It was the birthday of one of my daughters. I took a few days off work and travelled to celebrate by her side. I really liked the city she lived in. I stayed in the usual hotel near the university. This made our meetings between her classes easier. Another fact also pleased me. As it was located in a square near the campus, there were several restaurants nearby, besides the intense circulation of students and professors. The academic environment, in its incessant search for knowledge and discovery, was inspiring. I left my suitcase at the hotel and went to a coffee shop across the street. I settled in a comfortable armchair, with a large cup of fresh coffee, and observed the movement of the place. Some people were chatting, others were concentrated on reading books or typing on their laptops. There was a clear feeling that life was sprouting. Time passed smoothly when I was surprised by the arrival of my daughter’s mother. I had not met her for over a decade, since our divorce. It had not been an easy divorce, in consequences of the accumulation of disagreements of the last years of living together. She was still a beautiful woman. When she saw me, she came over to greet me. I invited her to sit next to me and offered to get her a coffee. She accepted both offers. She then told me that she had also come because of our daughter’s birthday.
At first, the conversation flowed well. I thought that time had collaborated to solve old disagreements. My mistake, time does not have this power.
Before long, the grievances came to the surface. It began with little indirect references to my behaviour from those old times. Veiled accusations of negligence hung in the air, lurking, ready to strike at the slightest carelessness. Noticing the resentment that still existed, I pondered: “All these facts happened many years ago. I believe that we are not the same people anymore, we were very immature at that time. We have learned, changed and advanced. Each one of us must have thought about our supposed mistakes and how we can do things differently and better in the future.”
She insisted that that speech was easy and convenient for me. However, I was still insensitive to her suffering caused by my mistakes. I tried to show the other side of the same issue: “The mistakes were not my privilege. In fact, contrary to the way we like to think, they are rarely one-sided. The therapy of licking the wounds to heal them consists of using one’s own saliva. Or there will be no healing.”
She looked at me as if to say she didn’t understand. I began the explanation: “In any relationship, we offer not necessarily what we have, but what we are willing to give. Then, this much becomes all we have. Thus, good opportunities remain wasted. We have the habit, even unconsciously, of judging how much the other deserves from us. Every time we give less than we can we impoverish life.”
“However, we do not always notice the other person’s effort to give the best that he or she has. We think we deserve more because we believe we are giving more than we are receiving. We are never satisfied. The problem is that almost everyone thinks like this and forgets the main point. We live relationships in the hope that they will fill the emptiness that exists in us. A mistake that sows the most heartache and suffering. When this happens, of being next to a person who seems to supply all our needs, the result, in most cases, proves to be disastrous, because it ends in an abominable emotional dependence, unbearable to sustain for a long time, causing some break-ups to become traumatic because of the feeling of abandonment they provide. Relationships do not exist for anyone to complete themselves with anyone else. They exist so that we can find our best virtues, stimulated by the love provided by everyday situations and presence. So, we learn to use, besides this one, other virtues. Only this will make me whole”.
She interrupted to say that I was wrong, for she had offered me her best feelings. I did not doubt: “I am sure of it and believe me, so did I. However, as we offer our best feelings, we desire the exact amount, at the level we believe we deserve, not of the conditions possible to be delivered by the other person. Illusion is a drink that tastes sweet at first, but quite bitter in the end. There is no acquired right for the simple fact of having done good to someone. Love does not generate debt. Or it will not be love. We build ourselves up on non-existent rights which, because they are unenforceable, cause resentment. It becomes an absurd debt, increased by emotional interest calculated in an unbalanced equation without good foundations. We suffer for not understanding love”.
