The subtle difference

It was a Tuesday of any given week. As I solved problems, other difficulties arose. The days are like that. It’s bad if we don’t know how to take advantage of hidden opportunities to go beyond where we’ve always been; it becomes marvellous when we understand how the winds that drive us blow. There will be stress or there will be joy, depending on a single look. They say that the best sailors enjoy the calm, but look for the storms. There,  the strong winds live. The days are like that. I had learnt that rest and fun are just as important to work as dedication and discipline. That afternoon, I needed to disconnect from my professional duties in order to tune in to my axis of light. The dark influences coming from the world are intense and constant; all it takes is a mere carelessness for them to gather my personal shadows, and then I’ll have a mutiny on board. If I lose command of the ship, it will be difficult to avoid sinking. Storms don’t scare me, I only worry about who is at the helm of my choices. Working hard is fundamental for the voyage to continue; moments of leisure, meditation, study and prayer serve to order the crew. When I lose direction, I also lose command. My truth, at the confluence of conscience and virtues, is my guiding star. My setbacks and achievements.

That afternoon, I left the work hanging in the air. Yes, everything can wait a while; nothing can be postponed indefinitely. A subtle difference between reflection and stagnation. Commitments, problems, obligations, solutions and doubts can wait for hours, perhaps days, to be dissolved. We all need this time to connect with our essence in search of light. We will return stronger and more balanced, with serene emotions and clear thoughts. We will find hidden passages where before only a huge wall preventing us from continuing used to be.

A pleasant café had opened in a tree-lined street next to my office. I picked up a book by Anselm Grun and happily flopped into an armchair, like a boy running wild on the beach on a sunny morning. Tom Jobim was playing bossa nova. I ordered a double espresso accompanied by a cornmeal cake. Everything was marvellously delicious; an afternoon to caress the senses and the soul. A few minutes later, my attention was diverted by a man who almost knocked over my cup when he tripped over the table I was sitting at. It was Pedro. I had known him for many years, when I was working in advertising. He was one of the editors of a prestigious magazine, in which we used to run many of the adverts that the agency created. I remember that Pedro stood out for his uniquely daring articles on topics that were sensitive at the time. He had a courageous writing style, with the audacity to invent words to better summarise or translate his ideas. We had talked a few times; I admired him.

Kindly, when he apologised for the inconvenience, he recognised me. We briefly recapped our moments. Winds change, so does life. This is indispensable for everyone’s evolution. It’s important that this should be the case. I was no longer an advertising executive, but an artisan editor. With Pedro, the changes had also been fundamental. Printed on paper on a weekly basis, the magazine had become obsolete with the arrival of digital and ultra-fast information. The magazine’s owners hadn’t found a way to bridge the gap between the time needed to craft the text and the speed demanded by the present day. At some point, a vehicle of enormous influence had become uninteresting to the public. Pedro confessed that he had never come to terms with the way things had turned out. “They missed the train to the future,” he lamented with obvious regret. Because there was no other magazine with the same bold profile, Pedro’s daring texts found no place in any other publication. Since then, he had  felt displaced and, worse, he was unemployed. He’d never found a place in the world again. Not even in his own life. There was suffering in his eyes. He loved the magazine; even more, he loved his lost lifestyle. I realised he needed to talk. Pedro was trapped in the past because he refused to accept change. I invited him to sit down with me; he accepted immediately. We ordered two more coffees.

I got straight to the point: “Is there a train to the future?”. Before he could draft an answer, I indicated what I was getting at: “Keeping an eye on technological innovations is not necessarily a train to the future. They undoubtedly make life easier and should be adopted to the extent that personal needs dictate. Although they are an undeniable advance, they don’t take anyone into the future.” Unconcerned, Pedro opened his arms to emphasise that I was denying the obvious. I explained: “What makes us lose the pace of history is not the use of the latest technology, but the lack of understanding of where and in what way we should go. This is crucial. Everything else is just a tool.

