What prevents you from being yourself

The days were pacific at the monastery. The good atmosphere of camaraderie prevailed among the monks, as we call the members of the EOMM – Esoteric Order of Mountain Monks. In fact, many became friends; others were excellent colleagues. I think there’s a difference. Friends have a closer bond between their hearts, there is an affinity of souls that allows for understanding even when there are no words, a complicity that does not allow abandoning the other, even at times when truths are distant. Between colleagues there are common tastes, sincere respect and goodwill in personal dealings. Two of the monks, although they lived in different countries – Mario was Italian and Charles had British citizenship – created a beautiful bond of friendship. They aligned their study periods to the same time. They got on very well with the other monks, but they were always together. They were friendly and smiling. That year, at short notice, Mário announced that he would be arriving a few days late.

The monastery’s psychsphere was altered by Mario’s arrival. Not because of him, who arrived happy and cheerful, but because of Charles when he heard about his friend’s new projects. Let me explain. For several decades, Mário had worked in a large bank, reaching a prestigious position on the board of directors. He was well paid and had gained respect among the many companies he dealt with because of his job, which was to provide financial support to boost the constant need for investment in modernisation and commercial expansion. Because he received an excellent salary, he had a comfortable existence from an economic point of view; he held an angular position in authorising large loans and, for this reason too, he was treated with great reverence in the business world. However, during a merger process in which this bank was absorbed by a larger one, a complete overhaul of the staff became necessary. Mário was fired.

Despite his surprise, he wasn’t worried at first. He knew of his prestige in the financial market and believed that he would soon be employed. He took the opportunity to rest and take the sabbatical he had longed for. As his son was already grown up and attending university, he spent six months travelling with his wife around Asia and Oceania. On his return, he began to contact people he knew in search of a new position. That’s when he got the biggest surprise. The doors weren’t as open as he had imagined. As he was in his fifties and was fired with a high salary, banks and companies seemed more interested in bold young people who would accept much lower salaries. After a year, Mário realised that this was no longer a possible path. He didn’t let it get to him, because he had an unshakeable will to move forward, a lively  perspective on life and a true belief in his own power.

Mario had just arrived at the monastery. Just after lunch, the Elder, as we affectionately called the oldest monk in the Order, and I exchanged a few thoughts over two steaming mugs of coffee, while at the next table, Mario and Charles celebrated their reunion as friends do after some time apart. Everything changed when Mário explained: “I can’t and don’t want to retire. The savings I have allow me to maintain my current standard of living for a maximum of five years, even though I’ve already cut back on various expenses. However, I don’t think it’s likely that I’ll ever get a job like the one I’ve had all my life. The road I have travelled so far has given me marvellous achievements, but it is no longer available to me. A cycle has closed. I need to reinvent myself, otherwise I won’t be able to move forward.” Charles wondered if his friend had any idea what he was going to do. Mário explained: “I’m going to sell my holiday home. That with the money I still have saved, I’m going to set up a brewery. It’s a simple recipe, I’m going to offer pizzas and craft beers of excellent quality.” Charles’ face changed. Then he advised: “Don’t do that. Do you have any idea how many businesses close without even reaching their first anniversary?” Mário said he was aware of the risk he was taking, but that he refused to remain stagnant: “For me, living is about being on the move, looking for new encounters, discoveries and achievements within myself.” Charles insisted: “Please don’t make that mistake”. He then explained: “As you know, I used to own a very famous restaurant in London. I was pleased when I managed to sell it for a good profit. It’s a very different market from the one you know and have spent most of your life in. They are different universes. Apart from financial management, all your experience will be worthless in this new venture. What’s more, if it goes wrong, you’ll be left with nothing and you’ll have a hard time. Give up while there’s still time.”

The joy on Mário’s face immediately disappeared. He wanted to know his friend’s advice. Charles offered an example: “I’ve drastically reduced my spending. I’ve planned to spend specific amounts until I’m eighty. It’s all worked out. I have a quiet life. Every morning, I go for a bike ride in a beautiful park near my house. In the afternoon, I read a good book and let myself be enchanted by the story. I live the emotions and adventures of the protagonist, I travel through the plot, I’m moved by his encounters, I’m enchanted by his discoveries and I thrill to every achievement he makes”. He looked at his friend and concluded honestly: “I experience many emotions without taking any risks.”

Mário pondered: “The encounters, discoveries and achievements are not yours, nor are they real. Books are important sources of entertainment and knowledge; however, they shouldn’t serve as escape routes. If evolution is the meaning of life, challenges need to be present in our day. There will be no evolution without accepting the challenges inherent in it. They’re what get us out of our seats and take us where we’ve never been before. Challenges are indispensable journeys for the soul. There are no challenges without risks.”

He paused before adding: “Risks are valuable for teaching us that losing doesn’t mean being defeated, nor does it mean the end. Learning from losses is part of the important process of liberation, in which we realise that the knowledge we have acquired has only cost us the price of accessing it. By understanding this without getting down on ourselves, we win. The only real loss is when we lose ourselves, move away from our essence, truth, dreams and gifts. There is no greater risk than moving around guided by fear and getting used to stagnation. This is a real and true defeat, even though you believe you’re not taking any risks, the loss happens; you won’t get anywhere.”

Charles disagreed: “You don’t realise what you’re saying. You seem to have lost your mind!” Mario was startled by the change of tone in his friend’s voice. Charles continued: “Remember when you financed your wife to become a partner in a jewellery store a few years ago? Despite your intense intervention in the management, the business ended up closing at a huge loss.” Mário pondered: “Yes, I lost money, but I gained knowledge”. Charles intervened: “All your experience in the the financial market was of no use to you in getting a new job. Knowledge doesn’t pay the bills”. Mário disagreed: “Yes, it does. As long as I’m not afraid to use it later. The fact that the jewellery store was a failure doesn’t mean that new businesses will be too. The mistakes of the past enable me to do the right thing in the present, as long as I use them in the right way. This will turn mistakes into a valuable tool for success; an asset, albeit abstract, of inestimable value for the future because of its usability.” Charles was ready to end the conversation: “Do what you want, but don’t forget that I told you so. Don’t be sorry when you have to move to the outskirts of town and work as a waiter in the restaurant you once owned.”

At that moment, with the escalation of tone, the conversation went beyond the limit of an exchange of ideas to generate a little unease. The animosity immediately had an impact on the monastery’s psychosphere. That’s when the Elder decided to intervene. He was watching them. So was I, because the good monk had been paying attention to the conversation at the other table for some time. With his usual gentleness, the Elder apologised for overhearing what they were saying and asked if he could join in. They both agreed. Without altering the common serenity of his voice, the good monk turned to Charles and asked: “When you steal a person’s dreams and hopes, what do they have left?”. Based on years of learning in the Order, Charles replied: “You will always have yourself as your baggage, your axis of balance and your source of strength.” The Elder asked: “What baggage is there if it’s empty of dreams and hopes?”. As there was no answer, the good monk went on: “How does one move forward on one’s own axis or stop the water spring from drying up when there are no more dreams and hopes? How can you find balance and strength in yourself without the joy of walking sustaining you? How can you believe in life if you’ve stopped believing in yourself? How can you find beauty in flight after convincing yourself that wings are the cause of evil?”

The Elder recalled: “There is a fine and dangerous line between caution and fear; between courage and folly. The bird that takes flight before strengthening its wings will collapse on the ground; the bird that gives up flying will collapse in on itself. The essence of the bird is to reach higher and higher altitudes. The bird that tries to fly without being ready will pay the price of foolishness; the bird that never considers itself ready is dominated by fear. Only preparation and courage allow for the fulfilment of long flights”.

The Elder’s words brought clarity: “A bird cannot look at its wings as if they were an anomaly, a poison, a trap, the reason for its weakness or the reason for its shame, if it has failed in its first attempts to fly. A bird’s evil will never be its wings, but its fear of flying. The wings give meaning to the bird’s existence; only flight will enrich it”.

He had more to say: “Birds who trim their wings because they believe them to be dangerous are like those men who have become accustomed to the darkness of the cave where they have lived for a long time. They believe they will go mad when they leave the dark place where they are, because there are so many vibrant colours offered by the sun; they fear blindness due to the discomfort caused to their eyes by the sudden brightness, because they have long since become unaccustomed to it. Light is bad for us, it’s dangerous, they conclude. There is no greater downfall for a bird than to refuse to be a bird.”

