The caravan was in its sixth day of crossing. The harsh conditions of a journey through the desert cause unavoidable problems regardless of how careful the travelers are, whether due to the inhospitable climate or the lack of a number of facilities to which we are used to in cities. One should pay heed to mood swings, that are as unpredictable as the moving of the dunes according to the wind, as well as physical health, which tends to deteriorate when one least expects it. The caravanner is in charge of the difficult task of leading the caravan, harmoniously balancing firmness and sympathy. Sensitivity is the virtue that allows these other two virtues, and it is put to the test at all times, at different levels of demand. On that day, there was a rumor that we could face a violent sandstorm. Some said it was just hearsay; others stated it was true and claimed as source of information a seasoned member of the caravan, veteran of many crossings. As if the typical unsanitary conditions of the desert weren’t enough, the tension in face of such a hazard had changed the disposition of some of the travelers. Oftentimes, fear is the root of many diseases and conflicts. One of the travelers was assailed by a sudden illness. As we were already in the middle of the day, the caravanner stopped the progression for the travelers to have a brief rest and the sick person to receive assistance.
By chance, it was I who was travelling next to him on that day. Something in him had been bothering me. He was speaking all the time, bragging about himself. When I drew near him, I noticed his breathing was labored and that he was uttering absurd, senseless sentences. I immediately diagnosed the cause of his ailment: fear. Then, I promptly prescribed the remedy: courage. Another man who also came to assist, a Spaniard named Pablo, a pilgrim like me, disagreed. He said that the words voiced by the man were not delirious, but in fact valuable supernatural lessons that should be listened to, for the sake of all. They were, according to him, the spirits of the desert helping us face the danger that was drawing near. I said that it was nonsense, even worse than the delusional words of the sick man. Pablo replied, saying that I should be a little more sensitive and considerate to others. He accused me of being unsympathetic. A serious argument ensued, and thanks to the intervention of other people, it did not escalate to physical fighting. Inflated, each one was taken aside, carrying with them their reasons. I claimed to those who were next to me, my lack of patience with ignorance disguised as wisdom. In turn, my foe argued the same reasons to those next to him. It didn’t take long for the caravanner to approach and reprove: “However great the dangers a caravan is exposed to, whether a sandstorm or a raid by nomadic tribes, nothing is worse than damages caused by uncontrolled egos and dissent. It is easier for one to defend himself when it is external. Evil, if manifested internally, wreaks serious havoc and, therefore, must be cut at its root. So, my sentence is that both of you will pull your camels next to each other, at the end of the caravan, until we stop and set up camp. It will be an opportunity for reflection.”
Both Pablo and I called that decision senseless. Each one considered himself wronged, because the other was the one at fault. The caravanner listened to our protests without interrupting us. At the end, he defended his judgement: “I don’t care who is right. When two people argue, both can be right. Reason varies in accordance with the level of awareness of a person. Everyone is entitled to their opinion; it is sacred because it leads us to our choices. However, the way to express them showing respect for the differences is an art.” He paused before completing: “This journey faces the hardships inherent to the desert. There are many and they are not easy to face. In order to reach its destination, the caravan must behave as a single body. Otherwise, if its forces are split, one cannot deal with the many external hardships that will certainly come along during the journey. What matters is appeasing relationships in a way that no one loses their identity. Each one with their truths and beliefs; everyone in peace.”
It did not take long for the caravan to resume its journey. Pablo and I walked next to each other, as the caravanner had ordered. At first, we cursed one another. I was deeply annoyed with the Spaniard, and that was reciprocal. He was traveling with some friends, and one of them decided to keep Pablo company on the stretch we were walking. After a while, they started to interpret the visions the ailing man had, and commented on them, ensuring that I heard that this was a situation he had foreseen. In the hours that followed, my irritation escalated to the point of turning into destructive rage. Anger, sorrow, rage or resentment, whatever it is, is devastating. It makes us break everything around us or destroys the best there is within us. Rage, as all other shadows, when erupts in us, is so bad it seems that the best solution is to spread it around the world. When that happens, it means we allow it to germinate and bear fruits, albeit rotten. It is as if we dwell in a dark, bitter forest. All around us is gloomy; the heart dies of starvation. That happens when we allow the shadows the power of turning off our inner light. Then we lose the battle.
