The waiter opened the bottle and kindly filled our glasses. I was in one of those days in which we feel like talking about life, and listening to the opinion of those we respect. I was concerned with a very dear uncle who had recently undergone some difficult situations and wasn’t able to balance his emotional side. I had gone to the small and ancient village located at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery and took the opportunity to ask Loureiro, the elegant shoemaker who loved wines and books, to meet me. He favored reds and philosophy. Mending the leather was his trade; sowing life, his art. The tavern was empty and quiet; in the background, jazz from a radio could be overheard, nothing that would make us raise our low tone of voice. I told the good cobbler what had happened to this uncle of mine, whom I liked a lot and with whom I had been very close from childhood until my teen years. He had lost his only son in a car accident; because of that, his marriage had collapsed, culminating in divorce. I had been with him and had found him very depressed. He clearly expected me to take time off from work and drop my chores at the Order to go support him. If on one hand I felt like helping him out, on the other I did not want to change my life to such an extent. I was divided.
Loureiro sipped a bit of wine and showed his approval with a sigh. It was from a good vintage. Then, he looked me in the eyes and spoke about my uncle: “When we are not able to relate to our own emotions, reason gets lost in the dark forest of despair. Lack of maturity to face the problems that emerge only reveals how unprepared that spirit is in learning the lessons it should.” I asked what type of learning was suitable for the situations my uncle was experiencing. The cobbler composedly replied: “I don’t have the slightest clue. It would be frivolous of me to indicate the lessons of the Path to others, or arrogant if I intended to list objective solutions for the problems of the world. What I know is that conflicts emerge to leverage our evolution. It is as if the masters got disguised to provide valuable teachings once we have refused to learn them in an easier way. It is the Universe, in a deep act of love, revealing it will not give up on any of us.”
I said I was praying for my uncle to have the help he needed to face such a complicated moment. The craftsman said: “Prayers are very valuable, and, be aware, the invisible spheres will always be there. Always. But things will not come according to your wishes, but to your needs. Furthermore, they will not do what is up to the person to do. This is what transforms the gaze, the way one lives; this is what allows the appropriate learning, the necessary strengthening and, therefore, little by little, that one reaches the balance that is essential for peace.”
I reinforced that I was in doubt about what to do. On one hand, my uncle was drowning in an ever deeper sorrow. On the other, I wanted to live the life I had chosen for myself. I loved my uncle, but I also loved my dreams. To look after him, at least the way he expected, meant to give up an important part of me. I said I understood that I would have to make a choice. Loureiro furrowed his brow, and said gravely: “We always have to make choices, this is the only way to improve the spirit. Our choices define us, and in social relations is where the major tests lie. To what extent should one go to help the other, and at what point one should stop to take care of oneself is something that has always been questioned and caused emotional conflicts.” He sipped a little more wine and added: “In the late 1960s, Fritz Perls, a German psychiatrist who developed a therapy called Gestalt, coined the following statement, as a way of life model: ‘I do my thing and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we encounter each other, it’s beautiful. If not, it can’t be helped.’”
Suddenly all seemed to clear up in my mind. I asked the shoemaker if he believed that statement valid. He answered: “Of course.” I cracked a large smile and said that now life had become simpler. I raised my glass and made a toast saying that each one should look after themselves. We drank. Then Loureiro said: “This is where danger lies.” I asked what he was talking about, as I had thought it was genius and clarifying the Gestalt statement. The craftsman explained: “It is, indeed, an excellent lesson, and helps us in decision-making. However, life is not cartesian, it is not as rational as to allow us to rule out feelings. If what defines us are our choices, what hones us is the amount of love and wisdom embedded in them. To balance the care each one must have with themselves and the affection towards the other is the perfect work of art whose raw material is life itself. This is what differentiates those who wander in search of glitter from those who walk towards light.”
“Imagine yourself as a huge granite stone. Love and wisdom are the hammer and chisel. To transform the shapeless rock into a beautiful sculpture is the greatest art of all.”
Discouraged, I placed my glass on the table. It all became complicated again. I asked him one more time if he believed or not in the statement of the German therapist. Loureiro arched his lips in a mild smile and said: “Yes, I told you it is a solid base for one to take a stand on personal relationships. However, it should be used with sensitivity in order not to cause the opposite effect.” He winked an eye and said roguishly: “All that is solid melts in the air.” I asked him to go further in his explanation, and he obliged: “Because essence is more important than form, it may deconstruct it.” I objected. Now I understood even less.
The good cobbler tried hard to be didactic: “All good things can be used for evil purposes. The essential premise of relationships is that no one is accountable for anyone’s happiness. Each one should learn how to construct their own peace and find joy within themselves, as plenitude is nowhere else. This is what makes us totally independent.” He made a brief pause and continued: “It is, however, impossible to enjoy the honey of life without sharing it, because the other is an essential element, for providing the lessons necessary for the evolutionary process, in a constant exchange of knowledge and affection. It is in the relationships, in the way we react to what is done unto us that we understand where we are and what we are yet to achieve. However, in order to move on, we must share the best within us: pure feelings and unpretentious, truly humble wisdom. These are our best virtues. All the rest is fleeting. Without the other we cannot exercise the best within us; hence, we will not be able to evolve. Without the other we get stuck in a place. This makes us necessarily solidary.”
Independent and solidary at the same time. This is life’s complexity and wonder. ‘To be or not to be’, the words of the British bard came to my mind. The craftsman agreed: “This is the question; to tune the soul according to the tuning fork of the universe is the answer. If we embrace the Gestalt statement indiscriminately, we will plunge into hazardous selfishness. On the other hand, if we decide to do only what others expect us to, we will be imprisoned in a terrible relationship of emotional dependency.”
I said that now I understood even less. The shoemaker explained: “The walker should not refuse to help those who ask for it on the Path. However, he should not divert from the course, and the help provided should not be beyond the precise need of the other. Otherwise, he will not be helping out, but making the other weaker. It is like a son who tells the mother he does not know how to do the homework. She has three possible choices. She can either say this is his problem, she can do the homework for him or she can teach him how to do. In the first case, the son may try hard to fulfill his obligation, a nice instance of surmounting a situation or taking a dislike of studying because he felt helpless. Whatever the outcome in this case, it reflects a lesson of selfishness. For the second possibility, the mother will meet the expectations of the son, who will have more time to play, will feel protected and loved but will get used to little effort to evolve. He will become a weak man. If the mother chooses the third possibility, she will be teaching her son that, at some point, everyone may need help, and it should be provided in the precise measure of their needs, so that each one can develop their own wings, or else they won’t be able to go anywhere. In this case, a seed of love will germinate a strong man.” He paused briefly to conclude: “This is the Middle Way Buddha referred to.”
“Charity, compassion and mercy are indispensable for each and every one. Similarly, so that a good virtue is not poorly used, one cannot allow that the person in need, after receiving the help in an emergency, abandons the determination and courage to overcome the unavoidable hurdles of the evolutionary process by themselves. This is their part. Or else, the cycle of help will not be completed.”
I said I was starting to understand the flimsy limits of relationships. The elegant craftsman added: “To give your best is the golden rule, always within the limits of your capability, understanding and will. Beware of not turning help into dependency, in which, sometimes, good actions are lost. The walker should be sensible enough to always ask the other to react to the problems in a positive way and to do their share; after all, all movements should be towards evolution.”
I told him I felt a bit guilty whenever I considered limiting the help I could give. Loureiro nodded as if saying he understood what I meant, and explained: “To understand the difference between guilt and responsibility is essential. Guilt is a powerful shadow that imprisons both parties in a sickly relationship that turns affection into addiction; therefore, it should be illuminated to be transformed into responsibility. Responsibility is the perfect balance between the independence and solidarity that should exist in all relationships. The walker should clearly perceive the beauty of sharing, and pay heed for the other to do their part in order to learn and transform themselves. One day, he who was helped will pay back in love what was once pain. Responsibility exalts and liberates. Only then, can he move on. Each one in their own time.”
We remained silent for I don’t know how long. The craftsman raised his glass for the final toast of the night: “To the wealth of all our relationships. With yourself and with everyone in the world, who make us improve and teach us how to transform tears into smiles!”
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.