The caravan was to start its eight day of the journey. The camp was waking up. I distanced myself to have a short meditation when I saw the caravanner even further away, with his hawk perched on the thick leather gloves that covered his left hand and forearm. I got distracted waiting for the bird to fly in search of prey, as it normally hunted early and at the end of the day. I thought it odd that the hawk refused to fly. When I noticed the caravanner going back to camp in hurried steps, I realized there was something wrong. Even though I could not hear, I saw him giving commands to the crew. Soon, news broke that a sandstorm was approaching. We were advised to prepare ourselves to leave as quickly as possible, in search of a place where we could face the storm more safely. I had heard stories of entire caravans that had succumbed to violent sandstorms, equivalent to avalanches for mountain climbers. In minutes, everyone was packed and on their camels and horses, in fasting, ready to leave. We marched in complete silence. Anguished eyes patrolled the horizon, looking for any signs. The sky, with its natural intense-blue color of the desert, seemed no different than on previous days. The temperature was beginning to rise as the sun ascended the celestial vault. Nothing seemed to be different but the fear, which amplified the odd quietness of the march on that day. I noticed that the caravanner led us to open ground, away from the dunes that move at the mercy of the wind and could bury us during the storm. At one point, we stopped for a brief rest. The caravanner moved apart and sat on his haunches, in a praying position. Sensing that I had come near, he opened his eyes and gazed at me. I made a signal asking for permission to come closer, and he consented with a motion of his head. I asked if we could pray together. With his chin, he pointed for a place for me to sit, next to him. I confessed I was afraid and asked if he too was afraid. The caravanner answered with composure: “Everyone feels afraid on the verge of something bad. I ask for light and protection. These are the two words of my prayer.”
Light and protection? That’s it? I asked why so simple a prayer. With his eyes closed, he explained: “Regardless of how we conceive Him, God dwells in each one of us. The soul is the temple of the sacred, the only place where the encounter is possible. It is not the magnitude of the prayer that will open that door, but the purity of feelings aligned with the understanding of oneself which, in short, is the code for the Path. In face of the dangers of existence, I ask for protection against the hazards I am still unable to fight, and light to illuminate my choices in face of those I can confront. The good spirits of the desert will be always willing to aid but will never do the part that falls on me to do, or else they would be hampering my personal improvement. Despite the tremendous risks a sandstorm poses, a ‘soulstorm’ is infinitely more devastating.”
I also closed my eyes and we did not say a word for I don’t know how long. I let the silence lead me on a journey inside myself, as a guided visit through the gardens of my memories, ideas and emotions. I soothed the troubled ones and nourished myself with the fine ones. A pleasant sense of lightness little by little enveloped me, like when I was a child and my parents would take me to the park. Until I faced an old foe, fear.
The well-being I felt immediately turned into distress. Fear had always been ruthless to me, and one of the main causes of my distress. Fear pointed to defeat in many aspects of my existence. Disasters, diseases, unemployment, abandonment, failure were some of the spokes of the wheel that had been turning forever inside me.
On the other hand, I thought that if there was fear in me, it was a creature of my own creation. Therefore, another meaning was possible. I had to stop being scared of fear, feeling cornered by or running away from it. Even though it was a fictional character, fear had grown over the centuries and gained independence. To pretend it did not exist or to deny its presence only made it larger. It was necessary, first of all, to face it with wisdom. The opposite of fear is courage. It occurred to me that in order for courage to exist, before there must be fear; without the latter, there will not be the former. Fear is the caterpillar; the butterfly is the courage. It was this thought that allowed me to look at and embrace fear with love. Yes, fear is nourished by the lack of primordial love, the love for oneself and for life; therefore, through love I could reinvent fear as a character, give it another context and role in the story of my life and, henceforth, reverse its dire consequences. Killing or suffocating fear would be a mistake. In the third act, I showed to fear – or, in essence, to myself – the infinite possibilities of light. I told fear that I would accept its warnings in the face of impending dangers of the world, but that it would never paralyze me. Just the opposite, it would make me more attentive and better prepared each passing day. Fear would no longer be powerful enough to make me hide from life or steal the morning joy. From that moment on, it would become a good advisor whose role was to remind me to enhance my gifts rather than abandoning them; to sharing with the world my best fruits rather than keeping them with me alone; and, foremost, never letting me give up on moving on. Fear would remind me, every day, that only those who give up their dreams become sad. At that moment, I became a skilled creator of my own self, capable of turning a dangerous ancestral enemy into a valued contemporary ally.
