To Live In This World

Sometimes it may be hard to find the motivation to live happily in this world. I have faced that challenge before and I understand those who face it too. We look around and see so much suffering and injustice: the poor becoming poorer, nature being destroyed, terror spreading across borders, mass extinction, innocents being slaughtered… There are so many different kinds of evil in the world that I would probably be sitting in this chair writing down a list until my fingers were covered in dust. You turn on the TV, access social media or talk to a neighbor and a wave of bad news hits you in the face: another terrorist attack; the State taking new measures to steal money from the people; a dozen acres of the Amazonian rainforest cut down; another species driven to extinction; a presidential candidate championing hate speech; and so on and so on. But not only does it happen on a macro level, it seems like we also meet bad people or experience bad things on a personal level, in our own private lives. If there is so much darkness all around us, it’s perfectly understandable to wake up one morning and think: wait, why should I feel like getting up? I live in such a dreadful world with so many bad things… Why should I be happy?

The answer is hard to find. Or perhaps it’s extremely easy and we humans are just doing it again: making a riddle out of what’s pure logic. And we can, in fact, find some logic in this reasoning: all living beings in this world want mainly two things in life, which can be summed up as one – to experience pleasure and not to experience pain. Being happy implies not being in pain, of course. Therefore, if we were all happy, none of us would be in pain – or, if none of us were in pain, we would all be happy. Following this, the greater the number of happy beings in the world, the smaller the number of those facing suffering. So, to be happy could be viewed almost as a moral duty with the purpose of spreading as much happiness in the world as possible, if only two conditions apply: that to be happy does not involve making others suffer, and that it actually contributes to others being happy (or just, let’s say, being well). If your happiness involves the well-being of others, or simply does not include their pain and suffering, then you are on the right path!

This is, in essence, the idea behind Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism: the belief that the best moral action is that which maximizes utility, considering utility as being mostly related to the well-being (happiness or pleasure, thus the absence of pain and suffering) of sentient beings. Bentham, the founder of this theory, actually defined utility as the “aggregate pleasure after deducting suffering of all involved in any action”. It is truly an interesting ethical theory which we all should study in further detail. But my point here is that we should use this reasoning to find motivation to live happily in such a dark, frustrating world. For if we see it with certain eyes, and if we interact with it in a certain way, we can see that there is beauty in it, happiness and a lot of light as well.

Darkness is powerful. It can spread its shadows far away and even when there is light, there is shadow. But light too has its power – like Buddha said, “thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the single candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared”. If you imagine happiness as being Light, Good, Love, the purest Force there is, then you will know that you can spread it all around you… “if only you remember to turn on the light” (and yes, this is a direct Dumbledore quote. Harry Potter had a lot to teach us). Please note that happiness, here, is being treated as a synonym of well-being. I don’t mean that we should all suddenly dedicate ourselves to an obsessive, selfish pursuit of happiness. This is only a valuable force if we search it together – and if we share it. And it may be hard to be happy in a grim world, but like so many things in life, here is the secret (which is not really a secret after all): you must start by the small stuff. The simple things. The details. Here are a few examples:

Enjoy the soft sunlight in the morning. Taste that warm coffee that you drink, that croissant or that pastry you eat at breakfast with pleasure. Feel beautiful in the clothes you wear when you go to work. Dedicate yourself to your work, or strive to find one that makes you feel fulfilled. Go out for a walk in the park and feel the scent of the grass, admire the blue sky, the birds and the animals around you. Talk to other people on the street – and, more importantly: smile. There is incredible power in a simple smile, in a simple gesture like being kind to somebody else. Read, write, sing, dance, do something that enriches you in your mind, body and heart. You don’t need to live a perfect life. None of us have perfect lives because perfection is impossible or almost impossible to find. But that is also what leads us to frustration and anguish: to look for the impossible, to constantly crave for more, more and more. If only we could learn to appreciate what we have, to admire the small things and to give them their true value, we would be much happier than we often are. And then, a mysterious phenomenon will take place.

You see… happiness is contagious. Smiles are contagious. Kindness is contagious. When you are happy, you see the world through brighter eyes. But somehow, you also make it brighter. This has the curious effect of making it easier for others to see it through brighter lights as well. As with everything, change must start within. You cannot live in a happy world if even you are unhappy. So if you work to be well, you will begin to positively affect the lives of those around you. Imagine what would happen if everybody did this: we would all be affecting each others’ lives in a positive way and happiness would vastly increase. Of course, there will always be dark forces in this world which conspire to make others (especially the innocent) suffer. But if we each make a personal effort to spread light, there will always be some light in the world. And Martin Luther King Jr. already spoke the truth, just like Gandhi or Buddha: darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind. We live in a world where powerful forces confront each other: but as long as there is one single candle being lit, there will be light somewhere in the dark. And happiness only increases by being shared.





The power of fear and the power of cooperation

Once upon a time there was a tribe (which we shall call Tribe A) which saw itself as the only tribe in the world. The people of the tribe had never met anybody outside their group and they knew of nobody living outside of their territory. One day, a group of hunters went out on a hunting expedition and suddenly sighted another group of humans several feet ahead of them in the woods. They both stood still, facing each other and weighing their options. Who were the others? What were they going to do?, both of the groups wondered. The first men didn’t know what to expect of those strangers they’d never seen before. What were their intentions? They were armed with spears and hunting knives too. Would they attack them? Should they be perceived as a threat? For a while, none of the groups knew what to do in front of the unknown. But eventually some of the tribesmen moved forward and started communicating. They realised that both groups were hunting and, by means of dialogue, they reached the conclusion that they would have better chances of successfully catching their prey if they worked together. The hunters from the unknown tribe (which we shall call Tribe B) suggested this: while men from group B chased the deer or boar they found, two men from group A would stand behind some bushes and ambush the prey. Then, the tribes would divide the meat among them: 50% for each. Tribe A agreed.

