A mad dash to nowhere

I waited for the young barista to serve me my coffee. I thanked her. Alone, in a comfortable armchair at Cafuné, a coffee shop I love, both for the quality of the coffee and for the peaceful atmosphere, with good jazz playing in the background, at a low volume, incapable of distracting, but with the power to encourage thought, I opened a book by Divaldo Franco and Joanna de Ângelis, authors who always stimulate me to deep reflection. Before I had finished the first page, my attention was diverted by an off-key voice, like a sudden storm, dissonant from the calm of a blue sky and the gentle winds of the place. It wasn’t a quarrel or a disagreement, just an altered way of speaking that, with the passage of time, has become an increasingly common habit in contemporary society: the imposture that reveals a self-conferred authority stemming from a power that was never conquered. As I turned around, I recognised Mariano. We had studied together all through high school. Then he had decided to study at a different university to the one I had chosen. So we’d been apart for almost forty years. We shared many amusing stories typical of our youth. I invited him to sit at the table with me. I tried to recall those carefree days of a past long gone, but he wouldn’t let me. He made a point of correcting the direction of the conversation, showing me how he had become an important person, with no time or connection to the inconsequential adventures of his childhood. He told me about some of his professional achievements and economic ones. He was close to authorities and celebrities. He emphasised: “Not that I think these things represent any advantage, because I actually like simple people and common joys.” Then he added: “But life led me into these relationships. It was inevitable,” he said, as if apologising for his social importance. If that were the case, in the face of so many subjects that could make for a good meeting, after so many years, why had he decided to emphasise situations that, according to him, were worthless? At that moment I realised that it wasn’t time to talk, but to listen.

There was an obvious character embedded in another. There was the man who craved worldly glories hidden in the role of someone who claimed not to attach any importance to what he himself was pursuing. As if a supporting character existed to soften the appearance of the main character. As if he had the function of colouring the latter with pleasant colours. The contradiction of an appearance that wished to hide another, they were mismatched parts of the same person, in an enormous confusion of identity, whose truth was imprisoned in the forgotten depths at the core of their being. All that remained was to understand who Mariano was behind so many clothes that prevented him from recognising himself, if he could look at himself without any make-up. Of course, he didn’t realise this. At least not consciously. In order to silence the manifestations coming from his unconscious, which clamoured for strength and balance, when he realised the fragility and confusion that was growing in the face of an existence without ballast, he used a posture of arrogance barely disguised as simplicity, like someone who didn’t want the authority he loved to flaunt.

Ballast is the force that sustains balance. The ballast of an existence is sustained by the coherence of the truth lived according to the principles and values that your conscience sees as noble and valuable. Often, vile desires and petty interests rob us of this ballast. What remains is the feeling of insecurity, fragility and existential imbalance, which we try to hide from ourselves through an appearance that differs from our inner reality. This is the trigger that sets off one of the diseases of the soul: anxiety.

The power of a person’s true authority over themselves is serene and humble, granted by the strength and balance of virtues already established in the individual’s personality, developed by the perception and sensitivity fixated in the clarity of their view of themselves, and the serenity with which they observe the world and write their story through personal choices. Perfecting one’s own essence makes it possible to enjoy the honey of life. To do this, it is necessary to live your days in a way that is coherent with the principles and values that lead to the Light. Without fuss or confusion. This is the true and only authority. No one gives it to you; you achieve it through the infinite work done within yourself: the alignment of all the parts that make you up, under the protection of the truth that has already been achieved by you. We are one, but fragmented into many. Harmonising all these voices, of different nuances and tones, which manifest within us under the same diapason, not only gives us strength and balance, but also makes us whole. This is the power that everyone has at their disposal. Psychiatrist Carl Jung had a name for this movement of “becoming one”: individuation

Personality is characterised by the principles and values with which a person relates to themselves and to everyone else. We often recognise virtues as essential values, but using them to build a fulfilling existence seems time-consuming and far removed from the admiration of the crowds who highlight the achievements of fame and fortune as parameters of social and mediatic success. For this reason, virtues, although admired, are considered inefficient means to the desired ends. We’re in a hurry, the world seems to be speeding by and time is a merciless tormentor. When I live without ballast, although I almost never admit it, I feel fragile, because I always depend on the approval of others to feel good. I feel confused, because my constant achievements don’t lead to the desired state of fulfilment. Even if I deny it, I will remain unbalanced because of the fragility and confusion that dominate me.

The feeling will remain that many events have taken place during the journey, but the landscape has remained the same. Nothing seems to change. The reason is simple: because I make empty movements, I go round in circles, I don’t move. An abyss spreads inside me that seems to be endless. This emptiness is called anxiety.

As long as I don’t know who I am, my perspective will remain blurred, unable to visualise a thousand other possibilities and unimaginable roads. Paths that will always be available, but because I can’t see them, they don’t exist for me. Without clarity, my choices will remain limited. Freedom will remain a distant dream.

I can’t look at myself like someone who appreciates a landscape through a window, because I’ll be reduced to its tiny dimensions. Life is so much more; I am so much more. We all are. Nor can I look at myself like someone watching a TV series, embodying fictional characters. Understanding who I really am not is the true and only act of power; only then will it be possible to develop all my possibilities, gifts and talents. To do this, I must open the door to go inside myself. Then have the courage to rummage through all the drawers. Tidy up the mess, decide what stays, sweep up the rubbish, do the renovations, give new colours and shapes, light up the dark corners, pacify all the residents, create new laws and let the beauty of my garden bloom. This is my power. Then I’ll be able to enjoy the countless paths of the world and admire the wonders of life.

When disorientated, although I have noble principles, I adopt vulgar values. This generates internal confusion; insecurity and fear are inevitable consequences. Principles are the ends; values are the means for building an existence. You don’t reach your desired destination if you take the wrong journey. Out of ignorance and convenience, I go along with the crowd and adopt the world’s values. Theatre stages for empty notoriety, spectacular stages for unbridled applause, immaterial arenas designed to defeat imaginary opponents are artifices that lead me to lose as I believe I won something. Even when these paper victories happen, materialised in deeds drawn up in registry offices, bundles of notes accumulated in fortunes or certificates of nobility framed on walls, they prove incapable of generating intrinsic strength and balance. All I get is a sudden, fragile feeling of power that slips away without delay. I’ll try to maintain it at all costs through the mask of pride and vanity, which will make me repeat my actions and achievements all the time because I need to believe that the character is real and the merits are relevant, just like any addict needs to sustain their addiction in the desperate search for another dose of fleeting euphoria.  As a result, endless cravings will arise, in new crises of anxiety for something or a moment that can’t be postponed. As the search is confusing or non-existent, all desires, even those that are satiated, will prove to be insufficient. They will never be enough. More seriously, since most of the time desires don’t depend on me alone to make them happen, anxiety will grow to unbearable levels of waiting, tension, anguish and suffering. Until it becomes a monster that devours me.

The perception remains, which is almost never easy to read or accept, that these conquests, for which we offer our complete existences, will remain incomplete.

As long as we don’t realise that noble principles will not be achieved by means of vulgar values, we will continue in the mad rush to nowhere. A great number of different voids are not capable of creating a single completeness.

What should I do? Change the search, right? It’s not that simple. I run the risk of changing only the desire. Everything remains the same as long as I confuse search with desire. The search is the road to discovery and an encounter with the soul; desire is the theatre stage for the display and euphoria of the immature ego. Only after maturing can the ego, the warrior of the village, tread the path to unite with the sage of the tribe, the soul. The ego begins the process of maturity when it makes the firm decision to see its own face in the mirrored waters of the lake of truth. Then it is ready to begin the long journey of discovery, encounters and conquests. Warrior and sage will merge into one. So it is with you and me.

No-one can stop anyone from continuing their personal quest. There will be many difficulties, but if determination is unshakeable, conquests are inevitable. On the other hand, desires generate dependence on factors outside the individual’s control. Control over one’s own will is legitimate; interference or waiting on the choices of others causes insalubrity and tension in relationships. There is no victory.

When they are beyond the sphere of my choices, as is the case with most desires, and because they are believed to be fundamental to life, whether for drops of pleasure or illusions about happiness, desires cause dependence, like any ordinary addiction. This will lead to suffering due to the loss of personal power to guide choices, as a real reducer of freedom. In some cases, it can prevent peace and, in more serious situations, destroy dignity. It is a cruel promoter of disbelief in the individual’s ability to construct their own existential solutions. On the other hand, the search strengthens and balances through the discovery of true power, the root of which germinates as the ego begins to choose in line with the virtuous values of the soul.

It’s not the landscape that changes, but the traveller who, by transforming, gains the power to look at it in different colours.

If we don’t realise that life is not driven by desires, but by searches, we will continue in a mad rush towards nowhere. We will never have what transforms us and makes us whole. The senseless desire for gold robs us of the real treasure: the perfection of the immortal spirit. When concomitant, the search for the perfection of the being does not prevent the sensible desire for gold, a conjunction that will allow for unthinking discoveries, encounters and conquests along the Way. Desires are not illegitimate, but they must come as a support character and, more importantly, they must not get in the way or divert us from the quest. Otherwise, everything will be in vain and will be blown away by the winds of the night. Everyone seems to know this truth, but few use it as their primary tool.

