions, evidence our refusal in changing the way we look at things and act, understand and do things differently, in short, evolve. Once the lesson is learned, that cycle ends and, inevitably, a new one will come about, with different moments and free of the old problems. “Who complains about the Path does not want to change the way they walk”, he said with his unique way of talking.

The sun touched us softly, as if it knew wool blankets would not warm us enough. As we moved up, the vegetation became richer and attracted a huge diversity of birds and butterflies. Noticing how amazed I was, the old monk looked at me with his always serene eyes. “The scent of flowers is like the energy we send forth, whose sources are our feelings and thoughts. The good perfume attracts birds and butterflies like the rancid scent of sewage appeals to roaches, rats and mosquitoes”. He paused briefly and concluded. “Therefore, we alone are sole responsible for what we attract”. I mentioned how strange it was for him to extract hidden lessons everywhere. “The sacred is disguised as profane, and thus it is everywhere. Hence, life guides us through signs and offers us its wisdom through the simplest things, accessible to anyone who seeks it”. He looked at me in the eyes and I saw a shimmering light that emanated from the bottom of a source; the more the output, the stronger the light, despite being framed around a wrinkled, time-worn face. “All the love you need to live may be contained in a single hug”, he said.

The Hollow Lies in the Heart

Once I watched a movie, one of those made-in-Hollywood films, with lots of action. The main character was a cold professional hit man who comes to be hunted by the police and the mafia. His apparent indifference to any type of feeling was the hallmark of his personality, and the main reason for his wicked effectiveness. During his escape, however, he carried a vase with, if I am not mistaken (it was long ago), an orchid. That single flower was the only thing that man loved. It received all the care and affection he was capable of, from being placed under the sun, watered, watched for diseases, so it would not die. That flower depended entirely on him to remain alive. Interestingly, that gave the orchid the power to make the best of a man with a rough conscience flourish. That flower was sacred.

Sacred is everything that connects us to the divine, that allows us to exert our most noble feelings, that teaches us to be better persons, and leverages our evolution. In a small altar I have at home, there are a number of apparently mundane objects, but they are so meaningful to me I see them as sacred. Some, more distracted people, do not realize these are important objects in my temple. For instance I have three figures of jugglers. When I retreat for my reflections, meditations and prayers, they remind me that disseminating joy wherever I go is the best way to thank life for the blessings and lessons it has given me during my journey. They are sacred to me.

It doesn’t matter

“The magic of life takes place while we experience the ordinary day-to-day things”, the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk at the monastery, would say. That comes to mind when I realize how much time and energy we waste with situations that have no importance whatsoever for our lives, and in the end we delay the fantastic journey by allowing ourselves to travel in circles. “It doesn’t matter” is a single-sentence mantra he would repeat and teach all the time. In every day there is at least one magical moment that may transform your life. The secret to see and cross this portal lies in your choices, and to freely make them you cannot be distracted or weakened by what does not matter. The urgent trivia are traps on the Path.

Once we were arriving from a long trip, and there was a huge line to clear customs at the airport. While I was following, annoyed, the slow progression of the line, the Old Man was serene, and seemed to be dazzled by everything around him. When our turn came, a couple, hugging and kissing, went ahead before we did, and we had to wait a little longer. I looked angry at the Old Man and before I started my line about their lack of manners, he spoke softly, almost in a whisper, “it doesn’t matter”. Before I could rebuke his mantra, the customs officer called us. He looked at me with a roguish smile, as if saying “see?”. “I like to watch loving couples”, he explained, which made me even more impatient. I realized that I, even though being much younger, had to push myself to carry the rocks of annoyance; the Old Man, despite the relentless passing of the time, moved around the lobby bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Just like he did in life. I understood that wisdom and love gives you wings.

