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Love unites us, Truth sets us free

[Originally written and published in Portuguese]

Love and Truth: so many insights are contained in these simple words! To me, they summarise the essential learning of how to be human in the best sense. Because the best sense of being human is the faculty of Loving with Truth; of uniting whilst honouring freedom; being together without imprisoning.

So much can be said in this respect and so much has already been, in ways much better than I could hope to. But I can sincerely say that I understand, am provoked by and touched by this paradoxical combination: Love and Truth.

Yes, because part of me knows, in practice, what it is like to Love without Truth: hurtful attachment. And part of me knows what Truth without Love can be like: arrogant pride.

Love without Truth suffocates; Truth without Love destroys.

The combination of Love with Truth, however… is a veritable explosion of Good. A centrifugal and centripetal whirlwind at the same time. It elevates everything it touches. It generates strength and energy. It turns the world around. It makes everything grow and become better.

As an apprentice of being human in the best sense, I manage to access some Love with Truth in my most inspired moments. They never last long enough to satisfy the infinite thirst for progress. But gladly so: the path of evolution never reaches its end, and we are forever able to enjoy new landscapes along the way.

Now I understand: my essential search is for learning how to live both the Love that unites and the Truth that sets us free, in a synchronous and increasingly perennial way.

The road may be long, but the destination is fabulous. Infused with hope, the path becomes even more beautiful. And the best mantra to keep us company in this marvelous journey of self betterment is this: Love and Truth.

So be it.

True Love

A spiritual perspective on little Aylan’s death

Ler em Português

I can’t recall having been so moved by a picture and a piece of news before. The image of little Aylan’s body washed up on Turkish shores stirred up a plethora of hard-to-describe feelings which immediately took the smile away from my face. I wasn’t alone in my grief: virtually anyone who came across that image felt that as a species we must be doing something very wrong.

Then, while reading about the story on Thursday evening, I looked at a couple of pictures of Aylan still alive as the smiley, happy child described by his father. I couldn’t help but thinking that maybe somehow his spirit knew what he would come to symbolise in his short but significant incarnation.

Maybe he was a happy spirit en route to accomplishing a noble task; a mission of collective consciousness raising. Following years of sluggish governmental response towards the contemporary migrant and refugee crisis, little Aylan’s death may well have been the darkest point before the dawn of a new perspective on the issue.

His short life and his tragic death raised our awareness of global inequality and acted as a stark reminder of our sheer lack of brotherhood. After him and his story, the world is calling for change.

Some of us are lucky enough to have understood that as immortal spirits we are only going through a human journey, and that life does not end with physical death.

Also, the recognition of greater cosmic laws governing our human existence helps us to endure the inevitable pain of physical mortality in a world where all fellow sentient beings are inexorably bound to experience some kind of suffering.

Spirituality, however, does not mean cold inaction or indifference. True spirituality is a living Love, a powerful silent act of compassionately embracing humanity and all of its predicaments.

Spiritual contemplation and meditation on greater truths strengthen us by bringing deep peace to our hearts and minds while at the same time compelling us to incarnate in our own lives the very values of brotherhood and compassion. We are urged to be helpful to earth and to mankind, but at the same time we understand that we can better do so from an unshakable place of equanimity.

It is only by holding a spiritual perspective on such apparent brutalities that we may find meaning in our human journey, with all its trials and pain, evil and inequality. Life on this Earth can sometimes look like a package of suffering to which we have subscribed and of which we are, to a greater or lesser degree, part and parcel.

It is only by raising our consciousness to the spiritual heights that we will be able to, along with all the great spiritual masters, free our hearts from the grips of our human pain, and work steadfastly for a better world with the serene and active comprehension that stems from the spiritual Light.

