I was accompanying the carpenter who was changing the hinges of the monastery gate when I was surprised by the arrival of a nephew of the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order. The young man, in his early thirties, looked distraught and had come to hear from his uncle some words that could explain the storm that had assailed his marriage. We went looking for the Old Man and found him in the library, reading the Parables of Rumi. Even though silence was required there, because we were alone the monk decided to speak to his nephew there, at least until someone else arrived. I was about to leave, but the monk asked me to stay. Immediately the young man vented all his puzzlement and sorrow about what was going on. He explained that early on, the marriage was too complicated; only after a lot of quarreling he had been able to convince his wife that she had to change her behavior regarding different aspects of her social and professional life. She had to understand that she had become a married woman. He added the wife’s shift of attitude after much quarreling had been an accomplishment. However, shortly after, she became sad about herself for no apparent reason. Depressed, she sought help from a well-known psychoanalyst. The treatment was effective, as, little by little, she regained her open, charming smile. However, few days ago, she told him she wanted a divorce. The young man did not understand the lack of acknowledgement by his wife, as he had been by her side in the darkest period of their time together, and now, when everything seemed to be solved, she had decided to leave. No, he did not understand nor agree with the separation. However, the woman had left, carrying with her just what fitted in a suitcase.
The Old Man nodded his head and said: “In her place, I would do the same thing.” The nephew became annoyed. Hot-tempered, he claimed it was impossible for the uncle not to realize how ungrateful the wife had been, as he had always given her his best and now, that all had apparently been solved, she had decided to abandon him. The monk furrowed his brow, as if disagreeing with the reasons of the young man, and explained with his composed tone of voice: “To give your best does not mean to impose your truth on others. What at first was perceived as gift ended up being unpleasant and oppressive. One must understand the subtleties of truth. Truth changes according to the expansion of individual awareness and, therefore, should always be offered in a clear, smooth way, never imposed on others. Not even the greatest truth of all can be understood by everyone. Each one should lay the seed on the ground with love and patience. In time, if it is good, it will germinate. The good seed is never lost, it represents the flowers we do not plant for ourselves, but to reciprocate life in the wonderful garden of humankind.”
The nephew insisted that he had just adjusted her behavior to her new status as a married woman. He added it could not be the same as when she was single. He asked the uncle if he was right. The Old Man replied: “It does not matter if your claims were appropriate. What I do know is that you were not able to live with someone who had ideas and behavior standards different from yours. Right or wrong, the fact is that you behaved as her personal tyrant.”
Vexation made the nephew’s tone escalate. He felt outraged because the uncle did not understand that the change in the wife’s behavior was essential for the success of the love relationship. Otherwise, he insisted, the marriage would end. The Old Man shrugged his shoulders and said: “And it did. Worse, you were not able to be happy even while it lasted. In the beginning you had arguments; then, her depression; finally, when she recovered, the marriage came to an end. All that could have been, just was not.”
The nephew revisited the issue of ungratefulness of the wife. Typical of him, the Old Man remained patient: “Separation, for her, at this point, means the need of freedom everyone should have. By imposing your truths on her, whether right or wrong, you dominated her. Forcing her to obey you does not necessarily mean that you were able to make her see the world through your lenses. She gave in to end the quarreling. However, by doing so, she gave up an important part of her being. Sadness was unavoidable.” He made a pause and continued: “This is the mistake we make whenever we try to convince others about our truths, we may end up causing harm, and not the good that we actually intended. Freedom is one of the pillars of happiness. By imprisoning your wife in the jail of your molded ideas you made her develop a sphere of melancholy around her. She was no longer herself, but played the part of a character or your liking. Hence, she passed to regard you not as a loving mate, but a jailer from whom she had to free herself. Separation, then, represented the end of a cycle of domination, oppression and surveillance.”
The young man claimed that things could have been different. Perhaps a conversation could settle the differences, without the need of such extreme measure. The Old Man answered: “Yes, and perhaps she did try it, but you were so inflexible in your point of view you did not realize the opportunity. Yes, it is always possible, and actually advisable, to have a conversation to smooth the rough edges. However, in order for the word to reach its full power, it is necessary that not only we speak with composure, we also must know how to listen with patience and tolerance. Everyone has their own truth. This is required for love to flourish.”