The best stories are those of perseverance

I often hear people saying they would do everything “exactly the same” if they had the chance to start their life over again. I understand if that is simply a reference to how they have learned from their own mistakes, and how these mistakes helped them get where they are, I can understand. Yes, oftentimes the mistakes are important teachers that give us valuable lessons, even though there are other guides in life, such as perception and love, that allow shortcuts and pave the road. They provide the same lessons the mistakes do, but in a softer, smoother way; after all, one learns from imposition or enjoyment. The choice is always ours. However, most cases I know are of friends who say they would take again the course of their lives due to shame, denial or pride. That is a shame, as the non-acceptance of the course taken in life prevents the understanding of who we really are, and therefore makes us unable to realize the transformations we should undergo, thus delaying the journey of evolution and the peace of fulfillment we long to achieve.

When I look back, I realize that, thanks to the tough lessons the errors gave me, I could have done things differently. People I have hurt, running in circles due to stubbornness, time and energy wasted with matters of no importance, and so forth. The list is huge. It is true that that was my level of awareness at the time, and I did not realize I could have done differently. Yes, it is always better to do it differently, and better.

Even though I am still far from where I must go, I am not the same one as when I left. The way I see things and the way I live have changed. Isn’t it like that with all of us?

What have I done with my past? Particularly those chapters that, deep inside, I came to fully realize I could have done differently? I have decided to embrace it and be thankful for the history of my life. Instead of being paralyzed by fear, I took responsibility, corrected what I could and moved on, with a new attitude towards everything and everyone. No one should be ashamed; everything in the universe is eternally evolving, and we are all part of it.

To reinvent oneself every day is a requirement of the Path.

Be amazed with the transformation that comes on the wake of wisdom and with the beauty of love that will infect you whenever you try your best. The most incredible stories are those of perseverance.

Imagine a film in which a child is born in a home filled with love, and with all the conditions for a healthy life. Early on, his parents, evolved souls, taught him wise lessons about love, tolerance, compassion, according to a beautiful code of existential ethics and noble moral values. This child, wont to goodness and light, is a quick learner, and has always spread seeds of joy wherever he goes. Becoming an adult, he embraces medicine as a tool to take healing and comfort to everyone, disseminating the joy and contentment he has in him. No question this is a beautiful life story that would make a film I would love to watch.

Now imagine a different film, one in which the child is raised in a household where discord and impatience reined, moral indicators lacked, and there were no reasonable conditions for subsistence. He grows up on the wild streets of major cities, under a reversed code of ethics, perverted or inexistent moral values, where the instinct for survival overcomes the most noble and subtle feelings. Petty theft, acts of violence that he practices or suffers are common place in his teen years, together with hunger and, principally, a lack of love. Little by little, at first with the smallest actions, he realizes that when he acts differently, and lets the best in him blossom, a feeling of love for everyone and everything lightens the environment around, and seems to lift him from the floor. He feels life is reacting in the precise measure of his actions. He feels different, everything changes. Little by little, he starts practicing such actions that were dormant in the highest drawer of his heart, until he took the decision to reinvent himself. The person he once was does not fit in him anymore. Even though he is still himself, he needs to be different. Then, the transmutation medieval alchemists talked about occurs, and metaphorically transforms lead into gold. When he changes his way of being, the world also transforms itself. Little by little, people and situations that populated his life give room to different ones. He then decides to go back to school, works hard and starts to realize that learning gives him a broader perspective. After a number of attempts and overcoming hardships, he is accepted to a Law School. After some years of relentless struggle, he becomes a merciful judge, with the power to heal all those that cross his path with the tools of truth and justice, and joyfully spreads the seed of hope in him and in every one. That would be another beautiful film I would love to watch.

If you could, ludicrously, watch only one of these films, which one would you choose? These are two beautiful stories about love, but I would choose the latter. Stories of perseverance have always dazzled humankind, as they prove our evolution. In fact, the History of the World is told through short stories of ordinary people, like you and me. The major characters we know from the books are just the visible reflection of the changes to a new level of consciousness already ingrained in everybody’s mind.

Therefore, there is no ugly path. The curves and hardships of the road that design the beauty of the journey for each one of us, coloring the landscape as we change our way of being as a result of the choices we make. It is enough to be willing to see with different eyes and have the courage, wisdom and love to act differently. As an angel who was recently incarnated among us said, “it is impossible to rewrite the past, but we can build a different future”.

Embrace your story without shame or feeling self-pity; take the opportunity to know yourself better; take the errors as lessons; open yourself to the teachings of the love that is numb in your heart; allow the courage of your warrior soul to make in you the essential transmutations, day by day, every day. Understanding that everything, absolutely everything can be different and better is the ticket for the next station.

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein

 

There can only be courage where once there was fear

Fictional stories have dazzled humankind since the beginning of times because they reveal secrets hidden in our subconscious mind. Even though they affect the way we are, it often takes long for them to be decoded. It is there, in our subconscious, a wild area of the brain, that the shadows act and ultimately change our lives. Through imaginary adventures narrated in books or screens, the hero faces dangerous villains, comes upon unexpected hardships, has to overcome limits, learns from losses and frustration so that, at the end, he finds the most precious treasure: himself.

Ultimately, fictional stories tell the story of each one of us, but presented in a different outfit, another scenario, unusual makeup. We need a hero to identify the indispensable courage to face our demons and allow the best we have within to blossom. The keeper of the bridge we all must cross is fear.

Fear is the origin of all shadows. Jealousy comes from the fear we have the loved one will walk out on us; envy, from the fear the life of others is nicer than ours; anger is nothing more than the fear to look in the mirror and face who we really are; resentment arises when our fear tries to defend us from our own shortcomings; victimization comes from the fear of taking the challenges intrinsic to evolution; escape from reality is the fear to face the truth. The list is long, as fear is always lurking, trying to prevent us from walking the fantastic and endless Light Road.

The self wants to shine, the soul longs for light

Only if you are clear about who you are can turn yourself into the person you want to be. The self, the part of consciousness that is more connected to the primary, immediate sensations, filled with social, ancestral conditionings, wants to protect you by creating a character shaped according to a model that is supposedly accepted and admired, and deluded about the sense of existence. The self propels the person to be the most beautiful, rich and important, thus feeding the urge for applause in the wake of the evanescent shine, from the show of terrestrial illusions of cheap pleasures, useless results and idle solutions. The consequences that will come, immediately or not, are suffering and hardships in personal relationships, in addition to self-regrets. The self, filled with good intentions, makes up virtues we do not possess, rights we do not have, and typically wrongs us about the movements the world makes, creating phony reasons for repulsion. Or forces us to escape reality, when this is unpleasant. In any case, it leads to inaction by preventing us from facing the situation with the necessary maturity to understand, transform, share and move on.

In face of the typical insecurity that comes from ignorance, the most common mechanism triggered by the self are the shadows, our innermost feelings that are fruit of selfishness. Jealousy, envy, greed, resentment are the best known ones, and present in the guts of everyone, no exceptions. They are intrinsic to human nature. However, what we do with them defines who we are.

The shadows prevent our best vision by projecting our life onto the life of somebody else, as if the other could determine and be accountable for our happiness. Transferring to third parties the cause of unavoidable frustrations does not help in the least. Understanding that you will find peace in nowhere other than within yourself or accepting that each decision made shapes our own destiny are signs of maturity, essential steps towards wholesomeness.

Being a person is always in fashion

The need to be in vogue, the unconscious anxiety of being in synch with what is believed to be fashionable reflect one’s needs for identification and acceptance, a generally unperceived will to find a place to live in peace. Fashion emerges from the cultural need of people to understand who they are and where they are heading. Clothes, accessories, cars, canned ideas, ways of acting and talking are desperate attempts to label the self, so that one believes the sweetness of the fruit is ascertained by the skin. To no avail.

One loses the beauty of inventing oneself, and the power of being unique. Fashion brings along the danger of projecting an ideal self we most certainly are not.

The limits of the border define the shape. Any ready-made model overcasts the originality of the individual, the beauty of a solo flight to unimaginable heights where they will find worlds and possibilities accessible only to those who dare going beyond normalcy and mundane permissions. The exercise of creativity develops the wings of freedom.

Life requires lightness

“The less I need, the freer I am. Freedom brings alongside the lightness of the spirit”, told me an old and wise shaman of the Native People of the Red Path seated by a fire in the evening of the Potlatch. Starry Song, as he became known after having discovered his gift of lighting up the path of the people from his tribe through the word, in chant or not, as a bow light that shows the waves on the way, patiently explained to me the ceremony that would take place the following day, when each member would give an object that was of value to them.

The detachment from material possessions is a good exercise to help renew ideas and concepts that, outdated, hamper our journey. This ritual helps people realize and understand the need for self-renewal, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. By giving something that is dear to us, we learn to transform feelings and thoughts that we have and that, because they are useless, become a burden and hamper our progress. We come to understand that things may be different. Life requires lightness.

Chaos is good.

 

We typically use the word “chaos” to refer to disorder or confusion in the world or in our lives. In different mythologies, chaos means a shapeless, unlimited void from where the universe was created. In the platonic tradition, it is a state of disharmony that precedes a new order. I Ching teaches that chaos brings the storm that makes life blossom. In physics, this expression explains a dynamic system that evolves according to the law of determinism, sensitive only to small early changes. In a way, all definitions fit together.

Chaos levers evolution, individual and of all humanity.

Evolution is relentless. We move forward out of free will or imposition, and that will determine how hard and how long the process will be. The grade of understanding and the choices determine the pains and pleasures of each one for the crossing.

Who I am is not how I am.

Any text or word is sacred if they are powerful enough to lighten the way. Of the many books that serve as a flashlight to guide us in this infinite and fantastic voyage, the Bible remains an inexhaustible source of wisdom and love, indispensable elements for our personal transmutation. Thus, little by little, we change the world.

In many passages of the four books, the evangelists say that Jesus, whenever he entered any home or building, composedly greeted everyone with the expression “may peace be with you”!

For some time, I believed the translation was wrong, considering that the Holy Scripture was originally written in Aramaic, then translated into Greek and only later translated into other languages. We all know how difficult it is to translate from one language into another. I thought the expression should have the time marked[1]. “May peace be with you now” seemed to me and many others to be the right expression, as I have read texts and heard priests using it. I was wrong.

Modern slaves.

One day, you get tired of yourself, of the drabness of your dark room, of being your own jailer. Yes, the worst prisons have their bars woven according to the blue print of canned ideas, prejudices or cowardice, imposed by alien, ancestral fear. Or by someone else. The time has come for you to try your wings that have never been used. You, then, launch yourself in an absurd flight towards the colorful depths and illuminated heights of an unknown, fantastic universe that unveils before you according to your lightness, courage and boldness. This is what happens when you become the main character of your life. The power, the magic, the enchantment are yours, take them back!

Modern Alchemists.

One of the major dreams of mankind all along has been to transform iron into gold. The other is immortality. Throughout the centuries mankind has nurtured the ambition of living forever, lavishly, without the efforts of daily work. A piece of cheap metal in a cauldron would be enough to transform it into the oldest and most precious commodity known in the market. Luxurious castles, a bountiful table, pleasures for everyone, forever.

There is good medieval literature about these scientists that has survived explosions and the passing of time. All with their own cryptographs, like codes, so that only those who were initiated in esoteric matters could read. For some, the reasons for the secrecy was to safeguard the formula that would cause the transformation and ensure the fortune, as if that valuable metal were available for all, it would lose its value. Others are sure this is all nonsense.

Human beings have been living through the centuries in accordance with their level of awareness, so they have the core experiences to their learning. Different cultures are mixed on purpose so that one can learn from  some and teach others. In an invisible chain, mankind makes links of freedom and unity.

The problem is not problem.

