Because of the conflicts on the previous nights, I woke up late on the nineteenth day of the crossing. Even though it was still early, the sun was higher than usual. People were in motion to break camp with the habitual hubbub. I usually rose early to watch the caravanner train his hawk, but today I saw him returning from the morning drill, the bird perched on the thick leather glove that extended from his left hand to forearm. I packed my gear in the saddlebag and put it on the camel. I managed to get a cup of coffee and observed the final preparations for the continuation of the crossing. When we set in line for departure, it was Ingrid, the pretty astronomer, who came to pair her camel with mine. With our camels paired side by side, I let jealousy take the best of me and asked her if she wouldn’t ride next to the astrologer, as she had done the past couple of days. Without letting herself be involved by my heavy emotions, she said, in a laid-back way, that she had enjoyed talking to him and understand a bit of his trade, even though she did not agree with his line of reasoning. She admitted, however, that there could be in this millennia-old knowledge something that science might explain one day, but she thought it unlikely to happen. She added that she was guided by science.
I quoted a famous 16thcentury explorer of the human soul when I argued that “there are more things in heaven and earth than our imagination can reach”. I went further to state that science and spirituality should go hand in hand, as complement and inspiration one to the other. Ingrid said that nothing that could not be scientifically proven existed for her. As simple as that. I asked how the life of people should have been for centuries, considering that many scientific phenomena were only explained much later in time. I said that diseases existed much before viruses and bacteria had been discovered, and many scientists of the time, even those who denied the existence of microscopic life, died from contamination. The gap between believing and proving does not make truth a falsehood. I recalled that the famous and undeniable Law of Gravity formulated by Isaac Newton had its foundation put at stake by Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, because it proved that the displacement of bodies occurs oftentimes because of the curve space around them, rather than the attraction of masses. Sometimes, it takes time for knowledge to advance to a certain point, for proof and reformulation of concepts. I said that science was exact for a particular time, not for the continuum of time. This proves its inexactness or temporary exactness. I said a master had told me that science advances precisely according to humankind’s spiritual development. I argued that spirituality is a source of inspiration for science. Ingrid displayed impatience with my logic. She said I should pay no heed to people who were out of touch with reality, some with clear behavioral problems, others with obvious psychiatric conditions. Not to mention fraudsters and fast talkers, well known by their victims and the police. I agreed that it was an indisputable fact and added that it was necessary to separate the chaff from the grain; furthermore, I said that reality could go beyond math equations and research labs. She provoked me when she said that sometimes she questioned my sanity. She added she did not think it healthy that one would cross the planet’s largest desert just to try to talk to an allegedly wise dervish who “knew many secrets between heaven and earth”, as I was doing. I returned her accusation by saying that, with millions of stars in the sky of the city she lived in, one had to be too senseless to cross that same desert just to watch a particular constellation seen only from the oasis.
The tone of our conversation escalated and turned into a heated discussion. As in every discussion, we both became deeply annoyed. When the caravan stopped in the middle of the day for a brief rest and a fast meal, we decided to split. Ingrid said she would be better off next to the astrologer; even though he was a mystic, like me, he was more reasonable. This led my annoyance rise to the verge of anger. It didn’t take long for the caravan to resume its course. I ended up pairing up with an older man, with a long but well-trimmed beard. Even though his attitude was of a simple man, I noticed that his clothes and his turban were made of fine fabric. He introduced himself. His name was Abdul; he was a Muslim physician who, from time to time, would travel to the oasis to deliver care to the locals. I asked him if he was going to be financially compensated for undertaking such an exhausting journey. He said he made good money from his practice in Marrakesh, where he had a vast clientele who paid his expensive consultation fee. The care he delivered in the oasis was free of charge; it was, for him, a way to reciprocate for the opportunities he had had during his life. I said I had not understood. Abdul explained that when he was a young intern, he trained in a public hospital, always packed with poor patients, where he could learn a lot thanks to the high number of patients he saw, and that boosted his career. He became a competent, renowned and wealthy physician. Taking the cure to wherever it was necessary was a sort of prayer. His way of thanking for the possibility he had to develop his gift; a way of putting science at the service of God, in retribution for having learned through His children. He added that words are very valuable, but a prayer must go beyond the word.
