The thirtieth day of the crossing – the art of the desert

There are some days that seem to exist only to bother us. Or to test us. I woke up happy, thinking about Ingrid, the Nordic, ginger-haired astronomer. I went to the tent used as mess hall to fetch a cup of coffee. Everyone was talking about the traditional party to celebrate the 30th day of the crossing, that would take place that evening. I envisioned myself dancing with the astronomer under the beautiful starry sky of the desert. This is when I saw Ingrid talking to a pilgrim who, like me, was traveling to the largest oasis of the desert with the sole purpose of talking with the wise dervish who “knew many secrets between heaven and earth”. Ingrid was laughing her heart out. His name was Paolo, an Italian who had become very popular in the caravan. He was handsome, nice and kind. He had a pleasant conversation. Even I had laughed a lot from his stories, always good-humored. Paolo was the right arm and heir of his father, a rich industrialist from Milan. He was Ingrid’s age, and just like her, he seemed to have a gift to seduce. They were talking as if nothing else mattered in the world. I immediately felt bad. A bitter taste in my mouth and a churning of my stomach signaled jealousy was dancing inside me. Even though Ingrid and I were not dating nor had any formal commitment, I had high hopes. When they paired their camels to ride together on that day, my stomach felt like burning. Queasy, I spit out the coffee. 

Not feeling like talking, I continued the ride alone. I tried to transmute jealousy, because I had already learned a good deal about the shadows. In vain. I was saying to myself that no one owns anyone; that we should respect the choices of others, even if contrary to our wishes; that even though we need relationships to enhance and share virtues, happiness does not require the presence of anyone next to us, because it is an internal achievement. Any emotional dependence will always be a cruel prison that prevents the essential encounter with freedom. These are true, valuable ideas I had learned over my cosmic journey. However, on the other hand, jealousy refuted them by saying Ingrid was ungrateful and seemed to have forgotten the good moments we had shared. It also said the astronomer did not take into account my selfless devotion to her when she was bit by a serpent a few days ago and had almost passed away. Jealousy also suggested a supposed interest of Ingrid in having a wonderful life next to Paolo. It mentioned the astronomer surrounded by luxuries and amenities, touring around the beautiful Amalfi Coast, with its exquisite restaurants of renowned chefs and comfortable hotels with soft linen sheets covering the beds. Jealousy told me I could never give her a similar lifestyle. Jealousy questioned me if there existed another woman who could fulfill me as Ingrid did.

It was a struggle between life and death, as allegedly are the fights fought in the core of being. Initially, it seems there are only two options, all or nothing. This is how I was feeling at midday, when the order came for us to stop for a brief rest and a light meal. When I dismounted the camel, I thought there was nothing left of me. My legs faltered; I felt weak, as if life was being drained from me. Void is what was left. I felt hollow.  

Seated on the sand, I tried to eat a date. The fruit, always sweet, seemed bitter and inedible. I knew I had to rescue the power of my soul, my zest for life. At that moment, I saw, from afar, Paolo and Ingrid talking. No question they formed a nice, happy couple. Jealousy told me that without the Italian, it would be me who would be laughing next to the astronomer. He crossed my existence to challenge me and steal my source of pleasure. It was time to strive for “all”, or I would be left with “nothing”. I hated the Italian. Instinctively, I passed my hands on my back and touched the dagger I always carried in my waistband. My weakness was replaced by an acid force, anger. Ideas and emotions were confused, but now I felt strong because I was anticipating a possible action to replace the initial hopelessness. I held back when I saw the caravanner looking deep at me. He seemed to guess my thoughts. I knew that the law of the desert was implacable. I diverted my gaze.

On that day, I continued on the second stretch of the crossing torn between thoughts and feelings. One warrior fighting against the other. I was both, light and shadows. The battlefield, filled with blood at that time, was the core of my being; my consciousness. Desert and caravan were mere landscapes for a decisive duel about to take place.

In the evening, I did not want supper. Around the lamps that illuminated the camp, I looked for the Italian. He was next to Ingrid; they were at a distance from the rest, lying on the sand. The astronomer seemed to be talking about the stars, as she had done with me. Concealed, I watched them for some time. At a certain moment, Ingrid stood up to do or fetch something. Alone, Paolo remained lying on the sand. The time seemed right. I looked around for the implacable eyes of the caravanner; I did not see them. I was not afraid, and yet I could not move, as if my feet were buried in the sand. A part of me wanted to attack him; the other part did not let me do it. This is when I noticed the beautiful woman with lapis-lazuli eyes watching me. Her countenance was serene, but her eyes reflected endless sadness. Ashamed, I ran to the top of a dune.