The Elder pondered his own arguments: “Of course flying is dangerous and involves risks. There are many of them. There are those with slingshots who try to shoot down birds in mid-flight, there are predators who make the most of their greater size, there are the changing seasons that bring the need to fly to distant places where unfamiliar conditions will apply. There are the inevitable unforeseen events and you have to learn to deal with the unusual. Everything that threatens and annoys is a source of adaptability and overcoming; therefore, of growth. However, there are no conquests without discoveries; there are no discoveries without encounters. The most valuable encounter is with oneself. Only flight allows us to realise the full power of our wings”.

Charles argued that since disposing of the restaurant, he had adopted a quiet and healthy lifestyle for himself for years: “I’m a happy man and I have peace in my days”. Then he teased: “I wonder if the bird men have the same luck as me; I don’t know if they can sleep like me.” The Elder didn’t disagree, he just showed another angle: “There are those who feel blessed by the quiet of the darkness at the bottom of the cave, where they can hide from everyone and, they believe, even from themselves. That’s a mistake. There are people who confuse stagnation with peace and inertia with happiness. Stagnation arises from fear of challenges; there is no peace where there is fear. Nor is there peace in running away, because fear will continue to follow you wherever you go. Peace is the feeling of fulfilment that comes from overcoming fear. Inertia is typical of those who don’t know where they’re going or think they’re incapable of building themselves; they end up renting a place in other people’s lives. A waste. There is no happiness in being lost or feeling incapable. Some people confuse the concepts and believe that happiness or peace means an existence without risks or dangers. This is another mistake; happiness comes from realising the transformations that take place within us in the face of each situation we experience; the way we start to react better, in a different way to what we did before.  There’s no way to achieve this without taking the risks inherent in the movement and progress required by the Way.”

He sipped his coffee again before clarifying: “The world is a winding and sneaky road, full of dangers that everyone will have to face at some point. That’s why it’s necessary to prepare properly for each part of the journey. Even so, there will be many scares, surprises and difficulties. The imponderable will happen for one simple reason: life wants us to be able to walk under any conditions. So it harasses, shakes, pressurises, threatens and assaults. Even so, when we decide to carry on, we allow ourselves to find the indispensable balance and strength at the core of our being. This is power. By presenting us with darkness, the world aims to teach us how to switch on and use our own light. For this reason, it is a school and a workshop.” He took a sip of coffee and explained: “However erudite he may be, even if he has read all the books, a hermit is not a sage, because his knowledge is not in action and therefore of no value; in truth, he is nothing more than a fugitive. Behind the false appearances of happiness and peace lies fear, the real master of your choices. By denying the risks, you are preventing yourself from finding, discovering and conquering yourself. There may even be peace and quiet in their existential cave hidden from the world; however, they will be far from knowing genuine peace and authentic happiness, which is only possible by accepting the challenges inherent in evolution.”

The bell that signalled the start of afternoon classes rang. We all got up without saying another word. The days passed and, for the first time, the two friends were not seen together. Charles was sulking. I thought about talking to him, but the Elder advised against it: “He needs stillness and silence. Something is maturing inside him. Let’s wait a little longer.” After a few more days, we were in the last week of that cycle of studies. It was dawn. As usual, before the monastery woke up, I was with the Elder in the canteen, sitting at the table with two mugs of coffee and a bucket of ideas, when we were surprised by the entrance of Mario and Charles. They were cheerful and smiling, as they always were. They sat down with us. Charles got straight to the point: “I still have some money saved up, as well as the knowledge I’ve acquired in the years I’ve been running the restaurant in London. This is the capital with which I will become Mario’s partner in the brewery. I realised that Mário’s courage in not giving up on life was what bothered me, making me insist that he give up his willingness to move on, as a way of not having to admit the fear that had imprisoned me for so long.” He paused before concluding: “What bothers me signals my denials, deceptions and lies.” He arched his lips in a beautiful smile and finalised the lesson he had learned: “By denying all that I can be, I deny life and the Light. My Light.”

Charles thanked him for the conversation a few days ago, adding that it had been a turning point in his life. The Elder smiled, shrugged and said: “Your decision to wear your wings again was the cornerstone, everything else was just ideas.” Mario wanted to know the good monk’s opinion of the brewery. The Elder winked and joked like someone telling a secret: “I love beer; so does the world”. We laughed.

He asked to be excused, as it was time for his morning prayers and reflections before each day’s lessons. In silence, we watched him walk away with his slow but sure steps. His flights went beyond the boundaries we knew.

Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.

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