“People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel that they don’t deserve them, or that they’ll be unable to achieve them. We, their hearts, become fearful just thinking of loved ones who go away forever, or of moments that could have been good but weren’t, or of treasures that might have been found but were forever hidden in the sands. Because, when these things happen, we suffer terribly…
Everyone on earth has a treasure that awaits him. We… seldom say much about those treasures, because people no longer want to go in search of them. Later, we simply let life proceed, in its own direction, toward its own fate. But, unfortunately, very few follow the path laid out for them- the path to their Personal Legends, and to happiness. Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place.”
Every once in awhile, something comes along in life that seems as though it could only exist as a result of divine intervention. It could be a song, a person, a commercial, etc., but regardless it reaches directly to your heart, commanding your attention.
When I found this novel by Paulo Coelho on the bargain rack of a local bookstore, I believed that it would be a nice, quick read that would provide a change of pace from my usual medical/public health related books.
This book could not have fallen into my lap at a more opportune time.
In The Alchemist, Coelho discusses the notion of the “Personal Legend”, that is, the destined path that each person should take to achieve the greatest happiness. In the story, a young shepherd boy is sent on a quest to find his own Personal Legend. On his journey he experiences frustration, devastation, hope, love, confusion, learning all along the way. From the people he meets to the scenarios he must adapt to, the boy persists on his journey in the faith that he will eventually discover his Personal Legend.
At this very point in time, I strongly feel these ebbs and flows as I search for my Personal Legend. The last two years of my life have been one of the most rapidly changing, which is to be expected at my age. However, this has been greatly heightened over the last couple of weeks as I have been preparing for a new chapter in my life, marked by my upcoming graduation. Since my early high school days, I have spent more time researching my options for the future than most of my cohorts, and for the first time I feel more uncertainty about the future than ever before. Luckily, it seemed as though this book was written directly for me, to enlighten me at this very stage in my life.
Through the boys’ travels, Coelho explores various themes that streamline throughout the novel. He begins by explaining the importance of the journey of itself. At one point, the boy comes in contact with the “wisest of wise men”, who provides a story to teach the boy the importance of noticing the small things, stating “The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels in the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon.” The boy seems to not fully understand, for at this point he had just begun on this quest.
However, as the journey progresses, the boy comes to fully understand the meaning of the wise man’s advice. He candidly reflects that “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 shepherd to achieve.”
Reflecting on his journey provided two lessons for me: cherish the small things and take chances, because in both you will learn something. While I have grand plans for my future with education and family, I have really tried to focus on slowing down and enjoying each day for what it is worth. In America’s capitalist-driven society, it is so easy to get caught up in the mentality of the future. Every action could lead to more money, more fame, more etc in the future. But, this mentality can cause a person to lose sight of the small things: the sun shining in October, a good run, a nice meal. By keeping my mind on the future while remembering the present, I am able to catch sight of things that could be easily overlooked, and it is in these small things that my life is enhanced and made fuller.
In addition, it has been in the situations where I have taken the most chances where I have learned the most. It does in fact take a lot of courage to take a chance, whether on a job, a person, a choice…the stakes can be high and there can be much to lose. Coelho explains that many people do not take these chances because they are too afraid of suffering. Likewise, I think many of my hesitations about my continuation of my quest towards my Personal Legend derive from wanting to avoid pain…after all, it is biologically ingrained into my every cell. Like many others, I worry about failure, rejection, abandonment. But, if I never took chances I would never have experienced true love, great accomplishments, or a sense of great personal achievement. As the wise man explains to the boy: “The fear of suffering is worse than suffering itself. And no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”
Along these lines, Coelho also uses this book to describe the role of love on the journey to the Personal Legend. Although I see many dimensions to my Personal Legend…family, career, etc., I am fully convinced that my first and foremost priority is to love. With my inherent talents, I expect to utilize this the best through medicine, but I have tried to practice this the best I can through my day to day life. Interestingly enough, Coelho seems to share this ideology that love is the most important thing in life, explaining that the boy “learned the most important part of the language that all the world spoke- the language that everyone on earth was capable of understanding in their heart. It was love. Something older than humanity, more ancient than the desert…It was the Language of the World. It required no explanation, just as the universe needs none as it travels through endless time.”
Although people may be divided by language, culture, country, etc., Coelho offers hope in unifying humanity through this universal language. Thus, no matter where I go or who I meet, I can speak this Language of the World…the language that accepts that everyone is a human and deserves the same basic human dignities, regardless or race or religion.
Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist is short, succint, but incredibly timeless. If you want to take a simple yet amazing journey while becoming increasingly enlightened, I recommend this as a must-read.