It was hot the whole day. The breeze that came from the mountains made early evening very pleasant at the monastery. I found the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order seated in a comfortable armchair on one of the verandas from where one had the most beautiful view of the surrounding valleys extending down from our building. I asked permission to sit next to him, and he consented with a nod. Because he has known me for quite some time, he went straight to the point: “What is the matter with you?” I told him that many times, even when I was sure I had taken the right decision, I felt some discomfort, and that was contradictory. He asked me to be more specific: “Tell me about the actual case.”
I explained that a good friend of mine had asked me to borrow money, a considerable sum. Even though I had it, I was saving it for other purposes and refused the loan. This had robbed my peace over the past few days. I mentioned I thought my own feelings odd, because if I was sure of my decision, my heart should be appeased. With his gaze wandering over the horizon, the Old Man said: “The spirit, our true, eternal identity, in its infancy, its current stage, has the ego distanced from the soul, as if we were split in two. On one hand, the ego strives for material achievements and sensory pleasures, applause and social shine. On the other, the soul rejoices with the victory of feelings over instincts, with the overcoming of hardships and transmuting its own shadows into light. The ego wants to be praised by the world; the soul wants the best it has within to emerge to the world. Ego is related to passion; soul, to love. Ego is the domain of the self; the soul thinks about us. On the journey of improvement, the Path forces us to make choices. With the being split in two, decision-making begets internal conflicts that cause imbalance at all levels.” He made a brief pause and added: “We have to align the ego to the soul, so that the wishes of the former are harmonious with the quests of the latter. Similarly, we must work on the self without leaving the “us” aside, and vice-versa. This means, we must care for the world without forgetting the self. They are parts of the same whole. Hence, the being becomes one, is freed from mundane distress, knows plenitude and peace.”
I asked if the ego should be annihilated. The monk denied: “The ego is extremely important; it just has to be educated. It presents the exercises that strengthen the soul, the precise stages that the being must overcome. Even though in its early stage the ego is connected more to appearance than essence, it is concerned with the body and the physical well-being, which are essential to the maintenance of life. We need the ego to take an interest in the mundane, so that the sacred that dwells in the soul manifests itself; one is not to suppress, but to be harmonious with the other. To the good walker, all material hardships end up strengthening the emotional, mental and spiritual musculature he or she needs to move on. Struggles, doubts, conflicts, problems, anguishes are important to make one’s self-awareness, still dormant in the core of being, emerge. By understanding him or herself, the person gains the wisdom of the world, potentiates his or her gifts and discovers the magic of virtues. Love flourishes. The ego, in its primary stage, is prone to the shadows of envy, pride, vanity, sorrow, greed and jealousy. These are terrible jails without bars. The first step is to accept the shadows and, later on, transmute them into light, on the journey of the liberation of being. Hence, thanks to its imperfections, life shows itself perfect.”
I wanted to know if anytime I thought of myself to the detriment of the other I was being selfish. The Old Man furrowed his brow and spoke seriously: “Of course not. Each one is responsible for the spring of their own lives and should pay heed so that it never dries out. To quench the thirst of other with the water that spouts from you makes us sacred. But to believe that the other has the obligation of letting us drink from his or her spring is the root of conflicts.” He turned his face to me and asked: “What is the core lesson of the Sermon of the Mount?” I answered that it is ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’. The monk moved his hands, as if words were not enough to explain the obvious, and said: “So? If you do not love yourself, you will not be able to love anyone”. He became silent for a moment, so that I had time to think about what he had just said, and asked a rhetorical question: “How is it possible to feed the other, if we do not carry bread in our baggage? How can you give what you don’t have? We must have our soul showing to the ego the joy of sowing the fields of the world to supply the barn of our heart; to harvest the wheat and turn it into bread; to eat the bread and share it with everyone.” Without waiting for my reply, he continued: “We can only share what we have. And what we do have, in fact, is only what we were already able to share. This is our true asset.” He furrowed his brow and continued, with a serious tone: “Sometimes, however, what the other actually needs may not be exactly what he asks. This is why there is ‘yes’ and ‘no.’”
