Tuesday, December 04, 2007

November: The Alchemist

"To realize one's destiny is a person's only real obligation. All things are one."

I read this book in two days and anyone who has read it can understand why. The simple tale consumed me and could not have come at a better time in my life. I've been reading Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra all month but am less than halfway into it, as each tale and so many singular statements send me into philosophical musings. But this weekend I knew I needed to be inspired and in a huge way. The Alchemist has been recommended to me by quite a few people and it has been sitting on my shelf for a couple of months now. After yet another mention of this book by a girl who I dork out on books with at the gym, I woke up Sunday morning and knew I needed to read it. 

The experience reminds me of when I read Herman Hesse's Siddhartha a few years ago. I read it on a plane to Baltimore, on my way to drive my sister back home cross country. It inspired me so deeply and had a profound impact on my perspective. Where Hesse's Siddhartha touched my soul and inspired me to a new level of acceptance and peace with life, Coelho's The Alchemist sparks my soul and beautifully reiterates that truly, "to realize one's destiny is a person's only obligation." 

The story of the shepherd boy and his pursuit of his Personal Legend spoke so clearly to my soul. It reiterates that when we pursue false paths, things go wrong and we are inevitably disappointed. There is a reason for that. But when we pursue our Personal Legend, the universe truly does conspire to help us achieve it and the journey proves remarkable in more profound ways than simply achieving that goal. And sadly, most people never fully pursue their Personal Legend. This tale also brings to light the reality that many people get close to their Personal Legend but recoil in fear when their courage is put to the test.

The boy didn't know what a person's 'Personal Legend' was.

"It's what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their Personal Legend. "

"What you still need to know is this: 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.' Every search begins with beginner's luck. And every search ends with the victor's being severely tested."

The boy remembered an old proverb from his country. It said that the darkest hour of the night came just before the dawn.

I know my Personal Legend and I choose not to ignore it any longer. 

Stay tuned...


Randal Graves said...

Hey blogosphere, stop recommending books!

It sounds like I need to add this one to the list. Now, here's the question: once we arrive at knowing what our Personal Legend is, are we sure that it is the true one? How does one know what one really wants?

La Belette Rouge said...

It is a lovely book and nice easy reading in contrast to "Thus Spoke Zarathustra." Lucky for you, and others like you, that our personal journey will be in less sandy and more hospitable climate.

In a different Nietzche book, "The Gay Science," he makes a compelling argument why we should go to Paris in the form of his idea of "Eternal Return.

N says: “What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your live will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence--even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!' Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.' If this thought gained possession of you, it would change, you as you are or perhaps crush you."

If I were in Paris, I would tell Nietzche's demon the latter. If living the "Personal Legend" that is what anyone would say. No?

Randal Graves said...

LBR, if I were in Paris, I would tell it the latter as well. As for the rest, let me figure out what the hell my "Personal Legend" is first. The repetition of everything as it's exactly been, that might be a form of hell.

carra said...

I read the Alchemist in one sitting a couple of years ago. I have the book now and I have the intention of re-reading it, to bring the focus to the important things in life, even though I don't feel as if I slipped of the track... I wonder what is your Personal Legend, but I believe I may know it already... Waiting, for what's coming next!

Richard said...

It was an easy book to read. It also helped that it was short.

I am not partial to the notion that the universe conspires to help us. For me, the universe is indifferent. When I was younger, I believed that if you kept your nose clean, were a decent sort of person, you would be carried through life and things would unfold before you. I no longer believe that. Without purpose and focus, you are aimless (which I still am).

The universe is indifferent and does not notice you. If you want something, then you must achieve it on your own, or, if you are lucky, with the support and encouragement of some around you.

Aside from the whole universe conspires to help you bit, which occupied pretty much the first half of the book, the book was a pleasant read. I liked the prologue, I liked the whole oasis / desert thing and I liked the ending.

Take A Year Out said...

R - stop kidding yourself - the universe is here to do one thing - provide us with all the dessert we can eat... but it can only do so after we have cleared our plate - completely cleared it. once i got rid of the 'stuff' the universe revealed the goods... note there is no 'shipping' to be done there - all the goods are right with you, right now. you have everything you want, and everything you need... you're abundant. naturally abundant: the universe is anything but indifferent.

B - i agree this book is magnificent - glad you have read it - i can't wait for the next post.

Run Around Paris said...

I can't tell you how many times I've paused when walking past this book at Barnes and Noble. I also can't tell you why I've never broke down and purchased my own copy. ;)
I am going to add this to my Christmas "Want List"...along with Rachael Ray's new cookbook, "Eat, Pray, Love" and "The Pillars of the Earth."

b said...

Randal...this really is a quick read and so inspiring...you have to bump it up on your list. In response to your question, I believe we all know what we need to pursue. It is the innate and fundamental aspect of our true selves. The longer and/or stronger we deny or ignore it, the more obscure it might become (and likely, the more miserable we will become. But it is a strong calling and we have to listen to our heart without fear to hear it more clearly.

I think that a general fear truly does exist which prevents most people from fully pursuing their Personal Legend and it is this: what if I do pursue my PL and it is not fulfilling or not my actual PL? I think this is a common but irrational fear. I mean, I am only speaking from this side of my PL obviously, but it seems that we fear that in achieving our dreams we will be left unsatisfied and somehow worse off than we originally were.

I know that this fear exists on some kind of sub-conscious level for me, personally. And I don't know why it is a fear. Something tells me however, that in pursuing our PL, we will no doubt be surprised by things we never imagined as being a part of the experience. But if we truly follow our bliss/PL, how could we ultimately be disappointed? The unexpected experiences along the journey are the most beautiful aspect of life.

What do we know for certain in life? That we are born, we live, we die. And while alive, we experience pain and suffering, we exert control over some things and are powerless over others. And above all, we love. That is the oneness of life. We all share a common bond. But we also have a unique calling and that is what we need to nurture. I believe that truly makes life fulfilling and in turn, we are better for humanity.

I guess it comes down to this... what do we have to lose? If we keep living out meager existences, what satisfaction will that ultimately bring? If you were religious, you might say that it will bring some great happiness in "heaven." But why not experience that here on earth? And as far as discovering what you truly want, you have to be still and listen to your heart. Only you know how to do that for yourself. And if you are really still, you'll hear the calling and realize it was there all along.

b said...

La belette rouge... you are amazing! This quote from Nietzsche is presented in the introduction of "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" and I have returned to it numerous times, as it has really provoked me. Although a contrast in many ways to the lovely tale of The Alchemist, the two merge in a profound way. Higgins and Solomon (authors of the introduction for this translation) state that Nietzsche, in propounding his theory of eternal recurrence, simply believed that "there is a difference between loving one's life because of its achievements and enjoyments and loving one's life for the sake of life itself. It is one thing to relish one's victories and successes. It is something else to love one's life despite or even because of one's failures and suffering."

Plainly, "being willing to endure one's life, with all of its pains as well as its pleasures, indicates a real love of life." And I think we must reach this point before we can fully pursue our PL. It is exactly that test of courage from The Alchemist. If we simply want to master our dream and find eternal happiness on earth, maybe we don't deserve to achieve our PL. We have to first be willing to equally embrace the struggle and suffering of life before we can know true fulfillment. I think that is the only way...acceptance and courage.

I think the fear of pursuing one's PL lies exactly in this notion. We fear that we will achieve our PL and be left unsatisfied. But if we are only in pursuit of everlasting happiness, we won't reach our PL. That's not the fulfillment it brings and what is fulfilling about everlasting happiness? Has anything that has come easy ever been truly fulfilling? Isn't those hard won battles that prove fulfilling?

b said...

Carra...It is such a great book, isn't it? I hope you get a chance to read it again soon. It is so inspiring. I think you know my PL very well. I will definitely post about it very soon!

b said...