Once again the nephew brought up the issue of ungratefulness. The uncle corrected him: “It is no good to play the part of victim now. This is a fantasy that does not fit you, and will delay the necessary understanding you must have to be happy again. Love is a journey of liberation, not a game of domination where the will of one will prevails over the will of another. It is common to mistake order for peace. Domination entails order, and is related to appearance; liberation represents peace, and is essential for the core of being.”
The young man shook his head and said that the uncle could not understand what was going on, perhaps because he had been a widower for many years now. The Old Man smiled and replied, sweetly: “Love is ancient, and regulated the world since time immemorial. We suffer because we do not understand it in all its breadth. We suffer because we are afraid of all we cannot control, for trying to imprison what only can exist if it is free.” The nephew said he believed the wife was ‘the woman of his life’, that she was going through a rough time and that soon all would be back to normal. The monk shrugged his shoulders and said: “You are delusional if you believe it is normal to restrain the other to your will. Normal is to be happy. When we suffer, it means something must be transformed. Not in the other or in the world, but within ourselves. This is what your wife did. While she was ‘the woman of your life’, she suffered. Until she found herself, the core essence that exists in each one of us, and she realized things could be different and better. Hence, her need to leave. Yes, she had to leave because you missed the rhythm of her steps. As simple as that. Mismatched rhythm makes dancing together impossible. However, this should not be seen as defeat, but as teaching and striving to excel. That is how we evolve.” He made a brief pause, and added to complete: “If you pay close attention, you will realize that you weren’t also happy during the existence of this marriage.” Despite being upset, the nephew thanked the Old Man. He regretted that the conversation had been of no help, turned around and left.
I wanted to know what would become of the nephew. The Old Man closed his eyes and said, with honest regret: “He will go through moments of outrage and disaffection, believing life is unfair, humankind is no good and he is a poor wretch. It will be a tough, sad period until he gets tired of suffering and realizes the universe couldn’t care less for those who self-indulgently play the part of victim. Then he will understand that in order to change the Path he must change the way he walks. Hence, defeats become valuable assets to achieve victory. Just like stinky manure helps the most beautiful flower germinate, evil ends up being a precious fertilizer for the seed of good, that awaits to transform into its parts, root, stem, leaf, flower and fruits. And then, back to seed.” He paused and added: “Learn, transmute, share and move on. These are the guidelines.”
We kept silence for a little while until I broke it. I asked why relationships, whether emotional, social or professional, tend to be conflictual. The Old Man answered: “We act in the microcosm precisely as we see the macrocosm.” I said I had not understood. The monk was didactic: “If you see the world as a theater of war, the other is an enemy to be defeated; if you see the world as a game of power, the other is an adversary to be subdued and molded to your interests, desires and truths.” He looked into my eyes and said: “Cemeteries are true war monuments; a track of sorrow and resentment is the outcome for the defeated, who become anxious or depressed. While the other is the enemy, there will be intolerance and suffering. There is no victory over the other. This is an illusion. When there is an adversary, there is only domination. There will be order, never peace; there will be applause and accolades, never joy and balance.”
“However, when we see the world as a big square still under construction, a place for encounters, learning and communion, we take this gaze to personal relationships. We will understand that the adversary to be defeated is within each one of us, not outside. The other, even when is opposing our steps, should not be seen as a problem, but an opportunity for learning and improving oneself; a lever for evolution. The only victory that brings harmony, freedom and plenitude is the victory over oneself, overcoming one’s hardships and difficulties. The fiercest enemy is not on the streets, but hidden in our innards, manipulating the best choices, trimming the wings and preventing flight; stopping us from doing things differently and better. Illuminating and transmuting the shadows within is the true liberation. Only this makes you better, makes you whole, weaves peace. Nothing else. We will only help the development of this unfinished civilization together with individual evolution. This is the only possible transformation. There is no other. To that end, it is indispensable the important battle we fight in the core of being, deeply looking inwards to know who we are and the metamorphoses we must undergo. This is the true victory. Or we will continue to act as caterpillars saying that butterflies do not exist, they are ludicrous inventions of poets and madmen.”
Kindly translation by Carlos André Oighenstein.