The myth of Pinocchio

It was my nephew Lucas’ birthday. As his parents were at a symposium abroad, I invited him to lunch. I was waiting for him sitting at the restaurant table, situated on a pleasant veranda, when I saw him parking his motorbike. It had been some time since we had met, but love is not tarnished by distance. Lucas had become a tall, strong boy. His beard, a family tradition, was thick and growing. He offered me a beautiful smile and then gave me a tight hug. We were happy with the encounter. Already settled at the table, Lucas apologised for the delay. His motorbike had malfunctioned on the way out of his house. I told him he was lucky to find a mechanic to fix it quickly. He explained that he had solved the problem himself. Faced with my admiration and total ignorance of matters related to engines and the like, Lucas revealed his enormous passion for motorbikes. He told me that once, during a rainy holiday, he had taken the motorbike apart, piece by piece, just to understand how each one worked. Then, he had completely reassembled it. Surprised, I asked if his involvement with college – he was studying psychology – was the same. Lucas confessed that this was his great dilemma. He liked college less and less.

I suggested he should change his course or university. He admitted that he had grown up in a harmonious home, surrounded by the necessary care to develop his full potential. My brother, Lucas’s father, was a prestigious psychoanalyst and his mother a much sought-after psychologist, both scholars of human behaviour. This had helped him a lot and he even enjoyed talking about it. However, he could not imagine himself as a therapist. He said that, although he recognized the importance, he found this professional routine boring. I wanted to know which university he would be willing to attend, since there was one that would interest him. Lucas said that the dilemma he faced was precisely his lack of interest in pursuing academic studies. He dreamed of setting up a small workshop so that he could spend his life repairing motorbikes. This was his passion and he was willing to embrace it.

I argued that he could study Mechanical Engineering, Industrial Design or something similar, so that in the future he could design the motorbikes he liked so much. Lucas explained that he couldn’t imagine working in the corporate environment on large companies. He wanted the simple, intimate life of a small workshop, with direct contact with motorbikes and their enthusiasts. It was impossible not to remember Loureiro, the shoemaker who loved books and wines, a craftsman of rare ability, who repeatedly refused invitations from famous shoe brands to work with them. It was a way of being and living.

I warned him that he would meet strong resistance from his parents. Not for giving up psychology, but for quitting university, no matter what course he chose. He would have to prepare himself for not counting on their support.  He clarified that he had not yet talked to anyone about it. Lucas said he would like to hear my opinion. I expressed it as clearly as I could: “I am a great admirer of knowledge, for the formidable evolutionary tool it becomes when well used. However, I am also an ardent promoter of dreams and personal gifts. What the oriental tradition calls dharma, the road of individual learning, in other words, karma.”

“I think one thing does not cancel out the other, that is, living the dream and exercising your gift should not lead anyone to abandon knowledge. On the contrary, it serves as improvement. One should not believe that walking the road of dharma, of the dream and the gift, is easy and does not require even greater efforts. Even if we abandon the dharma, remember that karma, the lessons applicable in this evolutionary stage, will accompany us. I took a sip of water and thought: “In your specific case, there will be a radical change of lifestyle. However, studies must always continue, now, in a different way.”

Lucas said he was aware of the hail of criticism he would receive from most people, for he would be exchanging the refined academic environment for a workshop full of grease and oil; the sound of words that debated ideas for the noise of engines that needed adjustment. He also knew that he would be very vulnerable to condemnation for his behaviour, should the project he had chosen for himself not work out. The consequences would be severe, with a high price to pay when he realised that his colleagues had advanced in their professional careers while he had gone nowhere.

I shrugged and said: “Yes, what we call the price to pay is nothing more than the inevitable effects of any decision. Remembering that when we refrain from an attitude, whether out of fear or indifference, there will also be consequences. I think it is wiser when we decide out of preferences or conviction. ‘Cause and effect’ is an inexorable cosmic law of love, justice, balance and learning. The choices make each person the god of their own existence, as it is related to the construction of the great work of life, the spiritual evolution. Therefore, there will always be the need to perfect the choices through the flowering of virtues in the being and in living, besides needing to expand, in a conscious way, the best understanding about oneself, as an efficient method of understanding the world around us”.