Syrian angel - image from Twitter/BBC
Syrian angel – image from Twitter/BBC

Uma perspectiva espiritual sobre a morte do pequeno Aylan

Não me recordo de ocasião em que tenha sido tão mobilizada por uma foto em um artigo de jornal. A imagem do corpo do pequeno Aylan afogado na costa da Turquia instigou uma enxurrada de sentimentos difíceis de descrever e que imediatamente roubaram o sorriso do meu rosto. Eu não estava sozinha em minha dor: praticamente todo ser humano que se deparou com aquela imagem sentiu que, enquanto espécie, devemos estar fazendo algo muito errado.

Então, enquanto lia sobre a história na quinta-feira à noite, me deparei com duas fotos de Aylan ainda vivo, como a criança sorridente e feliz descrita pelo seu pai. Não pude deixar de pensar que talvez, de alguma forma, o seu espírito sabia o que viria a simbolizar em sua curta mas significativa encarnação.

Talvez ele fosse um espírito feliz a caminho de completar uma nobre tarefa; uma missão de elevação da consciência coletiva. Seguindo-se a anos de respostas governamentais arrastadas para a crise contemporânea de migrantes e refugiados, a morte do pequeno Aylan pode muito bem ter sido o ponto mais escuro antes do alvorecer de uma nova perspectiva sobre a questão.

A sua curta vida e trágica morte aumentaram nossa consciência a respeito da desigualdade global, e atuam como um austero apontamento da nossa pura falta de irmandade. Depois dele e de sua história, o mundo está clamando por mudança.

Alguns de nós são afortunados o bastante para ter compreendido que enquanto espíritos imortais estamos apenas atravessando uma jornada humana, e que a vida não termina com a morte física.

Também o reconhecimento de leis cósmicas maiores governando a nossa existência humana nos ajuda a tolerar a inevitável dor da mortalidade física, em um mundo onde todos os seres sencientes estão inexoravelmente destinados a experimentar algum tipo e grau de sofrimento.

Espiritualidade, porém, não significa inação ou indiferença. A verdadeira espiritualidade é Amor vivo; é um ato poderoso e silente de abraçar compassivamente a humanidade com todas as suas dificuldades.

A contemplação espiritual e a meditação em verdades maiores nos fortalecem, trazendo profunda paz aos nossos corações e mentes ao mesmo tempo em que nos impulsionam a encarnar em nossas próprias vidas os exatos valores da fraternidade e da compaixão. Somos instados a sermos úteis para a terra e para a humanidade, mas ao mesmo tempo compreendemos que podemos melhor fazê-lo desde um lugar imperturbável de equanimidade.

É apenas de uma perspectiva espiritual sobre tais aparentes brutalidades que podemos encontrar sentido para nossa jornada humana, para todas as provas e dores, para o mal e a desigualdade. Para todo esse pacote de sofrimentos que parecemos ter subscrito e do qual somos, em maior ou menor grau, parte integrante.

É apenas elevando nossa consciência às alturas espirituais que seremos capazes de, na esteira de todos os grandes mestres espirituais, libertar nossos corações das garras de nossa dor humana e trabalhar firmemente por um mundo melhor, com a compreensão ativa e serena que deriva da Luz espiritual.

Raise above your human level of concern

Raise above your human level of concern.

Remember the spirit that you are.

Humanity gets so entangled in muddy emotions that it fails to see the wider meanings behind all trials and suffering.

From the perspective of the Creator – or even of more evolved friends – those situations which humans find most difficult have a clear place in the bigger scheme of things.

So, do not get discouraged by any kind of earthly setback, not even those created by your own mind.

Know, deep inside, that everything is slowly marching towards evolution. Do not be saddened by your temporary inability to understand.

Never lose your sense of purpose, for in this life, it is the most precious treasure you can carry with you. Take strength and nourishment from it.

And know, deep in your heart, that you are never alone.

Remember: raise above your human level of concern.

Forest being (Art by Gilbert Williams - unknown title)
Forest being
(Art by Gilbert Williams – unknown title)

Eleve-se acima do seu nível humano de preocupação

Eleve-se acima do seu nível humano de preocupação.

Lembre-se do espírito que você é.

A humanidade fica tão embaraçada em emoções turvas que falha em ver os sentidos mais amplos por detrás de seus testes e sofrimentos.

Da perspectiva do Criador – ou até mesmo de amigos mais evoluídos – aquelas situações que os seres humanos acham mais difíceis ocupam um claro lugar no esquema maior das coisas.

Portanto, não se desencoraje por nenhum revés terreno, nem mesmo aqueles criados pela sua própria mente.

Saiba, no seu íntimo, que tudo está lentamente marchando rumo à evolução; não se entristeça pela sua incapacidade temporária de compreender.

Nunca perca o seu senso de propósito, pois nesta vida, ele é o tesouro mais precioso com que você pode contar. Tome força e refúgio nele.

E saiba, profundamente em seu coração, que você nunca está sozinho.

Lembre-se: eleve-se acima do seu nível humano de preocupação.

Freedom and commitment

I heard a conversation at a university cafe today which made me that bit more faithful in humanity. Some young students were sitting in a circle, on sofas and comfy chairs, sipping their lattes and capuccinos, when one of them turned to another and asked what his thoughts were on being free to do what you want. More specifically, free to not attend classes which they did not find particularly interesting.

The answer that followed surprised me for its maturity and perspicacity, something that I would not have automatically expected from a young man in his early twenties. But then I guess I was reminded that there are always exceptional people out there with a maturer than average attitude towards life. Here’s what he replied:

“I think that as a student you are free to do whatever you want, but with your acts come consequences.” He went on as everyone listened attentively: “And you need to be ready to accept these, such as failing the class. As long as you are willing to accept the consequences, you’re free to do what you want. With freedom comes responsibility.”

Gravitas and silent reflection followed. There was clear wisdom and truth in that statement.

More often than not we think of freedom as doing whatever comes to mind, following our impulses and satiating our urges. The problem is that we never seem as keen to accept responsibility for the real consequences brought by this so-called freedom. Because we are part of a bigger mechanism, our actions are always bound to trigger reactions. That, by the way, is the precise meaning of the spiritual concept of karma. And as it happens, we are all too prone to giving free rein to our reckless causes, whilst forgetting about and refusing to take responsibility for the reaction part.

That young man’s remarks immediately brought to mind these thoughts about karma, and made me go back to one of the most enlightening books I ever read on the theme of freedom, by a spiritual thinker I deeply admire, Omraam Mikhaël Aïvanhov.

Aïvanhov’s core idea is that there is no such thing as absolute freedom for mankind (that is reserved for the Creator alone), for when one is free from certain circumstances he or she is bound by another. The real issue, then, is to choose wisely which bonds to free yourself from and which ideals to bind yourself to. Here’s how he beautifully puts it:

You have to free yourself, that is true, but in order to limit yourself. You have to free yourself inwardly from all your lower instincts and tendencies in order to bind yourself to something higher, to working for the collectivity. That, for me, is the true meaning of life and liberty. Happiness and joy consist of freeing oneself, not in shirking one’s obligations, but in freeing oneself inwardly from all one’s weaknesses in order to commit oneself even more wholeheartedly to helping others. Yes, if you want to be inwardly free, you have to begin by limiting yourself and sacrificing certain things in order to commit yourself more fully. “(Aïvanhov, in: Freedom, the Spirit Triumphant)

Freeing ourselves from our weaknesses and egotistical urges in order to commit ourselves more fully to self growth and collective improvement. Here is an astoundingly truthful and generous perspective on what freedom actually is.


