Near Chiswick Square, I stopped for a while to look at a board in front of the entrance to an Anglican church. There was an advertisement for tai chi chuan. While I was standing in front of the board, a man about thirty years old with an athletic body came up behind my shoulders. He reached me and I assumed he was probably about to talk to me of tai chi chuan.
“No, thanks.” I said, anticipating his words. “Sorry, I am not interested.”
“Come up with me, I want to talk with you.”
We went to the upper floor and entered a room equipped as a gymnasium. It was a traditional gymnasium, that is, without apparatuses for bodybuilding. On one of the sides, there was a step. We sat down on that step. The light was very dim, but I could see him clearly. I cannot forget his face, his eyes, and everything of him. He left an indelible imprint in my heart and mind.
The young guy was a bit taller than me and wore brown running trousers, a green T-shirt, and white training shoes. His hair was light brown and his eyes green. He had a small scar in his large forehead. His nose was a little bit snubby and his lips were very thin. His arms and legs were so stout and beefy that they made him seem capable of knocking a bull down, but his smile was the sweetest I had ever seen. As soon as we sat down, I went to the core of my issue one more time.
“I would like to know whether everything ends, or there is something that survives the decay of our body after death.”
The young English athlete stared into my eyes for a short while. All of a sudden, he stood up and bent his right arm.
“Stand up! Push my arm hard with all your strength!”
I stood up, too. For a while, I had the sensation of being in another world. That unexpected action of the young athlete, the half-light in the gymnasium, that chance meeting in London in a country different from mine, all these made me think that I was daydreaming or I was in an unreal place. I couldn’t feel like I was living in this world.
I had an instant of confusion, and then I decided to follow the instructions given me by the athlete. So, I put my hand on his arm and pushed it hard, with all the strength I could muster. The athlete went back markedly.
“Now you are strong!” he exclaimed.
Soon after, he recovered and pushed my arm back. Even though I tried hard to withstand him, I couldn’t help stepping back.
“Now you are weak! What’s happening?” he said to me.
We kept doing this exercise for a while, and the smile appeared on my face. Just that smile that I had lost for many, too many, years!
“What happened to you? When we entered the gymnasium, you were pale, pensive, and tied up with your question about death. Now you are smiling. How is it possible?”
“You are an angel, aren’t you? How can I thank you for the smile you’ve brought back to me!”
He seemed to appreciate my praise, with a big smile.
“Thank you! Today, I gave you a small amount of fire. It’s a fire that you will pass to others later!”
Then, he explained the meaning of the exercise we had done.
“You must never permit yourself to be conditioned by the result. Never ever act, work, study, fight, love, and so on only for the sake of a good outcome. The good action is important, not the result! You shouldn’t stop any action only because you haven’t achieved good results. In other words, you must be authentic to yourself regardless of success or failure. Success doesn’t give you strength or energy, nor can failure deprive you of your good qualities. So, remember this: Don’t depend upon anything outside yourself, but only rely on your inner energy! It is possible to apply this principle to sports as well. If a football team wins a match, it doesn’t mean that it is a strong team, and if a boxer wins a fight, it doesn’t mean that he is a champion. Both the football team and the boxer are really true champions only when they have a real autonomous, inner strength, regardless of winning…”
This is an excerpt from Travels of the Mind
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind