This story happened a long time ago, when I shared the responsibility over an advertising agency with three other partners. I was unsettled. Very upset indeed. The world changes; so does life. These are inevitable reverberations of the necessary correlations between perception and sensitivity. It’s not enough to see, you must feel so that our days aren’t like gears that we adjust for the correct functioning of any machine. On the other hand, to feel without seeing is to continue down a canyon called suffering. Wisdom and love are pillars of good living; they need to go hand in hand. In those days, month after month, the disagreements between the agency’s partners grew. It wasn’t a question of finances, but of direction. The internet was gaining ground every day, showing an unstoppable force. Traditional media such as TV, newspapers and magazines, although still far more profitable, had a cloudy and uncertain future. Experts made their predictions with slight variations. The reason for the disagreements was precisely these predictions. The fate of advertising and, consequently, how we should run the agency, seemed so clear to me that opposing opinions irritated me deeply. When the holiday period arrived, I thought about postponing it, worried about solving these issues with my partners. I also feared that, in my absence, decisions would be taken that I disagreed with wholeheartedly. Some time ago, I had planned to walk the Way of St James in the company of a friend from the Order, Mario, a man from Madrid. He said he was lost and claimed he needed to find a direction for his life. He had been advised to make the famous pilgrimage. He asked me to accompany him, an invitation I gladly accepted. As I didn’t want to fail to fulfil my commitment to Mario, I travelled to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, our starting point, where we had arranged to meet.
When I arrived in the small French town, I received a message from Mário. He was apologising, but he had given up on walking the Camino de Santiago. He explained that he had found the answers he was looking for and would use that time to start the new route of his existence. He said he was very happy, wished me a good walk and that I would find the answers I was looking for while I was on that journey. For long minutes, I hated him with all my might, to the point of feeling nauseous. I had left Rio de Janeiro, where I would have liked to stay to solve important professional issues, just to honour the commitment and friendship we had, only for him to tell me, after I crossed the Atlantic, that I would be alone. Irritated, I pleaded for a compassion that I was still far from possessing. I wasn’t looking for any answers, I wasn’t the one who was lost, I kept telling myself. I decided that I wouldn’t go either. The next day I would arrange my return home. I had dinner at the inn where I was staying, an establishment dedicated to accommodating pilgrims. The food was simple, but very tasty. The dining room had a single communal table. A group of young people were chatting animatedly about the journey they would be embarking on the following day. They were talking about their expectations, the difficulties they expected to encounter, those they couldn’t foresee and the capacity to overcome that they would have to discover in themselves in order not to succumb to the Way. The Way of St James is used as a brief metaphor for the Way of Light. However, the first is no substitute for the second. There’s a lot of lost people in the world, I thought.
As I got up from the table, one of the guys asked if I would also walk to Santiago de Compostela. I said no. I asked to be excused, wished them a good journey and left. I didn’t sleep well that night; conflicting thoughts robbed me of my peace of mind. The next morning, after a cup of coffee, I went to the reception of the inn to close my account. Seeing me with a rucksack on my back and the fact that this is a place that hosts pilgrims, the friendly manager gave me a booklet with just two pages, also known as a Pilgrim’s Passport, which I had to stamp when I passed certain places along the way. She then told me that when I left the inn, all I had to do was turn left and go straight on to Santiago. I thanked her, but asked where the taxi rank was. Disappointed, she told me to turn right at the exit.
At the door of the inn, I looked to my right. A row of taxis was waiting for me. For some reason, I looked to the left. An endless road beckoned me. I couldn’t move. At the time, I hated having doubts. Perhaps it was the fear of making a choice. For every little thing we choose, there’s another little thing we had to abandon. The fear of choosing is the fear of making a mistake. The fear of making mistakes is the inadequacy of the risks inherent in freedom and, more seriously, in evolution. We learn from mistakes, which are valuable teachers when found in the bowels of wrong decisions. I knew this, but I still didn’t accept this reality in myself.
I knew the four phases of each evolutionary cycle: understanding, transmuting, sharing and following. What I didn’t know was that between the first two stages, understanding and transmuting, there are two important intermediate levels: seeing and accepting. It’s not enough to know the theory of light so that I can transmute myself into a different and better person. First, I need to see and accept the darkness that inhabits me; without this moment the finest knowledge is of no use to me, because I won’t know where or how to apply it. I was unaware of this detail.
That split second at the door of the inn was decisive for me to understand that choices are true portals that, as such, lead us to different spheres of existence. They change history and destiny. All it takes to change a life is to alter the pattern of choices. This explains why regrets are unnecessary. Are things looking bad? Start choosing differently. Everything changes.
