There are some stories you never forget. I was at the monastery for another period of study. The Elder, as we affectionately called the oldest monk in the Order, had to go on a short trip. He received many invitations to give lectures on philosophy and metaphysics in various places. Temples, brotherhoods, schools, universities, small businesses and large corporations. The growing interest in knowledge about oneself, and the need for the consequent improvement of this content as a method of living well, was increasingly clear.
Although still incipient, but gradually and increasingly, people realised that the traditional ancestral values of success, such as money and fame, were fragile and insufficient for the conquest of the wonders of life, the plenitudes. To be whole is to live love, freedom, dignity, peace and happiness with depth and breadth, in a way that is perceptible at the core of one’s being. This is reflected in those around. It illuminates those around until they become luminous, that is, they begin to be guided by the light of their own light. To do this, it is essential to be whole: to seek, find, accept, know and align all the parts of the being in the same unity. The Elder taught: “It is not enough to transform, it is also necessary to transcend. Then transmutation will occur, which translates into the expansion of the essence of oneself, which will occupy a greater part of one’s consciousness to the detriment of personal aspects and values that have become obsolete, since they no longer make sense. The old reality becomes illusory so that a new reality takes its place. The burden of suffering lessens as you come to know yourself more and better, from understanding a different conception of the roots of evil. You will also become more perceptive and sensitive. The heaven and hell of an existence depend on multiple aspects, but above all they are mental creations. Choices are the inevitable consequences of the way the individual perceives and feels about himself and everything around him.”
“Contrary to what many believe, perception and sensitivity do not make us more vulnerable to the typical events of existence. In fact, they strengthen us. As perception expands consciousness to extraordinary spheres and sensitivity refines love in multiple virtues, we begin to understand that the causes of setbacks are not those that are in simplistic and therefore misleading speeches, but in the hidden and still unknown pains and difficulties of those who knock down everything they pass, as if they were bowling balls. Often, we are the bowling balls knocking down the pins around us. It remains to be understood what we do not know and what causes so much pain”.
“Refined perception and sensitivity prevent us from being hit as much as from knocking others down. Thus, we will no longer fulfil the dual role of both the pins and the ball by no longer participating in a senseless game”.
“A detail that delays the evolutionary process is the belief that ignorance protects; in fact, ignorance only deceives. Therefore, it leaves you vulnerable. Not knowing that there is a poisonous snake inside a box will not protect me if I stick my hand inside it. Not knowing about evil will not make one immune to it, but an easier prey. Individuals with a keen sense of perception can see where almost no one else can, they can see in the dark because they bring the light with them. So they understand when a no means a yes or an offence hides a cry for help. If not everything is what it seems, it is not difficult to conclude that we suffer from situations that do not portray the perfect reality: We are hurt when, in fact, all the other person wanted was to be welcome. Why didn’t he or she ask for it? Some might say. He or She didn’t ask because even they didn’t understand the reasons for their pain. Everything that causes suffering is an unknown face waiting for understanding”.
“People imagine themselves sensitive because they suffer at the slightest gesture and the slightest word. They are offended by everything, they are hurt by everyone. This is not sensitivity, but camouflaged pride and vanity. Ah, but so-and-so is rude, they claim. Yes, but if the darkness is his alone, have mercy to help; if it is not possible to help, have compassion to understand. Otherwise, we will only feed other people’s shadows with our own.
The concept of sensitivity is quite different. Sensitive individuals are those who have their heart in the palm of their hand and are willing to engage every situation in a virtuous manner. They never fight offence or cultivate sorrow lest they aggravate darkness. They offer the other cheek, the one that evil fears; the cheek of light”.
I once asked the Elder what the difference was between transforming and transmuting. He replied: “The difference is in the love applied to it”. I said I did not understand. The good monk explained as follows: “Transformation is objective change, it is rational: I act differently because I understand it to be right and better. It is born of perception. Perception brings balance to the being”.
“Transmuting is the next step, it is the subjective change. Without leaving behind the rational aspect, but allying with it, I start to act differently because the way I used to do it has become inconceivable to me. It is sensitivity. I no longer need to reason which face I will offer, this is the previous phase, that of transformation. When we go beyond where we have always been, it means that there is not only a broader understanding, but also a deeper feeling. Doubts fall away with incredible ease, the effort and fatigue of battle disappear. What was rough in our existence becomes incredibly smooth. Sensitivity gives harmony to living.”
“Knowledge is very important, but as long as it is stagnant it is only erudition. Knowledge needs application in everyday life to become wisdom. Perception indicates the opportunity of the moment, sensitivity moves it in the proper way”.
“After the primordial flight, the butterfly does not go back to walking as it did when it was a caterpillar”. He looked at me as if he were facing a child and said: “Be careful, but don’t be in a hurry. The road is full of traps. Anxiety is the wanderer’s inadequacy to time. Never stand still, but also do not launch yourself into the abyss with wings you do not yet possess. Respecting the time of the cocoon and the breaking of its own wings is what allows the butterfly to rise from the ground”.
He then spoke of the few days’ trip he would be making to give a lecture. He said that since he considered me a veteran of the Order, I would be responsible for running the monastery until his return. Surprised and happy, I told him that he could travel peacefully because I would take care of everything. I was being sincere, because I did not see any major difficulties in managing something already so well organised. In addition, I would have the help of the other monks, all aware of their obligations. I thanked him for his trust. In response, the Elder just smiled, turned on his heels and went to pack his suitcase. I admired him. His soft-spokenness, firmness of principle, clear thinking, serenity in personal dealings and sensitivity of gaze characterised this man of slow but sure steps.
On the day he travelled, early in the morning, I went to trim the flowers in the monastery’s inner garden, as the Elder used to do. At breakfast, although no one had a numbered and fixed seat, I sat right at the back, near the window, where the good monk was in the habit of sitting. Then I went to the office from where he administered the monastery. I even felt as if I were him.
However, there were many bureaucratic matters, such as the bills to be paid and the purchase of groceries needed for meals, among other purely practical matters, which I only realised when I was told by a monk that there was a toilet with a huge leak. While I was still thinking about the various decisions I had to make about these matters, I found myself facing institutional problems. I was told that the monk in charge of one of the classes had a high fever. I arranged for him to be taken to the nearest hospital. As soon as the car left, I was asked who would teach the class in the sick man’s place. Without much thought, I indicated one of the monks who first came to mind. Immediately, my decision generated a lot of dissatisfaction due to the fact that there were other monks who were older and better prepared in the opinion of the students, all also monks, as we call the members of the Esoteric Order of the Monks of the Mountain (as I have explained in other texts, the name is due not to the geographical location of the monastery, but for the reason that the Sermon on the Mount is the backbone of all our philosophical and metaphysical studies).
Before I could solve this dissatisfaction, I was reminded that it was time to start the class of the course I was teaching, Shiur – The journey of self-knowledge through sacred texts. Trying to disguise my irritation, I told them that class that day was cancelled and that the students should go to the library to read. The decision generated a new wave of dissatisfaction, without the previous one having been solved. Other requests and needs arose and I asked them to wait. First, I had to deal with the problems regarding the administration of the monastery. I did not want to waste time meddling in the monks’ personal affairs. I realised that my role was meant for the most important decisions. At the end of the day, I felt exhausted. As it was cold, the veranda was empty. Alone, with only a mug of coffee for company, I sat down in one of the armchairs to reflect and calm down in front of the beautiful landscape formed by the mountains. I was mistaken. Without delay, I was summoned to a conversation with the various dissatisfied monks.
