I was the reason for the absence of absolute silence. At that hour, I could only hear my own footsteps treading on the centuries-old cobblestones through the winding, narrow streets. The pleasant little town that sits at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery was still asleep. I had taken an overnight train that made a short stop at that station and moved on. Very few locals made this trip, as the train passed through the town before sunrise. I thought about the simple life of the people who lived there. An unhurried routine, with the tranquillity to do things without the oppression of the rush typical of metropolises. Living calmly, surrounded by people who also lived this way, would certainly be a possibility to reconcile with myself. I would certainly be able to dedicate myself to other projects, both personal and professional, that had been postponed for some time. There I had the sensation that there was so much time it overflowed over the edges of the day. I thought about this while I went to the workshop of Loureiro, the shoemaker who loved philosophy books and red wines.
I didn’t want to warn him of my arrival, either because of the inopportune time, or because I wouldn’t be long. I would just wait for the hour to get the transport to the monastery, where I would continue another period of study. As the workshop’s unusual opening hours were famous, I was betting on the enormous possibility of finding it open during the early hours of the morning. Seeing his classic bicycle leaning against the post in front of me, I smiled to myself. Loureiro opened a huge smile when he saw me entering the workshop. He gave me a strong hug, asked me to sit beside the old and heavy wooden counter, while he would prepare me fresh coffee to liven up the conversation. Without delay, I commented on the wonders of a simple life in a small town. The cobbler placed two steaming mugs in front of us and said, “A simple life will always be a topical issue. It deals with the age-old dilemma between the ocean and the bottle.” Observing my astonished look, he began his reasoning, “The danger is that we confuse simplicity with simplism. An old but still effective trap”.
Obviously, I couldn’t understand what he said. He smiled and began to explain: “Have you ever noticed that the vast majority of people postpone indefinitely the most important projects of their lives? I said that I was one of those people. But I justified myself. It was because of the many commitments that took up my time and tranquillity. I added that one day I would accomplish them. Loureiro smiled: “Yes, we all have the best excuses to postpone the realizations that would bring us the necessary transformations for a full life. Meanwhile, we live our time prioritizing things of lesser importance and, worse, complaining about the boredom and lack of meaning in life.”
He took a sip of coffee and continued: “We deceive ourselves with excuses that after the children graduate from college, after I retire, when I save a good amount of money, among other arguments, we will put our dreams into practice. Moving to another city is just another one of the excuses”. I said that I needed a simple, quieter life to start writing the books I had always wanted. In the big city where I lived, managing an advertising agency, with lots of other things to do, that wasn’t possible. Not to mention the fact that big cities, in general, are complicated to live in. The time cut short by long commutes, hampered by the confusion of inevitable traffic jams, in addition to intolerance, indifference and, in some cases, urban violence, were some of the many impeding factors. Loureiro pondered: “Undoubtedly, there are huge differences in the quality of life between one city and another. However, to think that this is determinant to put into practice primordial projects, which have always been dreamed of, is to run away through the door of simplism instead of facing the road of simplicity”.
I disagreed immediately. I questioned what was wrong with wanting to live in a quiet town. “Absolutely nothing wrong”, he answered. The shoemaker went on to say: “However, do not believe that the city you are going to live in is a guarantee of peace or happiness, no matter how calm and well-managed it may be. I often see people who come here to spend a weekend or short holiday periods. They are delighted with the quality of life. The calmness, the good restaurants, the studios, the time that passes without haste, the feeling that all the residents are known to each other, that they can do almost everything on foot without needing a car, among other things. Some of them end up moving here. But for many of them, after the first few weeks, the quiet life becomes unbearably boring. They miss the theatres, cinemas, bookshops, brand name shops, and the products they consume that are not always easily found in smaller cities. The fact that they see the same faces every day starts to bother them, they have the feeling that time seems too slow and they even complain about having to do everything on foot, without being able to go by car, because the streets are narrow, making it difficult to park. Once they move back to their home towns, they call this small place a Hell. It is necessary to understand the affinity with the city we live or wish to live in. What suits some is not good for all. However, the most important thing is to understand the excuses we use to fool and run away from ourselves.”