At that moment, I was about to return to an unpleasant reality, but one that I understood to be the best possible. To improve, the solution was simple. All it took was for my partners to recognise their mistakes and agree with me. Then it would be perfect. My logic wasn’t simple, but simplistic. A reasoning that leads to suffering. The world isn’t going to change to suit my desires and perspectives. On the other hand, it would also be wrong for me to change myself just to please people. The art lies in transforming myself to live my truth, while accepting the world as it is. The only way to improve the world is to become a better individual. All complaints should be put in a bottle and thrown into the sea. With a bit of luck, the person who threw it will find it one day far away on the sands of some beach. Then they’ll realise that they were the right recipient to save the sender from their frustrations.
That’s the only power we have. But this is the greatest power in the universe: creation through transformation. Feeling the changes in motion within you is the origin of happiness.
I knew this very well, in theory. But between knowing and being there is a bridge that has not yet been crossed: living the knowing in being. In those days, I had gone to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to help a friend who no longer needed help. Now, I should go back to where I came from. Life is simple, I thought. What I didn’t realise was that simplicity doesn’t go hand in hand with simplism. Depth distances the concepts. Simplism can be summarised as a life without any commitment to the effort that is indispensable for evolution. Evolving is almost never a comfortable process, and this causes various escape routes. The feeling of strength and acceptance only sets in at the end of each evolutionary cycle, when you realise the power you have gained over yourself. Simplicity, on the other hand, is the virtue of stripping yourself bare in the face of every gesture and choice, as an effective method for allowing your essence to undergo the indispensable improvement that is only possible in the face of life’s difficulties. The masks we wear and the characters we play hinder the development of our being, precisely because they prevent the essence from becoming involved with the truth that is essential for improvement. A simple life is impossible for those who don’t yet recognise the value of humility, the virtue of those who are sincerely committed to their own evolution and have already accepted the truth of who they are not yet. I didn’t even realise that virtues were the arts of good living.
It was then, under the portico of the inn, with one foot on the pavement, that someone touched my shoulder. It was one of the boys from the lively group that had sat at the table with me at dinner. He gestured with his hand, inviting me to join them on their pilgrimage. Realising my hesitation, he said: “There’s no way for someone who doesn’t know where they’re going”. Offended at being compared to a fool, at least in the interpretation allowed by the pride that guided me, I replied that I knew where I was going. I’m not disorientated. He retorted: “You don’t seem happy with the choice you’ve made, why? Something is wrong when our choices don’t have the power to make us happy.” Then he asked another question: “What does that rucksack on your back mean, right on the threshold of the Path you don’t want to walk?”. He was referring to the typical pilgrim’s rucksack I had prepared for the journey I would no longer be making with Mario. I was about to give a rude answer, when he gave me a friendly smile and said: “Come with us”. I asked what I would discover that I didn’t already know if I became a pilgrim. He shrugged and muttered: “I have no idea. There are no experts on tomorrow”.
I remembered the experts who charged their weight in gold for their predictions about the future of the internet in advertising and the fact that they had become the cause of disagreements at the agency. If it’s true that life talks to us through signs, this is one of them, I thought. I smiled and as I made a point of following him, he warned me: “Don’t look back or try to guess where other decisions would have taken you, otherwise you won’t be able to enjoy the full breadth of the choice you’ve made. You’ll be left without any of them”.
I walked for hours alongside these cheerful, fun-loving young people. I had a good laugh at their jokes. Towards the middle of the afternoon, they began to pick up the pace because they wanted to get to the next inn for the night early. Perhaps because I was older, perhaps because I lacked better physical fitness, I fell behind. I felt a mixture of irritation and disappointment at being abandoned. Another invitation accepted in vain, I thought. Realising the emotions that dominated my features, one of the boys slowed his steps. As I approached, he said: “Everyone should walk at their own pace, and no one has to wait for anyone else. Don’t be sorry to be alone so as not to make the journey tiring. No-one is abandoned when they have themselves as company. Appreciate the opportunity to get to know yourself better and discover how much of your beauty is still unknown. This leads us to accept others the way they are and brings lightness to our lives”. Then he went back to walk faster. Within half an hour it was no longer possible to spot them.
