A common and hidden face of us all

It was very early in the morning, no sun in the sky yet. While the coffee pot was working, I did a short prayer along with a quick meditation, a proper daily ritual in which I meet with myself, my mentors and guardians, and make some commitments before the Light in striving to be a little different and better than I have managed so far, at least for another period between day and night. I almost never succeed. When I realise the mistakes I have made, the temptations I could not resist, the shadows that have bent me, I confess to myself the difficulty that hinders me, I analyse the reason for the mistake, I think if I can repair it in some way, I forgive myself and I make a sincere commitment to overcome it. When I succeed, I rejoice for the conquest. There are days when I notice no victory or defeat, because there were no challenges in the world for me to face within myself. At these moments I worry. I know I am being cheated.

It was one of those days, with nothing new on the front of the good fight. I filled a cup of coffee and went to the balcony of the small flat where I live to enjoy the sky sprinkled with stars. I was wandering in distant thoughts when my mobile rang. Teresa, a friend that I had not seen for many years, asked me to go and visit her. She was in hospital at the INCA – National Cancer Institute – and the doctors had no hope of a cure. Metastases had spread the tumour to several organs and soon her body would succumb. Without delay, I went to meet her.

Emotional, I cried a lot when I entered the room. Serene, Teresa soothed me by reminding me that no goodbye is final. Her honey-coloured eyes possessed a vitality that the body could no longer express. I knew she was on the boarding platform and the train would be here soon. We had met when we were still young and soon became friends. I was best man at her wedding and I remember going to her son Pedro’s first birthday. Little by little we lost touch, but the friendship remained intact. What unites friends is the purity of feelings. This makes true friendships imperishable. There is no time or space capable of separating friends. Teresa was a much sought-after psychologist. Several times I read interviews and articles she wrote for magazines and newspapers. Possessed of an innate emotional equilibrium, she had another very rare attribute: a perfected critical vision. A valuable capacity to analyse a fact from all possible angles. This made her a therapist of enormous efficiency, helping her patients to observe themselves through apparently unknown perspectives. When we succeed on it, the result is revealing. She once told me, “There is more history in silence than in anyone’s words. Not infrequently, what we speak is to hide who we really are.”

After the initial emotion of meeting her in such a delicate situation, I asked about Davi, her husband. Teresa updated me, “We divorced a few years ago. He and Beth were in love and got married”. Stunned, I asked, “Wasn’t Beth her best friend?” I remembered that she had been maid of honour at Teresa’s wedding. Teresa shrugged and said, “It happens.” Then she clarified, “Beth was my closest friend until she got pregnant and had to tell me that the father was Davi. Then I found out that they were in a relationship since the time I was still dating him.” She paused and said, “I believed I was living the perfect marriage, but I was wrong”. She paused as if remembering some facts and confessed: “In truth, I did not want to see. Looking back, I can see all the evidence of a sinking relationship, but I refused to admit it.”

I asked her if she preferred to change the subject. She said no. It was the first time she had talked to anyone about the details of her breakup. It was time to do some catharsis before leaving. Teresa explained, “The word catharsis comes from the Greek language and means purification. I need to get rid of these emotions before I leave, because I don’t want them in my luggage. We travel more and better when we are free and light.”

I wanted to know why she spoke this way. Teresa replied, “When I learned of Beth’s pregnancy and their long extramarital relationship, I reacted with apparent calm and poise. There was no shouting or despair, no offence or request for an explanation. We know that these scenes are of no use. I only asked him to pack his bag and leave. I saw him go through the door to start a new stage in his life. Before leaving, Davi declared himself relieved that this was happening, because he could no longer stand deceiving me. He apologized and left, though without speaking, with undeniable joy in his eyes. I wished the new couple well and did not shed a single tear”. At that moment I saw her eyes watering. She couldn’t hold back the tears that had been suppressed for years.

We remained a few minutes without saying a word. There was no need. In the silence there was the narrative of an unsolved story. To deny a fact to oneself does not extinguish it. It was noticeable that the calm shown by Teresa after the divorce did not stem from an anger understood and educated by her virtues, but from a repression and denial. She explained her reasons: “I didn’t want to admit to myself that I was suffering from David’s choices and Beth’s behaviour. I was repressing the anger I felt for being cheated on, and also for their happiness. I believed that because I was a sought-after and famous psychologist, I was above and beyond anger, a shadow found in immature and wild personalities. An emotion typical of patients and therefore inconceivable to the therapist. I believed myself above the common shadows.”

“Because I led so many people to healing, I believed in the character I created for myself. A professional who knew the mysteries of human passions and mastered their mechanisms of manifestation and healing. I portrayed myself as a demigoddess. And as it says in mythology, I believed myself to be immortal”.

“Of all people, me, so good at finding the shadows of others, did not notice them in myself”.

