On the seventeenth day of the crossing, things were running smoothly. Paired next to my camel rode a young trader who sold cutlery, pots and pans, very useful utensils for people who live at the oasis. He told me that this was his second crossing. Farid was his name. The first time, he was able to sell all the inventory he had brought, which had yielded him a good profit. This time he had invested even more, hoping to multiply the money he had spent. He explained that the hardships of the crossing increased a lot the final cost of the products he traded, regardless of what they were. When he came to know I was not carrying anything in my luggage that I could make money from, and that the purpose of my journey was only to meet with the wise dervish, he said I was a fool. He made the comment that, as precious as could be the wisdom that existed “in the many secrets between heaven and earth”, that would not be enough to pay the cheapest of my bills. I argued that the value of labor was undeniable, not only for survival, but as a tool for both, material and spiritual evolution. Work is a bridge that connects us to the world, in an ongoing exchange of knowledge, of understanding who we are as we face the difficulties presented by people with whom we relate. In work, regardless of what it may be, we always need the other to complete the productive cycle. Through work, we are led to seek different ways to enhance our gifts and go deeper into our purpose in life. This makes us undergo infinite transformations, without which there is no evolution.
I added that I had always learned a lot from my work at the advertising agency. However, at some point, my work there was no longer enough to nourish the experiences I needed to fulfill my soul in its quest for evolution. I felt the need for an expanded and more specific knowledge to propel me in the difficult journey to know who I am and who I want to become; where I am and where I am to go. At the same time, came the urge of writing about this process. In the effort to understand it more in depth, I needed words as tools to shape my ideas, a craft that is not always easy, especially if you intend to convey it in a simple, clear way so that everyone gets them. So, my narrative turned me into an author and character at the same time. Therefore, I could expand my ideas on each page I wrote. In fact, I got a better understanding of myself and the world around me as I tried to decode life for others. I also recalled the beauty and importance of sharing the best that I had in me. I said I had already decided on the title, even before writing the book: Manuscripts. Farid interrupted me to ask if I thought there would be many people interested in my philosophical or metaphysical experiences. Furthermore, he asked if I believed the book would make me a fortune. Finally, he delivered the final blow by ironically remarking that if everyone on the planet decided to write about their own experiences, there would not be enough libraries to keep, bookstores to sell, or eyes to read so many books.
I tried not to let that combination of sarcasm and failure envelop me. Trying hard to keep calm, I composedly explained that I wrote primarily to myself. Writing was my personal ritual for enlightenment and protection. It was also therapeutic, as I managed to know myself while trying to understand life. As I wrote, I felt as if I was unveiling the universe. Each one has their own way of achieving that; writing was mine. Writing helped me put aside what was in me that I no longer wanted, realize the changes I had to undergo in how I thought, felt and acted to adjust how I walked on the Path, a bit differently each passing day; and understand the internal struggles I had to fight to be who I wanted and reach the plenitude I dreamed of between the shadows and the light that accompany me. Therefore, even if no one read my book, for these reasons alone I had to write it. If, by any chance, my words could serve as a bearing to guide a single person lost on the road of life, I would consider myself successful.
As for making money with the book, I understood the need for survival. However, the advertisement agency, even though far from making me a rich man, provided me with enough to live with dignity and a little bit of comfort. I expanded my reasoning to state that the profits from one’s toil are not always measured in financial terms. I spoke about friends who dressed as clowns to sing to and enliven the days of children in hospitals; of other friends who helped adults to learn how to read and write; of those who spent their nights driving around the city, taking food and blankets to the homeless. I recalled physicians who, during their vacations, went to war zones to deliver aid even in the absence of medication, placing their lives at tremendous risk. There were those whose work was not compensated by money but by enrichment of the soul. One had to understand the difference between riches and prosperity to understand the value of all labor. I added I had nothing against working for money; I did it myself at the advertising agency. However, I was happy I had another job whose payment was immaterial and immeasurable, and that came from the heart.
Finally, I said that if everyone decided to write books, we would be overflowed by them. I also pointed out to Farid that, on the other hand, if everybody decided to sell cutlery, pots and pans, there would be no one to buy them, or even to manufacture them. Hence the importance and the beauty of each toil, whatever they are. Even those not compensated by money. Love, lightness and joy are currencies that enrich the soul.
Farid shook his head in denial, said that I was a dreamer and, as such, would get nowhere. He claimed I did not understand the world we lived in or, even worse, I avoided reality. I did not say another word, and we continued silently until early in the evening, when the order came to set up camp. We would spend the night on that site.
The conversation with the trader, even though I had realized its meaning and had tried to avoid it, had changed my mood and made me lose my grip. On one hand, I understood we looked at life through different lenses; on the other, I questioned whether my quest wasn’t in fact an escape of reality or sheer delusion that would prove to be fruitless, a waste of time. All those strange feelings and doubts started to corrode my innards like a poison that spreads itself little by little until no life is left. I became so indisposed I vomited. Something inside me had fallen ill.
I was so upset I skipped supper. I moved away from the caravan and, from afar, seated on the sand, I watched the caravanner training his hawk. Since the first day of the crossing, I had been dazzled by the training of the bird. However, at that moment, I questioned the usefulness of the caravanner training a hawk. Deep inside, I thought that was something as stupid as many other things people did worldwide.
