Li Tzu, the Taoist master, removed the herbs from the infusion and filled our cups with tea. Sitting at the kitchen table, I was in the small Chinese village for another period of study on the ancient text of the Tao Te Ching. Midnight, the black cat who lived in the house, watched us from his lying position on the top of the fridge. I commented on how nice I found Li Tzu’s house. Even though it was simple, it had a cosy atmosphere, making me want to not leave. The wooden furniture, the bonsai garden, the perfume of the incense sticks, the many candles lit in various places, the silence alternating with soft Zen music for meditation classes, yoga or the Tao itself, created a proper atmosphere for the body to relax, freeing the mind to travel to places never visited before. Grateful, the Taoist master smiled and said: “Our houses usually reflect who we are. In appearance the house shows the owner’s social class, financial possibilities or even professional activity. But this is of little importance or no importance at all. I think the value of a house lies in its essence. Every house has a ‘soul’, which is the mirror of the soul of those who live in it. There are houses that are luxurious, decorated with works of art and beautiful designs, but we have the feeling that they are empty. They are ‘showcase’ houses. Others, although well arranged, with all things in their proper places, cause us confusion and discomfort to the point that we find it difficult even to think freely when we are there. Some houses have a tense atmosphere, as if they were battlefields. They are houses that we don’t usually feel like going back to. However, there are houses that are joyful and bustling with people, showing the optimism, hope, confidence and communion of those who live in them. There are also houses that look like temples. Not in their religious sense, but in the peace they transmit, for the quietness that calms the spirit, for the lightness they provide, for the embrace with which they welcome us.” I said that his house was undoubtedly of the latter type. Li Tzu smiled again in gratitude. I asked how I could make my house like that as well. The Taoist master explained: “Be at peace with yourself. Your energy will occupy every corner of the house.” I wanted to know about the decoration, the garden and the pet. Li Tzu offered me an amused look and said, “Everything is very simple. Let the house tell the story of those who live there.” I said I didn’t understand. He elaborated, “Objects in the house have two categories. The necessary ones and the narrative ones. The necessary ones are those utensils that we need because they are useful, like the refrigerator or the pans. The narrative ones are the objects that have somehow been part of life or have important meanings for the owner of the house, as if they were scenes that make up a film.”
He pointed to a small monastery bell, “I brought it from Bhutan. It was a period of great spiritual enrichment for me.” Then he showed a rosary resting on the dresser: “I got it as a gift from the Elder after a mass at the Sanctuary of Fatima. That rosary reminds me of a sincere friendship that has existed for more than half a century, since we were contemporaries at an English university.” He looked at the black cat that stared lazily at us and recalled, “I’ve always liked animals. Midnight was rescued from the street after being run over. He was a little kitten. I took care of him then; today he takes care of me, always attentive when I need vibrational transmutations, something cats perform with mastery.” He paused and spoke, “Almost every object tells a piece of my story. This helps to anchor my energy in this physical space. In a fun way, it becomes a comic book of my existence.” I wanted to know about the bonsai garden. Li Tzu explained, “Like the Tao, bonsai is another of the many ancient arts of the Eastern people. Keeping them alive and passing them on to the next generations are my gifts. Exercising my gifts with love allows me to live my dreams. It is like dancing in the joyful spiritual suppers of the universe.” He paused briefly to conclude, “Bonsai trees help to bring beauty to the house, besides making it easier to harmonise the environment with their good energies.” He shrugged his shoulders as one who speaks the obvious and concluded, “This is how houses are made.”
We were interrupted by the arrival of a French woman. Monique was her name. She had gone to the Chinese village for two weeks of therapy with the Taoist master. She had just arrived. She was deeply shaken by the end of a twenty-year marriage. Her husband revealed to her that he was in love with someone else, packed his bags and left. An unexpected outcome. She confessed that she could not cope with the situation alone. Invited to join us for tea, as soon as she sat down, she poured out all her drama. The need to talk is a very common behaviour with people who live similar situations. She told us how she dedicated herself exclusively to her husband during the last two decades of her life. When she was still young, she gave up her personal projects in order to be with him. She was committed to doing his every wish, fulfilling his most intimate desires, taking care of the house with dedication, receiving his friends, making sure nothing was missing, his favourite dishes and the best wines. She lived for the purpose of making him happy. However, her husband always found a reason to complain. Some of them verbally aggressive. Monique said she endured everything because she believed that he would change someday. Because she believed that marriage was part of her destiny, and also, she confessed, because she dedicated herself exclusively to her husband, she ended up depending on him economically. The judge had decreed a pension that was barely sufficient to support her. It was a friend who had assumed the costs of the trip and of her therapy with Li Tzu, because she, the friend, had come to the small Chinese village years before to study with the Taoist master. In short, Monique’s world, according to herself, had collapsed. She was depressed and revealed that she no longer found grace and meaning in life.
