The fourteenth day of the crossing – the wonders of impermanence

When I woke up, there were stars still sparkling in the sky. To the east, the sun discretely announced its coming, coloring a small band of the horizon in a pastel hue. Ingrid, the astronomer who had fallen asleep next to me on the previous day, had her eyes open and was dazzled with the stars. When she realized I was also awake, she told me about her fascination with celestial bodies and with all the mystery that still exists in the universe. I said that the existence of mysteries is inversely proportional to our knowledge. However, I was curious about why she had said that. “Our sky is the sky of the past”, she answered. I said I had not understood. Ingrid explained that the stars are at a tremendous distance of many light-years from us. This means that the stars we were seeing at that moment were no longer there and could even no longer exist. The astronomer said that the stars blow up when their cycle of existence ends, but because of the huge distance, the image of a fact that took place in the space takes years to reach Earth. This means that what my eyes have seen could no longer exist. She randomly pointed to a star and concluded: “That star can be just an illusion, because it is possible it no longer exists. Illusion and reality mix together all the time when we study astronomy.” I said I had a feeling that in life it was just the same; it wasn’t always easy to distinguish illusion from reality. We remained in silence, looking at the stars until the sun rose some more degrees and the camp came to life. After waking up and preparing our gear to leave for another day of the crossing, we went to have breakfast. While I was having a delicious fresh coffee, I noticed that a huge dune that was in front of us the previous evening, when we set up camp, had vanished, swept away by the night wind. I confessed to Ingrid that the instability of things was very discomforting to me. She shrugged, as if saying that it was unavoidable and moved away to take care of some tasks. I reserved the spot next to me for us to ride together, one camel next to the other. I had thoroughly enjoyed talking to her and wanted her company. When, at the time of starting the march, she hadn’t shown up, I started to scan the entire caravan, looking for her. That was when I saw her ready for the march, next to somebody else. Bad feelings immediately took over me.

I tried hard to control the uneasiness I was feeling. In vain. I tried to distract myself with the landscape of the desert, but it seemed to be of unbearable sameness. On that day, the person who aligned her camel to mine was an older lady, with her skin wrinkled from the harsh desert weather, but otherwise apparently healthy. I noticed that she looked at me as if she could see beyond my body, as if she could read my soul. Because that was bothersome to me, I gazed at her seriously, staring at her eyes as if asking her to stop that. She smiled, showing a golden tooth. In response, I turned my face straight ahead, as if saying I wanted to be left alone.

When I was expecting the caravan to stop for a brief rest and a light meal, as usual, the caravanner had the word passed that we would go on without stop, so that we would reach a well next to which we would set up camp, and supply ourselves with water. This change in the routine increased my already high discomfort. Even without my asking, the lady next to me said, out of the blue: “Pick who is going to accompany you, not only in the caravan, but on every day of your life.” I said that the person I wished was next to me did not want to be. As if she knew I was referring to Ingrid, she advised: “I am not talking about somebody else, because we are not, nor should we feel we are, anybody’s owner. This is domination, and the cause of much suffering. For one to be free, one must respect the freedom of the other.” She paused and then continued: “I am talking about your angels or demons. Who determines who is closer to you, one or the other, is you. Light or shadows are defined in your mind and in your heart. This is how reality is built; all the rest is illusion.” She paused again before adding: “Accept that circumstances change when life needs to advance in a different direction. To deny evolution is to be imprisoned to illusion; being against change is putting to waste the best chance a new reality offers.” I shook my head as if saying she did not know anything about my life and continued silently. The lady also refrained from uttering another word.

Early in the evening, we arrived at the well. Camp was set up and the entire caravan got a supply of water. For dinner, we did not have the delicious stew with dried lamb meat and grains. Instead, an odd-looking soup was served. Feeling a mix of disappointment and annoyance, I refused to have dinner. As if it weren’t enough, I complained to one of the cooks, who responded rudely. I moved away to chew on the sorrow I was feeling, now not only because of Ingrid, but the entire caravan, that seemed to be plotting against me. It didn’t take long for Ingrid to come close. She said she was looking for me to talk, she wanted to tell me the amazing conversation she had had with an astrologer who was traveling to the oasis with the caravan. She had a bowl of soup in her hands which, according to her taste, was delicious. Excited, she said she had had a theoretical discussion with the astrologer about science and mysticism; astronomy versus astrology. Sarcastic, I asked her if she felt she had won. The astronomer sensed my tone of voice and, instead of responding to my provocation, asked why I was feeling hurt. I told her my reasons. She said I was being immature. She went further to say we could talk to make things clear. Venting my resentment, I said I was not willing at that moment. Ingrid said she understood and left. That made me feel even worse.

At that moment, being in the middle of the desert following in a caravan to an oasis in order to meet a wise dervish that “knows many secrets of heaven and earth”, seemed absurd. I so wanted to be comfortably at home, living my day-to-day routine I so enjoyed, next to those I loved, when I saw the beautiful woman with lapis-lazuli eyes away from everybody, seated on the sand in a meditating position. I went near, but I was reluctant to interrupt her. Without opening her eyes, she invited me to sit. As I did so, I asked her how she knew I was there, with her eyes closed. She answered as if stating the obvious: “The dense energy you are emanating is as perceptible as the winds that precede a storm.” I told her I hadn’t had a good day and gave her an account of the facts. She looked at me as if I were a child and said: “Nothing you said is so grave as to justify your dissatisfaction.” I rebuked her by saying that on the previous day Ingrid had shown great affection for me, and then decided to trade my company for the company of someone she had just met. I quoted a line of a famous book by Saint-Exupéry, in which that remarkable writer teaches that “you are accountable for all that you captivate”. Therefore, according to my reasoning, Ingrid should have been more attentive to me. The woman with blue eyes explained: “Teaching is precious; however, wisdom requires proper background and due limits. Being responsible for you does not mean she has to fulfill all your needs or satisfy your desires that stem from an unstable emotional condition. To captivate is to give love, and that does not make anyone accountable for the happiness of others, out of sheer impossibility of the endeavor. To be accountable for the other is to provide the best love we have, in a generous, honest way. This is quite different than having an obligation to satisfy all the desires of others. To impose such an obligation on someone is a dreadful exercise of domination that must be rejected firmly, but kindly; one cannot accept the transferring of responsibility in the search for one’s own plenitude. The teaching of the French alchemist was misleading, generating undue demands for affection; when it comes to love, mere demand is inappropriate. Hence, we develop a distorted reasoning to obtain the happiness that we should seek. Stuck in inaction by fear of toil and the unknown, both inherent to the search and to evolution, we complain of the world and curse life.” She looked at me seriously and added: “In an attempt to manipulate reality, we end up imprisoned in illusion.”

I nodded in agreement, but I pointed out that Ingrid could have been a bit more attentive and patient with me, instead of simply walking away when I said I did not want to talk. The beautiful woman questioned my intentions: “Why did she have to insist? To spoil you as one spoils children? Oftentimes we refuse to grow up, deluding ourselves that it is best to have the permanent sense of security that adults convey to us in our infancy. However, everything in life changes because everyone needs to grow up. This is necessary. Without transformation there is no evolution. However, we are afraid of new circumstances in life, because we do not know if we will be able to handle them. We have been imbued with an ancestral obsession for dominating everything and everyone around us, rather than focusing on balancing the universe that exists within ourselves. We are conditioned to impose on or manipulate choices of others rather than simply respect them. By yearning to control the world, we lose power over ourselves and waste the wonders of life. Only with a mature soul we will feel safe. In this world, we live the universe that dwells in us; whether one of conflicts or of harmony. To think that the pain we feel is due to others is a sweet illusion of bitter reality.”

I said that, in a way, this was what the old lady had told me, and I did not understand. I added, out of curiosity, that I had thought odd the golden tooth that could be seen when she smiled. The blue-eyed woman looked surprised and said: “You hadn’t mentioned her before. Could you describe her for me?” I did it in detail, because she had ridden next to me throughout that day. The beautiful woman then asked me if I had seen that old lady any other day. This is when I realized that, in fact, despite the two weeks of the journey so far, everyone was, at least, known by sight. However, I had no recollection of having seen her before. The woman with lapis-lazuli eyes explained, much to my amazement: “There was no one ridding next to you today. Or I should say, no person. The old lady you are talking about is a spirit; a good spirit that follows and protects caravans. She is a keeper of the sands and is known as The Desert’s Gypsy. She is very wise and enlightened. Talking to her is an opportunity very few travelers have.”

I tried to continue the conversation, but the woman motioned me not to by placing her index finger on her lips, a sign of silence. Next, she passed her hands on my eyes, as if asking that I close them. I understood it was time for quietness and reflection, so I did it. It didn’t take long for my emotions to settle and I could see all that had happened on that day, as a movie on my mental screen. I could see the different situations that were not what I had expected or wanted, from Ingrid deciding to ride next to another person to the change in the supper meal. By refusing to experience the possibilities that came forth and were out of my control or wishes, I felt uneasy throughout the day. I was annoyed because we did not stop to rest in the middle of the day; I had not tasted the soup; I had a quarrel with a cook and worse, because I was enveloped by the jealousy I felt for Ingrid, I wasted the rare chance of enjoying a conversation with a keeper of the desert. While I envied the conversation the astronomer and the astrologer had, I failed to realize the fantastic encounter the magic of life was offering me. 

Little by little my thoughts became aligned to form a mosaic of ideas. I understood that by trying to control the world I lose myself and life. On the other hand, by harmonizing my inner universe, I find myself, I am in balance with the world and embrace life. Only the impermanence of all things can teach me that. Impermanence hides the mastery of evolution by opening the veil of illusion.

Kindly Translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

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