“In this line of reasoning, a spiritually mature individual, with the ego dialoguing in a frank and loving way with the soul, closer every day, never regrets an unwanted event, but embraces it in sincere reverence to the master who came to offer a lesson for his growth”.

Lucas said that he had been preparing himself for this angular decision for some time. He had noticed that the inverse path was safer because it was supported by cultural concepts that had always been established. I agreed with him: “I have a colleague who was a car mechanic when he was young, insisted on his studies, went to law school with great effort and became a respected magistrate. Without a doubt, a man worthy of applause for his merits and achievements. Although it is also a difficult and worthwhile road, it is made safe by the pre-established admiration it invokes. When we tread the already consecrated steps of social ascension we will count on greater understanding and support. These are almost imperceptible prejudices. They dominate us because we do not perceive their influences in our way of thinking. They form the collective unconscious. When moved by shadows, they tie us to their ideas, as if they were invisible ropes preventing us from renovating our attitudes. Going around in circles is equivalent to not getting out of the place. Without our noticing, these ropes manipulate us like a puppet, preventing us from being who we could become.”

“Counterculture is the attempt at personal fulfilment in the opposite direction of the dominant social thinking. A break of paradigms that many call chaos, nonsense or madness, but indispensable to evolution.”

The boy scratched his head and admitted that his wish was to take the opposite route, more susceptible to risks and criticism for not being signposted and approved by the parameters of professional climbing and firmed within the social rules. However, he was not sure he could do it. I offered Lucas my view: “Whoever seeks only a secure existence and refuses to face risks denies the essence of life. History is not interested in cowards, but appreciates courage. Those, who have the audacity to walk against the world, but in the flow of the universe, are the ones who revolutionize the world by opening windows, hitherto closed, only to remind us of the sunbeams forgotten in the corner of any given day.”

I warned him not to be led by my words, for the consequences of any of the choices he made would be borne by him alone. That no decision should be taken before it was widely ramified in his soul. There would be losses and gains to be considered. I then questioned him, “What kind of life do you want for yourself? There are several options available. There always will be.”

It is necessary to understand the appropriate question for each answer we need. To misread the map takes us away from the intended destination.

Lucas scratched his head again and said he already knew the decision he wanted to make. He confessed that there was an emptiness inside him and he understood how he had to fill it.  The problem was that he would be very vulnerable and he did not like this feeling. I tried to explain to him: “Courage is impossible without the real feeling of vulnerability. The bravest of warriors only consecrates himself in fighting because he knows that death is always near, and even so he loves battles, because fighting is his gift. He recognises in each opponent not an enemy, but a master perfecting his skills. Each opposing manifestation is a blow that, when well used, will make him a little better. So he loves his adversaries. He will meet failure and disappointment time and again, but he will learn to grow at the heart of each of them. Thus, despite the difficulties, the days will be light and joyful.”

It was a very pleasant lunch, as are conversations in which we open our hearts. We said goodbye and I had no news from Lucas for a while. At Christmas we went to spend the night at my brother’s house, with the family together, as I like to do whenever possible in this important ceremony. I was overjoyed that my daughters had come to be with us. A common-union. In short, love is communion. This is the magic of Christmas. My sister-in-law, a gentle and kind person, had prepared the supper with great care. Nothing was missing, except Lucas, who never arrived. I noticed a tense exchange of glances between them when my daughters asked about their cousin. Finally, Lucas arrived and a heavy cloud settled over the room. He was drunk.

Although in a polite way, his father scolded him firmly. With watery eyes, his mother questioned why he had been involved with alcohol for the last few months, something that had never happened before. Lucas greeted me and the cousins sweetly, as he usually did. Then he went to sit alone on the veranda. I took advantage of the arrival of other guests and went to sit with Lucas. Before that, I asked my eldest daughter, with her natural good humour, to stand like a gatekeeper and, softly, prevent anyone from entering the veranda. She blinked one of her eyes as if to say “leave it to me”.