“Most of the time, we deny or don’t even notice the masks we wear. Not because we are hypocrites or liars, but because we do not understand why the shadows manifest in us and for us. It is not easy to deal with them. We wear the masks out of fear. But it is not a completely conscious fear, because it has been with us since the earliest memory. So ancient and intimate that we ignore its presence and influence. I’m talking about the fear of rejection for being different and unique, for not understanding that greatness and strength are born when we admit that we are small and fragile. That we are equal to all and, at the same time, different from all. Then we can start a movement of advance and growth. But the unconscious, where the soul lives when it is not yet harmonized with the ego, although hardly perceptible, has an enormous influence, because it is part of who we are. I need its content to become whole and complete. Shadows are like facts: denying them does not make them disappear. Without extending the borders of the conscious beyond the lands of the unconscious, I will be like an iceberg, knowing only the visible part above the waterline. But that´s the smallest part. It is necessary to harmoniously unite these two territories, that of survival and that of transcendence. By living only a small part of who I am, little by little a huge gap will open up between appearance and essence. It was into this abyss that I fell”.

“I went on behaving as if everything was under control. Many people became aware of the facts, as it was impossible to hide, since we had friends in common and Beth’s belly was growing every month. When they asked me if I had broken the house or their faces, I answered with apparent serenity: Of course not. May they be happy!“.

I interrupted to say that I’m glad she didn’t behave out of control. It would certainly have aggravated the situation and she would have felt worse with those attitudes. Teresa agreed: “Yes, I am happy that I did not react in an aggressive way, without using violence. I abhor this kind of emotional lack of control. As for this, without a doubt, I did what had to be done”. She then made a reservation: “However, I did not take care of a monster born because of that fact: an enormous hatred. The more I perceived it, the more I squeezed it into the depths of my being. Every day I was reminded of the circumstances of the divorce. Do you know what I did? I tried to divert the attention of my thoughts to other facts. I told myself that I was above those passions and situations, none of it was worthy of me. Do you understand that by believing myself above human darkness I became fragile prey to it?”

I nodded my head in acquiescence, saying that the denial of hate granted it space and let it loose to move within her. The shadows love it when we pretend they don’t exist, as they roam without any control, grow and at some point take over. Always in a disastrous way.

She clarified it herself: “Yes, exactly. What should I have done? I should have been honest with myself, called me for an honest conversation and said: Teresa, you are dying of rage. Literally, because hate poisons the one who distils it. If I don’t want it as a companion or counsellor, I have to make it evolve so that it does not become aggravated. Although words can be misleading, they are very different things. To aggravate is to grow outwards, to evolve is to grow inwards. The aggravation of hatred is dehumanization. The evolution of hatred is compassion. We must embrace it with affection and without shame to show hatred that we cannot demand from anyone the perfection that we do not have to offer. Of course, we have to stop evil, but we don’t need hatred for this. For evil to leave no after-effects, forgiveness is the perfect elixir. It is impossible to forgive without compassion. Each person’s mistakes are inversely proportional to the expansion of consciousness and the virtues they already possess. However, because of the long journey ahead of us to the Light, to a greater or lesser degree, everyone has to learn to deal with their own mistakes so that they can have patience and compassion with others. If we think about it, we will find that the compassion and patience we have with the world is linked to the humbleness already sedimented in us.”

“Forgetting is much easier than forgiving, because in order to forgive we need to cleanse ourselves, admit our own difficulties and often understand how we collaborated so that those facts could occur. We learn and teach all the time, like a candle that is lit in the flame of another to light an enormous room together. For the rest, forgetting is an exercise of fools. Nobody forgets, only sweeps the painful memory under the unconscious. But it neither dies nor goes away. Renegade, it lies in wait as do the predators, so that at the slightest carelessness it may strike the right blow, return to the scene and take the main role”.

“Forgiveness is to stop nurturing evil and then to foster good. We cannot allow anyone to keep doing us harm, we have to stop it as best as we can. Since we don’t always know how to do it, a sure way is to weaken it by starvation. We are very vigilant about the evil that exists in the world and we neglect the one that sneakily suffocates the best part of us. This is the most common evil, the one we do to ourselves. It is the most destructive because it is located within us. It is also the most dangerous, because it takes us a long time to realize and admit it. So is the hatred we feel. Hate is like the caterpillar that eats and destroys the virtuous flowers that exist in the gardens of the unconscious. When treated with love and wisdom, the caterpillar will enter the cocoon made of the silken threads of compassion. The metamorphosis of forgiveness will transform it into a butterfly”.

“We know that forgiveness has been completed when we can review any facts of our history without any suffering. We understand the lessons that each event has provided us and the growth achieved. Then, we are grateful and smile. While this perspective is not possible, believe me, the caterpillar is alive and away from the cocoon. If we delay it too long, quietly and stealthily, it will destroy the whole garden of virtues until only a desert remains. At that moment, aggravated and without control, it will open the doors of the unconscious to invade the conscious.”

“By ignoring that it could transform itself into a butterfly, the caterpillar aggravates itself until it becomes a monster and emerges on the surface of the individual. This is how personal tragedies arise.”

“To do so, the initial step is to stop believing that we are above ordinary people, to stop imagining ourselves as better than anyone else. We must admit to being susceptible to the vilest passions. Only then will it be possible to transmute them. The densest emotions run through the bowels of all people. Fear, jealousy, vanity, pride, envy, among others, are inherent to us. Learning what to do when one of them visits us is the difference between staying in darkness or moving towards the Light.”

“The individual who claims to be free from the shadows is someone lost from himself, stubbornly deceiving himself. He will be easy prey and will have to deal with the most disastrous effects, like a distracted sailor who ignores the danger of the storm looming on the horizon because he believes it will never reach his vessel.”

“I needed to understand that although I treated my patients involved with similar emotions, I was not immune to the same passions. I lacked understanding because there was no humbleness. Only then would it be possible to begin my healing process. Exactly as I have always done with them”. With eyes showing resignation, she asked a rhetorical question: “But I was the therapist, do you understand how hard it was?”

Her eyes became watery again and she said, “I didn’t have the courage to say that to myself.” She paused and continued, “So I succumbed to the monster I created and nurtured. I could have lost the battle in several ways. On the one hand, with aggression, in one of its many forms. I could have become a bitter and resentful person to the point of being absolutely out of control, with the practice of an execrable murder of passion, for example. On the other hand, I could have been taken by a deep sadness, from apathy to suicide, interspersed by the various stages of depression. All these cases are the silent cries of those who do not understand or cannot account for the emotions that drive them. It is the despair of those who have lost themselves, then, feeling abandoned, they believe they have nothing left”.

“However, somatising hatred is another form of manifestation of the full-grown caterpillar and far more common than we believe. Emotional imbalances and lingering suffering, sometimes, instead of manifesting through extreme behaviour of aggression or sadness, do so through pathological changes in some of the various organs of the body. Many tumours are born like that”. She asked me to get her a glass of water from the bedside table, took a sip and, without a trace of rancour, said: “I made a cancer”.

I told Teresa not to be so hard on herself and not to blame herself for her illness. I reminded her that children, still at a tender age, with no time to metabolise suffering into tumour, also faced cancer. She disagreed: “One must distinguish genetic diseases from those acquired by unhealthy ways of thinking and feeling. These are consequences of the ignorance with which we deal with our shadows. The sufferings when somatised do not manifest themselves only in the form of tumours, but in countless other ways, having as a reflection some malfunction in the organism”.

He looked me in the eye and said: “It is not a matter of creating guilt, but of living with responsibility. Only in this way I will be able to learn, overcome and move forward.” She paused briefly and continued: “For the first time since the divorce, I am being honest with myself. Believe me, it is a wonderful encounter that shatters all the illusions that deceived me and the lies I insisted on telling myself. So I can finally be honest with the world and glimpse the beauty of life. I am the one responsible for the disease that has come over me. No one else. This, contrary to what you might imagine, does not hurt me. In truth, it is dignified and liberating, for in realizing the wisdom contained in all the facts, I release everyone from any guilt. Beth and David were just themselves, they did it the way they knew how, according to their consciences, with which they will find the pains and delights of being who they are. It is not for me to judge. So it is with everyone. I am solely responsible for my life, no one else. If I had understood this earlier, I would have been happier and certainly loved much more. I can leave in peace, as I have the love I rescued in my last days of existence. I follow happily, because of what I have learned, and lightly, because I leave behind what no longer serves me. From now on I have conditions to love more and better”.

Then she concluded the reasoning of that conversation: “When we ignore our own shadows, it means that they have taken us to absolute darkness”. I asked her to explain better. Teresa was didactic: “Have you noticed that when we enter a completely dark room we can’t see any shadow?” I shrugged and said that we need a little light for the shadows to be visible. She arched her lips in a simple smile and finished: “Exactly, we need light to be able to see the shadows. However, we delude ourselves that in the darkness they don’t exist. When we don’t see the shadows, believe me, they are still present and they have become enormous. We are in absolute darkness”.

A wonderful and indescribable atmosphere enveloped us. Teresa’s honey-coloured eyes were like two powerful lighthouses such was the light she radiated. I leaned against the side of the bed, held her hands and together we said a silent prayer in thanksgiving for the feeling of fullness we were feeling. In the luggage that Teresa would take to the next station some imperishable riches had been added at the last minute. She had fought and won the good fight. She would leave stronger and better than she arrived. Either because she had done good to so many patients, or because she had finally healed herself.

I asked about Pedro. She explained that they had talked nothing about her health. She told me that he had got married and was living in Canada. She understood that since her condition was irreversible, telling her son would only share a suffering that would last until her departure, without him being able to do anything to prevent it. The way she decided, it would not stop being painful, but it would be a single impact. When irremediable, overcoming suffering usually gets a little easier, she argued. I wondered who would tell Pedro. Teresa answered me by fixing her eyes on mine. Before I could refuse the mission, she moved her lips sending me a kiss. Then she offered me a sweet smile and closed her eyes. She would only open them again in the Highlands.

Three days later, I was at Galeão Airport, when the PA system announced the flight that would make my connection to Toronto. I had many good things to tell Pedro about his mother. What an amazing woman she was and the huge healing legacy she left us. A tireless walker who was willing to learn until the last minute. However, one thing I could not forget to tell him, for the usefulness and wisdom it contained. They were the last words she said to me that early morning in the hospital: “The greatest trick of the shadows is to deceive us that they don’t exist in us”.

Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.

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