Deep in the heart

Some months ago I published here a column with the title “The basement secrets”, describing a retreat that ended in a magic dinner in the underground area of Melk Abbey in Austria. In that article I commented that on looking deep into the basement of my soul, all that I could find were my mistakes, and that I would try to organize them so that rather than frighten me, they would help me understand better those things that I should not repeat. Among other people, I was in the company of the Abbot, Dr. Burkhard Ellegast, OSB, whom I consider a spiritual master, although we do not have a language in common (I can’t even ask for a glass of water in German). To my surprise, Abbot Burkhard wrote a text about “The basement secrets”, and here I adapt some of his reflections.

“We often wonder: how come that happened to us? All of a sudden I saw myself surrounded by people who were willing to reflect on the meaning of life. What could I say to these people, if all that had happened in my life was to enter an abbey at an early age and later be put in charge of directing this same abbey for 26 years?”

“I think that people look at me as if I had an answer to everything. But all that I decided to do was speak a little about myself. To say that my faith is capable of keeping me alive and enthusiastic and to go ahead despite the moments of pessimism. Then I explained my motto: if I ever make a false step and get dragged down to the bottom, this will never be done in a quiet manner. Everyone will see and hear me shouting, kicking, and waving flags so that I can serve as an alert for those who will come later.

“Because of this motto, I know that I will hardly make others follow me in my errors, and so I manage to master my fear and risk sailing my boat into unknown waters. I know, of course, that if I begin to drown, despite all the noise that I will be making, I will still be able to raise my hand and beg: God, please come to my help! In all certainty I will be heard, and a new path will be opened”.

“In his article, Paulo Coelho comments that he was surprised to see that I introduced him using a text from his book “Eleven minutes” (Note – the book is all about sex and prostitution, no wonder I was surprised!). I read an extract from the diary of the main character, where she tells the story of a lovely bird who used to visit her. She admired it so much that one day she decided to keep it in a cage so that she could always have its singing and its beauty near her. As the days went by, she grew used to the new company and lost that wonderful feeling of waiting for that free soul to come visit her from time to time, without being obliged to do so. The bird in turn was unable to sing in captivity, and ended up dying. Only then did she understand that love needs freedom to express all its charm – although freedom implies risks.

“We tend to want to capture things because we usually see freedom as something that has no borders or responsibilities. And because of this we also end up trying to enslave all that we love – as if egoism were the only way to keep our world well balanced. Love does not limit, it broadens our horizons, we can see clearly what lies outside and we can see even more clearly the dark places in our heart.

“Although I do not speak English, I could understand everything that Coelho’s eyes and gestures said. I can still remember when he asked me, through one of the people present, what he should do now. I answered him: keep on looking.

“And even when you find, keep on looking, with enthusiasm and curiosity. In spite of the mistakes that will eventually be committed, love is stronger, it allows the bird to fly free, and each step will be not just a movement forward but will contain in itself a whole new path”.