When I joined the Order, I had the wrong idea that life in the monastery was just contemplative, away from the impurities of the world, so that the monks would remain pure. Even though there was an initial period of retreat for proper initiation, in which there was much study and mediation, we were soon sent back to the world as a way to effectively come to know and improve ourselves. The Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, used to say that ‘the sacred is not apart from the mundane, but hidden in it’. It is from the ordinary, everyday relations that we can better grasp our reactions and the rough edges that still make us bleed. Smoothening them is necessary for improvement; improvement leads to transformation; transformation translates into evolution. The periods of loneliness and reflection are as fecund as those of social or professional relationships. In fact, they are different contents of the same lesson. They are different in order to complete one another.
At that time, whenever I returned to the monastery, I would always arrive emotionally shaken. On this occasion, it was no different. Despite the Order supporting itself from the sales of the well-known artisanal production of chocolate, the purchase of which connoisseurs had to wait long for, the EOMM (Esoteric Order of the Monks of the Mountain) indicates, in its premises, the importance of work and financial independence of its members. This is why all members have their jobs, are self-employed or are, even, business owners. The Old Man himself would travel a lot to deliver lectures in different cities. To go out to the world is very refreshing, and allows much and good material to be collected, so that one could examine oneself. I had arrived very tense, much worse than I usually did. My company was facing strong competition from newer ones, that promised more for less, and the market was looking at them with favorable eyes. Bankruptcy was the threat I feared I would have to face. The Old Man sensed that I was irritated and absent-minded. I told him what was going on. He said: “If you did your best, just wait for the response of the universe with composure. Those words annoyed me, but I managed to get a hold of myself and told him there was no question in my mind I had done my best. I explained that I was too shaken and hoped to appease my heart at the monastery. The monk nodded his head, showing he understood me, and said collectedly: “Even though some sites are good for one to be invigorated with energy, one does not have to go anywhere to talk to one’s own soul. If you want an encounter with yourself, silence is the best place.” I told him I was tense, and was sleeping badly at nights. The Old Man closed his eyes as if he was going to retrieve something from the drawers of memory and recited a short poem: “Learn to trust what’s happening. If there is silence, let it increase, something will emerge. If there is a storm, let her roar, she will calm down.”
That was too much for me. I wanted to know who was the silly author of that poem advising me to cross my arms while the world collapsed on my head. The Old Man looked at me with compassion and was economical: “Laozi.” With some contempt I said I did not know who that man was. With patience that was typical of him, the monk explained: “He was the founder of philosophical Taoism. There are many codes for the Path. Taoism is one of its most ancient and beautiful traditions. He was a Chinese alchemist who lived more than two millennia ago, and presented us with impressive writings.” I laughed boisterously and joked by asking if I would also learn how to turn lead into gold. I added that that was what I needed at that time. The Old Man remained collected and said with composure: “Yes, it is possible to turn into gold the lead we carry in the soul.” He paused briefly and added: “There is no question this is what you need, now. This is what all of us need. But the will to do it is a mandatory condition.” He became silent again for a moment and continued: “In addition, to quiet yourself does not mean to do nothing. This is a valuable movement of inner perception and all that it entails.”
The poise of the monk in face of my sarcasm made me uncomfortable, and I suspected a good lesson was about to come at that point. I settled myself, apologized and asked the monk to help me understand the poem. With his tremendous patience, he said: “We always have to give our best in face of all that happens. However, there is nothing we can do in face of the immeasurable force of some movements made by the universe and that make a crucial change in our lives. This shift is inevitable. This is the reason why Laozi uses the image of the roaring storm that frightens or the lack of winds not propelling the sails of boats. These are situations we cannot interfere in. We all go through moments in which we feel everything will be destroyed or, at other times, we undergo slumps as if nothing is going to happen, as if life was not alive.” He paused briefly and then continued: “This is a harbinger of great transformations, the commencement and ending of cycles and of essential lessons. It is time to keep calm, pay attention and trust life’s infinite wisdom and love. Then, you seize the new moment and move on.”
“Knowing that the universe always conspires in our favor makes us sure that all that happens is for our own good. We must be careful not to be in the way.” I interrupted him to say I could not understand how my company going bankrupt could be a good thing. He smiled and tried to explain: “You do not know what is about to come, nor are you aware of the transformations life is preparing for you. Perhaps your company’s cycle has ended for remaining behind in its journey or maybe the time is ripe for your company to be revised, reinvented, as if to recall that everything can be different and better. Guessing is for those who are frivolous and arrogant; refining sensibility is for those of good will and joy in walking. Bear in mind that you are a core, essential part of the universe. This is why it is committed to your good and evolution. Albeit, at times, we think its methods odd.”
