From the house where I live, in Rio de Janeiro, to Sedona, in the mountains of Arizona, it was two airplanes and a car trip from Phoenix, almost a day travelling. I always arrive very tired. That time was no different. When I arrived, Starry Song, the shaman who had the gift of perpetuating the ancestral stories of his people, was sitting on the porch with his unfailing pipe with a red stone stummel. After a tight hug, he pulled away a little, looked at me as if he saw something strange and said: “You’re not well”. I disagreed and said I was just tired from the journey. Nothing that a night’s sleep couldn’t fix. The shaman shrugged his shoulders, told me to settle into the guest room and that after my bath he would serve a root soup that he had prepared. During dinner we catch on to each other on our lives. I told him that I was going through a very good time, everything was going well in my life. Business was balanced, I was by the side of the woman I loved, my daughters were healthy and happy. I was writing every day, working alongside my friends at the publishing house, visiting the girls and, whenever possible, going for walks. They were sunny days even when it rained. I showed him that he was wrong about the diagnosis from before. Starry Song just watched me without saying a word. After dinner, as usual, we went to the porch. Not only so that the shaman could smoke his pipe, but also so that we could look at the stars, a habit he would never give up. The night was beautiful. After a few minutes of silence, the shaman said: “When our thoughts are far from the stars, the ideas lose their beauty, the heart loses its vigour and the roots rot.” He paused for a moment before adding: “The way we think defines the way we are and the way we live. He looked me in the eye and said with the seriousness of a father: “You have to stop doing evil”.
I didn’t like it and immediately retorted: “I don’t do evil to anyone. I make an effort to be sincere with myself and honest in all my relationships; I help people when I can and I think I should; I do not negotiate with the shadows, I do not cheat the light; I made many mistakes in the past, but little by little they are diminishing. These days I have been more attentive in sowing my virtues. I know that I am still far from where I want to be, but I try to become a different and better person every day.” Starry Song, frowned as he spoke, “I don´t have the slightest doubt about your words, son. I know you have a good heart and how careful you are not to harm anyone around you. This is true. However, the evil you have done is not against others, but against yourself.”
I shook my hand as if to say that he was wrong and added: “I have taken care of myself with much love. I exercise and eat a healthy diet. I exercise my gifts and pursue my dreams, the life purpose that energizes me and brightens my life.” Starry Song nodded his head in agreement with me. He knew I spoke the truth. Then he looked up at the stars and said, “In your thoughts, you still carry a huge addiction, stubbornly thinking about the worst things there are. You either remember painful situations, or project unpleasant future scenarios that, for the most part, will never happen. It makes you suffer. It steals the lightness of your being, steals the beauty of living, prevents you from reaching the plenitudes and, a very serious thing, it opens the doors of the aura field that surrounds you, the walls of your invisible fortress of strength, so that much rubbish from the astral world invades you and devours your light. Bad thoughts give birth to the vipers of the space that distil poison in the heart, cloud your eyes, corrode the mind and suck the vital energy from you”.
We remained a long time without saying a word. I was bothered by that conversation, because I believed to have reached a good evolutionary stage since I met him, due to the many transformations I had already managed to sediment. I had advanced a lot, I was much more virtuous than before, I did not make the old mistakes anymore, I never had emotional outbursts, I had learned to behave with serenity when facing the inevitable setbacks of existence and, more and more, I made an effort to harmonize the thousand selves that form my being. If I was not yet completely whole, I was at least much less fragmented than before. This translates into evolution. I arrived in Sedona sure of hearing compliments and I was reprimanded at the entrance. Despite the politeness with which it was treated, I felt uncomfortable and my silence at that moment expressed that. Starry Song was not shaken and advised me: “Before going to sleep, close your eyes, calm your heart and make your mind soft to meet with the Great Spirit. Then say the following prayer: Please help me to protect myself from myself. May I succeed in making this enemy my best friend.”
The next morning, I received several calls. Two of them touched me. The first was from one of my daughters to say that she had been invited by her boyfriend’s parents to spend the New Year’s holiday with them. She didn’t confirm whether she would go, just said she had received the invitation. I remembered that this was a period when we traditionally get together, together with my other daughter, to travel and socialize more intensely. Intimacy is important to break the barriers of formalism and to allow people to get to know each other better; only conviviality allows intimacy. As we lived far apart, I valued those moments I enjoyed with the girls. She just listened without making any manifestation. Although I had not insisted, the mere possibility that we would not travel made me revisit a series of painful situations from our relationship in the past and project some severe reactions for the future.
Then I received the news that a young and talented illustrator hired to do some work at the publishing house had received an invitation to join the team of designers of a famous film studio. She would have to move to California immediately. We celebrated on the phone. I had foreseen that at some point something similar would happen because of her unequalled gift. However, I felt a discomfort, as if I was being warned of the imminence of a danger that, at first, I did not identify. The unconscious has the speed and the power to associate a fact of the present with another from the past, to tell us about joys and sorrows that we already experienced in similar situations. Before long, an employee of the publishing house contacted her to ask if she would finish the work she was doing with us. He remembered that more than half of the illustrations were ready and would be lost if she interrupted the service, for her strokes were unique; another illustrator would lead to a mismatch of styles or would have to start from scratch. As I had not considered the possibility of her not finishing the work, I made serious projections about the damage and the consequences. I remembered that something similar had happened at the time of the advertising agency. The warning signal triggered by my unconscious made the connection between old facts and current sensations. Driven by a past full of complications, I projected a tomorrow full of annoyances in both situations.
Although I said nothing, my tranquillity was only apparent, a façade; a fire was raging within me. I maintained my polite attitudes and soft-spokenness, yet there was no serenity in my mind and no softness in my heart. In truth, nothing had happened. However, the effects fed by unpleasant memories and aggravated by catastrophic projections were already devastating and perceptible to sensitive eyes. Enveloped in a haze of dark ideas and emotions, I was predicting terrible days and enormous difficulties. When Starry Song saw me sitting on the balcony, he looked at me deeply for a few seconds and asked: “Where has the lightness and joy that belong to you gone?” I gave a brief account of the events that had occurred that morning. The shaman did not say a word. He merely shrugged his shoulders as if to say that there was no correlation between facts and effects.
Then he invited me to accompany him to a rudimentary wooden hut that he owned on the top of the mountain (I have already referred to this place in the text “the medicine of the Bear”). We would stay there for a few days. I was very excited, imagining the ceremonies the shaman would perform. An opportunity not to be missed. We filled the back of his battered pick-up with utensils and supplies. Due to the terrible road conditions, the trip took almost two hours. The place was beautiful, surrounded by a still wild and almost untouched nature. We put our things away and went for a walk in the surroundings to appreciate the beauty of the place and get involved with that wonderful telluric energy. On the way back, it was already late afternoon, I lit the fireplace, as it was very cold, and sat down with a book. Starry Song was in charge of cooking. When he finished, he brought two different meals to the table. One was based on roots, grains and vegetables for him; for me there was a risotto with lots of butter, bacon and sausage. I found it strange, but I didn’t mind. In cold weather the organism asks for fattier foods. It was delicious and I had enough. The next day, the ritual was repeated. I was loving it until I started to feel sick. With strong indigestion, I was bedridden. The shaman looked after me. I took teas made with an infusion of medicinal herbs that he went out every morning to collect. After a few days, I woke up in a good mood.
Starry Song was waiting for me with the table laid for breakfast. There was food of all kinds at my disposal. We chatted happily about a walk he wanted to take to a nearby lake, about an hour away. I told him not to forget to bring the two-sided drum, I was looking forward to a ceremony held in such a wonderful place. Without going into details, I remembered the difficulties with my daughter and the publisher’s illustrator. I had hoped that the ceremonial, by leading to an altered state of consciousness, would allow me an enlightening intuition regarding these problems. As we talked, without realising it, I put only the healthy foods on my plate. He asked if I would not eat the bacon and sausage he had fried for me. I said that my body was asking for something lighter. The shaman spoke in his hoarse and serene voice: “So does your soul”.
