There I was, back to the small Chinese village close to the Himalayas. The trip was tiresome because of the many hours of flight, airport wait time for connections and a final stretch by bus on the precarious road that wound around the mountain. That one trip was made worse because my luggage had been lost by the airline company. My complaint at the airport was fruitless and the company did not ensure it would be delivered to me, because the village was too distant and out of the way. I was left with my backpack, with my documents and a couple of changes of clothes I had taken with me, because of the lengthy journey. As soon as I arrived, I tried to get some sleep at the only hostel in town. In vain. I was so upset my head was spinning because of the many ideas and feelings that were overflowing inside my mind. The sun was yet to rise when I stood up and went to the pleasant home of Li Tzu, the Taoist master, where he received students from all parts of the world seeking his teaching of the ancient lessons of the Tao Te Ching. When I crossed the gate to the house, always open, I had a pleasant feeling. A perfume whose source I could not identify, whether from huge jasmine shrubs that surrounded the bonsai garden or from the many incenses scattered around the house filling the voids of silence and tranquility. Some dimly lit lanterns indicated the narrow and winding path that led to the veranda. Li Tzu had finished a solitary yoga practice and was happy to see me. Always polite, he invited me for tea. When I entered the kitchen, Midnight, the black cat who lived at the house, bristled and bolted out when he saw me. Embarrassed, I said that the docile cat probably did not recognize me after so long a time since I was last there. The Taoist master was not deceived: “Cats are too sensitive to energy. Violence scared him.” I objected by saying I was a peaceful guy, incapable of hitting anyone. Li Tzu explained in a tone that was typical of him, ranging between sweetness and firmness: “Everyone knows you have a peaceful disposition, Yoskhaz. However, you are not well. Violence does not lie only in rude words or harsh attitudes. Bear in mind that we generate energy. The primary vibrations originate from our ideas and emotions, which are invisible to the eyes and yet perceived and important, because they can unbalance a person and, at times, disarray the environment. Or even worse, they can become the seed of mistaken choices, because they are far from the love that should guide us.” He paused and added: “We must watch ourselves all the time.”
While he was making a herbal infusion, I told him all that had happened and the misfortune of being without my luggage. I regretted not having my electric shaver, the loss of some shirts I really liked, and the Swiss army knife I inherited from my grandfather, in addition to other belongings. Li Tzu listened patiently to my narrative and, at the end, commented: “The Tao teaches that ‘I always have all that I need.’” He placed the cups on the table and said: “When we incorporate this idea, we become invincible in the face of the typical setbacks of existence.” He looked at me as if telling a secret and said: “Even though it may be quite inconvenient at first, don’t worry so much about the lost luggage. Try to concentrate on keeping your internal luggage in order. This is the one that should be kept always neat, to make the tools necessary to overcome life’s unavoidable problems available.” I asked what tools he was talking about. The Taoist master explained: “The virtues. They are the shield that protects and the wings that liberate.” I wanted to know from what the virtues would set me free. He explained: “From suffering. Suffering is an unnecessary violence we allow ourselves to undergo because we do not know all the strength and power we have.”
I asked him to have empathy for me and put himself in my shoes. I added that anyone would be upset in my situation. Li Tzu said that it is just because he imagined himself in my condition that he had said that, and made a remark: “Putting myself in your shoes does not mean that I will think like you or have a discourse that will fuel your annoyance. Just because I see myself in your condition, I can give you a different gaze, my gaze. I foresee the possibility of pacifying the self, despite the conflicts of the world.” I asked him how that would be. He answered: “The Tao teaches us to learn from water.”
I said that he was complicating things. Li Tzu smiled and said: “Water teaches us the virtue of adaptation. Adaptation is the mother of balance and daughter of harmony, two valuable virtues. Whenever the world sets you off balance, your attempts to adapt yourself to the new moment take you to some sort of transformation in the way you are and live. This is evolution. Together, the virtues take you to heaven.”
I asked him to better explain. The Taoist master remained patient: “The water comes down the mountain and when it reaches the lake, it adjusts to its shores. When an opening occurs, the water runs through it, forming a creek that flows until it reaches a larger body of water. If there is a rock in the way, the water goes around it. If placed in a box, it takes its shape until it is used. When it is exposed to heat, it gets transformed into clouds and is disseminated as drops that fall from the sky far from there. Invariably it will reach the sea, from where it will return as rain which, when it falls on the mountain, will set off a new cycle of renewal. The water cleans, purifies, renews the life of where it passes and moves on. The water must be in motion because if it is stagnant it gets soiled and generates diseases.” He paused and then added: “The person who keeps regretting is like stagnant water.”
I disagreed. I said that conformity was a plague of humankind and prevented its evolution. Li Tzu agreed with me: “Yes, but conformity is not the same as adaptation. The difference is precisely whether the water is still or in motion. To move does not mean to make noise or become violent. When water does that, it is destructive. It had been under intense pressure and ended up by overflowing its own limits.” He filled the cups with tea and said: “When we simply accommodate to an uncomfortable situation, we are like a dam that, little by little, gets its limit exhausted until it is breached, and the water destroys everything around. This is when we let bad feelings feed violent actions or make diseases symptomatic. For that not to happen, one must adapt to the new situation to get the perspective it provides; the possibility of a different way of thinking and a better way to move on. The power of life lies in the quiet waters that flow down the river from one bank to the other and are nourished by all that the banks may provide. Otherwise, if contained, the waters end up causing an explosion and violently destroying all around where they pass. Flexibility and resilience are characteristics of adaptation, because they allow the necessary mobility. Life demands motion; if we deny it, stagnation makes us explode in fury, sadness or pain.”
I recalled that the destruction of old forms was an unremitting and necessary esoteric law. Li Tzu agreed once again: “Yes, oftentimes, destruction and chaos are necessary to give room to what is coming. But only what we are unable to renew is what must be destroyed. The difference between one and the other is translated as a path towards war or peace; in days of suffering or harmony.” I reasoned that many a time, conflict was necessary to leverage evolution. The Taoist master nodded: “This is true, but conflict is essential only when we refuse to learn the lesson that is suitable, to be and to live in a wise, loving way. The water becomes destructive if collected improperly. Feelings only overflow and turn into violence if dealt with mistakenly”.
“Luggage being missed is common in the modern world. Although it is not desirable, it happens every day. Just like the many setbacks of existence. Trains are late, popcorn finishes before the film, romance fades, people say ‘no’ to us, money gets short, layoffs occur. Not always is the object of your desire available on a supermarket shelf or in life. And this is good. Otherwise, we will never take our eyes off the landscape. We would continue to be distracted with the many pleasures on the planet, and not be marveled by the wonders that exist inside us. The Path is not crossed on the outside, but inside the walker.”
He took a sip of tea and continued: “When you become aware that you, and everybody else, have absolutely all that you need, you will be enveloped by a sense of completeness. Never again you will feel hopeless. You will always find a way out, there will always be a good lesson to learn. Hence, water will renew the life it finds on its way”.
I disagreed once again. I said that his discourse was quite agreeable, but not practical. There were situations quite uncomfortable that made suffering unavoidable. Li Tzu expanded his thinking: “The storms of the world should not make the waters of the internal lake rough. You can be arrested, but to take your freedom away you will have to allow it; you can be offended, but humiliation will only hit you with your consent; they can steal your money, but you will only lose your dignity if you surrender it; no conflict can rob you of your peace unless you permit it. A disease, old age or an accident can, at most, finish this existence, but never put an end to life. Happiness does not depend on the world, it is in your hands.”
Some students started to arrive for their daily practice. They greeted Li Tzu and were told to go to the meditation room. I said good-bye to the Taoist master and was supposed to come back the next day, to begin my cycle of studies. I decided to go hiking in a mountain. For a reason I can’t explain, walking helps me think, when I am confused. Perhaps because it relieves tension. Little by little, the words of the Taoist master started to fit in. Lost luggage is something common nowadays and was not a lesson. However, inside my luggage I carried part of my habits. Things that, at first, were indispensable to my well-being. Not having my luggage would force me to break my routine beyond the trip in itself, as I believed at first. Routine, even though it may be boring at times, is overall pleasant because it includes habits we enjoy having. This is good because it makes us feel well. However, it may be bad when it becomes an addiction. When we think about addiction, we often think about drugs, whether legal or illegal, or other similar, obscure things. But it goes deeper. I realized that addictions are so surreptitious that, in some instances, we do not notice them. All that deludes us and makes us believe we cannot live without them is an addiction and, therefore, harmful because we cannot stop craving them. They become subtle prisons without bars. I understood that in my lost luggage I carried many of my addictions. And I noticed something worse. In my internal luggage, my conscience, there were also many of my addictions disguised as needs. Addictions are shadows that, as such, set us away from the light. The harshness of the gaze, the inflexibility of thoughts and automation of actions were some of such dangerous habits. One type of luggage spoke lots about the other. The latter reflected the former.
What is indispensable to me? The answer was sophisticatedly simple: love and other virtues, because they are the instruments of freedom, peace, dignity, happiness and love itself, in eternal cycles of improvement.
Where would I find them? Nowhere else but inside me. Therefore, I have all that I need.
I was grateful that my luggage was lost. Because of that, I could now pack my luggage. I stopped to observe the view of the beautiful and flowered meadows we had from the top of the mountain, with infinite mountains behind. There, I realized all the strength and power I had in me. At that point, I became sure that, if I knew how to separate the wheat from the chaff and traded the weight of the world for the lightness of the soul, no flight would be impossible for me.
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.