“Maturity is no more than understanding oneself, and the willingness to change. This is liberating”, said the Old Man while we were looking for mushrooms in a forest close to the monastery after a rainy night. The sun shone among the leaves, caressing our faces and making the still cold morning a bit warmer. “To understand who we are, our difficulties and graces, allows us to leave behind what in ourselves is no longer good and gives us the chance to invent what we want to be. This is the power of the Path”, he added. A beautiful nightingale landed on a branch of a tree close by, and gave us the gift of a small symphony that one hears only in forests. Then it flew away. I said that everyone would like to have wings, like the birds, to reach the heights. He immediately rebuked me: “Birds fly due to biological determinism. But the wings of freedom are metaphorical, they stem from wisdom and love, and grow from the choices one makes at each step on the Path”.
I told him about the comment Mahatma Gandhi once made, when in prison, that there were more free men in jail than on the streets. The Old Man retorted: “Gandhi was an initiated, an old and shining soul. Of course he did not mean the dark minds that take the route of criminality or ignorance. He meant the freedom of thinking devoid from prejudices, and cultural and social conditionings. The freedom of thinking beyond; of perceiving that the cruelest prisons are those without rails”. He paused a moment and concluded: “Freedom is much more than the right to wander aimlessly on the streets or to have an uncommitted life. This is typical of life’s run-aways. They tend to be prisoners of the worst jail there is, their own conscience. True freedom has accountability embedded in itself, one’s accountability for one’s choices and commitments. We are committed to all that we love, and as we expand the catchment area of our love, our wings grow, allowing us to fly higher and higher. Our wings are the size of our hearts. Our choices, in turn, have consequences that we are accountable for. The serenity of this understanding, even though it requires more work and effort as each one will have their own learning challenges, is called maturity”.
The Old Man became quiet. He became distracted by some mushrooms he had found under a huge oak. I was still digesting his words when he resumed his speech: “Freedom is a powerful tool of evolution, as it is directly connected to your choices which, in turn, define and enhance the soul of the traveler. But do not forget that evolution requires effort, determination and courage to face the challenges and to sow good deeds in the arid territories of existence. Our responsibility to all those around us is our commitment to the Path, without which there will be no freedom or evolution. To experience this idea with joy is called maturity”.
At night, we had a tasty soup made with the mushrooms we picked in the morning for supper. Then, I walked away, lost in my thoughts, when the Old Man approached me and asked what thoughts were filling my mind. I told him I was thinking about the consequences of each choice we make in life and the commitments we take on. I wanted to know about the limit of responsibility. He asked me to walk with him and said: “A well-known Brazilian poet said that we have two hands and the feeling of the world. We must do our best each day, according to our ability to love and our level of awareness. On the following day, that we may love and understand a little more. This is the Path. You will realize it changes as you change the way you walk”.
I asked him about those people who refuse to commit themselves. “Pity those who have no one to worry about. This shows a person who mistakenly believes freedom is the lack of commitment, who is wandering astray in the desert of disaffection, who is lost in the valley of loneliness”. He paused briefly and continued: “This person is still in childhood, spiritually, refuses to grow up and wants to live only for pleasure. He doesn’t understand the comprehensiveness and power of love. Suffering will be unavoidable, because at some point he will realize he became a hostage of his own selfishness, and locked in his own loneliness. Only love establishes eternal bonds and gives meaning to life. Thus, as you can see, to love in all of love’s comprehensiveness is not for the weak”.
Patiently, he explained that there are, in the Universe, the Unwritten Laws, unrelenting in guiding the behavior of everything and everyone. One of these laws states that life reacts in the precise measure of each one’s actions, not for punishment, but as a lesson. Inflicting pain is not the only way to teach, but the last resource of the Path to correct a course leading to the abyss. No question all the previous signs were ignored by this traveler. As a caring father who wants the best education for his child, Life will find a way to make that person think, and then Understand (the wisdom of the lesson), Transform (himself/herself), Share (love unconditionally) and Move On (the endless journey). It is mandatory to be tender. Thus, sooner or later, depending on the personal choices, everyone is able to close their cycle of learning and evolution.
I asked him what the limits of freedom were. The Old monk smiled, as if he had anticipated that question, and spoke with his usual tenderness: “The actual limit is dignity. Without honesty in dealing with others and with ourselves, all other virtues rot and poison the tree. The blossoming of dignity hones the choices, the tools with which each one will exert his freedom. You define yourself in each choice you make”.
I insisted with him how I would know what the best choice would be. The Old Man closed his eyes and said: “Either you make the choice out of love, or you will make the wrong choice. To understand that is to have maturity to move on in the Path”. He thought a bit longer and added: “Love is the ribbon that intertwines the free, awakened hearts. Love is the only commitment, the only bridge to happiness. There is no other.”
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.