Richard...Yes, it is an easy read and considerably short....less than 175 pages. Purpose and focus are essential but I would throw acceptance in there as well. Being a decent person isn't the same as pursuing your Personal Legend. Being kind and good...that's how we should want to participate in and with this world but without expectation of some reward for such behavior.

I do believe that the universe conspires to help us. Not always in obvious ways, however. We must suffer to appreciate happiness. And I don't think that in saying the universe conspires to help us that the universe magically (easily) makes things work out for us. But there is a benevolent force present when we are living according to our bliss/PL. When we are in pursuit of such, there is an amazing calmness. Again however, I think that the acceptance I was getting at in my comment to LBR above is key before we can feel that benevolent force.

b said...

Take A Year Out... Thanks. It is a magnificent book and truly does come at an ideal time. And that tells me that the universe is a benevolent force indeed. I'll post more soon!

b said...

Run Around Paris...I had the same experience. I often heard about this book and passed it at the bookstore many times as well but never bought it until recently when I added it to my B&N wish list and bought it for myself online finally! It is amazing, truly!!

Take A Year Out said...

I get this all the time as well... it's like each book is telling you when the right time to read it is...

This year i have picked up and put down about 4 different translations of the Tao Te Ching. I bought 2 different copies and found them both tough going, and more to the point, completely different to one another. So I was perplexed: How to find the right translation? I knew that what Lao Tzu had said in the original pages of the Tao would resonate hugely with me, as several teachers and gurus if mine all love his work... and I had glimpsed the genius and Truth of it several times. But there are 84 translations.... So what to do?!

So I am walking around Waterstones (British B&N), a while back and I come across a book by Wayne Dyer called Change Your Thoughts Change Your Life - Living the Wisdom of the Tao. It is Dyer's application of the Tao Te Ching to modern life.

Anyway, I remember the first time I tried to buy it, for some reason I didn't have the money on me. I think I was going to yoga or something. Or maybe I was just having a 'broke day'. Anyway, something stopped me.

And I went back the next week and they had sold out...

And to cut a long story down to medium length, I managed to get a copy right on the morning I went to Peru for a month in October.

I begun the first chapter as I took off from Heathrow... I took in those words while lounging in hammocks in the jungle and lazing on the banks of the amazon, or drinking incredible amazonian fruit juices in the sweltering heat of Iquitos...

And I really got the Tao for the first time - it infused my life and my belief system and has remained with me, and will do for ever.

Dyer's book is incredible, and brilliantly explains the Taoist ways of life: reduction, simplicity, honesty, true leadership and devotion to mother nature.

It's just a great guide on how to apply the Tao to the crazy world in which we live.

I finished the book, literally, as the wheels of the plane touched down again in London a month later, having taken my time to read and absorb every word.

It was truly the right time for me to read it, and to finally understand the Tao.

La Belette Rouge said...

No, B! It is you that are amazing!!!
That is exactly what we are trying to get at with the “Inch by Inch.” By taking the steps and adding France to our daily life we are creating a better more satisfying life—one that I could joyfully endure over and over and over.
I have long had this dream…but as my rational mind couldn’t figure out how to make it happen instantly I was unwilling to take any action. I wasn’t willing to endure the ambiguity. For me, ambiguity equals suffering. Now, with your help and Nietzche, the Alchemist and French 75’s help, I really get it. It isn’t just about the inches that get you somewhere—it is about how the inches add rich, dimension and fullness to where you/I are/am now.
When I think of achieving my PL—I cannot imagine a life after that. Time sort of stops and I am in a timeless place of perfection. The Jungian analyst, Mario Jacobi talks about how that all fantasy, whether it be of the perfect house, job, relationship, car or whatever is about trying to regain entrance into the garden of Eden i.e the undifferentiated union with mother before the birth of the ego. I get on one level that, being in Paris I will not be protected from loss, doubt, fear, disappointment, etc. Yet, when I am there I am so overwhelmed by beauty that whatever I feel is somehow relativised . Much like when people stand in front of the Grand Canyon or some other amazing natural wonder. The awesomeness of Paris fills the world with a magical numinoisty for me. I feel my soul expand when there. I so often have wished I had been born in Paris. Yet, I wonder if I would have grown immune to its beauty. Oh, that is a very sad thought indeed.

