Paulo Coelho

Stories & Reflections

Dialogues with the Master – Organizing the quest

Author: Paulo Coelho

Here I continue to transcribe extracts of the notes I took between 1982 and 1986 on my conversations with J., my friend and master in the Regnus Agnus Mundi (RAM) tradition. I remember that I was always asking for advice on any decision I had to take. J. usually remained silent for a while before speaking:

“People who are part of our daily life can give us important hints on decisions we need to take. But for this purpose all that is needed is a sharp eye and an attentive ear, because those who have ready solutions are usually suspect.

“It’s very dangerous to ask for advice. It’s very risky to lend advice, if we have a minimum sense of responsibility towards the other person. If they need help, it’s best to see how others resolve – or don’t resolve – their problems. Our angel often uses someone’s lips to tell us something, but this answer comes casually, usually at a moment when we do not let our worries overshadow the miracle of life. Let our angel speak the way he is used to, which is at the moment he deems necessary. Advice is just theory; living is always very different.”

Then he told me an interesting story:

Master Kais was walking in the desert with his disciples when he came across a hermit who had lived there for years. The disciples began to shower him with questions on the universe – but they eventually discovered that the man did not have all the wisdom that he seemed to possess. When they mentioned this to Kais, he answered:

“Never consult a worried man, no matter how good an advisor he may be; don’t ask a pride man for help, however intelligent he may seem. Because worries and vanity obscure knowledge. Above all, distrust those who live in solitude; usually they are not there because they have renounced everything but rather because they have never known how to live with others. What wisdom can we expect from that type of person?”

J. left for the airport and I was left to reflect on our conversation. I was in need of help, because I always made the same mistakes over and over again. My life revolved around old problems, and every now and then I was confronted with situations that had crossed my path so many times before. That depressed me. It made me feel that I was incapable of making any progress. I decided to go into a café that I still frequent today, just to sit and observe everything around me. I saw nothing new, absolutely nothing, and began to feel abandoned.

I decided to look at a newspaper that someone had left on a nearby table, and began to leaf through it at random. I discovered a review of an old book by Gurdjieff that had just been republished; the critic used an extract from the book:

Conscious faith is freedom.
Instinctive faith is slavery.
Mechanical faith is madness.
Conscious hope is strength.
Emotional hope is cowardice.
Mechanical hope is sickness.
Conscious love arouses love.
Emotional love arouses the unexpected.
Mechanical love arouses hate.

There lay the answer: the same elements (faith, hope and love) with their nuances, always leading to different consequences. I began to be aware that repeated experiences serve a purpose: they teach you what you have not yet learned. From that day on, I have always sought for a different solution to each repeated struggle – and little by little I found my path.

When we met again, I asked what I should do to organize a little my spiritual quest, which seemed to be leading nowhere. Here is what he answered:

“Don’t try to be coherent all the time; discover the joy of being a surprise to yourself. Being coherent is having always to wear a tie that matches your socks. It means being obliged to keep tomorrow the same opinions you have today. What about the world, which is always in movement? As long as it doesn’t harm anyone, change your opinion now and again, and contradict yourself without feeling ashamed – you have a right to that! It doesn’t matter what the others may think – because they are going to think that way no matter what.”

“But we are talking about faith.”

“Exactly! Go on doing what you do, but try to put love in every gesture: that will be enough to organize your quest. Usually we do not lend value to the things we do every day, but those are the things that change the world around us. We think that faith is a task for giants, but just read a few pages of the biography of any holy man and you will discover an absolutely ordinary person – except for the fact that they were determined to share the very best of themselves with others.

“Many emotions move the human heart when it decides to dedicate itself to the spiritual path. This may be a “noble” reason – like faith, love of our neighbor, or charity. Or it may be just a whim, the fear of loneliness, curiosity, or the fear of death. None of that matters. The true spiritual path is stronger than the reasons that led us to it and little by little it imposes itself with love, discipline and dignity. A moment arrives when we look backwards, remember the beginning of our journey, and laugh at ourselves. We have managed to grow, although we traveled the path for reasons that were very futile.”

“How do I know at least that I am traveling this path with love and dignity?”

“God uses loneliness to teach us about living together. Sometimes he uses anger so that we can understand the infinite value of peace. At other times he uses tedium, when he wants to show us the importance of adventure and leaving things behind.

“God uses silence to teach us about the responsibility of what we say. At times he uses fatigue so that we can understand the value of waking up. At other times he uses sickness to show us the importance of health.

“God uses fire to teach us about water. Sometimes he uses earth so that we can understand the value of air. And at times he uses death when he wants to show us the importance of life.”

“And what do we do about the feeling of guilt that we all share?”

“At one of the most tragic moments of the Crucifixion, one of the thieves noticed that the man dying beside him was the Son of God. ‘Lord, remember me when You are in Heaven’, said the thief. ‘In truth, today you shall be with me in Heaven’, answered Jesus, turning a bandit into the first saint of the Catholic Church: Saint Dimas.

“We don’t know why Dimas was condemned to death. The Bible tells us that he confessed his guilt and that he was crucified for the crimes he had committed. Let us suppose that he did something cruel, awful enough to end his life in that fashion; yet, even so, in his final minutes of life, he was redeemed – and glorified – by an act of faith.

“Remember this example when for some reason you feel unable to continue on your path.”

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