Alone, we didn’t exchange a word for long minutes. Lucas avoided looking at me. It was he who broke the silence to ask if I felt sorry for him. “Not at all,” I said. He wanted to know if I had come to scold him. “no” I was sincere. Then I clarified: “I came to say that I don’t care about the facts. Know that you can always count on me.” Lucas said that everything was confused. He was thinking of going on a long trip. He was sure that he would come back better. I thought: “I love traveling because it does me an enormous amount of good to be in contact with other cultures and it helps me to feel homesick. Or not. When I don’t miss the routine that I created for myself, I gain a good reference to know about the changes that are necessary for me. When we travel, one thing we have to keep in mind is that we each take ourselves in our luggage wherever we go. We can avoid places, situations and people, never ourselves.”

At this instant, his eyes met mine. I took the opportunity to ask him: “What are you running away from?” Lucas explained that it was not from what, but from whom. He confessed that he didn’t have the courage to quit his Psychology degree to set up a motorbike shop. When he told his parents about his project, it was very badly received. They were against the idea, saddened by the mere possibility of such a transition. Lucas said he loved his parents and did not want to disappoint them. He was afraid that with this change he would lose them forever through the estrangement and frustration his decision would provoke.

Wrong assumptions lead to wrong conclusions. This is the basis of the game of deceit. These are the pillars of reasoning that collapse the bridge of life. The subject is vast, but I explained it in my own way: “Just now we were talking about travelling and about missing our routine.” Lucas interrupted me and, in a polite way, wanted to remind me that routines are always boring and nobody likes them. I said that this speech was a typical case of a wrong conclusion because it started from a wrong premise. I explained to him: “Routines are boring for those who take life as an obligation. They become incredible days when we live for each discovery. What defines the weight or lightness of life is how much of our tastes and skills we insert into each moment of the day.”

“Of course, keep foolishness and folly ideas of perfect conditions for living well away. These don’t exist. The existing conditions will always be the perfect tools for personal development. Every time I connect to my core, I connect with the universe. This force starts to intuit and strengthen me. Virtues present themselves; consciousness expands and choices become simple and clear. In every difficulty there is a disguised opportunity. To that end, the closer to the dharma the lighter the karma will be.”

“Gifts and dreams are fundamental because they are part of who I am. Who convinced us that this cannot be our routine?”.

Lucas said he understood my words, but he would never have his parents’ support. He loved them and did not want to lose them. I pondered, “Until you have your whole self, you will never be close enough to anyone else. Discovering who I am helps the other to reveal him or herself to me”.

“Your parents need the best that is in you. To do so, it is necessary to put together the parts of yourself that you have been abandoned in the course of your existence. Although they are precious allies on your journey, only you can travel it. And don’t forget that those who offer resistance and opposition also collaborate with us by awakening dormant abilities and virtues.”

“Find your own way of walking. It is unique. As long as you deny the essence of your own steps there will be no path”.

Lucas cried a lot. He wanted to know if there was still time to retrace his steps. From personal experience I could answer with conviction: “I found myself at almost forty years of age. Believe me, it is an eternal encounter. Every day I discover something I don’t know about myself. It is never too late or too early. The best time is defined as we feel ready for new discoveries. They have no end”.

He asked me how he would know what the right time was. I had no doubt to answer: “Anguish always signals the need for transformation”.

Lucas smiled for the first time that night. It was a beautiful smile that showed the power contained in a will that could no longer be stifled. It would be like trying to prevent the arrival of spring to avoid seeing the flowers blooming. Then he said he would take a shower and change clothes. I said I would prepare a strong coffee for him. I asked him not to drink any more alcohol that night. Lucas explained that he no longer needed to. He was tired of running away.

