When the man arrived at the gate of the monastery, the sky was still a cloak of stars. He got out of the car to appreciate the outline of the beautiful construction, which was possible from the few lamps that were lit. Someone had spoken to him about the Order, of its secular origin, of the philosophical and metaphysical studies the monks were dedicated to, in addition to community work. The only audible sounds were those made by nocturnal animals in the woods nearby. He was still a young man, who had abandoned the practice of medicine two years after graduation, upon finishing a training period in psychiatry, to enter a commercial venture with a good friend of his. The business was successful, and he had made a lot of money. He bought a comfortable apartment in a trendy district of a major city whose postcards were enjoyed worldwide; he had expensive cars, beautiful and coveted women, traveled around the globe, but nothing filled the void he felt in his chest, a sort of black hole that little by little seemed to engulf all his light. He was surprised with the sound of steps coming out of the bushes, but did not feel frightened. He turned around and saw a beacon of light getting closer and closer. A monk, his head covered by the hood to protect himself from the cold, walked with slow but steady steps, carrying a basket in one hand and a flashlight in the other. “The blackberries taste better when they are picked with the dew,” said the monk getting close to the man, showing the small fruits in the basket. “I love jam,” he added with the absurd naturalness of someone who seemed to be expecting a visit from a stranger at such an early time. He invited the man in, for a cup of coffee. The young man introduced himself on the way to the mess hall, and asked what the monk’s name was. “I am known as the Old Man”. Because of the bewildered look of the man, the monk added: “I think this name suits me fine. Old age brought evident physical limitations, a warning for me to realize the next station is close. On the other hand, it has freed me from fears and illuminated the shadows. It made me understand the Path, be light, learn the value of dignity, the sense of freedom and the importance of love for every person and everything. It gave me a feeling of plentifulness that the vigor of my youth failed to provide, and it has the merit of having brought me over here.” He lifted the hood for the man to see his wrinkled face, and completed: “When I look in the mirror, I see each wrinkle as a chapter of my life, telling the wars I had to fight to appreciate the value of peace, as a caravanner who must face the desolate desert to understand the beauty and the value of an oasis. Ironically, this has always been hidden inside himself, waiting to be unveiled,” he said with soft voice and sincere smile.
Seated before our cups with freshly brewed coffee, the man told the story of his life to the monk, who listened carefully. He mentioned the deep melancholy that assailed him at any time of the day. Drinks and noisy places full of people helped him overcome that feeling. However, a few hours later, that heavy emotion would return even harsher, as a tormentor that abuses you pitilessly, as if charging for the few moments of fun. He regretted having given up the practice of medicine; even though he had made money in his other activity, not a day passed by he did not think how his life would have been had he made a different choice. He felt bad when he read an article in a prestigious journal about a classmate of his who had become a well-considered practitioner, very experienced in his medical specialty. He blamed his parents and his friend, now partner, for having influenced his decision-making a few years back. His company, despite being quite profitable, was not a source of joy or intellectual stimulation. At the end, when the man became silent, the monk sipped some coffee and said: “Cultural, social and ancestral conditionings lead us to associate personal success to financial gains, as if success and money were linked. Wealth does not erase the tracks of what has been lost on the road.”
The man said that one did not invalidate the other. “I agree with you,” consented the Old Man. “However, the wind that takes to the South is the same that propels to the North. You have to understand how to position the sails of your boat: wealth as a natural consequence of the search for the comprehensiveness of being brings along useful tools; if money is your primary target in life, it will withdraw the necessary elements for you to become wholesome, which is indispensable for peace. You will find only what you are looking for, nothing else. Can you realize your parents and friends only nourish a desire that was latent in yourself? This means, they said what you wanted to hear. To blame others for your choices is to transfer your responsibility for your decisions in life, and worse, you waste a valuable lesson. You gave up a dream to search for a desire, and now you realize that your decisions, even though they nurture your ego, are not enough for your soul. The void you feel is your hunger for Light.”
The man said if he could go back in time, he would have chosen differently. The monk arched his lips, and filled with compassion said: “You should not be troubled, this is common in the learning process, and it is even more valuable because it is your soul that wants to bring your essence to the surface. An angel who was recently incarnated among us taught that it is impossible to rewrite the past, but we can, indeed, build a different future. The past is a lesson; the present is transformation; the future is inspiration. I think this suits you. You have to align your ego to your soul, revisit your dreams, practice your skills, and leave behind ideas and attitudes that are no longer suitable to you.”
The young man became interested, and asked the Old Man what he should do. The monk replied at once: “I have no idea.” Surprised, the young man said the reason for his visit was to find the precise response of what exactly he should do. The Old Man spoke with his soft voice: “To manage the life of others may seem easy, and even tempting. It is, however, a foolish exercise of arrogance and frivolousness. Many people have the solution for the life problems of others, few have for their own problems. You will have to find your own path, looking deep into yourself to know yourself better, as a whole. To lighten your shadows and embrace your dreams. To understand and have the courage to be yourself. In the beauty of being unique, to accept that each one has a path of their own, that merges with the path of everyone else converging towards the Infinite. This is what makes the life of any person an adventure greater than any one of the movies. You are at the same time hero and villain of your own story. The former, because only you can save yourself; the latter, because no one can cause more harm to you than yourself. What makes you great is to live this narrative consciously.”
The young man asked if the monk could help him in any way, as he did not know where to begin. The monk said: “I could tell you about the importance of love, the beauty of peace, the value of dignity, the magic of transformation, but I can never tell you what to do and how to do it. To find your truth, to understand how it evolves is to have a glimpse of the Path. This is very personal. The choices are the only tools available for spirituality to be exerted, when you become a wanderer and let the best within you flourish. The choices define your heart and mind; they are the fire and the forge of your betterment. Your decisions reflect how much of the divine you have found in yourself, and how much you still lack. This is the infinite journey, and the Path is the single master, the master of us all.”
The man smiled for the first time since he had arrived. He said he was willing to make major changes in his life, and he would no longer allow people to interfere with his personal decisions. The Old Man shook his head lightly, indicating that the young man still had not understood: “Here, at the monastery, we have a small sheep farm, and the sheep graze in the mountain. We seldom lose one to a predator, but when one of them grazes on the cow’s path they get lost. The power is yours, it has always been. You must watch yourself, to make good use of it.”
With teary eyes, the young man said the atmosphere of the monastery gave him a pleasant feeling of calmness. He asked to stay for a few days, and take part in the daily routine of the monks. “Stay as long as you like. Be involved with our chores and studies. When you feel it is time, leave. The world, despite some dissenting opinions, is a wonderful place for one to be happy. Enchant yourself, Yoskhaz”, the Old Man closed. That was many years ago.
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.