Loureiro, the shoemaker who loved books and wines, and I were looking for a restaurant that sill served lunch late in the afternoon. It had poured during the day. Since it had just stopped raining, off we went, sailing the narrow and winding streets of the small and charming village at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery. Heavy clouds left the sky dark, so lamps were lit earlier than usual. We were talking cheerfully and idly, as two friends who are happy just to be together, while we diverted from the puddles formed between century-old cobblestones. When we arrived at the restaurant, we found Carlo, a friend of ours, there. We were baffled. Not by a long shot was he that self-reliant, well-kept, handsome man we knew. We had met him less than a month ago, and he had seemed to be fine. On that day, he was just the opposite of the man we knew. He was downcast, hunched over, sullen; he seemed a specter of himself.
He greeted us as joyfully as his heart was capable of at that time. Invited us to sit at his table and have a glass of wine with him. I asked if he would have lunch with us, but he said no. He had no appetite, and that had been going on for days, now. He added that his life had been turned upside down at a moment’s notice. Carlo had a good job; he worked for a multinational company, at its headquarters, located in a big city not too far, only about a 1-hour train ride. A week ago, when he arrived at work, he was told by a director that the company was redefining the job structure. Some positions had been eliminated, amongst which, his. He couldn’t even return to his office; his personal belongings had already been put in a box, which was given to him at that moment. His severance pay would be deposited into his bank account the following day. After a few days, his wife of 10 years told him the marriage was over. She had fallen in love with someone else, packed her belongings and left.
He said he had reached rock bottom. Life was dark and, worse, there was no indication of any light that would be lit. I immediately tried to cheer him with a well-known speech for overcoming hardships, “it’s time to bounce back to surface”. He said he did not have the strength to overcome the problems he had and rebuild his life. This is when Loureiro surprised us by saying: “For now, it is best for you to remain at rock bottom. It is not time to bounce back.”
I looked at the shoemaker with censoring eyes, as if asking for mercy for my friend. Carlo was surprised, and he even thought that it was a joke, clearly untimely. Loureiro started to develop his reasoning: “The world only falls apart when the soul is unbalanced.”
“If he reached the bottom and bounces back now, he will return to the same stage he was at, or worse, nourished by sorrows and desire for revenge to transfer to others the reason of his fall.”
I interrupted the cobbler to argue that not doing anything at this moment could encourage the same gloomy feelings or trigger a process of sadness and depression. The shoemaker shook his head and explained: “Rock bottom can be seen as sordid by many people; however, if you take time to pay careful attention, you will see it can be embraced as a place of silence and quietness, suitable for reflection and meditation. The perfect chance for one to understand the wrong choices that took him there.”
I interrupted him once again to say it was ludicrous to believe one would reach rock bottom willingly. Carlo looked at the as if I had spoken for him. The shoemaker did not lose composure and was educational: “This is why it is dangerous for Carlo to return to the surface now. He would like to return like he was before, with the misperception that others had pushed him into the pit he is in. The storms exist to correct the course of sailors who do not know how to navigate.”
“Before the tempest, the sea becomes rough, the wind foretells a change in the weather and the sky, from afar, signals with heavy clouds. It is up to each one, captain of their own ship, to keep the course or change it. Wrecks happen to those who do not know how to read the signs. However, experiences with wrecks shape the best sailors; life is a school that shapes great masters.” He made a pause and added: “As long as one is willing to learn from it.”
“To go rock bottom is always a choice of those who fell”.
“To accept this reality is the first step to remove resentments and the feeling of victimization, both of which delay evolution. While the person believes that the person responsible for their suffering is somebody else, they will not start the process of transformation, healing and freedom from the jail they had placed themselves in.”
“Everyone has the same conditions of reaching plenitude, which is translated by achieving happiness, peace, freedom, dignity. Understanding the fall is learning what movements were wrong, and, from then on, to do differently and better. It is allowing the flourishing of virtues that are still seedlike in the core of the self.” He looked at Carlo with sincere compassion and said: “You can interpret rock bottom as evil from others, or an infamous conspiracy of the universe and yearn to bounce back with the aura of a super-hero. In fact, this is the most common and childish wish, moved by pride and vanity, and dreams of vile revenge and transient, inconsistent power.”
He waited for the server to open the bottle and fill the cups. Sipped a little wine and continued: “However, at rock bottom, one can start building a tunnel. Not to escape reality, but in search of new, previously unimaginable possibilities. To come back to the surface at the same spot, to rebuild life on the same pillars, with the same old pattern of being and living, is to perpetuate stagnation through a different outfit. One must know the possibilities that lie beyond the end of the tunnel for an effective, true transformation. Otherwise, we will live the curse of Sisyphus, from Greek mythology. His curse was having to roll a huge stone up a hill only to have it roll down again as soon as he had brought it to the summit. An action constantly repeated and doomed to failure. Rock bottom must be the beginning of the tunnel that will lead to an unknown light, in a way different from before, with true inner evolvement.”
“It is time for humility and determination, two valuable virtues. Rock bottom, because of its silence and quietness, is the ideal place for one to face oneself in a perfect mirror, without the distortion caused by the masks we create for social acceptance, far from the characters we have invented to support the shadows of pride and vanity, without escaping the responsibility for their own happiness, without the shallow distractions whose only purpose is to postpone the important task of knowing who we really are and triggering major transformations.”
“The person who knows who they really are brings to themselves the power of life, are capable of overcoming the harshest difficulties. On the other hand, a person who does not know themselves will always be frail, vulnerable to the smallest disappointments, and will require the gimmicks of illusion. Self-knowledge allows them to understand their abilities and the virtues they already possess and make good use of them. They also acknowledge the imperfections that still exist and the virtues that are yet to blossom, instruments essential to evolution. Humility and determination are the winds that propel the crossing in search of the hidden treasure, waiting to be revealed, for the sake of the person and the world. If we know how to read properly the map of life, we will realize that rock bottom is the loving permission for one to start a journey to a wonderful and unknown world, so far and yet so close, the heart itself, the essence of self and the sacred seed of the universe.”
I complained, annoyed and unbelieving, with Loureiro for being harsh with our friend. Carlo agreed with me, said he did not deserve to be treated like that, stood up and left. The cobbler kept his countenance serene and, in face of my inquisitive gaze, shrugged his shoulders and said: “I know I was harsh with him, but I did what I thought was best. Without transformation there is no evolvement. Truth can be a whip that causes wounds and hurts or a balm that heals and liberates. It all depends of the feeling of he who says it. I did it out of love.”
Months passed by with no news of Carlo. One day, we were having lunch in that same restaurant when we were surprised by his arrival. He was very different than in the two prior moments of his life. He was not the well-groomed corporate executive or the stooped man who had reached rock bottom. He had an informal elegance and was more handsome than ever. He was wearing a well-trimmed beard, jeans and a nice shirt, tennis shoes and, most importantly, an indescribable smile on his face. He opened his arms when he saw us and asked to sit at our table. I mentioned the fortunate coincidence of us meeting at the same restaurant. He said it was no coincidence. The owner was an old friend of his who, upon his request, told him we were there. It was important for him that we meet at the same place, because the previous meeting had been a cornerstone in his life.
He had to thank the shoemaker for his firm words. With teary eyes, he said that at that same time other people also spoke to him, all of them with good intentions, but their words were too sugar-coated, but barren. He acknowledged that the discourse he had of being a victim made him frail, sad, and led to stagnation. The firm rhetoric of the cobbler had awakened him from the slumber of apathy and lack of responsibility. If that was his life, it was up to him to write his own story, according to the possibilities of overcoming hardships with his own efforts. With no guilt, because he acted according to the level of awareness he had at the time, but with the commitment to do differently and better from then on. Only by doing so could he take the lead of his life. To become an adult is not only to get a job and get married but to reach maturity. He said that at first it was very difficult, but later he realized that the abandonment he felt was, in fact, the fantastic chance he had to take control of his own life, which was always delayed because he blamed others for his failures and disappointments. He accepted it was time to be sincere with himself or he would not leave the childhood of existence. He added that it may be comforting to feel victimized, but that makes the person a coward and prevents their growth. Maturity is accepting responsibilities for the choices one makes, learning from them and moving on, day-by-day, with a different, better way of being.
Next, he said that because he had been working at that corporation for many years, he had set mechanisms through which much of what he had to do was distributed to other people, and therefore he was made redundant. In fact, subconsciously, he was responsible for his being fired by showing that the position he had was not necessary. The opposite would likely happen if he had gone further and made himself essential. He also said he had become too laid back about his marriage. At some point he gave up the effort of keeping alive the flame of affection that had bound him to his wife; therefore, it was natural that she became uninterested in maintaining their relationship and a gap was created that had to be filled. Truth be told, both cases were cycles he should have ended in a more honest way whether to himself or to others. Deep inside, the pain he felt was because of the wound to his pride, for being rejected by his wife and fired by his company. Once he became willing to work that in himself, he understood that what he felt was rock bottom was, in fact, the beginning of the tunnel that had led him to a search he had never thought of before. Instead of bouncing back, as he originally had thought, he found a new place where there was much more light. He said that in this process, the more he came to know himself the more he, and everything around him, would transform. Interests, wishes, choices became different. What was previously essential did not make sense anymore. He said that he had always been into motorcycles, so he decided to open a small shop in the garage of his home. There, he met a young woman who also loved bikes, and they started dating. The relationship and the business were still crawling, money was still short and limited, but the bike rides they took on weekends were long and pleasant. He said he had never felt so free and light. He lived more and more according to his essence, and that made him happy. Differently from before, every day now he woke up excited with life. Even if all went wrong, he had learned the unlimited possibilities of survival, he has understood the immeasurable power he had within, and now he knew that he could start over as many times as necessary. Reaching rock bottom had, in fact, been a blessing.
Carlo called the waiter and asked for the menu, he would have lunch with us. He was hungry. Hungry for life, he added. We laughed. He took the opportunity to thank the cobbler for the previous conversation. He said he felt the arguments the shoemaker used were somehow surrounding him. He only had to open the curtains to see them more clearly and let them in. Loureiro agreed: “Yes, it is like they were dormant within you, and our talk woke them up. Otherwise, it would still take time for them to mature in the subconscious mind and only then would you become aware of them. This is how we expand our level of perception and change our life.”.
Carlo said that all that seemed a sorry ending has revealed to be the beginning of a beautiful journey. Loureiro smiled and concluded: “Even though it is not a rule, at times, depending on the behavior of he who hit rock bottom, a tunnel is open that allows one to go beyond. Beyond oneself. This is when the first portal of the Path opens. The indigent turns into a walker. Everything changes. For good.”
Kindly Translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.