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February 17th 2014
“Another trick, the boy thought. But he decided to take a chance. A shepherd always takes his chances with wolves and with drought, and that’s what makes a shepherd’s life exciting.”
“Hmmm…” said the old man, looking at all sides of the book, as if it were some strange object. “This is an important book, but it’s really irritating. […] It’s a book that says the same thing almost all the other books in the world say,” Continued the old man. “It describes people’s inability to choose their own Personal Legends. And it ends up saying that everyone believes the world’s greatest lie.”
“What’s the world’s greatest lie?” the boy asked, completely surprised.
“It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”
“The old man continued, “In the long run, what people think about shepherds and backers becomes more important for them than their own Personal Legends.”
“He had to choose between something he had become accustomed to and something he wanted to have.”
“The boy felt jealous of the freedom of the wind, and saw that he could have the same freedom. There was nothing to hold him back except himself.”
“I’m like everyone else—I see the world in terms of what I would like to see happen, not what actually does.”
“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.”
“He had decided, the night before, that he would be as much an adventurer as the ones he had admired in books.”
“This candy merchant isn’t making candy so that later he can travel or marry a shopkeeper’s daughter. He’s doing it because it’s what he wants to do.”
“Beauty is the great seducer of men.”
“The boy didn’t know what to say. The old man continued, “You have been a real blessing to me. Today, I understand something I didn’t see before: every blessing ignored becomes a curse. I don’t want anything else in life. But you are forcing me to look at wealth and at horizons I have never known. Now that I have seen them, and now that I see how immense my possibilities are, I’m going to feel worse than I did before you arrived. Because I know the things I should be able to accomplish, and I don’t want to do so.”
“Tangier was no longer a strange city, and he felt that, just as he had conquered this place, he could conquer the world.”
“He suddenly felt tremendously happy. He could always go back to being a shepherd. He could always become a crystal salesman again. Maybe the world had other hidden treasures, but he had a dream, and he had met with a king. That doesn’t happen to just anyone!”
“The boy was beginning to understand that intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected, and we are able to know everything, because it’s all written there.”
“No matter how many detours and adjustments it made, the caravan moved toward the same compass point.”
“Once you get into the desert, there’s no going back,” said the camel driver. “And, when you can’t go back, you have to worry only about the best way of moving forward.”
“Why do they make things so complicated?” He asked the Englishman one night. The boy had noticed that the Englishman was irritable, and missed his books. “So that those who have the responsibility for understanding can understand,” he said. “Imagine if everyone went around transforming lead into gold. Gold would lose its value. “It’s only those who are persistent, and willing to study things deeply, who achieve the Master Work.”
“The boy went back to contemplating the silence of the desert, and the sand raised by the animals. “Everyone has his or her own way of learning things,” he said to himself. “His way isn’t the same as mine, nor mine as his. But we’re both in search of our Personal Legends, and I respect him for that.”
“I waited all afternoon and evening,” he said. “He appeared with the first stars of evening. I told him what I was seeking, and he asked me if I had ever transformed lead into gold. I told him that was what I had come here to learn.
“He told me I should try to do so. That’s all he said: ‘Go and try.’ “
“This is the first phase of the job,” he said. “I have to separate out the sulfur. To do that successfully, I must have no fear of failure. It was my fear of failure that first kept me from attempting the Master Work. Now, I’m beginning what I could have started ten years ago. But I’m happy at least that I didn’t wait twenty years.”
“When people consult me, it’s not that I’m reading the future; I am guessing at the future. The future belongs to God, and it is only he who reveals it, under extraordinary circumstances. How do I guess at the future? Based on the omens of the present. 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.”
“He had been making risky bets ever since the day he had sold his sheep to pursue his Personal Legend.”
“I am following my Personal Legend. It’s not something you would understand.” The stranger placed his sword in its scabbard, and the boy relaxed. “I had to test your courage,” the stranger said. “Courage is the quality most essential to understanding the Language of the World.”
“There is only one way to learn,” the alchemist answered. “It’s through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey. You need to learn only one thing more.” The boy wanted to know what that was, but the alchemist was searching the horizon, looking for the falcon.
