The road of fear and the road of love

In the mountains of Arizona there is a small, pleasant town called Sedona. There resides Starry Song, the shaman who has the gift of perpetuating the ancestral philosophy of his people through stories and songs. I arrived on Friday. I was greeted with a sincere smile and the usual tight hug. After leaving my rucksack in the guest room, I sat down on the sofa on the porch. The cool autumn breeze made me look for a blanket. It was a typical autumn afternoon. The blue sky framed the garnet rock formations that characterise the beautiful region. Sitting in his rocking chair, the shaman filled the red stone stummel of his faithful pipe with smoke. After lighting it, he puffed a few times while letting the rocking of the chair lull his thoughts. Kindly, he wanted to know how I was. At the time, I was working as an advertising executive and heading up an advertising agency alongside other partners, each of us responsible for a sector. Financial, administrative, commercial and creative were the areas under the separate command of the four partners. I said that the good relationship of the past had disappeared. There was a prevailing malaise like a war fought in the dark and in silence. The camaraderie and joy of yesteryear had given way to a formal and restrained conviviality. There was a clear mistrust of whether the other partners were running the sectors they were responsible for in the best possible way. It was the feeling of a house that seemed to be crumbling from the inside, its foundations cracked, even though it still had a beautiful façade and walls painted in bright colours. Starry Song was succinct in his observation: “You are travelling the road of fear.”

 Fear? There was no fear, I said. I wasn’t afraid of my partners and I said that the same applied to them in relation to me. The shaman didn’t explain much. He just said: “Fear is the breeding ground for all suffering and conflict; ignorance is the seed of all fear.” Then he said that we would talk about it later.

The next day, as it happened every Saturday, the huge lawn of his house was packed. In Sedona, it had become a tradition for Starry Song to tell rich stories while sitting under the leafy oak tree in the backyard, talking about the ancient philosophy of his people. People spread blankets on the grass, shared snacks and smiles. It was an authentic magical ceremony open to anyone who wanted to take part. Magic is transformation. That’s how everyone felt at the end of these gatherings. Something good awoke in every heart. It often took days for the idea to be metabolised into knowledge and tools, then wisdom and work.

The transformations that began after listening to a simple storyteller making analogies to the everyday situations we experience, without realising the precious doors that are available but not always visible, were incredible. They are there, but we don’t see them. So we believe that there are no other passages or unusual exits. In the sameness of our days, we repeat our mistakes as if they were inevitable.

That Saturday, as usual, the ritual began with the beating of the two-sided drum. A soft, rhythmic song sung in the native dialect gradually calmed the mood, allowing the listeners to become more receptive. Starry Song narrated: ‘In times immemorial, there was a very prosperous village in which its inhabitants lived in harmony. They helped each other. The game was plentiful and the crops were abundant every season. Although some had more, others less, everyone had what they needed and were happy about it. Work was considered sacred, as was caring for others. At the end of each week they celebrated the abundance in lively celebrations. Trade with other villages was fair and satisfactory. Until the leader of the tribe set out to meet the Great Creator. As there was no consensus on who would occupy the position, a fierce dispute began over the succession to the post. Intrigue, discord and offence became commonplace in the village. With them came hatred, intolerance and impatience. Before long, the tribe was hit by a period of severe drought. Crops were damaged, game disappeared. The weather brought uncertainty about survival. Empty ideas and stray certainties arose, dissociated from genuine fundamentals. They forgot the beauty of being part of the same whole.”

“Some attributed the difficult days to the fact that the village had traded with unknown merchants, worshippers of strange gods. Others were convinced that the difficulties were the result of divine wrath because the tribe had not decided on its leadership, increasing the tension and aggression between the villagers in an intense exchange of accusations. As if that wasn’t enough, the village was ravaged by an unusual illness. Symptoms such as high fever associated with difficulty breathing were bringing the existence of a growing number of inhabitants to an end. There were those who fled into the forest to avoid contagion; there were those who took refuge indoors for fear of danger and those who went to the village square to protest in anger at the situation. Despite the different attitudes, there was one thing in common: everyone demanded that those responsible for the tragedies suffered by the tribe be punished. However, there wasn’t even a consensus on who was to blame for the catastrophe.”