Richard said...

I have to disagree.

If this was 15 years ago, I would have agreed that the universe is orderly and will unfold for you if you keep within and don't oppose the order and manner in which it unfolds.

I no longer believe that. For me, the universe is neither benevolent nor malevolent, it just is.

Compared to most people I know, actually, compared to anyone I know, my life has been good, without much pain or suffering. Any "injustice" I have suffered is truly negligible compared to what I know of many peoples' lives. So I don't hold any grudge against the universe (even if I might metaphorically speak that way at times).

"For the thrown stone, there is no more good in rising than there is evil in falling." - Marcus Aurelius

Anonymous said...

I'm a big Paulo Coelho's fan and I don't know if you heard about his blog
I've started as a fan and now I'm collaborating with him and thought that you would like to enter his universe.
Check the blog.
if you want, or subscribe to his newsletter
You'll see a community of warriors of light sharing ideas, dreams and most importantly following their personal legend.


The Warrior of Light knows that he must act, but he must allow room for the Universe to act too.(Warrior of Light)

See u there and have a great day!


b said...

Take a Year Out...I'm so glad you share this feeling. It truly is as though these books speak to us. Your experience with Tao Te Ching is incredible. What an absolutely beautiful time to present itself to you and the fact that you finished it right as you touched back down in London from Peru...so profound. It goes to substantiate that so often, we try to force things. Although effort is important in some ares of our lives, sometimes when we just let things be, the right moment presents itself and the experience is more fulfilling as a result.

La Belette Rouge... No, YOU are amazing! We could go on like this forever, you realize?! :) Yes, I hope I didn't convolute the beauty of The Alchemist by digressing about acceptance. But really, I think there is a time to put things in motion and a time to let things happen. And rather than looking at the two as extremes, taking it inch by inch really does allow us to embrace both. I absolutely agree that we are creating a better life for ourselves (and really, everyone we come in contact with) with these steps toward France and our PLs.

"It isn't just about the inches that get you somewhere-it is about how the inches add rich, dimension and fullness to where you/I are/am." Absolutely. I think what has so often scared me from pursuing my PL was the leap. I somehow convinced myself that it was this huge leap into something that may or may not be fulfilling. I kept overlooking the inches between. I only thought of it as a huge leap. But that totally misses the point.

I can't imagine achieving my PL either. Something tells me though that it will be incredible. It will open us up to a kind of living that most people will never know. I don't think we will suddenly become purposeless but rather, I think we will blossom in ways we cannot conceive of at this end of our PL. What you state about being in Paris and worrying you'll still feel loss, fear, disappointment - I think that too is part of my fear. And that's where I think that Nietzsche, Hesse (oh, please tell me you've read Hesse's Siddhartha?!?!), and others come in with their philosophy on acceptance. If we are accepting of those general struggles here and now, we will be even more capable of accepting and enduring them in Paris! :)

Richard...I guess I believe that since the universe just is, it is benevolent. I see great beauty in struggle and suffering and in that acceptance (as hard as it may be to personally endure it at times), I see benevolence.

My mother used to always tell us when we were upset that it could always be worse, that other people had worse troubles. That outlook never worked for me. I don't feel better about my life because someone else struggles. Everyone's worst suffering is their worse suffering...they don't know anything worse. In the grand scheme of things, yes, there is a general hierarchy of injustice that might be more objectively agreed upon. And I am fortunate that my struggles are minor when compared to others. But does that make my life more fulfilling necessarily? Am I (or anyone else "privileged") happier because I have suffered less? I would venture to say that it is doubtful.

I think that few people reach any kind of enlightenment without great suffering and/or struggle or a tremendous capacity for compassion. When I encounter people that are struggling, suffering, rejected, etc....I am often so touched by the beauty of their souls. I can really feel that beauty and it makes me believe wholeheartedly that the universe is truly benevolent.

