Several friends had already told me about Cléo the witch. They commented on her gifts, esoteric knowledge, unorthodox methods of magic and the incredible dialogue she had with the invisible world. I heard many stories about her, some very interesting, others hard to believe. Her supposed powers and wisdom had become the stuff you see on legends, and they were also the butt of jokes. When someone was faced with a big problem or dilemma, we would say: “Ask Cléo” or “Only Cléo can solve it”. Elegant, slender, with dark skin, black hair, honey-coloured eyes, with an age difficult to pinpoint, perhaps between forty and fifty years old, gentle gestures, slow speech, an easy smile and always wearing colourful dresses, was the pattern of a description that was repeated. Everyone defined her in the same way. However, a curious detail: nobody knew her personally. It was always the tired version of the friend of a friend who had met the witch in an unlikely place. I had fun with the invented character and was convinced that Cléo was just another urban legend, like many others.
When I’m at home, one of the places I like to go when I feel like meditating with nature is Pedra Bonita, located inside the forest in the Tijuca National Park, in the heart of Rio de Janeiro. Next to an old hang-gliding ramp, still active, the place is a huge massive terrace hundreds of metres above sea level, from where I can see Pedra da Gávea in front of me, the Atlantic Ocean in the background and several Rio neighbourhoods under my feet. The landscape is often coloured by the flights of many hang-gliders when the weather is favourable for the sport. During the week there are usually very few people or even no one on site. On this day, I left the car near the ramp and walked along a light trail for a few minutes through the forest. Without a doubt, a sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the city. I took off my boots, leaned back on a rock facing the sea and let the quietness envelop me along with the good energies of the place. A time passed that I don’t know how to specify. In the distance I began to hear voices that awakened me from my meditation. The wind carried the words of two women who, although they were far away, seemed to be sitting next to me. As it was getting dark, I decided to leave. As I passed them, I was careful to warn them of the danger of getting lost on the trail if they did not know it well. Darkness has this power. One of the women, the eldest, thanked me and said: “It is always a good idea to let what we fear most happen. It is the best way to end fear. Before this, nothing is created”.
I stopped. Something in the reasoning enchanted me. Perhaps the unusual philosophy, perhaps the strange way of dealing with oneself. When I realised that the other woman, much younger, had tears in her eyes, the older one explained: “My daughter came to do a double hang-gliding flight. When it was time to jump, fear stopped her”. The mother continued in a calm voice, as if teaching a child the alphabet: “I told her that the best way to lose fear is to go face to face with it. Face to face, it is easier for anyone to become bigger than the fear that frightens them.”
I frowned. My features must have denounced my astonishment, because the young woman exclaimed in a funny tone: “Don’t mind it. My mum’s crazy”. Mum’s response was a laugh typical of someone enjoying themselves. I was infected with joy and could not contain my smile. I said: “It is an interesting reasoning, depending on how it develops, it can make sense”. The young woman reacted: “Oh, no! I’ve always lived next to the fire”, referring to her mother’s way of thinking. She added: “I don’t need anyone else to add fuel to the fire. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but you must go your own way”. I shrugged my shoulders and before I left I warned them again about the danger of walking down the track in the dark. The woman wanted to know if I was afraid. I replied that I knew the trail well, as I used to frequent the place. She pondered: “Do you understand now?”. I was in doubt if I had understood and kept quiet. The woman said: “Sit down and talk to us for a while. That way you can help us get down later”. I decided to accept the invitation while the daughter, distraught, shook her head.
The mother pondered: “The problem is that you look for the opposite of fear to overcome fear. It would be like adding sugar in an attempt to season food with too much salt.”
“You will never achieve the goal, opposites coexist with each other, but they do not cancel each other out”.
I was honest: “I confess I don’t understand”. The daughter clapped her hands for finding a supposed ally to resist her mother’s crazy theories, in her own terms. The woman smiled sweetly again, like someone who is not bothered by not having the understanding of others. I had the distinct feeling that her understanding of herself made her whole. That is why she smiled lightly, sweetly and abundantly, without any trace of affectation or sorrow.
The mother explained: “I brought my daughter to go hang-gliding because I know she is afraid of heights. The company she works for is going through a serious crisis and there is a risk of mass firing. My daughter is very worried about losing her job”. I said I understood even less the correlation between the facts. The woman arched her lips in a slight smile and said: “When you understand the fundament aspects of one kind of fear, it becomes easier to understand all the others”.
I shrugged my shoulders as one who is faced with the unusual. She began to develop her reasoning: “For example, is there anyone who seeks wealth because they fear poverty?”. I replied that many people do this. She asked: “Do you understand the misunderstanding of the route?”. I said no. She continued: “Becoming a millionaire does not remove the risk of poverty, because there will always be the possibility of losing the fortune earned. So fear remains active. When you don’t treat the cause of the disease, the medicine that treats only the symptoms may disguise the ailment, but it will not provide a cure.”
“Fortune coupled with fear will not allow happiness or the desired peace, despite the excellent material conditions available. The fear of poverty will be like a ghost devouring the best of your days.”
“Even worse, with the risk that it will also drive you away from dignity. The fear of poverty may cause the individual to make choices that run against to his or her own ethics which, looked at through the lens of time, will prove to be petty and insensitive. Fear has this power. No one achieves happiness while moving away from dignity. Whoever feels fear has no peace”.
Touched by these words, the daughter asked how she could lose her fear of death. The mother looked at her with charming compassion, offered a sweet smile and detailed with serenity: “A broad and deep life, since it justifies and illuminates itself, makes death only the inevitable final chapter of a story. When one lives an intense existence through the many internal transformations written over the years, there will be such luminosity that it will be impossible for death to erase”.
She paused to ask if we had understood. We said yes and she continued: “Fear of death is dispelled by the greater meaning offered by an well lived existence. And what makes a life meaningful? Evolution is the only answer. How does one evolve? By understanding oneself better and loving everyone better. Contrary to what many believe, love for life is not sustained in the vain attempt to escape death. There is no love in running away because there is no love in fear. Love has the same root as freedom. Both flourish in the deconstruction of fear. Believe me, child, no one is free when afraid.”
“The opposite of freedom is not oppression, but fear”.
“Whatever you are afraid of losing is not worth gaining. No object of desire, whether material or immaterial, is worth a life in fear. Fear is the thief of happiness. If you want something very much, lose the fear of losing it first; then you may not even want to gain anything else, because you have already gained something much greater: mastery over yourself.”
The daughter opened her arms and asked the legendary, laconic and indispensable question: “How?”.
The mother was briefly silent as if choosing the best words and said: “Strengthen your spirit for the storms, whatever they may be. With different levels of rigour, they always come. Be ready to survive and overcome difficulties. Believe me, you can do it. Although they are not wanted because the inconvenience they cause, when they come, let them be welcomed because the evolution they provide.” She paused and concluded: “Overcoming a problem is a choice; learning from it is also a choice. The choice is yours”.
“Objectively speaking, the fear of poverty is not rooted in a lack of money, as many simplistically believe, but in a lack of confidence in one’s own ability to be productive, to face challenges and to recreate oneself at all times. This insecurity arises from the feeling of dependence that comes from believing that you will always be tied to situations beyond your control, such as assistance from third parties, government policies and legal rules. Undoubtedly, when macroeconomic measures are appropriate, they greatly boost the market and generate opportunities for financial gains. There is no denying that. However, any dependence generates fear due to the instability it provides, as it is the denial of control over one’s own life.”
“Learn to see crises and difficulties through another lens. Try to observe them through the numerous chances to reinvent a job. Instead of depending on others, start relying on your will, creativity and the movement of your gifts. Believe in your strength; being free is a choice. So is living without fear”.
“When you break dependence, fear diminishes; when you believe in yourself, it disappears. When life invites us to walk through the hard times of existence, it wants to show us different ways of living, it wants to make us better. Although we often find it difficult to recognise, life is always generous: when it takes us to know the dark side of the Way, it is to teach us how to use an immeasurable strength that we have but do not know”.
“The overcoming of fear is the starting point of the journey to the plenitudes of life, it means the discovery of the power to drive away all darkness by your own light. Then there will be no more darkness to frighten you.”
