That was the day before last of the crossing. I had been up since very early. The sky displayed a rose hue, typical of when the sun is yet to reach the line of the horizon. I walked with the caravanner to a site away from camp. He told me that this was going to be the last day of training before we reached the oasis. Then, he handed me the hawk. I felt the pressure of the talons around the thick leather glove that I wore in my left hand and that extended to my forearm. In thought, I gave instructions to the bird to see beyond sight and, particularly, about the pure joy of flying. I took off the cap that covered its head. The bird looked at me for a brief moment, I made the propelling motion and the hawk immediately went soaring into the sky. It glided in circles for long minutes until it suddenly folded its huge wings along its body, an instinctive aerodynamical position, for a steep dive to the ground. It returned with a serpent in its talons. The caravanner remained impassive, an attitude I interpreted as a sign of approval. Without saying a word, I smiled to myself. We returned to camp, which was waking up. I went to the mess hall tent and helped myself to a cup of fresh coffee. Once again, I moved away from camp. With my eyes, I swept the landscape, looking for the beautiful woman with lapis-lazuli eyes. We hadn’t spoken for days. Many important things had happened. I missed talking to her, and particularly, listening to her. Her way of thinking was unique and interesting. However, I did not see her that morning. It was Ingrid who approached me; the ginger-haired Norse astronomer was accompanied by Paolo, her likeable Italian boyfriend. Their faces expressed an enchantment typical of couples in love. They offered me some cookies to go with the coffee. I accepted and asked them to sit next to me. Once they were settled on the sand, Ingrid said that as soon as we arrived at the oasis, she would set up the telescopes to begin her studies on a constellation that could only be seen from there. Paolo made a joke saying she did not need to hurry because the stars would wait for a few million years. We laughed. Then, he asked if I considered myself ready to meet the wise dervish. Continuing with his joke, he said that differently from the stars, I would not have much time to do what I had planned. I agreed with him. However, I reasoned that time, although it limited our existence, would never be an opponent, depending on how we relate to it.
Paolo reasoned that it wasn’t exactly like that. Because he was polite, he apologized ahead of time for what he was about to say, but he made a point of saying that there were many reasons that could prevent the meeting with the dervish. Diseases, death or an unexpected trip, urgent engagements; in short, an array of unforeseeable circumstances could prevent the conversation I wished to have. Then, the tiresome journey I had undertaken would be fruitless. I agree that I had decided to embark on that crossing because of the tremendous amount of knowledge about things of heaven and earth that the wise man could share with me. It was undeniable that such a meeting could not take place. Nonetheless, each day in the desert had taught me so much I would not feel disappointed or that I had wasted my time if the conversation didn’t occur. “I think that the caravan was like a grain of wheat that has grown in me at each day. I feel the grain is ready to transform itself into bread. A bread that will nourish me and that I will always carry with me to offer in all other crossings I undertake. If I find the dervish, my heart will rejoice; otherwise, I shall not want. I learned how to find in me, when aligned to the light, enough for my daily supper”, I argued. Next, I added: “Only with my permission will the facts of the world be powerful enough to torment my soul.”
Paolo asked if I was not regarding myself with arrogance. I proposed a different line of reasoning: “I think it will depend on the eyes with which I look at my own self. If I see myself filled with wisdom, I am but a stupid man making old mistakes. If I see myself the size I am, I will make new mistakes; hence, I will have the possibilities of new, unimaginable knowledge.” I looked at the vastness of the desert and explained: “What I cannot do is to condition my peace or happiness to the events at the caravan or the oasis. That would be an undue concession over my life.”
“As to me, I have to be vigilant about my choices, so that they are manifested in virtues. When I am illuminated, I beautify the caravan and the oasis. Even if no one realizes it, the desert will acknowledge it. This is enough for me.”
“A fact my displease me, I may disapprove of someone’s attitude, a choice may not please anyone in the caravan or the dervish of the oasis may not understand the reasons that move me, but I understand this is characteristic of a world where everyone is in a learning process. Mistakes are unavoidable. Including my own. Often, I make mistakes in choices about something I know. However, knowing does not mean being, it is only the first step. Yet, nothing can take me out of control, knock me down or paralyze me. I avoid the guilt that imprisons because of the dependence it causes. I choose to work with the personal responsibility of doing differently and better the next time.”
“This is the only power I have. However, its strength is incalculable; it changes the world because it changes me. With it I am invincible, like the small grain of sand that carries the soul of the desert in itself and manifests it. This is the exercise that makes it possible for me, with each passing day, to get closer and closer to the image and likeness of God. This is the crossing towards the light. The caravan departs every day quite early in the morning.”
Using the metaphor I used, Paolo recalled that there are severe sandstorms in the desert that greatly damage caravans. I nodded and said: “There is no question. Sandstorms move grains of sand and buries some caravans, but they pass. The desert remains unharmed.” I paused and added: “Thus, sandstorms never destroy the desert, only what is foreign to it.”
“Therefore, I cannot make the plenitude of the self conditional to some material asset, object or condition that is external to me. I need concrete things to cross existence; however, only what is abstract is interesting to life. In what is concrete, the tangible; in what is abstract, the truth. Therefore, I don’t have to wait for some fact to occur, whether in the caravan or in the oasis, to experience happiness, to live in peace, with freedom, dignity, love.”
“If I live each day depending on what I still don’t have or waiting for something to occur – in addition to my own transmutations – time will be in vain; the sandstorms will act with destructive fury. The worst storm, if put to good use, will serve to propel the small grain of sand far away, to a point still unimaginable, and fantastic. There are many corners in the desert far from the oasis, with ways of being and living one has never thought of.” I looked at the horizon and concluded: “Do the crossing, enjoy the caravan, have fun at the oasis; but be the grain of sand that is part of the desert and, therefore, carries in it all the power of the desert.”
It was time to leave. Ingrid told Paolo to ride next to me on that stretch of the crossing, so that we could continue our conversation. She would go next to the astrologer, with whom she liked to talk about the stars. She joked by saying that astronomers liked to talk about the sky with astrologers, even though they didn’t agree with almost anything. We laughed. She kissed her boyfriend and went away. The Italian paired his camel next to mine. We set off. After a few minutes, Paolo asked me to better explain the theory I had mentioned. I did my best: “There are many types of addiction. Drugs and gambling are the most common because they are the most visible ones, due to the apparent damage they cause. However, there are others perhaps more dangerous, but because it is hard for us to see how imprisoned we are in our dependence on them, they require a more sophisticated perception to be observed.” I quoted a sentence often mentioned in the Esoteric Order of the Monks of the Mountain, of which I was a member: “‘The worst prison is the one without bars.’” And I added: “He who does not see himself a prisoner does not miss freedom. Let’s not forget that the only bars strong enough to keep us captive are those that we create ourselves or allow to be imposed on us. They are all merely conceptual, and stem from ignorance and dominant atavism. Iron bars can hold a body, never a free soul. Intellectual, emotional and spiritual bars can keep a soul captive for millennia. For instance, believing that “I will only be happy if what’s-his-name acts like this; if what’s-his-name approves of my choice” are common, but unnecessary situations. In fact, they are harmful. There are also other types, those that, for instance, condition happiness to obtaining a degree, buying a home, going on a trip. There is nothing wrong with wanting a degree, a home or a trip. What should not happen is for one to depend on an external factor to experience the lightness of plenitude, which is possible only in the core of the self.”
“The same goes for peace. We wait for someone to make a move so that we reach the peace we have dreamed about. I need what’s-his-name’s consent to have quiet days; I need what’s-his-name’s acceptance so that life is pacified in me. These are all lies that deceive us, and we repeat them to ourselves every day! However, they are dependencies and, as such, useless. It is no different with dignity. Nothing but what is in me hampers dignity. To be dignified, suffice that I treat other people as I want to be treated. Nothing else. There is nothing to expect, it is all about a simple choice. As with the other plenitudes, it all depends on the way I relate with myself.”
The Italian interrupted me to ask about the plenitudes I spoke so much about. I told him: “Total plenitude includes five basic plenitudes: freedom, peace, dignity, unconditional love and happiness. None of them can be found in any external fact. They are all in the form of a seed, in the core of each person. The meaning of life is to make them blossom.”
From afar, leading the caravan, I saw the caravanner riding his white stallion with his imposing hawk perched on the thick leather gloves he wore on his left arm. That image brought to my mind the lesson that gave me inspiration: “Nothing that exists or happens beyond the hawk can hamper the beauty of its flight. Whatever the prey or the weather, what matters is the lightness of the flight and the truth hidden beyond the eyes.”
Paolo asked me how to make the plenitudes real. I answered without hesitation: “Through one’s choices. Period. Plenitude is the blue sky; the virtues are the wings of the hawk.”
The Italian wanted to know what virtues I was talking about. I listed them: “Humility, simplicity, sympathy, sincerity, generosity, kindness, firmness, gentleness, honesty, courage, purity, justice, mercifulness, happiness, faith, among others. All of them have love as the wind that supports the flight.”
“Our relationships and the facts of the world nourish or poison the hawk’s ability in dealing with how much of the desert it can fly over and see.”
Paolo recalled that diseases and death are factors that prevent plenitude. I offered him a different perspective: “Diseases are karmic; therefore, they are connected to our learning. They can be telling about past existences; in these cases, we carry them as heritages. Others are in synchrony with the current existence. These are situations that have shaken us emotionally and were not properly absorbed in the core of the self. In its relentless pursuit for purity and healing the soul purges what is intoxicating to it, whether in the form of aggression or depression, the so called ‘wounds of the soul’. On the other hand, they may cause the failure of an organ or even a tumor, the so called ‘diseases of the body’. For an unsuspecting person, it would be a disgrace without precedent. For the person connected to evolution, it would be a wonderful opportunity for learning and outdoing himself. Although there might be consequences or physical perishment, the spirit, the quintessence of the self, will be healed, as long as it has found its hidden master with the lesson to overcome that particular hardship. The ailments of existence are intended to cure us for life.”
“The death of the body, in turn, even though certain, remains misunderstood. Death, in fact, is an act of love of the universe for life.” Love? Paolo thought it odd. I tried to explain: “A gesture of love for each one of us, for the possibility of continuing the process of evolution under new conditions. When we grasp that, the finite time of existence becomes an act of deep wisdom, propelling us to the infinitude of light. Hence, we can embrace time as a friend.”
“If I experience each day as an inexhaustible source of virtues, whether in pleasant sunny mornings or cold winter nights, time will be a cheerful host when it tells me the show is over. There is no question the show will be worth both, the price of the fight charged by existence and the value of light taught by life.”
The order came for the caravan to stop, for the usual midday rest and light meal. We dismounted from the camels. Ingrid came to check on her boyfriend. Paolo said he was doing fine. She brought a canteen with water and some dehydrated dates. I drank and ate in silence. When the march was to be resumed, Ingrid went away. The Italian and I paired our mounts again, and he asked me to go further in the subject.
I obliged: “The magic of life lies in knowing yourself a little more on each day, of trying something different, of doing a little better than before. On each and every day, doors open to other levels of existence, giving you the chance of doing something you have never tried before. The apparently impossible choices through a gaze never imagined before. When we allow for this possibility to occur, we find out that we can go further; that we can see beyond what the eyes see; that we can fly higher. We can be the master and the apprentice; the falconer and the hawk. Inevitably, this will be reflected in the world. In the transformation of self is the fortune of existence, the wealth of evolution, the revolution of the world, our heritage to the planet. When we live like that, there are no vices or emptiness. Every moment matters, every event adds value for the learning it provides. There is nothing lacking or exceeding; when we are complete, we overflow into life.”
“This is how alchemists transform lead into gold.”
“It does not matter what happens in the world; what matters is what had happened in the world and was powerful enough to cause one’s inner transformation. The history of a person is not told by his heroic actions around the world, but by facts that lead him to transmute his inner universe.” I became silent for a moment and then added: “The lesson is for everyone; however, the learning is individual. The precise dimension of the world is according to one’s understanding of himself; of what involves and propels him. That is how conscience works, shaping our reality.”
“To learn, transmute, share and move on, these are the four chapters of the desert’s day-by-day manual. This is the big lesson of the caravan; this is also the immeasurable power of the traveler. A power that is expanded or contracted depending on the virtues that are used. The light only starts to illuminate when we have learned to light the fire. Then, we must keep the flames on; little by little, the surrounding area will be illuminated, the light reaching larger and larger breadths. Anything other than that is not necessary; it is a mere piece for decoration.”
Paolo argued that, unfortunately, we almost never are able to accomplish all that we have planned. I tried to show him a new perspective: “If we look into how much we are yet to accomplish, there will always be a grade of frustration for the infinitude of the whole in itself. Any achievement in the world is linked to external accidents, meaning that oftentimes they depend on factors beyond our control. Therefore, there is no reason for suffering, as the effect is, in part, not connected to one’s efforts. What matters is learning, transforming, sharing and moving on the endless crossing; infinite is the desert. However, if we rejoice in doing our best from what is offered to us on each day, we will have a different and small part of the whole added to us, daily. There is nothing in vain or wasted. No disappointment, just the joy of the quiet plenitude.”
The Italian did not say another word. He needed silence to process those ideas; use those he thought important, discard those he believed unnecessary. Ideas are seasonal; some are shown to be perfect because they are ripe, others are worthless or we are not ready for them. We continued to ride silently for countless minutes. When we realized, the sun was setting. The order came for the caravan to stop and set up camp. That was our last night. I moved away to pray and give thanks for the desert, for that crossing. I had not lacked light or protection. Silence was broken by Paolo. The Italian came to ask me about one of the plenitudes unconditional love. He reminded me that I had spoken about freedom, peace, dignity and happiness. However, I had not said a word about love. He mentioned the importance of love in our lives, and how the lack of love prevents us from having a full existence. I had an odd feeling because, somehow, I was kind of expecting that Paolo asked that question. Although strange, that was a good feeling. I smiled at me; I smiled at him. Then, I addressed the subject: “Love is the more sophisticated of virtues, because it requires the support of all other virtues in order to be achieved. And yet, love is essential to each individual virtue.” Paolo interrupted me to say that was a paradox. I explained: “Paradoxes are seemingly apparent. Each virtue moves itself and is guided by their own impulse of love. Together, they manifest themselves with their highest magnitude, love as pure light. The cosmic illumination.” For him to better understand, I used an analogy: “Virtues are like the petals of a flower. Love is the inner part that supports them. Without this inner part, the petals perish; without petals there is no flower. This flower is called light.” The Italian asked me if I was referring to unconditional love. I reasoned: “Unconditional love is, in fact, a pleonasm. All love, if it is in fact love, is unconditional by definition and assumption. Love does not impose conditions, is not subjected to reactions, does not charge fees or leaves debts. It is not a creditor nor does it create debtors.” Paolo interrupted me again to say it was sad to see people who did not know what love was for never having found anyone to love them. He added he was very lucky because he had Ingrid’s love. I corrected him on the points I saw fit: “The love you receive from Ingrid is not yours, it is hers. So much so that she can decide not to give it to you anymore. Then, you will have nothing. In fact, the love you have is only the love you share. This is born in you. With it, you can gauge, guide and sustain your own life. Hence, you shall not want.”
“There will be no external dependence or suffering by the choices of others. Only freedom, dignity, happiness and peace that stem from love, whose inexhaustible source is the heart.”
“To expect the love from others is love’s dilemma; the mistake in the art of love. The root of all dependences and suffering.”
Once again I was interrupted; now, by Ingrid. The astronomer came to fetch her boyfriend for supper. Before leaving, the Italian shook my hand and thanked me for the teachings of that day. They went away. Alone, I noticed I had been on the other end of where I had always been before. I recalled the many conversations I had had with those I considered my masters. The Old Man, Loureiro, Starry Song and Li Tzu formed the magical quartet that pointed me the many ways I had to light my own light without the need of the light of others to illuminate me at nights, whether on the Path or the crossing.
No! I took that idea off my mind. I enjoyed having my masters, but not to make decisions for me. That would be the abhorrent role of gurus that cause so much emotional, intellectual and spiritual vices, prompting their followers to drown in existential crises. I had promised to myself that I would never let myself be imprisoned in such a trap. I wanted my masters to show me new, different possibilities of gaze and choices. I would never consider myself a master nor would have any pupils; this was a prospect I sincerely rejected and would dismiss in the blink of an eye. I remained a while longer kept to my thoughts when the caravanner came to me with the hawk perched on the thick leather glove he wore on the left arm. I said he had mentioned that the morning training was had been the last one of the crossing. He did not say a word, only made a sign for me to accompany him. We went farther away. Next to him, I saw the caravanner talk to the bird, in thought. For a moment, I thought I had heard the words that were not said. When he took off the cap, the bird looked at me and next to the caravanner. It was as if it was thanking us. And saying good-bye.
With a propelling motion of the arm, the hawk gained height. This time, it did not glide in circles. It flew away, beyond the last dune, the where my eyes could not see. In a way I could not explain, I was not surprised; moreover, I was sure I would never see that hawk again. Contrary of what I believed up to that moment, I became happy for that.
The caravanner said, as if speaking to himself: “The lightness of achieving without having”. There was a quick exchange of gazes between us. A deep understanding, hard to be measured in words. I smiled at the desert.
The caravanner buried his thick leather glove in the sands of the desert. I understood he would no longer use it. That mission was over. I hinted I was going to do the same with my glove. He looked at me in the eyes and shook his head, for me not to do it, and warned me: “Your mission begins here.” Then, he returned to camp. I decided to remain alone, with silence and quietness. After a while, I felt I was missing the beautiful woman of lapis-lazuli eyes and the conversations we had. For days I hadn’t spoken with her. She did not show up that evening. To pay tribute to her, I decided to go up a huge dune I had before me. She liked dancing on top of the dunes, feeling she was close to the stars when she wanted to be in communion with the desert. I climbed the dune. From the top, far away, I could see the oasis.
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.