Of course, I considered giving up for various reasons. One of them was the excessive weight of my rucksack. I was carrying a lot of stuff, much of it containing good doses of unnecessary things. Clothes and objects that were unlikely to be used, some even quite expensive, but which added weight to my back and made it difficult to move forward. As a consequence, tiredness added kilos of discouragement to the luggage. A little further on, tired, I put my heavy rucksack on the ground and sat down under a tree. Although I knew I couldn’t stay long, because if I didn’t reach the next inn by nightfall, I would have to sleep outside, a situation that involved discomfort and danger.
When I thought about getting up, I remembered the weight of my rucksack and decided to wait a little longer to get back on the road. Then I was surprised by the noise of a small cart driven by a young, very pretty girl with dark skin and black hair, gold rings and a colourful dress. She stopped in front of me and asked if she could help me. I explained that my heavy rucksack was the problem. The girl nodded her head as if to say that she understood and said: “That’s almost everyone’s problem. They want to carry what they shouldn’t and can’t. The essentials are enough to live, everything else only has value as an added element to the being. A real, priceless luggage. It turns claws into wings. Then they can go through doors that are inaccessible to those who can’t open them because their hands are busy collecting what they don’t know or can’t use.” She looked at me sternly and asked: “What do you carry on your back that makes walking heavy?”. Without waiting for an answer, she warned: “That’s the enigma of freedom”.
Faced with my astonishment, she continued: “This is the understanding and practice that makes life lighter. I’m not just talking about detachment from things, but also from situations and people. It also applies to disagreements that we can’t get out of our minds. If you pay attention, you’ll realise that every fact or difficulty puts you in front of at least two portals. Each one will take you on a different journey. The decision as to which one you cross will always be yours. Every day we come across countless portals with multiple nuances, which don’t exist to the untrained eye or to those who close themselves off from the infinite opportunities that are part of life. Transformation begins with a simple choice and unfolds through them.”
“So it is with people. We need everyone, love is essential to life. But we’ll never have them by our side all the time. There are countless reasons. Looks, desires and values sometimes bring us together and sometimes push us apart. Respecting the other person’s freedom means living your own freedom”.
I kept my silence in the face of those ideas. The girl looked at me, waiting for my reaction. I told her that there was no gate, only a road that I had to cross without delay if I wanted to have dinner and a bed for the night. She laughed and said: “You’re lost”. I told her I knew exactly where I was on the map. The woman shook her head and said: “You’re lost in yourself. The ones who are furthest from the truth are those who believe they know the truth”.
I told her that if she wanted to help me, she could take me by cart to the place where I was staying. I was willing to pay for the lift. She refused: “Contrary to what you believe, that wouldn’t help you”. I asked her what she could do for me. She was straightforward: “I can get rid of all the excess you’re carrying in your rucksack”. I asked if she would give me my belongings in Santiago de Compostela. She was honest: “No way. I’m doing you a favour, don’t demand anything for it”.
I argued that I didn’t need her for that. I could leave the objects under the tree and carry on. She said: “Of course. However, it could get in the way of other travellers, who, tempted by greed, would succumb to the weight on their backs”. I told her that I wasn’t responsible for other people’s decisions. The young woman explained: “That’s true, but it’s also not true. We’re not responsible for anyone’s choices, but when we make a move that we realise could interrupt the course of someone’s life, if it happens, our flow will also be disrupted. The paths are individual, but they all interconnect at the crossroads of existence”.
It made sense and I knew it. I’d just never put the knowledge into practice. A little begrudgingly, which is common in behavioural transitions, I left almost the entire contents of my rucksack in the young woman’s cart. I knew I’d never see them again. There were some expensive items, others with emotional value. There was a colourful set of crayons, made from natural extracts, in a beautiful wooden box. It had belonged to my grandmother and I had kept it to use at a special moment. I’d brought it in the belief that I’d have time to draw during the journey, something I’d found difficult to do. The idea was to use them as illustrations for a book of short stories that I never published. It was the last thing I put in the wagon. Silently, I wished it would get into the hands of someone who would make good use of it. As if she had guessed my thoughts, the girl taught me: “Let go of everything that needs to go. What is truly yours will return”.
Without a word, I watched her disappear down the road. Then, encouraged by the lightness of the rucksack, I started walking. Contrary to what I had imagined, there was no bad feeling left. I silently thanked the boys for having gone ahead and left me alone. I smiled in delight at the magic of life. As the steps went by, I realised that I wouldn’t miss any of it. I thought about how many worries and sorrows I could put on the cart every day for the gypsy to take away. As some ideas were built, others fell apart. From then on, I realised that everything would depend on how I elaborated each experience within myself. This would help me identify the portals. If I paid attention, I wouldn’t experience the discomfort of the dark portals. The end of suffering comes when you understand its causes, because you know how to dismantle its structures. Understanding the causes of joy would also allow me to strengthen its pillars. Accepting that the power of our flight depends solely on you brings the power of peace. Nothing is lost, everything is created when it is transformed, I would dare to go back to the French alchemist’s famous phrase. I wrote it down in my soul so that I would never forget it. The most important thing was that these facts would allow me to begin to understand the power I had in my hands and didn’t know it.
