The bridge to happiness

I and the Old Man, as we affectionately called the dean of the Order, were arriving at the monastery after a trip when we were approached by a young man at the gate, who politely asked the monk for two minutes of his time. As if he did not know tiredness, the Old Man invited the visitor to a have cup of coffee at the refectory with him, so that they could chat more quietly. While I put the water to boil, I overheard the conversation they were having. The young man was disillusioned with the world. None of the chances life had provided seemed to be suitable and capable of making him a happy man. He felt he was stuck in the patterns imposed by society, which he blamed for his misery; he said friends and relatives did not understand him, and that all that put together made him unhappy.  The monk immediately reflected on what the man had said: “No one can prevent you from being happy but you yourself. Not blaming others is a good way to begin.”

The young man said he was tired from the sadness and suffering that he had been experiencing for a long time. He confessed he did not know what to do. The monk looked at him with kindness, waited until I filled their cups with coffee, helped himself to a slice of oat cake with wild berries, and said: “Life makes available to each one, in accordance with their level of awareness and magnitude of love, the perfect conditions for the search for happiness. So much so it has hidden them in the core of each being rightly with the purpose that the journey is an inner one, for anyone to take. Each step is a stage in the evolution we are all destined to.” The young man interrupted, saying he did not know where to begin. The Old Man explained: “The first station is a room of mirrors intended to show the traveler all the wounds of his soul, including those he denies having or leaves to oblivion. We are talking about trauma, sorrows, failures, disappointments, among other sentimental fractures that prevent him from walking; we are talking about the shadows that, when ignored, nourish suffering by making us delusionally believe we are healthy. Honestly knowing yourself and having the courage to overcome them are essential parts of the treatment; love and wisdom make up the medicine, plenitude is the cure.” He paused to conclude: “On the road to happiness, the walker has to cross a bridge. Two pillars support it. Plenitude is one of them.”

The young man immediately asked what the other pillar was. The monk answered: “Freedom.” The young man asked the Old Man to go further in his explanation, and he obliged: “All forms of dependency, whether emotional, material, social or cultural, are jails of existence, and they all vanish when the gaze and the choices are transformed. Therefore, the free being, on principle, does not displace the axis of his responsibility in achieving happiness. Whenever we blame someone for our misery or sadness, we abdicate our freedom by giving up the possibility of making the transformations we could operate in our lives. Hence, each one is condemned to one more period of stagnation. Accepting that obstacles are not hurdles, but stepping stones for evolution is a typical attitude of free people. Freedom is never a gift someone gives, but a bold, conscious construct developed with the improvement of the personal choices whenever a situation arises that goes against happiness. What many would see as a wall blocking the road the free being realizes that the time has come to use wings to overcome the hurdle and he goes beyond what is oppressing him. Dignity is the only limit to freedom.”

The young man asked where he could get further knowledge about the matter. The Old Man arched his lips in a mild smile and answered: “In life. The true masters are hidden in each conflict or problem presented. There are so many opportunities, they overflow. Each hardship indicates a possibility for transformation and advancement. Each hurdle provides the chance for the evolution of the way you look, feel and act; for doing different and better. In each conflict lies the precise lesson that will enable the apprentice to advance. The universe, in its incommensurate wisdom, will not teach trigonometry to kindergarten souls.” He made a brief pause and continued: “However, we often behave like those kids who only want the fun part of school and turn their nose up at working hard at their studies and tests. Hence we complain of school, of the teachers, of classmates as the source of our difficulties, forgetting that we did not do our part and have to repeat the year we failed. No wonder life is a huge cycle made by many smaller ones that are endlessly repeated until we accept evolution. To that end, lessons become more and more difficult, not out of punishment, but from the love of the teachers for the students.” He looked at the young man with sweetness and asked: “Do you realize everyone has their masters? That the sources of wisdom are plentiful and gush everywhere? We can use them or not. We only need to keep our mind alert and our heart open to enjoy the lessons provided.”

