The guardian and the master

The lecture that the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, had delivered at a well-known university addressed the need of balancing self and soul. He used a figure of speech Teresa of Avila had used, comparing the core of a person to a castle with many rooms. Each room is the dwelling of a feeling or an idea. Some are dense and heavy, others, light and subtle. At the entry gate, directly in contact with the world, is the self. In the throne room in the castle, where primary decisions are made, lives the soul. The smooth operation of the castle will depend on the harmony and relationship of its residents. Even though this is not a new idea, it is not well-known, and for centuries was spread only among monasteries and esoteric brotherhoods. At the end of the lecture, there were many questions and doubts that should prompt further reflection by the audience. This was the intent of the good monk. When we were to leave, he asked about statistics professor Carl Bacon, a colleague of his at the British University where he studied Economics, and with whom he had developed a close friendship. He was told that professor Bacon was on sick leave due to a strong depression, that he had given up his chair and that it was unlikely he would come back to teach. The Old Man became concerned and wanted to know where professor Bacon could be found. He was told that he seldom left his home except to wander around the woods at the university, alone. They also said it should not be difficult to find him.

Because the train back to the monastery was only in the evening, I agreed to walk around the beautiful garden that surrounds the university. As we walked, the monk told me that Carl had always been a happy, flirtatious man, who enjoyed the company of people; like the Old Man, he enjoyed beer and soccer. At some point, we saw the professor; he was seated alone, on a bench, wearing overalls and a wool hat to protect himself from the cold. He had a lost, sad gaze. When he saw the Old Man, he delineated a smile; a tear attempted to drop. We sat next to him. When he was asked about his depression, Carl said that nothing seemed to cheer him up, but he was already taking medication. The monk rebuked: “Medication may relieve symptoms but will not cure you. Depression is a deep sense of sadness; even though it reflects itself in the body, it is a matter of the soul.”

The professor shrugged and said that even though he had heard about soul forever, he had never actually understood its meaning. The Old Man explained: “The soul is the essence of being, the self in depth. Soul is the driving engine that sets life in motion, the true identity of each one of us. Differently from the self, that is concerned with life’s apparently ordinary issues, which are important particularly in this existential, third-dimensional journey, because we all have basic survival needs and bills to pay, the soul addresses life’s primary matters. In it lies the hidden part of the whole that awaits movement; it is like a sun kept in a box: once the box is open, all the cold and darkness of the being will be quashed. It is something extra, it is you beyond your shallow existence.”

“The soul is like a root capable of metabolizing the sap that nourishes the tree to make leaves, flowers and fruits. A week root generates a dry tree.”

The Old Man once again resorted to the ideas posed by Teresa of Avila in her Interior Castle, to be understood by his friend: “The self is in charge of the castle entry gate. The soul is in the main room. Between them, many rooms where different feelings and ideas dwell. Lack of synch between self and soul causes disarray among the other residents; it causes the voice of the soul to gradually loose strength and power until it becomes inaudible. Without command, the castle becomes a mess, a huge confusion of unorganized emotions and thoughts that cross the gate to go to the world, always with too much noise and little music. Lack of synch between self and soul puts the castle in shambles.”

“The castle of the self always crumbles from inside out. When the façade is colorless, it means that the interior had been destroyed for quite a long time.”

Carl wanted to know what his depression had to do with what the Old Man said. The monk was didactic: “Depression and all other emotional sufferings represent the insurrection of the soul. A cry of one who must be heard, an asking of help of one who wishes to be saved. Whenever we suffer, this means something in the core must be redesigned and rebuilt. The ego suffers when it is unable to defend the gate of the castle, which ends up assailed by a host of barbarian feelings. It happens only when the soul becomes mute and we no longer listen to its voice. The guidance and foundations of the soul are the best support of the self’s actions”.

“The soul is the perfect protection against the storms and assaults of the world. To that end, the ego must be aligned, and the other dwellers of the castle should be balanced and in harmony under its full command. The smooth operation of the castle is the plenitude of the self.”

Politely, Carl asked his friend not to get him wrong, but he did not believe in soul nor was he interested in any metaphysical matter. He had spent his life among numbers. He stressed he was a statistician and enjoyed the accuracy math provided. He felt secure with the exactness of scientific formulas. The Old Man nodded in agreement: “The importance of math for the evolution of humankind is unquestionable. However, as the alchemist from Lisbon wrote, “to sail is necessary, to live is not”. Emotions and relationships take away the accuracy of existence. In this lies the wealth of life and the beauty of soul”.

The mathematician asked the monk to go further in his explanation. The Old Man obliged: “When our castle is in disarray, the dwellers argue and fight among themselves, giving cause to disappointments and sorrow. Frustrations are not caused by behaviors of others, but in our inner conflicts, in the mess of feelings and ideas that dwell in the castle, in the poor perception we have on who we are, because of the distancing between ego and soul. Hence, often we try to fix the ruins by just painting the outer walls, placing colorful flowers on the window sills or even promoting parties trying to fill up empty rooms that are, somehow, bothersome to us.” 

“Sometimes, when the ego is disoriented, it abandons its important post at the gate and hides in the dark dungeon of the castle, in order to deny or escape reality. Then, it drowns in sadness and becomes overpowered by depression. Even though the ego is susceptible to the riots of the world, the enemy that makes it a prisoner is not foreign, but internal, and includes lack of harmony, communication and knowledge among castle dwellers.”

“We insist in solving the problems by taking care of appearances rather than the essence. We search on the surface for what we will find only in the depth. There, we will not find mathematic equations, but the core of being, the soul.”

“Only the soul is capable of balancing misaligned emotions and healing those that may be suffering. However, it waits in the central room of the castle, and needs the ego, the loyal sentinel, to take there each of the residents that still require instructions and education. This will bring the ego strength, balance and composure for its relationships and its job at the gates of the world. Only then will the castle be harmonious and impregnable to the storms and barbarian invasions.”   

Always very kind, Carl claimed it had always been difficult for him to deal with mysticism. The Old Man looked him in the eyes and asked: “Do you believe in yourself?” The mathematician seemed to think that question odd, and the monk continued: “Weren’t you able to solve many extremely difficult problems of the complex universe of mathematics?” The professor nodded. The Old Man continued: “This shows the fantastic power you have to outdo yourself. He who has won a battle can win all. To that end, suffice that you understand who you are and believe in your strength. This is faith. For, if the soul is your core, the sacred face and part of the whole that dwells within you, whether you believe or not in your existence, when you set this personal power in motion towards light, to favor evolution and healing, the entire universe is in ‘common-union’ with you.” 

Carl asked how those words could help him dealing with his depression. The Old Man said with sweetness: “Quietness and solitude are quite valuable if properly taken advantage of. Instead of using them as torture tools, use them as bridges to reach you. Retrieve from your emotional memories, sincerely and courageously, the facts that triggered the suffering that assails you. You will see that they are those that have assaulted the castle, wounded the ego, set the rooms in disarray, oppressed the other residents and sieged the soul in the prison of oblivion. Take each unpleasant feeling to the soul’s private room. In it, there is a cabinet with many sacred vials for healing. There is a virtue in each one. Dissect each painful fact and let yourself face the emotional wounds that are so painful. Treat them with the extracts of humility, sympathy, forgiveness, love and others that are available. Learn the absolute healing power of each one of them. Healing can only be revealed in the core of being. There lies plenitude, hidden in itself. There lies the soul, waiting for you.” 

At this point, breaking the silence that had ensued, I brought to the attention of the Old Man the time our train was scheduled to depart and that it was time for us to head to the station. The friends said their farewells with a warm, heartfelt hug. Carl thanked for the visit and said he would think about those words. On the train, I said that my guess about the professor contemplating the ideas voiced by the monk were more out of politeness than belief. This remark did not shake the Old Man: “I pointed him to a path that not only I believe, I actually take. As Caetano, the well-known poet from Bahia, Brazil, says, ‘it is just a twist of the body, no one has to follow me’”.  I reasoned that Carl was a bright academic, highly regarded. The monk retorted: “At times, a sharp cognitive intelligence ends up relegating other types of intelligence, such as emotional or spiritual. Hence, the unbalance”. 

The Old Man looked at me in the eyes and added: “All suffering is, in truth, a lack of connection between self and soul. The self is the keeper of the castle; the soul its master. When the former does not listen to the latter, all becomes raucous, senseless, vulgar.”

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