Shadow play

Dawn was yet to come when I went into the kitchen of the monastery. I had had a poor, intermittent sleep, the ideas were raging in my mind. When the mind is unable to rest, the body suffers the disarray that assails it, degrading one’s being as a whole. Tiredness, because it potentiates annoyance and sorrow, will always be a poor advisor. That was my exact state of being at that moment. For a few days now I had been in a growing feud with a fellow disciple of the Order. It had all begun for a silly reason, a minor criticism he had made about the philanthropic work I was coordinating. I reciprocated by pointing out flaws in his behavior. He retorted by escalating the tone of his criticism. The clash reached unexpected dimensions and, on the previous afternoon, after a harsh exchange of words, we almost got into a physical fight. We were so close to exchanging kicks and punches. Verbal offenses we could not avoid.


When I grabbed the pot to prepare the coffee, I noticed it was full and warm. Someone had got to the kitchen before I did. Only when I turned I saw the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk in the monastery, seated, silently meditating, a steaming cup before him. He gave me a sincere smile when our eyes crossed. With a subtle motion of his chin, he invited me to sit next to him. I filled my cup and went to him. Before he could utter a word, I started to talk. I said I needed to vent and told him all that had happened. The monk listened to me with tremendous patience and, when I finished talking, he asked in a soft, composed tone: “Did you come looking for advice or complicity? Do you need someone to tell you the truth or to say you are right?” I felt outraged; there was no question I was right and the other disciple should be, at least, reproved. Keeping his composure, the Old Man said: “For every fact there are at least two versions, in addition to the truth.”


I claimed it had been the other disciple who had started it all. The monk promptly rebuked: “It does not matter, and I do not care about who is right.” He took a sip of his coffee and continued: “However, one should pay heed to every learning opportunity. If I am not mistaken, we do have a fine lesson that, if well understood, may strengthen and bring spiritual growth of all the parties involved.” I asked if he was talking about forgiveness. The monk immediately replied: “Of course we must work on forgiving, but not only in this case. Forgiveness will always be necessary, for it is impossible to be happy if you are not forgiving. There is, however, another worthy experience that provides a valuable lesson: understanding shadow playing.”


“Evil nourishes the soul, it is what grants power to darkness. And it is us, who strongly reject evil, who end up by nourishing it, contradictory as it may seem. Violence is a much appreciated delicacy; offense makes up for a nice dinner; gossip is a well-enjoyed appetizer; revenge, a favorite main course; sarcasm, an exquisite dessert. The refined ingredients of this gloomy banquet are pride, vanity, selfishness, jealousy and fear. They are all provided by us. They are all seasoned with the ignorance of not realizing that we are the ones who cook this meal and, worse, it will be very costly. The price? Our own, unavoidable suffering.”


“When we engage in shadow play, we renounce being walkers of the Path, as we astray from It. By allowing the fire of the light warriors’ torch to extinguish, we foster darkness. In the infancy of the spirit, particularly because of social, cultural and ancestral conditionings, we tend to follow the lex talionis, through which you will get the tooth of the other to compensate the one you lost, or you will pierce the eye to make up for your blind one. Of course the tooth and the eye are symbolic figures. Oftentimes, we believe to have the right to impose suffering on the other because he caused us some pain, a primitive philosophy the shadows endorse. After all, this is what motivates its play.


Many a time, subconsciously, we clamor for justice when, in fact, we only seek revenge. The shadows are interested only in punishment, in watching the other suffer for the mere fact that, allegedly, the other made us suffer. This is a ludicrous idea, believing that if we spread our suffering it will lessen. The Light works towards learning. Justice is related to education, evolution and, particularly, to love. In turn, revenge aims at making the other suffer. The shadows, artful advisors of the ego, make us believe that we need to protect ourselves, preserve our image, defend our rights, as if offending, striking back, cornering and dominating were the wisest way to maintain integrity and rectitude. Thus, our choices end up corrupted; the more subtle feelings are replaced by more dense ones, causing unfettered reactions. Even worse, we do not realize we keep evil alive around us. And the odd thing is, in this math the score is never settled. A broken tooth does not replace another, but we end up by having two useless teeth, in geometric progression, amidst a multitude of pierced eyes and blind egos.”


I argued that being a walker does not mean condoning evil. Therefore, if I see something wrong, I must be against it. The Old Man furrowed his brow and spoke in a grave, and yet sweet, tone: “Absolutely, Yoskhaz! However, the way we do it is what differentiates light from darkness. This is how evil works, it deceives us to give way to shadows making us believe they will do good.”