Aart Hilal.. Thank you for visiting my blog. I am so happy that you found my post and even happier for the link to Paul's blog. And thank you for the quote of the day. That beautifully (and succinctly) embraces all the philosophical musings that have been running through my head as of late regarding acceptance, patience and taking action, initiating.

Take A Year Out said...

this here blog... seems to be taking off... keep writing from the heart B. congratulations x

La Belette Rouge said...

B... Right back at you!!
The notion of bliss and of soul mates are in the same camp. I think, rather than everything being easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy with a soul mate, it is actually, I think, a PhD in soul making. That means it is going to challenge you to your very limits—--until, often divorce and/or the monastery seems like a better idea than a life with a soul mate. Soul calling or soul mate do not equal easy. I think both are a challenge of souls expansion.

And yet, there are still the hidden hands!!I know this may seem like Quote fest 2007, yet the great Goethe quote came to mind in regards to the Nietzsche /Alchemist/ Inch by Inch discussion:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now!”

I have most definitely read Siddhartha and I have even seen the bad movie ;-)

And I agree the inches required will prepare us for the moment, as French 75 said it, when we are “ready to pull the trigger” on our dreams.

Anonymous said...

Hello b, I came to your blog through LBR and just had to comment. This book was one of the most charming reads I've had in years. The simplicity of the story surfaced complex thoughts that fed my wanderlust. I recommend this book viciously to travelers.

b said...

Take a Year Out...Aw, thanks. It's not popularity I seek but to connect with like souls is so inspiring to my life and I feel immensely grateful. It is amazing what happens when we write (live) from the heart, isn't it? Everything is authentic and meaningful.

LBR...Yes, soul mates and bliss both require much work and yet, there is so much that comes so easily with both. Admittedly, I have such a hard time with the concept of soul mate. I just don't know what that means to me. I've certainly loved deeply, and was married and now divorced to one of those loves. It is not that I doubt the reality of soul mates, I just don't know exactly what I consider a soul mate. I have connected with people very strongly on the level of the soul and perhaps I would consider them soul mates, none of which have been romantic. But, I certainly appreciate that like our bliss, it requires nurturing and challenge.

Haha...quote fest 2007 will likely become mega quote fest 2008, you realize! :) I love meaningful quotes, so don't hold back! This is a great quote from Goethe; one I am familiar with and was also just recently reminded of by Take a Year Out, I believe. Once again, we are on the same wavelength here. Last night I was having dinner with a friend and he asked me what my plan for this coming year is. I told him that I am going to live in Paris for at least a month. And then today, I told my mom and sister the same thing. I didn't say, "well, I'm going to try and see if it will work" or anything remotely passive. I said it with absolute certainty. I talked about things I plan on doing and the more I said it, the easier it seemed to be...like it is just sitting in front of me for the taking. And then, to come home tonight and read your comment...just solidifies it even more. Truly, the simple act of asserting that statement creates a great sense of boldness and I can feel the "genius, power, and magic in it." I no longer feel capricious where going to Paris is concerned. I'm sure that I'll be tested again and again until I go, but commitment is huge.

Oh no, there was a bad movie based on Siddhartha? Wait, now that I think about it, something tells me I heard that before! :(

So, yes, the commitment and boldness feel empowering. And yes, those inches will prepare us. I'm definitely ready! Thanks (I will be thanking you often!) for the inspiration, always!

Colleen...Thank you for stopping by my blog. I took a quick peek at your blog and look forward to reading more. The Alchemist truly is charming and I think there is much to be said about your "viciously" recommending it to travelers.

When I read your comment, I instantly recalled thinking about the travel component when I read this book. It seems that this book might resonate more powerfully with travelers/wanderers/people passionate about travel. And that gets me thinking about larger implications. Maybe those of us that fall into one of those categories are fortunate in that we view life more eagerly as a journey. We understand the desire leading to initiative and the physical movement from one place to another. And because that movement/travel means so much to our souls, the journey takes on tremendous meaning. Almost everyone in my family really prefers not to travel. I don't know if they've always been this way, but for the most part, most of them don't have a desire to go someplace. Now maybe they are just saying that and masking a desire because of some fear. But I think that those of us who eagerly desire travel and new places and experience, embrace that journey (both literally and symbolically) and all the possibilities of such.

cw said...

a whole lotta buzz... I like it. That personal legend thing, it is a fact. Too much of letting life smack us around, although the strong willed can endure the brow-beatings better and remain focused on that legend. Or so I'm gonna think.

Cavalock said...

wow...i hope to catch up on lots of reading during the holidays as i won't be working. looking forward to more on yr recommended list. ;)

but then i already spent most of the farewell book vouchers on "how-to" books on ...drumroll.. my first new Macbook!

take it easy

Richard said...

I think you have garnered the most comments yet on this topic. Always warms the bloggers heart - methinks.

I don't think the universe is malevolent and absence of malevolence is no more an indication of benevolance than the absence of hate is an indication of love.

I agree that "it could be worse" is a terrible consolation.

I believe there is a lot of abundance in the universe, but I do not believe it just comes to you. You need to proactively acquire it - something I am struggling to learn since my life has always been along the lines of waiting for things to fall into place.

I am not convinced that struggle makes life more fulfilling or worthwhile. On the other hand, suffering can make people more empathic - although, it seems to be a temporary effect.

I do try to remember the experiences of my pain (which have been really, really minor compared to the vast majority - if my conversations with people are anything to go by) and to reach out and relieve the pain of others. I cannot claim any great success, but sometimes I think I get it right.

b said...

CW... The book has generated a lot of buzz and for good reason. It is a most inspiring read. I think that some people may be better equipped (i.e., more resilient) to deal with life's challenges. I still struggle to say whether I think that is more innate or more learned. Surely it is a combination of both. But I wonder how that resilience operates differently for each person. I think there are always opportunities for us to be inspired and that inspiration ideally brings about a sense of courage and hopefully, resilience. I think that we brow beat ourselves more than anything. There are always going to be forces of opposition but I think the greatest forces usually lie within ourselves. The key seems to lie in confronting ourselves and breaking down our own resistance.

Cavalock... I have really enjoyed reading every one of the books featured on my blog this year for different reasons. This book is such a quick read and very inspiring. So you got a new Macbook?!? Oooo...I'm drooling over here. :) Aren't they sooo beautiful?! Enjoy!

Richard... I think so, too. The book is really that inspiring and widely read. But yes, it does warm my blogging heart! :)

I think my outlook has a lot to do with the fact that I am an optimist. Surely, your reasoning is accurate. The absence of malevolence "is no more an indication of benevolence than the absence of hate is an indication of love." True. But for my optimistic nature, I tend to view a oneness in life. Hate is only definable by comparing it to and knowing love (on some level; sure, you could change the words, etc. but really the idea is there). I surely don't see hate as being a good thing but there is a suffering to hate that touches me.

As far as the abundance of the universe, I think there is a fine balance there between proactively acquiring it and then also just letting things come to you. I tend to be one to wait as well. And we both know that doesn't cut it. But being still has its benefit. If we pursue what we are passionate about without trying to own or control the abundance of the universe, I think that we will find ourselves in a place where we have to take steps but they do not have to be as dramatic as we might imagine.

I don't think struggle itself is always fulfilling. I think that an awareness and perspective founded on struggle truly can be fulfilling, however. It depends entirely on how a person perceives and moves forward having endured that struggle.

I am sure you get it right more than you realize. If we do take the experiences of our struggles and become more compassionate and sensitive to others, the act alone carries more significance than we likely acknowledge. And we benefit so much by giving ourselves compassionately.

Richard said...

I think that we will find ourselves in a place where we have to take steps but they do not have to be as dramatic as we might imagine

I agree.