“Understanding the operation of the universe and the major laws that regulate life allows you to float in air.” He looked me in the eyes and said: “This helps create the conditions for peace to settle in our hearts. So, nothing that happens in the world will be able to shake us.”
I asked him to further explain it to me. The Old Man explained his reasoning: “We are children of the universe, loved and protected by the perfect intelligence that regulates life. Nothing is forgotten, missed or excluded. Everything is managed by skilled, wise hands that care for the evolution of each one of us. Each one of us receives the perfect tool for the necessary lesson. Evolution requires motion, and not always we are willing to go along with the rhythm of life. Thus, change is imposed on us, unavoidably. Wait with composure what will come, and be ready to use the winds when they blow. If you are tender with the soil when you sow, you will have a plentiful harvest in response.”
I said I understood what the monk was talking about, but I could not fit those words in the situation of my company. The Old Man gave me a kind gaze and left. On the days that followed, the storm did not abate. On the contrary, it seemed stronger, sweeping everything in its path. In order not to go bankrupt, I accepted the suggestion of my partner to sell the company to an international corporation. I spent the following months retired in the monastery, sulking. I was sad and could not understand the reason why all of that had happened. I was sure I had done my best for things to work out fine, as they had for many years. I needed an encounter with myself. I had to make peace with life so that joy could blossom again.
As days passed, sadness turned into the understanding that I did not like the company as I did in the beginning. In fact, I enjoyed the financial comfort it provided more than the actual work I had to do. During my final period leading the company, I did not wake up every morning with the same enthusiasm of earlier days, when I was involved with new ideas and the possibility of doing different and better. I came to realize that the company was no longer part of my dreams and had turned into an obligation, as well as the source of a generous income. Yes, I no longer had the joy of doing what had pleased me in the past. My soul yearned for changes, but I refused to admit it. Then, life gave me a gift in the form of a storm to sink that erratic ship that sailed aimlessly to reach nowhere. It sailed only to count the passing of days. I realized that the storm was, in fact, the chance to start a new journey to distant lands on seas never sailed before.
My spirit shifted, I was happy again. I did not know what to do, but I was willing, attentive and keen for the new. I felt like I was in a huge station choosing which train to board. I started to listen to what the silence of my heart was whispering. I had always wanted to work with creation and creativity. I had realized the direction I wanted to follow, but I had to choose a destination. This was when an old friend of mine, who was vacationing in the small and charming village located at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery, came for a visit. He had created a small digital marketing agency in the wake of significant changes that were taking place in regards to advertisement and publicity, for which the traditional media was becoming somewhat sluggish. He told me he needed a partner. It was like waking up from sleep being caressed by a frisky sun ray that dribbles the curtains of a dark room and licks your skin. I had some money from the sale of my share of the company and a huge dream ready to be fulfilled. That was life being renewed with all its power and intensity. I made a heartfelt prayer giving thanks for the extreme storm.
I went to the world and came back to the monastery a year later for a few weeks of retreat, studies and meditation. The agency was still crawling, but the future looked bright. More importantly, joy was once again back into my days. The first thing I did was to look for the Old Man, to tell him that things had changed and I was happy. He arched his lips in a mild smile and asked: “Things changed or you changed? For many the world was no different than from a year ago.” I closed my eyes in response. Yes, I had changed, and life revealed itself in new, beautiful, unknown colors. I thanked him for the conversation we had about Laozi’s poem, and how much his words had helped me in reaching the precise understanding to strengthen my choices and regain power over my own life. I could open the wings to take the flight that is only possible when a dream comes true. I told him that now I understood what the art of floating in the air meant. The monk only smiled. I said I had no recollection of having ever been so happy. The Old Man made his point: “Yes, we always change for the better. This is one of life’s laws. When we don’t feel like that, it is because we have yet to make the right move.”
I took the opportunity to apologize for being sarcastic when he tried to teach me something so important. The Old Man seemed unshakable in his virtues: “Only life teaches, Yoskhaz. I am only a fellow companion on the journey, pointing out the landscape along the Path.” He paused briefly and added: “Apologies are not necessary. The best apology is showing that the lesson was learned.”
A rebel teardrop rolled from the corner of my eye.
Kindly Translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.