“Finally, whether by action, or by omission, we are almost always responsible for our sufferings. The undue concessions that we allow and the essential choices that we abdicate are very common reasons which initiate an unconscious process of supposed affective damage and, further on, generates an attempt of transference of unacceptable and senseless responsibility, which only prolongs and aggravates the emotional illness. It is indispensable to search for where we caused the pain and how to make a difference in the future. Without blaming, accepting that we made the wrong choices at that moment in our past. Yes, there was the possibility of saying yes or no. There always is. Understanding and accepting this responsibility leads us to maturity. Everything else is a consequence. In the continuation of life, we will be prepared so that next time, inspired by the best virtues and an awakened conscience, we can make more refined choices”. I concluded the explanation: “This is the saliva that heals one’s own wound”.
She was very angry and accused me of trying to justify serious mistakes with an escapist speech, without taking into consideration the harmful consequences that I caused. She made a quick list of the facts that marked my worst mistakes. As for hers, she knew the greatest of them: having married me. I was hard on her: “There have been many misunderstandings, never a bad intention. Aligning two destinies to the same rhythm is not always possible at certain moments of existence. By looking at me as if I were a monster, you have found the easiest way to explain your suffering, because you avoid diving deep into the emptiness of yourself to discover that each one is responsible for most of our own pain. The waters in which you insist on swimming are very shallow and close to the shore. That way you won’t be able to go very far into yourself.”
A few tears escaped from her eyes. We were saved from ourselves with the arrival of our daughter. She noticed her mother’s change, hugged her and, before taking her away, said that later she would look for me. Through the huge window of the cafeteria, I saw them hugging, walking away until they disappeared from sight. I felt very bad for the rest of the day. A mixture of sensations and ideas came and went. The unease for what I heard; for everything else I could have said in my defence when I was questioned for past mistakes; for not having lunch with my daughter as we had planned. Some moments are like existential whirlwinds that pull us off our axis, such is the shock that the intensity of the emotions provokes. Although I was convinced of the fundamentals of the argument I had proposed, my mind was in conflict and my heart was afflicted. Despite repeating to myself that it was up to each person to learn the lessons that were pertinent to them, I could not feel well again. The sincerity and honesty with which I had behaved, though valuable virtues, seemed not to be enough for me.
The Elder, the oldest monk in the brotherhood dedicated to the study of philosophy and metaphysics, of which I was a member, always said: “When we are not well, it is a sign that something has fallen short”.
Well, I was right about my motives and reasons. I attributed that bad feeling to the fact that the meeting with my daughter had been postponed. I tried to distract myself to forget, a practice as common as it is unhealthy. Like insolvent debts, we keep our sufferings in the forgotten drawers of our memory. Until the day when the cupboard gets full and breaks due to the unbearable weight.
I went to visit a museum to fill the hours. Later, my daughter called to reschedule lunch for the next day. She alerted me that her mother would be going too. I promised I would not touch the subject of that morning with her mother. My daughter was succinct in her comment, “That’s not the point, Dad”. Then I argued that I did not understand why she was talking to me that way, because I was right about the reasons I had given to her mother and I would not allow myself to get into the victimization game she had stubbornly proposed since the divorce. Again, I heard the sentence: “That’s not the point, dad”. She paused briefly and advised me before hanging up the phone: “Think”.
Well, think about what? Aren’t the sincere arguments of reason enough?
However, the good arguments of reason did not prove effective to make me feel good again. The mind continued in conflict and the heart continued to be afflicted. What was missing? A little more rest, I suggested to myself. I would go back to the hotel as soon as the museum visit was over. It was a modern art museum, full of interesting and creative works. In one of the rooms there was a piece that simulated a brick wall with the following sentence: people are… also you and me. Although I did not know exactly why, that piece caught my attention. I followed the pilgrimage through several rooms, among countless objects of art. At the end, I returned to the hotel.
Usually I have no trouble sleeping, but that was a difficult night. Although my body was tired, sleep had abandoned me. A typical situation when a mind is in conflict. This is the sign of an afflicted heart. In bed, with my eyes closed, I rolled over, incessantly, while trying to abstract any thought that could prevent me from the necessary rest. Until I realised that I could not escape from myself. I remembered the words of the Elder: “Sleep is a rest, not an escape. We need a minimum of balance to enjoy it. The lack of this elementary understanding is a major cause of the contemporary epidemic of anxiety and the consequent addiction to sleeping pills. A growing society of functional sleepwalkers because they go through life in a constant state of existential torpor. They numb themselves in an attempt to forget that they missed, for one more day, the inevitable appointment with themselves. They insist on not leaving their place, denying the meaning of life. Then they suffer”.
I decided to face the battle. I got up and made myself some chamomile tea to help me relax. I turned off all the lamps and sat down in an armchair in the corner of the room. I prayed to my spiritual mentors for light and protection. It was necessary that the virtues manifested themselves, that consciousness showed me all the possibilities and that I could understand the best choices. I needed to be protected from the illusions and traps provoked by my shadows. While I was praying, two images kept coming back to me. The Elder lecturing at the monastery and the artwork of the graffitied wall seen that afternoon at the museum. I struggled to abstract these thoughts. Then I meditated so that I could find myself. I needed to hear what I had to say to myself.
In meditation, the two images returned to mind. I pushed them out once more. As they returned, I understood that I needed to embrace them. They were the messengers of the answers I was seeking. When ideas insist on being noticed, they demonstrate what we need to learn. However, as almost always happens, the answers do not arrive ready-made.
Every affliction had arisen in the encounter with the mother of my daughter. Our unresolved differences, in my opinion, were caused by her refusal to understand my motivations and to comprehend her own difficulties. However, that phrase graffitied on the wall, people are… so are you and me, what did it wish to show me? Should I understand the way each individual is? Well, I was already doing that. Should I treat people with indifference and go my own way? Follow my path, always. Indifference was contrary to my ethical principles. The journey, although solitary because nobody is obliged to accompany me, is solidary because the other is fundamental to my learning and improvement. Yes, there was a hidden lesson in the facts of that morning and for that reason the discomfort of the soul, as if warning me not to waste the opportunity. But what lesson was hidden while it stunned me?
I meditated for a time that I cannot specify. It was as if I opened countless drawers looking for something that I did not know what it was, but I had the feeling that I would recognise it as soon as I found it. At a certain moment, another image returned that had been recurring to me ever since I had tried to sleep. The Elder lecturing at the monastery. Yes, there could be the drawer that held the answer.
I confess that sometimes it seems crazy to me, but that’s how it is with all of us. Inside each being there is a fantastic universe in infinite expansion. A beautiful adventure without end, lived simultaneously in two worlds. Inside and outside of you.
I concentrated to remember which of the countless lectures was the one delivered by the Elder. I could see him, but it was not possible for me to hear his voice. I did not give up. I slowly made my way back to the monastery. Then I managed to open the drawer where the monk’s words were. At first, they were only whispers. I sharpened my ears. Gradually, it became audible. He was re-reading one of the letters written many centuries ago by Saul of Tarsus, or simply Paul, as this good man preferred to call himself after pivotal events in his life. The Elder recited in his serene voice: “Even if I could speak the language of the angels, without love my word will not reach people’s hearts… Even if I were a teacher, without love this knowledge will be of no use to me… Even if I gave up my body to save humanity, without love, that courage would be of no use to me… Love does not quarrel, it is not angry, it is not proud or vain. Love is as concerned about itself as it is about others; that is why love tries to understand itself in order to understand everyone. If the conflict persists it is because I insist on looking at myself through a mirror with a distorted image. When I manage to look myself face to face, everything will become clear. Only love will allow me to be whole and make me feel alive in the world…”
I smiled to myself. I had found the answer. I was enveloped by a wonderful sense of cosiness. I went back to bed and slept a deep sleep. I woke up almost at noon, with a phone call from my daughter, to say that they were already going to the restaurant. I took a quick shower and before meeting them I stopped by the florist. I arrived with a bouquet in each hand. Flowers don’t solve problems, but they signal intentions.