Image: Celtic Cross of Commitment, by Wild Goose Studio

Lessons from the darkness

“A human being can be compared to a tree. Yes, like a tree, a human being has roots, a trunk and branches which bear leaves, flowers and fruit. The taller the tree, the deeper its roots; in other words, the higher a human being rises, the more his deep instinctive tendencies – sensuality, anger, pride, etc. – are likely to be aroused. […] There are ways of overcoming and controlling these forces and using them to obtain even greater inner achievements. That is what is known as spiritual alchemy.”
(O.M. Aïvanhov, The Powers of Thought)

One of the greatest things about training to be a psychotherapist is the intensive work you get to do on your own emotional self. Any serious psychotherapeutic training will involve an ongoing exposure to therapeutic interventions, be it on the delivering or on the receiving end of them, causing you to learn not only how to become a therapist but also what it feels like to be a client. The result is that after years undergoing this kind of training you become quite aware of your personal emotional baggage, as well as of your subjective strengths and weaknesses. You also improve your ability to make a good use, in life, of your strengths, and to develop healthy self-care mechanisms to protect your sensitive spots.

Because we are always changing and hopefully evolving as human beings, self knowledge is an endless enterprise. So even after having been on the psychotherapy road for a number of years I am still surprised at the things I learn about myself and about others with each new therapeutic encounter. The lessons are always being poured in, be it through empathetic means or personal experience, sometimes in a peaceful and gentle manner, other times quite abruptly and unpleasantly. The latter is usually the case when we find ourselves experiencing unexpected negative emotions triggered by a thought, a relationship or a context.

To use a brilliant expression I’ve heard from a friend, there are times when we feel a “stab of emotion” whose pain leaves no room for a normally functioning planned and rational response.

Lately, maybe as a consequence of my practical counselling training, I’ve been experiencing these “stabs” of difficult emotions more often on different occasions, especially when I open myself up as an individual client or as a participant of a therapeutic group, where we can either project or receive such emotions from someone else. So I thought I’d write a bit about them.

Sorrow, fear, impatience and anger are examples of sharp and mostly negative emotional states which often emerge from within ourselves and in our relationships. They rob our ability to function normally, driving us away from our goals in terms of who we want to be and what we want to achieve in life.

Negative emotions are powerful little creatures: they come about often unannounced, produce a trail of unpleasant physical sensations (such as accelerated heartbeat, a lump in the throat or a headache), and linger for a while, casting shadows on your consciousness before you can actually understand and control them. And to add to the problem, there is often a gap between how these emotions are subjectively felt and how they are objectified and expressed, leading to all sorts of complications in relationships due to poor emotional communication.

It often feels like it would be easier to forget about our negative emotions, but it is precisely in their unconscious nature that their immense power lies. Negative emotions should not be taken for granted!

In a psychotherapy context we allow ourselves to feel these emotions as they come, in a pretty raw state, firstly paying attention to what they do to us. Later, we step out of ourselves and look perspectively at them, trying to understand the role that they play in specific scenarios, or in the wider context of our lives. With perspective, we are more likely to feel empowered to act upon our undesired emotional states. Having good therapeutic company for undertaking this journey is helpful and recommended.

It takes a leap of courage to sincerely experience and expose our negative emotions. A lot of trust and safety is required to create the right atmosphere in which these emotions can be shared, accepted and challenged in a constructive way. A non judgmental attitude is essential. A slowly but surely approach seems to be the safest and most productive avenue to defuse the harmful forces that such emotions, when left untamed, unleash in and around us.

Healing negative emotions is not, therefore, denying their existence within us, but rather shedding a lot of light on them. Only in this way can they be understood and transformed into a fertile ground on which the seeds of wisdom will one day be able to flourish.


The fiery nature of a life worth living

Versão em Português

“Be who you are meant to be and you will set the world on fire.”

If you’ve ever experienced the feeling of being in tune with your deeper life project you will understand how much truth there is in this quote by Catherine of Siena. Some of us don’t ever come to understand what our purpose in life really is, because this kind of realisation requires a great deal of self observation, self honesty and courage to act in accordance to our inner aspirations. Not everyone likes the idea of facing the depths of self; and not everyone fancies the risks of the uncertain paths of creative living. For my part, I believe that a good degree of self awareness and courage to create one’s own destiny by taking risks and making (often difficult) decisions are two of the few things actually needed to be able to lead a good and worthwhile life.

Going back to de Siena’s quote, which is likely to be an adaptation of “If you are what you should be, you will set all of Italy ablaze!” (Letter T368), I’d go further to say that this fire that “ignites the world” stems from the incandenscence of the self-actualised being. In this process, “self” itself is “set alight”. Thinking in terms of energy fields, the sensation can even be physically felt: when you’re doing what you love doing and what you were born to do, your whole being trembles in excitement, as if it were on fire, but in a controlled, constructive and productive way. You feel lucid, tireless, aware and empowered. You feel the positive impact of your righteous actions on others and on your surroundings, and you are given great, unsolicited feedback. It is a most rewarding experience and when it happens, you know you’re on the right track to becoming happier as you move forward.

I am not a Catholic nor a believer in institutional sainthood, but this does not diminish the truthfulness of what de Siena said. It resonates with the psychological concept of self-actualisation and with the spiritual concept of self-realisation. Most importantly, it can be easily verified by lived experience.

It’s important to say that a life project is not necessarily a grandiose, notable enterprise. It can be something completely anonymous and simple, like being a good mother to your child. But in every case, it involves becoming someone better and helping others to do the same, in however small a scale it may be. There can be no genuine fulfilment in selfish or purely materialistic pursuits.

The unmistakable signs that you are accomplishing your mission in life – or living a good, worthwhile life – are peaceful contentment, a growing joy of living, and a need to share the love you feel with fellow living beings. There is a great, perennial source of Life, Wisdom, Love and Joy that surpasses our individual personalities and connects us all. Our mission, whatever shape or size it may have, will always involve clearing our inner channels to allow these divine waters to flow freely through ourselves towards the others.

This is why the most powerful change that one can make is the change in one’s own self. Getting rid of everything that diminishes and divides us – fear, doubt, hatred, intolerance, arrogance – and nurturing our higher selves – our ability to love, to trust, understand and care -, both in ourselves and in others, are the two keys to becoming who you are meant to be. And to set the world – yourself included – on an irresistible and captivating fire.

Rassouli Eternal Annexation

Image: Eternal Annexation (Rassouli)

Love, nature and art: the bastions of spirit

After almost one year blogging in Portuguese, this is my first attempt at writing a post in English. These days, with Google translator and a general heightened linguistic “savvyness”, it should be reasonable to expect a fairly broad reach for posts in Portuguese already, but it doesn’t hurt trying to improve access to ideas I think are worth sharing. The reader will surely find many English mistakes in these attempts, but as long as I manage to get the message across, I am happy.

My previous post was about how responsible I felt for trying to have a better attitude towards personal problems after reading Viktor Frankl’s account on the desolate conditions of concentration camp prisoners. With a gripping sensation in my heart and a need to stop now and then to catch my breath, I moved slowly through his detailed description of how he and his fellow inmates endured – physically and psychologically – the sheer wickedness perpetrated by the guards in the daily life of the camp.

The anguish that overflowed from these passages made it even more comforting to arrive, later on in the book, at one of the most beautiful descriptions of spiritual freedom I ever came across. Because I couldn’t find words better than the author’s to depict the powerful forces that can be unleashed by the spirit to counteract adverse circumstances, I will limit myself to replicate the long quote below.

“We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbour’s arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: “If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their Camps and don’t know what is happening to us.”

That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way—an honourable way — in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfilment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, ‘The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.’

In front of me a man stumbled and those following him fell on top of him. The guard rushed over and used his whip on them all. Thus my thoughts were interrupted for a few minutes. But soon my soul found its way back from the prisoner’s existence to another world, and I resumed talk with my loved one: I asked her questions, and she answered; she questioned me in return, and I answered.

