The hours went by in a hurry. Much faster than I would have liked. At the advertising agency there was a total rush. We were in the second half of the year and all the employees were working to the best of their abilities so that all the campaigns would be ready by the beginning of December. One fact diverted my thoughts from my routine occupations. The death of the former editor, who had helped me so much in discovering part of my essence, in a moment of extreme value and angularity in my life due to the transformations allowed (I told this little story in The Hidden Face of Failure), made me look for another publisher. A complicated and time-consuming search, especially for unknown writers. Until an editor called Marcos committed himself to publishing my new book, a compilation of spiritualist texts, something quite different from the criminal novel published previously. After some time without hearing any news, I became worried and went to meet him. In the meeting, he explained to me that, when analysing more deeply the contents, he believed that, at that moment, the book would not be well accepted. For the time being, readers would give preference to other kinds of literature. “It is the market trend,” he explained. It was September and there was an agreement to publish the work before Christmas of that year. Although I already published these same texts in a blog, the printed book represented the physical manifestation of a new existential cycle that had begun for me.
At that moment, I no longer worried about success, fame, trends or public acceptance. Writing was my daily ritual of protection and enlightenment. I understood myself and everything around me as I translated my perceptions into words. I asked myself the questions and faced the answers. I had come to wake up every day at three o’clock in the morning to write and meet myself. It was a joy, until then, unknown. A gift, considering the meaning it offered to my life.
The importance of the book being ready at the beginning of December had another specific reason. My daughter, who was finishing her Master’s degree in Portugal, had asked me to attend the defence of her academic work. She claimed that my presence would transmit calm and security to her. Regardless of this, I did not want to miss that moment so valuable for her and, consequently, for me. Such is love. My youngest daughter would take the opportunity to meet us. We would spend Christmas together. The book would be a gift and a surprise for them. An existential milestone for me.
“What do you mean?” I was surprised at the editor’s explanation. I said that I had trusted him. Marcos justified himself: “You need to understand the conjectures of the market. Your investment was in time. Mine will be money. I can’t be at the mercy of your whims. The publishing house is a business like any other, not a house of favours”. I argued that we had an agreement. More so, a contract. He took a stance: “I didn’t say I wouldn’t publish, I said I would do so when I thought it was pertinent. The book being ready at the end of this year was a possibility. However, it will not happen”. He opened the drawer, took out the contract and pointed to a clause that allowed him to postpone indefinitely the publication of the work. In my turn, if this happened, the contract would be terminated, if I thought it was better for me. I answered that it was better that it was terminated at that moment, because I was very upset with his posture. Marcos, after tearing up the contract, accosted me by saying that he was not responsible for my expectations. He did what he thought was right. I pondered with him: “It is not a question of transferring responsibility, but there was a lack of attention to the commitment assumed”. Marcos replied that I should not hold him responsible, since I had failed to look after my own interests, since I should have sought him out earlier. I said that I believed that he would fulfil his part of the agreement without any charge and that any change (always a possibility due to the impermanence and unpredictability of life) would be informed to me. Something that did not happen. Irritated, Marcos told me not to demand from him what he did not owe me. I realized the uselessness of continuing the conversation, so I thanked him and left.
On the way back to the agency, I was fighting a huge battle within myself to pacify the revolt of my emotions. The editor’s attitude was wrong, I told myself. It didn’t have to happen that way, I repeated quite upset. Dignity consists of treating others the way we like them to treat us. I was sure that Marcos would not be satisfied if they acted with him the way he did with me. It was necessary for me to master the bad thoughts to prevent me from going through the dark doors that open in situations like these. I made a huge effort in an attempt to lighten my shadows that insisted on defending me. Anger, hurt, resentment, disappointment, were the shadows in my heart. It was necessary for me to forgive so as not to let myself be imprisoned in the cells of immature emotions. I cannot demand from anyone the perfection that I am not able to offer, I kept in my mind the lessons that I needed in order not to lose myself. Compassion is indispensable for the existence of forgiveness. I needed to make use of the knowledge I had to frame in my mind the intense passions that were running through my insides and, only when I succeeded, could virtues manifest themselves. This is the overcoming of darkness by light, the transmutation of the being applied to real life. For individuals still in the first evolutionary steps like me, it is not automatic, but an exercise of constant attention and endless overcoming. It is not easy, but it is a choice.
Wild passions lead us into imbalance. By abandoning the central axis of principles and values that I want to follow, whose harmony is strengthened by the predominance of an ethical and loving behaviour, I become distant from the essence that identifies me. Far from myself, I am nothing.