“What do you know about the soul of others?”, a voice behind me asked. Yes, it was she, the beautiful woman with lapis-lazuli eyes, who seemed to guess my thoughts. As one who knew the conversation would not be easy, the woman with blue eyes sat next to me and asked: “Do you realize how the gloomy, shallow gaze of the utensils trader on life has blurred your dreams?” I said that maybe what he did was to set my feet back on the ground. She corrected me: “Having our head in the stars does not mean we cannot keep our feet on the ground. The dream is built from the reality one has. Everyone, without exception, is capable of transforming their own reality in the precise measure that they transform themselves. Reality is expanded or contracted according to one’s gaze, and is changed by the pace with which, little by little, you manage to deposit virtues in yourself.”
I said that the world was a difficult place to live in, and she had to admit it. The beautiful woman agreed: “There is no doubt the world is filled with imperfections, just like you and me. There is a precise affinity between the world and us. To deny one’s imperfections and the hardships in dealing with life’s frustrations is to deny one’s own essence. It is of no use to relinquish responsibilities and hide in the dark room of illusion by nourishing yourself with the shadows of vanity, pride and envy, just to name the more ordinary ones, and keep pointing out flaws in the world and in others. Or to let yourself be dominated by the shadows of disbelief and discouragement.”
“We only have power over ourselves. Only the individual is capable of transforming reality, and the only one who can actually change the world. This is the magic of the individual.”
“Denying the shadows is denying an important part of oneself and remaining incomplete. Allowing them to dominate you is a choice you make. The shadows are, in fact, an artifice employed by the self when it is misaligned with the soul, to hide from another person their dismay with their imperfections. Do not repress or suffocate them; rather, embrace and transform them. For each shadow, there is at least one virtue to illuminate it. For vanity, simplicity is the balm; pride is healed by humility; envy is extinguished by sincerity, which is the virtue of living life before yourself; jealousy stems from the absurd attempt to imprison love. Believing that love may exist without breathing the air of freedom and dignity is not understanding love.” She paused briefly and then continued: “The world is imperfect because it is the stage and the mirror of our imperfections.” She looked deeply at me and said: “My imperfections are quite valuable, as each one of them is capable of sowing a virtue in me. Without the lies I would not understand the value of honesty; only by realizing the senselessness of jealousy I can understand how far it is from love; without the offenses I would not know how pride makes me frail and how, in turn, humility and mercy make me strong. Vanity is imprisonment in the applause of others; simplicity liberates us. Sadness makes me realize the power of joy. Only despondency makes me reach faith, the amazing virtue of setting the hollow in motion, in me. Therefore, I thank my imperfections; only they lead me to the best that dwells within me, to the best there is in the world and in life. I am thankful to the darkness of the night for bringing me, at the end of its cycle, the morning light and allowing me to experience its beauty.”
I said I had been fine until the time the discourse of the utensils trader turned my flow of ideas and emotions upside down. The beautiful woman said seriously, yet sweetly: “We meet people with different levels of awareness, and we should respect them all, because individual differences set electromagnetic fields in motion; these are phenomena of physics but are also found in spirituality. However, just like we insulate a high-tension cable to protect ourselves from getting shocked, we must protect ourselves from being in sync with fear, the destruction of goodness, and the sorrows and discouragement that make crossing the unavoidable nights of the desert so hard.”
“No one needs anyone’s permission to be who they want to be. Who has to believe in your dream is you. This is what moves you; this is enough.”
Watching the sun set, she added: “Do not allow the darkness of others to turn off your light, so that the night of the world clouds your personal sun. Do not grant anyone the power to put an end to your dreams and to dampen your gifts. People only have over us the power we grant them. Hence, never grant anyone the power of clipping your wings.” She paused briefly and added a final remark: “On the other hand, watch yourself not to do the same to others.”
For a while we did not utter a word until the caravanner ended his training and went back to the caravan with the hawk perched on the thick leather glove he wore on his left hand and forearm. As if the women knew what I had thought before about the caravanner and the hawk, she explained: “Running a caravan is the caravanner’s trade; falconry, his art.” I said that the function of art is to set consciences in motion, and I did not see how that was possible with the mere training of hawks. I added that even if, for some reason, that activity enchanted me, I thought it pointless. She arched her lips in a discreet smile filled with mercy, as a teacher who faces a rebellious student who refuses the lesson, and said: “Art is capable of setting consciences in motion; therefore, of changing reality.” Seeing my amazement with that statement of hers, she continued: “Years ago, the caravanner had to go through the death of his best friend in a plane crash. The small plane his friend was in hit a flock of buzzards upon takeoff. No one survived.” She paused and then continued with the explanation: “The airport of Marrakesh was built close to an inactive dumpster, but buzzards are still attracted to that place. City officials, despite their efforts, were having a hard time solving the problem. After that, for some time night fell over the caravanner. He understood the had to retrieve the sun if he wanted his days back. Then, he started to train hawks. Every morning when he is in town, alone and anonymously, he takes the hawk to the runway threshold to scare off the buzzards and ensure safer conditions for the flights. He never intended to be compensated for this job; he also does not make a point of talking about his art of changing reality. He does it out of his heart, as a silent, pleasant conversation between the soul and the holy.”
While we looked the caravanner walk away with the hawk, I said that changing reality is magic. The beautiful woman with lapis-lazuli eyes agreed: “Yes, and the main ingredient of the cauldron is love. And also art, in which each color represents a virtue. Virtues are capable of coloring dawn to put an end to the desert night.”
The stars would soon come up in the sky. The woman lit a lamp and said goodbye. I saw her walking away, to the top of a dune and dance for the stars until I got distracted for seconds, and she had vanished into thin air.
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.