“What is the truth of the rose?” asked the Elder, as we affectionately called the oldest monk in the Order, when I asked him about time. Then he excused himself, stood up and left me alone with my thoughts. I didn’t understand the correlation he was trying to make me see. I thought he didn’t want to face this complex and difficult-to-understand question. Our days are measured by the rotation of the Earth on its own axis; seconds were established by a Florentine when he verified the regular pattern of the oscillation of a pendulum, a scientific fact related to the gravitational effect of the planet we inhabit for the time being. Other planets, stars and galaxies, with their own electromagnetic influences, have unthinkable results when it comes to measuring time. This affects us in countless ways. Old age is a permission granted to some; death is everyone’s right, which no one can give up. Like a drum, time seems to dictate the rhythm of this march. There’s no denying its enormous importance to our existence, although important physicists and scientists have already warned us of its relativity. We use a centuries-old standard as a gauge of a still largely unknown force called Time.
In our metaphysical studies, which we associate with philosophy, we work with the idea of the transience of the body and the immortality of the spirit, the true identity of every living being. The planetary measurement of time is easy to read: we invented the clock, which serves the body well. However, there is another, with its own regulating factor for the spirit. We clearly realise that several measurements of time operate in parallel to each other; those that regulate the smaller cycles structure the following periods. In short, the time of the body is different from that of the spirit. One perishes while the other continues; the former is one-dimensional, the latter is inter-dimensional. In a slightly deeper analysis, the time of the spirit, although different, is for the moment associated with that imposed on the body by the Laws of Physics, because the body is an instrument of evolutionary experiences provided by existence, fundamental to the advancement of the spirit. It is the body that animates me and holds the essence of who I am. My planetary journey, whose parameters are the years accounted for by the Earth’s translations, with inevitable repercussions on the deterioration of the body, is a fundamental instrument for navigating the current evolutionary scale, an exercise in perfecting and training my immortal spirit. There is an obvious and indispensable symbiosis in the different time scales that govern the existence of the body and the life of the spirit. Whether we like it or not, this affects you and me.
I wanted to understand in order to make the most of it. This is just one of the many questions that arise when we delve into the idea of time. It is said that Augustine of Hippo, a Christian philosopher from the Middle Ages and very important for the development of Western philosophy, was asked if he knew anything about the subject. The wise man would have said: I know what time is, but if I have to explain it, I don’t know anymore. No answer is definitive given the complexity of the subject. However, delving deeper into the issue enables us to use a tool of great power and undeniable influence.
If there was one person in the world who could explain time to me, it would be the Elder. At least, that’s what I believed until I received a nonsensical question, bordering on the bizarre, as an answer to a serious enquiry full of educational interest. It was clear that he didn’t know.
I found him early the next morning, sitting alone in the canteen. He smiled, tipped his chin to indicate that there was fresh coffee in the pot and signalled for me to sit down at the table next to him. As soon as I was seated, he wanted to know if I had made any progress in my understanding of time. I confessed that I hadn’t. The Elder asked again: “What is the truth of the rose?”. I threw my arms up in lament and said that I didn’t find the joke funny. My interest in the subject was sincere. However, I pondered, perhaps only fools want to know about time. The good monk disagreed: “No. Only fools claim to have the definitive answer to such an intriguing subject. The knowledge of time is a road full of portals. At each one is an enigma. After solving each one of them there will be permission to travel another stretch until you reach the next one. The road is long, the portals are many. The prerequisite for initiation is to know the truth of the rose.”
I insisted that it didn’t make sense. The Elder smiled sweetly and patiently, as if he were facing a student who doesn’t learn because he refuses to think in a different way to what he’s used to. In his serene voice, he said: “Perhaps Logunan can help you”. I was stunned.
Logunan or Logunã is one of the Orixás of Umbanda. The Orixás are the creative and ordering energies of the universe according to the theology that structures this religion which, like all others, when practised through the paths of love, are important evolutionary paths full of Light. I have always attended churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, spiritualist centres and esoteric orders, from different strands and different traditions, with equal affection, admiration and respect. I love the Giras de Umbanda, as they call the beautiful ceremonies, their fantastic rituals and the incredible well-being I feel during and at the end of the ceremonies. I had studied a little about this marvellous religion which, since it dates back only a few decades, has little literature about it compared to those that have been around the world for millennia. They all have their beauty and reason for existing. Very little has been written or revealed about Logunan. Basically, it is known that he is the Orixá responsible for time and faith.
I commented on this to the Elder. He smiled like someone leading a child to an unlikely discovery and asked: “Why does the energy that drives time also take care of faith?”. I didn’t have a clue, especially considering I’d never investigated this detail before. Realising that I didn’t have the answer, he added: “Understanding the correlation between time and faith will help you to know the truth of the rose. Then you’ll have a better understanding of time”. Without me saying a word, he said he had to get ready for the classes of that day. Before leaving, he winked and said slyly: “Time is running out”. I watched him leave the canteen with his slow but sure steps.
I was still drinking coffee and navigating through my thoughts when I was informed that I had to contact someone in my family. It was urgent. My grandmother, who had always enjoyed privileged health and impressive vitality despite her advanced age, had until then lived alone in her house in a suburb of Rio de Janeiro. She did all the work, kept herself cheerful and in good spirits. She attended the neighbourhood church, helped out at church fairs and in helping the needy. A few weeks before her ninetieth birthday, she suffered a stroke. The rumours were that she would have permanent sequelae and would need help. Her independent and active lifestyle had come to an end. A new cycle had begun for her for a period of time that nobody could say for sure. I spoke to a cousin on the phone. I suggested that we could get together to support her. If everyone co-operated, no one would be overburdened. She told me that they had already held a meeting and decided that the best solution was to put her in a home for the elderly. She argued that there she would have proper care, people of the same age to interact with, occupational activities and we could visit her whenever we wanted, any day and any time. She reassured me that I shouldn’t worry because Mrs Valentina, as my grandmother was called, would be fine. I remembered how important she had been to all her grandchildren. As children, we used to spend the holiday months at her house so that our parents could work. She looked after us with enormous patience and infinite love. My cousin replied that we weren’t abandoning her, on the contrary, we were offering her the opportunity to be well looked after and to make the most of the time she had left. The nursing home was one of the advantages of modernity, she claimed. In the end, in a critical manner, she said that no one should feel guilty. It was the best solution for everyone. She was being honest.
I was left with a bitter taste. I had the urge to return immediately. However, I thought to myself that there was no point. The decision had already been made and it was up to me to understand what the whole family already understood. My arguments also included having to give up that period of study at the monastery, one of the activities I was most happy to do. I finished my coffee and went to the course. I couldn’t concentrate in class. During the break, I went for a walk along one of the mountain trails. I needed to think and understand what was bothering me so much. A wise choice had been made and, as my cousin said, we couldn’t let ourselves be led by any guilt. The best was being offered to Mrs Valentina.
I walked up to a high plateau, from where I could see a beautiful green valley. I often went there to reflect. There was silence and stillness. I leaned back against a rock and let myself be enveloped by the telluric vibrations. Many ideas came and went. There are many voices that inhabit us and I was learning to talk to all of them, identify their origins, accept some and educate others. I had also learnt what criteria to use to choose which ideas deserved to be accepted. The guiding principles were the same as those of the plenitudes: freedom, dignity, peace, happiness and love. One thought was very strongly present at that moment: Mrs Valentina had always been a free woman. There were many stories that showed attitudes beyond the behaviour common to her generation. She was never stuck in her time. She lived according to her truth, revolutionary to the standards of the time. However, they were dignified because they didn’t harm anyone; loving because they didn’t cause any harm, apart from the false morality of those who pretend they’re better than everyone; peaceful, because they didn’t insist that anyone follow their way of being; happy, as are the people who turn the wheel of life because they believe that their own strength gives them the power to fly beyond the reach of the slingshots of pettiness. This strength generated within oneself, in full harmony with the Universe, is called faith.
I was struck by this phrase: she has never been stuck in time. Yes, time can become a prison. What set her free was the certainty of believing that all the power of life dwelled within her. As long as she didn’t do to others what she didn’t want them to do to her, she was allowed to do anything. This can be summarised as love. But it’s not little; on the contrary, it’s enough light to illuminate the darkness of the world. Another idea that occurred to me deserved careful analysis: what set her free was the certainty of believing that all the power of life dwelled within her. This is faith. At first, because it is a virtue, faith is an instrument of the Light and one of the attributes of love; therefore, faith is an indispensable evolutionary tool. Faith is the wings that allow you to fly beyond the prison walls of time, which fall apart in the face of an existence committed to the evolution of the spirit that animates the body.
Why can time become a prison? Existence is an experience of enlightenment offered to the spirit through the body. When it makes the most of it, it is freed from the cycle of reincarnation, as spiritists refer to it, or from the Wheel of Samsara, a term used by Eastern doctrines. Otherwise, it can’t progress to the subtler spheres of existence, where life continues with greater fulfilment.
While time for the body is measured by planetary days and hours, time for the spirit is measured by the evolutionary cycles that it completes. This is cosmic time, infinite and liberating. To do so, it is essential to discover one’s own strength and learn to use this power. It comes through faith in yourself and in the Light that lies dormant in you and in me. Only love awakens it.
We have been conditioned to interpret faith as belief in the divine. This is correct. Believing in this greater force is the primordial act of faith. However, faith is more than that. Regardless of how each person understands God, it is essential that we find him everywhere, especially within ourselves. Manifesting him through me is made possible only by the love that has already blossomed and been applied in each of my choices. Love, when lived, is the most valuable expression of the sacred. This experience is revolutionary. The awareness of the transforming power of your own love is called faith.
Loving more and better frees me from the limits of time.
At that moment, the correlation between time and faith became clear. I looked up at the sky and smiled alone. Maybe not so alone. I thanked Logunan for that connection and clarity of mind. It was time to go back, I knew that from the start. Due to her physical limitations, Mrs Valentina had lost her autonomy. Had she lost it or had it been denied her? Although freedom belongs to the spirit, when it is already luminous, autonomy speaks to the body. The word autonomy has Greek origins and derives from autos (own) and nomos (rule). In other words, to live by one’s own rules. It’s a right that, as such, is legitimised when it’s earned. Valentina had built a unique way of being and living. Although limited, in part, by the physical difficulties that arose, on the other hand, many possibilities still seemed viable to her. Was her will included in the balance of good and fair decisions, or did only the family’s interests and comfort prevail? As for me, it was time to swap a short-term pleasure for a long-term one. Otherwise, I’d be stuck in my own time. Understanding the meaning of each situation allows us to open doors that we didn’t even know existed. Simply because we didn’t see them.
Serene, as we are when the truth takes us by storm, I returned to the monastery. I went to see the Elder to explain why I was interrupting that cycle of studies, but that I would be back the following year. He frowned and said: “There is no interruption. In fact, right now you’re continuing a valuable cycle of learning. We always grow when we make the journey home. Elaborate and enjoy, son”. As he said goodbye, the monk added: “You’re very close to discovering the truth of the rose,” reminding me of the unsolved riddle.
In Rio de Janeiro, I went straight to the retirement home. There were lots of old people there, all very well looked after. Some were happy and adapted to their new reality, others not so much. I was told that my grandmother refused to leave her room. Her eyes were sad. I asked to be left alone. We exchanged a hug and a few tears. I told her I was there to take her home if she wanted me to. I explained that I had hired some staff to look after her, as well as a physiotherapist and a speech therapist to carry out the necessary treatment. A good friend of mine was a geriatrician and had volunteered to do the clinical part. I would supervise everything and visit her almost every day. Despite the difficulty in articulating the words, she said: “You’ll have to oppose the whole family. I don’t want any fights.” I explained that I didn’t think there would be any trouble. What’s more, I reminded Valentina: “I’m doing it for you, but I’m also doing it for me”.
That same day, I spoke to all the cousins. In fact, there were no fights, just minor disagreements. To summarise, they said that if I insisted on acting out of guilt, there would be nothing left of my wisdom. They argued that although they loved Grandma, they didn’t owe her anything. But I could do differently if I wanted to. They just reminded me that as soon as I took her out of the retirement home, the responsibility would be mine alone. I said that I realised this. One of them, a little more excited, even said that he was washing his hands. I didn’t reply, but recalled that history attributed these words to Pilate. Contrary to what he might have predicted, I was happy to be on the other side.
To be honest, it wasn’t difficult or expensive at all. No acts of heroism were performed. It was all very simple. As Valentina received a generous pension, her money was enough to cover all the expenses. All I had to do was hire the staff and manage the running of the house and the care she would need. It was all very smooth and much easier than it seemed at first. My routine was almost unaffected and the small changes brought huge gains in terms of a more intense coexistence I began to experience alongside my grandmother. No-one is free before they become wise. There was enormous wisdom in that woman. Those were marvellous days.
As is typical in the suburbs, where neighbours live together more intensely, there was a small crowd to welcome Valentina. I had arranged for the house to be cleaned, but affection can’t be bought. She was thrilled to meet people who were happy to see her again. She was delighted to see how well looked after the plants she loved so much were. She was moved to tears when they gave her Frida, the little mongrel who had been with her for years; without anyone asking, a neighbour had been looking after the dog when she heard she was in hospital. It was a beautiful party, almost as beautiful as the smile she gave me that day.
As she recovered, Valentina took charge of the house and her life. Living with people with whom she had an affinity was a vital part of her treatment. The power of love is immeasurable. Part of her improvement was due to the doctors and other health professionals, while the other part was the responsibility of her own awakened conscience. My presence was no longer imposed by necessity, but by sheer will. There were many long conversations on the most diverse subjects. Many amusing stories that would have been lost without those enchanting days. I understood how the exercise of autonomy, within the specific limits of each body, drives the awakening of freedom, a general attribute of the spirit that we are.
Of the many conversations I had with Mrs Valentina, two were pivotal for me. The cousins visited her on her birthday and telephoned at Christmas. I had arranged a cake for her ninety-first birthday party. I invited the neighbours too. Perhaps annoyed at the fact that I thought and acted differently, one of my cousins insisted on the old line that I was doing all that moved by guilt. Sitting in her rocking chair, but attentive to events, our grandmother listened and answered for me. She spoke with the serene voice of those who live at peace with their own truth: “Daughter, what you interpret as guilt, he understands as love. Love without commitment is surface love.”
The other conversation took place just before the endless day when she left for the Highlands. I asked her if there was any resentment she felt since she had cared for all her grandchildren with so much love and received so little in return. She arched her lips in a slight smile and said with the purity of her soul: “Not at all. A rose won’t be sorry if someone rushes past without noticing the beauty it has worked so hard to offer the garden, it won’t be sad if they haven’t smelled the perfume with which it has improved the air that everyone breathes, if they haven’t noticed the colours it has offered to add beauty to everyone’s day, if they haven’t understood that the curved design of its petals exalts the infinite power of creation. She lives to the full by offering her best, even if no one understands her. In this way, the truth of the rose becomes the same as that of the Creator: the love of the rose will also illuminate the steps of those who deny the light, but who often, even without knowing it, have stopped stumbling because they were able to see something that was in them and never realised it before. They may never recognise the beauty that the rose has brought into their lives, they may never admit that sometimes they were saved from suffocation because of the rose’s good perfume. No matter, it knows the truth. That’s enough. This is its power. The only danger in a rose’s existence is that it gets lost in time and dies while still existing as a bud. The rose’s truth teaches it that faith in its own strength is what will make it bloom. Even if many despise it, they won’t be able to stop it. It enchants in a place where brutes cannot reach.”
“Some consider the rose to be fragile, capable of shattering at the slightest movement. They don’t realise that the rose’s power lies in its faith, which means that when it blooms, it will light up many hearts. Thus, unlike those who believe themselves to be strong, it overcomes the time of existence and wins the right to enter life. This is the truth of the rose. The most precious force possesses a subtlety that is still barely perceptible in our time.”
At that moment, I had the feeling that Mrs Valentina was a messenger from Logunan.
Time is not only explained but is also defined and takes on new contours through faith. Time can act as a prison or as wings, depending on the blooming of the rose. Power and truth in ourselves reveal faith. The encounter with our own essence creates harmony with the Universe. Then all the mountains will move so that we can see what is behind them.
To understand the meaning of each situation is to find the love hidden in each person’s suffering; the wisdom hidden in each day’s difficulties. Then all the darkness will become light.
I talked about this with the Elder when I returned to the monastery almost two years later. He smiled and said: “Everything begins, walks and ends in love, a virtue in which there are various forms of understanding, from the wildest to the most sublime. You must be patient, because everyone brings the truth to the level of their own understanding. Your cousins were just as honest as you.”
He drained his coffee mug and concluded: “The road to the Light is only paved with love. Understanding faith is the engine of the locomotive that takes us to our destination. Time is just one of the stations, one that has many forks to different places. As long as the driver doesn’t learn to read the map, the journey won’t be able to continue.”
He excused himself, got up and left. I watched the Elder leave the canteen with his slow but sure steps.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.