The crossing was entering its final stretch. One month had passed. There were 10 days to go. On the 40th, we would reach the largest oasis of the desert, where I planned to meet a wise dervish who knew “many secrets between heaven and earth.” The past days had been tense and intense, busy days and days of learning. It has been enough, I thought. I wished there was a shortcut for us to reach our destination faster.
The party of the previous night did not prevent the caravan from waking up before the sun was above the line on the horizon. Camp was broken and, shortly everyone was in line. Soon, we started our march. It was a pleasant morning. A breeze softened the harsh desert climate. It was time to internalize all the valuable lessons we had experienced on those sands so that the crossing would be justified. If I could do it, I would become a better man, and would be better prepared to meet the dervish. I thought how nice it would be to have some quiet days to reflect; on the other hand, I had considered about this nonnecessity. All that I had experienced, I had learned. The facts were lessons. There was nothing to add. Once again I wished, now even more strongly, that the last stretch of the journey was suppressed.
It was when a hubbub in the caravan caught my attention. People were pointing at the sky. An unlikely balloon was flying over the desert. We continued to move forward. After a while, it had become clear that the balloon was following the caravan. When we stopped at midday for the usual brief rest and light meal, the balloon, after circling the caravan a couple of times, landed at a short distance from where we were. Two men disembarked. They were dressed like the old airmen of the early 20th century. Another surprise: they were twins. They approached us. They offered short flights in the balloon. A bunch of travelers surrounded them, most of them curious about the unexpected. They asked many questions, all of them answered by the brothers, always very politely. The few who, in fact, were willing to go on the ride, gave up when they knew the price they charged. It was outrageously expensive. From afar, I watched the commotion with interest. An idea came to me. I said to myself that the caravan was crowded with pilgrims who were as interested as I in meeting the wise dervish of the oasis. If I arrived there earlier, I would have a better chance that he would agree to see me, and more time to talk to him. I waited until I saw one of the twins alone and approached him. Without telling him of my actual intention, I said only that I was tired from the crossing and wished to quicken my arrival at the oasis. I asked if they would take there and how much it would cost. The man looked deeply at me for a moment and said he would have to talk to his brother, because what I was asking was not what they were offering.
He returned a few minutes later with his brother. They said their names were Dario and Mario. They looked alike, physically. Mario was quieter; Dario, more outgoing. Moreover, Mario wore a red scarf tied around his neck; Dario’s was green. Nothing else seemed to differentiate them. Dario said they would take me and suggested the same price they were charging the other travelers of the caravan for a short ride. Everything considered, it is undeniable they were giving me a good deal. However, I thought it odd, and asked the reason for the bargain. He explained their idea was to visit a friend who went to live at the oasis after marrying a local girl. Therefore, if I were to go with them, even at a discounted price, it would be a good deal for everyone. I wanted to know when we would reach the oasis. Dario said on that very evening; Mario reminded him that they would depend on the help of the wind, a factor over which they had no control. Dario said the wind was blowing leeward and we should depart immediately, not to waste that opportunity. Mario recalled that I had a camel to worry about. Dario suggested I asked one of the staff members to take it to the oasis. He even mentioned the animal would be useful to carry part of the load of the caravan. Everyone would be happy. I said I had to think about it, because that was a situation unthinkable until few minutes ago. Dario said they would leave shortly. I had to make up my mind.
I looked around, trying to find the caravanner or the woman with lapis-lazuli colored eyes. I needed advice; I wanted an opinion. I did not see them. I had the chance of shortening the trip. A crossing that, although rich in experiences, had been very trying. I was exhausted from the desert. I recalled how much I longed for such a chance that morning. Everything seemed to fit. The price was good, the chance of actually meeting the dervish would increase a lot. My camel would help the caravan to better distribute the weight of its load. It was the universe conspiring in my favor. Once again, I looked around, trying to find the caravanner and the blue-eyed woman. They seemed to have vanished. I would have to decide on my own. The signals were unequivocal in pointing to a direction. However, there was something in me saying that I should not take that offer. On the other hand, I could not let fear stop me. I was still unsure about the decision I should make, when Dario told me they were about to leave. The time to make a decision was up. He asked me, sarcastically, if I would take the unique opportunity of flying over the desert or if I would “continue on the sand, with the rest of the herd”. I was shamed of looking like a fool and regret not taking that offer.
I immediately made all the arrangements about the camel. I had planned I would get it back at the oasis. I climbed into the balloon. A few feet above the ground, I saw the caravanner and the woman with lapis-lazuli eyes. They looked at me. In a way I could not understand at that moment, I felt ashamed and diverted my gaze.
It did not take long for us to gain height. The sensation of flying was intoxicating, and I felt powerful. However, something in me made me feel uncomfortable. The external sense of elation did not match the inner sense that there was something wrong. Ego and soul seemed unfitting. I thought about having given up the crossing and the eventual lessons inherent to it. I tried to send those thoughts away. I said to myself I could not let fear hamper my life. I had already learned a lot on those days with the caravan. It had been enough.
The first hour flying was fantastic. I was in the air, while the rest of people were on the ground. An undeniable advantage. Superiority and power. I thought I deserved such status; I rejoiced for having been the one chosen by the High Lands. When, at last, I felt sure I had made the right decision, I took a deep breath of satisfaction. Then, the wind changed.
I noticed, from the position of the sun, that we were navigating in the opposite direction. I said we were distancing ourselves from the oasis. Mario explained that the possibilities of maneuvering the balloon were limited. The wind was essential to follow the flight plant and keep us on our intended course. There was very little the brothers could do. Dario explained that in that region it was very common for the wind to change, and that soon it would set the right course. As time passed, the tension mounted. I gave up making any comment when the brothers started to discuss. They spoke in a language I did not recognize. I only looked at the sky and prayed for heaven not to desert me.
After a while, the wind pulled apart the euphoria I initially felt, and tension turned into fear. The brothers were no longer arguing, they just exchanged a few words. Even though I did not understand them, the gist of it was not encouraging. The afternoon was passing rapidly, and it would not take long for night to fall. I told them that. Mario and Dario only looked at one another. The balloon started to lose height. They were maneuvering for this. Until we landed on the sand. I had no questions, that was the first sign of bad news. Mario said I should disembark. I asked if only I was going to disembark. Dario confirmed what I had suspected. He explained that the wind was treacherous and unpredictable, what limited their maneuvers and turned the flight dangerous. The balloon had to be lighter, so they could fly more safely. They had taken that decision for my sake, they wanted to preserve me. I saw no reason to thank them. Dario explained that with less weight, it would be easier to maneuver the balloon. I asked that one of them stay with me. Mario said it was not possible, because the balloon required the two of them to navigate until the oasis. Once they reached their destination, they would ask a rescue team to come for me. They said I should not be frightened, because that was not an unusual event. I argued that it was one of them who should be left there; as passenger I would have priority to continue the journey on the balloon. Mario noted that the flight conditions were quite hazardous, and I knew nothing about how to fly a balloon. I would be more of a hindrance than a help. Together, the brothers would have a better chance. They insisted that I remain calm. They promised they would not abandon me. I threatened not to step out of the balloon. Mario threw my backpack with clothes, belongings, canteen and documents on the sand. I remained adamant in not leaving the balloon. Dario showed me the holster of a gun under his coat. Asked me not to make things difficult. Prudence was stronger than anger. I went out.
Like a fool, I asked for my money back, since the trip had been canceled. Dario said it was not their fault if the wind had not collaborated. Annoyed, I yelled that this argument was ludicrous. Mario recalled that the money would be used to pay for my rescue. Hence, the journey would be completed. They left. I kept watching the balloon until it vanished afar. Anger resumed with intensity, soothed only by the fact that I felt like an idiot.
The sun would still give me a few hours of clarity. I had to think. To that end, I needed to settle down, so that my ideas could flow sensibly. I sat on the sand. My first thought was that I was now seated where, few minutes ago, I was proud of flying over. I smiled from the bitter opening lesson. I let my breathing normalize. I said a heartfelt prayer for light and protection, I knew I would need both, badly. I did not believe the brothers would arrange for the rescue they had promised. A bit calmer I pondered that although I had an idea of which direction to follow using the sun as reference, it would be senseless to leave where I was, at least at that moment. There were some reasons for that. A few degrees of difference in the course I took could take me farther, rather than closer, from my destination. A water canteen would allow me to survive two or perhaps three days if I remained still, whereas I would survive only for a day if I decided to walk under the merciless desert heat. On the other hand, to sit still waiting for something good to happen made me feel I gave up fighting for my life. That was something unacceptable for me. Because it wouldn’t take long for night to fall, I decided to stay put until dawn of the next day. Then, I would decide if I would wait or would move on, trying to find some help or even reach the caravan, because we would be on the same route towards the oasis.
I leaned against a huge rock and started to meditate. It was time to use the knowledge I had acquired, so that my search for it was justified. To begin with, I had to be void of learned fear and hopelessness in face of the misery of existence. It is necessary to shrink before expanding. It was necessary to give room to new ideas, to creativity, to the unexpected, and principally so that virtues could manifest themselves; this would give me lightness and power. Humility, prudence, firmness, courage and faith. Meditation would also help me synchronize my heart with the heart of the desert, so they would beat at the same pace, as a single heart. Hence, I would become part of the desert; its power would flow through me.
While I meditated, I could not help eliciting in my mind the episodes and choices of that day. In the morning, I had wished to curtail the final portion of the crossing, arrogantly believing I knew everything. I had also been influenced by a sociocultural conditioning for shortcuts, in an attempt to avoid the indispensable striving for true growth. Not to mention the addiction with advantages and privileges. Of how the ego, in its early stages of its cosmic journey, becomes fascinated by such tricks and lets itself be enveloped by the shadows. Not the shadows of the world, but your own shadows. Selfishness, pride, convenience and fear had been the main ones, on that day. At first, I thought about sending these thoughts away and think about possible solutions for the difficult situation I found myself in. However, I recalled having learned that wounds are open doors through which the light goes in, heals and revitalizes the self. Of course, if I give permission for that. Or else they would continue to be dark sources of denial, repression, bitterness and suffering.
I listed the facts to analyze them from the angle of the light. To that end, I had to be fair. No question the brothers had not been honest with me, due to their lack of clarity in the face of all flying possibilities. However, it didn’t matter. In fact, what I had to do was to solve the problem I had with myself. This is worthy and liberating. And for that sincerity is essential. The ego had to confess to the soul its true intentions regarding undue advantages or senseless desires. Only then light would have a chance.
Ah, the desires! Goddamn desires, I thought. “The problem are not the desires, but personal imbalances I pass on to my desires”, a voice resonated in me. Yes, I was talking to myself. No, it wasn’t madness. It was the wisdom of having my halves engage in honest conversation. Ego and soul must be aligned. The ego, when in the infancy of life, is guided by the deceptions of the shadows. Deep down, the shadows are mechanisms of protection inside out. They give us the illusion of power so that we don’t realize how frail we are. They stem from fear and ignorance. What is pride, vanity, greed, jealousy, aggressiveness? They are no more than thick curtains so that no one finds out, in fact, who we are. Not even ourselves.
“The soul carries in itself all the light of the world”. All of it? “Yes, absolutely”. I grabbed a handful of sand and let it run between my fingers. The grain is part of the desert; therefore, it carries the desert in itself. As part of the whole, we have the whole inside us. This is why wisemen teach that each one has in himself the answer to all the questions; he only has to learn how to find them. If this is true, I asked myself, why do we make so many wrong choices? How do we have so much power if, in different circumstances, we feel helpless? What is the reason of so much light if oftentimes everything seems dark and we see ourselves before an endless void?
“We have the light in our DNA. However, this light must be lit; this power that lies dormant in the soul needs to rise. And then, enhanced every day so that the light is stronger and stronger. This is the fire of creation, in the foreground; the fire of transmutation, in an intermediary stage; the fire of evolution, ultimately.”
I went back to the desires and motives of why we fall on account of them. I was abandoned in the desert on account of my desires. What actually is the problem, the desires or the feelings, ideas and intentions encased in them?
Hidden in each desire is there a will to integrate me with the world, or to possess it? To be like it or to feel I am its owner? Virtues or shadows, what are the elements that build my desires? Are the much-desired economic assets the final goal or mere consequences of existence? The strongest wishes focus on abstract or material achievements? Which of them is truly tangible to me?
Questions, questions and more questions. One must always seek the right question. Only the right question will lead me to the best answer. At each answer, a piece of me. Those were the questions that helped me understand where each wish had taken me or, even better, had not taken me. Wishes define destinations. They explain a lot about who I am, and how much I am yet to be.
Wishes are fantastic engines of existence. They propel for better or worse. The command is personal and nontransferable. So is the accountability.
There is no longer or more beautiful journey that the one towards one’s own knowledge; the flight in search of plenitude. Night fell. Even though I was alone in the middle of the desert, I did not feel abandoned. Little by little, I became good company to myself. Ego and soul were in communion; there was harmony in their purpose in life and synchrony of wishes. I realized the problem was not the wishes, but their quality. Wishes are in the realm of intentions. Intentions nourish desires, whether due to the power of virtues already settled or the force of shadows that still dominate. Hence, my wishes provide me with a perfect picture of my life.
You didn’t look good in the picture? Change your wishes.
Wishes are but choices. The difference is that the wishes are characterized by choices overloaded with dense emotions from an unbalanced ego. However, with love and wisdom, they can learn how to carry the light baggage of a free spirit.
I was there because I had chosen to be there. I entered the balloon out of my own volition and obscure desires. I had to be honest with me, if I wanted to move forward. Blaming the brothers would create a hurdle, because it would have me tied to their lives. The awareness of being accountable for my choices leads me to the maturity of the self. With maturity comes wholesomeness. And then, the plenitudes. An odd, and yet pleasant serenity permeated my entire body. I did not want to think about how difficult the next day would be. When I woke up, I would have time for that. I wanted to enjoy that night fully integrated with the desert. It had taught much about me; I was thankful to it.
I lay on the sand. I watched the beauty of the sky sprinkled with stars. When I was almost asleep, I had a feeling that one of them was moving. I scratched my eyes, because I thought it was a sign of tiredness. I fixed my gaze and noticed it was coming closer. It seemed to come in my direction. When it got really close, I was surprised. Filled with lanterns, the balloon maneuvered to land. I could not believe my eyes. Mario stepped out and told me to hop in. He asked me to hurry, because they had to take advantage of the downwind. Dario greeted me with a nod of the head. We took off. I confessed I had thought unlikely that they would return to rescue me. Dario shrugged; he said that if it were for him, they would not return. However, something might have happened, because the desert had so ordained. Seeing my baffled look, Mario said that because they travelled with permission of the desert, they were subjected to its orders. At first, it seemed a conversation of madmen, but on that day, it made sense to me.
After a few moments, I saw a camp with many lamps and torches lit. It was the caravan. I asked them to leave me there. Mario reasoned that they were going to the oasis, my final destination. He said it was senseless. I insisted in staying with the caravan, to complete the crossing through the sands of the desert. Few decisions could be more sensible than that. I explained that there are no shortcuts in the desert; that on the Path one flies with one’s own wings.
I disembarked. I thanked them for the trip and saw them rising back into the air. The caravan was asleep, only the security crew kept watch. When I entered camp, I saw the caravanner on the other side, on the top of a small dune. He was standing, his arms crossed, as a guardian illuminated by the stars. His serious gaze was fixed on me. I made a gesture, asking for permission to enter. He nodded. I am not sure, but I think I saw his lips arching in a discreet smile. I got my sleeping bag and went to lie down in the open air. I looked at the desert night and gave thanks for that day’s flight. The flight of body and soul.
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.