When unbalanced, each person reacts in his or her own way. Some explode, others implode. Both are unhealthy reactions because of the suffering they cause, either in themselves or in the world. Sometimes a dense emotion remains for years in the process of slowly poisoning the soul. At some point there will be the purge. The longer it takes, the greater the damage it usually causes. It can be done with love and wisdom, right away, or postponed indefinitely until it manifests itself in a disastrous way. Like everything else, it is a choice that is always linked to the awareness of having the perception of the situation and the essential virtues suitable for overcoming it.
Opposition has the power to irritate us. Frustration tends to make us believe that we are victims of other people’s decisions. The world conspires against me, these are the ideas that first come to our minds. Conditioned by neural ramifications formed by ancestral sensations of danger and fear, shadows are faster than virtues when we are in the infancy of the soul. This is a period related to the supremacy of the ego. This is why reactions are so important, because they reveal a lot about who we are at that moment of existence. Virtues or shadows, pay attention to who comes first to your mind when the world tells you “no”.
However, it is necessary to understand the process. Containing the explosion in order not to react aggressively should not lead to our own implosion by the depression that apathy causes. Neither the uncontrolled expression of passions, which cause so many tragedies, nor the denial of repressed emotions, the cause of many illnesses. In truth, the shadows need education. Hence the importance of the gradual transformation of the shadows into virtues, as an evolutionary method.
When pride is replaced by humbleness the offenses are dissolved. By exchanging sorrow for compassion, we rescue serenity. Taking off the mask of vanity to show the simplicity of who I am frees me from the fear of discovering my true identity. Sincerity chases away the ghosts of lies and shame. Forgiveness gives me back the lightness and joy which are primordial to life. Virtues are sub-types of love. Love turns suffering into stardust.
These are just a few examples of the infinite possibilities available to us. An immeasurable power within the reach of anyone, without any dependence, either on any fact or on another person. Absolutely everything one needs to free oneself, to be worthy, happy, to live in peace and love rests in one’s own core. All that is needed is to learn to seek it.
The essential for a full life lies within the self. By insisting that we depend on the facts of the world to make us who we are, we lock ourselves up in imaginary prisons, for the simple fact of putting the honey of our own life in the hands of other people.
I repeat, it is not easy. A whirlwind of ideas circulated in my mind at the same time. Many were dark, few were luminous. However, I needed last to adequate the first. The primordial act. The great battle. As there are many of us inside, while one part of my mind imagined the day when I would say to Marcos: you have done me a great deal of harm, the other side of my mind reasoned that a person has over us only as much power as we grant them. I was not willing to grant such power to anyone. I would not allow any situation to steal from me the joy of life.
However, how would I go about publishing the new book? To begin the traditional trajectory of sending books to various publishers for approval, editing, printing, until the moment of publication, takes many months and even years, depending on various circumstances. I had less than ninety days. On the other hand, I thought, perhaps the time had not come to launch the book. Having it for Christmas was my deadline, not life’s time. Maybe it wasn’t the time. It would be no disaster. I would have to be patient. The less I need, the freer I will be, I remembered this unmistakable stoic truth.
With my spirits serene and my will resigned, although a bitter taste remained in my mouth, I decided to give myself some time off for the rest of the day. I needed to allocate my ideas and feelings. Normally, at times like these, I like the silence and stillness of the small flat where I live. I sit in the armchair in the living room, close my eyes, listen to soft music, connect with myself and with the Highlands; I seek light through intuitions that help me about the next steps. That afternoon, I went against my own ritual and went to another place I also love. A coffee shop. In front of a large, steaming cup of coffee, I settled down at a table. In the background, an ambient sound was playing good, classic jazz. I was distracted by watching people, as they are usually powerful sources of inspiration for me. Then I had the distinct sensation of hearing the voice of the Elder, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order: “Love your enemies”. A well-known biblical sentence for which, I confess, I never had much appreciation. I have no doubt that the reason for it was the enormous evolutionary distance between me and such a high level. The undeniable and liberating value of forgiveness is impossible to go against and indispensable. However, to reach that point, of loving those who did me or want my harm, would still take a long time.
I looked back and sideways, joyful at the unlikely surprise. But he wasn’t there. Just my imagination, I thought. I took a sip of coffee when I heard his voice and the same phrase again. I almost choked. I turned around to look for him again. He was not there. I laughed alone at the absurdity of the situation, for the monk’s voice had been audible and clear: “Love your enemies”.
