Starry Song, the shaman who had the gift of conveying the ancestral wisdom of his people through the music he played and the stories he told lit the red-stone bowl of his unmistakable pipe and took a puff. It was the end of a fall afternoon, and we had colorful blankets covering us, to keep the typical chill of the Arizona mountains at that time of year at bay. I had just arrived from my trip and the first thing the shaman asked after greeting me was the reason why I seemed to be “carrying so much weight on my back”. Yes, it was true. I was sullen. I cracked a half-hearted smile, as someone who is seen without the clothes of the character they have created to play the character they are not on the stages of life, and said the world was not a good place to live in. Then, I recounted some problems I was facing because of the absurd stance of some people, opposed to mine. I stated that, no question, the world was inhabited by backwards, insensitive, bad people.
Starry Song listened to it all in silence. When I finished my account, he asked: “There is a beautiful legend of my people that might help you understand the moment you are experiencing. Would you like to hear it?” I answered that it would be an honor; after all, this was a gift Starry Song had. He smiled, and started to tell it, rhythmically: “There was a prosperous, quiet village that was expecting to know who, among its inhabitants, would be chosen to fill an opening on the Council of Wise Men that ruled the tribe. Many meetings had already been held, but the Council hadn’t picked the new member. Until one of its oldest members, the sensible and kind witch doctor had a dream, in which the Great Mystery warned that the village was about to be attacked by an unknown monster. It had warned that only after the beast was captured would the Council be able to choose its new member. By coincidence, one of the tribe’s grandmothers, a generous and loved older woman had had the same dream. That was the Great Mystery confirming the signs. There was no question the predator should be hunted down. Because it was an extremely dangerous task, it was decided it would be entrusted to someone who volunteered for the task. Immediately, one of the bravest warriors of the tribe, a skilled hunter known for his good looks, skills and courage, and admired by all, volunteered. As no one knew what the monster looked like, the witch doctor asked the Great Mystery to show it through dreams. On that very night the request was granted, and the following morning the powerful shaman described the scary traits of the evil creature. He also said that the Great Mystery said that only if good was persistent would it be able to overcome evil. Before the commotion of the crowd, the intrepid warrior said good-bye to his beloved wife and son and promised the tribe he would only return if he had the demoniacal head of the unknown beast. He rode his horse for days on end, using all his skill to track the monster down. At times he seemed to be very close to the predator, to the point of almost finding it, but it seemed to vanish through some mysterious crack in the forest. Many a night, lying down and being warmed by the campfire, he felt like going back home, as he missed his family and the village, but then he recalled the promise he had made, of the commitment he had to protect all those he loved so much. He was a warrior, and that prompted him to go on. Until one day, with his strength almost exhausted, despondent because his prayers to the Great Mystery weren’t answered, corroded by physical and emotional weariness, he dismounted his horse by a huge lake of placid water, as he was thirsty. When he approached the undisturbed body of water, much to his surprise he saw the face of the monster he was hunting reflected in it.”
Starry Song, as a good storyteller, made, on purpose, a dramatic pause, took a puff of his pipe and continued with the legend: “Contrary to what one may imagine, the monster was not behind or next to the warrior, but it was the warrior himself. He saw in the contours of this face the traits of the beast the witch doctor had described. Only in loneliness and heartfelt search can one have a real encounter with oneself, without masks, tricks, lies or illusions, and uncover the truth.”
“He became scared. He had always believed he was a good man, a warrior who fed the tribe with his hunt, who loved his wife and child, who was loyal to his friends. He even thought he had gone mad for seeing the face of the monster in his countenance. He decided to set up camp by the lake and stay there until he could understand all that was going on. On the first days, he was assailed by a mixture of disappointment, discouragement and anger when he came to realize he was not exactly who he had imagined he was. Even the ludicrous idea of suicide came to his mind, as an effective way to kill the monster. What talked him out of that was the recollection of the words of the wise witch doctor that, if he were persistent, good would overcome evil. After the initial impact, he realized he had created an image of himself that, even if it was not accurately true, it was not entirely a lie. He admitted to recurrent bouts of sorrow, frustrations yet to be overcome, escaping from reality in order not to be confronted by conflicting emotions, despite his fame of being a brave warrior. He acknowledged that, many a time, he mixed the sense of justice with the desire for revenge. He realized that the core virtues of compassion and humility were nullified by the shadows of vanity and pride, which made him easily annoyed and blamed others for his disappointments. Often, he would act impetuously under the pretext of being courageous. He recalled moments in which he used his might as a warrior improperly, to prevail in petty matters with weaker people. He also came to understand that even though courage was a noble virtue, part of this bravery was to divert his own attention, and the attention of everyone from the frailties that bled in his core, those he did not have the courage to reveal and confront. Little by little, he understood the need to reverse the gaze he had toward himself and find what he had lost within, rather than fight against what was outside; he learned that the world collapses only when the soul loses balance. In face of so much disharmony, his well-known courage could be ill-directed and cause harm, to himself and the entire tribe. He had to accept and embrace his shadows; his darkest side, the one whose existence he had never admitted. Only then could he take his other face from the dark cave to the clarity and beauty of light. That was a chance to be whole; by enchanting the ego with the virtues of light, he could unite all parts of himself and transform himself in a stronger, loving, more conscious person.”
