The compliment and the trail to the cliff

I had gone down the mountain that hosts the monastery to cool my head and organize my thoughts. When I arrived at the charming small town located at the foot of the mountain, I looked for Loureiro, the shoemaker, lover of books and wines. I needed to vent. I found him in his workshop. I was greeted with a sincere smile and a strong hug. He ended that day’s work, asked me to sit by the old wooden counter, and fetched two mugs of fresh coffee. When he noticed by my expression that something wasn’t right, he asked me to open up. So, he explained, I would put out everything that bothered me. He would try to calm me down. Then, with the filter of serene consciousness, he would only bring back what was good and valuable. I explained what had upset me at the monastery. A vacancy to teach a course that the Order offered to the external public every year, which consisted of a series of lectures and experiences in order to increase the perception of the sacred that inhabits all people. Francis, a monk from the Order, came to me to say that, justly, the position should be mine. He praised my remarkable advances in my studies, my good oratory skills, and my excellent reasoning ability in the debates. According to him, there was no monk – as we call all the members of the Order – more capable than me to assume the position and that I should request it for myself. He added that, under my coordination, the course would reach levels of excellence. He advised me to look for the Elder, as we affectionately called the oldest monk in the monastery, who was responsible for the decision, for a frank conversation on the subject. I confessed that, at first, I hadn’t thought about it. However, after analyzing Francis’ words, I became convinced that I was the right person to perform the job. I looked for the Elder and applied for the position. When I realized that he was hesitant, I used my trajectory of studies and development within the Order as an argument. He replied that he would think carefully about it and, when he was sure of the decision he would make, he would let me know. Such anticipation filled my mind for the next two days and nights. As there was still no decision, I went to look for the Elder again and pressured him to decide. I insisted on reminding him of my qualifications; I stated, without any doubt, that I was the most prepared person to direct the course. The Elder listened patiently, without interrupting me. In the end, he said that another monk had also applied for the position, with a very different posture from mine, without any arrogance and a lot of humility. He confessed that he was quite inclined to decide in favor of this other monk. Everyone knew the Elder attached great value to the virtue of humility. For a split second, a frightening thought occurred to me. I asked who the monk was. “Francis” was his answer.

Disoriented, I found myself speechless. I excused myself and left the Elder’s office. After a sleepless night, the next morning I announced that I would spend a few days outside the monastery. Now I was there, at Loureiro’s workshop, in front of my friend. I confessed that only one idea came to me: asking for my definitive departure from the Order. I couldn’t live with such injustice. I claimed that although Francis was an educated man, my qualifications went well beyond his. Francis himself had revealed this to me.

Loureiro, who had heard the whole report without interruptions, took a long sip of his coffee and said: “I think this case deserves a different perspective than you are allowing yourself to have. It seems to me that there is something hidden, something difficult for you to admit.” I interrupted him, saying that everything seemed as clear as a summer morning. The shoemaker reminded me of a teaching that he had already offered me, but at that moment I was unable to remember: “Faced with a conflict, we have the option of looking at it in the way someone looks at a problem. Then we will be facing a problem. However, we can see the situation as a lesson provided by life. In this case we will be face to face with a master. When properly used, the result will bring us personal transformation and inevitable evolution.”

I commented that those were nice but empty words. Loureiro, not allowing himself to be provoked, like a good friend, understood and showed patience with the change in my mood. He invited me: “Shall we walk while we continue the conversation?” Wandering through the winding, narrow streets of that beautiful town, paved with centuries-old stones, was always pleasant. Despite the typical autumn chill, I accepted the proposal. As soon as we started walking, Loureiro asked me to recount the whole thing. In truth, he wanted me to hear my words, to be the spectator of my own speech. As I felt an enormous need, albeit unconscious, to purge the dense emotions that made me sick, I recounted all the facts and, moreover, discussed each incident. Always emphasizing the injustice of which I was a victim to and the desire to disconnect from the Order. Without realizing it, as we walked, I repeated the story and the arguments many times. As I started to hear myself, I realized that there was something wrong, some argument that gradually took away the strength and meaning of my narrative. However, I couldn’t, or didn’t want to, identify the heart of the matter.

We walked for a certain period of time which I can’t estimate. I talked, talked, and talked. Loureiro just listened. When there was a moment of silence, in which I was tired of myself, he invited me for coffee and freshly baked bread at a nearby bakery. Properly seated at a table by the window, he asked me: “You have declared yourself wronged several times. However, can you see anything different or beyond injustice?” I nodded. “A trap”, I answered.

I had let myself be embellished by the compliments with which Francis painted me. Without the needed caution, I let myself be led to the edge of the cliff. In admiring such praise, I fell, for I became a bad candidate for the post in which humility was paramount. This paved Francis’ chances when he introduced himself to the Elder in a Machiavellian way.