The men from Tribe B left in search of their prey and the two men from Tribe A went to their hiding place and hid there. Soon, however, they saw that there were two rabbits sleeping in a small burrow near where they were, and they started thinking. “Well”, one of them said, “these two rabbits would certainly feed our families. Maybe we could even share them with our entire community”. The other one added: “We don’t really know those strangers, do we? How can we be sure that they are honest and their intentions are as true as they have told us?”. The first man agreed. “Maybe they were lying to us. Maybe they will hunt down the deer and then tells us that they did all the work, and so we only deserve 10% of the share. Maybe they will take the other 90% with them because they are more than us and might be stronger”. The two men then started thinking. “Perhaps we should take these two rabbits and leave right now”, one of them eventually said. And so they did. They went back to their village with the two little animals they had caught and the entire plan of Tribe B failed, since the two men who were supposed to ambush the deer were not where they should be.

Back at the village, the two men from Tribe A were sharing their meal with their families when they started feeling uncertain and afraid. “What if the other men are angry at us because we broke the agreement?”, one of them asked. “I imagine that they will be angry at us, yes. The plan failed because we left… Although, of course, we didn’t know their true intentions”. The other man became even more afraid. “But now they know where we live! They know that we live somewhere in this territory and they can come and attack us! Maybe they will send spies to find our village and then attack”. So the two men went to see the tribe leaders and told them of their fear. The leaders ordered the tribesmen to start taking defensive measures and to build more weapons. What they didn’t know was that the two hunters were right: Tribe B had indeed sent out spies to find the location of Tribe A and to know what they had gained from breaking their agreement. But when the spies found the village and saw that the tribesmen were getting armed, they thought: “Look! Those tribesmen are arming themselves! They are planning on attacking us! We must race back to our village and prepare to defend ourselves”. So they went back to their village and started taking their own defensive measures. In the meanwhile, the leaders from Tribe A sent out some spies to confirm the intentions of Tribe B. When their spies found the other village, they saw the tribesmen arming themselves and said: “Look, our hunters were right! These men are really going to attack us! Maybe we should attack first to gain advantage!”. And so a war started between the two tribes, which only led to many deaths.

Now let us see these two groups of people not as tribes, but as two different nations. Our story gains a whole new dimension. In fact, misunderstandings and more or less rational fears are common when it comes to a community of people (or a nation, in this case) interacting with other communities of different cultures, habits, politics, et cetera. There is always a risk in interacting with others – the risk of never knowing the other’s true intentions for sure. In our story, Tribe A doubted Tribe B’s real goals, and there were two possible alternatives: either Tribe B was being honest and really intended to share 50% of its profit with Tribe A, or it was lying to Tribe A and planned on taking 90% for itself. So, in dealing with others, there must always be a degree of mutual confidence that perhaps can never be 100% assured. It is in this underlying uncertainty that lie potential fear and misunderstandings. And fear has often been described as one of the strongest, if not the strongest catalyst in international relations. Fear is often likely to lead to irrational responses and a nation that believes itself to be threatened by another nation (even if by mistake) can take the initiative to declare war against that other nation first.

In the time of monarchies, during the Ancien Régime and until the rise of republics, the decision of going into war with another nation was mostly personal. Such decision was made by the King or a prince. It could come out of a whim. But with the res publica, the “public thing”, the power to make such decisions supposedly belonged (or belongs) to the people. It was no longer a matter of a king sending his servants to die, but of fathers and mothers to send their children, parents or siblings to die. And so nations started thinking more about the risks and consequences of war, especially after the catastrophic World War I. Never had the world seen a Total War, one so devastating and irrational. In the trenches, thousands of soldiers would die trying to move a couple of feet foward in less than a day, for example.

After World War I, a great fear emerged in the nations of the world: the fear of other General Wars. It was imperative to build and maintain peace, and forging one or more alliances between nations began to be seen as a powerful way to stop more wars from happening. Imagine this: nation A has a longstanding rivalry with nation B and, after fealing threatened by it (either rightly or wrongly), it decides to declare war on nation B. However, A and B have been part of a common aliance of States for a couple of years now, an alliance which includes many other nations. If A and B were totally independent, it would be easier for A to declare war on B. But now, A faces certain scenarios that it must consider, such as: 1) nation B has an economic pact with nation C, which could encourage C to stand up for nation B if A were to declare war on B; or 2) all nations have agreed to pass sanctions on any State that declares war on another one without attempting strong diplomatic negotiations first. It now becomes clearer that forming an alliance of nations is an easier way to avoid Anarchy (in its International Relations meaning*) and to encourage cooperation (and eventually union) between different States.

Fear, lack of strategic information or a wrong perception of the “other” are several factors that can lead to conflict. But cooperation among different nations is politically, economically, socially, culturally and environmentally beneficial. This is what international organizations were essentially created for – to promote cooperation, unity and mutual understanding among different nations. To have a representative of each country, for instance, to converse and to negotiate in a common stage with representatives of every other country involved in a certain international organization is a strong ground for achieving common goals and greater accordance and peace. Obviously, there will always be the risk of dishonesty in others’ intentions and plans. There is, then, a risk we must take. But countries must ask themselves: are we willing to take this risk if it means that we can be one step closer to achieving global peace and security, or do we prefer not to take this risk and to stand alone and independent in a heavily armed world where securitarianism is a growing concern?

Going even further, one can ask if in a world that currently faces so many challenges it is truly possible to achieve something like global peace or global security. The threats of intolerance, terrorism, environmental issues and much more are indeed threats to the balance of international relations and to our globalized world. Each of us as individuals must therefore weight our priorities and decide how we want to be represented in the international stage and how we can thrive to be better represented, if we feel that our priorities are not being respected and adequatelly expressed. Sometimes, the people of a certain nation wish for greater peace than their own political leaders. If this is the case, then it is up to the people to make sure that they send out the right message. Political leaders are only meant to express their people’s will – and we must educate the people in order to show citizens of each of our nations that Peace is the ultimate way to prosperity (whatever kind of prosperity; in my point of view, for instance, economic prosperity is not even the most important or desirable kind).


*Anarchy in the vocabulary of International Relations refers to the absence of a supranational authority which can guarantee international cooperation in the following of certain norms and standards.

Note: the story I presented above is based on Rousseau’s Parable of the Tribes.



The downfall of feminism?

One day, not long ago, I was in a Political Sciences class and my teacher asked how many of us viewed themselves as feminists. The girl standing by my side and I raised our hands. Nobody else did. Needless to say that I felt truly disappointed with my classmates. I’ll never forget it. At first I felt shocked, incredulous. I even wondered if I had maybe not seen somebody else raising their hand – but no one did. Just two people in a classroom. Two girls, coincidentally. Now, a couple of months later, I came across a Facebook post a girl shared which defended the idea that “men should be feminists too”. Her post gathered a lot of comments from boys who claimed, among other things, that feminism is for retarded people, that it is out of date and no longer important, or that it is only needed in “underdeveloped countries” because women in our societies are already treated with the respect and dignity they deserve as human beings. I was so angry at what I read. I recalled that PS class and I instantly felt the need to express my outrage the best way I can – by writing it down. So here it is, what I wrote immediately after having read those unbelievable comments, out of my anger and sadness and frustration.

Today, (I dare to say) the word feminism seems to have more of a negative than a positive connotation. It is linked to “man hating” or “feminazis” and is often treated as synonymous to them. But if people took the time (and it wouldn’t even be that much time…) to do a little research, they would soon realise that feminism is no more than “the defense of women’s rights in favour of the equality of sexes”. But why is this word, feminism, so reviled, so misinterpreted and so misused? Because it disturbs the order of things. Because it bothers. Because, if we admit that there is a need to change the way our patriarchal societies work, then we will have to “bother” men. How? By empowering women. That’s right – by giving them power: equal power.

I find this a very powerful word. Empowering. There is much empowerment that needs to be spread across this world – we need to empower children, we need to empower the poor, we need to empower indigenous people, we need to empower animals and environmental causes, we need to empower women. Not in a sense that they will rise above any other individuals; but to help them achieve the same level, the same rights, the same dignifying treatment and respect. Equality. I don’t consider myself educated enough to enumerate big arguments here or to write a fancy, elaborate speech in favour of feminism (meaning = in favour of the equality of rights and conditions among genders). But what I do know, I know it because it is out there for everyone to see, I know it because I live it everyday and because I see many other women and men living it as well.

Many people (especially men, I dare say, but women too! Which is almost more shocking…) say they think feminism is important, yes, but in the least developed regions of this World, because in our “developed” countries, in the glorifying Europe and America of freedom, brotherhood and equality, it is no longer necessary – women are already treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. I don’t know how anyone can have this perception. Feminism is needed everywhere in the World, in different ways and adapted to different social and cultural contexts. In Arab countries, for instance, it might have to do with the right to education, the right to drive, the right to vote, the right to marry at whatever age you want to and to whoever you want to marry. There, it is about freedom, about life! In our “developed” countries, women already go to school, they already drive and vote, that’s true. But are we entirely free? No. Are we treated as equals before men? No. In Europe, women make on average 16% less than men (2015 data). Portugal, for example (which is my homeland), is the country where this situation has worsened the most during the crisis the EU is going through. Let’s look at the case of the new X-Files series, where the protagonist David Duchovny is going to earn twice as much as the protagonist Gillian Anderson… This is absurd. Of course this is a small, insignificant example when compared to thousands of others, but it is worth thinking about, because… If something like this happens in such a popular platform, with access and influence over millions of people, how can we stop it from becoming acceptable? From becoming the norm? If even popular TV shows are paying actresses less than they pay actors, then why shouldn’t it be normal for regular women to be paid less than their male counterparts?

There is a lot to be done in other parts of this World where attacks on gender equality are much more violent and atrocious. Of course there is. But that does not mean that feminism is only needed in those regions, or immeasurably more important there. People use this excuse to divert attention from issues that need to be addressed right here where we are – right in our homes. But, of course, it’s a lot easier to say that there’s something wrong with the way society is run on the other side of the world, isn’t it? If we begin to admit that there’s something wrong in our own backyard, then that means we are eventually going to have to be bothered if we have to do something to change it.

