The challenge

It had been a troubled existence. I was a much-loved child. Raised in a working-class neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, without access to any luxury or amenities, I never had anything to complain about. I didn’t lack anything that was truly essential. Although there were obvious financial difficulties, there was a house, food on the table and I went to a good school. Most importantly, I grew up feeling loved by my parents. Each one, in their own way, gave me a clear sense of security, care and affection for my best development. Until, at a certain point, everything fell apart. They split up and each went off on their own love adventures in search of what they felt they needed. Perhaps they weren’t ready to understand all the aspects involved in a divorce when the couple has children. My brothers and I still had a house and food on the table, but we were no longer a family. It was an experience that, somehow, my heart felt but my mind couldn’t read exactly. At that time, I was starting the preparatory year for the entrance exams, which at the time were crucial to getting into university. Although I had no idea what career I was going to take up, I didn’t consider the possibility of not going to university.

In truth, each and every day is decisive. Each choice represents one door, among many, that we decide to go through. As for the others, we will never know where they would have lead us if we had chosen them. Asking where they will lead us is an exercise typical of fools, because of the unnecessary suffering it will cause. It is essential to realise that today is the raw material available for making the work of life. Each choice is equivalent to another non-choice; deciding on one path means that another route has been discarded. Where would it possibly take us? We’ll never know.

It’s pointless running away from choices. Not choosing is also equivalent to a choice. Perhaps the worst of them, the one in which you give up your greatest power to express your way of being and living the truth as far as you can, as a way of building your own reality. Only choices allow us to learn from our mistakes and become different and better people every day. Those who don’t choose, choose not to walk.

It’s common, at various times, not to know what you want or which direction to take. At such times, a safe method is to position yourself through what you know you no longer want. The conviction of not wanting something is the beginning of understanding a new way of wanting something.

No one is more disorientated than someone who can’t accept that they are lost. That year, I went to school, registered my attendance, jumped over the back wall and, accompanied by some mates, we went to the beach or for a walk in the Tijuca Forest. We’d come back at the end of school. In practice, I had dropped out of school. My parents didn’t notice, because they no longer paid any attention. It’s not a complaint; they did it the best way they knew or could. My principle is that everything that happens to us is for the good, even if it takes time to understand the wisdom and love of life.

I took the entrance exams with the content I had learnt in previous years. I got into university, but I didn’t study the course I wanted. Not least because I had no idea what it would be. In part, there was a choice; in part, there was no choice at all. Yes, I had entered university, a conscious decision. However, I had lost track of what I was going to do with myself and with the life I had in my hands. My life. It was a good university that would set me up for a future whose present I was navigating without a rudder, map or compass. Living adrift represents a choice through non-choices. Like in a tunnel that you don’t know where it ends, I was starting to create a problem that I had no idea what the consequences would be or where it would take me. Something typical of those who have lost themselves.

As is common in these moments, when our principles, values and dreams are not yet clear and mature, we allow ourselves to be led by the conditioning criteria of the world and adhere to the dominant flow in the illusion of knowing what we don’t know. I harboured desires for fame, power and fortune, so common to immature egos, in all their different forms and species. There was the illusion that if these desires were realised, life would be won, there would be success and victory. That was a mistake. Like a master of excellence, life allows you to learn from your mistakes in order to make sure you can learn better ways by understanding why your mistakes are wrong. So we mature. In my case, some of these desires happened very quickly, but they were also consumed even faster. The anxiety increased because the existential emptiness grew in equal proportion. As I hadn’t learnt yet, I kept wanting more of the same. The mistakes multiplied a hundredfold. A thousandfold. Desires of this kind, when they arrive, are delicious – as the poet would say: oh, how I long for a desire! – because they give us the false sensation of being on top of the world. However, they are short-lived. Because they have little or no depth, they run out in no time. To remove the bitter taste that remains when the applause wears off, like a vulgar and addictive drug, we want more and more. They last as long as a sigh and add very little; often, they add nothing. Worse still, if we don’t realise it in time, we risk giving up unquestionable principles such as freedom and dignity.

