So what do I actually do?

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 Mí´nica, 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] Mí´nica 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 Mí´nica 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 Mí´nica, 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 and his temperament

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.

Challenging the teacher

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.

The second chance

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.

Heaven and hell

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.”

“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…”

And the witch-hunt goes on…

A year and a half ago I transcribed here in this column a piece of news from the CNN saying that on 31 October 2004, resorting to a feudal law that was abolished in the following month, the town of Prestopans, in Scotland, granted official pardon to 81 people – and their cats – executed for practicing witchcraft in the 16th and 17th centuries.

According to the official spokesperson for the Barons of Prestoungrange and Dolphinstoun, “most of them had been condemned without any concrete evidence – based only on witnesses for the prosecution who claimed they felt the presence of evil spirits”.

The oddest thing about this news item is that the town and the 14th Baron of Prestoungrange and Dolphinstoun are “granting pardon” to people who were brutally executed. Here we are plump in the 21st century, and those who killed innocent people still feel they have the right to “pardon”.

To my surprise, that did not bring the matter to an end.

At least according to the highly respected Reuters news agency, there still exist witches to be pardoned by the system. In a piece of news published recently, the grand-daughter of one of them has just launched a campaign for the “posthumous redemption” of Helen Duncan, a woman accused by the English during the Second World War. Duncan’s crime was to have answered, during a séance of spiritualism, a question asked by a mother desperate to know the whereabouts of her son, a member of the crew of the ship HMS Barbham. The medium stated that the ship had just sunk and that the entire crew had died.

This was true, but the fact was being kept secret so as not to affect the morale of the soldiers. The news soon spread, and reached the government. Based on a law dating from 1735, Winston Churchill ordered her arrested until the war was over.

Helen Duncan died in 1956, without ever being pardoned. Her grand-daughter, Mary Martin (now aged 72) has already even managed to have an audience with the Minister of the Interior of the Tony Blair government, but to no avail.

As I write these lines, the Baron of Prestoungrange, the same man who succeeded in obtaining the official pardon of the town of Prestopans, is directly involved in the matter, and has even opened a site on the Internet ( to raise international support.

In the words of the Baron:

“The 300 soldiers executed for desertion during the First World War have already been pardoned. The denunciations that caused the death of a group of 20 innocent young people in Salem, Massachusetts, have already been treated with due respect. We have already apologized for trading in slaves and adopting piracy as a noble way to make the United Kingdom prosperous. What has to be done to pardon Helen Duncan?”

It is simple. In the beginning, Duncan was accused of spying. A massive investigation carried out by the government concluded that it was impossible for a woman to have access to official secrets and secret information. How, then, could she have known what had happened to the frigate HMS Barbham?

The only explanation that remains is: witchcraft. And what purpose is served by the old laws, even if they have been forgotten by a civilization that deems itself enlightened and immune to the superstitions of yore?

Their purpose is to be applied.

Vitriol or bitterness

In my book “Veronika decides to die”, which takes place in a psychiatric hospital, the director develops a theory about an undetectable poison which contaminates the organism over the years: vitriol.

Like the libido – the sexual liquid that Dr. Freud had recognized, but no laboratory had ever been able to isolate, vitriol is distilled by the organisms of human beings who are in a state of fear. Most of the people affected identify its taste, which is neither sweet nor salty, but bitter. – that is why depressions are intrinsically associated to the word Bitterness.

All beings have Bitterness in their organism – to a greater or lesser degree – in the same way that almost all of us have the tuberculosis bacillus. However, these two diseases only attack when the patient is debilitated; in the case of Bitterness, the terrain for the disease to arise appears when we are afraid of the so-called “reality”.

Certain people, in their anxiety to build a world where no outside threat could penetrate, increase exaggeratedly their defenses against the outside – strangers, new places, different experiences – and leave the inside unprotected. It is then that Bitterness begins to cause irreversible harm.

The biggest target of Bitterness (or Vitriol, as the doctor of my book preferred) is desire. People attacked by this evil begin losing their desire for everything and in a few years are unable to go outside their world – because they have used up enormous energy reserves building high walls for the reality to be what they wanted it to be.

When avoiding outside attack, they also limit internal growth. They continue going to work, watching television, complaining about the traffic and having children, but all that happens automatically, without really understanding why they are behaving like that – after all, everything is under control.

The great problem of poisoning by Bitterness lies in the fact that passions – hate, love, despair, enthusiasm and curiosity – also don’t appear any more. After some time, the bitter person has no more desire. They had no more will even to live, or to die; that was the problem.

For that reason, for bitter people, heroes and madmen are always fascinating: they are not afraid to live or die. Both heroes and madmen are indifferent in the face of danger and go on ahead in spite of everyone saying not to do so. The madman commits suicide, the hero offers himself up to martyrdom for a cause – but both die, and bitter people spend many nights and days talking about the absurdness and glory of the two types. That is the only moment when the bitter person has the strength to reach the top of his defensive wall and look outside a little; but soon his hands and feet tire and he returns to daily life.

The chronically bitter person only notices his disease once a week: on Sunday afternoons. Then, as he has no work or routine to relieve the symptoms, he realizes that something is very wrong.

The seventh and last cardinal virtue: Equilibrium

With this column we bring to a close the series of seven cardinal virtues composed of three theological virtues (Faith, Hope and Love) and four classic virtues (Wisdom, Justice, Courage and Equilibrium).

According to the New Testament (which appears not to agree very much with this particular virtue): These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Apocalypse 3: 14-16)

In a Zen story: A fervent Buddhist lady made every effort to love others. But every time she went to the market, a merchant made indecent proposals to her.

One rainy morning, when the man bothered her once again, she lost control and hit him on the face with her umbrella. That same afternoon, she sought out a monk and told him what had happened.

“I am ashamed,” she said. “I couldn’t control my hate.”

“You did wrong to hate him,” answered the monk. “The next time he says something, fill your heart with goodness. And hit him again with your umbrella, because that’s the only language he knows.”

On the Jewish Day of Pardon: On the day of Yom Kippur, Rabbi Elimelekh of Lisensk took his disciples to a bricklayer’s workshop. “Notice how this man behaves,” he said. “Because he manages to communicate well with the Lord.”

Without noticing that he was being observed, the bricklayer ended his work and went to the window. He took two pieces of paper from his pocket and raised them to the sky, saying:

“Lord, on one paper I have written the list of my sins. I have erred and there is no reason for me to hide that I offended You several times. But on the other paper is the list of Your sins towards me. You have demanded of me more than what is necessary, brought me difficult moments, and made me suffer. If we compare the two lists, You are in debt towards me. But since today is the Day of Pardon, You pardon me, I pardon You, and we shall continue on our path together for another year.”

In an Islam story: Muhammad ib Suqah tells the story of Abddulah and Mansur, two faithful Moslems. One day, Abddulah asked his friend for help.

Time passed by, and no help was given. One day, Mansur asked: “My brother, you asked me for help and I did nothing. Nevertheless, this does not seem to bother you.”

“We have been friends for a long time. I learned to love you before I needed a favor,” answered Abddulah. “And I still go on loving you, whether you help me or not.”

Mansur answered: “I did not help you because I wanted to know how strong your desire was. Now I have seen that it stronger than discord and hate; tomorrow you will have what you asked for.”


According to an older couple: The two are having breakfast on their Golden Anniversary. The woman spreads butter on the crispy crust of toast and hands it to her husband, keeping the soft dough to herself. “I have always wanted to eat the best part,” she thought to herself. “But I love you, and for these fifty years I have tried to control myself and gave you the dough. Today I would like to satisfy my desire.”

To her surprise, her husband’s face opened in a big smile. “Thank you for this present! For fifty years I have always wanted to eat the bread crust. But in order to keep harmony in our marriage, since you always liked it so much, I never dared ask you.”

According to a younger couple: For Christmas, the husband receives two beautiful neckties from his wife. Feeling satisfied, he puts on his best suit, chooses one of his new ties and invites his wife out to dinner. While they eat, he notices that his wife seems very sad.

“My dear, I feel anxious and confused,” she says after a long silence. “Why are you wearing that tie? Didn’t you like the other?”

The fourth cardinal virtue: Wisdom

According to the dictionary: deep knowledge of things, natural or acquired; erudition; rectitude.

According to the New Testament: For God’s folly is beyond the wisdom of men, and God’s weakness is beyond their strength. For consider, brothers, what happened when God called you. Not many of you were what men call wise, not many of you were influential, not many were of high birth. But it was what the world calls foolish that God chose to put the wise to shame with, and it was what the world calls weak that God chose to shame its strength with (Corinthians 1: 25-27).

According to Islam: A wise man arrived at the village of Akbar and the people lent no importance to him. Except for a small group of young people, the wise man was of no interest to anyone; on the contrary, he became a object of irony for the inhabitants of the city. One day he was walking down the main street with some of his disciples when a group of men and women began to insult him. The wise man went up to them and blessed them.

When they left, one of the disciples remarked: “They say terrible things, and you answer them with nice words.”

And the wise man replied: “Each one of us can only offer what he has.”

According to the Hassidic (Jewish) tradition: When Moses ascended to Heaven to write a certain part of the Bible, the Almighty asked him to place small crowns on some letters of the Torah. Moses said: “Master of the Universe, why draw these crowns?” God answered: “Because one hundred generations from now a man called Akiva will interpret them.”

“Show me this man’s interpretation,” asked Moses.

The Lord took him to the future and put him in one of Rabbi Akiva’s classes. One pupil asked: “Rabbi, why are these crowns drawn on top of some letters?”

“I don’t know.” Replied Akiva. “And I am sure that not even Moses knew. He did this only to teach us that even without understanding everything the Lord does, we can trust in his wisdom.”

In the animal kingdom: The centipede decided to ask the wise man of the forest, a monkey, the best remedy for the pain in his legs.

“That’s rheumatism,” said the monkey. “You have too many legs.”

“And what do I have to do to have just two legs?”

“Don’t bother me with details,” answered the monkey. “A wise man just gives the best advice; you have to solve the problem.”

A scene that I witnessed in 1997: Hoping to impress his master, a student of the occult whom I know read some manuals on magic and decided to buy the materials mentioned in the texts. With considerable difficulty he managed to find a certain type of incense, some talismans, a wooden structure with sacred characters written in an established order. When we were having breakfast together with his master, the latter commented:

“Do you believe that by rolling computer wires around your neck you will acquire the efficiency of the machine? Do you believe that by buying hats and sophisticate clothes you will also acquire the good taste and sophistication of those who made them? Objects can be your allies, but they do not contain any type of wisdom. First practice devotion and discipline, and everything else will come to you later.”

Before Alexander: The Greek philosopher Anaximenes (400 A.C.) approached Alexander the Great to try to save his city.

“I received you because I know that you are a wise man. But you have my word as king that I shall never accept what you have come to ask me,” said the powerful warrior to his generals.

“I just came to ask you to destroy my city,” replied Anaximenes. And in this way the city was saved.

The third cardinal virtue: Love

According to the dictionary: from the Latin amor: strong affection that drives us towards the object of our desires; inclination of the soul and heart; affection; passion; exclusive inclination; theological grace.

In the New Testament: So faith, hope and love endure. These are the great three, and the greatest of them is love. (Corinthians 13:13)

According to etymology: the Greeks had three words to designate love: Eros, Philos and Agape. Eros is the healthy love between two persons that justifies life and perpetuates the human race. Philos is the sentiment that we dedicate to our friends. Finally, Agape, which contains both Eros and Philos, goes far beyond “liking” someone. Agape is total love, the love that devours those who feel it. For Catholics, this was the love that Jesus felt for humanity, and it was so great that it shook the stars and changed the course of the history of men. Those who know and feel Agape realize that nothing else in this world has any importance, only loving.

For Oscar Wilde:

Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!
(Ballad of Reading Jail, 1898)

In a late 19th century sermon: Pour your love generously on the poor, which is easy; and on the rich, who distrust everybody and cannot see the love that they so need. And on your neighbor – which is very difficult, because it is towards him that we are most selfish. Love. Never lose a chance to give joy to your neighbor, because you will be the first to benefit from this – even if nobody knows what you are doing. The world around you will become happier, and things will become easier for you.

I am in this world living the present. Any good thing that I can do, or any happiness that I can bring to others, please tell me. Don’t let me put things off or forget, because I shall never live this moment again. (Henry Drummond The Supreme Gift, [1851-1897])

In an e-mail received by the author: “While I kept my heart to myself, I never had a single morning of anguish or a single night of insomnia. Since I fell in love, my life has been a sequence of anguish, losses, confusion. I think that God, by using love, managed to hide hell in the middle of Paradise” (C.A., 23/11/2006)

For science: In the year 2000, researchers Andreas Bartels and Semir Zeki, of University College in London, located the areas of the brain activated by romantic love by using a series of students who claimed to be madly in love. In the first place, they concluded that the zones affected by the sentiment are far smaller than they had imagined, and are the same as those activated by stimuli of euphoria, such as in using cocaine, for example. Which led the authors to conclude that love is similar to the manifestation of physical dependence provoked by drugs.

Also using the same system of scanning the brain, scientist Helen Fisher, of Rutgers University, concludes that three characteristics of love (sex, romanticism and mutual dependence) stimulate different areas of the cortex, and further conclude that we can be in love with one person, want to make love to another, and live with a third.

For a poet: Love possesses nothing and does not want to be possessed, because it is enough in itself. It will make you grow, and then throw you on the ground. It will whip you so that you feel your impotence, it will shake you to rid you of all your impurities. It will crush you to leave you flexible.

And then it will toss you in the fire so that you can become the blessed bread to be served at God’s sacred feast (The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran [1883-1931])

(next Warrior of Light Online Wisdom)

The second cardinal virtue: Hope

By Paulo Coelho

According to the dictionary: a tendency of the spirit to consider something as probable; the second of the theological virtues; expectation; supposition; probability.

In the words of Jesus: Look at the wild birds. They do not sow or reap, or store their food in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more account than they? But which of you with all his worry can add a single hour to his life? Why should you worry about clothing? See how the wild flowers grow. They do not toil or spin, and yet I tell you, Solomon in all his splendor was never dressed like one of them. But if God so beautifully dresses the wild grass, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not so much more surely clothe you, you who have so little faith? (Matthew, 6: 26-30)

For the ancient Greeks: In one of the classic myths of the Creation, one of the gods, furious at the fact that Prometheus stole fire and in doing so gave men their independence, sends Pandora to marry her brother Epimetheus. Pandora brings along a box, which she is forbidden to open. However, just as happens to Eve in the Christian myth, her curiosity gets the better of her: she raises the lid to see what is inside, and at this moment all the troubles of the world spill out and spread all over the Earth. Only one thing remains inside: Hope, the only arm to combat the misfortune that has scattered throughout the world.

The four greatest hopes of humanity:

1] The coming of the Messiah (in the case of Christianism, the return of Christ; in the case of Islam and Judaism, the first coming); 2] the cure of cancer; 3] the discovery of extraterrestrial life; and 4] world peace. (Source: research on the most hoped-for newspaper headlines, 1996)

A real story: At the age of five, Glenn Cunninghan (1909-1988) suffered serious burns to the legs, and the doctors had no hopes for his recovery. They all felt that he was condemned to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

Glenn Cunningham paid no attention to the doctors and got out of bed the following week.

“The doctors saw my legs but they did not see my heart. Now I’m going to run faster than anyone.”

In 1934 he beat the 1500-meter world record with the time of 4 minutes and 6 seconds. He was paid homage in Madison Square Garden as Athlete of the Century.

In a Hassidic story (Jewish tradition): At the end of the forty days of deluge, Noah emerged from the Ark. He disembarked full of hope, lit some incense, looked around him, and all he saw was destruction and death. Noah cried out:

“Lord Almighty, if you knew the future, why did you create man? Just for the pleasure of punishing him?”

A triple perfume rose to the sky: the incense, the perfume of Noah’s tears, and the aroma of his actions. Then came the answer:

“The prayers of a just man are always heard. Let me tell you why I did this: so that might understand your work. You and your descendants will use hope and will always be rebuilding a world that came from nothing. In that way we shall share the work and the consequences: now we are both responsible.”

The individual’s four greatest hopes:

1] Meeting the beloved one; 2] being free of financial problems; 3] being free of sickness; 4] immortality. (Source: Irving Wallace, The Book of Lists, 1977)

Hoping to be remembered: The great Caliph Alrum Al-Rachid decided to build a palace that would mark the grandeur of his reign. Besides the chosen terrain stood a shack. Al-Rachid asked his minister to convince the owner – an old weaver – to sell it to be demolished. The minister tried, but without any success. Back at the palace, it was suggested that they simply expel the old man from the site.

“No,” answered Al-Rachid. “It will become part of my legacy to my people. When they see the palace, they will say: he was great. And when they see the shack, they will say: he was just, because he respected the desire of others.”

(next Warrior of Light Online Love)

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When angels talk

By Paulo Coelho

When angels talk

Nobody is courageous all the time. The unknown is a constant challenge, and being afraid is part of the journey.

What to do? Talk to yourself. Talk alone. Talk to yourself even if others think you have gone crazy. As we talk, an inner force gives us the security to overcome the obstacles that need to be surmounted. We learn lessons from the defeats that we are bound to suffer. And we prepare ourselves for the many victories that will be part of our life.

And just between you and me, those who have this habit (and I’m one of them) know that they never talk alone: the guardian angel is there, listening and helping us to reflect. What follows are some stories about angels.

Conversation in heaven

Abd Mubarak was on his way to Mecca when one night he dreamed that he was in heaven and heard two angels having a conversation.

“How many pilgrims came to the holy city this year?” one of them asked.

“Six hundred thousand”, answered the other.

“And how many of them had their pilgrimage accepted?”

“None of them. However, in Baghdad there is a shoemaker called Ali Mufiq who did not make the pilgrimage, but did have his pilgrimage accepted, and his graces benefited the 600,000 pilgrims”.

When he woke up, Abd Mubarak went to Mufiq’s shoe shop and told him his dream.

“At great cost and much sacrifice, I finally managed to get 350 coins together”, the shoemaker said in tears. “But then, when I was ready to go to Mecca I discovered that my neighbors were hungry, so I distributed the money among them and gave up my pilgrimage”.

The beggar and the monk

A monk was meditating in the desert when a beggar came up to him and said:

“I need to eat”.

The monk – who was almost reaching the point of perfect harmony with the spiritual world – did not answer.

“I need to eat”, insisted the beggar.

“Go to the town and ask someone else. Can’t you see that you are bothering me? I am trying to communicate with the angels”.

“God placed himself lower than men, washed their feet, gave His life, and no-one recognized Him”, the beggar replied. “He who says he loves God – who does not see – and forgets his brother – who does – is lying”.

And the beggar turned into an angel.

“What a pity, you almost made it”, he remarked before leaving.

Condemning one’s brother

Abbot Isaac of Thebes was in the patio of the monastery praying when he saw one of the monks commit a sin. Furious, he interrupted his prayers and condemned the sinner.

That night he was prevented from returning to his cell by an angel who said to him: “you condemned your brother, but you did not say what punishment we should inflict: the pains of hell? Some terrible disease in this life? Some torment in his family?”

Isaac knelt down and asked for pardon: “I tossed the words in the air, and an angel heard them. I sinned by being irresponsible for what I said. Forget my ire, Lord, and make me take greater care in judging my neighbor”.

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Why women believe that we love them

By Paulo Coelho

In this case the title of the newsletter is not right. Since in the previous Warrior of Light Online I said refused to write about the reasons why men love woman (I would be considered a male chauvinist South-American writer who despises the liberation movement of the opposite sex), a reader called Julia decided to do it for me. So now we have the feminine version of why we love women. Of course, I don’t agree with everything, but this is a (relatively) free tribune. Let’s see what Julia has to tell us:

We men love women because they still feel they are adolescents even after they grow old.

Because they smile every time they pass a child.

Because they walk down the street erect, always looking straight ahead, never turning round to say thanks or return the smile or compliment we make when they pass by.

Because they are bold in bed, not because they have a perverse nature but because they want to please us.

Because they do everything necessary for the house to be tidy and perfect, and never expect any recognition for the work they have done.

Because they don’t read pornographic magazines.

Because they don’t complain about the sacrifices they make for the sake of the ideal of beauty, facing up to waxers, Botox injections and menacing machines in gyms.

Because they prefer to eat salads.

Because they draw and paint their faces with the same concentration as Michelangelo working on the Sistine Chapel.

Because if they want to know something about their own appearance, they ask other women and don’t bother us with this type of question.

Because they have their own ways of solving problems, which we never understand, and that makes us mad.

Because they feel compassion, and say “I love you” precisely when they are beginning to love us less, to make up for what we can feel and notice.

Because sometimes they complain about things that we feel too, such as colds and rheumatic pains, and then we understand that they are people just like us.

Because they write love stories.

Because while our armies invade other countries, they remain firm in their private and inexplicable war to put an end to all the cockroaches in the world.

Because they cry their eyes out when they hear the Rolling Stones singing “Angie”.

Because they are capable of going to work dressed like men, in their delicate little suits, whereas no man would ever dare go to work wearing a skirt.

Because in the movies – and only in the movies – they never take a shower before making love with their partners.

Because they always manage to find a convincing defect when we say that another woman is pretty, making us feel insecure about our taste.

Because they really take seriously everything that is happening in the private lives of celebrities.

Because they manage to fake orgasms with the same artistic quality as the most famous and talented of movie stars.

Because they just love exotic cocktails with different colors and delicate little ornaments, while we always have the same old whiskey.

Because they don’t waste hours thinking about how they are going to approach the pretty young man who has just come on the bus.

Because we came from them, will go back to them, and until that happens, live in orbit around the feminine body and soul.

And I would add: we men love them for being women. As simple as that.

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Why we love men

Julia, a myspace friend, sent me an email with this title. I wanted to know who wrote the text in the message, and decided to check the Web for the author: Mircea Cartarescu. Guess what? In the few languages that I can read (English, French, Portuguese, Spanish), women are discussing this subject!

I checked on the Internet and guess what I discovered? That there are many discussion groups on this subject! In other words, nowadays women are looking for reasons to fall in love with the opposite sex. As a man who agrees with some of these reasons, I made a list based on what they say:

We love men because they can’t fake an orgasm, even if they wanted to.

Because they will never understand us, yet even so they go on trying.

Because they still manage to see our beauty, even when we ourselves no longer believe it.

Because they understand equations, politics, maths and economics, but not the feminine heart.

Because they are lovers who only rest when we have had (or pretend to have had) pleasure.

Because they manage to raise sport to something bordering on religion.

Because they are never afraid of the dark.

Because they insist on fixing things that are beyond their capacity, and dedicate themselves to this with the same enthusiasm as an adolescent, and get frustrated when they don’t succeed.

Because they are like pomegranates: most of them is impossible to digest, but the seeds are delicious.

Because they never comment on what the neighbors might think.

Because we always know what they are thinking, and when they open their mouth they say exactly what we imagined they would.

Because they never dreamed of torturing themselves wearing high heels.

Because they love to explore our body and conquer our soul.

Because a 14-year-old girl can leave them speechless, and a 25-year-old woman can tame them quite effortlessly.

Because they are always attracted by extremes: the opulent or the ascetic, warriors or monks, artists or generals.

Because they do absolutely everything possible to try to hide their weaknesses.

Because a man’s biggest fear is not being a man (it never crosses a woman’s mind not to be a woman).

Because they always eat everything on their plate, and don’t feel guilty about it.

Because they take great delight in completely uninteresting matters, such as what happened at work, or different makes of automobiles.

Because they have shoulders where we can rest our heads and sleep without much effort.

Because they are at peace with their bodies, except for small, insignificant things like growing bald and getting fat.

Because they are incredibly courageous in front of insects.

Because they never lie about their age.

Because despite everything they try to demonstrate, they can’t live without a woman.

Because when we tell one of them “I love you”, they always ask us to explain exactly how.

One reader, Kristen, claims that we know absolutely nothing about feminine nature, and sends us the following list:

1 – We women are born detectives. In our eyes, all men are suspect and their adventures will end up being discovered – it’s just a matter of time.

2 – Even if we are not in love with you, hearing “I love you” is a balm to our souls. And if you don’t say it, we will notice and become sad.

3 – The same thing happens with “you are beautiful”. It takes less than two seconds to say these three magical words, which can change our nightmares into real fairy tales.

4 – If we ask what clothes we should wear, don’t be annoyed if we put on exactly the opposite of what you chose – that’s part of our nature.

5 – At a party we are capable of scanning the whole room in less than a minute to find out what interests us. Just watch.

6 – We think of sex with the same compulsion as men – or maybe even more so. The only difference is that we don’t show it.

7 – If we don’t accept immediately an invitation to dinner or a first date, don’t worry – we just need a few days to lose the extra kilos that we always feel are ruining our lives.

8 – Women always remember everything. If you ask when we met, none of us will say: “at a party”. We will say: “it was a Tuesday, right after a dinner where they served salad and chicken broth, and you were wearing a black blazer and designer shoes, and so on.

9 – However much love we are capable of giving, there are seven days when we want to be far from everything and everybody. You have two options: tie yourself to a lamp-post and wait till the storm is over, or else go the nearest jeweler’s and buy a present. We recommend the second option.

10 – We have as much power of reasoning as men do. But we don’t need to make this evident, otherwise you will feel insecure. Women who do that end up alone.

11 – We love all kinds of hair on the male body, although waxing is our favorite torture.

12 – We hate making love when we don’t feel like it, but we do it anyway, and you will never be able to notice the difference.

13 – Play with our pets and our children, and we will play with you. Ignore them, and we will ignore you too.

14 – Women are equipped with X-ray vision. We can look at hard, dark eyes and discover the child hiding behind them. We can stare at angel-blue eyes and discover the demon that lies there. We know when men are pretending to be sleeping from tiredness or – more obviously – when they are pretending not to be sleeping with someone else.

15 – Not all women want marriage and children. Many just want orgasms and pets.

16 – When delicateness is genuine, it can melt our hardened hearts.

17 – If we have some problem to discuss with you, don’t try to give us the solution, we already have one. It’s just a pretext to prevent the relationship ending in boredom.

The two drops of oil

Standing above the little town of Tarifa is an old fort built by the Moors. I remember sitting here with my wife, Christina, in 1982, and for the first time looking at a continent from across a narrow stretch of water: Africa. At that time I could not dream that such a lazy moment in the late afternoon would inspire a scene in my best-known book, “The Alchemist”. Nor could I have dreamed that the story that follows, heard in the car, would serve as an excellent example for all of us who are searching for some balance between discipline and compassion.

A merchant sent his son to learn the Secret of Happiness from the wisest of men. The young man wandered through the desert for forty days until he reached a beautiful castle at the top of a mountain. There lived the sage that the young man was looking for.

However, instead of finding a holy man, our hero entered a room and saw a great deal of activity; merchants coming and going, people chatting in the corners, a small orchestra playing sweet melodies, and there was a table laden with the most delectable dishes of that part of the world.

The wise man talked to everybody, and the young man had to wait for two hours until it was time for his audience.

With considerable patience, he listened attentively to the reason for the boy’s visit, but told him that at that moment he did not have the time to explain to him the Secret of Happiness.

He suggested that the young man take a stroll around his palace and come back in two hours’ time.

“However, I want to ask you a favor,” he added, handing the boy a teaspoon, in which he poured two drops of oil. “While you walk, carry this spoon and don’t let the oil spill.”

The young man began to climb up and down the palace staircases, always keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. At the end of two hours he returned to the presence of the wise man.

“So,” asked the sage, “did you see the Persian tapestries hanging in my dining room? Did you see the garden that the Master of Gardeners took ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?”

Embarrassed, the young man confessed that he had seen nothing. His only concern was not to spill the drops of oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.

“So, go back and see the wonders of my world,” said the wise man. “You can’t trust a man if you don’t know his house.”

Now more at ease, the young man took the spoon and strolled again through the palace, this time paying attention to all the works of art that hung from the ceiling and walls. He saw the gardens, the mountains all around the palace, the delicacy of the flowers, the taste with which each work of art was placed in its niche. Returning to the sage, he reported in detail all that he had seen.

“But where are the two drops of oil that I entrusted to you?” asked the sage.

Looking down at the spoon, the young man realized that he had spilled the oil.

“Well, that is the only advice I have to give you,” said the sage of sages. “The Secret of Happiness lies in looking at all the wonders of the world and never forgetting the two drops of oil in the spoon.”

The Warrior of Light and renunciation

“In any activity, we have to know what to expect, the means to reach our objective, and the capacity we possess for the proposed task.”

“The only one who can say that he has renounced the fruits is he who, being thus equipped, feels no desire for the results of the conquest, and remains absorbed in combat.”

“You can renounce the fruit, but this renunciation does not mean indifference towards the result.”

This strategy belongs to Mahatma Gandhi. The Warrior of Light listens with respect and does not allow himself to be confused by people who are incapable of reaching any result and always preach renunciation.

Renouncing vengeance

The Warrior of Light holds the sword in his hands. He is the one who decides what he is going to do, and what he will not do in any circumstances. There are moments when life leads him to a crisis: he is forced to divorce himself from things he has always loved.

Then the Warrior reflects. He assesses whether he is fulfilling God’s will or if he is acting through egoism. If separation is really the path he must follow, he accepts it without complaining.

However, if this separation is provoked by the perversity of others, then he implacable in his answer.

The Warrior possesses the art of the blow and the art of pardon. He knows how to use both with equal skill.

Renouncing provocation

The experienced fighter endures insults; he knows the strength of his fist and the efficacy of his blows. In front of the ill-prepared opponent, he merely contemplates and shows his strength through his look. He wins without needing to take the fight to the physical level.

As the Warrior of Light learns from his spiritual master, the light of faith also shines in his eyes and he does not need to prove anything to anyone. The aggressive arguments presented by the opponent – saying that God is superstition, that miracles are tricks, that believing in angels is fleeing from reality – are of no importance.

Like the fighter, the Warrior of Light is aware of his immense strength, and will never fight with anyone who does not deserve the honor of combat.

Renouncing time

The Warrior of Light listens to Lao Tzu when he says that we must detach ourselves from the idea of days and hours and pay more and more attention to the minutes.

Only in this way will he manage to resolve certain problems before they happen. By paying attention to the small things, he manages to protect himself from the great calamities.

But to think about the small things does not mean to think small. The Warrior knows that a great dream is made of many different things, just as the light of the sun is the sum of its millions of beams.

Renouncing comfort

The Warrior of Light contemplates the two columns beside the door he plans to open. One is called Fear, the other Desire.

The Warrior looks at the column of Fear, where he reads: “you are about to enter an unknown and dangerous world where all that you have learned up to now will be of no use whatsoever.”

The Warrior of Light looks at the column of Desire, where he reads: “you are about to leave a known world where all the things you always wanted and all that you have fought so hard for are kept.”

The Warrior smiles, because nothing can frighten him and nothing can hold him. With the confidence of those who know what they want, he opens the door.

In the wheel of time

I had proposed to publish here, once a year, texts by Carlos Castañeda, an anthropologist who influenced my generation with his tales of meetings with Mexican sorcerers.  For lack of space, I have not done so since 2004.  Today I woke up thinking: Castañeda, despite all his critics and all his work that later on seemed so disorderly to me, should not be forgotten.  So here we present some of his reflections.

Intention is the important thing: for the old sorcerers of Mexico, intention (intento) is a force that intervenes in all aspects of time and space.  To be able to use and manipulate this force calls for impeccable behavior.  A warrior’s final goal is to be able to lift his head above the rut where he is confined, look around him, and change what he wants.  To do so he needs to have discipline and pay attention all the time.

Nothing is easy: nothing in this world is given as a present: everything has to be learned with a great deal of effort.  A man who seeks knowledge must have the same behavior as a soldier going to war: absolutely attentive, afraid, respectful and utterly confident.  If he follows these recommendations, he may lose the odd battle but he will never cry over his fate.

Fear is natural: fear of the freedom that knowledge brings us is absolutely natural; however, no matter how terrible the apprenticeship may be, it is worse to live without wisdom.

Irritation is unnecessary: becoming irritated with others means giving them the power to interfere in our lives.  It is imperative to overcome this feeling.  By no means should the acts of others distract us from our only alternative in life: coming in touch with the infinite.

The end is an ally: when things begin to get confused, a warrior thinks about his death and immediately his spirit returns to him.  Death is everywhere.  Think of the headlights of a car following us along a winding road; sometimes we lose sight of it, sometimes it appears to be too close, sometimes the headlights go out.  But this imaginary car never stops (and one day catches up with us).  The very idea of death gives men the necessary detachment to go ahead despite all their tribulations.  A man who knows that death is approaching every day tries everything, but without feeling anxiety.

The present is unique: a warrior knows how to wait, because he knows what he is waiting for.  And while he waits, he wants nothing, and in this way anything he receives – however small – is a blessing.  The common man worries too much about loving others, or being loved by them.  A warrior knows what he wants – that is all in his life and that is where he concentrates all his energy.  The common man spends the present acting as winner or loser, and depending on the results he becomes persecutor or victim.  The warrior, on the other hand, worries only about his acts, which will lead him to the objective he has traced for himself.

Intention is transparent: intention (intento) is not a thought, nor an object, nor a desire.  It is what makes a man triumph in his objectives and lifts him up from the ground even when he has delivered himself up to defeat.  Intention is stronger than man.

It is always the last battle: the warrior’s spirit does not complain about anything, because he was not born to win or lose.  He was born to fight, and each battle is the last that he is waging on the face of the Earth.  That is why the warrior always leaves his spirit free, and when he gives himself to combat, knowing that his intention is transparent, he laughs and enjoys himself.

Between heaven and hell

The place for sinners

Rabbi Wolf happened to walk into a bar one day; some people were drinking, others were playing cards, and the whole atmosphere seemed to be a bit heavy.

The rabbi left without saying a word; a young man followed him out.

“I know you didn’t like what you saw,” said the young man.  “Only sinners live in there.”

“I liked what I saw,” said Wolf.  “Those are men learning to lose everything.  When they have nothing material left in this world, all that will remain for them to turn to is God.  And from then on, what excellent servants they will be!”

Buddha and the devil

The devil said to Buddha:

“It isn’t easy being the devil.  When I talk, I have to use enigmas so that people don’t perceive the temptation.  I always need to appear smart and intelligent, so that people can admire me.  I spend a great deal of energy convincing a few disciples that hell is more interesting.  Now I am old, I would like to send you some of my pupils.”

Buddha knew that this was a trap: if he accepted the deal, he would become the devil, and the devil would become Buddha.

“You think it’s fun to be Buddha,” he answered.  “Besides having to do the same things that you do, I also have to stand what my pupils do to me!  They put in my mouth words that I never said, hold me to my teachings, and insist that I be wise the whole time!  You would never stand a life like mine!”

The devil was convinced that changing roles was really a bad idea, and Buddha avoided the temptation.

Heaven and hell

A violent samurai who was known for picking fights for no reason at all arrived at the door of a Zen monastery and asked to speak to the master.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Ryokan came out to meet him.

“They say that intelligence is more powerful than strength,” said the samurai.  “I wonder if you could explain to me the meaning of heaven and hell.”

Riokan remained silent.

“You see?” roared the samurai.  “I could explain that very easily: to show what hell is, all I need to do is beat someone up.  To show what heaven is, just let a person go free after menacing him a lot.”

“I don’t argue with stupid people like you,” said the Zen master.

This made the samurai’s blood boil.  His mind was filled with hatred.

“Now, that is hell,” said Ryokan, smiling.  “Letting yourself be angered by silly things.”

The monk’s courage disconcerted the warrior, and he relaxed.

“And that is heaven,” added Ryokan, inviting him in.  “Not reacting to silly provocations.”

Another story about crosses

In a certain village in Umbria (Italy), there lived a man who was always bewailing his lot.  He was a Christian, and found the weight of his cross too heavy to bear.

One night, before going to sleep, he begged God to let him change his burden.

That night he had a dream; the Lord led him to a warehouse.  “Go ahead and change it,” he said.  The man saw crosses of all sizes and shapes, with the names of their owners.  He picked an average size cross – but when he saw the name of an old friend written on it, he left it aside.

Finally, as God had permitted, he chose the smallest cross he could find.

To his surprise, he saw his own name written on it.

The guru from Mesure

A famous guru lived in Mesure, in India.  He managed to gather a good number of followers, and spread his wisdom generously.

When he reached middle age, he contracted malaria, but religiously continued to fulfill his ritual: bathing in the morning, giving classes at mid-day, and praying in the temple during the afternoon.

When fever and the tremors prevented him from concentrating, he took off the upper part of his garments and tossed them in a corner.  His power was such that the clothes continued to tremble – while he, free from any contractions, was able to say his prayers in peace.

When he finished, he put on his clothes again, and the symptoms returned.

“Why don’t you give up those clothes once and for all, and get rid of the sickness?”, asked a journalist who saw the miracle.

“It is already a blessing to be able to do calmly what I have to do,” answered the man.  “The rest is part of life; it would be cowardly not to accept it.”

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The act of writing – the text (the end)

In the previous Warrior of Light Online I commented on reading, pens and words.  Below are some final remarks on the topic.

First of all, let me repeat what I said before: everybody has a good story to tell, and it is part of the human condition to share a little of our experience with others.  You might ask me: and what about the publishers?  How do they publish these experiences?

The truth is that nowadays there are many platforms for this (such as the Internet or the local newspaper, for example) and there will always be someone interested in what you write.  So, even if that someone did not exist, write for the pleasure of writing.

As the pen traces out words on the paper, your anguish disappears and your happiness remains.  For this to happen, it is necessary to have the courage to look deep inside yourself, disclose this to the outside world, and be even more courageous to know that one day whatever you write could (and should) be read by somebody.

And what if it’s something very intimate?

Don’t worry.  Thousands of years ago, Solomon wrote the following words: “Whatever has been is that which will be; And whatsoever has been done is that which will be done; And there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

In other words: if thousands of years ago there was nothing new, just imagine now!  Our feelings of happiness and anguish are still the same, and we should not hide them.  And even though there is nothing new under the sun, there still remains the need to translate all this for ourselves and for our generation.

Jorge Luis Borges once said that there are only four stories to be told:

A] a love story involving two people

B] a love story involving three people

C] the struggle for power

D] a journey.

Even so, throughout the centuries men and women have continued to retell these stories, and it’s time you did the same.  Through the art of writing you will come into contact with your unknown universe and eventually you will feel like a far more capable human being than you thought you were.

The same word can be read in different ways.  For instance, write down the word “love” a thousand times and each time the sentiment will be different.

Since letters, words and sentences are traced out on paper, there is no reason to feel tense.  The hand that writes eventually comes to rest, and the heart of the person who dared to share his or her feelings smiles.

If you pass by a writer who has just finished a text, you will feel that he has an empty expression on his face and that he seems distracted.

But he – only he – knows that he has risked a lot, managed to develop his instinct, maintained his elegance and concentration during the whole process, and can now afford to feel the presence of the universe and see that his action was just and deserved.  His closest friends know that his thought has changed dimensions.  Now it is in touch with the entire universe: he goes on working, learning all the positive things that his text has yielded, correcting any mistakes and acknowledging its qualities.

Writing is an act of courage.  But it’s worth taking the risk.

Us and the critics

Read biographies: nobody escapes unhurt, no matter what their activity may be.  From James Joyce, who was considered a pervert by the respectable “The Times”, to Orson Welles, the genius of the cinema, whom Umberto Eco classified as a mediocre person.

Read on. Because writers write, readers read, and critics criticize.  Inverting that order would at the very least be unadvisable.  However, practically every day I receive some e-mail from people who feel personally attacked when they see something negative about me in the press.

Although grateful for the solidarity, I explain that all this is part of the game.  I have been criticized ever since I wrote “The Alchemist” (“The Diary of a Magus” passed relatively unnoticed by the press, except for reports that spoke about the author but hardly ever referred to the contents of the book).

I have seen many writers enjoying tremendous public success but when they receive the inevitable stoning from the critics, they tend to follow one of two directions.  The first is not managing to publish any more books: this was the case of “Perfume” by Patrick Sussekind.  At the time, his editor (who is also mine in Germany) published two full pages in the local newspapers, one with the criticism loathing the book, the other with the book-agents saying how they loved it.  “Perfume” became one of the biggest bookstore successes of all time.  Then Sussekind published a collection of short stories, two books he had written before his big success, and then left the scene.

In the second case, writers become intimidated and try to please the critics at their next launching. Susanna Tamaro enjoyed tremendous public applause (and an avalanche of attacks from the critics) for “Follow your heart”.  Her next book, “Anima Mundi” was anxiously awaited by her admirers, then she changed the simple, marvelous poetry of the original title for something so complex that she lost her faithful readership and ended up not pleasing the critics either.

Another example is Jostein Gaarder. “Sophie’s World)” enjoyed fantastic success because he was able to handle the history of philosophy in a direct, agreeable manner.  But neither the critics nor the philosophers liked the book. Gaarder began to use complicated language and ended up abandoned by his readers – and still detested by the critics.

It would seem from the paragraphs above that I too have begun to pass judgment.  Why?  Criticizing is so easy – the hard thing is to write books.

In “The Zahir”, the main character (a famous Brazilian writer) says that he can guess exactly what will be said about his new book, which has still to come out: “Once again, in these troubled days we live in, the author makes us flee from reality”.  “Short sentences, superficial style”.  “The author has found the secret to success – marketing”.

Just like the main character in “The Zahir”, I am never wrong.  I made a bet with a Brazilian journalist, and I hit the nail on the head.

Let me end this column with a sentence by Irish playwright Brendan Behan:

“Critics are like eunuchs in a harem.  Theoretically they know the best way to do it, but that’s as far as they get.”

Please, gentlemen critics, do as I do: don’t take the sentence above as a personal offense!

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The act of writing – the reader

“There are two types of writers: those who make you think and those who make you dream” says Brian Aldiss, who made me dream for such a long time with his science-fiction books.  Thinking about his sentence and my work, I decided to write some columns on the subject.  In principle I believe that every human being on this planet has at least one good story to tell his neighbor.  What follows are my reflections on some important items in the process of creating a text.

The reader

Above all else, the writer has to be a good reader.  The kind that sticks to academic texts and does not read what others write (and here I’m not just talking about books but also blogs, newspaper columns and so on) will never know his own qualities and defects.

So, before starting anything, look for people who are interested in sharing their experience through words.  I’m not saying: “look for other writers”.  What I say is: find people with different skills, because writing is no different from any other activity that is done with enthusiasm.

Your allies will not necessarily be those that everyone looks on with admiration and says: “there’s nobody better”.  It’s very much the opposite: it’s people who are not afraid of making mistakes, and yet they do make mistakes.  That is why their work is not always recognized.  But that’s the type of people who change the world, and after many a mistake they manage to get something right that will make all the difference in their community.

These are people who cannot sit around waiting for things to happen before they decide on the best way to narrate them: they decide as they act, even knowing that this can be very risky.

Living close to these people is important for writers, because they need to understand that before putting anything down on paper, they should be free enough to change direction as their imagination wanders.  When a sentence comes to an end, the writer should tell himself: “while I was writing I traveled a long road.  Now I can finish this paragraph in the full awareness that I have risked enough and given the best of myself.”

The best allies are those who don’t think like the others.  That’s why, while you are looking for your companions (not always visible, because meetings between the reader and the writer are rare), trust your intuition and don’t pay any attention to others’ remarks.  People always judge others using the model of their own limitations – and at times the opinion of the community is full of prejudices and fears.

Join those who have never said: “it’s finished, I have to stop here”.  Because just as winter is followed by spring, nothing comes to an end: after reaching your objective, you have to start again, always using all that you have learnt on the way.

Join those who sing, tell stories, enjoy life and have happiness in their eyes.  Because happiness is contagious and always manages to keep people from being paralyzed by depression, loneliness and troubles.

And tell your story, even if it’s only for your family to read.

The pen

All the energy of thinking is eventually shown in the nib of a pen.  Of course, here we can substitute nib by ballpoint, computer keyboard, or pencil, but the nib of a pen is more romantic, don’t you think?

To get back to the theme: words eventually condense an idea.  Paper is just a support for this idea.  But the pen will always remain with you, and you must know how to use it.

Periods of inactivity are necessary – a pen that is always writing ends up losing the awareness of what it is doing.  So let it rest whenever possible, and concern yourself with living and meeting your friends.  When you return to the business of writing, you will find a happy pen with all its strength intact.

Pens have no conscience: they are an extension of the writer’s hand and desire.  They serve to destroy reputations, make us dream, send news, trace pretty words of love.  So always be clear about your intentions.

The hand is where all the muscles of the body, all the intentions of the person writing, all the effort to share what he feels, are concentrated.  It is not just a part of his arm but an extension of his thought.  Hold your pen with the same respect that a violinist has for his instrument.

The word

The word is the final intention of someone who wishes to share something with his neighbor.

William Blake said: all that we write is the fruit of memory or the unknown.  If I can make a suggestion, respect the unknown and look there for your source of inspiration.  The stories and facts remain the same, but when you open a door in your unconscious and let yourself be led by inspiration you will see that the way to describe what you have lived or dreamt is always far richer when your unconscious is guiding the pen.

Every word leaves a memory in your heart – and it the sum of these memories that form sentences, paragraphs, books.

Words are as flexible as the tip of your pen, and they understand the signs on the road.  Sentences do not hesitate in changing course when they make a discovery, when they spot a better opportunity.

Words have the same quality as water: they go around rocks and adapt to the river bed, sometimes turning into a lake until the depression has filled up and they can continue their journey.

Because when words are written with feelings and the soul, they do not forget that their destination is the ocean of a text, and that sooner or later they have to arrive there.

(Ends next number)

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