The problem is not the problem, but the inability of moving on in the face of adversity. It is losing the possibility of transformation, a decision that is purely internal, that depends on you alone.

There are two players in this process: the ego, that will make you feel you were wronged, undeserving of the hardships that fell upon you, and that places you in the most unwholesome prison of victimization. On the other side, there is the soul, the eternal spirit of who we are, who longs for evolution and knows that cowardice does not change reality.

Is the hardship serious? Death, diseases followed by irreversible sequelae, loves that are lost, painful bankruptcies… So what? Are they impossible to be reverted from the external setting? Maybe Life is pointing out that changes should be made within ourselves.

No, it is not easy, and no one said otherwise.

“You say it because it did not happen to you”, many will shout. No, it did not happen to me this time. Everyone, no exceptions made, face their own battles.

healing by truth.

The Native American people, who follow shamanism, have a sacred symbol called Healing Wheel or Wheel of Life. They understand that living is a process of infinite healing, ‘walking in beauty on the endless road of life’, in the words of an old Navajo wise man. The symbol has the sacred mission of reminding us that through our relations we will find the medicine or poison for our pains. As we learn who we are and appease our relations with everything and everyone, we jump up a rim in the Wheel of Life. We become stronger to move on.

Once I heard from a wise Tibetan monk that Buddhism was not religion or philosophy. Buddhism is social relationships, he explained, because any theory is useful only if applied to my everyday relations. Knowledge that is not experienced is like bread in a window, even though the eyes sparkle with excitement, it does not satiate hunger.

Free thinking is more than just thinking.

The worst prisons are those without bars. The illusion of freedom is the meanest cell, as it does not allow you to be aware of the limits of your choices, not realizing that their borders are more and more narrow, and, contrary to what it may seem, it only limits the size and pales the colors of your world. Free thinking, the autonomy of ideas, the openness to accept differences, require effort, boldness and courage, rare commodities on the shelves of hearts and souls.

The world has always looked askew at dissonant voices and attitudes that hamper the management, control and business of those who believe that others are there not to share, but to serve. Who does not adapt is cast aside of the world, as an outsider.

Imbalance is fundamental.

Life is an infinite and fantastic voyage towards light. This life is only part of the road. To travel means to evolve; to evolve requires transformation. No one is born ready. It is a sign of wisdom to understand that the useful things we have brought with us in our backpack may no longer be suitable for us. We must leave some things behind to make room for new ones. We must reinvent ourselves every day. Nothing delays us more that the lost train of prejudice, the canceled flight of obsolete ideas, and the dead-end alley of outdated attitudes. Pride, vanity and stubbornness are a heavy load that we often keep hidden at the bottom of the suitcase, or under the skirt of jealousy or the pants of selfishness. We need to be light to move. It is fundamental to make room for the new, to change the luggage we carry.

Check your backpack with affection. Love is the best manual to indicate the contents that are essential.

Your wings are the size of your heart.

Sometimes we see ourselves at the edge of the cliff. Emotional conflicts, work problems, family quarrels are like the cliff that may lead us to fall and that robs our peace. A heartfelt wish to change the path of our lives, engaging in a new job that is more suitable to our skills and talents, a new love relationship devoid of lies and prejudices, a new thread to sew the frayed family fabric, worn out for such long time that its original shape is forgotten in the alleys of memory; these are current struggles that assail us all, silently crying, deep in minds and hearts.

What is the wisest way to cross a scorching desert, with its natural hazards, lack of water and of life, filled with snakes and scorpions? What is the smartest way to reach the top of a mountain, defeating the harshness of the vertical rock and the strong wind whistling in your ears the imminent risk of falling?

The Magic of Words

We all are sorcerers, and the word is the main ingredient of the cauldron. From what is said or written, we can invite people to dance, sowing joy and hope, or to build walls, spreading hatred and fear. This is the power, and it is yours. Each manifestation is an act of magic, and defines the type of sorcerer we want to be.