I got to the heart of the matter: “Although technology makes my day easier, it doesn’t make me a modern man. My way of being and living does bring me up to date with the times. To the time of my evolution. Being and living are connected to the way I look, think and act. This alone makes me innovative. Or retrograde. Regardless of the technology I have at my disposal and use”.

Pedro disagreed. He argued that the magazine’s management hesitated longer than it should have to adopt the digital version. By the time it had made up its mind, it had already been abandoned by readers. Yes, Pedro was right. However, the issue of using more up-to-date technology and changing all the marketing standards used at the time, seen from now, seemed an easy one to solve. In the same way, today we are faced with cornerstone issues that we put off indefinitely because we have serious doubts about how to resolve them, and which could throw us off the pace of history. Worse still, from the rhythm of our own existence. As an ancient alchemist used to say, we all have good stern lanterns, the ones at the back of the boat; we’re great at analysing the waves that have already passed. The wise are those who carry a lantern in the bow to illuminate the waves to come. These are rare and indispensable.

When we postpone a decision, we end up deciding to stand still, waiting for chance to solve what we believe we are incapable of solving. In other words, we give up the helm of the ship, leaving it adrift, hoping that the waves will lead it to a safe harbour. The name for this is fear. Fear aggravates all storms. Worse, it traps us in them.

This took us away from the surface motives of that conversation, the tragic end of a prestigious magazine, to the deeper question: why Pedro was still trapped in the past after so many years. To accept that the world and life change all the time is to understand the winds of transformation. The winds change direction to perfect the sailor in the art of sailing. Revolting against the winds is an invitation to disaster. Adapting the position of the sails to evolve in the storms takes us beyond imagination and knowledge.

I began the unavoidable departure: “Abandoning the old ways of living doesn’t necessarily mean giving up the essence of being. Principles, values and truths can remain coherent in a different lifestyle. Clothes don’t change you; the way you look, think and act do. Often, having to put aside sophisticated clothes for simpler ones can hurt pride; on the other hand, it can have the power to awaken humility. Every time we replace the use of shadows with some virtue, we bring a little more lightness to our days”.

It was necessary to go to the fundamentals to make the reasoning logical: “To make us move forward, life throws us off balance. Non-conformity is the refusal to accept life’s invitations to walk in a different way. Sitting on the side of the road to exhaust yourself with regrets is a personal choice. So is finding a new balance point and perfecting the way you walk.” Pedro wanted to know what I was getting at. I avoided beating around the bush: “I want to get to this table, I want to reach you. The reason why you refuse to leave the past. A place blessed with memories, but unsuitable for living in.”

Pedro asked me if I didn’t realise that his life had been damaged because of other people’s wrong decisions. I explained: “This way of looking and thinking are the bars of your prison. Avoid the character of the perfect victim. It will prevent you from acting and deny you new directions and destinies. People who accept this role believe themselves to be the creditors of life because of the ruptures that have happened. Nobody did anything to harm you. Remember that it was the owners of the magazine who lost the most. The fact that you’ve been affected by other people’s choices doesn’t stop you from carrying on. Your legs are yours. Get up and walk. Make yourself your best invention. May your days be the best text you’ve ever written. From the rubble, rebuild a new being. There will never be a more beautiful story”.

Disgruntled, he shook his head and said with a hint of sarcasm: “There’s nothing like a bit of poetry to fool us about reality.” I didn’t let myself stray from my axis or my truth. I admired Pedro and wanted him to regain his self-esteem. With this, he would recover his own life by freeing himself from the prison he had put himself in. I explained: “Poetry, like philosophy, serves to remove the husks of appearances. Then the essence shines through. There is your source of strength and balance, your starting point for a new journey, the beginning chapter of another existential cycle. Although it’s your story, it will become another, because it takes the protagonist where he never imagined he would go.” I was honest with him: “I believe in these words. I use them to walk through my dark nights. On days when I’m disorientated because I can’t see the stars, I use philosophy as a guide.”

Pedro asked if I had any idea what he could do. I remained firm: “None. You will bear the consequences of your choices. Therefore, understand your responsibility. No amount of help will free the prisoner who has fallen in love with the prison.” Pedro remained silent. His distant gaze showed the effect of those words on his conscience and heart. I let him metabolise each idea. Such is the process of mutation. Pedro said he had been disorientated since the magazine closed. He loved his life as a respected editor for a prestigious publication. His texts influenced people. His opinion mattered. He felt important. With the closure of the magazine, he had fallen into oblivion. It was as if his life had disappeared too. Nobody cared what he thought anymore. Soon, others took his place in the public eye.

I remarked that, more than his work, it seemed to me that he missed the praise and applause, the entourage of admirers, the privileges and invitations that came with it. Pedro nodded. Although he missed the routine in the magazine’s newsroom, he admitted that no one invited him anywhere anymore, not even to a pub for a beer. He felt forgotten and abandoned. I took another approach: “It wasn’t the world that abandoned you. It was you who refused to go on. By letting pride and vanity dictate the rhythm of your days, while believing yourself to be strong, you actually weakened yourself. When the winds shifted, they swept away appearances, and your essence revealed itself to be small and shy. You realised you were weak and unbalanced for new directions and different routes. You came to believe that there was no other destination. You preferred to feed yourself with the fantasy of the perfect victim, a dangerous character since it brings with it the hidden decision to give up on life. Contrary to what he prefers to imagine, nobody has forgotten him. In fact, nobody sees you anymore; it’s very difficult to find those who hide from themselves. In any case, don’t expect someone else to do something for you that only you can do for yourself.” I paused to emphasise: “Walk”. Then I reminded him: “We have to take in all the castaways, but you can’t sail for anyone. That’s another subtle difference”.

Pedro claimed that it wasn’t easy for someone who didn’t know where to go or what to do. I clarified: “Life requires movement. Not just any movement. Letting yourself be paralysed by fear is the same as moving towards darkness. When we move towards evolution, life pushes us towards the light. There will be difficulties, but there will be progress.” He fell silent again, as if pondering revealing a closely guarded secret. Then he said: “A few months ago, I received a considerable inheritance on the death of an uncle. I haven’t become a millionaire, but if I manage it well, it will be enough to support me for a few years.” He took a courageous breath and revealed: “Not by chance, I recently met the former owners of the magazine. It was a pleasant conversation, packed with good memories. I suggested relaunching the magazine. They offered to let me keep the name of the magazine free of charge. They said that the mere fact of the magazine’s revival would be a source of joy for them. However, they had no interest in being my partner. In short, I would have to finance the project on my own, with the money I have saved to support myself for the next few years”.

Before I could say anything, Pedro jumped in: “I know the thoughts you’re thinking right now and the question you’d ask me. The answer is no. My interest in reopening the magazine and winning back old readers with bold texts and the same bold profile that characterised it for decades is not the desire for the applause and privileges of yesteryear. It’s about what I love to do, my gift and my purpose in life”. He added: “It would be the same magazine, but it would be different, suited to the new changes and times.” He shrugged and concluded: “After all, everything changes because everything needs to change.”

I smiled with satisfaction. There had clearly been progress. I loved the look in Pedro’s eyes, which was unknown to me until then. Like me, he believed in the exercise of gifts as a different way of moving through existence. Encouraged, I wanted to know what stage the process of relaunching the publication had reached. The answer was discouraging: “At zero”.

Nothing had changed. I asked him what was wrong with starting the project to reopen the magazine, now in digital format, redesigned, updated and driven by his own ideas and concepts. Pedro opened his arms, as he did when he wanted to emphasise his words, and confessed that the problem was that he would have to invest all the money he had to pursue his dream. If it went wrong, he would lose his livelihood guarantee for years to come. I argued with him: “There will undoubtedly be many risks. However, I think that a life without risks bears the mark of fear. Stories like that aren’t worth telling. The world is dangerous, some relationships are treacherous and the winds always change. Life is for everyone, but many prefer to stay in the safety of their own backyard. Surely they won’t suffer the pitfalls of the streets, the risks of mismatches, the incalculable difficulties of leaving one place to get to another. However, they will never know about the charms of the streets, the joys of unusual encounters and different, unimaginable destinations. No one is obliged to do anything, but commitment to life requires risks; there are no achievements without risks. The choice is yours and mine. It’s up to each one of us.”

I showed another angle: “If it goes wrong, and it always can, you’ll have to pick yourself up from the ruins. Although it’s not desirable, it will be an undeniable source of self-knowledge and overcoming, an inexhaustible source of balance and strength. This is how the souls of giants are forged.” I paused briefly for Pedro to organise his thoughts. Then I continued: “There’s a chance you won’t even try. Your livelihood will be guaranteed until the last of your days, just as sadness and bitterness will grey the sunny mornings. The afternoons will be empty and the nights will be sleepless; not even the stars will keep you company.” I paused again and continued: “If it works, you no longer have a problem when you find the solution to bring joy back to your days. That’s all there is to it”.

I emphasised an extremely important detail: “What you can’t do is let yourself be led by fear”. I asked how old Pedro was; fifty was the answer. Too early to say goodbye to gifts and life. Yes, every withdrawal is a farewell.

Pedro argued that he wasn’t afraid, he was just acting cautiously. I didn’t think that was a valid argument. I pointed out that the project to relaunch the magazine hadn’t even begun. He explained that great caution was needed in order not to waste money. I reminded him that there was a subtle difference between fear and caution. I explained: “Fear pretends to be a protective shield and shouts: Don’t go! Run away! Hide! The world is treacherous and defeat is an unbearable place”. Pedro looked at me with interest. I continued with the meanings: “For its part, precaution asks us to be careful, to analyse the dangers well and to look for all the possibilities. However, at the end, it advises: Go slowly, but don’t stop going. Even if the business goes wrong, the experience gained will become an asset of immeasurable value. The greatest defeat is to make your life smaller.”

I turned to the wisdom of an ancient alchemist of souls: “Fear is death in life because of the darkness, fragility and imbalance it brings. The subtle difference between caution and fear lies in courage. I’m not talking about the brutality of the violent, which is really just a mask for crude, disorientated and cowardly individuals. I’m talking about the courage contained in love for oneself, for life and in the will to move forward. No matter how things turn out, it is in this love that we will find boldness, magic and victory.”

Pedro looked at me startled, let his guard down and admitted: “I’m scared. I don’t know if I can take another fall.” I reminded Pedro: “There is no such thing as falling because a project goes wrong. We are hit by the reflections of the world, like a huge wave that is impossible to avoid. Yes, we rock back and forth. A lot will be left in disarray by the shock. However, like a ship going through a terrible storm, it will have to dock in the harbour for repairs, adjustments and updates. It’s part of the routine navigation of self-knowledge. However, the decision to deny the rough seas and strong winds does not lead us to the voyage of conquest in the territories of the soul and evolution.” I then concluded: “Falling is when we allow ourselves to be guided by fear and our shadows. Falling does not occur as a reflection of the facts of the world, but by tripping over our own legs. It means that we haven’t yet been able to advance beyond the starting point.”

We were interrupted by the friendly barista who brought our coffees. She apologised for the delay. She explained that the machine had malfunctioned in a way it hadn’t before, which had now been fixed. She smiled, shrugged and commented: “It was a minor setback, never a defeat”. Then she added: “It was good, because I learnt a bit more about how it works.” As if those words had no bearing on the conversation that afternoon, she excused herself and returned to the counter.

We drank our coffee in silence. Ideas need stillness to settle into consciousness. Until Pedro smiled beautifully and began to tell me about the concepts that would remain and those that would be changed for the relaunch of the magazine. He talked about the visual identity that would be changed. Although it was an opinion publication, it would have a bolder design, with editorial features reminiscent of comic strips, in keeping with the bold profile of the texts by its main editor, now owner, who had always charmed the public. It was a long and pleasant chat. We left the café late at night. I had the distinct impression that the stars were dancing on the velvet sky. Pedro had finally left the platform of the past to board his own train to the present. The future awaited him at the next station. Every day.

Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.

Leave a Comment