Small talk, big encounters

Very angry. That’s how I felt in those days. Everything and everyone were conspiring against me. I felt as if I had to navigate a sea of dissatisfaction and complaints. Customers at the publishing house were making unreasonable demands; I was treated badly by a dear friend on the grounds that I had neglected him at a difficult time without giving him the proper attention; my girlfriend had complained that I was too quiet, which she said showed my displeasure with the relationship; a much-loved aunt, who had played an invaluable part in my childhood, had called me, hurt that I hadn’t been to see her for weeks; my brothers, with whom I had never had a loving relationship, even though I had always been looking for it, seemed to act in a way that provoked me. The turbulence was intense and threw me off balance. Although I made a colossal effort to control myself, I felt hurt by people’s unfair behaviour towards me. Why they did this was something I couldn’t answer. When I realised that situations, no matter how trivial, managed to take away my serenity, causing my words to escalate to harsh tones, I understood that my patience was wearing thin. I realised that I was far from my axis of strength and balance. It had to be rescued in the shortest possible time, otherwise I would get worse and worse, ending up in a downward spiral of humour and self-esteem, a gateway to the realms of aggression or depression. Although I had this perception and sensitivity, in practice I didn’t know how to go about it. The reason was simple: I didn’t understand why people’s behaviour bothered me so much. I couldn’t grant anyone such power, but it was happening.

I spent weeks trying to regain my composure while going about my daily business. As I couldn’t and, more seriously, it seemed to get worse and worse, I decided to take a whole day to look after myself. As I often do, I climbed Pedra Bonita, a small mountain by the sea in the city of Rio de Janeiro. I went early in the morning, with the sun still rising behind the Atlantic Ocean. Mornings inspire me. Up there, on the huge granite massif that forms its summit, I could see the city waking up and feel its pulse with stunning clarity. I sat facing the sea, closed my eyes and opened the cage of my thoughts so that they could take the longest possible flights. Time passed without me being able to reach any understanding that would restore my strength and balance. I know that I regain them when I am invaded by a deep sense of serenity, joy and well-being.

That day, the idea of returning people’s dissatisfaction with me with reactions of dissatisfaction towards them brought me the bitterness of retributive behaviour which, on closer examination, is nothing more than petty revenge. The option of using contempt, which is so popular in the absurd concept of supposed spiritual or intellectual superiority, also occurred to me. Through misunderstanding, contempt becomes a terrible emotional prison for those who use it. Since the pleasure of treating people with contempt leaves a residue of acidity due to the disguised aggression that drives it, I knew it wasn’t the best solution for the bitterness that poisoned my feelings and robbed my thoughts of clarity. I wanted to spread my wings and fly, but my mind was tied to dense emotions.

“The others are never the real problem”, a voice brought me back from the realm of reflection. It was Cléo the witch, famous for using ideas as the main ingredient in her cauldron of magic. Brunette, tall, with honey eyes and flowing dresses that looked like wings under the effect of the mountain winds, she approached. Without asking permission, she sat down next to me and let her gaze wander over the immensity of the sea to the sacred point where it met the sky in different shades of blue. I smiled, whether for the joy of meeting her again or for the pleasure of telling her that this time she was wrong. I explained that it wasn’t my problem, because I wasn’t the one complaining or demanding better attitudes from anyone. The woman looked at me like I was an immature child and asked: “What do you mean? What are you doing here besides asking the wind to explain your dissatisfaction with other people’s behaviour?”. She let me think for a moment and then added: “Right now, as long as you believe that your position is different from theirs, from those who bother you so much, you won’t be able to get out of your seat.”

I insisted that she was wrong. It was the others who were demanding changes in me, not the other way round. I argued that they didn’t have that right. Cléo spread her arms as if to say that I refused to understand the obvious and said: “Of course nobody has that right. Not even you, who, even though know this, remain annoyed by the fact that people are the way they are instead of understanding their difficulties and dealing with them with compassion. A little bit would be enough for you not to be torn off your own axis of balance and strength.” Before I could say a word, she clarified: “When someone’s way of being and living bothers you, it means that you can’t deal with something that exists within yourself. After all, a blind man can only lead another blind man to the precipice of bitterness”.

I said that I lived well with myself, it was the others who seemed to be bothered by my way of being and living. Cléo argued: “You live so well with yourself that any moan or complaint is enough to rob you of your tranquillity, allowing irritation to become the master of your days”. I kept quiet in the face of the truth. She continued: “In the immaturity of victimhood, you harbour an insane desire for the world to understand you. You rebel in the foolish desire that others need to change their perspective and opinions to understand who you are, don’t you?”. She waited for me to say something. As I didn’t know what to say, the woman pondered: “And if they don’t change, what happens to you? Do you make depression the master of your life and turn revolt the model of your reactions?”. She paused before ending with other questions: “Why do you still give other people so much power over you, your life, peace and happiness? Why do you imprison yourself in the cells of your own dissatisfaction, built through the dissatisfaction of others?”.

