I’ve just read, again, Paulo Coelho’s classic ‘short story’/novel, ‘The Alchemist’. I read it years ago but in my current state of mind, I was drawn to it again.
Insofar as the style of the novel(la) is ‘fantasy’, supernatural, quasi-religious, ‘The Alchemist’ is not a typical read for me. I usually read non-fiction though I do go off on tangents at times and read fiction but hardly ever anything of this style. Although I’m sure that millions of readers enjoy the book because of the style, I enjoy it in spite of the style. The way I see it, ‘The Alchemist’ is not all about fantasy a la Harry Potter (not that I am qualified to say anything about Harry Potter as I have neither read the books nor seen the movies) – ‘The Alchemist’ simply serves up, delivers, its lessons on a fantasy-style plate or, rather, the fantasy style is just the vehicle.
Paulo Coelho speaks his then-philosophy of life and living (for all I know, the philosophy might have changed over the last 30 or so years) through the story and characters in this colossus of a small book (in this blog, I’m sticking to the lessons and philosophies rather than getting into the ‘story’). It strikes a heavy chord with me, it genuinely resonates.
I am totally on the same page (excuse the pun) with Coelho vis a vis the big lesson/moral, ie ‘FOLLOW YOUR HEART’ although one of the recurring messages, “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”, well, that might be his experience but I’m not so sure. That said, I guess whether one thinks that that is true or not depends, to an extent, on one’s interpretation of events and circumstances and on one’s attitude to them. Two people can get caught up in a situation, the same situation, and one can look at it as an opportunity, the other as a set-back. On that theme, Coelho writes, “…life wants you to achieve your Personal Legend…” (Coelho is referring here to a person’s goal – more than goal, to her/his dream, burning desire). Hmmmm, well, again, I have difficulty with that idea/concept/philosophy, I guess because I don’t look at ‘life’ as an entity. I’m assuming/guessing that this idea comes from a religious standpoint, maybe theistic, maybe deistic – I don’t want this blog to go off in that direction so I’ll leave it there but I’ll just say that, for me (and for Shakespeare, as it happens), life is just a stage, a wonderful, colourful, awesome, mind-blowing stage but just that, a stage, on which we dance, saunter or stumble our way through life.
Another of the pieces of Coelho’s life philosophy jigsaw – not life, living – is his belief in ‘omens’. “We have to respond to the omens”. Again, I don’t buy into that because I don’t believe in fate, in the idea that our life journey is mapped out, that our life is part of some big plan. I see myself, in relation to the world, the universe, as so insignificant that I’m pretty well an irrelevance. Now, that is not to say that I’m irrelevant in relation to society, the animal kingdom, flora, fauna et al. We all have to co-exist and we all have the power, the moral obligation, to do so in a ‘spirit’ of community, love and respect. I’m simply saying that I can choose to follow my heart or ignore it, it’s a very personal thing, and I do not believe that a god or any other supernatural being is sending me messages to wake me up and guide me on my way.
The jigsaw piece that I home in on, where Coelho’s philosophical road and mine meet, is his follow you heart message:
“Your heart is alive. Keep listening to what it has to say…you will never…be able to keep it (your heart) quiet. Even if you pretend not to have heard what it tells you, it will always be there inside you, repeating to you what you’re thinking about life and about the world…You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say…”
Some people won’t ‘get’ that, their hearts don’t ‘speak’ to them. That could be because they are where they want to be, perhaps their hearts started muttering quietly and their ‘owners’ followed their hearts without the hearts needing to scream at them. There’ll be people, I’m sure, who just happen to be happy where they are, people whose hearts simply aren’t speaking.
However, I reckon that the majority of people can hear their hearts but that a lot of them ignore their hearts for countless reasons, most often because, hiding behind excuses, they don’t have the mental strength, the character, the constitution, to be able to step up to their hearts’ plates. The irony is that it might be easier to follow your heart, with all the upheaval and hard work that that might entail, than to ignore it. Surely, one of the most painful experiences, not THE most but one of the most, is regret. How many people over the millennia, looking back, in their dotage, over their lives, come to the agonizing realization that as tough as following their hearts would have been, it’s as nothing compared to the pain of regret?
Our hearts are ‘on our sides’. They go on at us ad nauseam, not because they are nuisances but because they are desperate for us to hear what they are saying, desperate for us to hear, to listen and to follow. Our hearts ‘know’ that if we ignore them, we’ll live to regret it.
Our hearts and minds are in conflict. Our hearts want to get our minds ‘on side’. The majority of us follow our minds, not our hearts. We don’t even follow our minds, our minds lead us. We are passive, we don’t take control. It’s that conflict that drives us to distraction. It’s that conflict between our hearts and our minds that, if we don’t cause them to make peace, puts us in a state of never-ending anguish. We have a choice, of course. Three options:
1) live in a state of continuous anguish, caught in the cross-fire between your heart and your mind;
2) try and ignore the conflict and just hope – against hope – that the battle will die down (unlikely);
3) accept and acknowledge the battle, raise your mind’s ‘game’, get your mind and heart onto the same page and follow your heart.
My guess is that even people who think that they are ‘sorted’, who aren’t introspective, who are satisfied, happy, where they are, that even they would benefit to some extent from reading ‘The Alchemist’. It might well ‘wake up’ people who, unbeknownst to them, are ‘asleep’, it may well cause dreams buried deep in a heart’s recesses to rise to the surface and to awaken a consciousness.
If you haven’t read ‘The Achemist’, do – if you have read ‘The Alchemist’, you might benefit from reading it again.
Follow your dreams…