Every Saturday morning there is a wonderful market in the main square of the village close to the mountain where the monastery is located. The streets are winding and narrow, and are still paved with cobblestones that confirm its medieval origin. Delicacies, crafts, sausages, cheeses, fruits and vegetables are sold by residents and farmers of the vicinity. The cheerful music played by young and old in the center of the square colors the good spirits that radiate in everyone’s face. On that day, the pleasant spring sun warmed the cold early morning, and showcased the typical colors of the season. The Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, had asked me to accompany him to the market, saying that he need to buy honey, a necessary ingredient to bake a cake all the monks enjoyed. As a matter of fact, he appreciated the spiritual exchange among all people, whether inside the monastery or out. With an open smile, shining eyes and soft voice, he would speak to anyone who crossed his slow, but steady steps. It was amazing to see how people held him dear, even though he did not have a penny to spare. At a certain point, he met a young woman, very pretty and well dressed, whose family, who owned large tracts of land in the vicinity, had aristocratic ancestry in bygone times, and that now was about to disappear. She had a gloomy look, her eyes were listless. She seemed happy to meet the Old Man, and invited us to sit at a cafe close by.
With steaming cups of coffee before us, the woman started to vent her sadness with the miseries of fate. Despite the huge inheritance she received, which gave her access to the most expensive stuff the world had, she was not happy nor saw the beauty of things. Nothing made her happy. The old monk listened with genuine interest for long minutes, without a word. At the end, her watery eyes shed a tear down her pretty face. He gave her a comforting smile, and asked: “Do you know what a labyrinth is?” The young lady nodded her head, and said it was a tangle of passageways that seem to go nowhere, and whose exit is difficult to find. “Life, sometimes, has the shape of a labyrinth”, said the Old Man in an enigmatic way, still developing his reasoning. The woman wanted to know more. He looked her kindly in the eyes, and added: “Who does not know where to go is forever lost”. The traveler looks for the exit in the outer walls of the passageway when, in fact, the door is within. This is the secret of the most sophisticated labyrinth that exists: life”.
The young woman regretted her unsuccessful career in the movies that she had longed so much for. She had studied singing and dancing; her acting instructors praised her for her performance; however, during the auditions, she failed and received harsh criticism from directors and producers. She said she was so sad she could not stand watching movies anymore. The Old Man sipped his coffee, looked at her with his appeasing eyes framed in his wrinkled face, medals of an entire life, and said: “Not every compliment is sincere, not all criticisms are fair”.
The young lady decided to understand that he was suggesting she should persist in her thwarted career. The monk was emphatic: “I am not saying you should persist or that you should give up. Had I made any such suggestion I would be frivolous or arrogant. The fact is each one should know how to read the letters of one’s own book; one must realize where the flow of destiny wants to take you. Sometimes, the Universe wants you to insist, to face the challenges that are innate to your development and that make you stronger; other times you must give up your wishes, as they are not required for the evolution of your being, that needs to go in a different direction in search of your true meaning. To understand that is to decode Life”.
“We all want to be pretty, rich, famous and loved. The ego, prompted by social conventions that are still primitive, thrusts us towards that direction. But what are the actual needs of your soul? Only to evolve”. The old monk sipped his coffee once again before going on: “We are still concerned more with the appearance than with the essence, as if the best of the fruit was the color of the skin, rather than the sweetness of the juice. We have to understand our immortality through the spirit we are, and each one receives the lesson that is suitable for this stage of the Path, in order to align the desires of the ego with the interests of the soul, in a journey with infinite stop-overs. Financial hardships may justify why some people appreciate working; the financial wealth of others may be a harsh test of compassion when striving in accordance with the keen wisdom of love; the ailment of the body may be a miraculous medicine for the spirit. Accordingly, the lack of aesthetic beauty does not prevent the enchantment of all by noble gestures, proving that the light that seduces the best is the one that shines from inside out. One should distinguish what is eternal from what will be relentlessly eaten by time”. He paused briefly and said, jokingly: “This old and wrinkled man before you was once a handsome man, with whom many women fell in love. He was, however, a tormented soul, very far from the peace he now has. Deep down, what matters is the baggage we carry in the vest of the soul, the heart”.
The young woman asked him if he was trying to advise her on what to do. The Old Man immediately replied: “Absolutely not. I do not set rules. I only show from examples how the Cosmic Intelligence can be adjusted to individual learning. Sometimes it creates difficulties to hone the traveler; other times it provides bridges to allow evolution over abysses in the infinite journey towards Light. There are numberless possibilities, and each one must understand one’s own process with wisdom, love, joy and humility”.
The pretty woman tried to digest all of what the Old Man said, afraid that he would go away without saying what she considered the most important: how can one know when to insist or give up? The monk drank the last sip of coffee before explaining: “There are three ways. The first is to learn how to listen to your intuition. Your intuition is the soul advising your ego, or when the voice of angels is heard. The common problem, in these cases, is to mix our fears and wishes with our true intuition”.
He continued with his soft way: “The second is to pay attention to the signs and to know how to interpret them. Life talks to us through them, therefore they are a powerful ally for us to better realize life’s flow. However, it is important to bear in mind that even when we walk on the sunny side of the road, there will be times of hardships and challenges that will require effort and patience; boldness and meekness. The problem, in this case, is to see signs that do not exist. One must learn how to read them. It is not easy, but indispensable”. Then, he became silent, as if his thoughts navigated towards the Infinite.
Without restraining her eagerness, the young woman brought him back by reminding that he was yet to say the third way. The monk smiled and said: “Every time you see a fork on the road, pointing on one direction to the avenue of fame, and on the other to the street of love, turn to the latter. Either we walk for love, or we will postpone the journey”. The woman asked what would be at stake, in this case. “Being happy”, answered the Old Man.
The pretty woman had watery eyes. She was truly touched. She smiled and smacked a kiss on the monk’s cheek. He held her hands in a fatherly way, and added: “Everybody believes that the escape route is through the external walls, because they want to conquer the world; however, the secret is to move to the center of the labyrinth, where the real door is. The key to open it is your heart, and the final destination is to find yourself. Then, the world will be yours!”.
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oinghenstein.