The thirty-fifth day of the crossing – the old lady of the desert

I had woken up in a good mood. It was early; the caravan was still asleep. To the east, the sky was displaying the pinkish hue that precedes the blue. The stars were about to withdraw from the scene. In fact, they would still be there, but hidden by the curtains of daylight. The senses either allow or limit our perceptions, depending on how we deal with them. I sat on the sand, a bit distant from the campsite, and kept thinking about the truth that lies behind our senses. The world, and therefore life, is conceived as we understand them. How many, and which, curtains do I have to open to find truth? How much of life have I missed by not realizing it in its entirety and subtleties? I was enveloped in my reflections when I was interrupted by an older lady. From her wrinkled skin, she seemed to be of advanced age. I did not remember having seen her with the caravan. Her features were not sad or happy, but serene. The old lady asked me if I could accompany her. I thought she needed help and, without hesitation, made myself available. She took me to the farthest tent of the camp. 

When I entered, I saw a low table, typical of desert camps; on it, a cake with dried fruits on top. She pointed to a comfortable cushion where I should sit, and sat on another one, in front. She cut the cake and gave me a slice, together with a cup of coffee. What a wonderful combination. It was all very tasty. The old lady then took a small harp and started to play a soft tune. It was very pleasant. When I finished eating the cake, she helped me to another slice. I asked for a little more coffee. She said she had no more coffee. She suggested that I tried one of the teas she made. I accepted. She served me in a fine china cup. My tongue went numb after my first sip. When I put a morsel of cake in my mouth, I noticed that the same cake that minutes before I had found delicious had lost its flavor. The tea had numbed my taste buds. I thought that was not a good tea, because it took away the flavor of the cake; or perhaps the cake was not as good as I had thought. The old lady continued to play the harp, but she sped the pace of the tune. The fast music and the flavorless cake turned the environment unpleasant from one moment to the next. I said nothing. I only thanked her for her hospitality, said good-bye claiming that I had to pack my gear, and left. The older woman made no objection; she only smiled.

When I was passing by the tents, I was stopped by a young and pretty woman. She asked for my help to open a small box. Hers was a comfortable tent, filled with Arab-style printed pillows and a pleasant scent of incense. The woman was alone. The key seemed to be stuck. I asked for a bit of grease. She asked if olive oil would do. I said yes, so she handed me a bottle. The key lubricated with olive oil turned in the box lock with no problem. The box was filled with gold and precious stone jewelry. The woman was grateful and told me to select anything from the box. I refused. She insisted. Because I was unyielding, she picked a finely crafted ring encrusted with a precious ruby and tried to put it on one of my fingers. I refused it once again. My resistance was broken by her beautiful smile and the affectionate way with which she held my hand. I felt I was in heaven. At this point, a man entered the tent. He was angry. They got into an argument in a language I did not know. It wasn’t difficult to realize their discussion was about the box. Their argument escalated. The man pointed to the ring the woman had given me and shouted. The old lady who had served me the cake little ago entered at the moment I was giving the ring back, grabbed me by the arm and took me out of the tent. I felt relieved to leave that place that seemed like hell to me.

I walked to the mess hall tent. I became cheerful seeing that coffee was ready. I filled up a cup and drank right then and there. I drink a lot of coffee, particularly when I wake up in the morning. After helping myself to a second cup, I heard a group of men talking about the caravanner. They were saying that the caravanner was getting married as soon as they arrived at the oasis. There would be a big party, but only some members of the caravan would have been invited. Everyone in that group said they had been invited and would get their gifts without delay. I had not received any invitation. An enormous dissatisfaction corroded my guts. Not having been invited to the wedding made me sad, and worse, made me feel a mixture of envy and jealousy. One of the men even reinforced the insistence of the caravanner for him not to miss the party; another said he had already been invited to be the godfather of the first born, when the baby was born. That conversation was making me sick, but, somehow, I could not move away from it. As if the poison that had started to run in my veins needed more poison to keep me on my feet. Senseless emotions and ludicrous reasoning. This was when the old lady grabbed me by the arm once again. With a smooth motion, she tried to take me out of the negative spiral of sensations. I resisted. She looked straight into my eyes. Her eyes emanated a very strong light, inversely proportional to her feeble body. Her eyes seemed to speak. They were telling me to leave that place, but they also told me they could not force me; the choice would me mine alone. I decided to accompany her. Without saying a word, we moved away from the campsite. She led me to where the caravanner was carrying out the morning training of his hawk. I said I did not want to stay there. His presence was disturbing to me. At that moment, with my heart in disarray, I considered him arrogant and stupid. The old lady insisted that we stay. After a few moments, he saw us and motioned us to approach him. Being annoyed at the caravanner, I hesitated. She led me towards him with the power of her smoothness. The old lady had a charming kindness. They greeted each other like old acquaintances. She said good-bye. I was about to accompany her, but the old lady said she would leave alone. The caravanner arched his lips in a discreet smile. While watching the hawk fly in circles, almost without flapping its wings, sustained on the air by the morning breeze, looking for a prey, I waited for the invitation, however belated, to the wedding. The caravanner did not say a word about it.

I was wasting my time, there. I said I should go not to be late; I still had to pack my gear before we left. The caravanner asked me if I wanted to learn something about the art of falconry. I was surprised, I knew such a learning was a privilege. There was no school where one could enroll to learn this art. Master falconers chose their apprentices; knowledge had been transmitted for centuries through oral tradition. At that moment, the feelings and ideas I had about the caravanner were even more confused. On one hand, I was angry for not having been invited to his party; on the other, I was happy for being invited for such an important endeavor. Although I was hurt, I could not refuse that priceless offer. I just nodded in agreement. He took off the leather glove he was wearing on his left arm and put it on mine. That was the symbolic ritual of initiation. Blowing a whistle the human ear could not hear because of its high frequency, he called the hawk back. When the bird was approaching, he directed me to keep my arm with the glove high in the air, so that the bird would know exactly where to land. Without being hurt, I felt the strength of the firm talons of the hawk on my forearm. A pleasant feeling. Next, he handed me a type of cap, with which I should cover the eyes of the bird. He asked me to do it very gently. He explained: “This is for the hawk not to be distracted so he can focus on your words. Tell him that he will only find what he can see. Also say that we see better when we see beyond the eyes.” In view of my astonished gaze, he added: “However sharp the eyes of a bird of prey may be.” Then, he explained: “We can listen without words; we can indulge without tasting. One should go beyond the senses.”

I thought that odd. My first thought was how to find the best way to advise a hawk without feeling ridiculous. Next, it occurred to me that perhaps it was a flaw of mine to despise the intelligence and instinct of others, even if an animal. Thus, I sought the best words to advise the bird. The caravanner showed me the motion I would have to do with my arm, to signal the bird to take flight. I did. The hawk flew in circles for minutes on end. I mentioned that that region was extremely inhospitable, unsuitable for life. There would not be any prey here. The caravanner once again blew the inaudible whistle. The hawk returned. I lifted my left arm with the leather glove for it to land. The caravanner placed the cap on the bird’s head. However, instead of asking me to talk to the bird, he approached his head to the hawk’s and moved his lips, as if talking to the bird. Not in spoken words, but in thought. I thought that weird. He signaled me to release the bird for a new flight. When I took the cap off the bird, it turned its head and looked at the caravanner for a brief moment, as if saying it had understood what had not been said. The bird took flight. After gliding for a while, the hawk collected its wings for a sharp dive to the ground. From afar, we saw the bird dig the sands of the desert and bring, in its talons, a serpent that had been hiding under the sandy, “lifeless” terrain, believing it was safe.

The caravanner said it was time to call it a day. It had been enough for the moment: “Today, we will march until later. There will be no evening training. If you want to continue, come early morning, tomorrow.” I thanked him and said he could count on me. However, there was something still bothering me. Before leaving to pack my gear, I wished him happiness in his marriage. The caravanner smiled, shrugged and said: “I am happy in my marriage. I have wife and children; I love my family and can’t wait to go home and snuggle with them.” Surprised, I said good-bye without another word. I put all my stuff in the saddlebag and placed it on the camel. I looked all around for the old lady, I wanted to be next to her in the march. I had many questions to ask. However, I was not successful. I asked many people about her, but no one had seen her.

On that day, no one paired up with me for the march. I went on accompanied only by my thoughts and feelings. When we stopped for the night, it was almost dark. Camp was set up; I distanced myself a bit, waiting for dinner to be announced. I was thinking about the need to perceive beyond the senses; feel beyond the emotions; understand beyond the reason. Yes, there was something true and valuable to be perceived, felt and understood for a full life that, at that moment, I was missing.

“Peace”, I heard a sweet voice behind me. It was not the older woman. The beautiful woman with lapis-lazuli eyes had approached me without my noticing and, once again, seemed to guess what was going on. She sat next to me and said: “While we allow the density of the world to affect the subtlety of the soul, we will be far from peace. Believing that peace depends on the facts of life is a foolish delusion. When we are yet to reach maturity, we believe that we know the delicacies by the taste, the perfume by the smell, the beauty by the sight, the music by the hearing, and texture by the touch. But life is more. Truth is far from the basic senses.”

