The famous happiness

Although there is a corner at my house where I usually sit to think and connect with other spheres of consciousness, sometimes I feel the need to do this elsewhere, surrounded by the earthy vibrations of nature. One of the places I like best is Pedra Bonita, a huge massif on the seafront, with Pedra da Gávea next to it, between the neighbourhoods of São Conrado and Barra da Tijuca in Rio de Janeiro. From the top of a generous plateau you can see several other neighbourhoods in the city. The sensation I feel from up there is quite inspiring, as if my intuition were sharpened. Starry Song, the shaman who has the gift of sharing the ancestral philosophy of his people through songs and stories, called these sanctuaries Places of Power; he said that everyone should have their own. I decided to climb the mountain to reflect and meditate. Those were difficult days; the world seemed angry with me, demanding a level of perfection from me that no one had to offer. Loved ones complained and pointed out small mistakes as if they were big errors. As if the mistakes common to everyone weren’t allowed to me. The scolding came from all sides. Family members, friends, employees, clients and even people I’d never seen before, in specific situations on the street or in the market, showed their discomfort with some gesture, attitude or word I’d said. I knew, even from having lived through similar situations, that when we have the feeling that the world is our enemy, it means that something in us needs to change urgently.

Of course, this isn’t always the case. There are exceptions. Sometimes our behaviour awakens in others a dormant desire to make encounters, discoveries and conquests similar to our own, but they lack the courage or inclination. Feeling free to live one’s own gift and go beyond oneself, outside the standards of comfort and stability, although it causes admiration, can also make other people uncomfortable by awakening a veiled destiny that, although desired, is risky and labour-intensive. Admiration becomes a nuisance because of the internal provocation it causes. We become an unpleasant presence like a sudden flash of light in the eyes of someone who has become accustomed to the darkness. On the other hand, this line of reasoning can become dangerous; if at times it is true, at others we open the door for pride and vanity to dominate us. We are led into a very common deception: without realising it, we believe we are reflecting an intense light, but in fact we are immersed in deep darkness. When we are blind to our limitations and difficulties, we often create many problems by transferring responsibilities that are ours to other people.

The most common transference is that regarding our happiness. “Hell is other people”, the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said sarcastically, due to our conditioning of stubbornly blaming the world for our unhappiness. “I’m not happy because other people prevent me from it” is escapist thinking, typical of an immature ego, trapped in blindness, whining and inertia.

I am responsible for all my problems. Without exception. Accepting this is the first step towards achieving the plenitudes. When someone else’s behaviour robs me of peace or happiness, it signals that I am giving someone undue power over my life. We often surrender this control very easily.

However, that particular existential moment didn’t seem to fit into any of these hypotheses. They were different situations, completely foreign to me because of the degree of perfection that was demanded of me. Well, if nobody is perfect, what’s the point of this happening now, I wondered. My astonishment was increased by the fact that the demands were coming from all sides, including people who had always been kind and generous to me. It was a tricky moment in which I had to be careful not to slip on the slopes of victimisation which, although they are comfortable because they don’t require any effort to walk, always lead to a dead end.

The cases were piling up every day and the demands seemed increasingly unreasonable:

I had been attending a humanitarian aid group for three years. Everyone had missed at least one meeting. There had never been a problem. On one occasion, after an exhausting day at work, I was very tired and went home to sleep instead of going to the meeting. They were angry with me.

A dear friend had been fired. He turned to several acquaintances for help. I was asked to try and find a position in the company of a client, a long-time business partner, where there were vacancies. Excited, he thanked me full of hope. I didn’t succeed. I decided then that I would be looking again for an opportunity when the market was more favourable. A few weeks later, when I met this friend, he was upset with me. He didn’t feel the same way about the lack of help from his other friends.

I used to visit my mum at least twice a week. My brothers, whether because they lived far away or because of their occupations, hardly ever turned up. I disappeared for a while, not long. When I came back, she expressed all her sorrow at my behaviour. There was no complaint about her other offspring.

These were just a few of the many situations of exaggerated demands that accumulated every day. There were others. So many that the pot was overflowing. If nothing happens by chance, I needed to understand what was going on instead of bemoaning the treatment I received.

I took the day off to think. I climbed Pedra Bonita early in the morning. Winter has pleasant temperatures in Rio de Janeiro. It was a clear day and a pleasant breeze made the weather suitable for jumping from the Hang Gliding ramp, a few metres below the extensive plateau that makes up the top of the small mountain. There was no-one around. You could see the magical line on the horizon, where the sea merges with the sky. I felt like I was in a cathedral; I sat facing the ocean and let myself be enveloped by the subtle energies of the place. With my eyes closed, I lost track of time. It was only when I came back that I realised there was a woman sitting very close to where I was. It was Cléo, the witch. She was much talked about in town, but few people knew her personally. She was famous for her esoteric studies and original way of thinking. I was lucky enough to have met her once, in that very same place. I told this story in a text entitled A Flight Over Fear. Elegant, slender, with dark skin, black hair, honey-coloured eyes, hard to tell her age, perhaps between forty and fifty, gentle gestures, slow speech, an easy smile, always wearing colourful dresses and a huge gold ring in each ear, it wasn’t hard to recognise her. She was friendly and joked when she asked me: “Where were you?”. I smiled and replied that I was far away. She pretended to be surprised and jokingly asked: “Why so far away from yourself?”. Then she pondered: “Far from the soul, far from the truth”.

I smiled again. I said she was right, because I was there looking for an understanding of some recent events in my life. Although they were different, they seemed to fit into the same lesson. I didn’t do anything different from what other people did, yet I only seemed to be held to account. The woman looked at me with compassion and said firmly: “Other people aren’t measurement parameter for you or anyone else. You don’t use other people’s behaviour as a benchmark; the journey to the stars is unique to the traveller; encounters, discoveries and conquests are individual steps”. She paused and added: “Everyone is charged according to their ability to achieve. Anyone who doesn’t understand this won’t be able to understand the laws of evolution.”

The conversation was beginning to get interesting. I asked her to explain further. The woman did so willingly: “The Cosmic Laws order and regulate the universe. They act on everything and everyone in a peculiar way, influencing the events of life to drive a single result: personal evolution. If to evolve is to love more and better, then everything revolves around this axis. It’s not enough to be a good man, you have to remember to become a different and better person. Day after day,” and she let her gaze wander over the immensity of the sea ahead.

Then she asked as if it were a rhetorical question: “Everyone is looking for happiness, right?”. I nodded and she continued: “But do you know what it is? Nobody will find something they don’t know”. She then asked me: “How do you conceptualise happiness?”. I replied that it was the state of a fully satisfied conscience, a feeling of absolute well-being. The woman continued: “In what way does a consciousness become fully satisfied?”. I hesitated over the answer. Various ideas occurred to me. None were definitive. I realised that the concept I had made about the idea of happiness was diffuse and inconclusive. I confessed that I needed to understand its meaning more clearly. Otherwise, I wouldn’t achieve it.

Cléo clarified: “Happiness is born when we perceive love through our movements. Without love, no one is happy. There are many strands and ways of loving; you only need one to get started.” She paused and said: “Happiness also arises when we look back and realise how far we’ve come. The realisation of personal evolution gives rise to happiness and encourages us to move forward”. She paused to clarify: “However, pay close attention, because the opposite is true. Even unconsciously, the feeling of stagnation acts as a kind of happiness thief. We are unhappy when we feel disorientated, hopeless or discouraged. This leads us to sadness and rebellion, reasons that drive happiness away.”

I admitted that this was the best definition I had known so far. I commented that some philosophers supported the idea that happiness didn’t exist, but only happy moments; that we should try to enjoy them. Cléo nodded and said: “They confuse it with the sensation of pleasure that comes from a fortuitous event. Pleasure causes euphoria, an ephemeral well-being that, because it comes from the outside in, doesn’t allow for any personal control and is addictive because it requires repetition in ever shorter periods of time. They are good sensations, but shallow, incapable of touching the soul.” She looked at the sea again and clarified: “Sometimes, in the course of our existence, we feel true happiness, without knowing exactly what movement we have made so that it envelops us. Because we don’t know, we let it slip away.”

She smiled again and explained: “Happiness is a plenitude, therefore a definitive conquest of the spirit. It comes from our own way of being and living. It is born from the flowers we make sprout every day in the gardens of our hearts to embellish and perfume our gestures and words, difficulties and commitments. This understanding gives you the power to eternalise it in yourself, becoming part of your lifelong luggage, which you will take with you when you embark in your journey to the Highlands.” She paused and concluded: “Every conquest becomes a right”.

I nodded in agreement. Her philosophical perspective at this important question was beginning to reveal a beautiful landscape that had always been hidden from me. Yes, it is the steps of the traveller that define the beauty of the Way. If that woman was right, there was an enormous power at my disposal, which I insisted on wasting because I hadn’t been able to understand it until then. Learning to use it, as it was a gesture of love and evolution, was enough to make me feel happy. I smiled with joy.

Joy is the virtue of finding light in all the moments and situations of existence. No matter how complicated it may seem, there will always be a glance capable of showing the reason and love of life’s hardships. Joy prevents discouragement, doesn’t let us give up and keeps hope alive. In a way, it’s also an act of faith, because it moves the sacred that inhabits me.