Breathless, I sat on the sand. From there, the caravan seemed a children’s toy. The tents, the lamps, the camels, the people. No sound was heard. “Just the wise voice of silence”, I heard someone behind me say. It was the blue-eyed woman. Without asking for permission, she sat next to me. She carried with her a small drum. A desert drum. She remained in silence for I don’t know how long and did not play the drum. Until I asked why she was there. The woman was soft in her answer: “I will wait for your heart to soothe. Then, if you wish, we can talk.” I nodded and started to cry. It was a convulsive cry. Next, I started to vent. I spoke a lot. I said I did not recognize me; it was like I did not know myself nor learned anything on my journey. The knowledge, and virtuous and illuminated feelings I had took turns with insistent advice given by the shadows of jealousy, hatred and selfishness. She only listened. She listened without interfering, as one who knows that time, in fact, is endless. She listened with infinite patience until I grew tired of listening to my own voice.

Then, she asked me to lie on the sand and close my eyes. She started to play the drum, a sacred instrument for magianism, according to the desert tradition. It was a rhythmic pace, as if the beat was in tune with the desert’s heart. She asked: “Focus only on the beating of the drum. Allow your heart to beat in tune with the desert’s heart. Feel both hearts beating as if they were one. Hence, all the power and wisdom of the desert will also be yours.” After a while, I said I did not know if the heart I felt was mine or the desert’s. The woman asked: “What do you see right now?” With my eyes closed, I said I saw myself running on the desert sand, as a character in a movie who is being chased by a band trying to catch me. The more I ran, the closer they came. Then, I said the band had cornered me at the end of a narrow stone path. I said I had no way out, and I would have to surrender myself to the band. I said I was scared. Scared of being a prisoner, scared of the unknown, scared of losing myself. I argued that being part of the band perhaps would add some sense to my life. The woman explained: “The band is formed by your jealousy, hatred and selfishness. To surrender to the band is means to let yourself be imprisoned. Do not let fear guide your choices. Bear in mind that your choices will either imprison you or set you free.” I shouted I had no way out. The band was powerful. She said, composedly: “We always have choices. Therefore, there is always a way out.” She paused before continuing: “Face them or surrender. There is always a choice. Be scared to death or live courageously. Repeat the same old mistakes or do things differently and better.” In the past, I had already been imprisoned in the dungeons not only of jealousy and hatred, but also of envy and greed. No, I did not want to go through similar experiences. Yes, in order to be free, sooner or later I would have to face each one of my shadows, whether one by one or grouped together. It did not make sense to postpose the fight if courage and all other virtues, the weapons I need for the essential struggle for life, are always inside me, I thought. I took a deep breath and decided to wake the courage asleep in me. But that was not enough. I breathed deeply once again to also elicit compassion, humility and love. I thrusted one of my feet against the huge rock that closed the path and ran in the opposite direction. Although I was still afraid, I started to feel strong; virtues have this power. I bolted against the band. I had decided to fight. At this point, everything seemed to change. At each step, something was transformed inside me. As I approached jealousy and hatred, I gained momentum. No, I wasn’t faster, I hollered to the blue-eyed woman. In fact, I was lighter at each step. 

When the battle was about to begin, fear had disappeared from inside me. At the moment of the clash that would mark the beginning of the fight that I believed was for life or death, another surprise. I did not run over jealousy and hatred as one who believes it is as strong as a war tank. I felt strong for another reason: I had flown over them. My wings had grown. The band could no longer reach me nor cause me any harm. Their arrows would not hit me; they were harmless. Courage, humility, compassion and love kept me in the air, beyond the reach of the shadows. I was free, I shouted to the woman with lapis-lazuli eyes. She warned me: “Yes, you are free, but just for today. Be careful not to crawl again, or the shadows may loom and imprison yourself again.”

The drum still ruffled for a while. Its rolling decreased more and more until it ceased. I sat. I told her I felt strange, but much better. I said I no longer felt jealousy or hatred. I did not feel despondent, either. I felt I was free. The woman arched her lips in a discrete smile and corrected me: “Only metaphorically. In fact, you are not, yet.” 

In face of my surprise, she explained: “The magic ritual of the drum does not transmute no one’s shadows into light. This is everyone’s battles in their lives. A battle that must be experienced on the physical plane. Even though we may have some discrete help, no one is excused from fighting it with their consciousness, through each choice, until the last day of the journey. The ritual of the desert makes our fight easier by keeping at bay dense energies and the influences of poor vibrations that hamper free thinking. To think with freedom is to set one’s consciousness in motion, expanding the limits of truth itself guided by virtues, with no conditionings, prejudices, fears or dependence of any type.” 