“The flavor of a cake is gone if I have the flu. Music stops playing if I refuse to listen. Beauty vanishes if I close my eyes. Or do they continue to exist beyond my senses, my ability to realize and understand everything there is?”

“Trying to understand life only through the basic senses is to waste its larger and best part. My limitations cannot prevent me from walking. The Path changes when the walker is transformed. Anyone can go further, but training is required to see the serpent hiding in the sand”, she said, explicitly mentioning the experience I had witnessed that morning, but also as a metaphor.

I said that both, the world and life, enlarge when I engage feelings and reason to understand them. Hence, I perceive them beyond the basic senses. Heart and mind are necessary for the understanding of everything and everyone. The blue-eyed woman partially agreed: “Yes; however, we must learn to feel and to reason without the sand of shadows that hides peace. We have spoken about this issue many times during this crossing, but it pursues us every day. Love or hatred do not depend on the information provided, but the antenna that captures it and the channel that codifies it. Your opinion and feeling about the caravanner changed when lie and intrigue fostered vanity, pride, jealousy and envy. A curtain closed, and beauty disappeared.”

“When heart and mind are pacified by humility, compassion, simplicity, kindness and sincerity, among other virtues rooted in love, everything and everyone become different. Everything becomes clear and serene, everyone is beautiful and interesting, even in the face of huge difficulties typical of life. The curtain opens.” She paused and then added: “Yes, we need our hearts and our minds to understand the precise truth and the perfect beauty of the great school. But just using them is not enough. Maturity is required. We need a pure heart and a deep mind. There are those at the stage of seeds; there are those at the stage of fruits, already.”

“Many are the channels of understanding and perception; they all have their value. Some, however, have shown to be extremely powerful. There are those that emerge complete, such as hearing, sight, tact, smell and taste; because they are complete since inception, they are considered basic senses. Heart and mind, through emotions and reasons, are considered by scholars essential for the understanding of the world and life. These, however, although extremely important, need to be enhanced. Due to the extent of their reach, they may be considered intermediate-level senses.”

If heart and mind were on the intermediate level, what senses would be essential? The woman explained: “Intuition is the quintessence of senses while we are in the third dimension. Intuition, when well developed, is a valuable communication channel with the higher planes. When poorly worked on, it serves the dark spheres of existence. Oftentimes, immature walkers mix up intuition with their desires and fears. To differentiate one from the other, love and wisdom are necessary, developed from much knowledge and exercise, for all the curtains to open. Nothing is easy.”

“That is not all. Some senses are typically of the ego, because they relate to survival; others depend on the soul, that will guide us towards transcendence. Intuition is the eyes, the voice, the rhythm, the perception, the taste, the feelings and the reason of your soul. This is very important and powerful. The soul is your sacred part in the whole of the universe. It makes you a cosmic being. The soul knows the origin of life. Through the intuition, the soul is capable of taking you to the zero dimension, where everything is crystal clear, and plenitudes await. Only with them leading the way we can reach the truth.”

We remained silent for a while. The woman said she had things to do and stood up. I thanked her for the conversation. I said I had much to think about and would work hard to develop my intuition as a tool for evolution. The woman smiled. Before she left, I asked her about the old lady. She explained: “She is a messenger of peace. Of all plenitudes, peace is the most difficult to achieve. It seems hidden or lost under so much sand that we put on it. Just like happiness, love, dignity and freedom, peace is within us as seed. To find peace, one must perceive beyond the senses, feel beyond emotions, understand beyond reason. The seed of peace is subtle, but powerful. It is noticeable only by the sensitivity of the soul; it is like a small and apparently frail, lifeless grain of wheat.” 

“In addition to the husk of the grain, for those who have learned how to see, there is bread. For the grain to germinate into life, the inert husk must be broken. Some husks break with the balance of emotions; other, with the clarity of reason. However, some husks require more strength to break, so that the bread of life is manifested through peace. This is the power of faith. There is no faith without intuition.” 

“The fruit seems not to exist when we don’t see beyond the pit; the fruit is there, but invisible to the inflexible gaze and intangible to the superficial perception. This is the curtain that must be opened. But have no doubt, every fruit was once hidden behind a curtain as a pit.” 

I said I would like to meet the older lady again. The blue-eyed woman smiled, shook her head as if saying there was no way I could do it, and ended: “Pay more attention to who is around you. Then, you will meet her every day. She has always been next to you. That is how angels disguise themselves.”

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein. 

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