With my emotions running high, and contained by a great mental effort, I interrupted the monks’ speech to point out their insensitivity. I could hardly believe that they did not realise the many problems I had to solve. I said they were being selfish. I asked them to look at the whole rather than the part. The meeting ended with one of the monks asking me to do the same thing I was suggesting to them. He reminded me that the reason for the existence of the monastery was the classes and the students; when this was left in the background, the foundations of the Order disappeared. He claimed that I was too focussed on solving my problems without noticing theirs. Every situation affected the balance and harmony of the monastery. They maintained that the difficulties they faced might not exist if I made the right decisions. I asked them what those right decisions were. One of them replied: “You can guide your choices by the interests of the immature ego or by the values of an active soul. When you understand the difference you will know about the right decisions”.
I had a difficult night. A whirlwind of ideas and emotions shook me, preventing sleep from restoring my physical and spiritual strength. The next morning, I was in pieces. This contributed to my reasoning becoming opaque and my virtues shrinking. On an upward curve, every day more monks got upset with me and the problems escalated. Arguments between them became more frequent and the atmosphere of animosity took over the monastery. At the end of one week I was surprised by a group of monks who, dissatisfied, were prepared to end their study periods early. Angry and astonished, I was saved by the arrival of the Elder.
Unperturbed by the revolt, as if he were dealing with an ordinary and expected situation, he gathered everyone. He listened with unbelievable tranquillity to the complaints of each one, only correcting, with firmness and gentleness, the most exalted tone of some monks. “The serenity of the voice and the clarity of the arguments facilitate the understanding”, he advised. Then he gave me the chance to speak. I explained how, as far as possible, I had solved the problems that happened. I prioritised those that I felt were most urgent and important. I argued that there was no other way and explained the reasons for this.
Only after everyone had exhausted their grievances did the Elder begin to solve the dissatisfactions one by one until none remained. I was at once amazed and delighted at how he solved problems, which for me were very difficult, with absolute calm and impressive ease. It was as if he had the answers to every question in advance. With each solution, the satisfaction of those involved was perceptible and I wondered how I had not thought of acting in this way. He did not fulfil the students’ wishes in the exact way they wanted, but he strove to do it within his ethical and administrative possibilities, making a point of explaining about limits and consequences, as appropriate. No one was left unsatisfied. The delicacy, compassion and sense of justice of the Elder were the causes of this cosy atmosphere that he created without any effort. It was at that moment that I began to understand about perception and sensitivity.
Perception speaks about the breadth of consciousness; sensitivity expresses the depth of love and virtues involved.
Alone with the Elder, I had to admit that I had failed. He frowned and disagreed: “Not at all. It was inconceivable to expect anyone to be born ready for the challenges they will face. The experience of the last few days will defeat you if you let the emotions arising from suffering take over. Sorrow about other monks who could have been more understanding of you, or disappointment that you were not able to run the monastery the way you wanted to, will not help you. Surround the experience with wisdom and love to learn what you do not yet know. This requires humbleness, simplicity, compassion, sincerity and courage. At the next opportunity, and they always arise, you will be prepared with greater insight and more sensitivity to do differently and better. Such are the evolutionary cycles”.
I asked him which points I had made the biggest mistakes. The Elder thought for a few moments as if searching for the best words, and then returned the question: “Where did you find the greatest difficulties?”. I said that, without running away from my share of responsibility, I thought that the monks had not collaborated, because they seemed centred on their own interests. He continued: “And you, where did you concentrate your efforts?”. I said on running the monastery, with its many administrative issues. The Elder explained: “Accept that the Way will never be a battle against others, but with yourself. That is the starting point”.
“However, it is not enough to tidy the living room, clean the bedrooms and cook. No place can be satisfactorily run without sheltering the afflicted hearts that make their home there”. He paused briefly and continued: “This applies to all relationships, from the most intimate to the management of large corporations. The size of the scale changes, but the essentials are the same.”
“It does not mean that we have an obligation to solve anyone’s problem, because only each person can untangle the emotional or existential knot that exists within them. In fact, where there is obligation there is usually no love. Love requires commitment. Obligation is an imposition; commitment is a choice”.
He winked and asked a question that did not require an answer: “Do you understand why there is no love without freedom?”.
