I was back again to the charming little town at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery. It had been two years since I had met Loureiro, the shoemaker who loved philosophy books and red wines. As usual, the train had left me at the station early in the morning. With the sky sprinkled with stars, I walked alone through the narrow, winding streets paved with century-old stones, while the city was still asleep. Silence was my companion. I love music, but silence is indispensable for me to think. Ideas are very valuable, but equally dangerous. They illuminate and darken our existence; they liberate or imprison, follow or subvert the flow of days. Thinking clearly defines the lightness of life. But how to always think clearly? I was wrapped up in my thoughts in an attempt to better understand the influence of feelings in the formation of ideas, when I turned the corner and saw the cobbler’s classic bicycle leaning against the post in front of the workshop. I was welcomed with a tight hug and a sincere smile, trademarks of Loureiro’s elegance. Although always carefully dressed, well-shaven and with his vast white hair trimmed and combed, his kindness to everyone gave him an unforgettable charm. Before long we had two steaming mugs of coffee on the counter and the willingness to talk for eternity, typical of when two friends meet again. I commented that recently I had been trying to understand how feelings and passions interfere with the construction of thought. He took a sip of coffee and disconcertingly said: “Emotions are thoughts not yet thought out.”
I open a small parenthesis in my narrative to highlight the nomenclatures I use. Emotions, or passions, are the densest sensations, born from the shadows, the most primitive aspect of being, such as pride, vanity, greed, jealousy, among others, all of which have fear as their root. Feelings are subtle, always linked to a virtue, such as humbleness, compassion, purity, sincerity, joy, among many others, all subtypes of love. Emotions are to feelings what fear is to love. The importance of the matter is that, whether emotions or feelings, they both create forms and become aspects of our personality.
I asked him to explain further. The shoemaker elaborated: “Emotions are ideas that inhabit the unconscious, not yet codified, understood and admitted by the conscious. Some arise from the wild instinct of self-preservation, that is, from fear, and become destructive because they are nourished by the concept of ‘Me or you’ and not of ‘Me with you’. Hence our enormous difficulty in dealing with them when they manifest, because someone will have to lose. Not infrequently, it is us. A primitive concept that only admits victory if there is also a defeat. The other will always be seen with mistrust and fear, as if he or she were a natural predator”.
“Emotions have accompanied us since time immemorial. They are intimate, but strange. We live with someone in us, but we are unaware of their origin and essence.” He sipped some more coffee before pondering, “Imagine living with another person in the same house without ever having sat down to talk, to know their tastes and difficulties. This is exactly how we relate to our emotions. We are resigned to their interference and we transfer to the world the causes of our sufferings. That’s why we don’t get out of place. They become unpleasant companions because of the suffering they cause. That’s why there is so much conflict. Nobody likes to feel anger or jealousy, just to name some of the most basic examples, but these emotions have lived in us for so long that many consider them inevitable and even useful. As a defence mechanism, in a fruitless attempt to avoid suffering, we create increasingly thicker shells that keep us away from our essence. The soul is our purest face, the abode of virtues and endless love. In our current evolutionary stage the soul is still like a seed”.
“We are ego and soul. Away from the soul the ego becomes insensitive, hard-hearted. Away from the ego the soul does not flourish. Despite the feeling of security offered by an ever-increasing number of layers created by the shadows, which dominate the immature and disoriented ego on the pretext of protecting it, in truth it culminates in its distancing from reality. However, the agony of missing each other remains; it lives in the core of the being. We just do not perceive it clearly. Because of its acidity, agony corrodes us, numbs us, and finally makes us sick.”
“When there is a lack of sensitivity towards ourselves, there will be no understanding with those around us. Selfishness does not arise from a deliberate will to be selfish, but from ignorance and indolence about ourselves. We take the opposite route to the light when we try to explain the turmoil in the world before tidying up the mess at home. This is where intolerance and impatience are born. We have easy solutions for everyone, only ours are difficult. We point out a path that nobody follows, not even us. Do you understand the influence of insensitivity in our lives? Love will be nothing but poetry and selfishness will be good business. Where there is no love there is fear. Fear makes us selfish. Involved in an unhealthy vicious circle, we become even more insensitive, whether towards others or towards ourselves. We end up unbelieving, discouraged and bitter”.
I asked how we could reverse this process. Loureiro explained: “When the reasons for their origins are understood, emotions make the primordial movement towards evolution. It is the initial step towards becoming feelings. However, it takes a lot of work, besides being a rather unpleasant exercise. Few are ready to come face to face with themselves and examine themselves entirely. I am not talking about the body, but about the personality. Admitting your mistakes, your difficulties and your behavioural vices. Although it is difficult, it reveals a great secret: that which is annoying hides the passage to fullness. Not by chance, in pharmacology, medicine is extracted from the poison.”
