We were about ten monks, as the members of the EOMM – Esoteric Order of the Monks of the Mountain – call themselves. We were sitting at the table in the canteen, listening to the funny stories of Pablo, a Spaniard who had been one of the monastery’s cooks for years, when we were surprised by the arrival of Luis, a monk much loved by all for the joy he used to radiate. To our surprise, he had dark circles under his eyes and they were swollen with tears. Louis was a winemaker in a small town in the south of France and always brought us a few bottles of the excellent wine he produced almost by hand. This time he arrived with empty hands and his heart in pieces. He had been widowed. From his apparent suffering, we thought that this had happened in the last few days. However, it had been almost a year since his wife’s departure. Contrary to what happens to most people, Luís showed no signs of improvement with the passing of time. The pain deepened every day.
Everyone stood up to offer a hug and words of comfort. Lúcio was the first to speak: “Friend, try to be cheerful. Death is not the end, but only a transformation that is indispensable for the renewal of the spirit and the continuation of the evolutionary process. At some point you will meet again. Death is an act of love of Life for life”. For some, suffering is a tool to strengthen faith, for others, an instrument that leads to scepticism. Luís was unbelieving in all the knowledge he had learned in many years of studies. He questioned his colleague’s words: “Who can guarantee that I will meet my wife again on another plane of existence?” Lucius maintained the vital serenity at that moment: “Love is a sure guarantee. It will always be the bridge across the abysses of life. It is a path leading us to the same destination. The vibrations of love are felt even to the ends of the universe, allowing similar people to locate and meet each other again.”
Luís asked, “I have doubts about whether love is a good feeling. I suspect that love is a trick of darkness: it attracts us by its beauty and enchantment. When we are at the climax of happiness, it takes us off the ground to plummet into the emptiness of endless pain. If I had known I would suffer so much, I would have preferred never to have loved.” Another monk, Richard, recalled a concept that Luís already knew but seemed to have forgotten: “Nobody suffers for love. If there is suffering, it is not because of love, but because of not knowing how to deal with other questions inherent to love, such as, for example, freedom. Love cannot become synonymous with domination, possession or slavery. Love does not draw up property deeds or close bars. To really love it is necessary to be enchanted with love even in the physical absence of the other person. It is essential to see the beauty of longing”.
Unbending, Luís disagreed: “There is no beauty where there is only sadness”. It was my turn to explain another angle to the colleague so dear to all at the monastery: “It is necessary to understand the reasons for the joy behind the longing. Remember, we only miss the good things we have lived. We only miss the people who are precious to our hearts. There is longing only when there is love”.
He sarcastically replied: “Longing is the price of love. And know this, a very high price. Do you want to know how much? Life itself. The amount charged leaves us in debt for the rest of our lives. Longing is the cruel creditor of lovers.” I tried to show the incoherence of his reasoning: “Love does not abandon us when we are far from the people we love. Longing is the connection between people who love each other when they are far away. Love only leaves us when we give it up. We allow it to escape the moment we insist on imprisoning it. Furthermore, because it carries with it the essence of freedom, love does not charge anything. It is us who demand of it, so when this happens, we lose it. Master only yourself and you will know plenitude; try to master the situation and you will find pain”. I paused and said: “Love your wife even if she is not physically at your side. Nothing prevents this love. However, remember her with joy. Longing is joyful, where there is sadness there is no love”. Not satisfied, I added: “You are still very young and, despite your infinite love for Lia, it is still possible to love another woman until you meet again on the day of the endless day. One situation does not cancel out the other.” Lia was what his wife was called.
Luís again disagreed: “It will be impossible for me. Lia is irreplaceable”. Another monk, Bill, trying to help Luís overcome his suffering, quoted a very popular aphorism: “Nobody is irreplaceable”. That was the last straw. Luís looked at us in revolt, became breathless and then began to feel ill. The Elder, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, who was listening to the conversation in silence, manifested himself. He held Luis’ hand and said: “I understand you”. Then, to our amazement, he stated with firmness and serenity: “It is impossible to replace someone”. Then he tucked him into a lingering embrace and advised him to go to his room to rest.
Alone, after Luis had left, the Elder spoke to us with gentleness and determination: “You have shown us all the beauty of wisdom about love. But you have forgotten to involve Louis’ moment with it. Words of love need to be wrapped in equal feeling, otherwise they will sound empty and without any virtue; they will not serve to enchant anyone’s heart”. We tried to explain that our intention was to help our colleague by showing him another view, a different and possible one, capable of taking him out of the darkness in which he found himself. The Elder agreed, in part: “The good intentions that moved them are undeniable. The arguments are also excellent. However, they must be tempered with mercy, an indispensable virtue in the world, without which words lose their luminosity and healing effect. Wisdom is precious, but without putting our heart into softening the suffering of others, it will lose a great part of its power”.
He paused briefly to continue: “Remember that Luis’ moment calls for welcome and affection so that he can recover his balance that, for the present moment, is lost. Only then will it be time for wisdom so that he can regain his inner harmony and rescue the joy of existence. Inverting the order of these factors disrupts the equation of life. When the heart is not serene, the mind cannot allocate the ideas, however sensible they may be”. He emptied his coffee cup and advised: “Go to your rooms to reflect and meditate. Tomorrow we will talk more and better”.
As we were leaving, the good monk warned us: “Despite the excellent arguments used, there has been a conceptual misunderstanding. He paused briefly before surprising us: “We are all irreplaceable”.
After several days, Luís had shown no improvement. His despair had turned into a revolt against gods and men. He cursed the heavens and the world. With great patience, the Elder strolled for hours at his side through the monastery gardens. From a distance, we could only see Luís talking while the Elder listened to him.