Abdul said that my features seemed distraught. He went further to say that my aura sent forth strong signs of unbalance. I said I had had a very unpleasant discussion that morning. He said: “People have over us only the power we grant them; therefore, one should not grant anyone the power of annoying or saddening us.” Next, he explained that mental, emotional and spiritual balance were very important not to give rise to diseases in the physical body. He said that many ailments were like the subtle purging of abuse of our body, from uncontrolled passions and unthoughtful attitudes. Such ailments manifest themselves either in the most sensitive organs of the body or they affect the immune system, making the body prone to opportunistic infections. Had he mentioned the physical body? I thought it odd. I said I did not know of any type of body other than the physical one. The physician explained that, even though not yet accepted by science, we have seven bodies, the physical one being the densest of all. The perfect balance of immaterial bodies was essential for good health on the material plane. Finally, he said that heavy emotions and senseless choices were always harmful to the physical body, as they are like poundings on the higher bodies that push the emotional impact of the subtle towards the dense, which accounts for many diseases. However, things could become even worse. He explained that gloomy passions and self-centered choices leave us at the mercy of similarly alienated spirits that are drawn together, with their bad advice and looking for companionship. He added it was healthy to pay attention to those who guide and accompany us.
I said I thought it odd for a physician to have such a discourse. Abdul said that science and spirituality co-existed within himself in harmony, not as competitors but complementing one another. Next, he explained that there were physicians who cared only for the physical body, and that they were very important. There were those whose concern was the soul-related bodies of people, and these were essential. However, he emphasized, whatever the body being cared for, the person was ultimately accountable for his or her own health. “The power over oneself, strong or weak, is the power one has over life”, he taught.
With his gaze lost on the horizon, he added: “Exercising the power of life through the self is the first stage to understand the power of Creation that is latent in each creature. This is how I understand faith.”
I reasoned with Abdul that is was impossible not to be shaken by some feeling of provocation. I told him in detail my argument with Ingrid. Little by little, without realizing it, the level of my annoyance started to escalate again. I spoke for a long while. When I finished, because the physician remained silent, I asked if he was not going to make any comment. Abdul said he had already stated all I needed to know. At that moment, he prayed for God to illuminate and protect me. He prayed for light to show me what I was still unable to see; thus, I could protect me from myself. Nothing posed greater risk to me than my emotions running wild and my ideas being astray from the light.
We continued our journey on that day without uttering another word. At twilight, when we stopped to set up camp for the night, I knew my annoyance would not let me sleep. I went over to Abdul and asked him for a sleeping pill. I argued that there is nothing better than a good night’s sleep to restore the body. The physician said there was nothing better than some discomfort to heal the soul.
Astonished, I said I had not understood what he meant. Abdul explained that even though medication even had a sacred aspect, for relieving pains and ailments of the body, the pains of the soul could not nor should not be attenuated or anesthetized. The soul could only be healed by facing the problem. He added that there was only one treatment, self-knowledge. He explained that all suffering stems from a distorted gaze on a given situation, a bias the shadows present and that we take as the single truth. Healing lies in learning how to look through the lenses of light. To know oneself in order to understand the reason of suffering; to go to the source of the pain and understand what had caused it; the dense emotions that supersede the higher feelings; the possibilities, always true and actual, of changing one’s way of being and living. It is from the poison that the antidote is made.
He explained that nowadays, for each discomfort of the soul, people escape from themselves through sedatives, tranquilizers or other drugs that numb or provide transient happiness. Every discomfort is a cry of the soul that needs to evolve, that is uncomfortable within that way of living. It is as if life was the apparel of the soul. When life is small for that soul, it is time to change the way one lives, so that the soul can grow. Life tags along and grows together.
I am no longer the person I have been so far, and I become another, different and better. This isn’t easy and demands a lot of work. One has to accept all that one was once, but that is now obsolete and no longer suitable; change one’s gaze, accept the mistakes and amend them whenever possible; make different choices, transform life.
The past is not to be denied, but to be enveloped with love and wisdom, and cherished. Each one of the virtues should be fostered as tools of light. Forgive yourself and the world. Reinvent yourself until the day without end.
Yes, it is easier to take the happy pill to escape from the emotional pain. But this does not solve the problem, does not heal. One only perseveres in suffering.
Transmuting shadows into light is the only remedy to cure the pain of the soul. Then one moves on to the next discomfort, when a new treatment will begin. This is how one achieves plenitude. This is called evolution.
