The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho had been on my reading list for over a year, nudged repeatedly onto the edges of my bookshelf from several different sources; but I never made time for it. Then our beautiful, mathematician-spiritualist friend Kelley did something to thrust it front and center.
At last year’s Lazy W Talent Show, between wild musical acts and hilarious 80’s trivia silliness, Kelley offered us a prose reading. She sat calmly on stage and spoke into the microphone a passage from the book.
Her voice pressed evenly through the dark, and Coelho’s poetic words synchronized with the twinkle lights around the stage. I remember noticing the full moon rising directly behind her. Everyone was rapt. It was quite a moment. As she read, our other friend Kellie (that evening she and I had done the Walk Like an Egyptian number) pulled out her phone and swiftly ordered a copy of the book. By the end of the reading, the entire audience was stunned and fully absorbed. We all applauded and cheered, many of us promised to read the book, and Kelley rejoined the crowd, probably unaware that she had just inspired our next group book study.
Fast forward past a bustling holiday season, and a handful of us have now read The Alchemist for ourselves. This weekend we finally gathered for some delicious treats to catch up with each other and discuss it all. Nourishment for body, mind, and spirit. I want to mention, also, that we scheduled the gathering to coincide with the January New Moon. Since the whole thing started with a full moon, we felt like Coelho would groove this.
Ok let’s chat!
The Alchemist is a lusciously quotable inspirational parable, an allegorical tale about desert journeys and the meaning of life and passion and God’ will for us, plus our own power to co-create with God, and much more. It’s a framework kind of story that leaves lots of room for private interpretation and spiritual reflection. It’s one of those books you could (and probably will) read again and again, during different life seasons.
A big style point, so you don’t shun this book, thinking it’s dogmatic and preachy: Coelho skillfully braids wisdom from the ages and fables from several different world religions and historical periods to illustrate his lessons. We enjoyed recognizing details from the Bible, Middle Eastern teachings, mythology, and more. And he handles it all equally.
Another style point: Coelho originally wrote this in his native tongue of Portuguese. It was translated to English and dozens of other languages upon reaching global popularity and importance. Moreso than other translated works, maybe because it is poetic, there is some softness and rhythm lost here and there. It’s occasionally difficult to pinpoint why a sentence or paragraph feels stilted. (Mickey described it as staccato, which is perfect.) But overall that does not detract from the book’s value. In fact, it adds to the easy feel. (Declarative, Mickey said, and I agree. It’s a feel that gets you to just accept it and move on.)
For me, the timing of finally reading this little book was magical. I read it after Passion Paradox, which speaks straight to the heart of what motivates us, and in the midst of studying The Universal Christ, which is the intellectual antidote to so much church dogma frustration lately. The Alchemist has been a soothing and fortifying synthesis of the two. And the whole notion of alchemy itself, my gosh! You guys know how devoted I am to the importance of transforming what we perceive as negative into something valuable and powerful. I can’t get enough.
Our discussion group was extra small this weekend, but even so we enjoyed a wonderful array of viewpoints and emotional responses to the characters, symbolism, etc. I love hearing strong opinions about elements that strike me in very different ways. And I love getting to know my friends more deeply. As always, of course, the food and company were spectacular. We are very lucky humans.
If you have a few people in your life who are open to really sharing their hearts, this book would provide an excellent framework for some long, fruitful conversations. I challenge you to scoop up a few copies to share, set a date, and get to reading. And do this before the movie gets made!
Still not sold? Before I let you go, here are some of my favorite passages. You decide whether these sentences alone don’t seduce your brain a little bit:
“It is the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”
“And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” (This passage is repeated throughout the book, and the resonance is powerful. How cool would it be to sit and discuss the Law of Attraction with the author!!)
“People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”
“He had to choose between something he had become accustomed to and something he wanted to have… When each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.”
“The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon.” (I could talk for hours and hours and hours about this exact parable. Wow.)
“As he mused about these things, he realized that he had to choose between thinking of himself as the poor victim of a thief and as an adventurer in quest of his treasure.” (Yes, choice!! We get to choose our thoughts, how we frame our lives, and the stories we tell ourselves regarding our circumstances. YES.)
“Because the crystal was dirty. And both you and I needed to cleanse our minds of negative thoughts.” (Lose yourself in the work. Go for a run too.)
“Every blessing ignored becomes a curse.” (WHOA.)
“…there was a language in the world that everyone understood… It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired.” (This in on my dining room chalkboard right now.)
“If I could, I’d write a huge encyclopedia just about the words luck and coincidence. It’s with those words that the universal language is written.” (Have you and I discussed, yet, the burgeoning academic study of coincidence? Like, at actual universities? It’s real now. Recently.)
“People need not fear the unknown if they are capable of achieving what they need and want.” (I still need to tell you guys about a dream I had two weeks ago, about Jocelyn, and about facing the unknown.) “This fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand.” (Yes, I told God when He asked, I will be okay even if she is already home. But I still want her to know that I miss her and love her.)
“Everything on earth is being continuously transformed, because the earth is alive… and it has a soul… in the crystal shop…even the glasses were collaborating in your success.” (So much echo to The Universal Christ here!)
“They spent so much time close to the fire that gradually they gave up the vanities of the world. They discovered that the purification of the metals had led to a purification of themselves.” (ahhhhhhh yes yes yes yes yes)
“If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man…Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living right now.” (Eckhart Tolle is definitely nodding warmly right now.)
Regarding oases and places of refuge: “Maybe God created the desert so that man could appreciate the date trees.” (Frame it well! Decide how you see things. Cultivate a stronger perspective. Appreciate needs because they help you focus on abundance.)
“The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better. Forget about the future, and live each day according to the teachings, confident that God loves his children. Each day, in itself, bring with it an eternity.”
“Well, that’s good. Your heart is alive. Keep listening to what it has to say.” (I believe this is part of the passage Kelley read to us last summer. Beautiful.)
“When I have been truly searching for my treasure, I’ve discovered things along the way that I never would have seen had I not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible for a person to achieve.” (I have been reflecting a lot lately on what kind of person I will have to become to both qualify for Boston and publish a novel, among other things. What about you?)
Okay, friends, I have smothered you with lots of quotes, despite my restraint. I have just one more, and it might be the one with which most people are familiar. It offers a powerful encouragement, a breath to catch if you are on the brink of giving up:
“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. 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 n the horizon.”
Thank you, Kelley and Handsome and Mickey and Kellie, for starting the new year with me in this book study! It was magical.
Where your treasure is
There will your heart be also