One of the causes of anxiety is the unstoppable pursuit of shallow desires for fame, power and fortune. We start desperately wanting something that depends very little on our ability to achieve it, we wait for an outcome that is linked to external circumstances and therefore does not depend on us at all. The agony of waiting is called anxiety. As they are delayed or never arrive, anxiety becomes one of the gateways to depression, bitterness or aggression. Bitterness dulls the colours and steals the beauty from life. Depression manifests itself in sadness, victimisation and the transfer of responsibility. Aggressiveness expresses itself in bad humour, impatience, irritation or even more damaging acts. These are doors we choose to walk through without understanding the choice we are making, nor do we realise how we got to this dark place.

Conflicts are undesirable and exhausting marathons. We hate our own conflicts. We pray that they don’t happen, but they are what drive our evolution, because they lead us to the pillars of transformation – when we admit to ourselves who we no longer want to be. When I consolidate the expanded truth, I change reality for good.

Then I consciously step through a portal of Light.

At the root of all conflicts is misunderstanding. Whether it’s about oneself or the people around one. From both participants, simultaneously and necessarily. When one of the parties involved is already enlightened about the issue, the clash will be restricted to the one who still doesn’t understand the reason for so many problems and recurring difficulties. He will curse the world and be disappointed in humanity.

In this case, that was me.

I finished university, worked for a few years and changed professions. I got married, divorced, remarried, and divorced again. Without realising it, I left a trail of many misunderstandings and a thousand confusions. A bit more, if I’m honest. When we fight a lot, it means we don’t know each other very well. One of the reasons is because we project onto others what we lack. We long for something that completes us, without knowing that no one will be able to add the missing parts. No-one completes anyone, this is the Frankenstein myth. An individual who wants to be whole, even though he is made up of and animated by parts that are not his own. He’s nobody because he can’t be himself. They are inadequate parts to fill an internal abyss that never ceases to widen. Similarly, occupying the existential void through the unbridled search for fame, power and fortune will mean the vain attempt to integrate a figure with the pieces of another puzzle. As in the Gothic horror novel, the shapeless image of oneself, until it is accepted so that it can be remade, makes the creature’s days searching for the creator of his problems tormented. He ignores, or forgets, that each person is the creature of their own creation. Therefore, they are also responsible.

Yes, at some point I lost myself, having always been who I never was. I became the tenant of a fleeting glow because I didn’t know the power of the true light that went out when I walked through a door, without realising where I was going, in the distraction of any given day. At that moment, I began to seek in others and in the world what wasn’t there in me. I demanded from humanity a product that doesn’t exist on the shelves of any market: all the faces of who I am and the infinite possibilities of who I can be. Something that nobody could give me, not out of ill will, but out of genuine incapacity. Since I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, I insisted on going through the wrong doors. Thus, I became a major troublemaker. Until the day I realised that I was where I had put myself. No more, no less. Because I was the reason for my conflicts, in perfect proportion to the virtues I was unaware of, I had become one of the countless urban Frankensteins in search of my creator, without realising that I was my own creation. I always will be.

Suffering tires you out because of the weight it makes you carry. I was very tired. That day, I was wandering the streets of the centre of Rio de Janeiro going somewhere that, like the others I knew, wouldn’t take me where I needed to be. I was walking along Rua Uruguaiana, near the metro station, when I passed in front of the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary and St Benedict, and as if there was a powerful magnet, I felt drawn to a church that was very simple in its shapes and ornaments, without any of the beautiful refinements that exist in the many Rio churches from the colonial period located in the neighbourhood. I remembered that, as a child, my grandmother had sometimes taken me to Sunday mass there, at the Church of the Holy Souls, as it was popularly known. I hesitated between that call and the need of doing the other things I had in plan for that day. I decided to walk through the door. It was impossible not to be enchanted by the marvellous energy of the place. A strange lightness, long forgotten, enveloped me. At that moment, the world and time no longer existed. It was just me with myself. It was the first time.

There was no mass. A few people sat quietly on the rough wooden benches, saying their prayers. I sat down in a corner where there was no-one. I tried to pray, but I couldn’t remember any prayers. I realised that I had unlearned all the prayers. That’s when I realised and, more importantly, admitted that I was lost. Then I cried like I couldn’t remember crying before. It was a discreet but heartfelt and sincere cry. A powerful prayer. I couldn’t take any more suffering that was so great that I couldn’t fit into myself. I was about to implode. Or explode. Those tears were the remnants of my final strength running out. In my own way, without realising it at the time, I was taking the crucial step to change the route of my journey. Without realising it, I was standing on another boarding platform; I wanted a different destination. “To do this, you need to change your luggage,” I heard a voice next to me. “The luggage identifies the traveller,” he concluded.