The days passed. It was the same road, but little by little I was no longer the same as the day I left. As is common in transition phases, there were relapses and comebacks. Maturing takes a few seasons. I realised that the way I walked changed the route, adding difficulty or lightness at every turn. The landscape also became more beautiful. Or was it a reflection of my gaze? When your eye is good, the whole universe is light, I remembered this immeasurable lesson from the Sermon on the Mount. Yes, living this teaching is a portal available to any wanderer every day. In a rite of passage, the being understands the wonders contained within them beyond themselves. Until then, the wanderer is lost, but doesn’t always realise it.
Almost a month after setting off, I arrived in Santiago de Compostela. It was one of those cold mornings with blue skies. I walked through the winding streets that made up the historic part of the city and went to the Cathedral to wait for midday mass, the ceremony that traditionally closes the journey. There were still many hours to go. As they arrived, exhausted by physical fatigue and exultant with spiritual force, the pilgrims lay down in the huge courtyard in front of the Cathedral. I lay down too, basking in the sun that warmed my body and celebrated with my soul. It was closer to my ego and that was the great achievement of those days.
At midday, an unforgettable celebration. During Mass, a dozen monks, using a very thick rope, traditionally suspended a huge silver incense burner almost to the vault and, with rhythmic movements, made it move in a cross, incensing the church and everyone present. Moved to tears, I was able to have a good crying. Towards the end of the Mass, I felt someone touch my shoulder. It was Mario, my friend from Madrid. We exchanged a tight hug. When it was over, he handed me a beautiful drawing of my face. I complimented him on his work and asked him which photo he had used as a model. Mário frowned and revealed: “That’s the mystery. I was walking past the courtyard in front of the Cathedral when I saw a local artist working at her easel. She draws buildings, landscapes and people. She makes a living from selling these works. The incredible thing is that this drawing was already finished and I recognised you in it”. I asked how much it had cost. Mário continued in amazement: “The most incredible thing is that she didn’t want to charge me when I told her I knew the man drawn there, even though this is her job, which is fundamental to supporting her family. She just asked me to give it to you as a thank you”.
I asked him to take me to the artist. She was a girl just out of her teens. She cracked a huge smile when she saw me. I cried again when I saw the box with the colourful set of crayons I had inherited from my grandmother next to the easel. The young sketcher said: “Last week a gypsy woman came to Mass and gave me the box. She said it was a gift from a wanderer she’d met on the road. She asked me to put it to good use. I asked her what the man’s face looked like and she described him”. Seeing my tears, the young woman asked if I wanted the box back. I said no way. The drawing she had given me was the greatest expression of the crayons for me. It would hang on the wall of my home office. She gave me a hug and we said goodbye.
I went to lunch with Mário. He had come to see me off at the Cathedral as a way of apologising for not going on the walk with me. I explained to him that it wasn’t necessary. There are times when we need to walk alongside friends, but at other times we need to be alone to understand our strength and power a little more. He had done me an enormous amount of good by letting me make that journey with just myself. I was lost and didn’t know it. Those who are lost are not on any path. No one becomes free before realising that they are lost. I was aware that I would get lost other times and that this is normal as it is part of the process of self-knowledge and evolution. But I also knew that it’s always possible to find a new path.
He asked me how I felt about the agency’s partners, because a month ago I had commented on my concerns. I explained: “I don’t know the direction the company will take, but I will participate in decisions based on the perception and sensitivity that, at least for now, I have achieved. All I know is that my fate will no longer be decided by tomorrow’s experts. It’s today’s professionals who proclaim themselves knowers of the unknown, not unlike the fairground soothsayers who were so influential in the past. It doesn’t make sense. My truth, as far as I know it, is my map and my compass. So every time I get lost, I’ll learn more when I find myself.”
Over lunch, Mário mentioned the incredible synchronicity about the wooden box inherited from my grandmother. I smiled and said: “What you call synchronicity, I know a gypsy who would say it’s the crossroads where souls meet. The crayons were never mine and were lost from their true owner, the one who would make the best use of them. They always belonged to the young artist, I just kept them until the universe found a way to get them into her hands.”
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.