The twenty-first day of the crossing – the enigma of the desert

I woke up late, still tired from the emotions experienced on the previous day. Even though I had had a deep sleep, my body ached and was crying for a holiday. I rapidly packed my gear in the saddleback, which I placed on the camel. I was lucky to get a cup of coffee when the tent where meals were served was being disassembled. Without delay, the caravan departed for another stretch towards the biggest oasis of the desert, where a wise dervish “who knew many secrets between heaven and earth” lived. Who paired her camel to mine once again was Ingrid, the pretty ginger-hair astronomer, who was travelling to observe a specific constellation that could be seen only from the oasis. Because we had had an argument a few days earlier, we remained silent for the first couple of hours of the ride, like sulking children. At a particular moment, however, the astronomer broke the foul mood by saying, jokingly, that she would trade her camel for a chocolate ice cream. I laughed and replied saying I would trade my camel and Ingrid’s telescopes for a spring mattress, silk bedsheets and a powerful air conditioner for my tent. Amused, we kept on expressing our desires for the next couple of hours. Some were simple, others, not so much. Others were so common in our daily life we took them for granted, without realizing how pleasurable they were. One must lack to understand. What all had in common was the impossibility of having them materialize on the sands of the desert. 

Although the image one has of a desert is of a dull landscape of sand all around, the caravan had shown itself to be magic, not only because it had surprised us with a variety of flora and fauna, but also because of unexpected moments we had had. It seemed to have taken us beyond the most creative dream one could have. On that day, close to the well where we would get our water supply, I was baffled when I saw a huge rock, the height of a ten-story building. On one of the faces a sort of temple had been carved. Just like the ancient city of Petra, in the desert of Jordan, but reduced to a single building. And it was in the “middle of nowhere”, which made even more absurd understanding the reasons for that construction and guessing who the architects and bricklayers had been.

We set up camp next to the well, with the old construction some 400 feet away. The caravanner told us that no one knew anything about who had built it or what for. Archeologists suspected it had been a temple from a time prior to the Mesopotamian or Babylonian civilizations, or from even before the pyramids of Egypt were erected. He added that it was believed, even with no historical record, that it had been a temple built by a powerful sovereign so that people could worship according to their core desires. It had been built in the middle of the desert, away from any inhabited place, so that the person would be closer to himself, and far from mundane influences. He said we could visit it, but we should be careful to return by twilight. All of us, first time travelers, like Ingrid and I, were very excited, and off we went, with our curiosity and cameras. Even though the building was majestic seen from the outside, because of how perfect it was, inside there was nothing more than huge rooms carved in stone. One room led to another in an endless maze. Any object or treasure that might have existed would have been looted centuries ago. A member of the caravan crew who was accompanying the group told us to be careful, because often people would get lost in the maze of rooms. At the entrance, on top of the gate, there was an inscription carved in stone, in an alphabet I did not know. A voice behind me whispered the translation: “Your desire, your soul; your desire, your destiny.” It was the beautiful woman with lapis-lazuli eyes. 

I smiled to her in appreciation, but she soon disappeared among the travelers, going to the interior of the temple. After the initial excitement and many pictures, people went back to camp. Ingrid among them. However, something kept me attracted to that construction. I decided to wander around the rooms and perhaps find the woman with blue eyes. As I walked around, I imagined different rituals being performed, aimed at having wishes granted. The offerings, the dances and the most embarrassing pleas one could make. Having passed many rooms, I reached a small one, which had something different from the others. It was the only circular room of the construction. On one side there was a small stairway carved in the rock leading to a higher plane where there was a table, also made of rock, that seemed to be an altar. I also noticed images and letters of the same unknown alphabet carved in the walls. There was no question I was in the temple’s main room. Amazed and enveloped by the odd vibes of the place, I was surprised when the beautiful woman with blue eyes entered the room. She told me: “You are entitled to a wish. Just one. However, for you to receive it, it must be an honest wish, not just any wish. It should be what you wish the most, the sincerest of them. The one that you have been hiding from yourself or even denying. Otherwise, it will be lost in the mist of time”. Then, she allowed me: “Say it.”

Ideas about money, sex and power pervaded my mind. Even though, I must confess, I had thought about having money in the bank or a position of prominence in society, I said I wished for peace in the world. She shrugged and shook her head, as if saying that not only it was a cliché, it wasn’t honest either because it was not what I wished the most in my core. And she left. I went after her. No, I was not being honest, I only wanted to impress her, convey the image of unselfishness and, perhaps, deceive myself. I lost sight of her. I went in and out of many rooms but could not find her. Oddly, regardless of entering and exiting many rooms, I always ended up in that circular room where the altar was. The room of desires. Because the sun would be setting shortly, I decided to go back to camp. However much I looked for the way out, I always reached the altar room. 

I started to become nervous as it was getting darker. From the top of the temple, the sun rays that shed light on the rooms through minute crevices were fading, giving room to the twilight. I cried for help, to no avail. Everyone had already headed back to camp. I was scared to have to spend the night there, which was made worse with the thought of the caravan leaving on the following day without noticing I was missing. I imagined the next hours and then the next days without water or food, pining away until death arrived. Mine would be a painful, excruciating end if I were abandoned. Terrified, I yelled and yelled. To no avail.

I don’t know how long it took. In my thoughts, the tragedy escalated to the point of despair. Then, seated in the middle of the altar room, I cried to myself that my strongest wish was to leave the rock-made temple. I was being completely honest. After a few moments of intense silence, I heard the sound of steps. Then, I saw a beam of light. It was the beautiful woman with lapis-lazuli eyes with a candle lit in her hand. Relieved, I asked her to take me right away to camp.

I was in a haste, not her. The woman sat in front of me and placed the candle on the floor. I warned her that the flame could exhaust the paraffin and, in the dark, we would not be able to find the way out of that maze. She ignored my observation. I asked her why she had let me get lost. The woman shrugged and replied: “You did it by yourself, when you wanted to believe in your own lie.” After a few seconds, she continued: “The most complex maze, the most difficult for one to find the exit, is not the temple of rocks, but one’s desires. On the path towards desires one loses life. The desire is life’s enigma. Our desires reflect perfectly who we are, or rather, who we are not. Do you want to know a person? Decipher their desire. Then, you will be before a naked soul.”

“A person is transformed in the precise measure of their desires.” Next, she asked me: “are your desires about ‘being’ or ‘seeming to be’?” I said I had not understood. The woman explained, in a Socratic way, by asking further questions: “Does your biggest wish originate from an anxious ego or stems from a composed soul? Is it related to the appearance with which you will show yourself to the world or happiness for the intimacy of being before yourself? Is yours a wish for glitter or for light? Do you wish the praise of those who are around you or do you long to being comforted by your own heart? Your most intimate secrets are of apparent surface or of hidden depth?”

“Tell me your deepest wishes and I will tell you who you are. This is the enigma of the self.”

“I am not talking about politically correct desires. These are boring because, in fact, even though they are not deceptive, they are kept in the last drawers of the cabinet of desires. I am talking about the vilest desires, those we cannot confess. These are the ones that show the whole of us. They allow us to understand the crossroad we are at, on the Path.”

“The ancient priests recounted that, in time immemorial, when the temple was active, this room was entirely lined with mirrors.” I asked if the intention was for us to look to all the angles we have. The woman confirmed with a nod and added: “It helped understand the root of each desire.”

With her blue eyes illuminated by the candle flame, she stared at me and asked: “Was your wish to get out of here sincere?” And continued: “What was its motivation?” Fear, I said without blinking. She went further in her comment: “Can you understand the reason for so much suffering? While our desires are driven by fear, it means that our choices will be propelled by the suffering of one who is lost.”

“Fear leads us to desires that stem from existential delusion, in a fruitless attempt to escape from suffering; because they are transitory and inconsistent in substance, they are traded again and again for others and others, in an endless scale of suffering and impossibilities. With that, we postpone the effort to understand and overcome who we are, and hence, the pain that imprisons us. At this stage, the desires deceive us as if they were a magic trick. We end up making our wishes out of fear, not out of love, as it should be. To decipher the wish is to understand, in part, the crossing of the desert.” 

I asked her what should drive our wishes so that we move away from fear and the ensuing prison that holds us. The woman smiled sweetly and answered: “Hope is capable of soothing fear.” She paused briefly and expanded on her explanation: “Going more in depth, there is faith; in essence, faith is one’s ability to turn on and shed light in the core of being. Or, as some wise men prefer, the power of setting in motion the sacred that dwells within us. Faith dissolves fear.”

“The desires should be driven by one’s will to enhance themselves; of being in communion with others; to embrace the world and to seize the day, every day; to wish to experience the gift and the dream. The wishes driven by fear show us the world as an object to be achieved. Because we cannot do that, as the task is impossible, we curse life and people. The world wishes us well; fear convinces us otherwise and leads us to unnecessary confrontation. When we move out of fear, we go opposite to life and light.” 

I also said it was bad, however common, wishes that stem from selfishness. The woman shook her head in agreement and said: “Yes, this is true. But, what is selfishness if not the doubt the one has of their ability to excel, the ignorance of who one is and the actual power one has within?”

The woman with blue eyes drove her gaze away from my eyes. Her eyes focused on a crevice in the rocks, which allowed her to see a star in the sky. She said: “In fact, there is no problem with the wishes. The problem are not the wishes, but the forces that propel us to them.” I said I had not understood. She explained: “The issue is when desire is moved by a passion of a maladjusted ego.” I interrupted her to ask if the solution was to suppress the ego. The woman denied: “Of course not. To subdue the ego is to give up a part of you. A piece of you will be missing. The ego is important to maintain and care for the typical things of existence; however, it must seek the precise balance. This will only be possible if the ego is in peace with the soul.” She turned her gaze back to me and asked: “Do you understand now the meaning of ‘a good fight’?”

“This balance consists in not living only for the soul, this is for the angels. Or to live only in accordance with the impulses of the ego, something that happens to those that get astray from the stars. However, balance lies in an existence in which ego and soul dance in perfect harmony to meet both, mundane needs and the necessary spiritual evolution. Nothing is missing, nothing is excessive; all is complete.”

She paused and added: “To be with, with no domination; to have without possessing”. 

We remained silent for a long while. I looked at the candle, almost entirely burned out by the flame, without actually caring if it would soon be extinguished. A different sensation enveloped me and seemed to affect me in an odd and yet pleasant way. It occurred to me the idea that our wishes, when selfish, are basically nourished by fear. Fear to love. 

What good it is to conquer the world if, on it, my heart does not beat out of love? 

I had reached the origin of selfishness. With a strong connection with desires, selfishness is a disease caused by the exacerbation and lack of control of the ego. We are dealing with an ego that, although driven by fear, does not realize it; it is afraid of love, but does not know it. The solution lies not in abolishing the ego, but in having love rule your desires. This is possible only if ego and soul are in synch. The soul is home of light and, therefore, of love. 

I told to the blue-eyed woman that I had always believed the expansion of awareness would free me from the mazes of desire. However, I had just realized it wasn’t enough. I had to love to the same extent. That was the solution of the enigma of the temple, and also of the desert.

The woman smiled, pleased. A force I can’t describe took over me, I stood up and left. Because I did not need it any longer, I left the candle with the woman. Alone, I went through corridors and rooms. Even though it was dark, I had no doubt about the path I should follow. The maze had been deconstructed. In no time I found the temple’s entrance door. As if I floated, I walked on the desert to the caravan’s camp. On that night, I made a point of sleeping outside the tent. I had to look at the stars.

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

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