About a week later, we were all in the canteen. We had come out of the meditation room and were having a small snack before the day’s lectures and studies. The Elder was with us. We were talking about various subjects when Luis entered. He, even before sitting at the table, said he would like to continue the conversation interrupted previously. We remained in silence. The Elder asked him to feel free to speak, either as catharsis or to listen to himself, an efficient method to understand ourselves better. Luís returned to the subject: “Life only has meaning because of its cruelty. We are taught that we should love people. We do this and when we believe ourselves to be happy, we lose them forever.” As no one spoke up, he continued, “Where will I find another woman like Lia? Impossible. My pain will never end.” He kept up the same tone on his speech and arguments for long minutes. The Elder let him speak as a way of emptying the sorrows from his heart and also for his mind to try to find some incoherence in his own words. Then to reconstruct the path back to himself. Without interruption, Luís spoke and repeated his words until he got tired of hearing himself. After a brief silence, the Elder consoled him: “I understand you perfectly. As you all know, I went through a similar situation in the past. You are right when you say that no one will replace Lia. We are all unique and, therefore, irreplaceable.” And he disconcerted everyone by saying: “It’s wonderful that it is so”.
Faced with looks that expressed question marks, the good monk explained: “Love, justice and wisdom of the universe are immeasurable. If we could replace people, life would be very ordinary: when one person leaves, another like him takes his place. A shallow and poor situation, for we would know only one type of beauty. Because we are irreplaceable, with the departure of a person, whatever the reason, we will have to learn to appreciate different kinds of beauty so that life can continue with its colours and enchantment. Nobody replaces anybody because it is indispensable that we can love everybody. No one takes the place of anyone so that we can expand who we are and add many others in our hearts. To add is much more than to replace. In this way we learn to love more and better”.
“To deny the exchange is stagnation; to accept replacement is a mistake. In aggregating we make the choice for movement and expansion. All loss is apparent; we lose so that we may learn to gain.”
The Elder turned to Luis and asked: “Search your earliest memories to see if there was a toy that you missed a lot because you lost it”. Luís closed his eyes for a few moments and murmured: “The yellow bicycle”. Like a time traveller, he recalled: “When I was a boy I used it to explore the world. It took me everywhere. An inseparable companion until the day it was stolen. I was very sad”. The Elder wanted to know if his parents had given him another bicycle to replace that one. Luís said yes: “But it was not the same. For some reason that I don’t know, I became not interested in it”. The Elder questioned the reason. Luís couldn’t explain: “It was the same make and model. It was also yellow, just a little lighter. However, it seemed very different to me, as if something fundamental was missing”. The good monk explained: “In truth, it was not something missing, but that there was too much of it: attachment. Then he expanded his reasoning: “Attachment prevents the transformations and diversities inherent to life. That first bicycle, because it was irreplaceable, made you believe that all the others were worthless or bad. This way of thinking imprisons by limiting existence and establishing narrow borders to the world. To your world”.
“When we are bound by feelings, we imprison our thinking. When feelings are freed from the prisons of pain, thinking is freed from limitations. Attachment is a prison disguised as affection. Feelings are vital to refine our perception. Reality contracts or expands according to the measure of sadness or joy we feel; consciousness contracts or expands according to the measure of the ties or freedom to think and perceive reality. Suffering, while it persists, will be a powerful handcuff for thinking. Like an efficient symbiosis, thinking is the pliers to cut the chains of suffering. The change of perspective brings healing and changes the dimension of life. Consciousness establishes the size of the world and the colours of reality for each of us.”
“The yellow bicycle is no different from the people who are part of our lives. The ones who remain are those we choose, even if they do not choose us; who have taught us, even if in adversity; who we love, even when physically distant. As the poet wrote, far away is a place that does not exist and forever is a time that is measured with love. We need to open ourselves to appreciate the beauty we don’t know. Give up the creeping classifications like better or worse, this is limiting and quite unfair as well. Accept that it is different. It is enough for enchantment.”
“People are different from each other. No two are alike; we are all unique. Therefore, irreplaceable. This is not a problem, but the reason for evolution. In individuality lies the charm of each person. This is why it causes frustration and, consequently, suffering when we try to replace someone. It is an impossible journey. You will be disappointed if you insist on this journey. More seriously, you will not discover the charm in a thousand other landscapes in the world. The secret lies in adding rather than replacing. If the fact that nobody replaces anybody is a true premise, we will come to the conclusion, also true, that one beauty will never cancel out another. Welcome them all into your heart. Then you will find the charm of love by understanding that life has a paint box with infinite colours. And most of them we do not yet know”. He winked at Luis as if revealing another secret and said sweetly: “Even yellow has many shades. And all of them are beautiful and indispensable.”
“The old yellow bicycle made you know fantastic places; this makes it unforgettable and eternal in your heart. The new yellow bicycle would take you to other places beyond your imagination and open up more space in your heart. However, you did not allow it.”
The Elder frowned and said: “The lesson is repeated by necessity. You can continue to sit by the side of the road lamenting the lack of the yellow bicycle. However, your suffering will get you nowhere. Since no one suffers for love but for attachment, you have the choice to change reality by using love as an impetus to go beyond where you have always been. There will never be a shortage of a yellow bicycle, of improbable nuances, for those who feel like travelling. This is the magic of life”.
At that moment, the tear that was running down Luís’ face found a smile, as it had not happened for a long time. Something began to change at that instant. All that is needed to be reborn is the joy contained within a will to do it.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.