The shoemaker arched his lips in a slight smile, as if to say that I was beginning to turn the problem into a lesson. However, I was far from achieving a good result, because then I started to talk about how Francis was infamous, a dangerous man, a traitor. I would stay away from him. I considered talking to the Elder about Francis’ antics to get the job. He would request his expulsion from the Order for his vile behavior. Loureiro looked at me deeply before contemplating: “There was certainly a trap. But what was the bait used to imprison you?” Francis’ malice, I replied. The shoemaker shook his head to say that the answer was wrong and suggested: “Think and try again.” Although I tried to avoid the truth, in order to be honest with myself and be honest with him, I had to admit what really hurt me. I lowered my eyes and confessed that the bait that had trapped me had been my pride and my vanity.

However, I insisted that Francis’ wickedness could not be denied, without which none of this would have happened. Loureiro put me in front of the master who lives inside all of us: “Francis’ evil belongs to Francis. Alone, it would have no power. Unless you accepted the invitation to dance with it, attracted by its seductive compliments. Praise often works as a magnet for the shadows of pride and vanity.” The waiter brought the cups of coffee accompanied by delicious bread topped with a generous slice of incredible local cheese. Nice and warm. Loureiro took a sip and deepened his reasoning: “For all this time, you ran from responsibility. Either claiming injustice, or Francis’ betrayal or malice. If you had not taken on the advice of vanity and pride, there would be no conflict, no cliff and fall; the trap would be harmless, Francis’ evil would be consumed in himself. Knowing the Elder and his keen sense of justice, I would say that the chances of you reaching the desired position would be enormous. The silence of humility speaks louder than the cries of pride; the light of simplicity has an infinitely greater and longer lasting reach than the sparkle of vanity. Anyway, if there was a conflict it was because you called for it; if there was a fall, it was because you jumped from the cliff; if there was frustration in your journey, in this case, it was due to the use of inadequate instruments for the correct progress. There is no evolution without the exercise of virtues; there is no victory outside the light.”

I commented that I had been too naive. Loureiro corrected me: “As long as you refuse to look in the mirror of truth, lost due to not understanding neither your strength nor your weakness, you will be imprisoned in the cell of your own victimization. Without pride and vanity as your advisers, none of this would have happened. As long as you look at yourself as a mere victim of the evil of others, you will not be able to progress or transmute the pain.”

“The most interesting aspect is that we are conditioned to use pride and vanity to feel strong when, in truth, it is exactly these shadows that weaken us. It was exactly at that point, because it convinced you that you are powerful, that Francis imprisoned you. What defeated you was not Francis’ evil, but your own shadows. Your weakness was your illusion of strength. Understanding this, with love and wisdom, is the first step in transforming and strengthening yourself for the days to come.”

“This is the exact same way offenses work. We can only offend those who, inflated by the vulgar shadows of pride and vanity, believe themselves to be better than others, who think that respect comes from others and not from the knowledge they have about themselves.”

He took a bite of his bread and continued: “Francis, like a good magician, tricked you with the skillful game of shadows. The trick was only possible because you wanted to believe it, because it inflated your ego, which in this situation proved itself to be askew. Because you deluded yourself to be strong, you were vulnerable.” I interrupted to say that I would never again believe in a compliment. Loureiro frowned as if he were talking to an unhappy child and said: “You don’t need to walk along the lines of childishness or radicalism. Not all praise is sincere, as well as not all criticism is fair. When we understand who we are, we have already developed good levels of humility, simplicity, compassion, and sincerity. Thus, we are able to understand the value contained in each word addressed to us; enjoying the caring content and disregarding the fruits of ignorance.”

I said this had been a fruitful lesson. Loureiro asked how my relationship with Francis would be from then on. I confessed that I had no good feelings towards him. Yes, I was hurt. The shoemaker sipped his coffee and said: “The lesson is not over yet. Only forgiveness ends this process.”

“Understand that you and Francis were advised by the same shadows. Both were moved by pride and vanity, each in their own way. The Law of Attraction; it was their harmony that brought them together and involved them. This makes you more like Francis than you would like at the moment. However, it can also help you. His shadows allowed you to discover the degree of involvement they have with yours. This will make it possible, if you work in that direction, to transmute pride into humility, vanity into simplicity and then move on. Thank him. Francis, albeit unintentionally, through the shadows, became a messenger of light. It is the cliff that makes us discover the value of learning to fly.”

He finished his coffee and concluded: “Forgiveness is the enlightened end of all stories because it frees the characters involved in the plot. Furthermore, forgiveness heals the evil that corrodes us. Forgiveness is vital for the highest flights, not only because it unties us from the ground or because. it makes us light by emptying the unnecessary baggage we insist on carrying, but mainly because it makes us understand the perfect span of our wings.”

I spent two more days at the small town, meditating and reflecting. At the end of my stay, I returned to the monastery. I looked for the Elder and admitted that I was not yet ready to run the course. I apologized for the inadequacy of my words during the conversation we had days before. I said nothing about Francis. He smiled with the sweetness of a father. Without my asking, he commented that the position would be under the responsibility of Bartolomeu. A monk who had not asked for it.

Kindly translated by Julia Reuter e Carvalho

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