Li Tzu listened to everything attentively, with no interruption. The therapies with the Taoist master always began with an interview. He explained that Monique’s statement had already worked, albeit involuntarily, as such. He said he thought it would be interesting for them to continue the conversation, not only to enjoy the moment, but also the informality with which it had happened, making her not filter her ideas and emotions. It was great that everything had come out. He explained that it is bad when we imprison ideas and emotions in the dark rooms of our being. He asked the woman for permission for me to take part in the conversation; she said she didn’t mind.
The Taoist master got straight to the point: “In short, everything happened because you abandoned your dream, whatever it might be, in order to show your husband that you could please him as the ideal wife. You gave up your plans only to serve his interests. Bitterness and sadness creep in every time we forget our dream to live someone else’s.”
“Whoever lives someone else’s dream loses him or herself.”
Monique interrupted him to say that she had been a good person, dedicated to marriage and saw no harm in this. Li Tzu explained, “Dedicating oneself to marriage has no problem; it is commendable. However, we cannot abandon ourselves for the sake of that or anything else. When we give up on ourselves, we cannot be happy; if we are not happy, we cannot radiate happiness to those around. As paradoxical as it may seem, your husband, even if unconsciously, detected your inner emptiness and this bothered him. Relationships are shipwrecked in the storms of existential abysses”.
“Giving up our personal dream as an insane test to show, either to ourselves or to others, that we are capable of surprising them, does not makes us a good person. This, in truth, is nothing but vanity and pride; hence, no merit resides in it.”
“Many of us waste an entire existence in this misconception. It is important to emphasise the value of caring for people and things in the world. However, it is indispensable that you first take care of yourself; always being very careful not to get lost in the realms of selfishness. However, feeling good is a prerequisite for doing good. You cannot offer what you do not have.”
“A thoughtful and pleasant, but sad, individual can share a glass of wine with anyone; never a cup of happiness.”
“In your case, there might even have been an illusion of convenience in achieving a situation of material comfort, offered by your husband’s good financial situation, without the need to build it yourself, with your own talents and gifts.” He took a sip of tea and continued, “Ironically, the efforts and concessions to maintain dependency, instead of the efforts for truly achieve personal goals, turn out to be far more burdensome and painful than the quest for the power of our own life.”
“It is the absurd reasoning of feeling fear, but being afraid to overcome fear, for the fear you may feel of the unknown. So existence runs out in the drains of the initial fear. The most common fear is also the most corrosive. The fear of being unique and letting all your power flourish. Here is the matrix of all dependencies and weaknesses.”
Monique admitted that, in part, that had happened. She asked if it was wrong. Li Tzu explained, “Don’t be trapped by the fragility of the concepts of right and wrong. Choices are in accordance with the level of personal consciousness. Therefore, by the experiences that we must face. Each choice generates a consequence. This is the magic of the Way: in the consequences are the lessons to be decoded; the understanding that improves the next choices and transforms the being. This is one of the most important teaching subjects in the school of evolution.”
At first, I thought Li Tzu had been too hard on the woman. Then I understood that she needed to face reality without subterfuge if she wanted to overcome the issue. There is no healing outside the truth.
The Taoist master summed it up in the manner of his philosophy: “To be unique and to know all personal power one must exercise their own gift and live their dream. Then it will be possible to recover the beauty of life.”
On hearing about gifts and dreams, Monique got angry. Sarcastically, she clapped her hands and said that she did not need to travel so far to hear such a conclusion. All that was needed was one of those messages found in fortune biscuits, typical of Chinese culture, she recalled. She said that theories about dreams and gifts were as concrete as unicorns and gnomes. She lived a real life, with sufferings and bills to pay, not a cheap novel of existential fiction. Li Tzu did not allow the woman’s sarcasm to disturb his calm spirit. Serene, he explained, “I cannot speak about unicorns and gnomes, for I know very little about the subject. However, nothing that is abstract ceases to exist because it is invisible. In essence, we are consciousness itself. Consciousness is shaped, primarily, by ideas and feelings; something as abstract as gifts and dreams. Abstract does not mean unreal. We are more consciousness, abstract and invisible, than we are physical body, concrete and visible. Although both have great importance, consciousness has the value of eternity, while the body has its usefulness restricted to transience.” Monique asked him to explain further. Li Tzu was didactic: “What is the fertile soil for love, dignity, peace and freedom to flourish? In what factory do we build and perfect choices and virtues? Who defines us better, our body or our conscience? From the moment we understand the importance of the abstract in life over the concrete, we realise the treasure that awaits us in the intangible. The purest diamond translates into only light; impossible to touch, only allowed to felt and enchanted. A person’s true story is not told through the achievements of the body, but through the transformations of consciousness.”
With sudden interest at the words of Li Tzu, Monique asked him to speak about gifts and dreams. The Taoist master explained: “Gifts are the instruments which play the music of personal existence. With it, an ability, a born talent which, of course, does not dispense study and improvement. Calculating, healing, building, protecting, providing, educating are some of the innumerable possible gifts manifested in various professional, artistic or philanthropic activities. One gift, one instrument. Discovering, perfecting and using the gift grants rhythm to life.”