By early evening, when the caravan stopped to set camp for the night, I was exhausted. But I was not hungry or sleepy. I sat in a distant corner, looking for quietness and solitude. I saw the caravanner distancing himself with his hawk perched on the thick leather glove he wore on the left arm. I muttered, so that no one would hear, a number of curses. Pablo and his friends were seated in a circle. I could not hear what they were saying, but I could notice that they talked a lot and I had a distinct feeling they were laughing at me. I suspected they were mocking my comments. My anger started to escalate, and I considered the possibility of confronting them. I would not take that crap. As ludicrous as it may seem, it came to my mind the fact that I had a dagger in the camel’s saddlebag. What deterred me from doing something was the idea that the punishment the caravanner would pass would be much worse, if I got involved in another quarrel. The gall of rage was poisoning me, and after a bout of cough, I vomited. Feeling very queasy, I turned to look for my canteen.
Much to my surprise, it was in the hands of the lapis-lazuli eye woman, who was handing it to me. I had not noticed her coming. I thanked her, drank a little water and, remembering the previous days, I mentioned that she seemed to materialize from, and to fade into, thin air. She laughed heartily and said, in a mocking tone, even though I suspect there was more to it between the lines of her words: “I ride the Wind.” She paused and added: “That is the name of my horse”, referring to the spirited black stallion on which she crossed the desert. Then, I spilled out all my feelings recounting the facts that had occurred on that day. She listened to me kindly. At some point of my utterance, filled with complaints, I had the feeling she was listening to me expecting that I also heard myself. I made this comment to the woman. She nodded and explained: “In the course of a conflict, oftentimes we escalate it, whether to receive from others a word of support for our ideas or in the absurd, unconscious possibility of transferring part of the suffering of responsibility that by chance falls on us. This type of speech, when it is vented to the world, ends up being fruitless as it is inappropriate, because no one but us can solve our problems. Even worse, it may enlarge the shadows if support comes from one who nourishes them. However, when we are capable of having the soul listen to the words spoken by the ego, we take the first step to truly understand what is going on. This is why listening to yourself is important. It is the chance of listening to your own voice and the message it carries. Understanding the conflict is understanding the ego, its dysfunctions and senseless desires; it is understanding the shadows that are involved and cause disarray. Then, little by little, the soul lights up to illuminate the choices of the ego, showing new possibilities of thinking and acting, of being and living. A conflict can either be a big problem or serve as a master. The choice is yours, and you must pay heed to it.”
Those words did not cool me down. I said the discourse was nice, but far from reality. I brought to the attention of the woman that Pablo and his friends had ridiculed me. She gazed at me with endless sweetness and spoke, kindly: “It does not matter. Offenses, irony or contempt are weapons of the shadows that a still primitive and dominating ego uses. These arrows will only hit you if your ego vibrates on the same wavelength. An ego that is aligned with the soul will always be out of reach of the world’s arrows. Love will always be your wings and your best shield.”
I asked if she thought the delusions the man had in the morning could have been a message from the spirits of the desert. She shrugged and commented: “I did not listen and frankly I don’t care. If you believe, make use of them; otherwise, rule them out. As simple as that. Each one is accountable for their choices, with or without the help of the spirits. It is worth remembering that there are all sorts of spirits in the desert. You will always be lucky listening to those whose level of awareness and types of feelings match yours. These are the mechanisms that will determine the role of the soul in the education of the ego and its chances of liberation.” I interrupted her to ask what she meant by liberation. The woman clarified: “liberation from suffering. Precisely, the healing of the pain caused by the hatred that corrodes you now and hides from you the beauty of life.”
“Differences of opinion are healthy because they present us, at times, different perspectives of a given situation or show us limits we have crossed. They may point to a different, better way of being or to an obsolete way of living. Listen to the other with respect and patience; under different disguises, people almost always talk about their pains.” She paused briefly and continued: “However, when there is a fight, no one listens to anyone. What is left is a heavy energy surrounding us. It is necessary that ideas be exposed in a clear, composed way, to be duly understood. Then, they will either be accepted or ignored, according to the value one deems they have. When you argued, dissent made the shadows appear to both of you. The shadows, then, convinced each of you that one should prevail over the other, as if dissenting ideas was a war one had to win. This happens whenever we delude ourselves into believing we are bigger and better than the others. Totally uncalled for.” I interrupted her once again to know which shadows she was referring to. She was straightforward: “The most vulgar ones, which are the worst, pride and vanity.”
I confessed I was feeling bad and did not know how to react. She was thoughtful in her response: “In these cases, when you feel any of the shadows approaching, do not react out of impulse, because it will probably be governing you. Stop, feel and think. Use your heart as a filter. We must know who our advisors are at each moment of our lives. Search in your soul, give it voice. Your soul is pure love and will be always your best advisor, because it will point to your other cheek, the face of light.”
“In such moments, in order to illuminate the facts, it is necessary that the shadows be enveloped by our inner light. When this happens, we prevent dense feelings to spread out and darkness immediately ends. If, by chance, the necessary love is not available at that moment, it is sufficient not to nourish the shadows. They will become weakened out of starvation. A while later, you will be able to transmute the shadows into the light of virtues.”
“However, in arguing to show that one is bigger and better than the other, you have granted a huge power to the shadows. So big a power that it came to dominate the ideas and emotions of both of you. Where were the humility, sympathy, patience, respect, sensitivity and love? Virtues ended up imprisoned by pride and vanity. Hence, they were prevented from emerging. When that happens, the outcome is much suffering.” She shrugged and added: “The fruits will taste in accordance with the sap the nourishes the tree.”
I said that it was all too complicated. She replied: “Going through a conflict is like going through the desert. Without courage, wisdom and love you will reach nowhere. Courage to face yourself, wisdom to know yourself and love to forgive everyone, including you.” She paused and completed: “The crossing ends only when all hearts are united.”
I drank another sip of water to moisturize my throat, and for a moment I let my thoughts soar over the sands of the desert, as the caravanner’s hawk. When I turned to continue the conversation with the beautiful woman with lapis-lazuli eyes, the scene was repeated once again, which, despite being predictable, still surprised me: she wasn’t there any longer. I laughed alone.
I remained there, thinking about all the words that had been said. Because I had calmed down, little by little each one of them found their proper place. I admitted that, in truth, all it had been was the dispute of two hot-tempered egos. In the fight to decide who was right, we forgot the principal matter, which was to assist the ailing man, whose needs were neglected by Pablo and me. We fought for senseless victory. When the ego is frail, it wants to feel superior to others and ends up imposing its own point of view over the others’, regardless of being right or wrong. On that day, the ludicrous need of pointing out the ignorance, one to the other, made us forget the sick man. Discord made us overlook the worst ignorance of all: love was left aside.
The last sentence the woman said, “the crossing only ends when all hearts are united”, reverberated in my mind. It came to my mind that the word “discord” was formed from the combination of two Latin words. “Dis”means outside, away, distant; “Cor”or “cordis” means heart. Hence, discord is a word that carries the root of many bad deeds, because it emerges when my heart moves away from the heart of somebody else. On an even deeper level, it means to face my own heart. Living outside of one’s heart is not to understand the importance of love; it means the soul is forgotten.
It was dark and the sky was sprinkled with stars. I stood up and walked towards Pablo and his friends. I was received with suspicion. I apologized to Pablo for my lack of humility and thanked him for the lesson he had given me. To be honest, I am not sure if he and all the others understood, at that time, what I meant, but from the silence that ensued, I was sure at some point they would come to understand, either the difficulties I had, or they had. Even if it took some time for them to understand what had happened, this would not take away the power of forgiveness, which can be unilateral. After all, it would not be fair for one to be bound to the will or authority of someone else to be freed from a situation and move on. Then, I addressed the man who felt ill, expressing my apologies. In his case, due to my lack of sympathy. He hugged me tightly, which I interpreted as a sincere sign of forgiveness.
I distanced myself, to quietness and solitude. For quite some time I watched the beauty of the cloak of stars over the desert’s bed of sand. Peace was sealed, inside me and out. A sense of lightness I cannot describe enraptured me. I had the impossible feeling of being seated a foot over the ground. I silently promised myself next time a similar situation occurred, I would strive to act differently and better, preventing dissent to take root. I thanked all those involved for the lessons I had been allowed to learn on that day. The beautiful woman of lapis-lazuli eyes, the caravanner, Pablo and his friends, the sick man, and the spirits of the desert, which, each one in measure with their capabilities and possibilities, pointed a better way for me to follow the Path. I smiled to the stars, I smiled to myself.