“In short, fear exists to teach us how to conquer the power of the Light”.
“When we know how to deal with the borderline situations of existence, the frontiers of life widen. Only then will we be able to be enchanted by the mysteries and wonders that we have not yet been introduced to.”
The daughter looked at her mother as if for the first time her words made some sense. In a gesture of affection and recognition, she laid her head on the matriarch’s legs and watched the stars that, by the late hour, already owned the sky. Stroking the young woman’s hair, her mother concluded: “Every time a fear comes your way, don’t run away from it. Take the opportunity to look into its eyes and understand what it takes to lighten it. Believe me, from that moment on, it will never scare you again. Then you will feel free, dignified, happy and at peace. It will be the victory of love over fear; of light over darkness”.
The young woman gently brushed her hand across her mother’s face and asked: “Why does fear exist?”.
The mother smiled as if she had expected this question and said: “All fear is a master inside out. We should not follow its advice, but decipher its riddle. Frightened, we turn away from it and waste the opportunities. Whatever fear is, it shows us an unknown face that we possess, something lost within us that is sorely missed, because we will need that part to become whole.”
“Fear brings out the best in me, the power I have but don’t know yet. Provided, of course, that I decipher it. The code for deconstructing every fear is at the core of my being. As long as I don’t know who I am, it will be impossible to know what I want, where I’m going and to find out about my infinite capacities.”
“In short, the fear that imprisons is the same that frees, it only depends on the choice made on how to deal with it”.
Mother and daughter exchanged tender smiles. The girl settled on her mother’s lap and fell asleep. I commented: “A beautiful lesson”. The woman smiled again. I added: “This ignorance about fear and, consequently, about who we are, generates a lot of sadness and paralysis, on the other hand, it leads to aggressiveness, hysteria and the herd effect, where everyone follows everyone else, more by group influence than by deep reason. As few know who they are, what they want and where they are going, they become lost, ignore their true strength, become easily manipulated, remain imprisoned and, worse, do not realise it”.
“For millennia the planet has lived under the empire of fear. This leads people to believe that their personal centres of strength have worldly values as their source, alien to the individual’s intrinsic capacity and completely beyond their control. This feeds back into the fears. Since the only legitimate control a person has is over themselves, as long as they insist on seeking their power in centres of strength extrinsic to them, they will feel fragile, lost and dependent. Do you understand the reason for so much fear?”.
“People fear and suffer in this inglorious quest because they do not know their own strength and gifts. They will continue to be dominated by fears until they discover who they are. In truth, it is a simultaneous process in which the construction of being entails the demolition of fears. Like a master who works in the dark areas, when properly understood, fear will serve as a guide to the core of one of the many luminous zones we possess.”
“To do so will be impossible until we dive deep into our soul to find the code that will deconstruct every fear: who am I not yet, but am able to be?”.
The woman smiled in agreement. We stayed a long time with our thoughts wandering among the stars. We descended the trail as the day dawned. The hang-gliding group was arriving to enjoy the earthy wind of the early morning hours. That’s when the young woman declared her determination to do a tandem flight. Her mother said: “You don’t have to, child. I just used the fear of flying as a metaphor for the teachings I wanted you to know. It doesn’t make any difference if you fly a hang-glider, the important thing was to understand what is necessary for freedom to never be paralysed by fear.”
Yes, freedom is not in the law; it belongs to the spirit, I agreed silently.
The girl smiled like her mother’s, winked and told me something new: “Why not fly if I feel like it and I’m not afraid anymore?”. We said goodbye with the promise of meeting up another afternoon. That’s when we realised we hadn’t said our names. I found it interesting when Mum said her name was Cléo. Then I realised about the black hair and dark skin, the colourful flowing dress, the honey-coloured eyes and easy smile, the soft speech, the fine wisdom and the unorthodox methods of magic. Aspects that fitted the description of the witch so often talked about by everyone.
I watched as mother and daughter, hugging happily, made their way up the jumps. No doubt it was Cléo, the much talked about witch. A sorceress whose magic was to use her own light to switch on the light of the world.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.