I’ll explain further. I was wrapped up in my tears for a time I can’t pinpoint. Hours passed, people came and went. I stood there, unable to move because I finally realised that I didn’t know where to go. I was only sure that I wouldn’t return to the usual road. Towards the end of the afternoon, with the church almost empty, an elderly man approached and, without letting himself be noticed, sat down next to me. “I’m Friar Ezequiel,” he introduced himself with a soft voice and a sweet smile. He then asked: “Is this the first time you’ve met God?”. I said that nothing special had happened. I’d just had a very frank conversation with myself. The friar nodded his head and explained: “This is the only way I know to be with God.”

I confessed I was a failure. Ezekiel frowned and warned me: “Failure would be to persist in making mistakes. When used well, mistakes teach and mature us in terms of what no longer serves us. The certainty of what we don’t want strengthens us and gives us the light to find a new direction. You’re a winner for getting this far and realising this point in your journey. Now it’s time to move on. Know that it won’t be easy, but you’ll be enchanted by the beauty that will surround your days.

Right there, we talked a lot. I summarised my life. A story marked by dissatisfaction and suffering. It was a real feeling of being on the edge of the precipice, was how I ended the narrative. Although the expression brought extra doses of drama, there was honesty in my words, because it was how I saw myself at that moment. With the serene look of someone who has faced tough battles and knows that it is possible to overcome any difficulties, the friar winked and whispered like someone revealing a secret: “There is no more favourable situation for someone to understand the power of wings and learn to fly”. I smiled at that man’s kindness, not knowing if it was just good humour or a true act of faith. Some time later, I discovered that it was both. Good humour and faith don’t cancel each other out; on the contrary, they go hand in hand because they are common attributes of enlightenment.

Ezekiel asked if I would like to hear a short, simple story. I told him to make himself at home. He told it: “There was a man who thought he was the worst of his kind. He had made a lot of mistakes and spread a lot of pain. Affected by his mistakes, he suffered greatly and believed there was no decent path left for him to follow.

He sought out a wise man in the hope that there might be a way out. He was willing to make any effort to end the suffering that tormented him. The wise man listened carefully to his words. In the end, he advised him to visit Paradise. He knew of no other solution. The man confessed that he was not worthy to enter Paradise. The wise man explained that everyone who got there deserved to stay. The man said he didn’t know where it was. The wise man asked him to write down the address. It was on top of the highest mountain. Resolute, the man walked for countless days. When he got there, there was only a stone cave, without any luxury or sophistication. Alone, as he entered the dark cave, a light switched on. The man found only a mirror, in which he saw his own image. Disappointed, he retraced his steps. When he met the wise man, he declared that he had been deceived. Without making any comment, the wise man advised him to meet God. Just like the previous time, he told him where he would meet Him. It was in the farthest kingdom, on the final frontier of the world. Determined not to give up, the man accepted the new advice and walked for months that turned into years. When he arrived, there were no angels with trumpets to announce the visitor’s arrival to the illustrious resident. Only a mirror for the man to look at his own image. Displeased, he returned to the wise man to confess his disappointment. He had wasted several years of his life on a fruitless quest. The wise man clarified: The first time, you discovered where Paradise is. The next time, you found where God lives. Now all you have to do is open the doors of Paradise to live a life with Him.”

When I realised I was enchanted by the depth of that story, he asked: “Son, do you know the meaning of the expression redeem yourself?”. As I hesitated for a few moments, he replied: “It means to redeem oneself from oneself”.

Friar Ezekiel smiled and clarified: “You’ve already understood what you don’t want. Now you have to learn about true conquests. Everything else is determination and love, everything else is details.”

He paused and concluded: “Redeeming yourself is the challenge of life”. Then he finished: “Accepting or denying the challenge is the difference between the joy and the sadness of the days.”

Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.

Leave a Comment