Grief was overpowering me when I entered the library of the monastery, to look for some reading that would lessen my soul’s distress. Seated in a comfortable armchair with a book on his lap, the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, was gazing at the mountains through one of the windows when his attention was diverted to me. When he looked at me, he immediately realized the internal disarray that assailed me, and furrowed his brow as if asking what was going on with me. I complained of how neglectful people were in their personal relationships, of how insensitive, materialistic and individualistic they were. I reported many situations to support my feelings. I mentioned how this behavior caused unnecessary tragedies. I felt abandoned and out of place. Undoubtedly, I concluded, humankind was lost, and the world was not a good place to live. The monk, smiling as someone who is amused with a child that complains for not getting a treat, stood up and placed the book he was holding in the appropriate bookshelf. Then, he went to another shelf, looking for a different book. He picked one, flipped through its pages for a few moments, put it in the pocket of his tunic, grabbed me by the arm and took me out of the library. Then he said: “Let’s talk in the mess hall, I need a cup of coffee.” A few minutes later, before two steaming cups, he started a conversation: “If you are on good terms with yourself, you will be on good terms with the world. The way you look at yourself is the lens through which you will see life. This will define the clearness, the colors and the extent of the universe, which is the same for everyone but different for each one of us. The world, pretty or ugly, will always mirror your soul.”
I strongly disagreed. The world was unfair; few had a lot, many had nothing; some were sick, others were too healthy. Worse, no one seemed concerned with anyone. The tone of my speech escalated to the verge of disgust. He listened to me with tremendous patience. When I finished, he reminded me of a well-known passage of the Sermon of the Mount: “If your eye is good, the entire universe is light.” To conclude, he said: “The world is perfect.” I asked if he was kidding or plain crazy. The Old Man smiled before explaining: “Life on this planet is like a very demanding university that trains excellent professors. The world is the classroom and it will present each student the required lessons for the precise improvement and proper evolution. Your biggest hardship is your best professor. Who is on the Path gives thanks for each problem to be overcome, as they realize the opportunity of outdoing themselves and strengthening their being. Regrets are only manifested from the lips of bad students.”
He retrieved the book from his pocket. It was the Mystical Poems of Rumi, the wise dervish. He flipped the pages until he selected one and read:
“Leave the circle of time
And enter the sphere of love.
If you want the secret vision,
Close your eyes.
If you want an embrace,
Open your chest.
If you yearn for a lively face,
Break the stone of your face.
Why do you insist on killing life
Exactly where it should be born?
Taste the sweetness in your mouth,
From where the flower, the bee and the honey sprout.
Take this offer:
Offer just one life, yours.
And receive in return, without asking, more than one thousand.”
We remained a while without uttering a word. We had to let the poetry settle in the mind and in the heart. The Old Man broke the silence: “Have you been treating the world the way you want to be treated? Do you act in accordance with the ideal world of your dreams?”
I lowered my eyes and my answer was negative. The monk’s voice resonated kindness: “Don’t be ashamed. We all know more than we do. Knowledge is the initial step for transformation. The next step is to exercise this new concept so that it is ingrained in the core, driving choices and attitudes to the point that it is impossible to live without applying this knowledge. That is how we move on.” He sipped his coffee and continued: “Each one is accountable for their happiness. This is an internal construct for understanding and improvement. Self-contemplation, silence and quietness. In this aspect, the Path is solitary.”
“But this is not enough. After learning and transforming oneself, one must share with everyone the beauty of what we carry in our sacred baggage. To give our best is essential for us to move on. It is time to break the shell of the “I” to live under the scope of “we”. Movement, words and embraces. It is time to be solidary on the Path.”
With a distant gaze, the good monk digressed with metaphors: “We are children of the universe; that laws that regulated the stars also apply to us. A galaxy merges into another to expand. A star mixes in itself the cosmic energies that surround it to transmute them into light, enhancing its magnitude as the exchange is intensified. On the other hand, there are the black holes that suck everything and give nothing in return, until they succumb into themselves. With us it is no different; the world is filled with many energy currents of different nature. Love is the most powerful of them. At each choice, we select the energies that will be part of our core, enhancing or diminishing our individual power; intensifying or abating our own light.” He made a brief pause and continued with his explanation: “Light is a flower with many petals. Each petal is a virtue; they are indispensable parts we learn how to sow in the core, so that they can sprout in infinite flowers.” He sipped some more coffee and reminded me: “Do not forget love, the raw material for all transformations. It is the central part of the flower, supporting the petals; it is the sap that feeds and excites, and which will turn into fruit when the new season comes.”
“By allowing your heart to merge with thousands of others, you multiply the power of love in the universe. This power is also yours. This is the magic of the Path.”
I regretted that people did not cooperate, and hardly ever understood, or gave back in the same intensity the love that was given. The Old Man gestured with his hand, as if saying that I was speaking nonsense. Then, he explained: “People suffer because they insist on treating love as a commodity to be bartered. The world is not a shop of feelings, but a beautiful unfinished garden where each one should behave as a gardener who is overwhelmed with the flowers he planted, their colors and scents, with the smile and joy of someone who did it with the simple intent of embellishing life”.
“In truth and in essence, we only possess what we deliver. If we are yet to deliver, it is because we are yet to have. Only the exercise of love teaches that.”
“The being who is aware, seeking to expand his consciousness and enhance his loving capability, knows that every word, thought, feeling or attitude is a magic ceremony; a ritual of transformation, as it absorbs matching energies that permeate each movement, making each step heavy or light, defining your own destiny and the next lessons, always in accordance with the universal laws that guide everybody’s evolution, making each one their own heir in the next moment.”
I said I felt the world was oppressive to me. I wanted to know what to do. The monk was didactic: “If the world is unpleasant to you, it is time to understand what must be transformed within you. The compatibility each one has with life is directly related to the harmony they have within. When we know who we are, we understand the world. The sincere perception of the self allows a true perception of “us” and everything around. The more I know myself and acknowledge my difficulties and edges, the more the patience and understanding of the behavior of others. This builds a sturdy bridge on which personal virtues may cross, leading to a balance that will not only provide true peace, but strengthen the basis of happiness: treat the world how we want to be treated, without asking absolutely anything in return.”
I mentioned, somewhat immaturely that, sometimes, I felt like digging a hole in the ground so that I would no longer see the wickedness that assails the planet. The monk furrowed his brow, as he would do whenever he was going to say something too serious and remarked: “If you are going to bury yourself, you better turn into seed and be reborn. Then, in spring, you turn into flower and color the world and, in the fall, you will transmute into sweet fruit to feed humankind.”
My discourse had in it the idea of wasting the chance of attending an excellent school. I felt ashamed. The Old Man, realizing that, did not allow me to feel that way. He looked at me with the generosity of a grandfather and said: “The world reflects precisely the universe each one has within. It is possible to change at any time. Ugly or pretty; dark or shiny; small or infinite, everything comes down to one choice; just have a different gaze.” He drank the rest of the coffee from his cup and concluded: “Do you understand that as you transform yourself as a person, everything around you evolves and transcends? Why do you insist on dragging yourself as a caterpillar if you have the wings of a butterfly?”
I had not words to express my gratitude for that conversation. I closed my eyes and silently gave thanks. I had an odd feeling the Old Man was floating in the air.
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.