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Losing oneself to find oneself: the monk, the cat and the moon


Modern man has lost the sense of contemplation, of marveling at his reflection in the crystalline waters of a brook, of being filled with surprise at the starry sky, and being entranced by the brilliant eyes of a child who looks questioningly at him. Modern man does not know the freshness of an autumn afternoon and is incapable of being alone, without a car, the Internet, or television; without his sound equipment. He is afraid of listening to the inner voice, the voice that never lies, that gives us counsel, that applauds us, judges us and is always with us. What is profoundly true can only be well expressed, as the ancient wise men witness, through short stories and rarely through concepts. Sometimes when we imagine that we are lost, that is when we find ourselves. This story tries to communicate that to us: it is a challenge for us all.

This short story, written by my brother Waldemar Boff, who tries to live as the monks of the desert used to live, brings us back to our lost dimension. Waldemar, one of my 10 brothers, who studied in the United States, is now a peasant and an educator of the people. Waldemar writes:
«There was a hermit who lived well beyond the Iguazaim mountains, South of the Acaman desert. Some 30 fine years had passed since he had retired to that place. A few nanny goats gave him his daily milk and a plot of the fertile valley gave him bread. Near his cabin there was a grapevine. During the year, under the ceiling of palm fronds, the bees would build their hives.

“For 30 years I have lived here…”, Porfirio, the monk, sighed. “Some good 30 years…”. And, sitting on a rock, his gaze lost in the waters of the small stream that bounded among the pebbles, he stayed with this thought for long hours. “30 good years and I still have not found myself. I became lost for everything and for everyone, in the hope of finding myself. But I have lost myself irremediably!”.

The following morning, before sunrise, after the prayer of the pilgrims, with a frugal sack on his back and half torn sandals on his feet, he began walking towards the Iguazaim mountains. He always climbed the mountains when strange forces threatened to collapse his interior world. He would go to visit Abba Tebaino, the most elderly and wise hermit, father of a whole generation of men of the desert. Abba Tebaino lived under a large boulder, from which the wheat fields of the village of Icanaum could be seen far below.

“Abba, I got lost to find myself. However, I became irremediably lost. I know not who I am, nor what for or for whom I am. I have lost the best of myself, of my very own self. I have sought peace and contemplation, but I struggle with a phalange of phantoms. I have done everything to deserve peace. Look at my body, as twisted as a root, marked by so many fasts, rough shirts and vigils… And here I am, broken and weak, defeated by the weariness of the search”.

And deep into the night, under an enormous moon illuminating the profile of the mountains, Abba Tebaino, sitting at the door of the grotto, listened with infinite tenderness to the confidences of brother Porfirio.

Later, in one of those intervals where the words fall silent and only the presence remains, a tiny cat who had lived with Abba for many years, slowly came crawling up to his bare feet. The tiny cat mewed, licked the coarse ending of the sayal, made himself comfortable and began to contemplate, with his great childlike eyes, the moon that, like the soul of the just, silently climbed to heaven.

And, after a long time had passed, Abba Tebaino began to speak, with great sweetness:

“Porfirio, my dear son, you have to be like the cat; he searches for nothing for himself, but expects everything from me. Every morning he waits by my side for a crust of bread and some milk from this old wooden bowl. Later on, he comes and spends the day very close to me, licking my swollen feet. He wants nothing, searches for nothing, expects everything. He is availability. He is surrender. He lives for living, pure and simply. He lives for the other. He is gift, grace, gratitude. Here, lying close to me, innocent and ingenuous, he contemplates, as archaic as being, the miracle of the moon that climbs, enormous and blessed. The cat does not search for himself, not even for the intimate vanity of self-purification or the satisfaction of self-realization. That was irremediably lost for me and for the moon… That is the condition for being what one is, and for finding oneself”.

And a profound silence descended on the mouth of the great boulder.

The following morning, before the sun rose, the two hermits sang the matins psalms. Their praises echoed through the mountains and made the borders of the universe tremble. Then, they gave each other a farewell kiss. Brother Porfiro, with a small bag on his shoulders and half broken sandals on his feet, returned to his valley, the South of the Acaman desert. He understood that to find himself he had to lose himself in the purest and most simple gratitude.

And the people who lived in the neighboring village say that many years later, in the profound night of a full moon, they saw in the sky a great radiance. It was Porfiro the monk who was climbing, together with the moon, to the infinite immensity of the heavens, deliriously sprinkled with stars. He did not need to lose himself now, because he had definitively found himself forever».

Free translation from the Spanish by
Servicios Koinonia,

One Comment leave one →
  1. 27/04/2014 11:25

    Dedicar-se à leitura de Leonardo Boff,é algo que me apraz e me enriquece,sempre .Agradeço de poder acessar ao que ele posta.Belíssimo texto,encantador !


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