Life is a school of excellence, never a casino. I was distracted with my thoughts, when Carlos and Marcelo enter, two friends that I have as true brothers. We form a cosmic family. One is a translator, a teacher and is studying to become a theatre director. The other is a screenwriter and also a book writer. Happy to meet them, I took the opportunity to get something off my chest. There are days when we need to talk so that we can hear ourselves and, thus, understand the afflictions of the heart. It helps to clarify the mind and the solutions. At least the most important ones, those that are internal. I told them what had happened and finished by saying that the book would be left for another time: “We cannot create catastrophes where they do not exist. In truth, all crises are nothing but the creations of immature minds, typical of those who are unable to extract the proper lesson from each situation,” I argued with confidence.
Carlos, possessing a Cartesian logic, important to link the thought in a linear way to facilitate understanding, asked: “And what was the lesson?” Yes, there had to be a lesson. It took me a few seconds to put my thoughts together and I answered that it was the stoic importance of not allowing my light to go out because of the behaviour of others. In addition, to understand the unnecessities of existence, beyond the gestational time of life. Everything has a right moment to happen. Carlos nodded his head as if to say that he agreed with the reasoning, but made a comment: “I have the feeling that there is a missing piece in this puzzle”. I pondered with him: “The missing piece is forgiveness. It is necessary to forgive. I have already begun the process of its maturation within me”. Carlos agreed: “True, forgiveness is liberating. However, I believe that the mosaic of this experience is not complete”. Then he gave his opinion: “There are still some pieces missing”.
I denied it. It was Marcelo’s turn, a quantum thinker, whose ideas jump over the ellipses predictable to common reasoning to find improbable destinations, typical characteristic of the best storytellers. He pondered: “Although your arguments seem correct to me, I think you arrived too fast to the end of the lesson. All you have said are teachings that are already mature and perhaps only need application. Therefore, there was no new lesson. However, lessons are not repeated unnecessarily. That fact hides something that you have not yet discovered.”
I opened my arms as if to say I had no idea what it was about. Then I thanked them for their effort to help me overcome such a complicated moment: “Only friends are capable of that”, I said. Then Marcelo disconcerted me: “Enemies usually do it much better”. I laughed, thinking it was a joke. Carlos explained: “Yes, it’s true. By eliminating aggressiveness, relieving excesses, removing accusations and unacceptable criticisms, enemies manage to help us more than friends, either by the rigorous sincerity with which they analyse us, or by stimulating us to seek unknown paths that we denied going down because of fear or comfort. They help to reveal hidden powers that we ignore”. Then he concluded: “Blessed are the enemies for transforming us into better people!”
At that moment, everything began to make sense. If enemies are sacred for making us better people, they need to be loved too, and especially for this! Without a doubt, each individual is a fundamental cog in a great machine. We are indispensable parts of the whole, the “Verse” and the “One” (that means: the Universe!). That is why it is important to live and work in harmony, balance and communion, so that the wonderful cosmic machine can expand in the infinite amplitude of its immeasurable capacity. However, if friends have the value of welcoming, understanding and warmth, enemies are important because of the overcoming they stimulate. Therefore, we should love them!
Forgiving those who have wronged us and loving them as siblings is a reasoning that maintains its importance. However, this is the climax of a long journey. Until we reach that point, there are several stops. One of them is the need to continue the journey without the help we desire, but with the capacity of what we have discovered and strengthened. To admire and be enchanted by it all!
Filled with enthusiasm, I told them: “To love our enemies is also to be grateful to them for the possibilities of evolution that they offer us by opposing obstacles and difficulties, by saying ‘no’ to us. On the other hand, many times I have become the enemy of several people, without having been a bad man or made an unfair or wrong choice. These are the natural effects of different perspectives, interests, principles and values that do not limit, on the contrary, expand possibilities”. In silence, I thanked the Elder for indicating the route.
For the experience he had as a screenplay writer, Marcelo joked despite the truth that was hidden in his words: “Batman owes all his fame and power to the Joker”. We laughed. He then clarified, “Conflict is the engine of all stories. This is because it is conflict that, in truth, moves life. Thanks to the obstacles that the antagonist creates to impede the trajectory of the protagonist, he reinvents himself and reveals powers hitherto unknown to himself. The more sophisticated the adversary, the better the warrior becomes; the more intriguing the problem, the wiser the one who faces it and deciphers it becomes. The school that trains heroes does not employ vulgar bandits as teachers. To write fiction is to unveil life. This is why stories have enchanted generations since the beginning of the centuries.”