“Among the people who move here, the most common desire is the simplistic one of setting up an inn in a pleasant place, in the biblical and unconscious illusion of returning to Paradise. They forget the fundamental thing: they will have to live with other people. Life demands this as an educational method. The new and happy innkeepers will have to deal with their employees and their difficulties; with the guests and all their antics, annoyances and complaints. To believe that life in a nice town is a guarantee of tranquillity is nothing but a lure by the shallowness of the perspective used.” He laughed, took a sip of coffee and shot, “The magic is inside, never outside of us.
“We are conditioned to seek secret equations, as if they were shortcuts, to understand both the visible world and the invisible one that permeates us. So, we trap ourselves in the shallow aspect of all things. In our eagerness to filter everything and everyone around us, to summarise life situations in a few words, to understand the world and the workings of the universe, we insist on putting, all at once, the entire ocean inside a bottle.
He shrugged before remarking with a sly smile: “It doesn’t fit”.
I said I still didn’t understand. He explained: “To think that the city we live in will be the determining factor of peace or happiness is to remain on the surface of the question. Peace and happiness, as well as other states of plenitude such as dignity, love and freedom, are internal conquests that have nothing to do with where we live. Of course, there are places where dangers are enormous and serious threats beset us, creating a very complicated existence. However, even in those places, whose survival is imponderable, we find people who achieve fullness. On the other hand, I see many dissatisfied individuals living in cities pointed out in surveys as the best on the planet to live in. Unhappiness, bad humour and pessimism will be anywhere, even in Paradise, as long as one looks at existence through the lens of simplism. On the other hand, when facing life through the lens of simplicity, we recover joy and sensitivity.
I asked him to better explain it. Loureiro was generous: “Simplicity is the sister-virtue of humility; the virtue of living without masks or illusions; without escape mechanisms or ego-protection like vanity and pride. It is a profound virtue because it strips one’s being bare. This broadens the possibilities of real transformation of the individual, one step at a time. In turn, simplism deals with the need we have to consume the world in a single sip. We desire all understanding in a single dose. All books summarised in quick-length films. We claim not to have time for so many and so much. We pay fortunes for the summary of all things. We look heedlessly at others; we look hurriedly at ourselves. We reduce everything and everybody to fit inside a bottle. As a harmful consequence, we end up including ourselves in the equation of the minimum possible. Well, by reducing life we are led to the opposite of expansion. By limiting consciousness, we diminish the frontiers of the world. By abdicating the power brought by understanding, we reduce the possibilities of transformation and the intensity of light. We make smaller something which, in itself, is greater. Life, the world, people and oneself. We lose the honey of life by insisting on the bitterness of existence. We impoverish the universe; the part and the whole. We falsify the truth. Unlike simplicity which broadens and grants lightness to the journey, simplism makes it heavy and limits its scope.”
“Living in a nice and safe place will always be very nice. However, the question is different: is it pleasant for me to live with myself? Am I a safe, peaceful and reliable person to live with? These are the inevitable questions, without which I will not be able to move forward.” He took another sip of coffee and said, “When no more drops fit in the bottle, the ocean spills out in a storm.”
I said I didn’t understand the last sentence. The shoemaker expanded his reasoning: “Every external action will only lead us to any of the states of plenitude if it is complementary, or as a consequence, of internal transformations. It is necessary to understand your purpose in life, the reason for your existence. Live without haste or fear, as if each day were the first to enlarge your soul. Otherwise, we will hear only excuses, regrets, frustrations and sorrows.”
“The individual who changes his or her town as a primary factor in finding happiness has a similar illusion to the subject who becomes an adept of a religion in the belief that by the mere fact of joining the church it will make him a better person or that it will be a guarantee of an encounter with God. Any external factor will be a facilitating factor, never a determining one. To do otherwise is to confuse escape with evolution; simplism with simplicity. Excuses are found instead of solutions. To try to find outside what only exists inside is to be enchanted by the brightness of existence instead of going forward to meet the light of life.
“In the simplism of understanding and solving the problems inherent to existence, without the indispensable plunge into the quintessence of the soul, everything will come down to appearances of little or no consistency. I change cities, jobs, marriages, friends, haircuts and clothes. I change continent, language and routine. But nothing will change in me.
“However, the journey to inner transformation is not easy, even though it is taken along the tracks of simplicity. It requires much effort and persistence; creativity and discipline.”
“Believing that if the fault for my dissatisfaction lies in the world; it’s logical that in the world lies the solution,is the most famous of deceptions. Without delay, I will find myself powerless to adjust the world to my temper. Although I am unable to resolve the issues that weigh down my soul, I lose myself in the illusion that I know how to make the world a good place to live in: that everyone will adapt to my wishes. In the face of obvious disaster, I complain, become boring and sad. Sometimes aggressive and almost always impatient. I argue that it is impossible to have tolerance with the stupidity of so many selfish and stingy people. Soon I will reach the conclusion of inevitable fatalism: the world is cruel and life has no sense. Without delay, an enormous emptiness will envelop me. I imprison myself in emotional dependencies: I cannot live without that person or that thing. Still in the simplistic solutions and now in the absolute denial of understanding, I resort to escape through chemicals that alter reality, some of which are permitted, others forbidden; all, in truth, are nothing more than limiters of reality and, by extension, limiters of consciousness. The possibility of becoming a breeding ground for prejudice and Manichaeism arises as I stubbornly separate evil from good through shallow reasoning. Everyone who does not resemble me bothers me. I forget that personal differences exist to enrich the poverty of the intellect, exercise the nobility of the heart and justify the breadth of the spirit.” He shrugged again and asked, “But who is willing to face the reality of the mirror that each of us are?”
I said nothing. Loureiro continued to explain his reasoning: “In truth, I can only change the relationship I have with everything and everyone to the extent that I change the relationship I have with myself. The perspective in which I allow myself to take reflects the world that I see and live. Changing shadows for light; a different perspective, from the inside out and no longer from the outside in, allows the perception of a different world. The understanding of the immaterial power coming from the perfecting of virtues as a guide to choices, makes the world a good place, a workshop full of possibilities for the creation and development of personality. The whole revolution consists of individual transformation, which propagates itself in concentric waves to the planetary evolution. Changing from outside to inside makes a lot of noise, but brings little music. The revolution of life begins when simplicity is adopted as the ruler of the steps and the compass of the heart. To live without masks or subterfuges to reach the core of our being, the sacred temple of plenitude. This is the summary of all religions and the address of the best city to live in. In the being is the best place to live. Otherwise, no place will be good to live.
“All that is left are simplistic understandings for superficial solutions, without any efficiency because they are short-lived. It will be like this every time the fundamental transforming power at the core of our being is missing.”
He arched his lips in a discreet smile and finished: “Only then will we cease with the stubbornness of putting, all at once, the whole ocean in a bottle. Instead, little by little, we will allow the water to fill the container, at the same time expanding the capacity of the vessel according to the content that fills it. The bottle is expandable; the ocean, infinite. A little more of the ocean in the bottle every day, a slightly bigger bottle every day. The bottle is never full; the ocean is never exhausted.
“The ocean can be limited to the dimensions of the bottle or the bottle can enlarge itself until it is the size of the ocean.”
“So is your consciousness and the universe.”
There was much to talk about, but it was time for me to catch a ride with the truck carrying supplies to the monastery. I said goodbye with a hug and no words. When I left the workshop, the day had not yet dawned. I walked alone again through the narrow, winding streets of the small town. However, I had the distinct feeling that my footsteps were no longer the only ones to break the absolute silence of the early morning.
My soul leaped in joy with the song that invited me to the great dance of life. It was a song that was playing inside of me.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic