All the things that exist in the world are tools. As such, they have neutral polarity. The use to which they are put determines whether they will be positive or negative. It is misuse that characterizes abuse. However, nothing is lost, it only becomes a more rigorous lesson for undisciplined students. The world is a school that trains great masters, where everyone, each in his or her own time, will be graduated. Money, political power and physical beauty are some of the classic examples of these tools. Nowadays, the same happens with the so-called social media. Although some individuals abuse it to disseminate lies and intrigues, the internet is a wonderful tool made available to humanity in recent decades. Access to information and knowledge has intensified and become more socialised. People can communicate more and better, become more intimate, meet, help each other, look at each other and, above all, understand each other. Everyone will be able to have a voice and the world will then join us in the same embrace. Of course, the internet does not hug, it only marks the meeting. It is up to each individual to open their arms and heart. I was thinking about this during the reunion held to celebrate the 30th anniversary of my class graduation. Colleagues who hadn’t seen or met each other since the end of college had the opportunity to hug each other again, laugh at old jokes, remember old facts and update their trajectories. Many differences and sorrows were undone, not by time, but through time. We had evolved, each one at the pace of our own steps, and we could understand how unnecessary resentments were. However, it is normal for there to be sharp edges. Some became competent professionals, some became famous. Although many confuse them, they are different situations. A few others abandoned their careers because of different gifts and distinct dreams. I was one of these.
The meeting had been organized by Eduardo. I was disturbed when, at a certain moment of the party, he was honoured by a small group of colleagues. He showed a surprise that did not seem sincere to me. Everyone knew that he was the owner of a company that provided services and sold products to various town halls scattered all over the country. He had amassed a huge fortune. No problem up to this point, except that this small group had close professional and business relations with Eduardo. I could find the tribute simply grotesque and shut the matter down within myself. However, we had been very close friends during college, when I distanced myself from him because of some characteristics of his behaviour. Now, I had also made many mistakes during my trajectory, I needed a lot of adjustment as to my character and ethical direction. Nobody comes into this world ready-made. At the time, he had also been upset with me.
Thirty years had passed. No one was the same anymore. We had changed and evolved. Watching that tribute could have been a comic act, but it brought bitterness. In silence, without any comment, I had the sensation that for some people the changes were only external, no transformation had taken place in the inner universe. Sitting in a corner of the hall, without realizing it, I made a judgment. Worse, I placed on the scales the disastrous experiences I had lived through with this colleague, sad memories, besides some frustrations and other shadows, from which we suffer but do not perceive the influence. At times like these, the scales will inevitably remain unbalanced. The most dangerous shadows are those that we believe have already been pacified.
As if this were not enough, soon afterwards, this colleague, accompanied by his wife, a much younger and very beautiful girl, sat down next to me and made a point of commenting on the recent closure of my advertising agency: “I was sad when I received the news of the bankruptcy”, he hissed in false consolation. I noticed a discreet smile between his words. It wasn’t hard to see that past differences were still unresolved. Surprised, and not knowing what to say, I remained silent. Then he showed me the commemorative plaque he had just won, with the clear intention of provoking me. Evident by the sarcasm in his tone of voice, he said that I would be the one honoured at the next meeting. As if to tell me not to be jealous of him. Then he asked his wife to show me the photos of her new mansion and the yacht she had recently bought. Always emphasizing that none of that was of any value to him: “The important things in life are friendships”. Well, why show it, then? What fragility did he need to hide by promoting himself and boasting such a robust patrimony? Everything we show, deep down, is a shield raised in an attempt to protect us from some fear. I praised his acquisitions, more out of politeness than admiration.
Fear has a food chain of its own. By the strength it steals, fear secretly nourishes the other shadows through the sense of vulnerability it causes.
Less than an hour later, everyone left with the promise of meeting again the following year. I confess that while I didn’t wish for anything in his life, something had made me uncomfortable. If I had allowed myself to be hit, there was something out of place inside me.
Eduardo was Eduardo and I could do nothing about it, except set limits so that there would be no abuse. As for me, a thousand transformations were at my disposal.
After several months, an invitation arrived. This colleague had invited the whole class to a dinner party. He announced that, this time, I would be the one being honoured. I was to make a speech. Because of the custom, they expected that I, besides emphasizing the fact that we were gathered together and the friendship that united the class, would also talk about my trajectory, my professional victories and personal achievements. Now, my agency had recently closed its doors. I was still digesting the impact of the transformations. A sign of failure for many, a change of cycle and evolution for others. Although I would not admit it, I was finding it difficult. Adaptability is an important virtue for the serenity and balance it brings. When we believe we can move forward, life tests the firmness of our steps and, if necessary, makes us stumble to teach us to walk differently and better. However, everything seems harder when it happens to us.
I became angry again. The differences from the past were alive. There was no doubt that he had summoned me to war and had defined the battlefield: the material conquests and the honours of the world, because he knew that I would not be a match for him. On the other hand, I knew that by shaking me with provocation, as had happened, the war already made me a loser.
I thought of declining the invitation with a good made-up excuse. It would not be honest with many colleagues for whom I had appreciation. By hiding from the class on the grounds that I did not possess an enviable estate like his, I would not be honest with my principles of dignity. If I did not go to the meeting, in truth, it would be a mere escape so as not to sully my pride. It would be a choice guided by my shadows, for I would be centred on values contrary to the principles that guided me.
At home, sitting in my armchair, I put on some soft music, provided myself with a mug of coffee and began to think. Why did I get angry? Why had I judged him instead of just observing the facts and following the journey, since other people’s lives should not influence mine? Was it envy? Was it vanity? What was I afraid of? Why was pride so present? I needed these answers.
Many of the ideas that are in our minds, we did not create them, but because they were inserted by socio-cultural repetition. Internally, we revere them, segregate them and decide through them without questioning ourselves about their origin. Although we deny many of these ideas to ourselves, in conversations with friends and in the speeches we use to set up the character we live, we still can’t detach ourselves from them. Until the day we realize the suffering they cause us. No good idea is the origin of suffering, but of joy for the advance and lightness that they provoke.
All relationships need limits to remain healthy. When someone else’s way of being and living bothers me, it means that I have given permission to their invasion in the sacred space of my individuation. An undue influence that needs to be relocated in me so that the suffering or discomfort ceases. When I do not succeed it is a clear sign of some internal contradiction between principles and values.
As long as I repeat that the principles that guide me are love, freedom, dignity, peace and happiness, but search for them in the glories and honours of the world, with their dazzling special effects, I will remain far from the primordial encounter. A very common contradiction born of fear. The paradox of seeking in the applause of the audience that which I will only find in the quietude of the dressing room arises when I stop believing in my light. At that moment I create emptiness. If I do not fill it, by redirecting the route in my searches, or if I undo it, by understanding that it is unnecessary, the emptiness spreads and suffering increases in proportion to the darkness that invades me.
We are used to living for the grand finale, for the stunning encounter, for the gala moment of sweeping victory, of the world kneeling at our feet. Cases in which the emptiness swells into an abyss and all reverence will always seem little to us. We are anxious for more and then even more, because we live the character of the one who conquers all but himself. We want to be loved, but we behave to be desired. We shout that we need love, but we live for emotions. We are the fighter who knocks out his opponents, wears the belt destined for champions and gets knocked out when the spotlights of the arena go out. We are swallowed by the darkness we create. We live for the ephemeral built of cement and concrete. Of the fact that falls apart in the next act. We do not realize that the pillars that sustain the structure of life, consciousness and virtues, are immaterial. The richness of life cannot be touched with the hands.
We refuse life, although it permeates us all the time. No one will see love while his back is turned to him or herself. We forget that any victory is only that which fits the heart. We live for the shell adorned with glitter which, empty of content, becomes fragile to the point of breaking with a light pressure. Not everything that glitters is light. We live by the idolatry of the gods of fame and the lies that we repeat to ourselves. From the cult of success without understanding anything about which conquests we should worship on the altar of life. From the stubbornness of wanting more of less and more of the same. We impose narrow borders because we do not understand freedom. We despise our gifts and dreams. We are afraid to become who we are. We wake up every day waiting for the day that will never come. The day is today, the time is now, the place is here, the conditions are what I have and they will always be right. We always look to the ground in contempt of the stars. Chasms rise because we create them. We demand bridges to be built instead of letting our wings grow. We continue to look only at the ground. To avoid risks, criticism and recriminations, we follow the marks left by the footsteps of others, we repeat trajectories that are not ours, we talk about who we never were. We can’t walk as someone other than ourselves.
We can’t reach the world before meeting ourselves.
Everything begins or ends with an idea. Any idea is a seed capable of germinating into darkness or light, hatred or love, illness or cure, prison or freedom, bitterness or dignity, affliction or peace, suffering or happiness. An idea is a capsule of life or the absence of it. Ideas are authentic alchemical formulas because of the power of transformation they contain.
I have no way of escaping myself. I will accompany myself to the farthest of hiding places. I can refuse to live in the world, avoid becoming who I am, close the door, get under the blanket, close my eyes, cover my ears, shout that everything is a lie. Even so, I will remain in myself, waiting for me.
To be waiting is to live as a seed. To germinate? It’s enough to have an idea and willpower. Thus, the sword and the warrior are born.
I was ashamed that the agency went bankrupt when the key employees decided to set up their own businesses. A legitimate right and fair in respect of freedom and dignity of everyone. Including mine. I am the light of the world. However, theory and practice still did not fit together. Although I understood the importance of evolutionary cycles, I still felt the rancour of looking at myself as a failure due to the closure of the company. This was the truth that I could not admit, and for this I suffered. I looked at the ground. What made the colleague who challenged me stronger was not his patrimonial and financial achievements, which I understood to be transitory, it was that deep down, even if I denied them, I was also guided by them. Despite my different principles, I sought them in values where I would never find them. This contradiction was the root of my discomfort because of the fragility it caused me.
It was necessary to understand what fight I should engage in. The fight was not against Eduardo, but inside me. My problem was not Eduardo, just as it will never be anyone else. The battle is where the hell and the heaven of existence are: in the core of my being.
We are more incoherent than we like to admit. The reason is that we know more than we are. When we do not perceive or admit this mismatch between knowing and being, between the soul and the ego, emptiness is formed. But this, despite the suffering it causes, is not all bad. Emptiness, when well used, becomes the indispensable space for the creation of who I am not yet.
After the destruction caused by chaos, emptiness appears. By putting it in order, we start a new evolutionary cycle. In stages, we learn (we add knowledge to consciousness), transmute (consciousness transforms knowledge into virtue), share (virtue becomes an essential part of our choices) and keep going (the journey has no end).
The bankruptcy of the advertising agency, which despite winning a few prizes for the excellence of some of its work, had succumbed to the force of the evolutionary cycles (it was chaos with its renewing force). This fact coincided with the beginning of my activity as an editor (the ordering of emptiness into creation). However, the publishing house was still in its infancy and, in its infancy, had nowhere near the glamour that the agency had had in the past. Although it shouldn’t have, it was something that bothered me. So I needed to overcome it.
Being small does not mean weakness. Humbleness is the lucidity of those who know their true dimensions and understand the need for evolution. Compassion is the lucidity of those who see in difficulties the ideal tools for their growth. Therefore, they abandon arrogance, reflection of pride and vanity. They are kind and generous with themselves and with everyone. And because they know themselves, they are truly strong.
Pride is the fear of people finding out that I am neither the greatest nor the best of men; envy is the fear of seeing other people feeling greater and better than I am; greed is the fear of not believing that love will be enough to keep me strong; jealousy is the fear of someone not thinking I am good enough to stand by their side. Where are such unhealthy emotions born?
Yes, from fear. Why do I feel such fears? Because I do not embrace the values that keep me under the axis of the principles I believe in. I seek happiness where it has never been, I confuse dignity with pride, peace with idleness, freedom with lack of commitment and the love I receive as if it were the love I have. When far from the heart, I am far from myself. I weaken and suffer. The heart is the meeting point where the ego, led by consciousness, becomes enchanted and marries with the soul.
At that moment an idea occurred to me. Every day is good for dying and then perfect for rebirth. It was time to let the power of essence tear the skin of appearance. I made a choice.
“You have to be naked to feel well dressed”. This was the sentence with which I opened my speech at dinner. Then I told the biggest of my ghosts at that moment, bankruptcy. Then I listed my many failures, stumbles and mistakes. It was the necessary confrontation: me with myself, without which no one can embrace themselves. However, I was careful to show how each one of them propelled me to valuable transformations. How the setbacks of existence were indispensable for me not to become the monster I would probably be if I were only graced with victories. They were also important in showing me the reverse of who I believed I was in the past. In the face of who I wasn’t was the best part of who I could become.
I stressed that there was nothing wrong with the victories, they were comforting and deserved the proper celebrations. However, the masters sail the seas of failure. In storms they offer new maps and guide changes of course. It is not the victories, but the failures that show us the route to the stars. There is much brilliance in victories and much light in defeats, “Provided you surround them with love, of course.”
“I understand, now, that victory translates into every gesture, word and choice that allows me to live love, to be free, worthy and to embrace peace. Only in this way can I be happy. As a shaman taught me, this is my true heritage because it fits entirely in my sacred bag, the heart. Who taught him this were the defeats”.
I kept quiet about some prizes won by the agency at advertising festivals. Although they made me happy at the moment of winning, they did not transform me or make me a better man. It was not an exercise of humility, but of sincerity, because I understood that they were worth little, if anything. They represented the opinions of some people who every year gathered to reward themselves, based on their own concepts and interests. They were only tributes of the world, they were not facts that levered the transmutations of my soul. By irony of life, or as a wise lesson, the trophies and medals had been washed away in the torrent of a flood some years ago. Just as the agency had been swept away by the wave of the cycles that renew themselves. I learned the hard way that they were not important because they were not needed. I had myself. This is real power. I walked, every day, with the firm purpose of reaching my heart. This is true wealth.
I spoke about how the birth of my daughters had brought a very significant change in my life by making me know love on a previously unknown level. They showed me that the higher law of ‘love all as yourself’, though still very distant for me, was possible and not just a literary and dreamy aphorism. From them, I had learned a lot about how delivery, commitment and dedication are rewarding.
Those who opposed difficulties in my trajectory were also worthy of my affection, because they taught me the value of overcoming and improving. They awakened dormant abilities and virtues in me.
I recalled several seemingly trivial facts, such as a time when I chased another driver for being rear-ended in traffic. When my car came to a stop at a traffic light, I looked at him in anger and defiance. He, with a merciful look on his face, made the sign of the cross as if he was facing a demon. And he was. It is a mistake to think that hell is in others. Because I never again wished to receive an equal and deserved look, I began to be careful not to react in that way to my dense emotions. Reactions, being spontaneous, translate us more perfectly than actions. That simple gesture taught me the need to begin to educate and pacify the shadows that composed me. “Do you understand that in that car there was a master? They don’t usually attend the gala balls or solemn events. It is more common to bump into them on the busy streets, behind the counters in the markets, in the bus queues, on the trains and, also, inside us. Of course, when we are willing to talk to them.”
“The whole universe fits into a simple gesture of love. Every time I rescue a part of my soul, I save a piece of the world to be experienced inside and outside of me. Outside of this, everything is illusion. My story, at least the chapters that deserve highlighting, is summed up in the facts that transformed me into a better man. All happened on difficult days and without any solemnity. The real achievements did not translate into trophies, but into lightness”.
When I finished I received the usual applause without any enthusiasm. Most understood that, by getting naked, I had invented a false beauty to make up for my defeats. They saw a man with a humanistic and spiritual discourse in an attempt to hide his frustrations, disappointments and failures. A few saw the sophistication of simplicity and the elegance of sincerity, the truth through the nakedness of the soul. I felt beautiful as we all are when we open our hearts without fear. With a closed or hidden heart, not even the owner himself will know the extent of its contents. The best will remain lost.
Most important, was the wonderful feeling of peace through dissolved fear. Living the truth without subterfuge is liberating. It restores lost dignity; a gesture of self-love. I was extremely happy to allow myself to be who I was.
Although many in that meeting despised my speech as escapist, I was joyful to win a small victory over this life-eating dragon. I faced it, not by the rules of the world, but by the laws of light. We need to reach into the prison of fear, understand the reason why it dominates and imprisons us. Then to free ourselves. When we stop feeding fear by the illusions and ancestral conditionings that value it, it crumbles by starvation until it shows its real face and size. The scary monster that steals our calm and sleep becomes a child’s toy. Keep it fondly to have it always as a reminder and lesson. They help tell some of the best pages of our history.
I didn’t care about the comments. In the end, and in truth, everything will always be between me and my heart. Everything else is landscape.
The night was not over. Without much delay Eduardo sat down beside me. We were alone at a table. He asked me if I really believed my words. I answered that I didn’t have the slightest doubt. I explained: “I did not have the life I wanted, but I have a perfect existence. Not in relation to the choices I made, because I made many mistakes, but in relation to the transformations I have achieved. Many others were offered to me, but I was not ready for them.”
“In the successes that I had, I managed to make the exact corrections of route, indispensable to the true conquests offered by life. I am grateful that it did not give up on transforming me into a different and better man. I wasted many opportunities; I took advantage of some others. I learned about gifts and dreams. I suffered a lot, even when I thought I was on top of the world. Until the day I understood that only love dissolves pain. I discovered virtues and the infinite need to know myself deeply. Once I wanted to be a hero, I wanted to be famous, I wanted to be rich. Today I just want to understand myself more and love better.”
Eduardo remained silent for a few seconds. His doubt about whether or not to open his heart was clear. Until he succumbed and with tears in his eyes he confessed that he suffered a lot. He told how as a boy he had been hungry. He had promised himself that he would be rich before he was thirty, so that his health would allow him to enjoy all the good things that there were in the world. In fact, he became a millionaire at a very young age. He had spared no effort to reach his goal. “I did everything,” he murmured as if it were a secret.
Despite having access to the luxury of the world, deep down he found his life very sad. His wife, the mother of his children, whom he had married out of love, could not bear to live by his side and left. She did not insist on a pension or on sharing his property. She just wanted to leave. His children grew up far from him. He did not manage to live harmoniously with the boys. None of them wanted to work in his company, although he insisted on it. He declared that his enormous patrimony is not capable of filling the feeling of emptiness he feels: “When I see someone with nothing who seems to have everything to live for, I am seized by enormous irritation, as if I were in front of an idiot”. He pauses to conclude: “Or it is as if he shows me that I am the idiot. I get disoriented”.
Looking away, he said, “Everything I have seems to swallow me up. Nothing can keep me satisfied until the next day. I have nightmares in which numbers jump, in suicide, from high skyscrapers as if to say that mathematics is a lie we tell our hearts. Equations build buildings, they never write a life.”
“I won, but I received nothing. I have a lot of people by my side. They are nice and capable of anything to please me, but I am alone and abandoned. I miss the warmth of a sincere embrace, the joy that shines from a smile, the infinitude of life that exists in a look full of love.”
We remained countless minutes without saying a word. There was no need to add anything to what he knew. He broke the silence to thank me for my speech: “You have opened my eyes”. I denied it. I had offered no lesson for him. I went to face my fear, fight my battle, find myself. I shrugged my shoulders, as if stating the obvious, and added: “Like two candles that light up in the explosion caused by an encounter. Without you I wouldn’t have got here either”.
We helped each other. Despite our differences, we had similar trajectories of mistaken searches, wrong choices, fears, sufferings and changes of cycles until the day of the inevitable encounter. Despite changing the degree and the tone, in essence, it is the story of all of us. So all criticism of the other loses its meaning. Consequently, without the need for words, sorrows cooled down and forgiveness blossomed.
Not that he ignored it, but I stressed: “The sword is in your hands, the warrior is ready, there is a fight waiting”.
Eduardo gave me a tight hug, shook his head and left. I watched that young warrior of almost sixty years old going away. Before he said goodbye to each one of the guests, without haste, as if he were on a final solemnity. He was saying goodbye to himself to find himself. It was he, but it was another. Another sword, another warrior and an unusual combat. He left as one who has an appointment. Life was waiting for him.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.