“Your personality, your way of dealing with yourself and reacting to the world, is part ego, part soul. They are the two sides of the same being, both fundamental, because while one takes care of aspects linked to survival, the other is essential to transcendence. To align one with the other under the same axis is indispensable for evolution, the main reason for existence. The soul, our most subtle and sacred essence, still embryonic, is prevented from germinating without the care of the ego. It takes will. The ego is to the soul as the gardener is to the seed. An immature and careless gardener will prevent the seed from developing its full potential. It will live in the desert of itself. The seed’s reason for existing is not to remain as a grain, but to transform itself into flower and fruit. A forgotten soul manifests itself in suffering. Far from the soul, far from the light. Where there is no light there remains darkness.”
“Within a dark place, we feel fear. Then this treacherous shadow, typical of every immature and wild ego, takes hold of our mind and heart. It promises that it will protect us and creates defence mechanisms. The mask, in any of its many manifestations, is dangerous for the long time it keeps us trapped in its deceptions of strength and power. They create characters to get us through existence. However, they do not warn us that these subterfuges take us away from our essence. They insist on illusion as an escape from reality. They advise us to conquer ephemeral victories that fall apart the next day.
“Look at yourself and notice the transformations you have gone through, how much your ego has moved closer to your soul; what loves have blossomed in you. Only this serves to tell someone’s true story.”
“All shadows are the offspring of the mating of two larger shadows: fear and ignorance. Ignorance about oneself is the greatest of all ignorances. To know all books and subjects is erudition; to know oneself is wisdom. Ignorance occurs because the ancestral addiction for shortcuts and facilities makes us indolent, robs us of our will. Without will, no other virtue is of any use. Lack of will makes us insensitive. By avoiding the difficult confrontation on oneself, we prevent the encounter of the ego with the soul. The mask created by fear and ignorance creates shells that rob us of sensitivity and exhaust the will. As long as the ego believes in the game of shadows, we will continue like a relapsed gardener; the soul will remain as a seed, wrapped in weeds and larvae, prevented from germinating, flowering and fructifying. That is the reason why it needs the ego, because the awakening needs to be a conscious act”.
I joked that the ego is the Prince Charming who will awake Sleeping Beauty from her eternal sleep with a sincere kiss of love. Loureiro agreed: “Yes, this is the true Sleeping Beauty myth. Without that meeting there will be no better days. All the beauty of the Kingdom will be hidden behind a dense forest.”
“Sensitivity and will possess vital importance to the expansion of consciousness”.
“However, it is not easy and requires a lot of effort. It is indispensable to go to the foundations of emotions to understand their origins, understand how they are structured, understand that they are not necessary, learn how to deconstruct each one of them, and only then will it be possible to transmute them into feelings. The importance of this is that emotions and feelings form the personality in a system that feeds back on itself. Conflicts fatten emotions and intensify pain. The reverse is true, with suffering intensifying passions and coarsening the personality. Until we interrupt this dark cycle, we will continue to be bitter, sad, aggressive, pessimistic and discouraged. To go to the encounter of the soul is a choice of the ego. To do so, we must have some sensitivity and a lot of will”.
The cobbler emptied his coffee mug and pondered: “Why does such a situation bother me so much? Why do so-and-so’s choices upset or annoy me? Why do I want something so badly? Do I need it? Why do I feel unhappy? Do I have as much love in me as I imagine? Do I share the love I would like to receive? Often, we simply react without deepening or understanding the heart of the matter. The absence of sensitivity leaves us hardened and dizzy. Lack of will makes us stagnant. We live by repetition”.
I asked him how he conceptualized sensitivity. Loureiro was didactic: “Sensitivity is born out of compassion. It is a complex virtue, since its roots include other virtues such as empathy, patience and humbleness. The word compassion means sharing the same suffering. It is the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, to understand their pain or difficulty. But that is not all. It is indispensable to have the awareness that one cannot demand from the other a behaviour of which he or she is not yet capable, although it is relevant to motivate him or her to overcome it. However, be patient, because there will be barriers and even resistance on the part of the sheltered person. At this moment, one must have the humbleness not to demand from anyone the perfection that we do not have to offer”.
“The compassion that we must have with everything and everyone around us is also necessary with us. Without any trace of victimisation or transfer of responsibility, we have to treat ourselves with sincerity and courage, but also with gentleness and love. In truth, the good fight, the one fought between light and shadows in the most intimate part of the being, ends with a beautiful marriage between the ego and the soul”.
I said that this is what happened in the story of Sleeping Beauty. Fairy tales promise happy endings. Perhaps they are telling the truth, provided we know how to decode the secrets of children’s stories. In response, the cobbler arched his lips in a slight smile. I had gone in for a chat and had received a precious lesson. Those words would help me further on. Meetings with Loureiro were always rich and that day he was extremely inspired. I needed silence to think. I decided to climb the mountain to spend a few days at the monastery. We exchanged a tight hug and a sincere promise to meet again in a few days. There were many untold stories that still dwelled in me and were waiting for understanding.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.