It was my cousin Osvaldo’s birthday party. He would be celebrating his sixtieth birthday. The invitation had arrived two months in advance so that there would be no excuse for absence. It had been a long time since the family had gathered. I usually classify families in two categories, the karmic and the cosmic. Both are necessary in our existences to leverage the evolutionary processes of all members. However, in different ways. The cosmic ones are composed of people who since birth demonstrate deep love for each other, are very united and help each other in any situation. They are families that often meet to celebrate for the slightest reasons. Karmic families are different, because since early childhood they do not seem to be able to stand each other, they live in a love-hate relationship that oscillates according to the time. When they get together, not rarely frictions are reborn, old grievances come to the surface and reasons for new resentments arise. However, these conflicts, when well used, are the springboards for important transformations because they show the need to broaden understandings and perfect the art of loving. Therefore, they prove to be valuable for the evolution of those who are willing to use difficulties as transmuting tools for being and living. I live in a karmic family. To the extreme.
Brothers and cousins, we were raised together. We used to spend the weekends at our grandfather’s house, in São Cristóvão, a working-class neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro. It was a huge house, with a football field and many fruit trees scattered around the yard. It was a joy when we arrived on Saturday morning. By Sunday afternoon, when we left, there were many reasons for disagreements. Fights were already part of the routine. Between jokes and brawls, we lived together intensely until the end of adolescence. For various reasons, we distanced ourselves from each other. I attributed this estrangement to the circumstances of life. I believed that colleges, internships, jobs, marriages, children, among other causes, justified the increasingly rare meetings. Living together for years in São Cristóvão had not provided the necessary amalgam to keep us united. That’s the way it is, I lied to myself.
After so long, Osvaldo’s party would be a great opportunity for us to see each other, meet up again with our nephews and nieces, catch up on events, and after a few years, more mature and experienced, we could finally overcome the differences that had kept us apart for most of our lives. Osvaldo was the eldest cousin. Since he was a boy he had a dominating personality and, because of his strong physical complexion, he always tried to impose his wills on the others. The others, me among them, were stubborn. The perfect recipe for much confusion was ready. However, we were no longer boys. On the contrary, we were heading towards the final stretch of an existence. I said to Denise when I disembarked at the airport: “I think it will be fun to see them all again. I don’t believe there will be any problems. We’re past that stage. It will be an excellent opportunity to start a new cycle in our family relationship”, I assured her. I was wrong.
My passion for São Paulo was never a secret. I started going there every other weekend after we started dating. The city became even more interesting because Denise knew some really cool places. After dropping my bags off at her flat, we went to an exhibition at MASP. Then she led me through a tangle of streets in the oldest part of São Paulo, until we reached a pleasant coffee shop that in the late afternoon was serving delicious glasses of wine. Out of force of habit, I started with a large cup of coffee before tasting the red wines. We chatted leisurely when to our surprise we saw Osvaldo and his wife entering. We waved to them. After the hugs and greetings, we settled them in our table. The conversation went on in a very pleasant way. I learned that my cousin had climbed several steps in the company he had worked for since leaving college and had conquered the coveted position of vice-president, a reason that encouraged him to throw the birthday party, since it would be a double celebration. I congratulated him with sincere enthusiasm. I was happy to see him reaching a goal he had longed for since he was young. He corrected me when I mentioned this: “I am almost there. In fact, my aim is the presidency”. Before I could say a word, he added: “I remember we had the same dreams as boys, but unlike you, I no longer dream. I have goals; the world is not for nephelibates like you, but for those with blood in their eyes, it is for the strong.” An enormous uneasiness settled immediately, as if a dense cloud had formed over our heads. A bitter taste rose in my mouth from the heart. A thousand ideas came to my mind in a fraction of a second.
Blood in the eyes? An expression that can vary in interpretation according to who uses it or hears it. To me, it gives the idea that life is a war where hatred and revenge are important weapons for victory. Frankly, I don’t believe that emotions with that density can lead to any luminous achievements, if they are the contents in the luggage we try to take to the Highlands.
Nephelibate? It had been decades since I had heard that term, almost in disuse and widely used by our grandfather when referring to someone who lives far from reality. However, it wasn’t about what he thought of me or how he understood me. It never will be. The act of labelling is a gesture of disguised coercion. By labelling a person, something far more common in our daily lives than we realise, it is in fact a practice in which the observer demonstrates their inability to understand the object with greater breadth and depth.