“The metaphor of the ceremony you have experienced does not imply that you have won a battle. It just makes you more apt to illuminate your own shadows. There is no victory over anyone but you. Moreover, your victory over yourself does not mean your shadows have died. It does not make sense to kill a part of you, because you will be incomplete. Shadows don’t die, they are transmuted into virtues. However, this process does not take place at once; you must be patient, because nature does not leap. However, the journey is very enriching. Each shadow, once they have been carefully worked on, will be transformed into one virtue or more. The weakness of pride teaches us about the power of humility, for instance.” She paused before adding: “This is why we cannot deny the shadows. Otherwise, we would deny our shadows, because we would renounce valuable virtues. Without the virtues, we will be unable to continue the crossing of the desert.” 

“Jealousy, in turn, teaches us a lot about the maturity of the self. Jealousy can be your master or the nemesis of respect, freedom and dignity. Any attempt of domination over the will of others is an action of disrespect to the freedom and dignity of the other, and of yourself. You will have to accept the choice of others in respect to your own choices. If you don’t respect yourself, you don’t respect anything and anyone. You lose your bearings, the zest and the sense of life. You are stuck in the infancy of existence.” I said I was bewildered with the dimensions of my emotions on that day, and how uncontrolled they were. I confessed I did not recognize myself. I believed I had overcome some of the dense emotions that had dominated me. Once again, I admitted I had been baffled by my lack of control, almost to the point of folly. The woman recalled an old lesson: “Heaven and hell are creations of your consciousness. Heaven and hell belong to you. To believe that you are beyond evil is quite dangerous. Each day, you will have to choose where you are going to live.” 

She paused again and added: “The ceremony with the drum left a void in you. Take the chance to fill it up with light. Or darkness will go back to its old temple. Now it is up to you.” She stood up and left, leaving me alone with the silence of the desert. 

I had to return to camp. The party to celebrate the 30thday of the crossing had already started. From the top of the dune I could see people dancing but could not hear the sound of the music. The wind was coming from the back of where I was, blowing the hubbub of the caravan away from my ears. Once I was back, I would see Ingrid and Paolo. Probably dancing, happy, kissing. A situation I had no control over, and of which there was no choice for me to make. Nonetheless, and because of that, I cannot shirk the joy of life. When the choice is up to the other, it is up to him to stand or escape the effects of his own decision. With me it is the same. It was about time I had to live with that. It was about time I overcame ancestral conditionings of dominating the will of others and learn to be worthy and free. Only by being free could I live in peace, be happy and love unconditionally. 

To believe that I suffered because Ingrid was indispensable to my life because she would make me whole as no other woman had yet was an illusion. If I was the one incomplete, it was up to me to make me whole by myself, with virtues I was yet to know. Only then I would become complete, whole, thorough. I had to stop blaming others for any issue I had in life, or else I would continue to live insecure, emotionally dependent on others. No one fulfils anyone. To believe it is a mistake that keeps humankind imprisoned for long time, with suffering and pain. Jealousy is not only an ancestral trace of domination, but also an absurd attempt to grow other people’s flowers in my own garden. When I do that, I no longer am the flowers of my garden; the light of my soul. I fact, I become whole by changing my gaze, in exercising my virtues, in transforming the way I live, in achieving abstract, intangible assets. In the plenitudes. Then, I share them with whomever is willing to have them and move on. Not depending on anyone; not requiring anyone’s authorization. Free, in peace, happy, worthy. Loving myself, the world and life. This is my power; this is the power of the universe pulsating through me.

I felt ready. With my ego aligned with my soul’s value, I went back to camp. Fiddles and accordions livened the party. Everyone was drinking, eating, dancing, having fun. It didn’t take long and I found Ingrid hugging Paolo. They waved at me. At the slightest sign of jealousy recurring, I soothed it with the concepts of light with which I had committed to a little while ago. The light was now mine. I felt whole. I offered the couple a smile. Not any smile, but my best smile. I was being sincere. They had the right to be together; they had chosen one another. From the bottom of my heart, I wished them the best life offers.

The response was immediate. I felt the power of life even stronger, pulsating in my hands; a power from the light. A wonderful feeling of lightness and transcendency. I smiled at everyone at the caravan, my heart smiled at me. A beautiful brunette with curly hair, a red dress and huge ring-shaped earrings looked at me, charmingly. Good vibrations are fascinating and soothe other souls that are in synchrony. We danced through the night around the huge campfire that lit the party. 

At a given time, I saw the caravanner. He was watching me. I approached him and thanked him for his reproachful gaze when I was about to reach darkness. I said that his gaze helped me return to the light. He smiled and remarked: “The ability to choose is the most precious gift we have, and also the most dangerous. At each choice we make, we have the pains and pleasures of the desert. Choice is an essential instrument for creation and also a tool for destruction. Trust the light you have in you, but do not ignore the influence of shadows. From light to shadows or from shadows to light, they are at a distance of a single choice. Only through choices one is able to finish the crossing. Learning how to elaborate a choice is the desert’s purest art.”

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

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