I was never one to dwell on the past; I think that the present is the result of all that we have lived, and seeing how we act at this very moment suffices for us to understand our blessings and correct our curses.
But now that my life is being turned upside down by journalist-biographer Fernando Morais, I have also decided to look at some notes on my apprenticeship with J., my friend and master in the Regnus Agnus Mundi (RAM) tradition. Most of these notes were written between 1982 and 1986. Many years ago I published some of these dialogues in this column, and although the reaction from the readers was excellent, I felt it was enough. Nevertheless, on re-reading some dust-covered notebooks (I no longer take notes or keep diaries), I discovered some very special things. In the next four columns I shall transcribe those that strike me as most interesting.
One afternoon, sitting in a café in Copacabana after a week of long spiritual exercises that resulted in nothing, I asked: “I often feel that I am ignored by God, although I know that He is here by my side. Why is it so hard to establish a dialogue with the Divine?”
“On one hand we know that it is important to seek God. On the other hand, life distances us from Him – because we feel ignored by the Divine, or else because we are busy with our daily life. This makes us feel very guilty: either we feel that we are renouncing life too much because of God, or else we feel that we are renouncing God too much because of life. This apparent double law is a fantasy: God is in life, and life is in God. If we manage to penetrate the sacred harmony of our daily existence, we shall always be on the right road, because our daily tasks are also our divine tasks.”
“But what kind of exercise can I practice that will make me really believe what you are telling me?”
“Relax. When we start our spiritual journey, we want so very hard to speak to God – and we end up not hearing what He has to tell us. That is why it is always advisable to relax a little. It is not easy: we have the natural tendency always to do the right thing, and we feel that we are going to improve our spirit is we work at it non-stop.”
“Are you saying that I ought to be passive and not try to improve myself?”
“That depends on how you see your work. We may feel that all that life can offer us tomorrow is to repeat what we did yesterday and today. But if we pay attention we can see that no day is like another. Each and every morning brings a hidden blessing, a blessing that is only good for that particular day, for it cannot be kept or re-used. If we don’t take advantage of this miracle today, it will be lost.”
“But isn’t there some sure way of establishing this dialogue with the Divine, like meditation, for instance? Or endeavoring to make myself better every day?”
“Your question reveals a man committed to an idea, and if that question can always be kept present, everything will fit together. The ideal conditions that you are looking for don’t exist. We shall never be able to get rid of certain defects. The trick lies in knowing that despite all your flaws you have a reason for being here, and you have to honor that reason.
“Try to go beyond the limits that you are used to. For ten minutes a day, be that person you have always wanted to be. If the problem is shyness, stimulate conversation. If the problem is guilt, feel approved. If you think that the world ignores you, try consciously to attract everyone’s looks. You will experience the occasional difficult situation, but it’s worth it. If for ten minutes a day you can manage to be what you dreamed, you are already making great progress.”
I decided to provoke him by quoting a Buddhist scripture on the six difficulties of living in a house: the work involved in building it, more work still to pay for it, the work of always having to repair it, the risk of having it confiscated by the government, the house constantly full of visitors and undesirable guests, and the house being used as a hiding place for condemnable activities.
According to the same Buddhist text, there are six advantages of living under a bridge: you can easily be found, the river shows us that life is a passage, we are rid of the feeling of covetousness, we need no fences, someone new is always passing by to have a chat, and we don’t have to pay rent.
I ended by saying that it was a beautiful philosophy, but that at least in my country, when we see people living under bridges and viaducts, we know for sure that this text is wrong.
J. answered: “The text is beautiful, but in our context it is certainly wrong. However, that should not serve to feed our sense of guilt. We feel guilty for all that is authentic in ourselves – our salary, our opinions, our experiences, our hidden desires, the way we speak – we even feel guilty for our parents and our brothers.
“And what is the result? Paralysis. We grow ashamed of doing anything different from what the others are expecting. We do not expose our ideas, we don’t ask for help. We justify this by saying: ‘Jesus suffered, and suffering is necessary’. Jesus experienced many situations of suffering, but he never advocated staying still in those circumstances. Cowardice cannot be concealed with this type of excuse, otherwise the entire world fails to move ahead. That is why, if you see someone under a viaduct, you go to help them, because they are part of your world.”
“And how can that be changed?”
“Have faith. Believe that it is possible, and all the reality around you will begin to change.”
“Nobody can perform that task all alone. What I see is that most people don’t have enough faith.”
“Sometimes we criticize lack of faith in others. We aren’t capable of understanding the circumstances in which this faith has been lost, nor do we try to alleviate our brother’s misery – and this causes revolt and incredulity in the divine power.
“Humanist Robert Owen traveled all over England talking of God. In the 19th century it was common to use child labor in heavy work, and one afternoon Owen stopped at a coal mine where an undernourished twelve-year-old boy was lugging a heavy sack of bricks. ‘I am here to help you talk to God’, said Owen. ‘Thanks very much, but I don’t know him. He must work in another mine’, answered the boy. How can you expect a boy in those conditions to be able to believe in God?”
“Let me return the question. How could that be made possible?”
“Besides faith, have patience. Understand that you are not alone when you want Divine Justice to make itself manifest on this Earth. In the Middle Ages the Gothic cathedrals were built by several generations. This prolonged effort helped the participants to organize their thoughts, to give thanks and to dream. Today that Romanticism is ended, and yet the desire to build remains in our hearts, it’s just a question of being open to meet the right people.”
(ends in the next edition)