His parents were happy to see him bathed and in new clothes. Lucas’s physiognomy was great, as was his mood. He chatted with the guests and his cousins. The meal took place in perfect communion. As the night went on, people started saying good-bye. At the end, it was just my brother, his wife, our children and me. Lucas took advantage of the moment to announce his decision to quit his Psychology degree. He would open his dream motorbike shop. He would do it with his own resources; he had saved some money over the years. My daughters, who knew nothing about it, looked at each other startled, but delighted with this personal revolution. They wanted to know more details. Their questions were interrupted by the indignation of their uncles. The boy’s mother reminded him that they had already talked about the subject and had made a decision, which Lucas had committed himself to fulfilling. He would finish college. Then he would have the family’s support to pursue whatever career he wanted. She claimed that they had invested time and money in his studies. It was not wise to abandon all that learning. Lucas pondered that no learning would be wasted. This never happens. However, the knowledge would be adapted to a new reality, to a life cycle that would soon begin.

The father, who was listening to the conversation between his wife and son, looked at me reproachfully and accused me of subverting Lucas’s common sense. He said that in good conscience no one would exchange an academic experience for a life without studies, as in a mechanical workshop. He recalled that his son was intelligent and cultured, with enormous chances of having an office renowned for the cure he would provide to patients. Otherwise, he would have an existence among grease, oils and engines, without any edifying purpose. I tried to show another view: “I do not deny the enormous value of science and academy. However, I think that there is more wisdom for all pains in the exercise of virtues than in the application of science. The kindness of a smile, the sincerity of an embrace, the simplicity of a good word, the purity of a look, the humbleness of a gesture, the honesty of a deal, the compassion in front of a need, the mercy in sheltering an afflicted heart, the faith in nourishing hope in someone, are sacred attributes that revolutionise the world by transforming the individual and illuminating paths. There is more healing power in every virtue applied in daily life than in the most sophisticated pharmaceutical formula or in the most elaborate scientific treatise. These things are not found in a university or a workshop; they will only be in the world if they germinate in people’s hearts. For this to happen, it is indispensable that the individual be well so that there is something good to offer. Those who forget to look for the stars of life in the dark night of existence will fall into the abyss of bitterness. It doesn’t matter the profession, the bank account balance or where we live, without the pillars of gifts and the mortar of dreams there will be no bridge to cross the emptiness of bitterness. Spring will be wasted. What flowers to expect from a person abandoned from himself, who wanders lost in the desert of his own existence?”

My brother said I was nothing but a mediocre philosopher, a despicable writer and a failed man. No wonder, I had changed professions once and was about to do it again. I was a misguided and a bad influence. His wife accused me of looking down on the family because of the various emotional relationships I had failed to sustain. She said that my daughters went to study in distant countries because they could not stand me.

It was true. It was not true. Only correct premises legitimize correct conclusions.

The girls approached me as if to say that they did not agree with that accusation. For different reasons, everyone in that room had tears in their eyes. There was a sepulchral silence, typical of funerals that wrap up death. However, every end of a cycle brings in essence the awakening of life.

It was my turn to speak: “I have made many wrong choices in life. I made them according to the level of consciousness I had at each time. I will still make them, not the same ones, but others. Today I would do differently many of the things I did yesterday. Repentance has the luminous face of moral redirection. I had to go into the darkness to understand where the light is; I dealt with the most sordid passions to know the power of love; I went around the world to understand the value of my home. Whenever I can, I transform into art what was left in draft. New moments, different choices. So it is with all those who are willing to walk. I look back and realize the man I was. He no longer exists. I am me, but I was another. I am one, but I was many”.

“I am not frightened. On the contrary, I rejoice. I would be sad if I looked back and observed myself without any change. A clear sign that I had gone nowhere. There had been no evolution. There is a long journey ahead, the honest mistakes will accompany me. But only the new ones, never the old ones. These make us hypocrites because they repeat themselves indefinitely. The most vulgar of them is the one that prevents us from dreaming. The fear of the unexpected is the fear of risk. To close oneself to daring is to deny life. It is the fear of loving oneself”. 

