That year, during my stay of a month in the monastery for study and reflection, by coincidence, a number of monks, that is how we call all those who were initiated it the Order, also arrived. That forced me to share a room with a fellow monk. Both, him and I, had quite distinct habits, including the hours we went to sleep and woke up. I would go to bed much earlier and woke up also much earlier. Regardless of how careful we were, lights and noises were mutually bothering, depending on the time of day. Little by little, this has taken a toll on our relationship. Concurrently, on the eve of my trip to the monastery, I had a major quarrel with my partners in the company, for disagreeing with how they ran their departments. Therefore, I was quite upset when I arrived at the monastery. To make things worse, I had had an argument with my girlfriend over the phone, because I did not like a post she had made on a social media.
One night I was having trouble falling asleep. The bedside lamp my roommate kept lit for reading, the noise he made when he went to the bathroom, or when he ate or drank something bothered me. I ended up scolding him harshly. We had a nasty argument that escalated, which brought monks from their rooms to ours in order to intervene, so that we didn’t get physical. The next morning, after services, I went to look for the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, to talk. I found him happy and absentmindedly pruning rose bushes in the monastery’s inner garden. I said I was going through a bad moment and needed to talk. He put the shears in the pocket of his wool tunic, looked at me cracking a compassionate smile and said: “I was waiting for you. It is good that you came.” He looked at the sky and suggested: “I think it will start raining soon. Let’s talk in my office.”
We passed by the mess hall, grabbed two cups of coffee and went to the monk’s office, where we made ourselves comfortable. As soon as I was seated, I started ranting about my roommate; I highlighted the differences in behavior that separated us and asked to be moved to another room. The Old Man looked at me with kindness and denied my request: “Having a relationship with people who think like us and have the same taste is very good, but it is for the weak. Differences are important because they take us off balance. Searching for a new point of balance, in addition to setting us in motion, makes us understand the virtue of adaptation, a stage of harmony that should be sought through smooth, but steady movements. This leads the person to a different level of understanding, as it allows for a new way of thinking and acting that had been unknown until then. Not that we are like chameleons and disguise ourselves according to the environment, but because it provides a different way of being and living. On different levels, it always allows for evolutionary transformations. The need for adaptation to a new reality, oftentimes randomly imposed, such as having a harmonious relationship with your roommate, can be more enriching than all your studies in the order this month.” He made a brief pause and added: “We must pay heed to the lessons we can learn from having a relationship with a boring relative or a strange coworker. Differences tend to hide important teachers.”
Reluctantly, I said I would accept his suggestion, but that I doubted the effort would be successful. I added I was undergoing a streak of bad luck in face of so many unpleasant, tiresome situations I had experienced in the past few days. No wonder, I explained, my birth chart showed a retrograde movement of Pluto into Saturn, converging onto Mars. The Old Man sipped his coffee and said, in a serious tone: “You know how much I respect astrology; however, do not blame the stars for your outburst. It is not the planets or stars that are unbalanced, but your emotions.” I disagreed at once. I said I had already been initiated in esotericism and was devoted to my philosophical and metaphysical studies. That had made me a centered person, with a behaviour that was not vulgar or mundane. The Old Man arched his lips, cracking a discreet smile as if he were before a child who believes they know all about math for having learned the four basic operations, and patiently explained: “As you know, esotericism is grounded on three pillars: action, wisdom and love. These are virtues within which all other virtues are centered around; in turn, these other virtues are intertwined and complementary. Knowing a virtue does not make it real for yourself. In other words, seeing the door does not mean you have crossed it. You can cross it tomorrow or it can take centuries for you to cross. It depends on the walker. Serenity is the outer appearance of inner balance. Whenever irritation gets the best of us, this means we have lost the battle. The door has not been crossed yet.”
I corrected the monk and said I had not lost the battle; just the opposite, I felt a winner, because I had told my roommate to get over himself. I said that I was right, that I had to draw limits and that I expected an apology from him. The Old Man shook his head and asked a rhetorical question: “Why is it so important to be right?” Without waiting for an answer, he continued with his reasoning: “One fights to be right as if it were possible to take a fortune in rightness on your journey to the High Lands. Or worse, one fights for winning an argument, as if such transient victory, a shallow delusion of the exasperated self, yields interests, as a ludicrous emotional savings account. To win an argument does not matter; what matters is to pacify relationships.”
I asked if we should not tell what we believe is true or draw lines for our relationship. The Old Man agreed: “Whenever it is necessary. However, how we do it makes all the difference. Truth will have a better chance to thrive if expressed in a composed, clear, sincere, loving way. Truth should be told only as a tool to aid someone, otherwise, we should remain silent. Truth does not always liberate; bear in mind that many a time we use truth with the purpose of wounding, or just to punish someone. Truth makes sense when it excites and illuminates the hearts of others. To that end, it must be surrounded by some type of love. We must be wise in dealing with the truth; otherwise, we will talk to deaf ears or, worse, we will play the role of the world’s moralizer, society’s foreperson. Furthermore, each party will understand according to the precise limits of their expanded awareness and loving capability. Not an inch more. Therefore, it is foolish to insist; and to impose one’s view is an act of violence. However, always have your heart open, without emotional taxes or duties, when they come back seeking for help.” He sipped his coffee and continued: “Similarly, we should draw limits through the virtues of sweetness and firmness, mixed with sensibility, for each individual case, so that we do not use an atomic bomb to deter the progression of a frail ant.”
“The truth is one does not win over the other. The real victory will always be over oneself, for illuminating internal shadows, in personal transformations from having set the evolution of the self in motion, from pacifying emotions and relationships, liberating any type of dependence on the will of others. Victory over the other is a creation of the ill, primitive self, prone to domination and advised by fear on the path of ignorance about who we are. Emotional disturbance signals that the basic foundations of virtues are yet to be settled in the person. In other words, irritation that leads to tantrums or aggressiveness shows that the person has failed in the essential lessons.”
Embarrassed, I lowered my eyes. The Old man said with his soft voice: “Do not let yourself be dominated by guilt, that puts a weight on and paralyses you. Error is a good master, if you thus acknowledge it. Accept responsibility and commit to yourself to do differently and better from now on. The Law of Infinite Possibilities is relentless. That is how everyone moves on. This is a sure project for the construction of peace.”
I smiled in sincere appreciation of his kind words. More at ease, I said that the quarrel with my roommate was nothing, compared to the argument I had had with my partners at the company. I took the chance to tell him about the outburst of jealousy I had had with my girlfriend. I said it seemed to me that everyone was either challenging me or plainly didn’t care about me. The monk shrugged his shoulders, as if I was talking about something foretold, and said: “See that you are plummeting within a spiral of shadows because you refuse to graciously accept the way of being of others and, more importantly, understanding who you really are. It is necessary to appease all the emotions within you, in order to know what to do with each one of them. In our veins the best and the worst feelings navigate. What we do with each one of them defines who we are and on which stretch of the journey we are.”.
“The feelings spread as suffering when they are lost within us, wander aimlessly on the outskirts of the mind like a painful sorrow we blame others for not understanding but which, in fact, is typical for those who only know themselves partially. If you don’t know who you are as a whole, there will be no healing; your heart will continue to bleed, and your mind will remain blind. Out of distress and incompleteness, whenever there is the slightest chance of conflict you will continue to extrapolate your pain, in a vain attempt, however subconscious, to pass it on to others. Then we go out of our mind, lose the rhythm and the bearings of existence. Shadows reign.”
“Ignorance about oneself is the king of shadows. From it stem two of its generals: fear and selfishness. They command an army whose soldiers are jealousy, pride, greed, sorrow, domination, vanity, envy, and many others, all of them well-known in the world. These troops command you through mechanisms such as anger, immorality, moralism, moral misrepresentation, distress, sadness, masks, personal victimization, vilification of others, the social persona we create in our yearning for applause, the blaming of others, revenge, desire, the giving up of dreams, among others. Unhappy and bothered with the discomfort they feel within, the person shows their suffering in different ways. Violence, conflicts of all sorts, foul mood, impatience, different types of addiction, intolerance, sadness and depression are the many known consequences of the person that has been worn out by the shadows”.
I wanted to know how to handle the shadows. The Old Man replied at once: “With light, my son. The virtues are tools of light. Humility, compassion, forgiveness, simplicity, justice, pacification, gentleness, generosity, gratitude, lightness, good will, honesty, sincerity, prudence, sweetness, patience, tolerance, respect, balance, purity, courage, firmness, good mood, hope, faith and, of course, love. Love is the grandest virtue, because it is present in all others.” He drank a little more coffee and added: “Each virtue is a bridge on the road to plenitude. Plenitude includes Peace, freedom, dignity, happiness and love in its entire breadth. Love is a tool and the work itself. Light is the infinite destination.”
He made a brief pause and explained the map: “Know yourself and you will know the truth; know the truth, and truth shall set you free.” I asked him what I would be free of. The monk answered: “Of the suffering that imprisons”. I wanted to know what the truth was. He explained: “It is the next step that is revealed when we are on the Path. This is how virtue presents itself and regulates the progression of the walker.” Then, I asked what the Path was. The Old Man obliged: “It is the conscious process of sublimation of individual shadows and its transmutation into light. It is personal evolution as an effective method for the universe to expand in all planes and dimensions. No one will be left behind, because each one is an inseparable, valuable part of the whole. One way or another, sooner or later, everyone will be prompted to progress.”
I acknowledged my behavior was conflicting with the world, and I confessed I was weary of being like that and of having one emotional disturbance after another. The Old Man commented: “When we lose control, it is because there is something wrong within ourselves; however, we insist on blaming others. Hence, we stagnate, suffer and fight. When we assault someone, it means we have lost ourselves, have forgotten who we are and wander aimlessly in the dark alleys of the self.”
The good monk furrowed his brow and explained: “A streak of bad luck is not a reading we take from the sky, it is the misinterpretation of our emotions. Any feeling, even the densest one, can become a valuable tool for transformation and, henceforth, evolution. Do not deny it or ignore it. Do not suffocate it or give it vent. Embrace it lovingly and Wisely, follow it to its root. Find the hidden virtue. Reveal it.” The Old Man smiled, winked an eye and completed: “And then, the light!”
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.