We label to belittle. In this way, we manage to fit others within the still narrow borders of our consciousness. It is a way of disguising one’s own limitations. The mere idea of limiting someone in our understanding of reality is an attempt to imprison them in our mental cage. A strategy linked to pride and vanity. The discomfort of dealing with someone who thinks and lives outside the sociocultural standards will always enchant free souls and frighten immature egos.
Although the intention is to diminish the other, it is the observer who is diminished by demonstrating his incapacity to understand what is observed. When the label brings barbs of irony, sarcasm or more obvious offence, it shows the unbalance in front of the new, different and unimaginable. Or, worse, the revolt against the desirable, as a dark manifestation of spite, jealousy, envy or similar shades. It also reveals itself as an act of hasty and inconsequential criticism. Cases in which the observer does not understand the reason for the beauty and freedom of others, it reveals internal conflicts that are badly solved or not admitted by themselves. It is the manifestation of a suffering that he is unaware of; denying others and oneself the infinite possibilities that life presents through personal singularities, narrows down reality and, consequently, steals the colours from the world.
To label is to disrespect. When we disrespect someone, in essence, we are disrespecting ourselves by moving away from virtuous principles. We have turned away from the light.
We have been conditioned to put the ocean in the bottle so that we can deal with that which escapes our sphere of understanding. However, the ocean is not understood by the small amount of water trapped inside a bottle.
The greatest danger is when the observed believes the label imposed by the observer. Then he allows his reality to be shrunk. It is as if he surrenders his wings to be clipped by someone who has neither the right nor the competence to do so.
And what about goals and dreams? The ego sets goals; the soul moves through dreams. Goals grow old, dreams never do. Goals are made of concrete and for this reason they fall apart. Dreams have no matter; therefore, they are immortal. Contrary to popular belief, goals are dreamlike because of their transience; dreams are real because they are eternal.
I love words, for they are capsules of ideas and therefore powerful evolutionary tools. However, at that moment they might seem to be only exercises in interpretation and semantics. For me they have always been important decoders and orderers of my personal universe.
I could have said that my dreams were still huge and, yes, they were quite different from the goals he desired. I thought about explaining that my life goals changed as I transformed as a person. I had the feeling that if I told him I was no longer that boy, but even so that boy was alive in me, he would not understand. So much had changed for me to be able to move on. The Law of Infinite Transmutations, without which one cannot reach other realities, is the guardian that dictates the rhythm of all the steps on the Path. Time in infinity is measured through transmutations.
The boy’s dream of conquering the world had disappeared in favour of the dream of conquering myself. Now it was an even greater dream: day after day, to advance towards the universe in order to be more and more enchanted by the wonders of the world. The dream changed as the caterpillar’s reality changed; she had to leave the cocoon in order not to perish. New flights, different dreams. The treasure is where there is no gold. Only this is real.
Impossible not to remember Li Tzu, the Taoist master, quoting the final part of Poem One of the Tao Te Ching:
That is the mystery hidden within the mystery.
The portal to find all the wonders.”
I remembered the boyhood fights. He was authoritarian and aggressive; and I, I confess, was not easy either, for I had a cheeky and defiant demeanour. But I found it hard to believe that such old disagreements still had roots. Almost forty years had not been enough to dissolve old resentments. The sealed drawers of the unconscious always surprise with such strength and power. I did not have the impetus to react in the same way as I would have done, and did, many times, exploding in emotional uncontrolled and verbal fury. I felt no desire to escalate any aggressive tone. If on the one hand I was satisfied with myself for not having entered the violent game of accusations, pointing out defects and vices, with the nefarious harangue of you are worse than me, showing that a cycle that I overcame and closed in my existence; on the other hand, realizing the uselessness, I did not feel like exposing my truth.
By all accounts, I preferred silence as an answer.
Denise squeezed my hand under the table and, in the intimacy of her gaze, approved my reaction. As good as any other answer would be, no argument would be enough to explain my reasons to my cousin; at least at that moment. Worse, it would stir up tempers. Not out of common sense, but out of pride, he preferred to interpret my silence as if he had taken me to the knockout in a fight that existed only in his imagination; resonances of childish fights still echoed, although several decades had passed. With the typical posture of someone who has won a non-existent war, with an evident tone of contempt in his voice, Osvaldo said: “I have many commitments, I can’t stay any longer”, he paused briefly before concluding: “I’ll wait for you at the party”. After they left, Denise commented: “Only fools consider themselves winners when they have conquered nothing that is truly luminous”.
However, an enormous darkness in the form of sadness invaded me.
Faced with this uneasiness, I suggested we order two more glasses of wine. Denise warned me: “Alcohol will not help, it will only numb the consciousness, shrinking the perceptions. When the effect wears off the darkness will be greater”. She asked the waiter for two more large cups of coffee and said, “Let’s talk. You cannot let the darkness of the world extinguish your light. Good ideas and good feelings are crucial right now to intensify your flame.” Yes, she was right. I smiled and murmured as if speaking to myself, “I have consecrated myself in the light. I am the light of the world.” It was her turn to offer me a smile I will never forget.
I explained how I understood the situation and explained Osvaldo’s attitude. In my mind everything was equated and I had easily dismantled the label’s trap, as I had done on other occasions, without letting myself be hit. However, at that moment I felt bad and did not understand why. Denise urged me to go beyond myself: “If you have the knowledge and understanding, you shouldn’t feel this way. Something is wrong”.
I didn’t know how to answer. I waited for the waiter to serve coffee and we sipped in silence. With exemplary patience, Denise waited without saying a word. My mind was reasoning simultaneously with its various compartments activated, analysing facts and ideas at incredible speed. That’s how we all are. I allocated them, one by one, like pieces of a huge mosaic that drew my relationship with Osvaldo since childhood and how I interpreted it. Until I said: “The image is ready, the reasoning seems clear to me and the construction of the logic is clear to me”. I gestured with my hands and said: “However, I confess, I do not know what is missing to stop feeling sad”. Denise did not answer.
The next day, during breakfast, I was again teased by her: “So, did you make any progress?”. I shook my head. Denise joked and offered me the ultimate clue: “Your enigma is the same as mine and also that of the rest of humanity. Although we know the answer by heart, rarely do we succeed in applying it. That is why it is so difficult for us to move forward”. I frowned, not believing the idea that had occurred to me, and asked: “You mean love?”. She smiled.
I emptied my coffee cup leisurely and silently as I organized the idea of the absence of love with the sadness I felt, despite the clear perception and the firm disposition regarding my way of being and living. I pondered with Denise: “I believe my reasoning is correct, however, it is not enough to restore my joy. If you are right and love is the missing piece for the gears to work, leading me to the fundamental state of harmony, I must conclude that, despite the clear reasoning, I am poor in love. Worse, as long as this existential misery persists my suffering will have no end.”
It was her turn to argue, “Yes and no. Let me explain. You are right in saying that humanity’s acts of degradation pass through the scarcity of love, just as the levels of suffering change in direct proportion to the love applied. Love is indispensable to the formula of any healing elixir”. She nibbled on a piece of cheese and continued, “As for feeling poor in love, you are right and wrong at the same time. We are miserable in love when we refuse to use it as the cornerstone for all situations in life. However, we are rich in love for having all the love in the world within us, even if in the form of a seed.”
She blinked an eye and joked: “We have an enormous wealth inside the cupboard at home, but we insist on ignoring it and living like miserable”
She then went on, “Even the crudest of individuals would like to love widely and deeply, but he doesn’t believe he can. Just as he would love to be loved by someone who admires him, who can see the diamond that is hidden within him. But he doesn’t believe that such a person exists.”
“A person’s aggressiveness is born in the misunderstanding and consequent denial of oneself. Everyone who feels fear feels belittled. They blame the world, but forget that they have given up wisdom and, above all, love as a method of solving problems. Even if the ego tries to ignore it, the soul knows it. In conflict, ego and soul generate incessant suffering that explodes in violence of different levels.”
She took a sip of orange juice and said, “People need to understand that all the love in the world dwells in them. Otherwise, love will not germinate for lack of drive and movement. Existence will be arid and tasteless. Too much euphoria, too little joy”.
“Aggressive individuals have enormous difficulty believing in the best that is within them. They disbelieve in the love-generating capacity they possess. They feel fragile because they lack the essence and the essentials. To hide the weakness that bothers them, they hide behind the masks of pride and vanity to fantasise the reality of who they are. Arrogance becomes a shield to keep out the undesirables who might somehow turn on the light and show the world that the king is naked. They become irritated at the possibility of someone revealing, even to themselves, the happiness they do not feel”.
She frowned, took a deep breath, searched for my gaze and shot in my direction: “Or implode in melancholy before the intricate enigma: how do I let myself be struck by the words of the world even though I know they reflect the offenders’ lack of understanding of themselves and their consequent imbalances?” She took another sip of his juice before concluding, “Unravelling this enigma is fundamental when one cannot achieve peace.”
I opened my arms like someone who believes he is speaking the obvious and said: “Exactly because I am the target of provocations. Isn’t it enough reason for me to feel sad?” She answered with another question: “Do you really believe what you just said?”
Of course I didn’t. Not infrequently, questions are the perfect answers when they have the power to return runaway or unfinished reasoning to a sincere thinker in search of truth. If the masters hide behind problems, it is because of the infinite questions that difficulties provoke. In returning the question to me, Denise delivered what it was for me to understand in order to unravel my pain.
As she had to take her mother for some clinical tests, I had a morning and an afternoon left to think. I set off for a café, not far away, that I loved to go to in São Paulo. Seated in an armchair at the back of the shop, which opened onto a pleasant terrace adorned with many plants, I ordered two large cups of coffee, leaving the second one to come soon after the end of the first. The barista suggested I try a coffee from Pernambuco. I declined the suggestion, as I had always heard compliments about the coffees from the Southeast of the country. The barista proposed a blind tasting. I would taste the coffee from both regions without knowing which one; then I would tell him my favourite. I accepted the challenge and, to my surprise, I ended up preferring the one from Pernambuco. We laughed and chatted for a while, at the end he told me: “Labels imprison the best choices and prevent new paths”.
No, chance does not exist. I am convinced that angels use strange lips as senders of their messages. I had the distinct feeling that, although he was talking about coffee, he was referring to me and my personal issues. It was one more clue so that I could decipher the riddle that had hitched me to the previous day’s conversation and prevented my joy. I had a clear read on the whole mental process; I could see the trap of the label imposed by my cousin to cow me and narrow me down in an attempt to make him feel better and bigger. I had disarmed it with ease. However, what was driving me to melancholy in that act? I had deconstructed the problem, but the rubble of the demolition was still scattered within me.
I thought and thought and thought without getting anywhere. Until I began to be distracted by several pictures with humorous phrases scattered on the walls of the cafeteria. I looked through them all until one caught my attention: Three are the narcissistic wounds of humanity. When Copernicus declared that we were not the centre of the universe; Darwin said that further ahead we will always find people better than us; and, finally, Freud revealed that nobody is who they think they are.
A door opened.
Yes, the problem was not the labels that others tried to impose on me, because I knew this trick and I easily undid them. This had already happened other times without bringing me any sadness. What was the difference between this and other occasions? The answer was quite simple, and therefore quite profound. Without realizing it Osvaldo had put me face to face with a forgotten label. A definition had been pasted on me for a long time. Of course, with my permission. All people carry some labels inside them, some delude and delay the journey. Others make us suffer. Being so old, they become treacherous because they make us accustomed to the discomfort they provoke. We disguise, lie, deny, repress until the day we realise that it prevents us from advancing towards the plenitudes. All pain is a prison.
The day before, when Osvaldo labelled me a nephelibate, spoke of goals and blood in the eyes, he also said that the world was for the strong. This was the point where the treasure was buried. Although I had an abusive and defiant temperament, I had been a frail boy, sickly and with severe asthma attacks, ingredients that mixed in the cauldron of childhood made me take many beatings from the bigger boys. In adolescence, conflicts at home made me feel helpless and aimless. Disoriented and fragile, I reached adulthood feeling unable to accomplish many things. I made many wrong choices because I did not believe that I would have the strength to bear the strain of making the right decisions. However, my defiant spirit, the same one that made me get into a lot of trouble, was the one that led me to face the difficulties that arose. Until at a certain moment, because I could not bear darkness any longer, I had the firm purpose of seeking the light. Despite many pains, failures and tears, some time later I learned to use them as evolutionary tools. No, nothing that is lived is completely lost. As for the label of weak, I had not bothered to care for and modify it. I forgot it, but it did not forget me. The pain presented itself when it heard its name.
I am one, but I am many. We are all like that. If you can ponder with yourself the various arguments that arise in your mind before making a choice, you will understand what I am saying. Roughly speaking, I am my memories, knowledge, principles, values, perceptions, intuitions, instincts, feelings, socio-cultural conditioning, ancestral influences, traumas, fears, desires, ethics and virtues which present their reasons and desires at every moment. An incessant dialogue. They all dwell in me. Some are intimate to me, others are still unknown to me, but this does not mean that they do not manifest themselves. I just don’t notice their influence. This village is called consciousness. The disagreement between its inhabitants generates conflicts. To harmonize all of them under the axis of Light makes me whole and full.
Stop this nonsense, we will not succeed, shouted a voice advising me to give up. Why won’t we succeed? retorted another. Before it became an argument, someone calmed them down to listen to the serene and firm words of the soul, the elder of the mind: The mind moved forward, but the heart did not keep pace. This mismatch was the cause of melancholy. It was not enough to understand, one had to love.
The values imposed by the world added to the disastrous experiences form a thick shell that insists on not letting the seed germinate. Without love for myself I would go nowhere; I would be nothing. Although it takes place in the mind, transformation is only complete when it takes place in the heart.
I remembered again Li Tzu and the memorable lessons on the Tao Te Ching in the little Chinese village. I could see that Poem Thirty-Three, until that moment, had been founded only in the mind:
“It is intelligence to know others,
It is enlightenment to know oneself.
To overcome others is strength,
To overcome oneself is power.
In that instant the understanding of the millennial Eastern wisdom had firmed its pillars in my heart. The first two verses spoke of wisdom; the next couplet referred to love. Alone, no wisdom would have the strength to tear off the old label that at any given day I believed defined me. Only allied to love would wisdom have such power.
Without understanding myself I cannot understand anyone; without embracing myself I will never be able to embrace the world within me. There will be no peace.
Everything that bothers us represents something we have forgotten to take care of.
For me, some years ago, strength was born in the exercise of virtues such as humbleness, simplicity, delicacy, sincerity, purity, faith, among many others. I know those who say that pride, vanity, jealousy and even hatred are important spices of existence and useful instruments for conquests. My concepts of strength and power were quite different from those cultivated by my cousin. We both have the right to think about life as we understand it. If I understood all that, why the melancholy?
Because love was missing in one of its most beautiful and sacred formats: compassion. The essential virtue that allows us to tuck another person into our heart in order to understand the tie of their existence. However, the time had come to have that same compassion for the boy who wrote an important part of my story.
I had never hugged the boy I was, and who will always be inside me, to tell him that despite the mistakes, disappointments, difficulties, sufferings and tears, contrary to the imposed label, he was a very strong boy, because, within his possibilities, he managed to lead me here. Yes, in our own way, we had walked and, more importantly, we had made a commitment to the Light. This was an existential milestone. The journey was only just beginning, but he was an inevitable passenger in myself. Together, on a distant day, we would toast in the Highlands. In essence, we were one, like the flower that precedes the fruit of the same tree.
To love is a choice; all that is needed is the will to open the door of one’s own heart. Love is a movement that begins from the inside out. Everything else is a consequence.
I only realised when the barista came to my table, concerned and kind, bringing a cup of hot chocolate. I was crying. Yet another inhabitant had been rescued in a dark alleyway of the village called consciousness to live aligned with the Light. I told the barista not to worry, “It may not look it, but I’m fine” and smiled honestly.
A strange and pleasant feeling of lightness enveloped me. I was a long way from having all the love in the world. Not even a small part of it. It was only the beginning of a cycle in which the perception of the evolution of love in me would determine the different transformations that were to come. I had a lot to learn about this powerful cosmic energy. After all, we are all receiving antennas and transmitting sources.
Consciousness perceives and decodes evil, but only virtues can keep us away from the nebulous vibratory bands.
Understanding that I had forgotten to love myself as I should have allowed me to retrace a route to unstick a label that, besides getting in the way, was not fair to me. It may not sound like much, and maybe it isn’t, but it was the primary step towards a new and unknown journey.
I walked back to Denise’s flat, a route I had passed through countless times before. However, that afternoon, the landscape seemed more beautiful in its multiple details. Had the city changed? I knew it hadn’t.
But the day was not over yet. I still had to go to my cousin’s party at night.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.