I wonder… Is feminism not necessary in countries where women frequently feel uncomfortable when walking down the street, when they are walking through a man or a group of men, because they are used to hearing obscene, dirty comments waaay too many times? Is feminism not necessary in countries where women continuously earn and get paid less than men, or where they are not given the same job opportunities “because they might get pregnant” or “because they might have menstrual pain and miss work”? Is feminism not necessary in countries where women continue to be seen as “the weak sex”? The weak sex, the one which has a job aside from having to deal with the house chores, the one which carries a baby inside their body for nine months, who gives birth to a child, who brings to this World a new human being, and who was to watch him grow in a society which continues to perceive women as inferior?

I am not putting women on a pedestal. Women are not special (well, to me they are, but that’s a personal opinion!). What I mean is: yes, we are different. Nobody can deny that men and women are different – physically, psychologically, emotionally. But that does not mean that we don’t share some very common features. And it certainly doesn’t mean that we should not be entitled to the same rights or conditions. For we are entitled to the same respect, the same freedom, the same equality. Those who refuse to identify themselves as feminists are one of two things: either they are ignorants because they don’t know the true meaning of the word feminism (and, therefore, contribute to spreading the wrong idea about it), or they are being cowards, because they know that feminism, for the simple reason that it must change the order of things, is going to be a little bothersome for many men who take the most out of their priviledges, granted to them by our patriarchal societies. I am sick of witnessing and taking part in discussions about feminism, I am sick of hearing people (mostly men, I have to admit) say that they are not feminists because feminism is radicalism. Get your facts straight. So much in this world would work a whole lot better if people only took the time to get informed… To actually learn something.

I am sick of having to walk down the street and hearing dirty comments (yes, we’ve come to the point where the State had to create a new law that criminalizes these comments!). I am sick of seeing men masturbating in front of young women on the street and not being chased down and thrown to jail like the real perverts that they are. I am sick of hearing people (men and women) tell jokes that are demeaning to women, when that kind of behaviour not only denigrates and demeans women, but it also denigrates and demeans men. That’s right. We’ve come to another crucial point here, haven’t we? Because feminism is not only a fight for women’s rights; it is also a fight for men’s rights. It is not just women female liberation – it is also about male liberation. And dignification. But some men don’t like to hear this a lot, do they? They don’t like to be told (or to think) that it is okay for them to be sensitive, that it is okay for them to be emotional and vulnerable. Why? Because we live in a society that pressures men into being strong, virile, masculine. Here we have it again: power. In this case, the power of words.

Society makes people believe that there is a certain set of features that defines masculinity, virility, manliness. And that is physical and emotional “strength”. Strength is viewed as the opposite to sensitivity and sentimentality, as if being emotional and vulnerable will “make you less of a man” or “make you weak”. That’s one of the reasons why women are perceived as “the weak sex”. Because women cry, but men mustn’t. Well, feminism fights this preconceived idea of what women should be like. By freeing women from the limits imposed on them by what society views as the “acceptable norm”, feminism also breaks the same limits that are imposed on men. By telling women that being sensitive, that being emotional is not a weakness, but actually a natural feature, even a true sign of strength, feminism is logically also telling men that it is okay for them to have feelings and to express them as much as women supposedly can / do. And society doesn’t like it when certain people and certain movements try to destroy its stereotypes. Why? Because building and maintaining stereotypes makes it a lot easier for people to think that life is all black and white, that it’s all rainbows and flowers, that there are no moral and ethical challenges out there for us to face. But there are.

Feminism does not only carry the chance to free women. It also carries the chance to free men. However, it is very hard to change people’s mindsets when they are fueled by centuries of tradition and conservative ideologies. That’s why so many men believe that, if they were to identify themselves as feminists, they would be admitting to be “weak”, “gay” or anything that they don’t want to be linked to. So here is one of the biggest challenges feminism brings with it: to make sensitivity acceptable. To make emotions count. But that’s exactly what makes us sentient beings, is it not? The ability to feel. The fact that we are sensitive, emotional beings. So it is okay to admit it. It is okay to show it. Because it’s in our nature, it’s the right way to be. If we didn’t have any emotions, then we wouldn’t be affected by any notion of right and wrong, we wouldn’t be touched by anything that is wrong in this world, we wouldn’t feel the need to fight injustice or cruelty.

Emotion is what makes us capable of changing this World and turning it into a better place. Equality also does that. And that is the ultimate goal of feminism: to achieve equality. Therefore, in the end, feminism (feminism as the actual movement, as the true meaning of the concept, as the real women’s rights movement – not in any of its radical or misinterpreted shapes) is all about that: turning the World into a better place. That’s why it only makes sense for us to unite. That’s why it only makes sense that this should be a battle fought by both men and women. Because the fruits of the seeds we can plant now will be reaped by everyone, men and women alike.

One day I was in a Political Sciences class and my teacher asked how many of us viewed themselves as feminists. A girl standing by my side and I raised our hands. Nobody else did. I felt truly sorry for my classmates. I thought: “they must either be ignorants or cowards. Maybe they’re not even bad people. They are probably not. But they are making a big mistake”. Feminism is not just about some of us. It is about all of us. If I am a feminist? Of course. Because, if I wasn’t, then I wouldn’t be in favour of the equality of rights for both genders. Because, if I wasn’t, then I wouldn’t truly be in favour of a better World… would I?




The Meaning – part II

Somebody recently told me that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who live fulfilling, meaningful lives, and those who live empty, meaningless lives. I don’t know if we can be so objective and split people into two categories alone, but this distinction is absolutely clear… and it is also clear, I think, that most people (or at least many, many of them) in our current society belong to the second category. And I feel truly sorry for them, because I have never known what it is like to feel that your life has no meaning or that there is nothing out there that fascinates you, and I know that people who think this way must feel completely lost or empty in this world. But why?

Above all, I believe I have the Universe to thank for the life that I have had so far, and for all the love and joy and freedom that I have tasted until now. Whatever beautiful source of energy there is all around us and inside us, that force that lies above and within us and that gives life and emotion to all beings on this Earth, it has given me some of the most precious possessions anyone could ever pray for – a loving, supportive family. Had it not been for the parents I have, I do not think I could have taken the path I took – and am taking everyday – to get to where I am today. I know that things would have been radically different had I not had them just the way they are, because they taught me many powerful lessons.

1) Love is the answer. Many wise people have shared this message before and I believe that most people, deep down, know that love is the key. But I think that many of us frequently forget that or let it be overshadowed by feelings of envy, greed, prejudice, hatred and much more. Thankfully, my parents have always been firm in showing me that love (alongside compassion, friendship, solidarity, loyalty and all that comes with it) is indeed the must powerful force in the world – and that embracing it means showing it and spreading it at all times, not only when it is convenient to us. To love is not to love only for the sake of being loved. That is the true challenge – to love just because. Just because love is beautiful, just because love is strong, just and the most important treasure there is.

2) Believe in the beauty of the world and see it. We live in a wonderful world. Nature gives us countless gifts each day by building some of the most beautiful landscapes around us, by giving us the light of the Sun, by giving us the Moon, by giving us water and earth and the green of forests and the colors of flowers and scents and all there is that surrounds us and makes us feel alive. For we are alive, just like everything around us, just like the entire world. If you see that the whole world is bursting with life, you will never be truly alone. You may feel lonely at times, but you will know that you are never really alone. Beauty is what gives light to our lives. I don’t mean the kind of shallow beauty of certain body types or fashion and make-up or artificial beauty. I mean all the simple, little things in life that are there to be seen every day, if we open our eyes to see them.

There is a lot of darkness in this world, a lot of suffering and pain, and it will be hard to find a meaning in life, or to find any purpose or joy, if we let that consume us entirely. To believe in the beauty of the world and to see it is the best way to fight against this and to find happiness. One of the things that I am most happy about my parents is that they always encouraged me to believe in magic, in the fantastic and the supernatural – or, at least, they never discouraged it. And why is that so great? Because it makes the world a much more mysterious, intriguing and fascinating place if you believe it. Like Roald Dahl said, “Those who do not believe in magic will never find it”. Magic doesn’t need to be a wizard waving a wand and making spells, or a dragon flying above us in the sky, or a dwarf lurking in the shadows. Magic can be every little miracle of Nature that we see around us during our lives, every mindblowing phenomenom that we see and cannot explain. We need to let ourselves be wowed. To free your imagination is to directly interact with the world around you; it is to transform it as you see it, to transform it as you go, to paint it as a more beautiful place or to uncover some of its secrets. And this lesson that I have learned from my parents – to believe in the beauty of the world and to see it – is also to apply the first lesson: to love. Beauty is a demonstration of Nature’s love for this world and for all its inhabitants, a sign that the Universe is full of life and strength and hardship, for beautiful things are not only in happiness, but also in sorrow. To understand that the world is never made solely of one thing, not only made of light but also made of darkness, leads me to the third lesson I’ve been taught.

3) There is light as there is darkness, there is darkness as there is light. Some people (actually many, I would say) choose to live their lives indifferent to all that is wrong in the world and to the suffering of millions of other living beings. My parents (my family) have always made me see that there is terrible pain and injustice in our world – and it practically always strikes the innocent. They have taught me that, if we want to live our lives applying the first two lessons I have referred, if we want to live beautiful, meaningful lives, we cannot be indifferent to all the darkness. Instead, it is our duty to fight it any way we can. We don’t need to dedicate our lives to a crusade of Good against Evil, of course, although it is always okay to do that. But Good is often in the simplest, smallest little acts and gestures. Many people think that, to fight against anything that is wrong in the world (injustice, prejudice, hatred, corruption…) you somehow have to be bothered and it will disrupt your daily routine and the normal course of your life. That is absolutely wrong. We all can do something good for this world, and those who are really committed to doing that will easily find a way. To see the beauty that exists on this Earth is very important if we want to live a good life… but that does not mean being blind to the darkness. No. It is in knowing that there is darkness that we learn to value beauty, and in fighting that same darkness (whatever way we can) that we contribute to turning this world into a more beautiful place. Yes, it may bother us sometimes. Yes, it may make us feel extremely sad and hurt and disturbed, for there are many horrors out there. So, for many people, the question can remain: if being alert to all the evil that surrounds us can bring us sadness and pain and anguish, then why should we do it? Why should we not remain indifferent? This leads me to lesson number 4.

4) Your moral code must be your defining feature. For those who are aware of the current state of things in our world and in our societies, it is easy to realise that all that is wrong comes not from a political, social, environmental or economic crisis, but from a bigger, deeper crisis that has consequences in all these domains. It is a crisis of values. Most people in our societies have lost the strength and determination of certain values – values that seem outdated, translated into words that no longer seem to be anything more than words… and most of all, words that have stopped belonging to our everyday vocabulary, but that seem to belong more to books and films and fiction stories. Honor. Bravery. Justice. Righteousness. Brotherhood. Freedom. Equality. Yes, some of them we hear on a common basis, but that doesn’t mean that we actually apply them on our daily lives. If there is one thing I am honestly proud about myself, that is my moral values. These, I am sure that they came in a great part from my parents, my family and the education I got (the good manners, the do the right thing lesson, et cetera), but I feel them so strongly and passionately inside me that I think their core also comes from somewhere else. I am not going to elongate on my spiritual theories because it is a very personal matter, but I do believe that there is a greater force in our Universe that gives us certain strengths and passions, and that we are made of part of that. Maybe you do not believe in the soul or the spirit or the aura or whatever you want to call it. I don’t think of it as the Christian concept of the soul, but I am absolutely sure that there is more to us than flesh and bone. I know that we are made of that energy that surrounds us and that inhabits every living being in this world, and I believe that that energy carries its own strength. In the end, all we will have is our own personal code. All we will have to carry through our lives are our own choices and our own actions – so be sure to make the right ones. This belief is closely related to another idea that my parents have planted in me from a very young age.

