It takes courage to change a heart

The two-sided drum of Starry Song, the shaman who had the gift of sharing the ancestral wisdom of his people through tales and songs, rumbled in rhythm as he intoned a delicate chant thanking the Great Spirit for the opportunity of that moment. It was a moonless night; the sky tucked us under a beautiful blanket of stars. We were high up on the mountain, Starry Song’s place of power, a place where he always went when he wanted to connect with the mystery of life or dive deeper into himself. We were a small group, made up of people from many different places, gathered for a magical ceremony. A fire protected us from the cold. The good spirits also present at the ritual protected us from ourselves. At the end of that song, the shaman commented: “We must always be grateful. Whether for the joy of pleasant moments, or for the lessons of difficult hours; only fools have bad days.”

He paused and continued: “Only the proud are not thankful. They believe that, because they are better, they do not need help; because they feel superior, all help is just an obligation. But the world is a workshop of masters; personal relationships and difficulties are the forges that perfect the tempering of the sword of existence: the heart.

As happened in the ceremonies celebrated by Starry Song, he began to tell a story: “In an ancestral village, three young boys were about to reach adulthood. The tribe’s sorcerer determined, as a rite of passage, that they should go deep into the forest and reach the Sky Mountain. They would only return after capturing the mythical Stone Monster, known as Tadan, famous for breaking into a thousand pieces all those who faced him. He promised that the village would experience long periods of prosperity if they succeeded in their endeavour.

Yahto, Dasan and Wakanda were their names. They were very good friends, though with distinct personalities. Yahto possessed great physical strength and extreme agility; he was known in the tribe as an excellent fighter and a hunter of rare efficiency. Dasan was the handsomest young man in the village. He had a good prose, had an articulate speech, was intelligent and sagacious, charmed the girls and many dreamed of marrying him; he was expected to become the next tribe chief. Wakanda lived overshadowed by the brightness of the other boys. As he was born with a condition on his leg that made him limp, he had difficulty moving around. Because of this, although he always tried hard, he could not always keep up with the other boys in their games. Without any resentment, he grew up with a quiet and observant temperament; he liked to read, write, teach the younger ones, play the flute, listen to the advice of the older ones and, despite the difficulty, he enjoyed walking in the mountains. He never complained about his physical condition; on the contrary, he always had a sincere and welcoming smile to offer. In the conversations of the tribe, he was the least remembered of his friends, but he did not mind this.

They walked for days until they reached the cave in the mountain where Tadan lived. Dasan volunteered to go in first. He claimed that it would only take a few minutes of conversation for the monster to give in to his arguments and agree to surrender. He was so confident that the others did not object. Dasan entered quickly. As the interior of the cave was very dark, he was soon lost. He shouted for help. He was guided by the monster himself until he reached it.  Facing the monster, he was struck by its horrible appearance. Having recovered from his fright, Dasan said that he had come to fetch him to settle accounts for his actions. He argued that it would be better if he surrendered without offering any resistance. Otherwise, Yahto would slaughter him. The fight was unnecessary. He promised that everyone in the village would treat him fairly. In response, Tadan questioned why he would give up his freedom to let himself be imprisoned. The boy explained that the monster would have a better life in the village than in the bottom of a cave, after, of course, settling accounts for his crimes. Tadan said that he was happy with the life he had; about the other things that were said, he had committed no crime, he only protected himself from those who, like Dasan, came to impose their will on him or steal his peace. The young man insisted as to the many evils perpetrated by the monster, and pleaded that it was unwise to go by force when he could willingly allow himself to be driven. The monster reminded him that he could have left Dasan lost in the darkness of the cave, but helped him. In return, he was being offered an absurd surrender. It did not seem sensible to him. He decided to make a proposal to solve the impasse. If the boy could look at himself in the cave mirror without being frightened, the monster would go back to the village with him. Dasan laughed and accepted immediately. He was used to admiring himself in the mirror. Tadan warned him to be careful, for that was a different mirror; it reflected only the beauty of each person.

Dasan laughed again and said it was no problem; he added that this was the easiest test he could ever went through. The monster lit a candle and illuminated a wall covered with a thin layer of ice that reflected the interior of the cave with impressive accuracy. The young man stood before the mirror and, to his astonishment, saw nothing. He complained about what he considered a flaw. He could not see himself on the other side. The monster told Dasan to fix his eyes tightly. The boy said he could see the whole cave reflected, but could not see himself. Tadan insisted that he was paying attention. The boy gave up, there was nothing of him in that mirror. The monster lamented that Dasan could not see himself on the other side. He explained that it was a magic mirror that did not reflect the body, but only the beauty of the heart.

Incredulous, the boy claimed that all people, even the most insensitive, have something beautiful in their hearts. Tadan said that it was true, everyone carries beauty in the heart, but Dasan’s was hidden behind a mist so dense with vanity that it made any beauty imperceptible. It taught that Dasan’s image of himself was only formed by the world’s praise; he had forgotten what it was like to live driven by the beauties in his heart. As applause was non-existent at the bottom of the cave, it was the perfect place for everyone have the opportunity to see their own essence with due accuracy. When we allow ourselves to stay away from external influences, we come closer to the inner reality. He pondered that Dasan was facing the truth about himself.

The boy did not give up. He realised that it was possible to see Tadan in full every time the monster approached the mirror. Dasan claimed that this was proof that something was wrong; after all, a terrible stone monster could not have a good heart. Tadan replied that he was a monster only in the eyes of those who were bothered by the way he lived and tried to capture him. Instead of living with him, they insisted on dominating him. They ended up defeated in a senseless fight. He explained that, although they would not admit it, people acted this way out of fear. Dasan had to agree. In fact, he had never heard of any evil done by the monster, except the destruction of those who insisted on imprisoning Tadan. Dasan realized that everything spoken by the monster contained some truth. In fact, it was not the heart, but the applause of the world that guided his steps. The life he led did not carry his essence, but the appearance desired by others. He was not himself, but a mere image that pleased everyone. If he was not him, he was also nobody. He was seized by a sadness so intense that, after letting out a desperate roar, he broke into a thousand pieces

Hearing his friend’s scream, Yahto stepped in. Like all good hunters, he was an excellent tracker. However, he was used to following the trails of the forests and mountains; he had never been inside a dark cave. He felt an enormous discomfort and got lost. He asked for help and was guided by the monster’s voice until he reached the centre of the cave. He asked for Dasan. Tadan showed him on the cave floor the thousand pieces of the beautiful boy. In a rage, Yahto swore that the monster would pay dearly for the evil he had done. Tadan tried to explain that he had done nothing wrong. He only gave Dasan the opportunity to find out the truth about himself. However, Dasan was not able to bear it, being overcome by sadness. Yahto challenged the monster to a fight. It would be a way to avenge his friend. Tadan replied that he had had an honest and educational relationship with Dasan; revenge could never supplant justice. The boy insisted; the monster pondered. He promised that after Yahto looked at himself in front of the same mirror, he would confront him. The young man laughed, said he knew himself, all his strength and power. He accepted the challenge.

Facing the mirror, Yahto found a weak and sickly man, the reflection of a squalid heart. A dialogue similar to the one with Dasan recurred. Yahto denied that the mirror reflected his image; Tadan explained that the image he was looking at was not his appearance but his essence. Yahto was am extremely frail man who hid behind a strong physique and a domineering personality. Unable to accept this, the boy declared that this was a fraud. He said he was ready for a fight; he would destroy the monster once and for all. However, deep down, the young warrior’s heart knew of the truths reflected by that mirror. It was possible to fool everyone for a long time, but he also knew that one day he might end up finding himself, and when this happen, he would no longer be able to run away from the truth. He feared for that moment and suffocated the idea when it occurred to him. At the same time, we are many in one. While one part of him denied it, another recognised it. Sooner or later the truth dissipates the fog of illusion. However great his fighting ability and enormous his physical strength, the power of a warrior is in the heart.

The lie he had always told himself had sustained him until then. But that was the mirror of the heart; there he could know the truth. At his core, he knew his weaknesses, as well as the subterfuges he used to deceive himself into not facing them. He was seized by an enormous fear. Not that he was unaware of fear, but this time it was different. It was not the fear of an external opponent, but of an internal one. Since he was a child, by instinct, in order to not reveal to the world the fear he felt, he had used aggressiveness as a disguise for the courage he never had.

However, now it was different. The adversary was no longer outside, but inside him. How could he use the weapon he had always used, violence, to defeat himself? The huge variety of blows and fighting tactics he had learned were no longer useful. Violence was no substitute for courage. Yahto was an opponent that Yahto did not know how to deal with.

To face this unlikely antagonist, Yahto would have to accept his weaknesses, change his posture, the way he was and lived. Then he would become strong. The problem was the tribe discovering the man behind the role he created to be admired by all. He was someone else, very different, and was ashamed to reveal himself once stripped of the character of invincible warrior.

We all become strong when we stop being a hunter of the world to become a gardener of life, said Tadan, used to the ideas and feelings that enveloped people in those moments. Yahto said he felt humiliated, for the poets sang stories of warriors, never about gardeners. Tadan pondered on the power of humility to dissolve any remnant of humiliation; he explained that only pride offers such pain. To no avail. Shame escalated within the young man. The monster took pity on the boy. The shield used for an entire existence, pride, was still present with the battered pretext of protecting Yahto. However, pride is not capable of leading us to victory in the good fight, the fight that each one wages within himself to achieve enlightenment. Pride is surface courage. In the good fight, pride is nothing more than a paper shield, Tadan explained.

Disoriented, the boy allowed fear to take emotional control over him and suffocate his heart. When this happens, the projected reality becomes a frightening enemy that ends up defeating those who insist on denying the essential transformation. Without the courage to change, the young man saw no way out. Yahto let out a cry of terror and broke into a thousand pieces.

Alarmed by the scream, Wakanda entered the cave. As he was used to limping, he had learned to walk leisurely and pay attention to everything around him. This also allowed his eyes to become accustomed to the darkness and to see what few others were capable of. He realised that the cave was more beautiful than he had imagined. He became enchanted. He had no difficulty reaching the monster. Unlike his friends, he did not challenge it; he behaved in a kind and respectful way. To return the politeness, the monster said that he would keep turned on his back, without showing his face, so that the boy would not be frightened. When questioned by Wakanda about the facts that had occurred, Tadan told, without any trace of hostility, all that had occurred there. However, due to the affectionate manner in which he was treated, he would allow himself to be taken to the village if this was Wakanda’s will.

The young man confessed that, in truth, he never saw any sense in the tribe’s desire to subjugate Tadan. In his eyes, he was not a monster, but just someone who lived as he liked, without harming anyone. He understood that he had that right. But in a way he could not explain, this way of living bothered everyone. So, they had always pursued him. Tadan explained to the boy that people, when still bearers of a wild conscience, desire everything that they admire. Even if unconsciously. When it is a material good, they buy it or steal it. When it is an abstract good, such as the personality of a free person, for example, they reject it for the truth that bothers them: all that I could be if I made the effort to seek it. They try to annihilate it because of the discomfort it causes. However, it is impossible to kill that which, by definition, does not die. One can put an end to an individual, but never to the ideas or the truth that he represents. In this inglorious struggle, they end up consuming themselves and exhausting their own lives.

At the end, he repeated that he was at the disposal of Wakanda. The young man again refused to take Tadan to the village because, in his eyes, he had done no wrong. Wakanda had learned the need to live in harmony with his own heart. He understood that the fact that his friends had broken into a thousand pieces, although it was very sad, was entirely their responsibility and part of their learning process.

This last sentence translated the maturity of an existence. They were the magic words.

On his back, Tadan smiled satisfied. But he said nothing; the last test was missing. He asked if the young man would like a duel, for then he could, in fact, become victorious and more admired than his friends. His return to the village would be triumphant and he would become a hero, he pondered. Wakanda said that the only victory that exists is the one that ennobles the heart; and this does not make anyone superior to anyone else. It just allows an inexplicable lightness, which he had felt a few times before and one day would like to understand.

Instead of a duel, in truth, I wanted to invite Tadan to a dance.

At this instant, Tadan turned to allow Wakanda to see his face. To the boy’s enormous surprise, in front of him was not a monster, but a beautiful woman. Surprised, the young man told Tadan not to use any tricks, as he appreciated honesty in relationships. The woman said that the eyes which each person looks at themselves are the same eyes they use to see the world. She was a monster to Dasan and Yahto; love allowed Wakanda to find in her the beauty that was in everyone.

Wakanda asked who Tadan was. She replied: I am the heart of the world.

            They danced to the most beautiful song in the universe.

At the end, the young man wanted to know why she broke people into a thousand pieces. Tadan explained: They already come to me broken into a thousand pieces. They just don’t know it yet, or won’t admit it. I show them who they are. Then the heart comes to the surface.

But this is not bad. It is the beginning of healing.

The young man wondered if she could help rescue his friends. He would like to put the thousand scattered pieces of each of them back together again. Tadan explained: ‘Contrary to what many believe, that is the reason for my existence: to put the parts together rather than scatter them. The amalgam of any heart is love. No one exists in pieces. However, it is not enough to unite the broken parts, it is necessary to teach this heart to beat differently so that it does not collapse every time it meets the heart of the world. She paused and concluded: “It is indispensable to give up many things that one has always wanted and go in search of other things that are very different. It takes courage to change one’s heart.

Wakanda asked what these things were. Tadan elaborated with simplicity: Everyone searches for that which fulfils; they long for happiness, love, freedom, peace and dignity; but they do not know where to look for those things. They become hunters of the world because they believe that there lies power. In the world all victory is mere appearance; in the desire to possess and to dominate they end up enslaving themselves through the relationship of dependence that arises from this misunderstanding. They inflict pain on others and end up suffering too. An empty battle, absurd and without any glory. They are left in pieces.

Everything begins to change when they alter the object of their search. Wakanda interrupted to ask if we should despise the things of the world. Tadan clarified: No. We live in the world and we need it. You are the traveller, the world is the map, the light is the destination. In the heart is the path.

The young man wanted to know the reason for the lightness he felt every time he performed an act that brought joy to his heart. Although he had never touched the subject, despite having a limping leg, he had the distinct sensation that he moved with extreme ease at times when he acted like that. Tadan smiled again and asked Wakanda to stand in front of the mirror. The young man reflected his image with marvellous accuracy. Then, without saying a word, she stood behind the boy, merging them into a single creature. That is the reason, the beautiful woman revealed. In that instant, the image of Wakanda changed. The body that was once Tadan transformed into two enormous wings. Now, they belonged to Wakanda.”

Starry Song looked at the group listening to him with enormous interest and said, “So it happens to all those who unite their own heart to the heart of the world.”

Silence reigned for a long time. There were many ideas to be allocated for proper transformation in those who would make good use of them. So it happens in a magical ceremony; a mere ritual for some, an evolutionary portal that opens for others.

A very sagacious young Londoner girl said that the story lacked an ending. They had to know what had happened to Dasan and Yahto, as well as to Wakanda after he returned to the tribe. Starry Song arched his lips in a soft smile as if he had expected this reaction and concluded: “Look around you, the world overflows in response and does not tire of telling and retelling this same story every day.” He paused and then finished: “Each one of us is in part Dasan; in part Yahto; and also already manages to be a bit of Wakanda. To discover the end of the story we only need the courage to change our own heart.”

Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.

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