She opened her arms again, as she did when she was stating the obvious, and said: “The others are the others. You can’t do anything to force them to change”. She took a deep breath like someone who needs to remember basic lessons and reminded me: “Of course, dialogues are important sources of inspiration for the transformations that we will all have to make at some point, as long as we know how to listen with tolerance, patience, sincerity and love, as well as how to speak clearly, calmly, honestly and purely. Otherwise, irritation will lead the conversation to the precipice of argument, without any progress being made.”

I argued that not everything people think about us is true. Cléo frowned and said: “Yes and no. In fact, most of the time people project their difficulties onto us and blame us for their pain. They blame us for their sufferings and failures, when the cause lies in the messy drawers of poorly constructed ideas about themselves and in the murky emotions of love that they don’t yet know. This is an obvious transfer of responsibility that we must deal with patiently and wisely. It takes compassion to understand and discard the accusations. Filter them and then let them be carried away by the wind. Otherwise, by holding in our guts or returning the dissatisfaction that hits us, we’ll act just like those whose behaviour bothers us so much. There will be an unpleasant feeling of discomfort that we will leave in our wake throughout the world.”

Without missing a beat, she warned: “On the other hand, the other person’s perspective can often contain truths that we’re not yet ready to deal with. So we deny it as if it were a lie. That’s why listening needs to be sincere, so that opportunities aren’t wasted. Where appropriate, use those words as evolutionary embryos. Make good use of them and thank them honestly”.

She arched her lips in a smile and concluded: “In both cases, there’s no reason for you to get angry.” She paused before teasing: “That said, knowing that the reason for your irritation isn’t the others, as it seemed at first, why are you here?”. She made a brief, purposeful silence so that I could get my thoughts together and concluded her reasoning with the Socratic method: “What is so unfinished inside you that causes such turmoil in your days when you’re criticised by others?”.

She couldn’t treat me like that, as if I were a kid who didn’t know who I really was. I was over fifty years old, had lived through a lot and had a wealth of experience and studies. That wasn’t just absurd; it was ridiculous, I said. Cléo was unperturbed: “Do you realise that the moment someone points out something crumbled in your way of being and living, you become exasperated? What bothers you so much that you can’t show it to anyone, not even yourself?”

I confess that I considered walking away and leaving that unbearable woman alone, drinking the poison of her own foolishness. Another voice inside me urged me not to miss the opportunity that this marvellous woman was offering me by placing me in front of a mirror, allowing me to discover part of who I was and didn’t know it. Despite the initial discomfort typical of when you have to deal with the truth, I knew that only after finding myself could I conquer a little more of myself.

I couldn’t get out of my seat. Nor was I able to articulate any words. Generous, Cléo seemed willing to help me: “Why do you want to uphold the image of perfection, of the flawless individual, but who receives the slightest criticism as if he were condemned to the greatest of injustices?”. She paused and added: “Maturity is an existential point only reached by those who have the ability to accept all criticism with humbleness, simplicity and compassion, thanking those that will serve as improvements and discarding the others as inadequate. Balance and strength will be jeopardised as long as ego and soul are not aligned with evolutionary purposes. This is the final curve of maturity”.

I had my ego on its knees and my soul naked.

As if my past were flashed before my eyes in retrospect, I could see the moment when the teacher caught me copying a classmate’s answer in the maths test; I’ve never forgotten the shame I felt when I was met with reproachful looks from the other students. In another situation, my difficulty in learning English, coupled with a stutter accentuated in childhood, had led to laughter when I read a text to the class; even though the teacher rushed to reprimand them, the echoes of those jokes still haunted me. When I was a teenager, I fell in love with a beautiful girl and it took me months to find the courage to declare all the love that coloured my days, made me write poetry and do my hair well before leaving the house, I had my best intentions immediately crushed by her when she said that she would never date such an ugly and clumsy boy. A few years later, I harboured the desire to become a footballer, only to be rejected after the first few minutes of the various tests I underwent. I often saw my parents praising my siblings without hearing a word of approval for my achievements, no matter how hard I tried to please them. I had to endure failing a military school entrance exam because I didn’t get the minimum score in one of the subjects, even though in total I had achieved a higher mark than many of the successful candidates; an unfair criterion, but one that was in line with the established rules. There were countless situations in which I had failed or been rejected. Later, in various situations, I had made the wrong and even dishonest choices, reasons that also plagued my memory. They were all causes of shame that I accumulated, but hid in the basement of my conscience, the unconscious, in an attempt to forget them, as if it were possible to tear out the badly written pages of my story. Impossible, we never forget forever. We carry who we are in our luggage. There’s no getting rid of it.

The woman corrected me again: “Yes, we are our own baggage. This prevents us from giving it up. However, we won’t always be who we were. To do otherwise would be equivalent to eternal damnation, an absurd, cruel and antagonistic idea to the principles of love and the laws of evolution. We are who we become. The regenerated spirit becomes the new baggage.” She then added: “It is always possible to transform sadness into joy, failures into learning, sorrow into forgiveness, shadows into light, demons into angels. It takes a lot of will and determination, but there is a way to take the weight off the luggage and give the traveller lightness. Always.”

With stunning clarity, I realised that I had created a character in order to be happy, under the illusion that fiction could replace reality. I started wearing the mask of perfection, an artefact of war. Yes, although they don’t know it, those who wear it believe themselves to be in a constant battle with the world, in an absurd attempt to get out of the villain status, due to the constant failures that are pointed out to them, in order to reach the imaginary pantheon of invincible heroes in the short time it takes to consume a bag of popcorn at the cinema. This mask hides two specific lies. Although the wearer declares himself imperfect like everyone else, in a posture of false humility that in reality hides the pride he has chosen to use as a shield for the accusations that bother him so much. He prevents his weaknesses from being discovered and won’t allow his mistakes to be exposed. The reason is simple. He needs to keep believing the lie he once told himself, because he still bleeds and fears the truth as if it were a razor.

Instead of embarking on the journey of evolution through effective and true transformations, which requires effort, courage and time, I preferred the speed and ease of shortcuts. I invented a character. As if in an illusionist show, all the difficulties, weaknesses and imperfections immediately disappeared. You can live like this for a long time, but never for the whole time. One day the show comes to an end. That day, my forgotten soul, which had been crying out in despair for so long, finally made itself heard. The essence can be suffocated, never murdered. Irritation with others were the echoes of the voice I refused to listen to. My soul was crying out for healing and life. For truth and light.

Only on that day did I realise the importance of humility, simplicity and compassion as fundamental virtues on the Way. I needed to be humble in order to accept who I was not, so that one day I could become all that I can be. To do this, I needed to direct the interests of the ego towards the values of the soul. Only through simplicity would it be possible to remove all the subterfuges that prevented me from discovering the truth, finding myself and conquering life. This was impossible without the necessary compassion to forgive myself and the world, to joyfully accept the effort of evolution without taking any shortcuts. It was essential to walk the Path, cross each of its portals, fall in love with the transformations and make Time an ally. The light is a slow and steady conquest.

The woman knelt down beside me and hugged me. I allowed myself to cry. I cried like I hadn’t in a long time. Like a catharsis, it was a beautiful cleansing ceremony. Cléo waited for my feelings to subside. She summed up the experience: “Right or wrong, every criticism touches the open wounds of the approvals you never had, the reproaches that still oppress you and the jokes you suffered on a distant day, but which are still present in your memory. However, we cannot remain in the prison of pain forever. To overcome the anguish of the past is to free yourself for life. However, nobody cheats the truth. The mask of perfection didn’t make us perfect; on the contrary, it generated a serious emotional dependency on acceptance. The anger manifested itself as withdrawal syndrome from an addiction that was consented to, although not understood.” She took a step back and continued: “In order not to succumb to suffering, you made the right move by strengthening your self-esteem, but in the wrong direction by using subterfuge. Self-love comes in the wake of true transformations. Lies have no power to sustain love. The roots of love only grow in the fertile soil of truth”.

I confessed that I was afraid of my reactions from then on. The idea that I wouldn’t be able to apply the theory I’d been taught in practice frightened me. She warned me: “You will continue to make mistakes, make wrong choices and live with various other imperfections, unknown to you for the time being. As long as you are sincerely committed to your own evolution, these are understandable situations in this marvellous planetary school. Be gentle with yourself, but never forget your responsibility to the truth. We are apprentices of the light.”

Then she didn’t let me forget: “What cannot happen, under any excuse, hypothesis or argument, is to act in bad faith to hurt, as well as using dishonesty in words and intentions to gain undue advantage. These are attitudes that are incompatible with this fantastic cosmic workshop.” She let her gaze wander over the horizon and concluded: “We are artisans of the light’.

I was enveloped by a deep sense of serenity, joy and well-being. Cléo stood and said goodbye with a nod. I watched the witch walk over the rocks until she disappeared into a flock of seagulls. In the wind, her flowing dress confused my gaze. I thought I saw wings.

Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.

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