Escape from the world

It was a typical winter day. The blue, cloudless sky allowed the sun to caress our skin under the wool coat, making us feel cozy. The day was still coming to life when I was asked to go to the gate. An older gentleman had come to speak to the Old Man, as we affectionately called the dean of the Order, and I was supposed to escort him. Since it was early in the morning, the monk had suggested the meeting take place in the mess hall, as he believed the older gentleman had left in the wee hours, considering the time he had arrived at the monastery. We had already meditated, which was the first activity of the day, to be performed while fasting; so, the three of us took a seat around the huge table. When the other monks left to take care of their chores, the Old Man asked the older gentleman how he could help him. The man said he felt like running away from the world; he felt lonely inside as he felt abandoned by his kids and grandkids, whose visits were scarcer and scarcer. He was strongly resolved to embrace monastic life by joining the Order. With a soft gaze and kind voice, the monk started to explain: “Loneliness does not mean giving up, nor escaping the world will bring you peace. One must understand the quest to set the direction of destiny’s rudder.” The man stated he was tired of the ungratefulness of life in society, that he had devoted all his life to work and family, and in return he received oblivion. Bitter, he said that if he was no longer important to his kin, it was better for him to step away.

“You are wrong,” said the Old Man after listening with patience a rosary of regrets. “To start with, you must bear in mind that everyone has their work, chores, commitments and interests, and that takes time. They all have their own personal life to take care of. To accept that we are not the center of the life of others is a good way to keep sorrows away.”

“Next, you must understand that among members of the same family or social group there will always be someone bearing ancestral emotional debts. These are the ones who hold our evolutionary lessons which will teach us lessons of love through the exercise of patience, tolerance, compassion and, particularly, forgiveness.”

“Moreover, you must realize that loneliness does not mean abandonment, but rather an encounter. It is the opportunity for you to establish the most important relationship of your life: with yourself. The road to self-knowledge, the first stage for the indispensable plentifulness that will come later, is intricate. It is essential that we prepare a map of who we really are; only after that we must smooth out the rough edges that prick relationships and hurt peace. Only then we can shed light on ideas and emotions that hamper us because they are obsolete and hazardous. Contrary to the negative view that is commonly held, loneliness is wonderful if you take good advantage of it. It provides the quietness and silence we need. It is a good way for us to be face-to-face with our own essence, and identify the sacred that lies within ourselves. Thus, the shadows are turned into light.”

The man observed with interest while the Old Man continued to talk: “The great lesson of this moment is breaking the emotional dependency on others. The idea of begging or demanding affection and attention to sustain happiness is awful, mistaken and sad. Such absurdity stems from one’s lack of understanding of one’s own capabilities. On the other hand, it would be very cruel for one to have to carry the heavy burden of other people’s happiness. Despite all hardships and conflicts, the Universe provides everyone with the perfect conditions to reach happiness. By themselves and within themselves.” He looked the visitor in the eyes and said: “This is a magical moment!”

“Time is, then, ripe for the following step: to share with the world what has been nourished in your heart. What does it matter to have a nice orchard if no one has access to enjoy the sweetness of its fruits? It is the time to return and to intensify social relationships. Only meeting with people allows us to offer the best in ourselves, and shows us hardships we have yet to overcome in the quest to hone ourselves. This is how we sow and reap in the fields of humanity.”

The older gentleman lowered his head, regretted that no one paid attention to him, and said he believed he was of no service for those around him because he was old. The Old Man arched his lips in a sweet smile, and said: “You must take off the costume of victim, and change the drama glasses. An honest reflection for you to understand exactly what you are delivering to your family would be good. Are you willing to give them your best, or to be complacent in the idea that everything and everyone should revolve around you? To demand to be the most important person in the life of others is one of the major conflict-triggering situations there is. It blossoms out of selfishness, a root of the ego. A mistake, as it is unnecessary.”

The man retorted by saying he had struggled all his life to have a family, and now people seemed to have forgotten him. The monk asked me to pour little more coffee in his cup and said: “You must be generous enough to accept that each one moves according to their own interests, gives according to their capacity, and faces their own hardships in the precise measure of the lessons they must learn.”

“To actually exist, love must be unconditional. It requires renunciation or it is not love. One of the pillars of plentifulness is that we must improve to always deliver the best we have within ourselves; in exchange, we gladly accept what is offered to us, even if very little or nothing at all. To understand that is to combine the sheerest love with the most refined wisdom. In the journey of evolution, we learn that each one can offer only what they have in their sacred wallet, the heart. How to demand a hundred from someone who has only ten to give? How to expect flowers from someone who is buried under stones? That is impossible. Each one thinks and reacts according to their stage of awareness about the Path.”

The older gentleman said he was tired and had no strength to keep on with the difficult task of refining his being. It would be best to join the monks in the Order, he insisted. The Old Man looked him in the eyes and said: “To leave the world so that you can find yourself, that is fine; to escape the world to run away from life, that is wrong. The monastery is not a hideout or a place for one to leave oneself in abandonment. This is a place of study and toil, where everyone understands the joy of honing oneself. We seek loneliness to mediate and reflect as a trail to self-knowledge; community work as means to celebrate life through exchanges with one another, each offering their better, sincerest feelings.” With teary eyes, he said with emotion: “In charity, he who gives gains more than he who receives. Believe me.”

He paused briefly, and then continued: “However, you don’t have to have a monastic life to attain that. Each person has power, each one is like a precious temple, and any silent corner is quiet enough to soothe the drums of the world and allow you to listen to the sound of silence the soul blows. To transform into garden the desert of being is the alchemy of life. It starts with us, and then we disseminate the magic and flowers to the world.”

The man confessed he was afraid of not being loved, and he was there to draw attention from the family. He secretly wished they went to the monastery to rescue him. The Old Man laughed heartily, and added: “Have you thought that, out of sheer respect for your choices, which would be quite appropriate, they supported you joining the Order? Your suffering would be immeasurable. Often, we are victims of our own deeds.” He paused briefly and completed: “We seek the darkness of the cave with the illusion of protecting ourselves from the pain, whereas in fact we need the light of life to see the wounds we must heal.”

Vexed, the visitor regretted not having found any help there. He turned around and left. The Old Man furrowed his brow, as if saying he had done what he could, and that if the seeds of his words were good, one day they would germinate. Then, he said softly: “Always give your best, and don’t expect anything back; on the following day, give some more and expect even less,” and he winked an eye as if telling a secret.

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

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