The pleasant feeling of lightness returned, and brought along a strange power. When I opened my eyes, I realized the caravanner was looking at me. He arched his lips in a discrete smile, as if he knew where I had gone and with whom I had met. Before I could make a comment, with his chin he pointed to the horizon. Dense, dark clouds were drawing near. Contrary to before, I was permeated by an immeasurable power from a mixture of virtues. I understood that whenever there is courage to face the problems that lie ahead, love to learn from them, patience to endure the moment, wisdom to overcome the situation, and faith to mobilize the sacred that dwells in me protection would never lack, and no harm could reach me.
Yes, light and protection, that was all. I smiled back to the caravanner for his complicity in disclosing part of the artful skills that make up plenitude; that unveils the truth and makes the whole. Without saying a word, we both ran towards the caravan, to help whomever we could, particularly the desperate.
The caravanner shouted for us to be close together, as a single body. “We are one,” shouted the members of the crew, asking for people to kneel down and unite themselves in a huge, collective hug. A “common-unity”. That was the best way to face the storm. Every storm. The clouds were approaching rapidly, and we were advised to cover our faces to protect them from the violence with which the sand hit us from the thrust of the wind. This is when I saw an old lady separated from where we were by some 100 meters. Realizing what I was about to do, a trader next to me said there was no point, because she had an impaired gait. The tempest would hit me on open ground and we would both die, the old lady and I. He added that I should not “play hero”, stating that perhaps her time had come and destiny had to be fulfilled, and her destiny was not bound to mine. In fractions of seconds, I weighed the man’s reasons, and had no doubt what he said was inspired by fear, but fear created by the shadows. The fear I felt, as a good advisor, told me it was not a matter of being a hero, but that, despite the danger, I should not waste the chance of exercising the love I felt for that helpless woman. I tried to extricate myself once again, but again the trader held me. I looked at him with sincere compassion. That was enough to let go of my arm. I ran towards the old lady. The strong wind made me lose balance, and I prayed to the good spirits of the desert not to let me fall. When I embraced her, I received such a deep gaze of gratitude words cannot translate. Even though the storm did not allay a bit, my heart, nourished by the love of that lady, seemed to calm the storm inside me. I realized that she, too, was at peace and enchanted with my love. I told her we had to run to join the group before the storm increased. She said she had difficulties to walk. She honestly begged me to go back and save myself. She looked me in the eyes and said I should not worry, because she and God were good friends. She added she would not be forsaken and gave me a luminous smile.
My mind was made not to leave the old lady alone. Time was passing fast, and the storm did not allow us to join the rest of the caravan. This is when I realized that the caravanner was looking at me. He made a sign for me to look behind. I saw three camels laying down together due to an instinct for survival, at a short distance from where I was. I looked back to the caravanner and he nodded, indicating yes, that was what he thought. With no further hesitation, I picked the old lady up in my arms and ran towards the camels; lying among them we would face and try to resist to the storm at its peak.
I did not feel myself passing out. I woke up under the gaze of two lapis-lazuli eyes. One of the hands of the beautiful woman held my head while the other offered me water from a canteen. Some members of the crew helped remove the layer of sand that was covering me. The Old Lady was lying a bit apart from me and was being cared for by other people. She waved at me and gave me a thankful smile. Alone with the beautiful woman with lapis-lazuli eyes, I and told her all the events that had occurred that day. I told her I owed thanks to the lesson. She made a remark: “Figs don’t grow on tamarind trees.” I asked her to explain. She obliged: “Understanding only flourished because the seed was ready to sprout. Otherwise, as wise as the words might have been, they would have been to no avail.”
I confessed I was going to sleep a different man than the one who woke up in the morning. I said that the way I would treat my emotions would make them foes or allies. This was a great power, and it was mine. The woman nodded and added: “Every day we have the opportunity of turning lead into gold, prisons into wings, of healing the wounds. This is the alchemic transmutation, pure and simple, deep and infinite. However, we put it to waste by keeping shut the curtains the cover the truth. We keep ourselves in the storm because we refuse to open the door that leads us to the soul.”
At that moment came the order for everybody to mount their animals. The caravan was to continue its journey. Relentlessly. I stood up, shook off the sand that I still had on my clothes and, when I looked to my side, I could not help laughing heartily, because of the same, predictable and yet unusual scene. The beautiful woman with lapis-lazuli eyes had vanished into thin air.
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.