Who we are

When I arrived at the small Chinese village in the Himalayas, I left my suitcase at the only inn in the area and headed for the home of Li Tzu, the Taoist master. It was too early. Midnight, the black cat who also lived in the house, deep in his sleep, didn’t even move at my arrival. Li Tzu had finished the yoga exercises he practiced every morning. He received me with a sincere smile and invited me to breakfast; we could chat for a while before the students arrive for class. People came from all over the world to learn a little about the Tao from Li Tzu. “A little”, he insisted on emphasizing in his classes, because “the Tao expands according to personal evolution. Like the universe, the Tao is not static. The perception of Tao has the dynamism that each person applies to their own life,” he used to explain. He told me to make myself comfortable while he got ready. Li Tzu’s house looked just like him. Soft and cozy at the same time. There was a serene joy in the atmosphere and a calm song could be heard in the background, played at a very low volume. As no one spoke loudly, it was possible to hear it easily. It had the scent of incense that were always burning. Also, countless candles were lit and scattered all around, giving an ambience of light to the house, just like a Zen temple. However, my favourite place was the wonderful bonsai garden where the Taoist master applied the knowledge of his training as a botanist. I was enchanted by the beauty of the tiny trees. I had some bonsai trees in my house for some time, but they didn’t have the same vigour; I attributed the difference to the fresh air of the mountain ranges. Readily, Li Tzu called me to breakfast. Once I walked into the kitchen, I told him about the huge difference between his bonsai and mine. The Taoist master just arched his lips in a shy smile in response. Sitting at the table, I served myself some cereal, boiled vegetables, and tea. All very tasty, but very different from my customs. It was impossible not to notice that, despite his advanced age, the Taoist master was in excellent health. Although far from being an athlete, he had uncharacteristic agility and strength for his age. I told him that for years I had been taking care of myself so I could age well. I went to the gym, took care of my diet and had regular medical exams. Li Tzu nodded and simply said, “These are great practices.”

I took the opportunity to say that, despite the care, I had frequent flus. I pondered that, perhaps due to the urban chaos in which I lived, added to the rush of countless professional commitments, my immune system was being affected. I confessed that everything was very rushed, but I understood that it was part of modern life. Li Tzu just looked at me and listened with interest. I also mentioned that I thought about giving up my bonsai; they were weak and were always suffering with plagues. I was convinced that they were very sensitive and incompatible with the routine of a big city. I wanted to know what his opinion was. The Taoist master explained, “Pay attention to the world around you. The people and situations that are part of your life. They say a lot about who you are.”

I asked him to explain further. Li Tzu said, “Health is reflected in the body, just as fruits sprout on branches. Health is born and nourished in the soul, just as the root sustains and nourishes a tree. Your soul is your root; it explains the sweetness or bitterness of its fruits.” Then he deepened the logic: “The Tao is the fertile soil that sustains everything and everyone. Weak and diseased roots cannot extract vital energy from the earth, without which there is no beauty, strength and honey.”

I said that those words were too enigmatic. I asked him to be clearer. The Taoist master was considerate: “Like the sun, the Tao is for everyone. To do so, the will to get out of the darkness of the cave is all it takes. The world I see around me is the exact reflection of the expansion of consciousness and ability to love that I have. The ambience of my home, as well as everything else that surrounds me, speaks volumes about who I am. I express in life the light and the shadows in the intensity that they exist in me. I find in people the beauty and pain that inhabit me. This allows me to understand the vigour or the ills of my soul that will be reflected in the body.”

I reminded him that some illnesses are purges and experiences still pending to be understood, remnants of ancestral existences that are often linked to heredity. Li Tzu agreed, but made some reservations: “You talk about karma, don’t you?” I nodded in agreement. He continued: “I hear a lot of people talking about karma as punishment. It’s a mistake. All karma is a learning cycle that presents itself in the perfect measure of the learner’s need. The form hides the content. The Tao is founded on the pillars of love, wisdom and justice. Forget the outdated idea of ​​punishment from error, for there is no love in it. The Tao is immeasurable love. Therefore, embrace the concept of the individualized method of learning to understand the justice of the Tao. This is wise. The Tao uses shadows as stepping stones to light. Thus, each difficulty should not be seen as an enemy to be defeated, but as a teacher teaching a valuable lesson. Difficulty is the school of the warrior willing to fight a good fight, the fight that is fought with the weapons of light.”

“However, not all illnesses are karmic. In fact, very few are. Most illnesses manifest themselves because of the misunderstanding of the perspective that we have at this very moment of our existence. Hate is like a hammer to the soul; jealousy is worth a stab; the flu is a resentment that cannot be treated; pride is a wound that refuses to heal; Frustrations are like a bleeding that never stop, letting the vital energy that drives them flow down the drains of life. The world will never be like I want it; however, I am the way I want to be. Therefore, I find outside only what is manifested within. What exists inside is reflected on the outside.”

“When faced with the same adverse situation, some people resonate with fear while others emphasize hope. This differentiates shadows from light; itwithdraws the disease away from the cure. Fear is a fast-spreading virus; hope is part of any healing treatment. Everything that affects the soul is reflected in the body. Emotions and ideas are both the poison and the medicine of the soul.”

“The Tao is like a big drugstore that gives you all the medicines for your illness. Every healing is only complete when the treatment is incorporated and applied to our life. Through the simplest attitudes; the most delicate choices.”

I said that those words contained enormous wisdom, yet I noticed how he, Li Tzu, took care of his body, whether eating light meals or exercising his muscles through yoga. The Taoist master once again agreed and made reservations: “Yes, taking care of ourselves and having a healthy body expands the possibilities of action and helps with well-being. However, food and exercises for the soul are even more important than those offered to the body.” Li Tzu sipped his tea before continuing: “Good feelings are food for the soul; in the virtues we find the best gymnastics equipment for the spirit. Meditation and books are some of the therapies; the practice of good is the integral health.” He emptied the cup and pondered: “Although physical care is recommended, they are of no use when the spiritual side is left abandoned. There is little advantage for your well-being to eat steamed and organic vegetables for lunch while feasting on dishes full of pride and arrogance at dinner. The subtle, in order to survive, purges what is harmful to the dense.” I interrupted him to say that I didn’t understand that last sentence. The Taoist master explained: “As a healing mechanism, the soul transfers suffering to the body in the form of illness when we refuse to treat it in its spiritual phase. In the physical, as it becomes more evident, we usually start the search for a cure. All disease has its origin in the soul; where there is also the definitive treatment. You may eventually heal the body from an illness, but depending on how well you have also treated the spirit, health will continue to be susceptible to constant relapses.”

“In the world and in life are all the ingredients. The healthy and the harmful ones. The soul is your root; therein lies the choice of what you wish to absorb in every moment of your existence. Joy and suffering, indeed, are just the effects of their digestion.”

“Strong muscles are important, but they do little for a fragile spirit. The best warriors, even before physical skills, are those with a strong spirit. I speak about love, wisdom and will; ethics and vigour. A balanced mind, supported by the virtues in action, helps to harmonize feelings through a clear look and serene attitudes. There is no better gym than choices; every good choice is worth a yoga session or a strength training class for the spirit. Each reconciliation, hug or loving kiss is equivalent to a complete meal with proteins and minerals. A gesture of goodwill is like a dose of penicillin. An act of charity proves to be a wonderful anxiolytic pill, very effective for peaceful night’s sleep. A fast body does not advance in the Way when guided by a slow spirit.”

“Notice that people who live to complain about the imperfections of the world or their own luck in relation to life are those who present sadness or aggression as visible symptoms of the illness they carry in their soul, which, at some point, will manifest in the body in the form of an illness. They prefer to transfer the responsibility for achieving the fulfilment to which they are entitled, abdicating the power of transformation offered through personal evolution. As a result, they never reach it. Then they lament, declare themselves abandoned and fall ill. As much as the Tao is available to everyone, the Tao will not play the part that each individual is responsible for. We are responsible for our illnesses. Out of love, wisdom and justice the Tao offers us healing. Treatment will always be a choice.”

“The world around me is a mirror of my look, the ideas that I have and the emotions I absorb. They are reflected in my attitudes and interests; in my home environment, in the friends around me and in the work I do. It is a matter of energetic affinity, which both destroys and builds. It is important that this is like this, for it teaches as much about my personal power as it does about the lessons that are pertinent to me.”

I asked if he said that I am responsible for everything that happens to me. The Taoist master nodded in agreement. I argued that it was a simplistic and unfair, perhaps even Manichean, view of existence. This time Li Tzu vehemently denied it: “On the contrary, it is the understanding about all the strength contained in the being. Strength and responsibility are like brothers and always work together; there’s no way around it. Each one of us carries the power of the Tao within us. Learning to use it is the true art of the Zen wanderer.”

He looked me in the eyes and concluded: “It is a profound art. Profoundly simple.”

Students started to arrive. Li Tzu excused himself, got up and invited me to attend the class. I said I would use the morning for a walk on the mountain. He had already offered me a lot to think about.

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