5) Everything is connected and interdependent. This sentence is so powerful that it has multiple ramifications, different interpretations… but deep down, it all centers around one thing. On the one side, you can see it like this: everyone is connected, so the suffering of others is our own, the suffering of one is the suffering of all. This is an idea that I am very fond of. Why? Because it means that we cannot be indifferent to the pain of others. If we learn to experience others’ suffering as our own, we will learn to value it a lot more, and we will feel even more committed to ending it. There is one big truth about life that we all need to think about: every living being longs for the absence of suffering, therefore longing for happiness. And here is its logic: if you contribute to the suffering of others, I firmly believe that you will also suffer, sooner or later, here or somewhere else, one way or the other. On the contrary, if you contribute to the happiness of others, you are also contributing to your own happiness, and vice versa. So, in a logical question, why shouldn’t we all want to contribute to everybody’s happiness and absence of pain? On the other side, you can interpret this lesson like this: you reap what you sow. As each day passes, I believe this more and more. The interdependence of the Universe means that you will get something in return from what you do. It is not so simple as: if you do something bad, something bad will happen to you, or if you do something good, something good will happen to you. However, the idea is not far from this. What it truly means, I think, is that you have to work hard if you want to achieve your dreams… but if you really fight for them and strive to be a good person, a good being, the Universe will offer you something in return. I have seen this multiple times in my life. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should be good just for the sake of getting a reward (like I said above). It means that we do live in a world where good is rewarded, exactly because love is the most powerful force there is.

There is a lot more I could say about this subject, for it is a fascinating topic to me and I could probably write about it for hours, but I would like to wrap it up by referring to one more lesson that my parents – and the world – have taught me so far. This is number 6.

6) Life is a journey and nothing is permanent. Nothing is permanent. This is something you always have to keep in mind – you can’t ever forget it. Why? Because life does change, our paths do change and we ourselves change. But the journey always carries on, until our death and beyond (if you believe in existing after death, like I do). The fact that you are living a good moment in life does not mean that only good moments will follow, like the fact that you are living a bad moment doesn’t mean that no good will ever come again. No, because impermanence is a Law of this Universe, it is a Law of life. We all know this. Our own bodies do not remain the same forever. Our thoughts change, our feelings change, our bodies change. The landscapes around us change. The beings around us change. The circumstances of our life change. What I learned from this is that you must value each moment you have, enjoy every step of the journey and continuously work and fight for a better journey… for yourself and for others.

Deep down, I am infinitely grateful to my parents for having raised me the way they did, and I hope that I will carry on forging my own path the way they (and the world) have taught me to.


Note: in a following article I shall write more about this idea of “you reap what you sow” and more about this idea of impermanence too. 



The Meaning – part I

To seek for a meaning in life is probably the most epic, yet common journey in the world. There is as much greatness in it as there is simplicity. There are so many questions surrounding this conquest. Is there truly one key meaning to our life – or may there be more than one? Is it truly possible to reach the end of this quest – or is there no end to it? Will we ever truly find the meaning of our lives before we die, or won’t we? “The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life”. For years I have heard this sentence and not given it what I now believe is its true meaning. One day, as I watching The Last Samurai for the hundredth time, it finally struck me: enlightenement. That is, I believe, what Katsumoto called the perfect blossom. But for those who don’t know or don’t believe in the genuine sense of this phenomenom, maybe you can view it as something else: finding a purpose to life, discovering its meaning, carving your path through it. There is nothing simple about it – and maybe it is a lot simpler than we think. Why? Because, in truth, all the answers we need are already inside us, waiting for us to find them.

I don’t mean to say that we cannot learn from the outside world, from other beings or from life’s experiences. No. Every single thing we go through in life is meant to help us unlock those understandings that already lie inside us, waiting to be found. The hardest and greatest challenge, perhaps, is to learn exactly how to view each event that happens in our life as a lesson to further understand ourselves – and, therefore, to further understand the reason why we are alive, the reason why we came to this World… or, in other words, the meaning of our life. A question: is it only when we look inside us that we will understand the world around us, or is it only when we look at the world around us that we will understand ourselves? Maybe both. Maybe it is the other way around: only when we look inside us will we truly understand ourselves, but we can not do so without being fully aware of the world that surrounds us. Why? Because our life is what shapes us, and our life is deeply affected by the world we inhabit. But each of us reacts differently to the things that happen to us. How can we explain that? By looking inside us and finding what is there. There, in the depths of our being, lie the answers we need to everything. But by no means is it easy to look inside yourself.

It is a lot harder to look inside yourself than to look around you. Why? Because there is as much depth to you, as much width and complexity, as there is in the universe that surrounds you. Look at the common sentence: you are a drop in the universe, and the universe in a drop. So, how can you discover yourself? How can you find those answers? For they are invisible, inaudible, but not impossible to feel. You can feel them with your heart, as you can feel them with your mind. I believe meditation (be it traditional Buddhist meditation or reiki,  shamanic practices or spiritual retreats, et cetera) is the best way to reach it, as have said the wise people of the East for thousands of years. But for those of us who don’t practice meditation, are not interested in it or don’t know enough about it, one good piece of advice is this: fight complexity with simplicity. “There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment. There will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue. Live being true to the single purpose of the moment” (Tsunetomo Yamamoto, Hagakure: The Book Of The Samurai).

If we view the quest for a meaning to life as an epic, arduous journey, we may never feel brave enough or strong enough to face it. But no journey can be done by jumping from start to finish. You must take one step at a time, and follow your path. There are two things to reflect upon in this fact. First: you must take one step at a time. You will never succeed at something if you are constantly looking at the ending, at the final result, and not fully focused on the task at hand. Therefore, everything you do must be done with full respect for the present moment. To perfect yourself, you must do everything by heart, moved by the awareness that every gesture of yours must be a representation of your best self. You must help others, love others, always do your best for the best of others… and, in doing so, you shall also be doing what is best for yourself. Secondly, follow your path. This does not mean that you must follow whatever life imposes on you. No. You must create your own path by learning to listen to the advice that the Universe offers you. If you open your eyes and if you listen attentively, you will see and you will hear that life guides you in the right direction. This, of course, can only happen if you fulfill the first part of your quest correctly: if you remain true to yourself – and, therefore, to the world around you – at all times. Remain true to yourself at all times. Always be your best self. And life will offer you guidance to find and carve your own path.

It may be hard to find guidance in everyday life. Sometimes, we feel completely lost and alone – as if the Universe doesn’t see us or care about us; or worse, as if it is punishing us for something we don’t even know we’ve done. However, that is only a sign to show us that we are doing something wrong: we are most likely not being true to ourselves and doing the best we can. To find a meaning to life, we must wholeheartedly dedicate ourselves to everything in our life; but that doesn’t necessarily mean putting ourselves out there for great, perilous tasks. Instead, it means that we should find love, strength and courage in the simplest activities and gestures, offering those same gifts (love, loyalty, strength, courage) to those around us. In the end, if we are true to ourselves, we will begin to see that the Universe is not indifferent to us. We were not born into this World simply to fill it, to be another insignificant number in an overcrowded planet. No. I don’t think any of us was born simply to be another number, another empty face, another empty body. I think we all have a purpose in life, but most of us are dormant, unaware of our true paths, of our true selves. And if you get lost, your destiny – the destiny of this endless journey we are all on – will be much harder to find.

Most importantly than life, there is integrity. Integrity of the spirit, integrity of the heart and of the mind. Like Yamamoto Tsunetomo said, “Life is not so important when forced to choose between life and integrity”. To the Samurai, this was a cornerstone of their principles. And in the words of Miyamoto Musashi, “Get beyond love and grief; exist for the good of Man”. I want to change this sentence to: Get beyond love and grief; exist for the good of all the living. If you get lost in your own troubles and your own worries, you are only working for your own ego – which is what the vast majority of people in this world do. But if you see the little, simplest things in your life as they are all serving a higher purpose, you will be working for the universe and all that live in it. To end with the words of Buddha, “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path”.

The One-Way Mirror

I was studying Political Science a couple of days ago when I read a paragraph about Democracy vs. Non-Democracy which stated that the majority of States on a global level are non-democratic regimes, and that they frequently include the highest population rates around the world. This was not exactly news for me but, sometimes, reading a certain known fact on a book or an article makes it suddenly and disturbingly clear for you. It is as if you had seen the same information before behind a frosted glass or a dirty window and, all of a sudden, you’re seeing it through the cleanest glass or water surface. And it hits you with massive strength.

There are no airbags when it counts to realising that we live in a world where the majority of States does not recognise its citizens their basic, fundamental human rights. It is so easy for us to imagine a simple, carefree life in a safe, free society – that comfort and liberty have been there since the date of our birth. We have never been stopped from saying or writing what we think, we have never been stopped from having driving lessons because we are women, we have never been stopped from going to school because our Government does not want us to have an education. It is hard to step out of one’s shoes and imagine life “on the other side” – but I see it as a big box divided by a central glass window. It is not any glass window; it is a one-way mirror, like those you find in interrogation rooms. A one-way mirror is partially reflective and partially transparent; when you light one side and keep the other in the dark, it allows viewing from the darkened side but not from the other side. And so I picture all these people that live on one side of the box, a chock-full of men and women and children who are looking at the other half through the one-way mirror, watching individuals on the other side living their lives freely and carelessly. On their side, however, things do not work the same way – and the people who live in the first half, the so-called better half, simply do not see them.

This is bull**** of course, if you feel like swearing a little. Everyday we see and hear news on TV about how someone else has been blown up by a bomb somewhere in the Middle East, or how war is going on in Syria, or how a fatal disease is once again making its way through Sub-Saharan Africa, or how an ethnic minority is once again being slaughtered in Burma. We see and hear and, yet, it is as if we are blind and deaf. We carry on eating supper and living our free, careless lives. So, in a way, it is as if there is a one-way mirror separating the North from the South. But it is worse than that, because this mirror is imaginary: it is in all our heads; in each of us.

