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.

 

 

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