The young man said he was beginning to understand, and that soon he would start building the pillars of plenitude and freedom to cross the bridge to happiness. He was about to say goodbye when he was surprised by the Old Man: “The pillars are no good without the flooring to support our feet.” The young man asked which would be the flooring of the bridge to be crossed. The Old Man furrowed his brow and said: “Love.”

“Plenitude and freedom cannot make us isolated or selfish. The unrestrained search for the wonderful feeling they elicit gives us the illusion of victory, as we ignore others; it makes possible the excuse of lack of time; it wraps us in the dark cloak of indifference; convinces us that to move forward is the same as running over anyone who, due to carelessness or on purpose, opposes our course towards happiness. In short, it gives us the most convoluted excuses not to help. Finally, as ludicrous as it may seem, often in the quest for happiness we become selfish. We end up generating unnecessary conflicts, become distant, open wounds, cause abandonment and suffering in the wake of our pursuit. Therefore, contrary to our wish of taking flight, we make decisions that will keep us in a terrible jail without bars. We long for the cure but forget to take the medicine.”

“To achieve happiness, one must reverse the values. To be free is an individual choice, but you need the other to detach from the old patterns. To be whole you don’t need anyone’s permission, but you need the other for your finest virtues to bloom. It is in relationships that we understand our reactions, and how much more we have to learn. Evolution is individual, but it is impossible to evolve alone. Hence the need of love so that freedom and plenitude are not dissonant parts of an unfinished bridge. Love, in essence, and because it is essential, teaches how to transform all that is not indispensable. The walker, knowing he is far from perfection, never forgets he can always be different and better. This is liberating. In selfishness there is no freedom, only individuality. In the absence of love there is no plenitude, only emptiness. Charity, compassion and mercy are strange virtues that teach us that love is a complex equation through which, as we divide the parts we multiply the whole. This is experiencing love in all its plenitude.”

The young man said that if we need the other, it is because we depend on them; therefore, there is no such thing as freedom or plenitude. The Old Man gave him a lovely smile and said: “We need to relate to other people; however, to be happy we do not depend on the attitude of others. It does not matter how they act or react, nothing they do will be enough to prevent you from going ahead. You must honestly feel that, at that time, you gave your best. There is nothing you can do if the other did not understand or enjoy. You must accept that they were not ready to understand or enjoy the beauty of that moment. Do not try to convince the other, this would be a foolish effort. There is no need for suffering, because at some point, sooner or later, they will understand, and then will move on; they are the ones with the problem, and even though you can be honestly sympathetic, you should not be hampered in going on with your personal journey. Don’t forget that you must love yourself while you love somebody else. This wonderful feeling is reached when freedom and plenitude are in harmony.”

“Happiness stems from personal transformations and improvements in one’s choices. Each one at their own pace, according to their level of awareness and expansion of love, but everyone is connected. Just like loneliness and quietness are essential, relations with everyone is a core component for the improvement of the soul, whether for peacefully overcoming conflicts, or exercising the best that dwells and ripens in the heart. A sacred symbiosis between learning from some and teaching others. The other is not just an ally or villain on the Path, but your counterpoint and mirror, allowing you to see the differences that are yet to be settled. That is how we move on, all of us, each at their own pace according to the lessons learned, the cycles completed, the personal transformations already integrated into the soul and shared with the world.”

The young man drank the rest of his coffee and confessed he had understood only part of what the monk explained. He would think about that conversation, so that new ideas could find their place. The Old Man nodded his head in agreement, and added: “We used to think that happiness is something external, related to material accomplishments, success and applause. Despite being pleasant, we do not realize how vain and transitory all of this is; worse, they make you a prisoner. In the end, they become a source of distress and suffering, as they are foreign and beyond our personal capacities for decision-making and self-management. Thus, while complain about the frustrations, we give up exercising the true power we have and that defines peace and happiness for the following days: the infinite possibilities when one’s gaze is illuminated; the ability to transform the choices we have at all times; the true wealth brought by good feelings. We live with a bitter taste because we do not realize that the sweet things in life are within, not outside ourselves.”


Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.



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