I thought of the stories of all the masters of humanity. Only the enormous difficulties they encountered was able to reveal the greatness they possessed.
All the dense emotion towards Marcos disappeared, giving way to a wonderful sense of lightness. Clarity of mind allowed a different perception that transformed reality. Yes, love has that power. As if by magic, I regained my peace. In truth, I had gone to meet the light. Once again, as every time, love was the path and also the destination.
“Love your enemies,” I smile to myself for the riddle unravelled. Even more, for being so close to all of us when we believed he was too far away.
I expressed to my friends the joy for that learning. Carlos disconcerted me again: “Keep your head in the stars, but put your feet on the ground. Every theory needs a use for not becoming vain”. He looked me in the eye and asked: “What to do now?” I said that it was enough for me, I had recovered peace and expanded consciousness. Now it was time to move on.
Marcelo intruded: “Go on where? Then he provoked me: “Virtues flourished, consciousness expanded, but no choice was made. Without it the triangle of evolution, that you talk and repeat so much, is not complete”. I was astonished. They were right and I did not know what to answer. I ventured a question of which I knew the answer: “You talk about the book, don’t you?” They nodded in agreement.
We remained speechless for minutes. It was time to find the courage to expose my will without fear. I said that I was not encouraged to return to the traditional process of searching for publishers interested in publishing the book. I took a deep breath and confessed: “If it were not so complicated, I would accept the risk of self-publishing, in my own way. Maybe set up a micro-publishing house just to publish the works I write and others I enjoy. Something delicate and beautiful, like Loureiro’s shoes; small and lasting, like Li Tzu’s bonsais; books that awaken the spirit like the stories in Starry Song.” Carlos and Marcelo just stared at me. Then he concluded, “I would like to have the book in hand for Christmas, but I don’t even know where to begin. I have no experience in the subject”.
They smiled. They both told me that they would be willing to help me if I was determined to carry out the project. Carlos offered to do the grammar revision. Marcelo would do the layout, since he had a good notion of how to use the software. He would use his intuition and would base himself on the books he considered beautiful to accomplish the best editorial work he could manage. I would be in charge of finding someone to make the cover. I remembered that the agency had several professionals specialized in digital graphic arts. I asked Ana, a designer who had worked with several publishers. The agency worked with several printers. I chose one that did digital printing, because it had a better cost for small print runs.
As the end of my advertising cycle was approaching, I wanted to interfere less and less in the agency. There was a great team, capable of going further than I went. Taking advantage of the fact that I needed to devote myself to editing the book, I delegated almost all the decisions that were presented to me. I took advantage of the time that arose to create a publishing house. It was so simple that it worked inside a room in the small flat I lived in. The shop would be virtual; we would sell the copies over the internet. Of course, as we were inexperienced, we made daily mistakes. But we were willing to learn from them. Those were very rich days, of learning and joy, common when we live our gift and a dream. Fulfilling the planned schedule, at the end of November the book went to press and at the beginning of December the printer delivered the first print-run. It was beautiful, like everything we love. We celebrated a lot!
With a few copies in my luggage, I went on to attend my eldest daughter’s thesis defence, in Porto. Before that I stopped in Lisbon. There was a café there that I liked a lot. There was a bookcase full of books for customers to read while they were in the shop. It was interesting, because the same book had different markings from its various readers, who read them little by little, in the intervals of their coffees. Discreetly, I took a copy of Manuscripts out of my backpack and added a little secret to the bookshelf. It was my book’s launch to the world. A note inside a bottle thrown into the sea. I took a cup of coffee moved by a wonderful feeling. I closed my eyes and, in silence, said a sincere prayer of thanksgiving for all those who had helped me get there. Among them was Marcos. Jumpy as a boy, I took a train to Porto.
The academic work was very well accepted by the examining board and my youngest daughter joined us on the same day. On Christmas Eve, I presented the book to the girls. They were delighted. Curious, they asked a thousand questions to know how everything had happened. We talked a lot. They commented that, as a song says, a friend is a good place to visit. When among them, we are in paradise, no matter the city or the country. I agreed: “No doubt about that, they were fundamental for the existence of the book. Friendship is strengthened in those moments, it is a valuable and imperishable asset because of its purity.”
“However, something equally precious was allowed to me through an antagonist. Without realising it, Marcos offered me a new and unlikely path. First, I needed to learn a little more about the thousand possibilities of love. When I was able to love the one who opposed me, a wonderful and unthinkable road appeared ahead for me to walk on.”
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.