I said that I did not understand. Starry Song explained: “Your soul is the sacred core that identifies you in the universe; it is your personal code and your immortal essence. It is a time traveller, the star-walker heading towards the Great Mystery. You are only a character in this existence and you will play different roles in the various other stages that make up life. The soul evolves with each story it tells and registers all of these stories within itself.”
“The soul becomes stronger or sicker with the food it eats. Everything that surrounds you reaches your soul, as it refers to the Sacred Triangle formed by the three vertices: expansion of consciousness, flowering of virtues and perfecting of choices. Your emotions are the dessert of the dinner served by your thoughts. Harmful ideas lead to devastating passions. Your mind poisons your heart. Then the light goes out. You lose the lightness in life and the joy of your days.”
I interrupted to say that I still didn’t understand what he was getting at. Starry Song reminded me of the last day at his house in Sedona, when even while maintaining control, I showed how much the news I received from my daughter and the publisher’s illustrator devastated me. The shaman deepened, “Without realizing it, you escalated the shades of suffering in the face of mere possibilities. Simple mental constructions have led you to the creation of unhealthy emotions. Different constructions will lead you to new creations. You are what you think. What you feel is generated by who you are.” He paused briefly to conclude, “A new way of being and living necessarily goes through a new way of thinking.”
“The mind perfects the heart. When in tune with the light, they allow the evolution of the soul”.
“To be happy you can’t just be a good man and doing good. While this is indispensable, you must learn to think so that your heart can pulse the beauty that exists in your soul. This is the beauty that you will also find in every situation in your life.”
“Otherwise, bad thoughts will size up the level of difficulties to the extreme, project suffering and conflicts beyond reasoning, intoxicate the heart and generate illnesses, both spiritual and physical. The world becomes ugly and life becomes bad. As a symptom, the sick and heavy heart spews out dark emotions, filled with feelings of injustice and abandonment. All because of an ill-educated mind addicted to the bad food of a good man and practitioner of good. Without realising it, he will spend most of his time involved with bad and fruitless ideas, wasting his light in generating his own happiness. Even if you are a good person, the energy that surrounds you will be dark. You will be unhappy and live tense days, not understanding why people turn away from you.”
Starry Song pointed with a chin at the plate I had prepared for breakfast and said, “It is not only the body that needs a healthy diet. Fasting is also indispensable for the soul. Thoughts and feelings feed the soul. Power is in the mind; strength lies in the heart. Vices in your thoughts poison your feelings; then the soul falls ill.”
We ate in silence. I had studied about mental addictions and the damage they do to the neural weaving. I also had knowledge of how the unconscious, in associations with facts from the past and in the illusion of protecting us, takes the initiative of our reactions. Without realising it, we go into automatic mode. We live in fear, pessimism and insecurity. This deprives us of the power of choice, a fundamental evolutionary tool. We react without choosing, because the decisions do not pass through the sensible considerations of the conscious because they come from the unthinking automatism of the unconscious. They are us, but they are personal faces that we still do not control due to ignorance. A determining influence in our lives that we still do not understand.
It is as if the boat of my existence had other helmsmen, hidden from myself, the captain of the vessel. When distracted, I don’t realise that they take the helm to steer the ship along the route of sad memories or through the seas of fear that the worst will happen. Besides personal issues, we are also influenced by the ancestral atavism that we carry in our genes, by all the wars and plagues that have accompanied humanity since the beginning of civilisation, which are transmitted through successive generations and plaster a way of thinking based on misery and tragedy. Without realising it, we ignore that when we limit our way of thinking we narrow the frontiers of love. Life becomes smaller.
After breakfast, we walked for over an hour to a beautiful lake with placid waters. We tucked our backpacks under a leafy oak tree. I cheered up when Starry Song picked up the double-sided drum, sat down and began to chant a beautiful native song. I asked if we would have a small sacred ceremonial. He denied: “The song is only to thank the guardians of the lake and the forest for their permission and protection for us to be here. It is a way of harmonising all the energies present in one pulsing through the rhythm of the drum”. He then added, “The ceremonial was held at the hut. I hope the lesson of the diet is put to good use.”