“Obviously there are more serious cases, on which we must act resolutely and with determination to stop evil. However, I can assure you that such situations occur only a few times in the lives of each one of us. More frequently we play the game of the shadows in situations of no importance that could be solved by a compassionate gaze once we realize the level of awareness of the other and their difficulties in relating to their own shadows. After all, the words and attitudes of each one reveal the baggage they carry in their hearts. How can one expect flowers from those who have only thorns? We must be patient and compassionate, as we cannot demand perfection that we do not have to give. In some instances, a conversation coated with love and sincerity will do; in others, a merciful silence is more than enough.” He sipped his coffee and said: “Not reciprocating the aggression will not make anyone be seen as weak; rather, it will show the courage of the walker in dominating his own ego, and the wisdom in not nourishing the darkness and letting evil perish from starvation. We should allow the sacred voice of our soul to be heard every day, and its valuable secret applied: to always do our best without expecting anything in return. This is shedding light on our steps. On the following day, give more of the love you have within and expect even less in return. This is the battle of the freedom of being, this is the good, unavoidable combat.”


“Caution is necessary for shadow playing. The play starts out slowly, almost inconspicuously, and little by little it escalates, settling down within ourselves until it dominates our feelings and manipulates our thoughts. At this point, we end up by choosing suffering. Evil is cunning and sneaky, and its best trick is deceiving us into believing it does not exist within ourselves. Hence, out of carelessness or error, our own destiny gets convoluted.”


“Almost always, shadow play is triggered by a pointless motive, a brief comment or an thoughtless attitude of the other towards us. The shadows of selfishness, pride or vanity, depending on the case, come to life to warn us that the ego has been tainted, which allegedly makes us a victim. The shadows augment the extent of the alleged aggression, adding yeast to the offense so that anger thrives within us until it overflows in the form of resentment. Therefore, the response is disproportionate and unnecessary, as it aims at hurting the feelings of the other as intensely or more than the sorrow we feel.”


“The other, in turn, if he is an experienced walker, will clearly realize the game the shadows play and will stop it, by reacting with love and patience. Otherwise, he will double the stakes, to return the offense in an even higher intensity, which will prompt us to fight back, in an endless sequence of violence and suffering. Therefore, playing this wicked game, we build our own hell.” He paused briefly, and added: “The worse is that we stubbornly blame the others, or life itself, for such misery, without realizing the responsibility we have and the consequences of the choices we make. We have to understand that in order to end suffering, we need only to change the way we react to everything that bothers us. This is the key to our jail. It is indispensable for the wholeness of one’s being to make the ego the spitting image of the soul, every single day. This will, once and for all extinguish the duality that divides us and steals the necessary balance. Only then, agony will give way to peace. To transmute, little by little, the shadows that dwell within us and end their play is what allows us to begin in the Path. It is what grants us the wings for the fantastic flight towards the High Lands.”


“You must realize that, in this case, we are not dealing with a world conflict, but a personal battle; this is why the lack of harmony causes so much suffering. We can face material hardships with composure, diseases with serenity, the wars of the planet with wise resignation by accepting and understanding the lesson that suits us. However, we will never reach happiness if peace does not dwell within ourselves.”


He asked me to refill his cup with coffee. When I came back, he continued: “Only through the ego we can feel offended or humiliated. The larger our ego is, more prone to suffering we will be. Powerful ego, weak person. This is the equation, quite simple.” He paused briefly, and completed with a question: “Do you understand the reason and the power that makes humility the first portal of the Path?”


I lowered my eyes and asked him what he advised me to do. The monk was now concise: “Nothing,” he answered. Intrigued, I wanted to know if he thought I should let the heated discord cool off. The Old Man, replied: “This is not what I said. What I meant is that I am not going to tell you, objectively, what to do. In silence and quietness, try to move away from your frail ego that wears heavy armors in the illusion of protection and power. Then you will be able to listen to the whispered words of your soul and use the wings it keeps for you, as, in essence, we are only it, the soul, with all its freedom and lightness.”


On that very day, soon after meditation, I went to the other disciple to talk. Not to explain my reasons, as I had realized they were not important. But to offer my apologies for the offenses I said and the pain I had inflicted. How about the suffering he caused me? It only happened because I had allowed the offense to hit me. Wisdom is the perfect shield; the heart keeps a foolproof antidote for suffering: love. It did not work? Increase the dose. It is free, and it is graceful. It is the power I needed to learn how to use, and that was so far from me. Silently, I admitted to myself I could have done differently and better. I promised myself I would try harder the next time. And I thanked the Universe for always granting me a new chance.


Today, in addition to being monks, we are great, loyal friends.


Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.


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