‘Stop!’ We had arrived at our work site. Everybody rushed into the dark hut in the hope of getting a fairly decent tool. Each prisoner got a spade or a pickaxe.

‘Can’ t you hurry up, you pigs?’ Soon we had resumed the previous day’s positions in the ditch. The frozen ground cracked under the point of the pickaxes, and sparks flew. The men were silent, their brains numb.

My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A thought crossed my mind: I didn’t even know if she were still alive. I knew only one thing — which I have learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.

I did not know whether my wife was alive, and I had no means of finding out (during all my prison life there was no outgoing or incoming mail); but at that moment it ceased to matter. There was no need for me to know; nothing could touch the strength of my love, my thoughts, and the image of my beloved. Had I known then that my wife was dead, I think that I would still have given myself, undisturbed by that knowledge, to the contemplation of her image, and that my mental conversation with her would have been just as vivid and just as satisfying. ‘Set me like a seal upon thy heart, love is as strong as death.’

This intensification of inner life helped the prisoner find a refuge from the emptiness, desolation and spiritual poverty of his existence, by letting him escape into the past. When given free rein, his imagination played with past events, often not important ones, but minor happenings and trifling things. His nostalgic memory glorified them and they assumed a strange character. Their world and their existence seemed very distant and the spirit reached out for them longingly: In my mind I took bus rides, unlocked the front door of my apartment, answered my telephone, switched on the electric lights. Our thoughts often centered on such details, and these memories could move one to tears.

As the inner life of the prisoner tended to become more intense, he also experienced the beauty of art and nature as never before. Under their influence he sometimes even forgot his own frightful circumstances. If someone had seen our faces on the journey from Auschwitz to a Bavarian camp as we beheld the mountains of Salzburg with their summits glowing in the sunset, through the little barred windows of the prison carriage, he would never have believed that those were the faces of men who had given up all hope of life and liberty. Despite that factor — or maybe because of it — we were carried away by nature’s beauty, which we had missed for so long.

In camp, too, a man might draw the attention of a comrade working next to him to a nice view of the setting sun shining through the tall trees of the Bavarian woods (as in the famous water colour by Dürer), the same woods in which we had built an enormous, hidden munitions plant. One evening, when we were already resting on the floor of our hut, dead tired, soup bowls in hand, a fellow prisoner rushed in and asked us to run out to the assembly grounds and see the wonderful sunset. Standing outside we saw sinister clouds glowing in the west and the whole sky alive with clouds of ever-changing shapes and colours, from steel blue to blood red. The desolate grey mud huts provided a sharp contrast, while the puddles on the muddy ground reflected the glowing sky. Then, after minutes of moving silence, one prisoner said to another, ‘How beautiful the world could be!’

Another time we were at work in a trench. The dawn was grey around us; grey was the sky above; grey the snow in the pale light of dawn; grey the rags in which my fellow prisoners were clad, and grey their faces. I was again conversing silently with my wife, or perhaps I was struggling to find the reason for my sufferings, my slow dying. In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious “Yes” in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose. At that moment a light was lit in a distant farmhouse, which stood on the horizon as if painted there, in the midst of the miserable grey of a dawning morning in Bavaria. ‘Et lux in tenebris lucet’ — and the light shineth in the darkness. For hours I stood hacking at the icy ground. The guard passed by, insulting me, and once again I communed with my beloved. More and more I felt that she was present, that she was with me; I had the feeling that I was able to touch her, able to stretch out my hand and grasp hers. The feeling was very strong: she was there. Then, at that very moment, a bird flew down silently and perched just in front of me, on the heap of soil which I had dug up from the ditch, and looked steadily at me.”

(Victor Frankl in: Man’s Search for Meaning)

However gloomy the circumstances, the spirit can always rise above them. Solace and inner freedom can always be found in love, nature, art and spirituality.