I said that what my friend needed he had asked me, and I had denied him. The monk suggested: “Give the other cheek.” I said I had not understood what he meant. He explained: “Put yourself in his shoes.” I thought for a few moments and replied, embarrassed, that I was wrong in not responding to the cry for help of a dear friend.
“Maybe you were, maybe not”, the Old Man commented, much to my surprise.
In fact, those words were somewhat annoying to me, and I said he was complicating things. The monk laughed heartily and said: “This is an exercise filled with traps.” I interrupted him to say I had not understood. The Old Man calmly explained: “To face a problem with the eyes of the other does not mean to deliver exactly what the other wishes. In addition to love and generosity, one must have wisdom and sensibility; these are powerful virtues that complete one another. They will give you the precise measure of whether the other must be carried in your arms or encouraged to walk on his own legs. There are times for the former and times for the latter. One must be careful about what to do, because the limit between feeding a weak person and making a person weak is very slim”.
I said I did not understand the importance of the ego in this process. The monk explained: “The power of the ego propels us to material achievements, as it is connected to issues related to appearance and survival. This is quite important, because in these battles the spiritual values emerge, showing their importance and setting in motion the essential transformations. Victory is having the ego continue with its march, but more and more in love with the illuminated values of the soul and having the noble virtues as fighting weapons. Material achievements are not to be despised, much the opposite. However, they must be in tune with spiritual achievements. The ego can either be a mean villain or a valuable ally. The ego turns into a mighty warrior if we pay attention to which feelings drive its choices. This is essentially important. When the ego dances to the tune of the soul’s love songs, distress is appeased, the battles become sacred and the victories are consecrated into pure light.”
I insisted that it was still difficult for me to understand how the ego would show itself useful. The Old Man was didactic: “As I told you, the ego is related to ‘I’, and the soul to ‘us’. Imagine you are crossing a desert, at the verge of dehydration, and you find a canteen with fresh water. If you drink it all, those who come after will be stranded; if you don’t drink at all, you will die of thirst; to drink some then leave some to who comes after you is what makes you holy. It is the perfect integration of being; it is loving the other as thyself.”.
I became silent for a few moments. Then, I confessed I regretted having ignored, in the past, hands that asked for help. I did not want to make the same mistake again. The monk corrected me: “You should not feel guilty for not responding to requests. You must accept you did you best according to the levels of awareness you had at the time. What is important is to be committed to evolution. A commitment each one makes with themselves not to act in a way they believe is wrong. You must move on without the guilt that paralyses, but with the accountability that transforms. Remember that the most beautiful stories are those of overcoming problems. So, don’t worry. The Path will always provide a new chance for you to correct he course. And other, and another, in infinite possibilities of improvement. Try to make use of each one of them, even though you must accept that it is normal that some be wasted. Opportunities will always come, even if in different angles, according to the learning needs of the walker.”
“‘To do differently and better, always’. This is a mantra and a prayer.”
“The universe expands constantly and infinitely. We are part of it. Therefore, it is within ourselves. Hence, our chances are beyond ordinary imagination. If you do not grow up, the whole gets stuck. This makes us understand why we are essential and will never be abandoned by the universe, even though many a time we do not understand its educational method and determination in making us move forward. As we are not yet sensible to feel its infinite love and understand its immeasurable wisdom, oftentimes we question such interaction. However, you must pay heed, as there is reciprocity: even though we walk alone, we are committed to the work or the whole, it does not matter how you call it. At this stage of existence, our lessons are in the form of personal relationships, with the hardships and opportunities they provide. Each conflict may be a problem or a master, it all depends on how you look at it.”
“The Path is lonely and solidary. Independently and conjoined. In complete synchronism.”
“We are ego and soul; the part and the whole. This is the power, the grandness and beauty of the unification of being; with yourself and with the farthest star.” He turned his gaze back to the mountains that embraced us, quieted down his heart and mind for a moment, and completed his reasoning with a question: “Yoskhaz, if you carry the entire force of the universe within you, can you imagine what you are capable of?”
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.