“Dreams are the ideals of life, those projects that never grow old in the heart; the odd symphony of a unique existence. It is the visceral will to compose a love song for humanity to dance to. To be enchanted with oneself and, at the same time, to feel part of the world. It is the whole touched by the part in notes of love. We live our dream in the exercise of our gift. The gift is the flute; the dream is the song. The song of life; of your life.”
“The idea of measuring the supposed importance between individuals through their gifts and dreams is still connected with the terrible shadows of pride and vanity.”
“All dreams and gifts are equally precious. There are no degrees of importance. All are like essential little cogs in a sophisticated machine. The malfunction of one part compromises the final product. So is our relationship with the universe; this is the immeasurable value of each person’s gift and dream.”
“Apart from dreams and gifts we do not reach the destination on the journey of personal encounter. Away from ourselves, away from wholeness.”
Disconcerted by Li Tzu’s reasoning, with a calmer countenance, Monique apologised for her blunder and thanked him for his explanation. The Taoist master offered a gentle smile and pondered: “There is nothing to apologize for. I understand the reaction, it’s quite common. When we go out in search for the gold of life, we have in mind something very different from what we are really going to find. We search in the concrete what we will only find in the abstract. Then we manifest ourselves in denial, revolt or sadness.”
“When we understand that the abstract is tangible by the soul, everything begins to transform.”
Next, Li Tzu outlined Monique’s therapy. Yoga as soon as she wakes up; then lessons on the Tao followed by meditation. The afternoon would be dedicated to reading one of the books available in the house, alternating with walks in the open air in the mountains or in the village. She told me to accompany her. At first, I was not happy with this. I did not like the idea of living for so many days with a pessimistic and desperate woman. But as Monique detoxified herself of her memories, allowing the pleasant sensation provided by new experiences based on personal knowledge through the Tao, she began to show herself to be a cheerful and good-humoured woman. Characteristics that, she confessed, she had forgotten due the long time she did not allow them in her life. On walks we had picnics by the stream and talked about the classes, the books and about ourselves. We laughed a lot, especially about the mistakes we had made in the past. Mistakes were no longer seeds of pain; they were lessons on love. Monique laughed at herself, laughed at life. Little by little she found beauty in all the things she lived.
At the end of the study period, we said goodbye. I took her to the only bus that made the travel to the biggest city in the region, where she would take a connecting flight to Paris. While we waited, Monique said that the woman returning to France was very different from the one who had arrived in the village a fortnight ago. She felt joyful, confident and full of hope. A strange and pleasant power pulsed in her veins. She said that before getting married she had taken a bakery course at an excellent school in the Provence region, famous for its cuisine. She loved bread. She used to hide and watch people enjoying the bread she baked. At that time she had abandoned the project of setting up a small bakery in the garage of her mother’s house, near a busy university, to follow her husband’s professional career. Now, the idea had come back to her mind with great force and she was very excited about the possibility of having a bakery and doing something she loved. Making bread was her gift. As soon as she arrived, she would have a talk with her mother about using the garage. I asked her if she had the money to set up the business. She said she had no money, but she had a dream. When the bus arrived, she gave me a kiss and told me to come over as soon as I could. Laughing, she said she wouldn’t charge me for the bread. Before leaving, she whispered through the window that she was sure the best days of her life were yet to come.
I went back to Li Tzu’s house. I was happy. Seeing Monique’s transformation had taught me a lot and helped me to understand the Tao. I remembered the excerpt from one of the opening chapters as I walked through the village and associated them with Li Tzu’s concepts of the concrete and the abstract. I smiled to myself:
“… the wise man is guided by his inner self,
by what he feels, not by what he sees;
he pushes aside what he sees, he accepts what he feels.”
Once I met the Taoist master, I mentioned that those had been very fruitful days. However, I had a question about dreams. He stopped pruning the bonsais and looked at me. I asked what dreams were made of. He thought for a few seconds, then shot back, “Our dreams are similar to our houses.” Li Tzu noticed a huge question mark on my forehead and was generous: “Our houses usually reflect who we are. Remember the conversation we had a few days ago?” I nodded in confirmation. He explained, “Our dreams also reflect who we are.”
Then he continued, “If you are a person who believes in your own strength, is at peace with life, has an existence connected to the evolutionary journey, has balanced ideals, does not confuse prosperity with wealth, sows virtues wherever you go, exercises your gift as a way of learning about yourself and sharing your best with the world, surely this will be reflected in a harmonious and pleasant dream; a good house to live in.”
He invited me to continue the conversation in the kitchen. While putting the herbs in infusion for tea, he commented, “Notice that sometimes two people experience the same situation of misfortune. While one is unable to get out of the storms of nonconformity, victimisation and suffering, the other quickly manages to return to joyful sunny mornings. Do you know why that happens?” I shook my head in the negative. Li Tzu revealed, “One intoxicates himself in the murky fountains of the nightmares of disbelief about himself and hopelessness about life. The other drinks at the pure springs of infinite renewals: the dream and the gift.”
Translated by: Cazmilian Zórdic
All texts by the author are in www.yoskhaz.com/en