the alchemist

“To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation.” ~ Paulo Coelho

Before reading The Alchemist, I had heard about it in a number of different ways. But for some reason, I didn’t seek it out. It wasn’t until I saw the book literally in front of me at a library book sale that I picked it up. And I’m so glad I did, because this book is a gift to read. It is radiant, and necessary.

Coelho writes The Alchemist simply, as a fable. Yet, it is one of the most profound and important books I have ever read. What Coelho has to say about dreams, about love, about the very essence of our existence … is illuminating, provocative, and inspiring.

The copy I have is a 10th anniversary edition, with a commemorative introduction by Coelho. I am going to transcribe some of his reflections here:

I remember reading a letter from the American Publisher Harper Collins that said that: “reading The Alchemist was like getting up at dawn and seeing the sun rise while the rest of the world still slept.” I went outside, looked up at the sky, and thought to myself: “So, the book is going to be published in English!” At the time, I was struggling to establish myself as a writer and to follow my path despite all the voices telling me it was impossible…

The book has been translated into fifty-six languages, has sold more than twenty million copies, and people are beginning to ask: What’s the secret behind such huge success?

The only honest response is: I don’t know. All I know is that, like Santiago the shepherd boy, we all need to be aware of our personal calling … Whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend. However, we don’t all have the courage to confront our own dream.

Why?

There are four obstacles. First: we are told from childhood onward that everything we want to do is impossible. We grow up with this idea, and as the years accumulate, so too do the layers of prejudice, fear, and guilt. There comes a time when our personal clling is so deeply buried in our soul as to be invisible. But it’s still there.

If we have courage to disinter dream, we are then faced by the second obstacle: love. We know what we want to do, but we are afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dream. We do not realize that love is just a further impetus, not something that will prevent us going forward. We do not realize that those who genuinely wish us well want us to be happy and are prepared to accompany us on that journey.

Once we have accepted that love is a stimulus, we come up against the third obstacle: fear of the defeats we will meet on the path. We who fight for our dream suffer far more when it doesn’t work out, because we cannot fall back on the old exuse: “Oh, well, I didn’t really want it anyway.” We do want it and know that we have staked everything on it and that the path of the personal calling is no easier than any other path, except that our whole heart is in this journey. Then, we warriors of light must be prepared to have patience in difficult times and to know that the Universe is conspiring in our favor, even though we may not understand how.

I ask myself: are defeats necessary?

Well, necessary or not, they happen. When we first begin fighting for our dream, we have no experience and make many mistakes. The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.

Having disinterred our dream, having used the power of love to nurture it and spent many years living with the scars, we suddenly notice that what we always wanted is there, waiting for us, perhaps the very next day. Then comes the fourth obstacle: the fear of realizing the dream for which we fought all our lives.

The mere possibility of getting what we want fills the soul of the ordinary person with guilt. We look around at all those who have failed to get what they want and feel that we do not deserve to get what we want either. We forget about all the obstacles we overcame, all the suffering we endured, all the things we had to give up in order to get this far. I have known a lot of people who, when their personal calling was within their grasp, went on to commit a series of stupid mistakes and never reached their goal – when it was only a step away.

This is the most dangerous of the obstacles because it has a kind of saintly aura about it: renouncing joy and conquest. But if you believe yourself worthy of the thing you fought so hard to get, then you become an instrument, you help the Soul of the World, and you understand why you are here.

Paulo Coelho
Rio de Janeiro
November 2002
Translated by Margaret Jull Costa

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