“Many months passed until he could know himself in full. The travelers passed by the lake and saw that lonely, ragged man seated under a tree with a strange smile on his face and moved on thinking he was a madman. Until the warrior realized he had been able to shed light on many of the dark cracks of his self. Enough to know who he was, where the monster lived, the reach of its tentacles, the influence of its advice and mistakes. More importantly, he understood that killing the monster would entail killing a part of himself. They were bound one to the other as creator and creature. The monster was not the enemy; on the contrary, all its tremendous might could be used for good. To achieve healing, one must select an effective treatment: the monster had to know and be enchanted with the power of love, as evil, whatever its form, stems from lack of love. Cure is translated into freedom, not from the death of the jail keeper, but from their transformation.”
“Time had come for him to return and share with the tribe the wealth he had amassed. It was possible to move on with lightness and simplicity, without the unbearable weight of pride and vanity. The virtues were free to blossom. There was a new idea and way of being and living. This understanding defines the pains and pleasures of life, war or peace, in the world, in the village, within oneself.”
“However, he did not want to return empty-handed, carrying only words. He saw a trunk of a tree and had an idea. With his knife he started to carve a totem. When he finished, he returned home. When he arrived at the village, there was a major commotion. Many had thought he had died, defeated by the monster or the forest. His wife gave him a heartfelt hug; the child, still a baby when he left, jumped into his father’s arms, to snuggle. The warrior was too thin, with ragged clothes, dirty, hungry, but with unimaginable light in his gaze and unknown sweetness in his smile. Some people rushed to prepare a feast to celebrate the return of the brave warrior, others wanted to listen to the stories he had to tell, until the good witch doctor came before him and asked about the promise he had made of returning only if he had the head of the monster with him. He reminded him that a person is worth the value of their word. At that point, the entire mood of joy for his return changed, there was tension in the air; after all, a commitment had been made and should be honored. Seconds of silence seemed endless. In face of the question of the wise witch doctor, all eyes turned to the warrior, who kept his face serene, unwavering; that body stooped and hungry, far from the strong man he had once been, conveyed a formidable power. The warrior opened his bag and took out the totem he had carved on his last days by the lake. It was the statue of his own face, perfectly shaped’”.
“Before the frightened tribe, he said: ‘To you I offer the head of the monster that existed within me, but disappeared to give room to a different being, despite being the same. This is not an image to be worshiped at any altar, but to be transformed by the fire of this night, in remembrance of a man who crossed the abyssal depths of his own core and returned to light, with all the parts that form him properly aligned, harmonized and in peace’. The witch doctor wanted to know, in addition to the head of the creature, what else he had brought in the baggage. He answered: ‘Love for me and, therefore, for everyone. Dormant love is the healing, yet to be revealed, of all distress. This is the true encounter of life, this is the core, all the rest is only appearance.’”
“Then, the warrior completed: ‘I don’t know if the Council will consider the promise fulfilled, but I will humbly accept any decision it makes’. In that village, the penalty for breaking one’s word was banishment. There was hubbub all around. Next, the witch doctor handed the warrior the sacred baton of the Council of Wise Men and said: ‘You have become your own warrior, hero of your story, and won the great battle. This is how wise men are born. You are ready. We do not want to miss the best of you. Welcome!’”
We remained in silence for a long while. It was time to think about all that had been said and find the proper place for those ideas. When the shaman passed me the pipe, I had a distant gaze. He smiled as he realized that his words were planted in my heart. I asked if he was trying to say that all the evil of the world was hiding in me. Starry song looked at me with compassion and humility, and said: “Not all the evil, just the evil that causes you harm. The monster that torments and devours is within ourselves, not outside. The worst harm one can cause is to their own selves”. He took the pipe from my hands, took a puff, and completed: “Observe the world, enjoy life, give your best and educate the monster that dwells within. Meanwhile, be happy.”
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.