“Why are you called the alchemist?”
“Because that’s what I am.”
“And what went wrong when other alchemists tried to make gold and were unable to do so?”
“They were looking only for gold,” his companion answered. “They were seeking the treasure of their Personal Legend, without wanting actually to live out the Personal Legend.”
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that 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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“To show you one of life’s simple lessons,” the alchemist answered. “When you possess great treasures within you, and try to tell others of them, seldom are you believed.”
“The boy watched the exchange with fascination. “You dominated those horsemen with the way you looked at them,” he said. “Your eyes show the strength of your soul,” answered the alchemist.”
“Don’t give in to your fears,” said the alchemist in a strangely gentle voice. “If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart.”
“But I have no idea how to turn myself into the wind.”
“If a person is living out his Personal Legend, he knows everything he needs to know. There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
“I’m not afraid of failing. It’s just that I don’t know how to turn myself into the wind.”
“Well, you’ll have to learn; your life depends on it.”
“But what if I can’t?”
“Then you’ll die in the midst of trying to realize your Personal Legend. That’s a lot better than dying like millions of other people, who never even knew what their Personal Legends were.”
“But don’t worry,” the alchemist continued. “Usually the threat of death makes people a lot more aware of their lives.”
“I could see that it was like other aspects of creation, and had its own passions and wars. It is we who nourish the Soul of the World, and the world we live in will be either better or worse, depending on whether we become better or worse. And that’s where the power of love comes in. Because when we love, we always strive to become better than we are.”
A READERS GUIDE
“Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy, has a dream about finding a treasure in the Pyramids of Egypt. A gypsy woman and an old man claiming to be a mysterious king advise him to pursue it. “To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation,” the old man tells him. “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
“This story, timeless and entertaining, exotic yet simple, breaks down the journey we all take to find the most meaningful treasures in our lives into steps that are at once natural and magical. It is about the faith, power, and courage we all have within us to pursue the intricate path of a Personal Legend, a path charted by the mysterious magnet of destiny but obscured by distractions. Santiago shows how along the way we learn to trust our hearts, read the seemingly inconspicuous signs, and understand that as we look to fulfill a dream, it looks to find us just the same, if we let it.”
AN INTERVIEW with PAULO COELHO
Q: In The Alchemist, you refer to Soul of the World. What exactly is this? How is it tied to religion or spirituality?
A: Well, let’s distinguish religion from spirituality. I am Catholic, so religion for me is a way of having discipline and collective worship with persons who share the same mystery. But in the end all religions tend to point to the same light. In between the light and us, sometimes there are too many rules. The light is here and there are no rules to follow this light.
Q: You mentioned that you’re Catholic, but you’ve said elsewhere that your Jesuit upbringing was painful in some ways. What do you see as the value of, and problems with, organized religion?
A: The value is that they give you discipline and they give you collective worship and they give you humbleness toward the mysteries. The danger is that every religion, including the Catholic one, says, “I have the ultimate truth.” Then you start to rely on the priest, the mullah, the rabbi, or whoever, to be responsible for your acts. In fact, you are the only one who is responsible.
Q: In your book Veronika Decides to Die, Veronika is bored with the sameness of every day. How can people break out of the sameness?
A: Once someone asked me, “What do you want to be your epitaph?” So I said, “Paul Coelho died while he was alive.” The person said, “Why this epitaph? Everybody dies when he or she is alive.” I said, “No, this is not true.” The same pattern repeating and over again, you are not alive anymore. To die alive is to take risks. To pay your price. To do something that sometimes scares you but you should do because you may like or you may not like.
Q: You also say people should watch for omens. Can you describe what you mean by omens?
A: Omens are the individual language in which God talks to you. My omens are not your omens. They are this strange, but very individual language that guides you toward your own destiny. They are not logical. They talk to your heart directly. The only way that you can learn any language is by making mistakes. I made my mistakes, but then I started to connect with the signs that guide me. This silent voice of God that leads me to the places where I should be.
February 20th 2014