The meaning

Loureiro’s workshop, the shoemaker who loved books and wine, was famous for its unusual opening hours in the small, pleasant town at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery. There was no right day to open and no exact time to close. Custom dictated that we would find the lights on from three o’clock in the morning, and the doors would be closed at midday. I had come from the monastery after a period of study. Now it was up to me to do the hardest part, the part where we had to intrinsically organise these new contents in order to apply them to everyday life, without which the ship wouldn’t make the crossing and the treasure would be lost in the abyssal zones of the seas of existence.

It was four o’clock in the afternoon. There was plenty of time before the train that would take me to the metropolis where the nearest airport was. The chances of finding the workshop open were slim. However, I decided to check it out and bet on the unusual. The winds were in my favour, and I was glad when I turned the corner. The shoemaker had just closed the doors of his workshop and was about to climb on his bicycle. Slim, tall, elegantly dressed in a white shirt with the sleeves folded up to the elbows, black tailored trousers, and custom-made leather shoes, with his long white hair combed back and an enormous agility atypical of his age, Loureiro didn’t see me wave, got on his bike and set off. I felt the winds blowing in the opposite direction. I calmed my disappointment so that it wouldn’t escalate and thought that it’s never a bad programme to have a little chat with yourself. I decided to go to a very nice café a few blocks away. Coffee and reflection are always a good mix, I thought. I headed off in peace. When I arrived at the café, a nice surprise. Loureiro’s classic bicycle was on the doorstep. The winds changed direction again. I remembered the words of the Elder, as we affectionately called the oldest monk in the monastery: “The winds change direction to teach us how to navigate in all situations. Fear disappears when we discover our ability to overcome the storms. Storms often arise from small setbacks, they just have to be strong enough to irritate us. Then they grow in intensity to an absurd degree. The winds of the world, no matter how violent they may be, will only knock down your peace if you allow them to.” I smiled in gratitude.

Loureiro welcomed me with sincere joy and we exchanged a tight hug. Once we were settled at the table, I revealed that I was thirsty for a cup of coffee, when the friendly waitress approached me to inform me that from that moment on, the café turned into a wine bar. A practice that was becoming more common every day. My options were restricted to several good wine labels. I looked at Loureiro, who spread his arms wide and smiled like someone saying there was nothing he could do. We ordered two glasses of red wine to lubricate the conversation.

I talked about the ideas that accompanied me during those days. I said that we know more than we are, and this is natural, because it’s part of the learning process. Learning, transmuting, sharing, and following, in this sequence, are the four phases of each of the infinite evolutionary cycles. It’s not enough to know; it’s essential to be. If we don’t transmute knowledge so that it becomes usable in our relationships, it will remain a forgotten tool on the shelves of life.

Transforming knowledge into an instrument of good living, although a simple idea, is extremely difficult to implement. I wanted to understand why. Loureiro took a sip of wine, widened his eyes like someone praising the flavour and explained: “As long as we don’t understand the meaning of each thing, it will be impossible to apply knowledge to soften the apparent harshness of life. Even love, the most sacred of feelings, is jeopardised when we don’t understand the meaning of the circumstances that surround it”.

Just then, we were surprised by the arrival of one of the cobbler’s nieces. The meeting had happened by the magic of chance: synchronicity. Sofia was very downcast and her features looked despondent. She was there to have a glass of wine and relax. She wanted to distract herself so that she wouldn’t be overwhelmed by sadness, she explained to her uncle. Loureiro suggested that she should sit down with us and, feeling at ease, we could talk about the reason for her distress. Sofia not only accepted the invitation to sit down, but also to talk to the shoemaker, famous for lining up ideas as well as he sewed leather. Objectively, she got straight to the point. She told him that she had travelled abroad on holiday with her sister on a trip that they had planned down to the smallest detail and with enormous expectations. Everything that could have gone right had gone wrong. In the very first few days, her sister had become aggressive for no apparent reason. Sofia tried twice to talk to her sister to understand what was going on, but was unsuccessful, and was harshly rebuffed as soon as she started the dialogue. The days went by unpleasantly. With such animosity, the outings lacked flavour. Little by little, the trip lost its magic. As they had booked hotels and an itinerary of the cities they would be visiting, with all the expenses paid in advance, and as she didn’t have enough money to give up the itinerary she had planned, she decided to go along with his sister in the hope that it would be a momentary bad mood that would disappear over the course of the days. That was to no avail. The trip ended without any improvement and, worse, with an unbearable climate of hostility. She had never been on such an unpleasant trip, where she had wasted time, money and joy, she explained. Almost a year later, the sadness that came from that trip had not subsided and, more seriously, had intensified. It was bordering on unbearable and was causing her a lot of pain, Sofia confessed. She also said she no longer knew what to do to get rid of this sadness. She feared it would turn into depression.

Loureiro listened to his niece’s story without interruption. She let the words exhaust the facts as she interpreted them. When Sofia was tired of talking, the shoemaker began: “Depression is born from the distance between the ego and the soul, when the essence of the being moves away from the choices of living. Far from oneself, far from the wonders of life”. He sipped his wine and continued: “However, it is essential to understand what feelings move us. Paradoxical as it may seem, there are reasons in feelings, just as there are feelings in our reasons. Understanding their exact meaning is the cornerstone that allows us to get back on track towards the Light.” He shrugged and said: “Without Light, we are left with darkness.”

Sofia asked her uncle to be more objective. Loureiro complied with her request: “To begin with, you’ll have to put aside for the moment the personal issues relating to your sister, whom I love very much, but who has serious emotional and existential problems. Until they are resolved within her, they will continue to act as a source of aggression. The way everything is confused inside her, life seems violent to her and she has become accustomed to responding in the same language. It’s a dialogue that has become sedimented and until it’s dismantled to make room for a new way of living with herself and the world, it will be the cause of much pain. Few realise it, but our relationships only mirror the way in which we live with ourselves.”

“Don’t doubt it, although it may not appear so from the proud posture disguised as independence of the character she has chosen to live, there is a lot of suffering in that heart. At some point, either because she’s run out of steam or because she can’t take any more conflict, she’ll have to revisit who she’s become. Hopefully before the pain becomes unbearable. Although aggression is always a cry for help that has not yet been decoded by the aggressor, we will have to wait to help her. It’s impossible to help those who believe they don’t need it or don’t yet have the will to review their patterns and concepts, filters and lenses. Just be available to help her when it happens.”

“For the time being, only bright attitudes on the part of those close to her, and in this case you can be included, can make your sister realise that there is life beyond the darkness. At such times, words have little effect and silent example usually has the best effect. The reasons are simple. People with behaviour patterns similar to hers are wrapped up in pride and consider it humiliating to accept advice or admit that they have chosen the wrong values for being and living. The horizons offered through wordless gestures make them come to the same conclusions, believing that they have found the solutions on their own and are therefore more susceptible to change. And, of course, more than words, attitudes show that the behaviours germinated in light are possible and real.”

“On the other hand, you’re very unwell and need care. Nobody can look after Sofia better than herself. What’s more, only Sofia can switch on her own light to dispel the darkness that causes so much agony. To do this, it is necessary to understand the meaning of her suffering, without which there will be no cure.” He paused for a moment, as if he knew the astonishment this would cause, and then said: What you truly feel is not sadness, it’s hatred”.

Hatred! What do you mean? No, the refusal was vehement. She would never feel hatred towards her own sister, she said with conviction. She was even a little upset that her uncle thought she was capable of such a dense and savage emotion. She was a good person, who did good wherever she went and had love as the guiding thread of her life. The phase of hatred had been left behind and had become incompatible with who she had become. As far as she could remember, it had been a long time since she had felt hatred towards anyone. Sofia was being honest, because she believed in her own interpretation of her feelings.

Loureiro knew this and began to reason: “How many people do you know who say they are envious?”. Sofia replied that there were none. The shoemaker continued in Socratic style: “So, can we conclude that envy is extinct on the planet?”. His niece vehemently denied it. Although no one would say they were envious, there were plenty of them; she knew several. Her uncle continued: “Does declaring that the emotion doesn’t exist have the power to make it disappear?”. The girl shook her head as if to say that this was impossible. Loureiro continued: “How does a child who grows up without proper education and guidance become?” Sofia closed her eyes, as if she was beginning to understand, and replied that this child will probably become an unbearable adult, believing that their desires have no limits and will insist on controlling the will of the people around them. “Do you understand what happens when we deny an emotion?”. He took a sip of wine and remembered: “All emotions sail within us. Knowing how to manage and harbour each one of them defines the roughness or smoothness of our days. If we ignore them, they will dominate who we are.”

The cobbler expanded on the idea: “There are a few ways to deny an emotion that bothers you. The most common is the inglorious struggle to push it out of our minds. We endeavour to stifle an emotion that is considered inferior because we are ashamed to be associated with it. After all, nobody likes to feel envious, for example. However, by sweeping it under the conscious, it will lodge in the basement inhabited by the unknown and disowned, the unconscious. It so happens that the basement is the largest room in the house and, more seriously, it is attached to the foundations that keep it standing. When it gets crowded, it has to throw the contents it can no longer hold onto the upper floors. The house shakes and, if it gets to the point where the pillars fail, it will collapse.”

“The other way, no less serious, is the vain attempt to change the meaning of emotions. Instead of denying, we run away. The apparently easiest way to do this is to assign a pleasant meaning to emotions we don’t want to feel. So sadness is the convenient but misleading reading for hatred. We often try to deceive ourselves with words; since hatred or anger have a heavy load in their content, we disguise them by using less weighty terms like hurt or resentment. We can change the words, but the emotion will remain the same. It only serves to numb the conscience.”

“Don’t be afraid or ashamed of your emotions, but make sure you don’t let them dominate you.”

“Looking at the true face of who we are often causes a lot of discomfort. However, there is no other way to identify the wounds that hurt so much. They bother you because your soul is tired of so much suffering and is crying out for healing. This act makes you ready for transformation.”  

“Only you can do this for yourself. No-one else has that power.” He looked at his niece sweetly and explained: “At the end of the endless road, you will realise that the master who led you was your own conscience. With each transformation, a step of wisdom and love. Then, a little more Light. Suffering, whatever it may be, can only survive in darkness.”

Silence overtook the table. Sofia needed to tidy up those ideas in the cupboards of her mind and the drawers of her heart. I changed the subject and we talked about other things to give her time to metabolise those words. When we ordered sandwiches served with the good local cheese to accompany the wine, Sofia returned to the subject: “Uncle, you’re right. I really hate my sister. Ruining our trip for no reason was very mean.” It was the first move. Then the niece got to the heart of the matter: “I don’t want to feel like this any more. What do I do with my hatred?”.

Loureiro frowned and said seriously: “Forgiveness is the right answer. To forgive is to educate the dense emotions that plague us. Educating means learning a different and better way of being and living. However, without understanding the meaning of forgiveness, you won’t succeed. Forgiveness is a movement of liberation from the shadows that torment, of the supremacy of love in breaking down hatred and, not least, of getting back on track towards the Light. As long as hatred persists, the guardians will close the portals of the Path and prevent you from continuing.” He paused and concluded on the value of forgiveness: “As long as it doesn’t happen, you won’t be able to move on. This is dangerous, because after a while, everything that is stagnant begins to rot.”

Sofia’s eyes widened. Loureiro explained: “We rot for lack of love, lack of light and lack of evolution. Having wasted opportunities to blossom, the soul shrinks and returns to the seed. Far from the sweetness of the soul, the ego is left with the bitterness of existence expressed in sadness or violence, depending on the case.”

The girl wanted to know how to proceed to break down the hatred. Loureiro was clear: “By starvation. Hatred is a poison that, as it grows, cancels out love. Understand how unhealthy and unnecessary it is; realise that the person who suffers most from hatred is the one who cultivates it. Stop feeding it so that it loses strength; only when it is weakened will you be able to transform the caterpillar into a butterfly.” Sofia gestured with her hand for her uncle to continue his explanation. He went into detail: “To begin with, be firm enough not to let someone else’s existential mess dismantle your internal structure. Trust in your strength, principles and values. This is enough, because it will keep you in the Light.”

“Other people’s aggression doesn’t impose itself. It’s an invitation to darkness. It’s unwise to accept the offer of such an unpleasant ride.”

“Nobody needs hatred for anything good. The best things in life don’t happen because of hatred. It’s an absurd choice to accept it as a master or a foreman.” He paused for his niece to absorb the idea and went on: “Hatred is born out of the absence of love and wisdom. The aggression of any person cannot have the power to drag us into the darkness where they are. This only happens when we neglect or ignore the power of our own Light. Understand that the enormous internal conflicts mean that your sister’s guiding principles are shrouded in mist and her values are confused. Although she doesn’t realise it, she is lost in the hostile environment that her existence has become, in which aggression is the only language, at least at the moment, that she can articulate. It’s a sad and common thing these days. Everyone, in their own way and time, will have to make the journey back, the one that will lead to a new awakening of the soul”. He paused again and concluded: “As long as you maintain hatred as a reaction, you will live under the influence of the inhospitable atmosphere created by your sister.”

Sofia admitted that, seen in this light, it was neither sensible nor intelligent to maintain hatred. Loureiro commented: “That’s the importance of understanding the meaning of all things. Only then does the difficulty make sense and become a lesson, the sacred is revealed through the mundane and the light dispels the darkness.” 

“If you misdiagnose an illness, the medicine prescribed will prove ineffective. Understanding the meaning of all things is a constant exercise in perception and sensitivity, essential to evolutionary movements.”

Sofia gave us a beautiful smile, her first that day and perhaps the only one she had allowed herself in recent months. Her eyes were already showing a different kind of sparkle. She said she was ready for this fundamental change of attitude as a way of recovering the lightness of life that she had lost.

Loureiro turned to me and asked what we were talking about when his niece arrived. I remembered that we were talking about the difficulty of putting our knowledge into practice. The shoemaker ended the lesson: “The difficulty remains because we acquire knowledge but forget to understand the meaning that structures it. It’s as if knowledge were the body and meaning were the soul of all things. We forget this difference, we end up forgetting the importance of meaning and we lose the essence of knowledge. Hence the difficulty of applying it in practice. Meaning is the trail of truth. Love is the hidden meaning behind all knowledge. Without it, there will be no wisdom left.”

“The function of every piece of knowledge is to lead us to an unknown way of loving more and better. Before finding it, the most refined knowledge will be no more than simple erudition.”

“Understanding the harm of hatred and the wonders of forgiveness is valuable knowledge. To find within myself the path of love that will lead me from the alleys of hatred to the shores of forgiveness is to understand the meaning of each experience.”

“Whether in oneself, in the world or outside of it, learning the meaning of each thing is the key point of transmutation in evolutionary cycles.”

Sofia and I, each for our own reasons, but at the same time, had had the privilege of sharing the same lesson. We emptied our wine glasses. The young woman said she had to go. She kissed her uncle on the cheek and sincerely thanked him for his instructions on how to get out of the darkness. The cobbler reminded her that they were only the initial steps, but vital to renewal: “The most important thing is not to forget that all the power of light is also rooted in the core of who you truly are. That is the source of life.”

He then said that my eyes revealed something I hadn’t said. I confessed: “I was thinking about how the Theory of Meaning applies to the other, the Theory of the Spiderweb“. Loureiro smiled and nodded in agreement. Sofia showed interest, pulled out her chair and sat down again.

But that’s another story.

Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.

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