“All knowledge only has value if it is used for a better life. Otherwise, it will be restricted to mere academic discourse or the mouldy pages of a book on the shelf.” Said Loureiro, the shoemaker who sewed ideas with the same skill he had to sew pieces of leather. We were in his small workshop, in front of two steaming mugs of coffee. I told him about a discussion I had had, moments before, at the monastery of the Order where I was learning about philosophy and metaphysics. It all started when I was saying goodbye to the people at the end of the annual study period. The car was already parked waiting for me. As I exchanged the last hugs with the other monks, with sincere promises to meet again the following year, Sofia, a beginner in the brotherhood, approached me. In front of everyone, she questioned the whimsy way I had coordinated a course open to the public. She listed some of my attitudes and questioned my true intentions in conducting the classes. She accused me of being more interested in shining than in the learning offered to the participants. At that very moment I was overcome by intense irritation. I still tried to reason with some sense. However, when Sofia insisted on her reasons, I was overcome by anger and answered her in the same rude tone. The discussion went up a notch. A horrible confusion was formed. With the remnant of emotional control I had left, I got into the car and drove to the small town at the foot of the mountain that housed the monastery, where I would take a train. Loureiro’s workshop was also there. Before going to the station, I decided to look for the shoemaker to talk and calm myself down.
“When this happens, the passions silencing the virtues, it signals that we have stopped learning or using something we have learned,” explained the shoemaker.
I replied, “I apply the appropriate language to each interlocutor,” I justified myself. I remembered that I was provoked and reacted. Loureiro took a sip of coffee and argued: “Yes, it is precisely the way we react to the imponderable, and even to the unfair, that allows us to evaluate how far we have come. Did you use the best language?”. He paused and added: “Emotions are the wolves of the shadows to be trained to work for the light.”
Still angry, I said that I knew all that. The cobbler shrugged his shoulders and said: “It is of little use to know about what I am not willing to be”.
Finally, he asked me how I felt. I confessed that I was feeling bad. He concluded: “When a situation is strong enough to extinguish my light, it means that something needs to be worked on within me. This is how we go forward”.
This had happened many years before. After that, I returned to the monastery many times. I carried out various studies as a student, I gave classes, I gave lectures. However, I had never again met Sofia. At first, our travel periods did not coincide. Later, I learnt that she had left the Order without giving any reason. She had simply left the brotherhood.
In the months following the discussion, I had reflected a great deal on what had happened. I had learned that when an unpleasant event recurs in the memory, it means that there is an emotional wound still open and in need of healing.
Regardless of the provocation, I acknowledged my mistakes. Although Sofia had exaggerated in the dose and was wrong in her approach, she had a point. I was very proud of the functions I performed at that time, and I could have acted differently and better when I was reprimanded, even if it was nothing more than insults disguised as good intentions. I also could not control my pride, when I felt affected by the criticism received in front of other people. Nobody’s misunderstanding will justify my shadows. Yes, I had wasted an excellent opportunity to exercise all the knowledge I had. However, I had understood how much I wasn’t yet, despite my knowledge.
I had within me the desire of one day meeting Sofia again to undo that misunderstanding; that forgiveness would overflow from the soul to, in attitude, manifest itself in love. The chance to experience knowledge and change. Realizing that the people we were no longer exist will always be a wonderful experience of overcoming. This is one of the seven wonders of existence.
Life is an excellent school in the formation of masters. We are all enrolled. Personal relationships are sometimes the lessons, sometimes the tests. The assumption to advance in the subjects is the way each one relates to himself and reacts to the facts that oppose our will.
So it was, so it is.
Many years later, I was invited to give a lecture at a symposium that dealt with the correlation between science and spirituality at a university. I would talk about how, throughout history, science has been inspired by metaphysics. The event had not yet begun. We were all in the entrance hall when Sofia approached a professor who was talking to me. I don’t know if she would address me, but on recognizing her, I smiled and opened my arms. Before she could speak, I wrapped her in a tight hug. I told her how happy I was to be with her again after so long. She reacted in a cold way. She put her hands on my shoulders to move my body away and murmured, “Enough!” Without another word, she left.
It was all very quick and subtle. No one around noticed. I kept quiet but, surrounded by a dense energy, I felt very bad about the way I was treated. I even doubted if I would have the emotional conditions to carry out the lecture. I sat alone in a corner to think and transmute the unhealthy emotion that tried to dominate me. I had to put my house in order. I remembered that I could not change the way Sofia behaved, but I could choose which feelings would inhabit my heart. Some bad thoughts arose and I tried to educate them as soon as possible. The darkness of the world will only extinguish my light if I give it permission. No more, I said to myself.
Slowly, I reassured myself and felt at peace again. I had already attended that class. The time for the exam had come. I believed I had passed. Although I did not get a ten mark, because I was taken by dangerous passions, I managed to keep myself in the axis of light. The internal reaction, bad at first, was controlled in time, without generating any harmful consequence. The invasion of the wolves to the temple was dominated in time, without any damage. The external reaction, if not negative, was not positive either; only neutral. For, in truth, my silence was not a gesture of wisdom, but of surprise and amazement. I gave myself a mark of seven out of ten.
I had no idea that the exam was only starting.
When I sat next to the other speakers, I felt good again. I gave my speech with great ease and when I noticed the attentive gaze of the audience, I was filled with great joy. At the end, as usual, the symposium mediator allowed questions. The first to raise her hand was Sofia. Authorized, she wanted to know which bibliography supported the thesis presented. I explained that there was no specific and ordered list of books. The theory exposed was a personal interpretation of scientific development over the centuries under the prism of metaphysics. I remembered, just to cite one more example, the Buddhist teaching, which has been circulating for three thousand years, that the body reflects the emotions. Nowadays, the medicine points out, without any trace of doubt, that the worries, the stress and the lack of passion control, affect the immunologic system in a harmful way. I added that I was not a scientist in the orthodox sense of the word, but only a spiritualist philosopher. My role was restricted to offering an intimate and sincere look; no one was obliged to agree. Sofia retorted, saying that I should behave according to the place where I was. This was a university, full of academics. Not a chat among friends. It was a place to debate science, never a pulpit for the mystics.
Sofia’s intention was to provoke me. This was immediately clear; the reason for it was unknown to me. If I kept serenity, I would be able to answer all the questions within the limits of my knowledge. Otherwise, we would have a discussion, like the one that took place in the monastery, and another chance would be wasted. Despite the discomfort, my soul was grateful for the opportunity that life offered me to do something different and better than the previous time.
I argued that we should not have prejudices against anything. Mysticism should receive the attention it deserves. In Ancient Greece, Socratic-Platonic philosophy coined the term precisely to explain the perception of truth beyond scientific knowledge. It seemed indisputable to me how this helped the evolution of humanity over the centuries. While science has contributed to material and physical well-being, mysticism has invested in consciential expansion, without which there is no real advancement.
Then I explained: “Mysticism tells us about the value of ethics. Even in the face of great technological progress achieved by a society, without ethical improvement we will live in a tense, insecure and dark place. Ethics is linked to the practice of good which, in turn, is achieved through the exercise of virtues. There is no denying the extreme benefit brought by science; only a insane person would try such absurdity. However, who has always spoken to us about gentleness, compassion, sincerity and love, just to mention a few virtues, is mysticism”. I added that the conflict between science and mysticism was unnecessary: “On the contrary, they belong to the same family, whose purpose is the well-being of humanity”.
Sofia stood up, pointed her finger in my direction and told me I was a fraud. An ignorant in the service of intellectual backwardness. My lecture had been nothing more than a load of nonsense. The university was no place for parallel universes and other weirdness. There was a huge uproar. She told me to only come back when I could explain, in a scientific way, the existence of God. Part of the audience applauded her. Excited, Sofia stood up and kept a challenging look at me.
It was clear to me that, for Sofia, all this was a continuation of the fight that took place in the monastery many years ago. The emotions that surfaced then, may have been denied or repressed, never pacified within her. Upon meeting me again, she returned to the centre of the arena and called me to the fight. Accepting the invitation was my choice.
There was hatred in her gaze. A resentment that, when overpowering, overshadows the best reasoning, prudence and any trace of truth. What matters is the passionate sensation of an illusional victory, no matter at what cost; whether with the opponent’s confession of defeat, a situation that is difficult to occur, or with his moral lynching, a fact of bitter consequences.
At that moment I understood the contempt with which she treated me when I hugged her. Contempt, in many ways, resembles sarcasm. Both have an enormous disguised aggressiveness. In both there are excessive doses of pride and resentment. They are ways of manifesting uncontained revolt, with supposed outlines of politeness and pretended intellectual superiority. Unfortunately, it is still a socially acceptable way of being aggressive. In essence, it shows that a person is in a darkness as intense as the one who spouts a swear word or punches someone.
I knew that something in me had been bothering her since the time of the monastery. Something I had said, done or reminded her of her past. I didn’t know what it was. I believed that in my embrace there would be the subliminal message of forgiveness and peace. In fact, there was for me, not for Sofia. That day I learned that each one has his or her own time. This is why patience is such a valuable virtue.
These ideas occurred to me in a fraction of a second. I was sitting at the speakers’ table; she was still standing with her defiant look. Sofia was in the arena calling me into the fight. I could accept the invitation and fight her by responding on the same way. There was the possibility of refusing to enter the arena to war; it was enough to say that I would not debate in that questioning tone. Not only it was my right, this would avoid a confusion that was being announced. However, there was a third bias: entering the arena and inviting her to dance with me the great symphony of life.
I waited for the auditorium to become silent again. I said I would like to answer the question I had been asked. Sofia put her hand on her waist, as if my insistence made her impatient. I said: “I am incapable of offering the scientific proof of what I have been questioned. I don’t have it.” Sarcastic, she interrupted me to say that, then, I should be in a monastery, never in an academic stronghold. I heard the laughter of some people. Sarcasm has an enormous destructive power by stifling contrary arguments. This makes it an efficient tool of our shadows.
If I allowed myself to step off my balance axis, my light would go out. Another opportunity would remain wasted. I waited again for silence and spoke: “There is evidence of a wisdom far beyond the human capacity for creation and understanding since the beginning of time. Gradually, all this knowledge is becoming science. The incredible functioning of photosynthesis, essential for the renewal of life, the complex vascular system, the intriguing functioning of neurons, the immeasurable energy contained in a tiny atomic nucleus and how the electrons playfully behave; the movement of ocean currents and tides which, if they cease, would terminate life on the planet, are only a few of the infinite examples of a complex and wise interconnection. The harmony and indispensability of everything and everyone, like small and large gears, which, when the smallest one malfunctions, affect the functioning of a gigantic machine called Earth, supported by the sun through an intangible force known as gravity, according to Newton, or a curved space as Einstein suggested. The sun, in turn, so important for us, is a grain of sand before other galaxies, most of them still unknown to our crude knowledge. In fact, looking at the stars is a good exercise to make us humble. We are part of something of which we have no idea, except in the arrogance of fools. To me it seems obvious, in the way I like to mix philosophy with metaphysics, that we are parts of the same unity. We are unique pieces of the same mosaic. This makes us One. But, of course, I could be wrong.”. I paused and asked, “The question that won’t shut up in me is who created, directs and coordinates all this with such perfection and synchronicity? Chance? Nature? The universe? God?”. I shrugged and said, “They are all good names, like any others.”
Before there was any manifestation, I continued: “However, I agree that, among countless other examples, some even better than those cited, all of them remain as only mystical evidence and conclusions. However, mysticism continues to be an important instrument of perception and understanding of who I am and of everything around me. Not from a scientific point of view, but from consciential one.”
“When I speak about consciousness, I also need to speak about love. They are expansions that need to be in brotherhood.” I paused deliberately and continued: “Love, this virtue that is so desired but also misunderstood. We have it so close and, at the same time, so distant.” I pointed randomly to the people in the auditorium and asked: “Is anyone present here capable of denying the existence of love?” A buzz formed. I followed the reasoning: “Of course not. Even brutes love. Without love the meaning of life is exhausted in the drains of mere survival. Without love there is no transcendence. But what is the scientific definition of love? Beyond poetry, love cannot be translated into words.” I paused and confessed, “Love is felt; so is God”.
“If any scientist is able to demonstrate mathematically how love works in our lives, its immeasurable importance for a full existence, with arguments beyond mysticism, he or she will be able to prove the existence of a cosmic consciousness, also known by the name of God.”
“This is why the preferred language of mysticism is art. For the transcendence, transformation and magic it brings.”
For a lapse of time, the silence was absolute. When Sofia made mention of continuing the discussion, there came some applause from the audience. This perhaps curbed her momentum; she said nothing more. Some were uncomfortable; others, disconcerted. Some agreed; some did not. I had managed to present my reasons calmly, simply and clearly. This was enough for me; however, I was not happy about it. The situation with Sofia had not been solved. However, it did not depend only on me.
As I was leaving, a few people came to greet me. The professor who had organized the symposium came to thank me and to talk to me. He said that, although my lecture was not unanimous, he was convinced that it made many people think. That was the most important thing.
As I was heading towards the metro station, Sofia passed in front of me. She didn’t look at me. Her features were unfriendly, of one who was still painted for war. Contrary to what she might believe at that moment, the battle was not against me. It was a fight waged within herself, still far from being pacified. I couldn’t see the wolves, but I felt them around her. I recognised them, they were wolves just like the ones that accompany me when I move away from myself.
In that instant, I realized that by inviting Sofia to dance with me the song of life, I might have done it wrong. All that talk about metaphysics and love, would have sharpened her resentment even more. It occurred to me whether, during the course at the monastery, an involuntary situation on my part might not have provoked in her the emotions that devoured her. I saw when she entered a cafeteria. I followed her. Without Sofia noticing, I let her order and, before she paid, I told the barista that I wanted the same thing and went ahead to pay.
She looked with surprise in her face. Before she could react, I said: “We need to talk.” She didn’t say a word. We waited quietly for them to hand over the coffees and sat down at a table. I took the initiative: “I want to apologize to you.” Sofia asked me why I was apologizing. I was honest: “About the fight at the monastery, I am not sure. But today, when I made a great eulogy about love, I realized how poor I am for this love that I speak about but hardly know. The words I used about love were sincere in justifying the ideas I have about life. But the feeling that drives them will be empty if I don’t live them with intensity. There, I exposed a thought that did not bring me closer to you. I charmed the audience, but I lost the game. Here we have the chance to start a new match.”
Sofia cried. They were heartfelt tears, typical of someone who has locked up a painful emotion for too long. I hugged her. This time I received an emotional hug in return. We waited for her to calm down. She confessed that she agreed with everything I had said in the lecture. Just as in the Order, she loved the classes I gave. However, she noticed that I spoke of love with an altruism that she did not possess. This bothered her, for she was just like me.
We laughed. I pondered that this had probably also been the point of my getting so angry at that time. She had ripped off one of my masks. Instead of being grateful that she had stripped me naked in front of the mirror of truth, I was annoyed by the shame of discovering myself naked. We laughed again.
Encouraged, Sofia began to talk about herself and the difficulties she had in dealing with her shadows. Of the mistakes she had made and the will to move forward on the Way. I was struck by how similar we were. He confessed that every day she thought about returning to the monastery. She told me that she never went back because she wished she had been welcomed by everyone after the fight we had had. As this did not happen, she did not return. She recognized that it was nothing more than an inconceivable whim. Pride, her most powerful shadow, prevented her from returning. This made her suffer a lot.
It was my turn to reveal, “The source of your pain is the same as mine. Pride erodes us and yet we are reluctant to turn away from it. Just one of the many inconsistencies of who we are. They say to cure pride you have to make humbleness a comfortable place to live.” Sofia nodded her head and agreed, “Just another of the many things we know but have not yet managed to be.”
We talked a lot about many subjects and all things. We laughed a lot. Sofia was a charming woman, intelligent and the owner of a surprisingly good humour. Her deranged emotions hid all this beauty. We left only when the cafeteria closed. The night was full of stars. Joyful at last, we danced the song of life.
Transmuting passions into feelings. This is another of the seven wonders of existence.
I watched her leave. There were no wolves around us. They move away when we stop feeding them.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.