“This is the myth of Pinocchio.” What do you mean? Everyone asked without understanding this last statement.

I explained: “This children’s tale, unlike the most common memory, the nose that grows with every lie, carries in its core the myth of daring; of life that only happens through freedom. Remember that Pinocchio is a wooden doll, a puppet, whose creator, Geppetto, to make him human, cuts the strings that tie, limit and manipulate him. The puppet gains the chance to become a boy when he begins to choose. Seduced by the ephemeral delights of the world, he makes a series of mistakes, becomes animalised with donkey ears and goes into the darkness of the whale’s belly. Knew the terror of ignorance and the related consequences. He learns that lies disfigure us by denying who we are. Geppetto protects him at all times. Not by preventing Pinocchio from launching himself into life, but by placing the Talking Cricket, in truth, the consciousness that accompanies us, in dialogue with each choice of the doll. Creator and conscience let him make mistakes so that he can understand the difference between shadow and light. However, they never abandon or give up on him. They know that error transforms and matures. Fear of making mistakes wastes this beautiful story. Remember that, in the end, the wooden doll evolves and, on discovering his own heart, the Fairy of Life transforms him into a real boy. However, unlike Pinocchio, some of us end the story the way we began, as mere puppets. They are the ones who are afraid to dare.”

The girls hugged me. We said goodbye without many words and left. I spent some days metabolizing the conversation of that night. I believe this happened to all of us. We didn’t speak to each other for a long time. The following Christmas, I travelled to spend it with my daughters. Another year passed. Encouraged by my new girlfriend, I decided to have the Christmas party at my house. I called my brother and invited him, his wife and Lucas to come. The girls would also be here.

When they arrived, they had a sincere smile on their faces. We were happy to see each other again. No explanation was needed for what happened two years ago. We had reflected and each of us had learned our lesson. Love has the power to pave roads for all to meet. No complaints. My brother hugged me for a long time. Without words, we said we understood and respected each other. Each in his own way and beauty of being. Lucas arrived later. He seemed bigger and more beautiful. The clear aura has this power. He came with a shirt that had the logo of his workshop on the pocket. He was cheerful and talkative. He told me that he had opened his workshop in Vargem Pequena, a still bucolic and almost rural district of Rio de Janeiro. He catered to a niche of Harley Davidson and Indian enthusiasts. The business had grown to the point of having to hire helpers.

I praised the logo and joked that we would do better in my agency. He laughed and said he would accept any help. Then he looked at me and said that he had returned to his studies, not in a university, but in a free school of philosophy. As everyone was curious, he said that this school was inspired by one that had existed in Palo Alto, California, in the 1960s, where people could enter to attend any class. They could also leave whenever they wished. Interest in knowledge was the only incentive. There was no diploma and the course had no end. Various people were invited to give classes and the interests were the most diverse. Philosophy was the central axis. There were classes in art history, quantum physics for lay people, spirituality, astrology, psychoanalysis for beginners and various related subjects. He also made a commitment to himself not to stop reading. Like a sacred ritual that aids infinite transformations, he read every night before bed. Lucas was the vibrant expression of happiness.

At midnight we toasted. Alone, Lucas said he had a gift to me. When I opened the box, inside was a screwdriver, a tool common to mechanics. Enclosed was a note thanking me for helping to set up the workshop. I held back tears to say that nothing would have happened without his will to dare to live his gift and dream: “Nothing awakens in us unless it exists in potency”. I shrugged and joked: “A lesson from Aristotle”.  He arched his lips in a slight smile and commented: “In this philosophy course I attended a class on Socrates. Quoted by Seneca, the Greek philosopher said that an individual can have thirty tyrants repressing him, but when he frees himself, all the others vanish into thin air. Slavery is a word that is not conjugated in the plural”.

Lucas was still very young, but I had the distinct feeling that I was in front of a master who had already managed to break the cords that prevent the wooden puppets from conquering life.

Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.

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