“Memory and imagination, like everything else in existence, have positive or negative polarity depending on how we use them. When used well, memory serves to add experience to the being and imagination helps to expand the limits of living. However, misuse can take us to two places where we cannot live: the past and the future. When we stubbornly persist, we weave the web of illusion; that which fantasises reality, reduces choices and diminishes the possibilities of action. I can only be here and I can only live the now. The before and the after are part of a bitter existential prison for those who insist on not leaving these places. In truth, we end up living in an absurd temporal dimension because they are places we cannot act upon.
“Minds addicted to unhealthy ideas become prisoners of their own thoughts. They become limited by the suffering they cause themselves. No one can think with breadth and depth when the heart is distressed and messed up.”
“Try to free yourself from the old ties of thinking so that consciousness can unravel the causes of suffering. Pain is not a disease, but only the symptom; the disorder is in the conditioning and therefore limited and suffering way of thinking. Free-thinking is the seed of freedom.”
I spoke no word. Starry Song went for a walk in the forest around the lake; sitting under the oak tree, I quieted myself to find every knot that tied my thinking and prevented me from lightness in being and the joy in living. I said a prayer to connect with the Highlands; then I meditated to find myself. Little by little, as my heart became serene, my mind became clearer.
The solutions to all my problems are within me, I will never find them in the world. Out there I will only add factors and live the result of the equation. However, it will be solved in the core of my being. Not everything will happen to my liking, but everything will be solved for my good, even if it takes some time for me to understand. Now, if my daughter decided to spend the New Year’s Eve holidays with her boyfriend’s family, this should be a cause for joy for me, because it showed that she was taking longer flights, gaining autonomy and beginning to write her own story. It was wonderful and it did not mean that her love for me was any less. On the contrary, it was a love that was expanding towards the world. No dependence is healthy, even emotional ones. Because I loved her, I also loved her flight.
The illustrator’s situation was no different. I had always encouraged her to fly higher, because I believed in her enormous talent. When the opportunity arose, it wouldn’t be fair for me to get upset because it happened at an inopportune moment for the publishing house. If she couldn’t finish the illustrations, I would find a solution. We always find a way when there is serenity in feeling. For this, one must have clarity in thinking. Life always reacts in the exact tone of my actions.
The unconscious is partly responsible for our sufferings and therefore needs education. It is necessary to know its contents, mechanisms and functioning. Roughly speaking, the unconscious stores all the facts and sensations experienced. It acts like a child who has suffered a lot and is frightened by everything and everybody, fearing the return of the same days of darkness and pain. However, fear will never be a good adviser for the simple fact that it limits life and prevents you from developing all your possibilities. A painful situation from the past will not necessarily repeat itself in the future, even if it involves the same people. Circumstances and people change. What to say when it is different people even in similar situations? Can it go wrong? Only if we react by repetition and automatism. It is not the other’s action that establishes the level of your pain, but the way you dimension and react to it. It is essential to give yourself a chance for life to show all its magic, mystery and charm.
Can other people’s choices affect me? Yes, but only on the surface, never in depth. Pay attention to this, because it will be possible to understand the power that exists in you when you understand that the harm that others can do to you is superfluous. However, the harm we do to ourselves is infinitely more harmful. When we suffer for a long time because of something that someone has done to us, the pain is being generated inside us and no longer comes from outside.
When I get off balance because of someone’s choice, whatever the situation, it reveals the immaturity of who I am. Immaturity is the weakness stemming from ignorance. I will remain a limited and insecure individual as long as I am unaware of the strength I have when living in the axis of a virtuous consciousness connected to the Light. The wider and deeper the connection, the greater the strength and power.
Maturity comes at the moment when I decide to look inside myself with courage, sincerity and compassion to understand what I still do not understand and stop blaming the world and accept full responsibility for my life. Attuned to this reasoning, I understand that by changing the lenses with which I see myself I modify the colours of my destiny. Dark lenses, dramatic destiny; luminous lenses, virtuous destiny.
For that, it is necessary to be free to choose the lenses. The good news is that freedom begins in thinking, matures in feeling and ends with a firm choice. Nothing more, simple as that. It’s up to me, and me only. On the diet I will be willing to follow, ever wider and deeper until the day of the endless day. One must have an unbreakable will.
That afternoon, my freedom would only exist from the moment I respected and understood my daughter’s and the illustrator’s freedom of choice. Otherwise, I would be the one who would be imprisoned, because their flights did not need my authorisation. It was fair and legitimate that they launched themselves into the world. They were both personal achievements. The manner in which they would do so was also theirs. I had encouraged them, but even if I hadn’t, there was no need for regrets or victimisation on my part. I did my best for their sake and that was that; that would be the reason for my joy and lightness; love is not barter nor does it create debt. I realised that I was stumbling on my own legs, that is to say, I was not making good use of the knowledge that I already possessed. My suffering served as a knife to cut my own wings. All due to the mental addiction to accept the interference of the sad memories and to believe in the painful projections. Without realising it, I had surrendered control of my mind and, consequently, of my life. To whom? To another part of myself, to many of my selves still misaligned with the Light. It was time to regain control. To do so, it was indispensable to identify and educate them. To educate is to enlighten. Thus we undo the sufferings.
It was not a matter of repressing the memories or repressing creativity, these are important areas of the being, but of making them productive to new ideas. The solution is simpler than it seems: no good thought causes suffering. Pain signals the existence of chains in thinking. If it hurts, go to the core of yourself and light up the unlit parts. A luminous mind will always be a source of lightness and joy.
When Starry Song returned from the walk, he stopped in front of me and observed me for a few moments. Then, noticing the change, he smiled and asked, “Do you understand the value of a diet?” Without waiting for an answer, he continued: “Diet does not mean restriction; diet is choice, it is the freedom to get rid of the non-choice. Diet is the choice of something before the non-choice of all things; including what makes you bad and imprisons you. Diet is when less is more, by leaving behind everything that does not serve or need. Diet translates into freedom”. He paused before concluding: “When we get lost in the dark paths of thoughts, dense emotions cloud our eyes. Disoriented, we let them decide for us, we hand over our destiny to someone we don’t know. I just shook my head in agreement. Yes, there are still many unknowns within me.
I thought of my little girl and the young illustrator. I have no right to determine how people will decide about their lives or how they will treat me. But I do have the power to determine my choices and how I will treat everyone. When I decide to respect other people’s freedom and to treat everyone well, I free myself and find cosiness in my own virtues. Life welcomes and embraces me. In a way that is always unusual and never expected, the universe invites me to dance the symphony at the same tempo as I perform my steps.
As if one more detail was missing in his explanation, the shaman asked me to position myself beside the oak tree. Then he tied one of my feet to the tree; the other foot remained free. He asked me to walk. I shrugged my shoulders because I knew it was impossible, but I obeyed. I moved the foot that was loose, however, the step was not completed for the obvious reason that the other foot was tied. Starry Song blinked an eye as if telling a secret and unveiled the metaphor: “No one is free while suffering. One foot is the mind, the other is the heart. We need both to walk. After wisdom understands suffering, we will need love to undo it. Whoever wants to be free will need both.
An indescribable and wonderful feeling enveloped me. Freedom. Yes, freedom is born in thinking and flourishes in feeling well. Here and now. Every day and forever.
They can stop me from going to palaces or countries. They can deny me my desires, shout no a thousand times, rob me, imprison me, hustle me, or renege on me. It does not matter. Because they will not stop me from loving, from being worthy, happy and living in peace. Except for myself, nobody can stop me from aligning all my selves under the axis of my best self, the one integrated to my other faces already connected to the light.
Everything that really has value has roots in the fullnesses or flourishes through them; freedom is one of its five branches. Free-living is born in free-thinking. This, no individual, however powerful, can take me without my permission. That day I made a firm resolution never to grant such power to anyone, not even to the other selves, those still fond of the shadows that inhabit me.
We returned to the hut when the stars were high in the sky. Starry Song was walking ahead with a lantern. Behind, without saying a word, I was enchanted by the stars that looked like diamonds scattered under the black velvet of the night. Side by side, two lapis lazuli coloured stars looked like eyes watching me. I swear, they were smiling at me.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.