I woke up a little later than usual. It was too late to have tea with Li Tzu before the starting of the activities at his house, which began early with yoga and meditation classes, before he started talking about the Tao Te Ching. We had started a series of conversations about the plenitudes in an attempt for me to begin to understand concepts with such breadth. So, I decided to take advantage of the beautiful sunny morning, which helped to dispel, at least a little, the constant cold in the mountains, to go for a walk. People had indicated me to visit a forest where there were rare wild orchids, impossible to be kept in captivity, even with the most advanced techniques of gardening. I followed the trail up the mountain. I passed through places whose beauty was difficult to put into words. It was just nature and me; as I walked, a pleasant feeling of well-being increased. Everything there was allowed to me; there was no one stopping me from any gesture or action. I felt as free as I could not remember in a long time. My feet did not seem to touch the ground, such was the lightness that enveloped me. No less beautiful was the forest with those wild orchids. They were of various species; one more of the many artistic presentations of the universe manifested in beauty. The trail led me to a clearing. I was enchanted, and after appreciating each of the flowers, I sat down on a rock. I wondered why those orchids, called wild ones, had an indomitable behaviour. They refused to let themselves be driven against their own nature; they preferred to perish than to have to live outside their choices. They did not seem to fear death; as if a life beyond the sphere of manifestation of their intimate wills was unacceptable.
When I returned, I stopped by the house of the Taoist master. He was in the break between his various classes. I told him about the walk that morning and the unspeakable feeling of freedom that had enveloped me. I also spoke about my reflections on the wild orchids. Li Tzu smiled and said gently, “Without a doubt, nature lends us valuable wisdom in countless lessons; the species of flowers which, despite their apparent fragility, no one can master, is undoubtedly one of them.” He paused to continue: “However, freedom as plenitudes goes far beyond the pleasant sensation of walking loose on the mountain.” He looked me in the eye and fired off, “This is a surface freedom; there is another kind, the depth freedom. Remember that orchids have no legs or paws, but they teach us a lot about freedom.”
With no need for me to ask, he explained a little more: “Freedom goes far beyond coming and going, of uncompromisingly walk through the streets and fields. In essence, freedom arises in thoughts and materialises in choices. However, free thinking is not just thinking. Ideas usually bring along with them various concepts constructed some time ago that limit thinking. Without realizing it, the mind, imprisoned by walls of preconceived ideas, makes it impossible for the individual to cross the bridges of free thought.”
“Sociocultural conditioning, prejudices and ignorance limit free thinking; fear and selfishness prevent free choice. In the face of this, the freedom to walk loosely in the world becomes of lesser importance.”
“We have some examples of people who have experienced full freedom, even with limited possibilities of locomotion. Mahatma Gandhi, in his peaceful march for the independence of India, once, in a conversation with the English general who had threatened to keep him indefinitely in the prison where he was kept, if he continued to disobey the determinations imposed by the powerful British Empire, declared himself freer than the military man himself, now his jailer, and even more than the Queen of England. They could silence his voice, never his choices; they could gag his mouth, never his mind; they could prevent him from embracing another person by keeping him in a solitary cell, never from loving whoever he wanted; they could keep him away from the world, never from himself. With a slender body and a giant soul, Gandhi embodied the perfect metaphor of the indomitable flower of a fragility that was only apparent. He was a flower for refusing to use any kind of violence, whether physical or moral, to manifest his will. He was indomitable because he knew that it was impossible to imprison a truly free spirit. He didn’t fear the fear itself”.
“Another memorable personification of freedom as a plenitude was the dialogue between Nero, the powerful emperor, and Paul of Tarsus, the apostle, when the latter was imprisoned in the dungeons of Rome. The humble wanderer was imprisoned on the charge of misleading the people by propagating the messages of love he had once learned. He was a man incapable of any gesture of violence, who possessed nothing but the rags of cloth he wore. His crime was to ask people to love one another. Even in the face of ill-treatment in prison, he was threatened with even more cruel torture, and even death, if he did not confess a crime he had not committed and insisted on talking about love. Paul replied, without any trace of arrogance, with the serenity that accompanied him in the last years of his existence, that despite all the power enjoyed by the emperor, he was beyond the reach of any evil practised by the ruthless monarch. Before an astonished Nero, the apostle explained that only his body could remain wounded or bound, for his soul was in a place unreachable to the hands and sentences of the Roman dictator.” Li Tzu paused again and commented, “Of course, Nero must have understood nothing. But, without doubt, it was an exponential manifestation of freedom. Because he felt no fear of life, Paul won life. He was also a beautiful and rare wild orchid.”
“For its inherent beauty, delicacy and sensitivity, freedom presents itself as a flower.”
“Because it is on the margins of cultural, social and ancestral conditioning; because it lies beyond prejudice, worldly laws and powers of a political and financial nature, freedom is marginal. Exercised through interpersonal relationships, without the need for any aggressive reaction, it manifests itself in the meek but firm attitude when faced with undue attempts at domination by others or the usurpation of personal power which connects us to the infinite, the choices. A yes or a no that springs from the truth of a mature soul is enough. A soul that is enriched in virtues as it knows itself and recognises itself in the world.”
“Since the pillars of plenitudes are the virtues, one does not reach freedom without going through the portals of humbleness, compassion, sincerity, courage and love.”
“Freedom, although appreciated, bothers by the change it causes in the behaviour of the individual who starts to think and act outside the standards of control and acceptance of a society, that as a rule, is accommodated. Thus, freedom is, by its philosophical nature, revolutionary because it presents an unthinking way of being and living. Freedom, in essence, is an act of love for oneself and for life. Because it is situated in the most subtle dimensions of being, a person’s freedom will not be tamed by anything or anyone, except with their permission. That’s why freedom is wild.”
Then Li Tzu asked me to come back in the late afternoon, after the classes, when we would resume our conversation over cups of tea. I thanked him and said I would return. However, I suggested that we approach another plenitude, given that freedom was properly understood. The Taoist master arched his lips in a slight smile and whispered, “Hopefully.”
I walked through the alleys of the Chinese village to the inn for lunch. While enjoying a delicious plate of noodles with tofu and vegetables, I accessed the social networks on my mobile phone. To my surprise, I discovered that the girl I had just broken up with after many years of dating had just got married. I was even more shocked to see that the groom was a mutual colleague. From the photos I saw several friends in the wedding party. A bitter feeling ran through my insides. Without appetite, I pushed the plate away. I got up and went to the bedroom. I would try to calm myself down until late afternoon when I would return to Li Tzu’s house. Lying in bed, I accessed my electronic mail. There was an e-mail informing me that the work presented by my agency had not been qualified for the final phase of a prestigious international advertising festival. Since we had won the previous year, I was embarrassed to not even qualify for the next stage of the competition. What would both clients and other advertisers think of me? Soon shame gave way to anger. Even without any plausible basis, I thought that the jury was unprepared for our work or, perhaps, that they had voted because of shady interests. I decided to go for a walk in an attempt to calm down. As I was leaving the inn, I stumbled over one of the suitcases of a couple who had arrived to check in. Annoyed, I scolded them so that they would not be so careless and would not get in the way through the reception. They looked at me with compassion, which increased my irritation even more. I wandered around for several hours. None of those events were serene in my heart when I returned to the Taoist master’s house in the late afternoon.
Midnight, the black cat who also lived in the house, ran scared to hide when he sensed the energy I emanated when I crossed the gate. Li Tzu also noticed. Without commenting, he asked me to sit at the table and put some herbs to infuse. Then he served us tea. The pleasant aroma perfumed the whole atmosphere. Without delay I began to tell him about the astral hell I had begun to experience that afternoon. Everything seemed to go wrong as if it was a conjunction beyond my control. He pondered: “Don’t blame the stars. They embellish the night.” I said it seemed as if the world was plotting against me. Li Tzu again disagreed, “The world just spins on its own axis; dismiss the idea that people are bent on harming you.” I said he was not helping me. The Taoist master frowned and questioned, “Do you think that if I encourage this sad victimhood you have chosen to sink into will help with anything?” Without waiting for an answer, he continued, “Astral hell is formed to the extent of your emotional imbalance. This lack of harmony occurs when we forget to light our own shadows. Then we are left imprisoned.”
I said that there was no sense to that speech. I was human and, as such, it was normal that I was upset by those facts. He agreed in part: “Yes. However, the problem is never the problem, but how we react to situations. You may consider yourself a victim of the world and feel entitled to continue whining in sorrows. However, the idea that hell is other people leads us to stagnation.”
“Life needs movement, not only external, but also internal. Understand how those dense emotions, whose roots are in the shadows that still exert enormous power over the way we conduct reasoning, prevent the mind from expanding possibilities with bold thoughts and liberating ideas. Through fear, selfishness and ignorance, the matrix shadows, we give vent to a legion of other smaller shadows, no less harmful for that, such as envy, pride, jealousy, greed, transference of responsibility, among others, that reduce thinking and limit choices.”
“By feeling jealousy over your former girlfriend’s marriage to a mutual colleague, added to the fact that other friends attended the party, in truth, you showed yourself to be dissatisfied with the freedom of choices to which others are also entitled. By being bothered with the freedom of others, you denied your own freedom. Remember, jailer and prisoner are tied together in the same situation-cell.”
“By feeling ashamed of the disqualification in the contest you have let yourself be dominated by pride. Only the proud are susceptible to humiliation. Pride is a vulgar and painful prison. Humbleness will always be the perfect alchemy to transform that prison into freedom. Envy is the fruit of vanity as a result of absurd dependence on the applause and approval of the world. Simplicity illuminates that cruel shadow and dissolves the bars of the cell.”
“Irritation at the mere slip-ups of other people, such as a badly positioned suitcase at the reception desk of the inn, should provoke us into another kind of reaction. Without denying or justifying the irritation, try to understand what is misaligned within you to have caused such a mess and internal disharmony. My irritation always has more to say about myself than it is able to say about others. This understanding is a valuable process in freeing oneself from those dense emotions that lead us so much to suffering.”
I realised we were talking about the same subject as that morning, freedom. The plenitude I believed I knew. Li Tzu continued his reasoning: “No one is truly free while his mind and heart are imprisoned by his own shadows. To experience freedom, it is essential to perceive the prisons without bars. There are many of them, they are disguised, they deceive us, they pretend to protect us. By not understanding them we do not perceive that we are imprisoned. Pay attention, for we need to know deeply what we repudiate or desire. No one, not even a king, will be free as long as he remains a slave to his own shadows.”
“When truly free, people can take over my village and the world; they can throw me in the bottom of a fetid cell or abbreviate my existence; but they will never touch me.”
Li Tzu suggested we go into the next room to meditate on those words. Just as prayer serves as a connection to the unseen side of life, meditation proves valuable by facilitating contact with the deeper face of being. As I expand my understanding of who I am, I can free myself to go beyond who I have always been. He lit some incense and candles, put on some soft music in the background, and said: “When you come across a wild orchid, don’t try to prune or domesticate this flower. Freedom is the vital sap that sustains it. Just use it as an inspiration to calm the storms and germinate the indomitable seed that is within you. It will bloom along with the first morning sun.”
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic