That morning, Theo was very agitated. He had hardly sat down, facing his friend, that he started exposing his problem:
– I have been developing intense anger all these years, due to a neighbour who had harmed my family and me. Hence I hate him and I can’t help it.
The Elder looks at him, quite amazed.
Theo. – Yes… I know. But it’s all about his wicked, twisted and unfair behaviour. I feel as if he were a chewing gum stuck on the sole of my shoe. I can’t get rid of it. As soon as I see the man, or if I merely think of him, my anger is back.
The Elder – You are going to make yourself sick!
Theo. – I’m already sick. My stomach hurts, there are moments when I feel oppressed and I often have a headache.
– According to Chinese Medicine, the Liver Fire is what gives you such symptoms. They are caused by anger and resentment.
But in your case, what did you really do?, the old man asked, for more information.
Theo. – I went to court to assess my rights.
The Elder – And what happened then? Did you win that legal fight against your adversary?
Theo. – Legally, it was for me a win-win situation, but for my liking, he did not pay enough, considering all the harm he had done to me.
The Elder – So the fight is still on. Your neighbour has succeeded in crossing your barriers and he is now partly occupying your inner space. You may also be in his mind, since you won your case against him. He probably hates you. Your anger is what provides access to his anger. Through your mental and emotional attitude, you have opened a way to his penetrating within you. So now he can overrun you, reach your heart and plague your life.
Theo. – You make it sound like war!
The Elder – Currently, your life is effectively in a constant state of war, so you’d better live it as a warrior would. This book, “The Art of War”, by Sun Tzu, is traditional literature in China, and it is still in use in War Colleges in many countries, since strategy is first and foremost simple psychology. For example: making the adverse general angry is a clever trick, as it will destabilize him and confuse his mind, so that he won’t be able to clearly see the way the battle is engaged in, or to devise sustainable strategies. Being angry, he will tend to just charge ahead and seek revenge at all costs. Therefore, his engagement will have a weakness based on his own self-delusion, boldness and temerity. Some people will call it courage; but, in fact, an enemy is more easily defeated once you have provoked its anger and thus opened a breach.
Theo. – But I have won!
The Elder – Do you really think so?
The Elder marked a pause while Theo seemed to be thinking the matter over.
– You have not won the emotional and the mental war, he says calmly. Once a warrior has won or lost his war, he agrees that the war has ended. He has no more enemy. He is in peace. So, he will only have to make himself ready for another battle, whenever it may come. Meanwhile, he practices peacefully.
The only problem is that your head and your emotions go on fighting, which cuts you off from your heart. It might be tragic for you and your balance. Basically, your neighbour has shown you a significant weakness that still abides in yourself.
– So now you are going to ask me to be very grateful to him I guess, interrupts Theo, nervously.
The Elder (smiling):
– That’s almost it! In fact, you should thank the Divine who let you see that weakness, that tendency you still have, and who gave you an opportunity to correct it. Then, your neighbour will become a mere indicator for you. That indicator could have been someone else or several other persons.
The strength of your recurrent emotions is only a sign, a symptom of that weakness within you.
Theo. – But he was proven wrong, the young man said again, irritated.
The Elder – So? You won, didn’t you, and justice was done. Then why should you continue the war…
I’m sorry I have to tell you, but that weakness of yours will be used against you by your enemy or by any other person. Any serious adversary will easily defeat you.
Theo. – I don’t think so. I am strong and intelligent enough to know how to defend myself… Next you are going to tell me all about love again, aren’t you?
The Elder – I might. Silence…
Isn’t that what we’ve already done on many occasions in the past?
The old man marked a pause again and remained quietly focused on his hotheaded friend. Then he said:
– The warrior instinct is in you. That is another way to approach the Divine, but it is a demanding one. Arjuna is a good example of it, in the Bhagavad Gita.
But Theo.’s anger was not soothed yet:
– I’d like to plague his life just as he has plagued mine. That’s a fair return, isn’t it?
The Elder tries to temper him:
– Let us keep calm, shall we? Some families have carried on their hatred through generations. Sometimes, they even forgot the root causes of such hatred, but their war has become a tradition and these families will hate each other forever.
Theo. (sulking) – So now you see me as a dunce.
– More or less! the old man said mockingly.
Theo. – Well! Now, do tell me. What would you do in this kind of situation?
The Elder – I would take all necessary action to address it, on the purely physical side. Then, once it is done, I would forget all about it. Life is great. So it’s really worth living it completely, enjoying all the gifts it offers.
Theo. – And what of the difficulties, the problems entailed?
The Elder – I deal with them as best as can be. See what Marcus Aurelius used to say about it:
“Please God, give me the courage to change the things
I can change,
the serenity that will help me accept the things to which fate binds me,
and enough wisdom to discriminate
one from the other.”
Otherwise, I am happy under all circumstances, almost all of them at least…
The old man realized that Theo’s anger was one of the oldest and most enduring forms of anger. So he did not insist any more and he decided to think over all they had been talking about that day.
Before leaving his friend, he said:
– Theo, an enemy is supposed to be fought on the battlefield. Once the war has ended, he is no longer an enemy for you. That is sheer chivalry, an art Lord Krishna taught to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita.
Looking very thoughtful, Theo watched the Elder as he was going away after having thus invited his young friend to stay calm and serene.
Theophile the Elder
An excerpt from Dialogs with Theophile the Elder
Theophile the Younger’s Initiation