Nevertheless, being immune to any effect these news might have on us – there is still a breach in our blidness and deafness. That is the trivializing of violence. Hannah Arendt spoke of the “banality of evil”, and coining the term from my own personal perspective, I can only say that this is probably a good definition of the society we live in. We have become so used to violence that we are no longer shocked by watching children on TV being trained by ISIL to become future assassins. There are numerous theories on why this happens: violent videogames, violent TV series, violent books, violent wars, violent attacks, too much talk about terrorism and death and violence. Truth is, we are being pumped violence and death and bloody images and sceneries from a very young age. We grow up hearing about it, we grow up seeing it, in a way that, by the time we should actually be motivated to do something to fight it, we are simply insensitive to its gory effects.

This is a tendency we must fight. The moment we stop feeling shocked with the sight of children being given AK-47s and taught how to kill, is the moment we cease to be deeply, spiritually motivated to act – in such a way that we will no longer have the urgent, unavoidable need to do something to stop it. If you look at these children on TV and do not feel your stomach clench or your guts wrap in a sudden nausea; if you do not feel tears coming to your eyes or if you simply do not have this nuclear, instinctive red flag that tells you there is something wrong with that picture… then you have banalized evil inside you. And there is nothing more dangerous than that. “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing”. Or like Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”.

It is time to de-banalize evil, to turn it back into the monster it is. We all love the Joker, but villains in real life are not in any way lovable. They are not actors performing behind a TV screen; evil must not be seen as a temporary distraction, it mustn’t be seen as entertainment. Let’s make it a monster again, let us feel shocked and scared and sad and uncomfortable about it. It is the only way to ensure that, when we see news like this, when we darken the other side of the mirror and finally watch what is happening on “the other side”, we will finally realise that one part of the box cannot live in a dream while the other part is living in a nightmare.

Let us destroy the wall that divides us. And let us face the monster as it is: evil, as a force to be reckoned with, as a fight to be fought, as a challenge to be overcome. Only light can drive out darkness. Let’s destroy the one-way mirror.

Shifting Consciousness

Mainstream Media is one of the most powerful – if not the most powerful – tools used by the ruling forces of this world to control the masses and keep people from truly knowing what is going on around them.

If you turn on the TV today, you will hear the latest news on a fundamentalist group’s bombing of some Middle Eastern city; you will hear the latest news on a bloodbath in some African country fuelled by religious intolerance; you will hear the latest news on the economical crisis in Europe; the latest news on the African-American protests against police brutality and racism in North America; the latest news on a plane crash, a school bus falling off a bridge, a man murdering his wife and children, homosexuals being persecuted in Russia, a reporter being beheaded somewhere in the Middle East… If you turn on the news, chances are you are going to be bombarded with accidents, killings, violence, death.

And we can ask ourselves: what is the common factor in all these headlines? Fear. They all feed fear. People are being injected with fear everyday. Why? Because fear will most likely keep you quietly in a corner, it will keep you under control, expecting your Government and those who are supposed to defend and represent you to keep you safe. As along as you are afraid, you will cling to your steady, uneventful, reassuring daily lifestyle.

And while you are calmly and subserviently doing your everyday life – go to work, pay your taxes, feed your family, buy a car, pay your taxes (don’t forget to pay your taxes! Oh, never mind, nobody will let you forget…) – the media will throw at you all kinds of material possessions that will keep you comfortable and content. Consumerism is a two-sided weapon: on one hand, it keeps people distracted, constantly seducing them with new additions to their ordinary, safe life. On the other hand, it brings profit to those in power. The same ones who fund and pay for the armed conflicts that are then used to scare people on the news.

Mainstream Media and the alleged World leaders have effectively achieved a devastating reality in today’s world: they have built a psychological and sometimes physical barrier between the Western countries (the “most developed countries”, the “First World countries”) and the rest of the world (the “Third World countries”, the poor, those considered to be less civilized). They have effectively made most people believe that what affects a certain African country, children in Colombia, women in the Middle East, cannot physically affect them in their own homes. For many Western people, when they turn on the news and hear of the latest bombing in Afghanistan or the latest attack on a Kenyan university, they feel momentarily shocked and sorry for the victims and then they go back to their dinner. This idea that the evil committed upon some does not affect all is a blatant and dangerous lie.

There are no barriers, no frontiers between us, living beings of the Earth, except those we build ourselves – whether in our minds or on paper. These barriers are threats to global peace and global well-being. For as long as we keep viewing violence against others as a shameful act that we can do nothing about, our world will be unbalanced.

So how do we change this? The truth is it is already changing.

Global consciousness* (or global awareness) is already growing towards a shifting paradigm. People are starting to wake up and to realise that they are being fed with lies and frauds. The yet so common and powerful idea of individualism that we have been living under for so long is starting to change. People are not satisfied with their ways of life. They are not content with the changeless, unsatisfactory routines that keep them from truly exploring their passions and their nature. They see that our World leaders are not tending to the needs of Planet Earth. They see that all of us, together, have the power to change the paradigm. To shift our global consciousness.

There have hardly ever been so many protests, public events and riots happening in so many different places at the very same time before. News of this can be found everywhere… except in the Mainstream Media. Searching for alternative media outlets can change the way you think by giving you a hopeful, healthier picture of what life on this Planet can be like. So if what you see around you appears only to bring pessimism, suffering and irreversibility, try to find another perspective – one of unity and change. Shifting Consciousness is a process that has already been set in motion, but it can only affect the entire world if everybody starts exploring it – and changing their own consciousness.


* Global Consciousness: The concept that, when a certain number of people focus their minds, their consciousness, on a common cause, they will influence the world around them.