He emphasized that discomfort only turns into evolution when treated with love. Otherwise, it will not heal and will continue to bother. Until it explodes in anger or implodes in depression, causing even more suffering. He looked me in the eyes and advised, composedly, like a father to a son, that I be careful not to waste the opportunity given to me that day, a day that will guide all other days of my life.
Politely, Abdul excused himself and withdrew. I moved away from the hubbub and sat on the sand far from the caravan. With no happy pill, I saw myself forced to articulate my ideas; I had to understand. That physician of Muslim extraction had presented me with a huge amount of ideas, and I had to ascertain where I would fit them within me. It took a while until an indescribable ceiling of stars covered my head. Without realizing it, I fell asleep. I woke up in the middle of the night. The beautiful woman with lapis-lazuli eyes was seated next to me, as if watching over my sleep. Surprised, I sat up. I enjoyed talking to her; even though it was something out of my control, because it wasn’t always possible to find her. I told her about the quarrel I had had with Ingrid, and the things Abdul told me. The blue-eyed woman interrupted me and advised: “Now, combine one thing with the other.” I asked her to explain better. The woman kindly obliged: “A disease has assailed you for some days. The doctor prescribed you medication. The cure will depend on you following the treatment.” I asked her if the disease she was referring to was Ingrid. She was emphatic: “Of course not!” She looked at me as if to a child and explained: “Jealousy, pride and vanity are shadows that have always been within you. Without them, Ingrid’s choices and opinions would be just that, Ingrid’s choices and opinions, and not the source of so much quarrel and suffering. Remember that your shadows manifested themselves and imprisoned you because they still prevail over your light. This is the disease.”
I immediately disagreed. I said there was no justification to talk about jealousy, because Ingrid and I had no romantic involvement whatsoever, or any sort of commitment. The woman with blue eyes shook her head, as if saying I had not understood, and explained once again: “Jealousy does not reveal itself only when there is an emotional relationship. It stems from our inability to accept choices and opinions of others. Even though it is more common towards people that are close to us, jealousy is present whenever we have a problem dealing with the freedom of another person, due to our ancestral conditioning of domination. Whether it is the freedom to leave, to want something else, to think differently, or to be next to someone else other than us. Jealousy, in fact, shows our inability in dealing with the freedom of others and, therefore, with our own freedom. After all, a jail keeper cannot be free while he or she has to watch the cell of his or her prisoner.”
“In turn, vanity is the ancestral crave we have for compliments. When we lack self-esteem, when we are unaware of the beauty of a life devoted to virtues, when we are lost in the void of existence, we need to be admired. If we lack the applause of others, we undergo a withdrawal syndrome, like any junkie. Pain comes in the wake of consequences. Because it is difficult for us to identify its source, due to our inability to look in a mirror and see beyond what we want to see, we ludicrously decide to make others accountable for the discomfort they cause us by refusing to feed the addiction we have created.”
“When he is frail in the core of his being, the person resorts to pride to manifest himself, a conflictual reaction whenever the other is not as thrilled with him as he expected. As it is impossible to convince the world of his pretended superiority, he is torn in pain. Like a dagger, the shadow of pride cuts his innards for the alleged injustice of not accepting the delusion of ‘I am better than the others’.”
I asked her if she thought that my quarrel with the astronomer was due to jealousy, vanity or envy. The woman with blue eyes put a finger on her head, as if saying I should think about that. I argued that, on that morning, Ingrid was moved by shadows just like mine, because we had similar arguments. She corrected me: “Don’t waste time with the shadows of others. Yours are enough, to the point you cannot handle them. Watch yourself; learn how to open the bars of your own prison. Only when you are free you can collaborate with the freedom of the world.”
She stood up to leave. Before she left, I told her I had the disease, the diagnosis and the remedy. To achieve the cure, I had to follow a treatment. I added that that would be a difficult night. She turned to me and said: “A treatment can have a bitter taste if you are ashamed of the mistakes of the past or it can take long if you stay paralyzed before each hardship you face. However, it can be sweet if you are able to realize the beauty of each day. It can even take no time at all, if you understand the richness of every day. A master a day, a day as a master.”
Finally, she concluded: “Healing depends only on you, as everything else that is truly valuable in life.”
She moved away slowly until she vanished around the dunes, illuminated only by the stars. For the first time I realized the endless healing power each existence has and felt the tremendous amount of love life has for me. I smiled, gratefully. I felt like hugging myself. That was an unforgettable night I spent with myself.
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.