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They plunge unhesitatingly into the river of passions always flowing through their lives.
The warriors knows that they are free to choose their desires, and they make these decisions with courage, detachment and – sometimes – with just a touch of madness.
They embrace their passions and enjoy them intensely.
They know that there is no need to renounce the pleasures of conquest; they are part of life and bring joy to all those who participate in them.
But they never lose sight of those things that last or of the strong bonds that are forged over time.
A warrior of light can distinguish between the transient and the enduring.
in in WARRIOR OF THE LIGHT: A MANUAL
When they go to fight, they always remember Christ’s words: “love your enemies”.
And the warriors obey.
But they know that the act of forgiving foes does not force them to accept everything.
Warrior cannot lower their heads – otherwise they lose sight of the horizon of their dreams.
The warrior notes that the adversaries are there to test our persistence, our ability to make decisions.
Adversaries are a blessing – because they force the warriors of light to fight for their dreams.
Love your enemy. But never forget: he is not your friend.
in WARRIOR OF THE LIGHT: A MANUAL
The Claddagh Ring is believed to have originated in the fishing village situated near the “shore” or “Claddagh” of Galway Bay.
The Claddagh outside the City Walls, and further separated by the River Corrib, was exclusive community or fisher-folk forbidden to use spade or hoe and ruled by a periodically-elected “King” whose sole distinguishing mark was his right to use a white sail on his fishing hooker.
The ring shows two hands holding a heart which wears a crown. This motif is explained in the phrase: “Let Love and Friendship reign”, and ideal poesy for a wedding ring used by a small community for over four hundred years.
This distinctive design is associated with one of the Tribes of Galway, the Joyce family. Margaret Joyce married Domingo de Rona, a wealthy Spaniard, who, when he died, left her his fortune, which she subsequently used to build bridges in the Province of Connacht.
Margaret, who later married Oliver Of Ffrench, Mayor of Galway 1596, was providentially rewarded for her good works and charity by an eagle which dropped a gold ring into her lap. This fanciful legend had a more factual opponent in the story of Richard Joyce, or Joyces.
Richard en route to the West Indies, was captured by Algerian corsairs and sold as a slave to a Moorish goldsmith who trained him.
Released from slavery in 1689, at the demand of William III of England, Joyce, in spite of substantial inducement to stay, returned to Galway and set up as a goldsmith. His work marked with an anchor signifying Hope and initials R.I. still exists.
The Claddagh Ring motif is attributed to him.
The Claddagh Ring became popular outside the Claddagh about the middle of the last century, especially as it was the only ring made in Ireland worn by Queen Victoria and later by Queen Alexandra and King Edward VII.
These rings were made and supplied by Dillon of Galway to whom the Royal Patent was granted. This tradition has been carried on to this day.
The tradition of how to wear this ring is very distinctive. If the owner of the ring wears it with the crown pointing towards the finger nail, he or she is said to be in love or married. To wear the ring with heart pointing to the finger nail, he or she is said to be unattached to anyone.
A Warrior of Light needs patience and speed at the same time.
The two biggest mistakes of a strategy are
a]to act prematurely
bto let the opportunity pass by.
To avoid making these mistakes, the warrior copes with each situation as if it were unique, and applies no formulas, prescriptions or the opinions of others.
Caliph Moauiyat asked Omar Ben Al-Aas what was the secret of his great political skill:
“I have never gotten involved in any matter without first studying the way out;
“on the other hand, I have never become involved and wanted to get out right away,” was his answer.
Mônica and I reached the foot of the Montségur Mountain one August evening. We stood in the place where 220 Cathars were buried alive in 1224.
We had planned to climb it the following day.
The weather was overcast, with clouds so low that we could not even see the ruins at the top of the gigantic rock. Just to provoke Mônica, I said that it might be interesting to make the climb that very night.
She said no, and I was relieved, imagine if she had said yes!
At that moment a car drove up, the same make and color as mine.
An Irishman stepped out and asked us as if we were from the region, from what point the rock could be climbed. I suggested that he make the climb the next morning with us, but he was determined to go up that very night.
He wanted to see the sunrise from up there, claiming that perhaps he had been a Cathar in a past life.
“I wonder if you could lend me a lamp?” he asked.
I went to the hotel in the village where we were staying and borrowed a lamp, the only one they had.
It is a sign – we need to climb this rock now.
Mônica seemed scared, but I said that we have to go ahead. ‘Signs are signs’, I said.
The newcomer asked where the path was. I told him it did not matter and to just start going up.
And for some time, (I cannot remember how long) the three of us climbed a mountain that we did not know, at night, and with the fog that only allowed us to see a few yards ahead of us.
Finally, we were above the clouds; the sky filled with stars, the moon was full, and standing before us was the gate of the fortress of Montségur.
We entered and contemplated the ruins. I looked at the beauty of the firmament, wondering how we got there without any accident, but then I thought that it’s better not to ask any questions and just admire the miracle.
For the next few years, I sent several letters to the mysterious Irishman, but he never replied back.
I have returned to Montségur and climbed the mountain several other times, but have never again managed to find the path that we used that August night in 1989.
EM PORTUGUES AQUI: Em busca do lider perfeito
EN ESPANOL AQUI: En busca del lider perfecto
A reader sends me a questionnaire in which he presents the profile of three world leaders who lived in the same period of history, and asks if it is possible to choose the best one using the following data:
Candidate A was associated with witchdoctors and often consulted astrologists. He had two mistresses. His wife was a Lesbian. He smoked a lot. He drank eight to ten martinis a day.
Candidate B never managed to hold down a job because of his arrogance. He slept the whole morning. He used opium at school, and was always considered a bad student. He drank a glass of brandy every morning.
Candidate C was decorated a hero. A vegetarian, he did not smoke. His discipline was exemplary. He occasionally drank a beer. He stayed with the same woman during his moments of glory and defeat.
And what was the answer?
A] Franklin Delano Roosevelt. B] Winston Churchill. C] Adolf Hitler.
So what then is leadership? The encyclopedia defines it as an individual’s capacity to motivate others to seek the same objective. The bookstores are full of texts on this theme, and the leaders are normally portrayed in brilliant colors, with enviable qualities and supreme ideals. The leader is to society as the “master” is to spirituality. This, however, is not absolutely true (in either case).
Our big problem, especially in a world that is growing more and more fundamentalist, is not allowing people in prominent positions to commit human mistakes.
We are always in search of the perfect ruler. And we risk to have another madman like Hitler.
We are always looking for a pastor to guide and help us find our way.
The truth is that the great revolutions and the progress made by humanity were brought about by people just like us.
We only need to have the courage to make a key decision at a crucial moment.
The warrior of the light is terrified when faced with important decisions.
“That is too great for you,” says one friend. “Go on, be brave,” says another. And his doubts only increase.
After some days of anxiety, he withdraws into a corner of his tent, where he usually sits to mediate and pray. He sees himself in the future. He sees the people who will benefit and lose out because of his actions. He does not wish to cause unnecessary suffering, but nor will he abandon the path.
So the warrior allows the decision to appear.
If he must say yes, then he shall bravely say it.
If he must say no, then he shall say so without fear.
All the world’s roads lead to the heart of the warrior; he plunges unhesitatingly into the river of passions always flowing through his life.
The warrior knows that he is free to choose his desires, and he makes these decisions with courage, detachment and – sometimes – with just a touch of madness.
He embraces his passions and enjoys them intensely. He knows that there is no need to renounce the pleasures of conquest; they are part of life and bring joy to all those who participate in them.
But he never loses sight of those things that last or of the strong bonds that are forged over time.
A warrior can distinguish between the transient and the enduring.
Illustration by Ken Crane
CLICK AQUI PARA LEER EN ESPANOL: Por que contar histórias
CLICK AQUI PARA PORTUGUES: Contando histórias
The great Rabbi Israel Shem Tov, when he saw that the people in his village were being mistreated, went into the forest, lit a holy fire, and said a special prayer, asking God to protect his people.
And God sent him a miracle.
Later, his disciple Maggid de Mezritch, following in his master’s footsteps, would go to the same part of the forest and say:
“Master of the Universe, I do not know how to light the holy fire, but I do know the special prayer; hear me, please!”
The miracle always came about.
A generation passed, and Rabbi Moshe-leib of Sasov, when he saw the war approaching, went to the forest, saying:
“I don’t know how to light the holy fire, nor do I know the special prayer, but I still remember the place. Help us, Lord!”
And the Lord helped.
Fifty years later, Rabbi Israel de Rizhin, in his wheelchair, spoke to God:
“I don’t know how to light the holy fire, nor the prayer, and I can’t even find the place in the forest. All I can do is tell this story, and hope God hears me.”
And telling the story was enough for the danger to pass.
And I will add:
Tell your stories. Your neighbors may not understand you, but they will understand your soul. Stories are the last bridge left to allow different cultures to communicate among each other.
The man is admiring the sunset on a beautiful beach, beside his wife, enjoying well-deserved holidays. Everything seems absolutely in place, when all of a sudden, from the bottom of his heart there comes a nice, friendly voice that asks him a difficult question:
“Are you happy?”
“Yes, I am,” he answers.
“Then look around you carefully.”
“Who are you?”
“I am the devil. And you can’t be happy, because you know that sooner or later tragedy can appear and upset your world. Look carefully around you, and you will understand that virtue is just one of the faces of terror”.
And the devil began to show everything that was happening on the beach. The excellent family man who at that very moment was packing and helping the children to get dressed would like to have an affair with his secretary, but was terrified at how his wife would react.
The wife who would like to have a job and her independence, but was terrified at how her husband would react.
The children who behaved well, terrified by the idea of punishment.
The girl reading a book, alone under her beach umbrella, pretending to be casual, while her soul was terrified at the possibility of never finding the love of her life.
The young man with the racket exercising his body and terrified at having to live up to his parents’ expectations.
The old man who did not smoke or drink saying that he felt much better that way, when the truth was that the terror of death whispered like the wind in his ears.
The couple running past, their feet splashing the water where the waves broke on the beach, all smiles, and hidden terror saying that they would grow old, uninteresting, invalid.
The rich man who stopped his speedboat in everyone’s view, waving and smiling and sunburned, and filled with terror because he could lose all his money at any moment.
The owner of the hotel who came out to greet his guests just when the sun was setting, trying to make them all happy and full of cheer, and demanding miracles of his accountants, with terror in his soul because he knew that no matter how honest he was, the men in the government would always discover all the flaws they wanted in his accounts.
Terror in each one of those persons on that lovely beach at a sunset that would take your breath away. The terror of remaining alone, the terror of the dark that filled their imagination with devils, the terror of doing something not included in the manual of good behavior, the terror of God’s judgment, the terror of the comments of men, the terror of justice that punished any fault, the terror of the injustice that left the guilty free and threatening. The terror of risking and losing, the terror of winning and having to live with the envy of others, the terror of loving and being rejected, the terror of asking for a raise, of accepting an invitation, of going to unknown places, of not managing to speak a foreign language, of not having the ability to impress others. The terror of growing old, of dying, of being noticed because of your defects, of not being noticed because of your qualities, of not being noticed neither for your defects nor your qualities.
“I hope that this has made you calmer,” concluded the devil. “After all, you are not alone in your fears.”
“Please don’t go away until you hear what I have to say,” answered the man. ”We have the incredible capacity to detect pain, remorse, wounds – or terror, as you prefer to call it. But my father once told me the story of an apple-tree that was so laden with apples that its branches could not sing in the wind. Someone passing by asked why it did not try to call attention like all the other trees did. ‘My fruits are my best advertisement,’ answered the apple-tree.
“Of course, I am no different from anyone else, and my heart is filled with many fears. But despite everything, the fruits of my life speak for me, and if some day a tragedy happens, I know that I have not spent my life without taking risks.”
And the devil, disappointed, left him to try to scare other – weaker – people.
In front of the cathedral
I was feeling very lonely when I left Mass in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral right in the heart of New York.
Suddenly I was approached by a Brazilian:
“I very much need to talk to you,” he said.
I was so enthused by this meeting that I began to talk about everything that was important to me. I spoke of magic, God’s blessings, love. He listened to everything in silence, thanked me and went away.
Instead of feeling happy, I felt lonelier than before. Later on I realized that in my enthusiasm I had not paid any attention to what that Brazilian wanted.
Talk to me.
I tossed my words to the wind, because that was not what the Universe was wanting at that moment: I would have been much more useful if I had listened to what he had to say.
Whom do we love?
Ever since we are children, we are asked: do you love daddy? Do you love auntie? Do you love your teacher?
Nobody asks: do you love yourself?
And we end up spending a good deal of our life and energy trying to please others. But what about ourselves? Jesuit Anthony Mello has a fine story on this subject.
Mother and son are at a snack-bar. After taking the mother’s order, the waitress turns to the boy:
“And what will you be wanting?”
“Nothing of the sort,” says the mother. “He wants a steak and salad.”
Ignoring the comment, the waitress asks the boy:
“Do you want that with mustard or ketchup?”
“Both,” answers the boy.
And then he turns to the mother in surprise:
“Mother! SHE THINKS THAT I’M FOR REAL!”
Legend has it that right after his Enlightenment, Buddha decided to go for a walk in the country. On the way he came upon a farmer, who was impressed at the light shining from the master.
“My friend, who are you?” asked the farmer. “Because I have the feeling that I am standing before an angel, or a God.”
“I am nothing of the sort,” answered Buddha.
“Maybe you’re a powerful sorcerer?”
“Not that either.”
“So, what makes you so different from the others that even a simple peasant like me notices it?”
“I am just someone who has awoken to life. That’s all. But I tell everyone that, and nobody believes me.”
As tradition dictates, upon entering his Zen master’s house, the disciple left his shoes and umbrella outside.
“I saw through the window that you were arriving,” said the master. “Did you leave your shoes to the right or the left of the umbrella?”
“I haven’t the least idea. But what does that matter? I was thinking of the secret of Zen!”
“If you don’t pay attention in life, you will never learn anything. Communicate with life, pay each moment the attention it deserves – that is the only secret of Zen.”
Recently I read an interesting polemic article in the American newspaper New York Times (25/03/2008). Written by Natalie Angier, the text is based on the research of prominent biologists and psychologists concerning monogamy. The conclusion that they reach is impressive: conjugal infidelity is present throughout the animal kingdom.
And that’s not all: studies have shown that certain species “pay” for sex, while others reward their “lovers” with presents and affection. To complete the picture, jealousy and machismo are also to be found there: females are violently attacked if they copulate with another partner.
Of course we are not animals, but the similarities mentioned above are very revealing. Some of the more interesting parts of the article are worth transcribing.
1] Many species are raised from a very tender age to marry someone chosen by the family. They fly and play together, they sing and dance together. In other words, they are raised to impress the community with proof that they were born for one another.
2] Nevertheless, social monogamy is rarely accompanied by sexual monogamy. DNA tests carried out on monkeys, birds and wild animals, when their descendency is examined in the light of modern science, show that between 10% and 70% of the offspring was fathered by someone other than the resident male.
3] Professor David Barash of the University of Washington in Seattle states that: “in the infantile world, infancy. In the adult world, adultery”. For a long time, swans were believed to be a model of fidelity. Through such DNA tests, it has been concluded that not even swans are immune to temptation.
4] The only completely monogamous species is an amoeba – Diplozoon Paradoxum – which is found in organisms of certain fish. Barash explains: “male and female meet while still young, and their bodies literally merge as one. From then on, they are faithful until death do them part”. In this case, death coincides with that of the fish that shelters them.
5] The “oldest profession in the world”, as prostitution is known, is also present in the animal kingdom. It is common to find males that shower their females with presents: rodents, caterpillars and insects. But when the same male decides to have, shall we say, an extracurricular affair, the lover receives better presents than the companion.
6] The law of competition also applies to the animal world: if supply is great, the price comes down. However, if there is a shortage of females, they become objects of desire that deserve the best and most sophisticated rewards.
Please understand that I have transcribed in this column the result of research conducted by scientists and psychologists specialized in studying animals. All of us can – and should – have our own opinion with respect to monogamy. We can all say that we are a highly evolved species, which is absolutely true. The only thing that we can’t do is to blame science for showing results that often contradict our way of thinking!
How the city was pacified
An old legend tells of how a certain city in the Pyrenees mountains used to be a stronghold for drug-traffickers, smugglers and exiles. The worst of them all, an Arab called Ahab, was converted by a local monk, Savin, and decided that things could not continue like that.
As he was feared by all, but did not want to use his fame as a thug to make his point, at no moment did he try to convince anyone. Knowing the nature of men as well as he did, they would only take honesty for weakness and soon his power would be put in doubt.
So what he did was call some carpenters from a neighboring town, hand them a drawing and tell them to build something on the spot where now stands the cross that dominates the town. Day and night for ten days, the inhabitants of the town heard the noise of hammers and watched men sawing bits of wood, making joints and hammering in nails.
At the end of ten days the gigantic puzzle was erected in the middle of the square, covered with a cloth. Ahab called all the inhabitants together to attend the inauguration of the monument.
Solemnly, and without making any speech, he removed the cloth.
It was a gallows. With a rope, trapdoor and all the rest. Brand-new, covered with bee’s wax to endure all sorts of weather for a long time.
Taking advantage of the multitude joined together in the square, Ahab read a series of laws to protect the farmers, stimulate cattle-raising and awarding whoever brought new business into the region, and added that from that day on they would have to find themselves an honest job or else move to another town. He never once mentioned the “monument” that he had just inaugurated; Ahab was a man who did not believe in threats.
At the end of the meeting, several groups formed, and most of them felt that Ahab had been deceived by the saint, since he lacked the courage he used to have. So he would have to be killed. For the next few days many plans were made to this end. But they were all forced to contemplate the gallows in the middle of the square, and wondered: What is that thing doing there? Was it built to kill those who did not accept the new laws? Who is on Ahab’s side, and who isn’t? Are there spies among us?
The gallows looked down on the men, and the men looked up at the gallows. Little by little the rebels’ initial courage was replaced by fear; they all knew Ahab’s reputation, they all knew he was implacable in his decisions. Some people abandoned the city, others decided to try the new jobs offered them, simply because they had nowhere to go or else because of the shadow of that instrument of death in the middle of the square. Some time later the place was at peace, it had grown into a great business center on the frontier and began to export the best wool and produce top-quality wheat.
The gallows stayed there for ten years. The wood resisted well, but now and again the rope was changed for another. It was never put to use. Ahab never said a single word about it. Its image was enough to change courage to fear, trust to suspicion, stories of bravado to whispers of acceptance. After ten years, when law finally reigned in Viscos, Ahab had it destroyed and replaced by a cross.
Kazantzakis and God
During his whole life, the Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis (Zorba, The Last Temptation of Christ) was an absolutely coherent man. Although he touched on religious themes in many of his books – such as an excellent biography of Saint Francis of Assisi – he always considered himself a confirmed atheist. Well, this confirmed atheist wrote one of the most beautiful definitions of God that I have ever come across:
“We gaze with perplexity at the highest part of the spiral of force that governs the Universe. And we call it God. We could give it any other name: Abyss, Mystery, Absolute Darkness, Total Light, Matter, Spirit, Supreme Hope, Supreme Despair, Silence. But we call it God, because only this name – for some mysterious reason – is capable of making our heart tremble with vigor. And let there be no doubt that this trembling is absolutely indispensable for us to be in contact with the basic emotions of the human being, emotions that are always beyond any explanation or logic”.
Ben Abuyah and learning
Rabbi Elisha ben Abuyah used to say:
“Those who are open to life’s lessons and who nurture no prejudices are like a blank sheet of paper on which God writes his words with divine ink
“Those who are always looking on the world with cynicism and prejudice are like a sheet of paper already written upon and on which there is no room for new words.
“Don’t bother about what you already know, or what you don’t know. Don’t think about the past or the future, just let the divine hands write down each day the surprises of the present”.
Sometimes readers complain that I say very little about my private life in this column. I do talk a lot – mostly about my questionings in the imaginary world. They insist: “but what’s your life like?” Well, then, for a whole week I went out with a notebook and jotted down more or less what happens in seven days:
Sunday: 1] In silence, I drive the 540 kilometers from Paris to Geneva. Six hours and no important conclusion, no extraordinary revelation. Since I love my work, I swore never to think about it on Sundays, so I try to control myself.
2] Filling station: I see a very interesting collection of metal maquettes. I think about buying them all, but then I reckon that further ahead I will have excess baggage, and many of them could break on the journey. I will use the Internet to do that.
3] Bath. Nap. Dinner with a friend. She tells me that the man she is interested in just wants to make love, nothing else. I don’t know what to answer.
Monday: 1] the alarm clock goes off at 10:15, and – Plan B (those born under Virgo always have a Plan B) – the hotel telephone operator also calls the room. I am here as a member of the board of a prestigious foundation, and hesitate whether or not to wear the cowboy boots worked in red, white and black leather. I decide to put them on – certain things are tolerated in artists.
2] A quick breakfast with a friend who works in a bank. I ask what he thinks of the current crisis – and he gives a series of answers that he himself does not believe in. I show him today’s newspaper: a bankers’ conference to resolve the crisis. One of them declares that they do not really know the “financial products” they are selling. It’s great that I have my money in savings: Virgos do not run any risks in this area.
3] Lunch with the board of directors. I asked what they thought of the situation in Georgia. Nobody wanted to talk about that, but they did love my cowboy boots.
4] The meeting is very good, without any stress at all. I learn a lot. When it’s over, I place some documents on the roof of the car.
5] When I leave, all the documents fly into the middle of the street. I spend half an hour gathering everything, with cars honking their horns and cursing me. A member of the board passes by, stops further up the street and asks if I want any help. I say no, it is enough for one of us to risk his life for something so stupid.
6] Today I can telephone using the “free hands” system while I drive. I ask Mônica, my agent, to cancel Prague and Berlin (the more I travel, the less desire I have to travel). She says that we need to get together before the Frankfurt Book Fair to “get some details right”. Paris or Barcelona? Paris, she decides. I call Paula, my assistant, to ask why my blog had few comments yesterday – she explains that they changed the configuration, and have just approved a hundred comments.
7] I reach Paris at eleven o’clock at night. I expected to have a stack of things waiting for me, but there were only two packets of books to sign, and a couple of letters. But I traveled! I was in another country! I realize that I traveled a little over 24 hours.
8] Dinner. I leave the computer turned on to download “American History X”. I go to sleep about two in the morning, after reading some pages of “My year inside radical Islam”, by Daveed Gartstenstein-Ross. The book is excellent, but I can’t really get into it.
Tuesday: 1] Breakfast at 10 with coffee and milk, orange juice, bread with oil – always the same, even when I am in hotels, which is the biggest part of the year. Three Echinacea pills, a herb that is said to fortify the organism against the flu and has proved faithful to its reputation (even if there is no scientific basis for this).
2] Internet: read readers’ e-mails. Read work e-mails (my office filters the most relevant), read clippings, visit a site in Brazil and one in the United States for the news of the day. I see that it is all more or less the same business as always: permission (always given) to quote some extract of mine in books, invitations to conferences (always refused). Today I have an interview with a Finnish newspaper that is going to publish these columns. I spend an hour in front of the computer.
3] Walk non-stop for an hour – no matter where I am, I rarely miss doing this. Today I invite my assistant to join me; she has just come back from holidays in Brazil and is going to get married in October. We talk about the holidays.
4] Back to the computer. Update the blog, read an interview with the stupid actor David Thewlis, who says that his role in “Veronika decides to die” (which opens next year) was “just another two weeks of work”. This irritates me. I read the rest of the interview and see that he complains about everything he has done in his life. My irritation goes away.
5] Archery. Bath. Computer again. I ask them to check again that there is no problem with Sunday’s flight to Brazil. In principle there is none.
6] I forgot to write down where I had dinner. I watch “Welcome to Sarajevo”. I read the Herald Tribune from front to back. I pick up “My year inside radical Islam”, but don’t get beyond a few pages.
Wednesday: 1] The same as 1, 2 and 3 above, except that this time my walking companion is called Maarit, a reader whom I met in the social community Myspace. She is studying to be a nun. We talk a lot about the situation of the Catholic Church, and promise that we will keep in touch.
2] Mônica arrives. We talk from 3 in the afternoon until 2 o’clock the next morning, discussing the program for launching the new book, what I should say in Frankfurt, and where her birthday party will be held (she will be 40 in November). I suggest that she throws the party in her house in Barcelona, but she says that they have put up some scaffolding, so the view of the city is spoiled. I answer that at night all city views are alike – a bunch of lights flashing on and off. Even so, she is not convinced. She says that I must hold more interviews. We spend all this time locked inside the apartment, since Mônica simply hates to walk. Chris prepared dinner and has been asleep for some time already.
3] At 2:15 in the morning I say that I am tired, I want to sleep, but she seems as lively as if she had just woken up. And she is the one who today went through the torture chambers they call “airports”!
4] I manage to convince her to go to bed at 2:30 in the morning. We still have a whole lot of pending business to see to. No Herald Tribune today, no “My year inside radical Islam” either.
Thursday: 1] Breakfast with Mônica, my agent and friend, who spent less than a day in Paris and 10 hours talking to me (in the same place, for she hates walking, despite the beautiful autumn day). She goes off to Barcelona, and I go to the computer to check my e-mails, requests for authorization, invitations (all already duly filtered by the office). Reading the e-mails sent by my readers.
2] The idiotic part of the day is thanks to Frei Betto, a Brazilian religious man who up to a few minutes ago I considered my friend, but who is the author of a column published in a newspaper in the interior of the country, where he attacks me gratuitously – or rather, attacks everything that means “popular culture”. With the Internet, we know everything. I send an e-mail to him cutting off any bond of friendship. For the sake of precaution, I send copies to all the friends we have in common so as to be sure that it will reach him.
3] Juliette arrives to borrow a sound system I was given when I was in St. Moritz, in Switzerland. It’s for her husband’s surprise party (he’s turning 40 – everyone around me seems to be turning 40). The sound system looks like an electric toaster, but it really emits digital impulses, which allows the music to be heard with the same intensity and volume in a room filled with 200 people. I have never used it, but at least it is coming in handy for a friend.
4] Walk for an hour, as usual. Practice some archery, as usual. Write my weekly column (which you are reading right now).
5] Dinner with Chris in a Japanese restaurant. I ask for the same dish as always. I don’t know why, but whenever I go to a new restaurant and like what I eat, I end up ordering the same food the next time. Lack of imagination, I guess.
Friday: 1] Breakfast, computer, walk. Update the daily blog.
2] I take my newspaper and go for a walk in the Champ de Mars, near my apartment in Paris. I look at people getting ready for the winter: most of them are taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower or talking on the cell phone. I pass a museum (the Branly), see that there is no queue and decide to go in. An exhibit of the Indian art of several continents – I begin to imagine that there is something wrong with our civilization, for these tribes and people are capable of doing far more interesting and striking work than what we see today in the art world. But it does no good to complain or write about this – there are theses and more theses on contemporary “artistic concepts”, including a cow soaked in formol (sold for 30 million dollars) and two walls made of rusty iron (at a price of around 5 million dollars). I think that Frei Betto, in his new incarnation as an avant-garde intellectual, probably also has a thesis defending this.
3] I go back home, the bags are packed, the driver waiting, and the car heads for Charles de Gaulle airport. The flight is scheduled for 22:15, but the modern torture chambers known as “airports” demand that we be there ages before take-off.
4] Take-off at 23:50 (a one-hour delay). I am going to spend twenty days in Brazil before going to Frankfurt. But as usual I won’t go to any of the “in” restaurants, which means that soon I’ll be hearing the same old question: “when are you coming to your country?”
As far as I can understand, if you don’t go to “in” restaurants, you just don’t exist.
The Warrior of Light can afford to live each day different from the next. He is not afraid of crying over old regrets or feeling happy at new discoveries. When he feels that the hour has come, he casts everything aside and departs for the adventure he has dreamed so long about. When he understands that he is at the limit of his endurance, he leaves the fight, without feeling apologetic for having done one or two crazy and quite unexpected things.
The story below illustrates what I mean.
A man in quest of sanctity decided to climb a high mountain with just the clothes on his back and remain up there meditating for the rest of his life.
Soon he realized that one set of clothes was not enough, because it would get dirty very quick. He descended the mountain, went to the nearest village and asked for other clothes. Since everyone knew that the man was in quest of sanctity, they handed him a new pair of shoes and a shirt.
The man thanked them and climbed back up to the hermitage he was building on the top of the mountain. He spent the night putting up the walls and the days in meditation, eating the fruit of the trees and drinking the water of a nearby spring.
One month later he discovered that a mouse was chewing the extra clothes he had left to dry. Since he wanted to concentrate only on his spiritual duty, he went back down to the village and asked them to find him a cat.
The villagers, in respect for his mission, satisfied his request.
Another seven days and the cat was almost dying of starvation because it could not eat just fruit, and there were no more mice in the place. He went back down to the village for milk; as the villagers knew it was not for him – after all, he resisted without eating anything other than what nature offered him – once more they helped him.
The cat finished the milk quickly, so the man asked them to lend him a cow.
Since the cow gave more milk than was needed, he began to drink it too, so as not to waste it. In a short time – breathing the mountain air, eating fruit, meditating, drinking milk and doing exercises – he turned into a model of beauty. A lovely girl who climbed the mountain looking for her lamb fell in love with him and convinced him that he needed a wife to look after the house while he meditated in peace.
The man spent three days fasting, trying to know which was the best decision to make. Finally he understood that marriage is a blessing from above, and accepted the proposal.
Three years later, the man was married, with two sons, three cows, an orchard of fruit trees, and he ran a place for meditation, with a huge waiting line of people who wanted to know the miraculous “temple of eternal youth.”
When someone asked him how all that had started, he would say:
“Two weeks after I arrived up here, I had only two garments. A mouse began to chew one of them, and…”
But no-one was interested in the end of the story; they were sure that he was a wise businessman just trying to invent a legend to be able to raise even higher the price he charged the lodgers at the temple.
But like a good Warrior of Light, he did not bother about what others thought; he was happy because he was able to transform his dreams into reality.
Is the bird alive?
The young man was at the end of his training, soon he would go on to be a teacher. Like all good pupils, he needed to challenge his teacher and to develop his own way of thinking. He caught a bird, placed it in one hand and went to see his teacher.
‘Teacher, is this bird alive or dead?’
His plan was the following: if his teacher said ‘dead’, he would open his hand and the bird would fly away. If the answer was ‘alive’, he would crush the bird between his fingers; that way the teacher would be wrong whichever answer he gave.
‘Teacher, is the bird alive or dead?’ he asked again.
‘My dear student, that depends on you,’ was the teacher’s reply.
The unwanted apprentice
‘We have no doors in our monastery,’ Shanti said to the visitor, who had come in search of knowledge.
‘And what about troublesome people who come to disturb your peace?’
‘We ignore them, and they go away,’ said Shanti.
‘I am a learned man who has come in search of knowledge,’ insisted the foreigner. ‘But what do you do about stupid people? Do you just ignore them as well until they go away? Does that work?’
Shanti did not reply. The visitor repeated his question a few times, but seeing that he got no response, he decided to go and find a teacher who was more focused on what he was doing.
‘You see how well it works?’ said Shanti to himself, smiling.
The yogi and the wise fool
Nasrudin, the wise fool of Sufi tradition, passes in front of a cave, sees a yogi in deep meditation, and asks him what he is seeking.
– I am contemplating the animals, and I learn many lessons from them which can transform a man’s life – says the yogi.
– Teach me what you know. And I will teach you what I have learned, because a fish has already saved my life – answers Nasrudin.
The yogi is surprised: only a saint can have his life saved by a fish. He decides to teach everything he knows.
When he finishes, Nasrudin says:
– Now I have taught you everything, I would be proud to know how a fish saved your life.
– It is simple. I was almost dying of hunger when I caught it, and thanks to it I was able to survive three days.
Enlightenment in seven days
Buddha told his disciples: whoever makes an effort can attain enlightenment in seven days. If he can’t manage it, certainly he will attain it in seven months, or in seven years. The young man decided that he would attain it in one week, and he wanted to know what he should do: “concentration” was the reply.
The young man began to practice, but in ten minutes he was already distracted. Little by little, he began paying attention to everything that distracted him, and thought that he was not wasting time, but was getting used to himself.
One fine day he decided it was not necessary to arrive at his goal so fast, because the path was teaching him many things.
It was at that moment that he became an Enlightened one.
“At the beginning of our life and again when we get old, we need the help and affection of others. Unfortunately, between these two periods of our life, when we are strong and able to look after ourselves, we don’t appreciate the value of affection and compassion. As our own life begins and ends with the need for affection, wouldn’t it be better if we gave compassion and love to others while we are strong and capable?”
The above words were said by the present Dalai Lama. Really, it is very curious to see that we are proud of our emotional independence. Evidently, it is not quite like that: we continue needing others our entire life, but it is a “shame” to show that, so we prefer to cry in hiding. And when someone asks us for help, that person is considered weak and incapable of controlling his feelings.
There is an unwritten rule saying that “the world is for the strong”, that “only the fittest survive.” If it were like that, human beings would never have existed, because they are part of a species that needs to be protected for a long period of time (specialists say that we are only capable of surviving on our own after nine years of age, whereas a giraffe takes only six to eight months, and a bee is already independent in less than five minutes).
We are in this world, I, for my part, continue – and will always continue – depending on others. I depend on my wife, my friends and my publishers. I depend even on my enemies, who help me to be always trained in the use of the sword.
Clearly, there are moments when this fire blows in another direction, but I always ask myself: where are the others? Have I isolated myself too much? Like any healthy person, I also need solitude and moments of reflection.
But I cannot get addicted to that.
Emotional independence leads to absolutely nowhere – except to a would-be fortress, whose only and useless objective is to impress others.
Emotional dependence, in its turn, is like a bonfire that we light.
In the beginning, relationships are difficult. In the same way that fire is necessary to put up with the disagreeable smoke – which makes breathing hard, and causes tears to pour down one’s face. However, once the fire is alight, the smoke disappears and the flames light up everything around us – spreading warmth, calm, and possibly making an ember pop out to burn us, but that is what makes a relationship interesting, isn’t that true?
I began this column quoting a Nobel Peace Prize winner about the importance of human relationships. I am ending with Professor Albert Schweitzer, physician and missionary, who received the same Nobel prize in 1952.
“All of us know a disease in Central Africa called sleeping sickness. What we need to know is that there is a similar disease that attacks the soul – and which is very dangerous, because it catches us without being noticed. When you notice the slightest sign of indifference and lack of enthusiasm for your similar, be on the alert!”
“The only way to take precautions against this disease is to understand that the soul suffers, and suffers a lot, when we make it live superficially. The soul likes things that are beautiful and profound”.
The Sybilines, witches capable of foretelling the future, lived in ancient Rome. One fine day one of them appeared at Emperor Tiberius’ palace with nine books; she said that therein lay the future of the Empire, and asked for ten talents of gold for the texts. Tiberius found the price too high and refused to buy them.
The Sybiline left, burned three of the books and returned with the remaining six. “These cost ten talents of gold,” she said. Tiberius laughed and told her to leave; how could she have the nerve to sell six books for the same price as nine?
The Sybiline burned another three books and went back to Tiberius with the only three remaining books: “They cost the same ten talents of gold.” Intrigued, Tiberius ended up buying the three volumes and could only read a small part of the future.
I was telling this story to Monica, my agent and friend, while we drove to Portugal. When I finished, I realized that we were passing through Ciudad Rodrigo, on the Spanish border. There, four years before, I was offered a book, which I did not buy.
During my first author tour to promote my books in Europe, I had decided to have lunch in that town. Afterwards, I went to visit the cathedral, where I met a priest. “See how the afternoon sun makes everything more beautiful in here,” he said. I liked this comment, we talked a little, and he showed me around the altars, cloisters, and courtyards of the temple. In the end, he offered me a book he had written about the church; but I did not wish to buy it. After I left, I felt guilty; I am a writer, and was in Europe trying to sell my work – why not buy the priest’s book, out of solidarity? But then I completely forgot the episode. Until now.
I stopped the car; it was not by chance that I had remembered the story of the Sybiline books. We walked to the square in front of the church, where a woman was looking up at the sky.
– Good afternoon. – I’ve come to see a priest who wrote a book about this church.
– The priest, whose name was Stanislau, died a year ago – she answered.
I felt deeply saddened. Why had I not given Father Stanislau the same joy I felt whenever I saw someone with one of my books?
– He was one of the kindest men I have ever met – continued the woman.- He came from a humble family, but became a specialist in archeology; he helped my son obtain a college grant.
I told her what I was doing there.
– There’s no need to feel guilty, my son – she said. – Go and visit the cathedral again.
I thought this must be a sign, and did as she said. There was just one priest in the confession booth, awaiting the faithful, although there were none just then. I went over to him; the priest gestured for me to kneel down, but I interrupted him.
– I don’t want to make a confession. I just came to buy a book about this church, written by a man named Stanislau.
The priest’s eyes glinted. He came out of the confession booth and returned a few minutes later with a copy of the book.
– How marvelous of you to have come especially for that! – he said. – I am Father Stanislau’s brother, and this fills me with pride! He must be in heaven, content at seeing his work considered so important!
Among all the priests there, I happened to have run into Stanislau’s brother. I paid for the book, thanked him and he embraced me. Just as I was leaving, I heard his voice.
– See how the afternoon sun makes everything more beautiful in here! – he said.
They were the same words Father Stanislau had spoken to me four years earlier. In life, there is always a second chance.
A man, his horse and his dog were traveling down a road. When they were passing by a gigantic tree, a bolt of lightning struck and they all fell dead on the spot.
But the man did not realize that he had already left this world, so he went on walking with his two animals; sometimes the dead take time to understand their new condition…
The journey was very long, uphill, the sun was strong and they were covered in sweat and very thirsty. They were desperately in need of water. At a bend in the road they spotted a magnificent gateway, all in marble, which led to a square paved with blocks of gold and with a fountain in the center that spouted forth crystalline water.
The traveler went up to the man guarding the gate.
“Good morning,” answered the man.
“What is this beautiful place?”
“This is heaven.”
“How good to have reached heaven, we’re ever so thirsty.”
“You can come in and drink all you want.”
And the guard pointed to the fountain.
“My horse and my dog are thirsty too.”
“So sorry, but animals aren’t allowed in here.”
The man was very disappointed because his thirst was great, but he could not drink alone; he thanked the man and went on his way. After traveling a lot, they arrived exhausted at a farm whose entrance was marked with an old doorway that opened onto a tree-lined dirt road.
A man was lying down in the shadow of one of the trees, his head covered with a hat, perhaps asleep.
“Good morning,” said the traveler.
The man nodded his head.
“We are very thirsty – me, my horse and my dog.”
“There is a spring over in those stones,” said the man, pointing to the spot. “Drink as much as you like.”
The man, the horse and the dog went to the spring and quenched their thirst. Then the traveler went back to thank the man.
“By the way, what’s this place called?”
“Heaven? But the guard at the marble gate back there said that was heaven!”
“That’s not heaven, that’s hell.”
The traveler was puzzled.
“You’ve got to stop this! All this false information must cause enormous confusion!”
The man smiled:
“Not at all. As a matter of fact they do us a great favor. Because over there stay all those who are even capable of abandoning their best friends…”