At other times it seems equally evident that life is the exact opposite, and we find ourselves helplessly adrift in a desperate and chaotic, dog-eat-dog world.
The Alchemist is a story that acknowledges both realities. It is up to us as readers, as well as students of life, to see them both for what they are, and to learn to embrace the glorious complexity of life for all that it has to offer.
Therefore, I urge anyone who opens this book to approach it’s poetic innocence, inspired passion, and seeming simplicity with open eyes and a critical awareness. Enjoy it’s optimism, celebrate it’s romance, and let it lift your spirits, while keeping your feet planted firmly on the ground, careful to not get swept away.
To a young, passionate soul, going out into the world to answer life’s important questions, fill spaces that are still empty, and seek meaning from life, this book can serve as an extremely inspiring and driving force. Its poetry, simplicity, and certainty in regard to destiny and following one’s personal legend, make it a resource that can bring a vulnerable but hopeful, and adventurous spirit to life, and push them to continue to seek their “treasure”. While beautiful, ideal, and temporarily empowering, this kind of “faith” can also be very misleading. The promise that “… when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”, for example, is an intoxicatingly beautiful thought that brings such comfort and assurance in suggesting that, if you work hard, and truly believe, things will magically fall into your lap. Well, for some of us more fortunate, endowed with family riches and genetic advantages from the very start, this may be true. However, for the rest of us, the reality is that regardless of our desire, intention, and sometimes serious efforts, life is usually not experienced in this way. This, and countless other memorable romantic and idealistic quotes in The Alchemist regarding the soul of the world, true love, and destiny, can build unrealistic expectations in the hearts and minds of those in search of answers. The words on these pages, misunderstood, can easily set the stage for extreme disappointment, future self-doubt, complete dissolution of belief systems, and a breakdown of life-long paradigms.
On the other hand, perhaps it is this very process of “awakening”, enduring and deconstructing, that can lead us most courageous and determined warriors to find our “treasure”, and understand our own true colors in the process…
At first glance, this story appears to have been written as a testament of faith, love, and destiny; a celebration and reminder of certain idealistic notions that we as a society have grown too distant from. However, the true wisdom of this book is found much deeper beneath this flowery surface. For once one has really lived a life of courageous passion, intuitive- whole-hearted determination to listen to their heart, to their true calling, to seek and cultivate meaning in all pursuits, and continue on until all resources have been exhausted, and then done it all again, and again, and again, it becomes apparent that the gift inherent in the pages of this book has nothing to do with comfort, certainty, and inspired passion. The wisdom Paulo Coelho divulges to us so sneakily, hidden beneath such ambiguous simplicity, is not realized by focusing on how things can go right, or on the promise of love at first sight, or the effortlessness of success when you follow your dreams… It is even more inspiring than that. The wisdom is instead in our ability to acknowledge the difficulties, the obstacles, and the challenges that try to tear us down and rip us from our beliefs. The valuable lessons of this story can be extracted by our understanding that in each and every chapter, dreams are being tested, philosophies are being challenged, and distractions are constantly presenting themselves in the form of ultimate grandeur.
“Before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved toward that dream. That’s the point at which most people give up. It’s the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, one 'dies of thirst just when the palm trees have appeared on the horizon.”
– Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
The best, and most undeniably uplifting and inspiring element of Coelho’s tale, is the opportunity he provides us, to understand that a true adventure is not a romantic and glamorous tale of a heroic warrior constantly conquering adversity and killing dragons. A true adventure is a fucking wild journey of a soul crazy enough to dive in to life’s toughest challenges, getting chased all over by dragons, ghosts, employers, dogs, cats, ex-partners, meter-maids, media, insurance companies, debt collectors, and spray-tanned ogres. It is a continuous, rip-roaring and sometimes unbelievably boring game, a glorious explosion of false hopes, slaps in the face, and broken promises. And therein lies the romance: in the celebration of life with all of its honest, ironic, imperfections. It is a masterpiece of experiences that serve to strip us of each and every illusion holding us back from true contentment. The real treasure is the gift of understanding the glory of “falling 7 times, and getting up 8 times”, of witnessing the extent of our unbelievable courage and other character qualities, to re-interpret and re-invent our visions of success, beauty, accomplishment, love, and destiny, in a way that we could have never dreamed of in the beginning.
We find love, we find treasure, we find destiny, not by “winning”, but by learning to redefine “losing”. In reality, there are no mistakes, no losses, only lessons, 1 paradigm-shifting wave after another, sweeping away the perfect, foundational misalignments of the past to make way for a more enlightened future.
If we want to stay the same, avoid intense struggle, and never have to face “being wrong”, then we can stay right where we are, never dare to put ourselves out where we are vulnerable, and never open ourselves to growth and change. By all means, that is a choice that we have every right to make. In doing so, we will avoid experiences of sudden and severe pain. Yet, by remaining safe and stagnant, held back by fear, we instead welcome a different, and arguably worse form of pain: the kind that slowly creeps up on you, building day by day in the form of dissatisfaction and regret for what “could have been”. The slow, subtle pain of a life “un-lived” will build up around us, brick by brick outside of our awareness, until the day comes that we are trapped within its walls of discontent, and can never be free of it. On the other hand, The acute and intense pains we endure along our journey of our Personal Legends come and go suddenly, forcing us to confront issues, grow from them, and then move on to a higher and more satisfying level of being.
So have courage, have faith, have passion. Listen to your heart. When it conflicts with feedback from the world around you, think of ways that you can reinvent your understanding, think of how you could change your approach. There are endless ways to the top of the mountain – your destiny. Obstacles are inherent in its formation. Don’t let them stop you. Build new muscles, learn new tricks, try the scenic route. Stay constant, but welcome everything that slows you down for all that it has to offer. Set clearly defined goals in the direction of your dreams, knowing that without them you are wandering aimlessly toward nothing at all. Pursue these goals whole-heartedly, knowing that none of them guarantee the outcome you expected, but they all guarantee forward motion, opening new doors, illuminating the path toward your highest self. Do not give up. Know that your destiny, your Highest Self, your true treasure, is something that you could never accurately predict or foresee. It is much greater, much more complex, and more interesting than you could ever imagine. It is beyond what you could possibly dream. Have faith that the challenges we must face to possess this ultimate treasure MUST be of equal, unforeseeable greatness and complexity. Do not give up. There is only 1 way to learn: It is through action. Take action. Expect to fall. Resolve to get back up. Don’t beat yourself up when you feel you don’t always have the strength. Listen to your heart. Honor yourself. Rest, recover, reflect, re-design. And Go.
When hope is flickering, when certainty is wavering, when faith is running low – I have faith in you. “All things are one.” We are on the same journey. We ask the same questions. We have the same fears. We face the same challenges in different forms. We gaze beyond our own unique reflections, deep into eyes that serve as windows into the same soul.
I see you… And I believe in you.
When you look into your eyes, and see into mine…
Believe in me too.