He paused before continuing with the story: “An exotic fruit dealer, a caravan of pilgrims who had stayed overnight on the outskirts of the village, sorcerers from neighbouring tribes and even the marriage between a girl and a boy from families that had become rivals were some of the many causes pointed to as to why so many souls were sent to the Great Mystery in such a short space of time. As if that wasn’t enough, hunger was also a reason to fear. While no theory seemed to please everyone, news came through that those who fled became easy prey for the predators of the forest, those who hid at home succumbed to sadness and abandonment, while those who protested in the square were exhausted and consumed by hatred.”

Starry Song arched his lips in a slight smile as he realised the audience’s attention and continued: “At the height of the crisis, a man appeared in the village who, with an eloquent speech, spoke not only the words that people wanted to hear, but that he knew how to put an end to the tragedy. He argued that during the period of greatest wealth, there was no concern to share the abundance with the neediest villages. The punishment of the gods was the reason for the tragedy. But it was also the solution. He said he knew which tribes were facing even more severe difficulties than that. If everyone agreed and was generous, he would take it upon himself to collect a portion of each inhabitant’s possessions to donate to the miserable. The arguments seemed sensible and coherent. Nobody minded giving away a small part of what they had, given the enormous blessings they would gain. They felt filled with hope for a better tomorrow. The man wept with emotion, thanked the village for their generosity and set off with his wagon, so full of belongings that they had to hitch up two more horses to move so much weight.” Starry Song arched his eyebrows and concluded the first part of the story: “They never heard of that man again, nor did they hear of any tribe that had benefited from the village’s donations. Disease and hunger were spreading.”

The shaman took a sip of water and continued: “The reactions were diverse. Some sank into despondency, others wanted to hunt down the impostor. However, there was nothing more or less than sad lamentations or angry cries.”

The audience followed the suspense with genuine interest. Starry Song continued: “One day, a woman who lived in the distant mountains, regarded as a sorceress because she knew the power of herbs and had a strong connection with other dimensional spheres, whose fame frightened all the nearby villages because of the stories that told of her countless evils, although no one had ever witnessed them, walked through the tribe’s gate without asking permission. She sat down in the square, took a flute out of the bag she was carrying and sang several songs in soft, cosy tones. Enchanted by the melody, as if the songs were speaking to those hardened hearts that had long been cut off from the honey of life, little by little, people came round to the sorceress. At first, they kept a respectful or even fearful distance. As the sweetness of the songs caressed their hearts, the inhabitants drew even closer. Until one person remembered the fame of the sorceress and warned that the music would be like cheese in a mousetrap. The sorceress stopped playing her flute and commented in a serene voice: If love is seen as a trap, yes, the heart will always be treacherous. Then she added: However, if the heart is seen as a centre of strength and balance, then in love lies healing. There was something strangely pleasant emanating from that much-talked-about woman.”

A little boy interrupted the narrative to say that the sorceress was an angel in disguise. Everyone laughed, including Starry Song, who was delighted with the unexpected contribution and continued: “The woman explained that the drama began when the tribe became involved in the deleterious vibrations of hatred, intrigue, discord, impatience and intolerance. This affected the village’s egregore, i.e. the subtle energetic layer of protection that surrounds a person or group united in the same purpose. The illness, contrary to what many might have imagined, was an indispensable measure for re-establishing the harmony lost after the long period of drought. However, the lack of understanding of the language of life meant that fear established an empire. Selfishness and separateness were fuelled when difficulties arose. As a result, the inconstancy of the rains, the unpredictability of the days to come and the insecurity about survival, instead of uniting the tribe, were the reason for them to let themselves be dominated by fear. Lost, not knowing where to look for guidance or solutions, they were overcome by despair. Bad weather has occurred since the beginning of time, as has disease. They are necessary. They will be good or bad, as all crises are, depending on how each person manages to understand and deal with them.”

“One villager said he couldn’t understand how illness and hunger could bring anything good. All he saw was death and misery. It depends, said the sorceress. If you look at it through the lens of fear, difficulty, whatever it may be, will frighten you, threaten your dreams, steal the joy from your days and treat death as a loss. There will be hopelessness. When the lens becomes cloudy, it’s impossible to see any way out; there will be despair. She then explained: There will always be the possibility of looking at events that are considered bad and unpleasant with the eyes of love, be they illnesses or cataclysms of all kinds, from emotional to financial. The unpredictability of the weather is just one of them. Whatever they are, difficulties serve to show the doors of transformation that were hitherto imperceptible to those who are insensitive to the events around them, as well as their inevitable meanings. The people and situations around us have a connection with us. Nobody is obliged to do anything. However, care and commitment to others are essential to achieving personal happiness.”

“The sorceress explained: We all need love, but we need to realise that the best way to get a hug is to open our arms. Fear separates people because of the selfishness it provokes. When fear does bring people together, it is through dependence and coercion, never through will and freedom. It’s a bond driven by dark interests, never by the impetus of light. Love, on the other hand, is the amalgam that unifies fragments, reveals hidden beauty, awakens unknown power and makes us whole. Whether in the balance of individuation or through the force of completeness.”

“She then explained that because of fear, the inhabitants isolated themselves in their own interests, each trying to escape hunger and death without caring about  who was next to them, when they should have been seeking joint solutions and acting in reciprocal solidarity. Selfishness impoverished dialogue, making it a mere arm wrestling match as to whose will would prevail. Nobody seemed to be able to see anyone. The debate became dishonest, as each person prioritised their own interests. The sorceress made it clear that the cruellest conflicts don’t fire gunshots. They arise from insensitivity, bluntness and indifference. This is true human misery, even when surrounded by economic abundance and material abundance. The imbalance generated by such behaviour is immeasurable. An unbalanced mind clouds the heart. The absence of good feelings restricts the best ideas. Choices are limited to doors that have an affinity with short-sightedness. Imbalance generates weakness. The body becomes vulnerable to opportunistic invasions. Illness weakens the physical in order to rebalance the mental and strengthen the emotional. It’s a proposal to reset the hourglass of life and start again. There are those who understand and seize the opportunity; there are those who feel wronged and waste it. A body is exactly like a village; when the mind and heart are in harmony, there is strength and balance. Otherwise, when fear prevails, only ruins will remain.” 

“The sorceress said there was still time to reverse the situation. All they had to do was unite under the same purpose and she made an analogy: The village is the road to survival for its inhabitants. Discord, intrigue and offence make it muddy and bumpy, making it difficult for everyone to travel. Uncontrolled behaviour will inevitably bog down the road; selfishness will cause the wheels of the carts to break. It is essential to pave the ground that everyone walks on. Otherwise, all journeys will be jeopardised. By understanding that the road is common to all travellers, solidarity becomes the standard behaviour. Only in the lightness of the journey do we find the joy of the destination.”

“Under the guidance of the sorceress, some inhabitants have started a revolution. Not the kind that fights for the throne or to seize political power, but the kind that transforms the way of being and living of each individual. Even without everyone’s support, it all began when some people changed their perceptions; their sensitivity to everything and everyone around them became more refined. Solidarity sprouted in the fertile soil of love; empathy blossomed; little by little, fear began to fade like dewdrops in contact with the morning sun. Enchanted by the example and also by the results, other inhabitants became enthusiastic about making their own revolutions. Fear was dethroned, giving way to love. Everyone became important to everyone. When you looked at another person, you didn’t just see a body, but made a sincere effort to see the soul that animated them. Every day more and more, to the extent of their individual capacities and needs, everyone took care of everyone while being taken care of by everyone else. Not everything was easy. There were countless difficulties which, as they arose, were not seen through the eyes of fear, despair or injustice, but analysed through the lenses of love, learning and transformation. Affection blossomed and bore fruit. Before they knew it, the illness had disappeared, shrouded in the mystery that had brought it about in the first place. On the afternoon of any given day, as they were attentive and dedicated to doing the best they could, enchanted by the beauty they were creating, but which they had hitherto been unaware of, the rain came. Soon the fields were green and the game came to graze.”

“There was a big ceremony to celebrate life. During the event, the sorceress told them she was leaving because she had nothing more to do there. They asked her to stay and lead the tribe from then on. She refused: It’s not necessary. You have already understood that by following the calm voice of the heart, the mind will become clear. Unthought-of doors will become visible. Choices will be smooth and respected. Where there is love, there is no conflict; every difficulty becomes a learning experience. Even if there is a need for people to manage the tribe, leaders are unnecessary for those who know where they are going. Anyone who needs a leader is incapable of dealing with their own freedom.” 

“Some locals offered to take the sorceress back to the mountains. The woman thanked them, but explained that a colleague would pick her up. To everyone’s surprise, the man who came was the one who had taken much of the tribe’s wealth with him on the promise of calming the wrath of the gods and easing the punishment imposed on the village. Inside his cart were the belongings offered on the occasion. After the things were returned, the sorceress explained: ‘The eyes of fear weaken and unbalance; under any conditions, the days will be suffered. Abandon the idea of punishment from the Great Creator. He is love, wisdom and justice. Love cannot be negotiated with, wisdom cannot be bargained with and justice cannot be bought. Every imbalance serves to show that something needs to be rebuilt and perfected. Be loving, wise and just, and you’ll be able to move the Universe through yourselves. This is genuine power. Even if there are difficulties, every day will be joyful, because there will be no lack of Light“.

No-one ever saw the sorceress again. The neighbouring tribes said she continued to do evil deeds. There was only one village that no longer shared fear. It had never been the richest, but it had become the most prosperous.”

The people sitting on the lawn erupted into applause. Satisfied with the pleasant Saturday morning provided by that meeting, they said goodbye to the shaman and slowly returned to their homes. Alone, I asked the Starry Song to resume the conversation from the previous afternoon, when we talked about the unpleasant atmosphere in the advertising agency. He used my words to explain: ‘The unpleasant climate is the disease that has ravaged the village. If the partners don’t know how to deal with the freedom they have, the agency will collapse. It’s necessary to understand the dissatisfaction that drives them apart, leading each one to look after their own sector without a proper connection to the company.

They are parts of the same whole; gears that don’t work in sync cause the machine to break down. This distancing generates mistrust and fear. Everyone indulges in vanity, believes they can protect themselves with pride, and makes decisions about their own departments without worrying about how they will harm others. A person who takes medicines for their kidneys without worrying that they could lead to liver failure will die”.

He then reminded me: ‘This applies to the village in the story, to the agency where you work, just as it applies to our emotional, personal and professional relationships. There are no exceptions”.

We went out onto the porch. We sat down. He lit his unmistakable pipe with its red stone stummel. I remarked that those gatherings in the backyard were a beautiful ceremonial for the good it did for so many people. He said: ‘I live alone, but I don’t live solitarily. That would be impossible, there would be no meaning to life. Closing your hands is denying love. There is no greater ignorance. Fear arises from our lack of understanding of love. There’s no greater ignorance. Even if you have all the political and financial power, without love you’ll only be left with misery. Even if you’ve read all the books in a great library, until you commit yourself to love, you’ll know nothing.” I said that not everyone thought like that. Starry Song puffed his pipe, shrugged and concluded: ‘There are those who believe they can overcome the abyss before they learn to fly.’

Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.

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