I was received with two smiles. Together with the flowers I wrote a simple but sincere message. In both, the same words: Thank you for everything!
Each one of them, in their own way and for different reasons, had helped me to become a better person. Although I had a thousand reasons to justify my past actions to the mother of my daughter, the enormous emotional charge involved in that encounter would prevent her from noticing that there was a different look from hers. There is always another look. The other’s look.
Understanding the other’s look allows one to feel their heart. A beautiful and sensitive form of love. People are… also you and me.
Understanding the other’s look only becomes possible when we enlighten our own look. It will be necessary to push aside the veil of shadows, to deconstruct ancestral ideas that condition us to fear, conflict and suffering. These are concepts so ancient, established by our ancestors, that we believe they are ours. But they are not. It is necessary to find such thoughts, still rooted in hurt and affliction. Then, deconstruct them. Then, from a new beginning, create a different way of thinking. A revolutionary way of being and living in which we become entirely responsible for the life we have. Every time I attribute to someone the cause of my pain or happiness, the prison or freedom, the misery or dignity, the affliction or peace, the hate or love that I feel, I give up the power that I have over my existence. I lose myself and annihilate myself. I become dependent on the emotions produced by other people.
The fact that I felt so bad the day before, in that conversation in the cafeteria, signalled that not only in the mother of my daughter, but also in me, to a greater or lesser degree, something still needed harmony, balance, empathy and forgiveness. In each one of us there is a universe of reasons and emotions waiting for a sincere visit for due care. For this reason, we should welcome others without judgement and leave it to us to understand them after we understand ourselves. For only then will we be able to do so.
People are… so are you and me. Neither better nor worse, people are beautiful for their uniqueness and indispensable for reminding us who we can become.
Although my ideas were sincerely constructed, the mother of my daughter was not ready to hear my words. She felt coerced and reacted badly. I lacked sensitivity.
No matter how complex or sophisticated, there is no philosophy or reasoning that will lead me to a full mind and a serene heart until I am enveloped by the purest love. There is no love without the honest and intense effort to welcome the other into your heart. Without love, the greatest of scholars is a prisoner in the cells of his own knowledge. Only love will transform him into a sage. Then, the wings.
There is no denying the indispensability of knowledge for the successive evolutionary stages and the growing illumination of the soul. However, primarily, that is not the point. The soul is the sacred face still in potency. In order to integrate itself fully and develop all its possibilities, the soul needs to look its other face, the ego, face to face in order to find the truth of the transformations that still need to take place. For this, a cultured and intelligent look will not be enough; love will be necessary to achieve clarity. Knowledge without love belongs to a still arrogant, heavy and slow ego of a mind with imprisoned thinking. With love, knowledge and ego are harmonised to the soul. Then, the free thinking. When I can look myself face to face, everything will light up. Only love will allow me to be whole and make me feel alive in the world….
I had concentrated so much on showing the mother of my daughter how much she needed to change, that I had not realized how much I needed to learn. The changes that calm down my inner world are in me.
It was an unforgettable lunch. The dishes were delicious and, with a different attitude, the conversation went on very pleasantly. Eventual traps were subtly dismantled. The atmosphere was permeated with lightness and joy. At the end, we said goodbye and our daughter accompanied her mother back to the hotel. I stayed for another cup of coffee. Alone, I thought about what answer I would give if they had asked me about the reason for the thank-you message sent with the flowers. Without lying, I could answer that each one of them, in their own way, taught me a little more about the importance of love.
Another thing I learned concerns the capacity of time to erase old disagreements. Time hides them in the drawers of memory, but does not have the strength to dissolve them. Only love possesses such power.
However, out of sincerity, I would have to say that the greatest lesson was another. Those days allowed me to realize how poor I still am in love. And, as a consequence, how poor I am in understanding the prison I still find myself in.
It is a good beginning. Encouraging as every journey that begins.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.