I told her the reasons why I had climbed the mountain to think. I detailed each case to show how there was a link that brought them together in the same lesson. I emphasised the levels of demand that seemed unfair because they were directed only towards me. There were no such demands on other people. Cléo listened to me without interrupting. At the end, she said: “Nothing is as out of place as you think. Life is a school par excellence, but it’s also a workshop whose elaboration and labour never cease. Evolution is incessant, requiring movement and creation at all times.”

The woman used a metaphor to explain: “Imagine a city where there was a bicycle factory and a car factory. If someone needed a bicycle, which one would they expect to fulfil their request?”. I shrugged and said the bicycle factory, because they dealt with less complex objects. She smiled and asked another question: “If you needed a lorry, which factory would be best suited to producing it?”. The car factory, the answer was obvious. Cléo made a rhetorical point: “If you understand the world, why can’t you understand life? The first can give you the letters you use to understand the second. It’s the same reading.”

She then clarified: “Every day we go to school in the morning; in the afternoon we’re in the workshop. The best theory is worthless if it doesn’t serve the good life”. She paused so that I could put the idea together and then said: “Life demands what each person learns and is able to produce. It would be useless to ask the manufacturer of bicycles for a lorry; it would be a waste to ask those who produce cars for a bicycle.” She winked like someone revealing a secret and smiled: “The day will come when the bicycle manufacturer will be able to produce lorries.” She frowned and asked a rhetorical question: “Do you understand the journey to happiness?”.

Without shying away from the analogy, I commented that it won’t always be possible for a manufacturer to produce something different from what he wants to make. He may be satisfied with the way his days are going. Cléo nodded and said: “That’s true. Nobody is obliged to do anything. You can just say you don’t want to and call it a day, secure in the knowledge that you’ve got rid of the problem, right? Wrong answer. In many cases, that’s precisely where the problem begins. Life requires movement and transformation, without which there will be no evolution, which is the reason of being of all of us, whether we accept it or not. However, you have the right and the freedom to refuse the challenge.” She was silent for a moment as if she was working out an idea and then added: “Yes, every problem or difficulty is a challenge in the noble sense of the word, an invitation to go beyond yourself. However, if you deny yourself, you won’t be able to avoid the effects of stagnation. As everything evolves, the time will come when your workshop will be outdated, dusty and smelly. The bitterness of those who have abandoned themselves by the side of the Way will remain”.

She expanded: “Evolution will never be an obligation, but a commitment. There are structural differences in these concepts. Obligations come from the outside in; they arise from laws, social rules, ideas and guilt that are instilled in us and make us act in a repetitive and limiting way. Obligations lead to doing, but they don’t bring about any progress due to the lack of innovation on the part of the living being. Commitment, on the other hand, comes from the inside out, from new understandings, from the unstoppable desire to find, discover and conquer what we still don’t know about ourselves. This is the walking and the compass that guides us in the Way.”

She shrugged and said resignedly: “However, for many, growing up causes discomfort due to the effort required. For some, it’s painful because they have to tear their skin and break their bones to deconstruct themselves and then build a new being. It’s them, but it’s someone else at the same time. Not everyone understands transmutation workshops”. She paused before adding: “Nor do they understand the laboratories of reality that operate within these workshops.”

I asked if, following the philosophical line presented, I could add that the challenge of evolution was an invitation to happiness. Cléo smiled with satisfaction and nodded: “Exactly. Happiness is not a concession, but an achievement. There are no achievements without challenges. By definition, a challenge is everything that leads to innovation in living.” She smiled again and said: “Never forget, every time life gives you a challenge in the morning, accept it; remember that behind it is a hidden invitation to dance in the great symphony of the stars in the evening. Happiness requires courage and constant movement”.

Then she concluded: “Happiness ceases when we refuse challenges. There will be no more evolution and love will shrink.” She then concluded: “If life has given you a challenge, whatever it may be, rejoice in the difficulties; there will be changes in your routine and in the hours of the workshop. It’s a compliment; show life that it was right when it provoked you to do things differently and better.”

She gave another of her beautiful smiles and clarified: “Oh, one more thing. All the recent events you’ve told me about aren’t about life demanding perfection from you, because you’ll never get it. It’s an invitation to transformation, something that everyone needs.” She paused for a moment before concluding: “Nobody is permanently ready, nor will they ever be; it’s just a call for the next transmutation. It’s nothing more than life inviting us to love more and better, a journey without end or limits. In the exercise of love, we also learn to break down dense emotions and demystify the provocative questions that disturbs our peace. In this way, we find, discover and conquer happiness every day”.

I was enveloped by an indescribable feeling of lightness, typical of when problems become opportunities in the change of a single perspective. I thanked Cléo. Without saying a word, she nodded goodbye and left. I watched her walk away along the top of the mountain, with the blue sky as her backdrop. For a moment, I thought her colourful, flowing dress was wings that would lift her into the air on the winds of her ideas.

Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.

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