I sincerely apologise to the reader for setting out a long theory before telling a short story. But these ideas; which I believe to be structural in supporting the construction of any person and revealing their true personality, rescuing the best of their essence, occurred to me in a small fraction of time; while the barista was pouring Mariano’s coffee and he was finishing talking about his paper victories.

Before drinking his coffee, Mariano asked for a glass of water to take an anxiolytic. He said he had a very busy routine, with lots of obligations and chores. He said he had trouble sleeping. However, he classified insomnia as a characteristic of people who had many responsibilities. He said that success came at a high price, but it was better than being a failure. It remained to be seen what Mariano meant by success. Perhaps that explained the reason for his anxiety. I thought, I said nothing.

It’s commonplace to blame the world’s ills for such an existential abyss. This is exactly what happened right after Mariano put himself in the spotlight like someone who praises himself for being careless. He talked about the diseases that were killing millions, the serious social injustices, the growing violence on street corners and inside homes, the economic crisis affecting the planet, the corruption in politics, the shamelessness of those in power, the lack of opportunities for the underprivileged, ignorance, hunger, misery and ecological disasters. In the end, he waited for my consent. No one is unaware of the serious difficulties, of different colours, everywhere. There are many problems in every corner. Not turning our backs on them is a fundamental principle. However, understanding the means capable of bringing about an effective transformation are essential values. You can’t reach the Light with the methods of the shadows. No, the ends do not justify the means; this is make-up, never evolution.

What’s more, you can’t see the beauty of life with a clouded outlook on yourself. Without denying their seriousness, collective problems often project the attempt to explain unfathomable individual dissatisfactions. When someone begins to list the planet’s difficulties in an endless rosary of lamentations, it can mean the presence of a fugitive running away from oneself.

Instead of fuelling the obvious complaints, it occurred to me to change the direction of the conversation. I asked a simple question: “Are you afraid of death?”. Surprised, Mariano replied that everyone is. I pondered: “I think death only torments those who misuse time. Death frightens those who don’t understand the meaning of life”. He said he makes good use of his time, given the steps he has climbed in his social ascension. I explained my perspective: “Anxiety is a good indicator for evaluating the use of time. The greater your anxiety, the less you make in your days. Insomnia reflects a person’s discomfort with themselves; anxiety is the cry of someone inside us who dies when someone else that, also inside us, every morning insists on trapping the sun’s rays in a futile attempt to have a little light.”

Mariano objected. He claimed that he wasn’t a complacent person. He was always looking for new achievements. I asked: “Do your achievements tell us about your desires or do they reveal your quest?”. Baffled, he said he hadn’t understood. I explained the difference: searches reveal the discoveries, encounters and conquests of an awakened soul; desires show the longings of an immature ego. Mariano asked if I thought it was wrong to have desires. I clarified: “Not at all. I just think that desires should be linked to the search, like small accessories to a great work. It shouldn’t be used to collapse the luminous ballast that will balance the construction of our existence. In this way, desires and searches merge in the same purpose, allowing the sacred to reveal itself through the mundane.”

Then I added: “Where before there was anxiety and depression, anguish and euphoria, there will be strength and balance, serenity and joy.” Mariano asked me to explain further. I spoke about the ideas I had written in the previous paragraphs of this text. He wanted to know what I meant by peace and happiness. I tried to clarify in a few words: “Peace is the true feeling of fulfilment that I achieve after overcoming each of my fears; there is no peace as long as I feel afraid. Happiness is the realisation that I have made progress in the quest to find myself and have thus become a different and better person; this alone changes the world. A little less fear brings me a little more of myself every day”. That’s when I realised something obvious and added: “The opposite also applies: more of me reduces my fears. After all, I am the source of my strength and balance”. 

Mariano looked at me deeply, as if his heart had been waiting for those words for a long time, and murmured: “That abyss you referred to exists in me; that fragility and imbalance are intimate to me; deep down, fear has been the master of my decisions.” He drained his cup of coffee in small sips that wrapped up his thoughts and feelings. Then he commented in sincere confession: “I just want to be happy. I’ve achieved everything I’ve ever wanted, but happiness has always been far away. I don’t feel at peace. Maybe I need to retrace my steps. Otherwise, anxiety will destroy me”. I shrugged and pondered: “At some point, everyone will have to do this. Anxiety is the fear that the best things in life will never happen.” I paused and concluded: “Life happens within us, a place where I am capable of all transformations without depending on anything or anyone’s permission. These are discoveries, encounters and conquests that I will later live out in the world. This is how we begin to understand freedom. Only then will we be able to marvel at life. We’ll love more and better”. Mariano gave me a resigned smile and nodded. He was a brave individual. He was ready and willing to embark on a fantastic journey.

We ordered another round of coffee to celebrate the inevitable discoveries, encounters and conquests that were soon to come. There, Mariano began to understand the true quest, as well as the power of transformation it contains.

Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.

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