And he returned to the question: “We are free to light the path of those who are lost in darkness and to embrace those who no longer believe in the reality of love. Most of them do not even know that they are lost; they only suffer and, for this, they grieve and lament; others complain and fight. When they find perception and sensitivity on the other side, they are delighted, they get up and are encouraged to go on. It is as if they find shelter so that they can warm themselves from the existential cold. Believe me, there is no harsher winter”. I wanted to know how to do it. He smiled and asked: “What is the first commandment of the Higher Law?”. Without understanding the nexus of his reasoning, I recited that it was to love God above all things. The Elder shrugged his shoulders as if stating the obvious and said, “That’s it.”
Before I could ask him to explain further, the Elder reminded me that it was time for Shiur’s class and the students were waiting for me. After all, the monastery had returned to normality. In the evening, I found the Elder in the canteen enjoying a slice of oatcake and a mug of coffee. When he saw me, he gestured for me to sit next to him. I took the opportunity to ask him about the link between loving God above all things and the ability to soften the harshness of relationships. The Elder explained: “In the foreground, stop perceiving God as an anthropomorphic character, that is, with human forms. Believe me, we still are a cosmic species at the tail end of evolution. Why should God look like us in the sense of having a corporeal prison if he can flow in the wake of life as the vibrant energy of creation and ordering of the universe? Stop stubbornly looking at God as a person. See him as a concept. Real and acting, but a concept to simplify what we cannot yet understand. I know it is difficult to accept this idea, because the Aristotelian foundations of Western thought are founded on an intelligible world, where everything can be understood and explained. The opposite of this hurts our pride and vanity. However, the ocean does not fit inside a bottle”. Pointing to his head and chest, he added: “It is necessary, little by little and every day, to expand the container to fit infinite contents”.
I interrupted to remind him that, as the sacred texts teach, we are the image and likeness of God. The Elder frowned and agreed in part: “Yes, but not in body. We have advanced to be His image and likeness in consciousness and love. What translates and reveals us is our essence. Hence the importance of going to meet oneself, of having the ego and soul in the same attunement of perception and sensitivity to reverberate in Light”.
I wanted to know how to live that theory in practice. The Elder arched his lips in a slight smile as if he had already expected that question and explained: “There are many choices during a single day. On one side are the interests of existence and on the other the values of life. The arguments of the ego or the reasons of the soul? The comfort of the body or the evolution of the spirit? Personal privileges or collective needs? The maintenance of sorrow or renewal through forgiveness? Depletion through pride or growth through humility? The stones or the birds? These questions are hidden at the heart of every choice. Without exception.”
“Every choice reveals your perception and sensitivity. Therefore, how sacred they are. Thus the balance and harmony in living, the wholeness of being. It establishes how much of His wisdom and love are present through our hands and our words.” He looked at me with resignation and revealed: “There is no other access to the Light”. He then taught, “Always choose in respect for the evolving spirit that you truly are. The Light originates from this primordial choice”.
“You will lack nothing, either internally or externally. Your best will also be in the world. This is the tangible application of the first commandment of the Higher Law. Everything else is just commentary”.
“The first good consequence is the reduction of the typical afflictions of the world. When you understand about the achievements, the search changes. You will enjoy living with yourself more, because you will know the power to change your own reality, without projecting your dissatisfactions on other people. What is real will only be your intrinsic experiences, for they are the doors to transmutations. This will grant you immeasurable power, a wealth that no one can take or steal except with your permission. Fear will disappear because it no longer finds a reason to exist, after all, you have taken back the reins of your life. If fear is the mainspring of suffering, without it there will be joy and clarity in your days. Then it will make no difference whether you run an empire, manage a monastery, look after your family and friends or are just you with yourself. It doesn’t even matter if you are atheist or religious. Love of God expresses itself in growing perception and sensitivity.”
Faced with those explanations, I had a questionnaire to present to the Elder, but he asked to be excused. It was time for his prayers. I watched him walk away with his slow but sure steps.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.