Give up everything to gain everything: the salt doll

In more recent times we have dedicated our reflections almost exclusively to Covid-19, in its context, which is a super exploitation of the living Earth and of nature, by globalized capitalism, including that of China.  Earth and nature have been defending themselves by sending a gama of viruses (zika, ebola, avarian and swine fever and others) and now this one that attacks all of humanity, except for other living beings.  The reckless course of unbridled accumulation has come to a crisis and we have had to stop, to begin social isolation, to avoid contact in groups and to use uncomfortable masks.  We accept these limitations in solidarity with one another and with those who are suffering world-wide.

This grave situation prompts us to think not only about what may come after the pandemic but also about ourselves, about the daily questions concerning the continued development of our identity and the molding of our sense of being.  It is a never-ending task including in times of social confinement.  Two issues among many others are perpetually present and require our explanation: the acceptance of our personal limitations and the capacity to deny oneself.

We all live within an existencial arrangement that by its very nature is limited in possibilities and imposes numerous barriers; professional, intellectual, health related, economical, temporal and others.  There is always a chasm between wants and their realization.  And sometimes we feel impotent faced with what we are notable to change, as the presence of a person with the ups and downs of a terminal illness.  We have to resign ourselves vis a vis this unavoidable limitation.

This should not keep us sad or without possibility of growing.  Among the resigned are the creatively resigned.  In place of growing outward we can grow inward to the extent that we create a center from which things can be u nified and we discover how to learn from everything.   Ancient wisdom said it well: “if someone feels deeply about another, the latter will perceive it despite being thousands of kilometers away”.  If you modify your inner self, there will be born in you a source of light that will radiate to others.

The other task consists in the search for auto-realization.  Essentially this is the capacity to relinquish.  Zen Buddhism puts before us as a test of personal maturity and of interior liberty the capacity to relinquish and to leave.  If we observe well, giving away belongs to the logic of life.  We leave the maternal womb, and after that infancy, youth, school, our paternal home, parents and personal 

What is the meaning of this slow exit from the world?  Is it a mere, unchangeable fatality of the universal law of entropy?  That much is incontrovertible, but is there not an existential sense remaining in the search for the spirit?  If in fact we are an infinite project and an abysmal emptiness crying out for fullness, will not this act of leaving behind mean the creation of conditions so that a Greater can come to fill us?  Will it the Supreme Being, one of love and mercy, who comes taking everything so that we may be able to gain everything, on the other side, when our pursuit is finally over,  be as the restless heart of Saint Augustine?

In losing, we gain and when we empty ourselves we are filled.  They say that this has been the trajectory of Jesus, of Buda, of Francis of Assisi, of Gandhi, of Mother Teresa, of Sister dulce and I believe also of Pope Francis, the best of the humans of today.

Perhaps a story of the ancient spiritual masters, can clarify the sense of loss that produces wealth.  

“There once was a doll of salt.  After roaming arid lands it came to discover the sea, which it had never seen before, and which, for this reason, it did no understand. The doll of salt asked: ‘Who are you?’  And the sea answered: ‘I am the sea.’  The slat doll responded: ‘and what is the sea?’ and the sea said: ‘I am the sea’.  ‘I don’t understand”, said the doll of salt, ‘but I would very much like to understand you; how can I do that?’  The sea said simply: ‘touch me’.

Then the salt doll timidly touched the sea with the tip of its foot.  It noted that the sea began to be understood, but soon became aware that its toes had disappeared.  ‘O, sea, look what has happened to me’, it said.  And the sea responded: ‘you gave something of yourself and I gave you understanding; you need to give all of yourself to understand me totally’.

The doll of salt began to descend into the depths of the sea, slowly and solemnly, as if doing the most important thing of its life.  And to the extent that it went dissolving it understood the sea increasingly better.  And the doll kept asking: ‘what is the sea?’  Until the waves covered it completely.  However it could say, up to the final moment, before fusing into the sea: ‘I am’”.

Giving up everything, it gained all: the real me.

Leonardo boff is the author of Time of Transcendence (2009) and Homesick for God (2019) Sal Terrae

Translation by Richard Korn


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