There’s something about a book that has sold over 65 million copies worldwide and won the Guiness World Record for the most translated text by a living author (71 languages to date).
And there’s a stubborn nonsense about people—like yours truly—who read to live and eat to write, but hadn’t yet picked it up, until a couple months ago, when she caught someone trying to get rid of a terrible edition, and—fearing a book apocalypse a la Farenheit 451—she panicked and rushed to save it, and while at it, why not see what the bestseller buzz is all about?
The type of people who waited a year to watch Titanic, Lord of the Rings, Avatar and every other unrealistic box office hit, or who’ve read everything about Don Quixote—except the book, or who refuse to breathe sometimes because…well, everyone else is doing it.
Don’t trust these people. Mostly, because they’re missing out. The masses aren’t always sheep. After all, all homo sapiens sapiens share at least 99.9% of their DNA sequence. That’s a lot of “common sense,” don’t you agree? We all know exactly what to do with oxygen, we’re born fluent in the complicated dialect of smiling, and most of us can tell a treasure when we find it.
But first, some fun (and crazy) facts about Paulo Coelho:
“As a teenager, Coelho wanted to become a writer. Upon telling his mother this, she responded with ‘My dear, your father is an engineer. He’s a logical, reasonable man with a very clear vision of the world. Do you actually know what it means to be a writer?’ After researching, Coelho concluded that a writer ‘always wears glasses and never combs his hair’ and has a ‘duty and an obligation never to be understood by his own generation,’ among other things.” (Wikipedia)
He ends up confined in a mental institution—from age 16 to 20—to cure him from his wild, impossible dreams, from which he escapes three times.
Next, he enrolls in law school, drops out, travels the world as a hippie, becomes a prestigious singer-songwriter and lyricist, gets arrested for “subversive” activities by the ruling military government in Brazil, and works as an actor, journalist and theater director before finally pursuing his life-long dream of becoming a writer.
In the Preface to The Alchemist, he mentions three things he learned while in Spiritual Exile:
“that we only accept a truth after we have first wholeheartedly rejected it; that we mustn’t run away from our own destiny; and that the hand of God is firm, but infinitely generous.”
And most importantly, the result of his ultimate heart alchemy work, which he passes along in this timeless and highly symbolic book:
“I discovered that carrying out the Master Work is not the privilege of a few, but of every human being on the face of the Earth.”
This short and accessible, read-in-one-sitting, modest little book that has interrupted millions of death sentences, will add the weight of a hundred horses to that heart carriage of yours. Though it is filled with the most endearing, simple yet vital life lessons—and if you snack on quotes, you’ll eat at least 100—here are some I just couldn’t help myself from sharing with you.
Ready for some Heart Surgery? This isn’t your typical procedure. In this story, your heart is the doctor and you (your mind), the patient. Please be quiet, unbutton your shirt and keep your eyes open.
Enters Dr. Heart:
“Even though I complain sometimes…it’s because I’m the heart of a person, and people’s hearts are that way.
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.
‘My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer,’ the boy told the alchemist one night as they looked at the moonless sky.
‘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.’
‘Every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God,’ the boy told his heart. ‘When I have been truly searching for my treasure, every day has been luminous, because I’ve known that every hour was a part of the dream that I would find it. 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…’
Why your heart quiets down over time:
“‘Everyone on earth has a treasure that awaits him,’ his heart had said. ‘We, people’s hearts, seldom say much about those treasures, because people no longer want to go in search of them. We speak of them only to children. 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 of their destinies, 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.’
‘So we, their hearts, speak more and more softly. We never stop speaking out, but we begin to hope that our words won’t be heard: we don’t want people to suffer because they don’t follow their hearts.’
‘Why don’t people’s hearts tell them to continue to follow their dreams?’ the boy asked the alchemist.
‘Because that’s what makes a heart suffer most, and hearts don’t like to suffer.’”
Why your dreams are the best thing that hasn’t (yet) happened:
“Everyone, when they are young, knows what their destiny 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 destiny….
[But] there is one great truth on this planet: whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It’s your mission on earth…. To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation. All things are one. And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”
“If a person is living out his destiny, he knows everything he needs to know. There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
And what about the uncertainty and self-betrayals?
“Treason is a blow that comes unexpectedly. If you know your heart well, it will never be able to do that to you. Because you’ll know its dreams and wishes, and will know how to deal with them.”
And how this journey (never) ends:
“With every day that passed, the boy’s heart became more and more silent. It no longer wanted to know about things of the past or future; it was content simply to contemplate the desert, and to drink with the boy from the Soul of the World. The boy and his heart had become friends, and neither was capable now of betraying the other.”
And…on the count of 3, you’ll wake up and hopefully remember everything, since the beginning of time, especially your dreams. Your anesthesia was only a placebo (never underestimate the power of water and salt). You might feel some pain in the following days, and even nausea from the cliffs you still haven’t jumped off of, as your heart recovers from this self-intervention.
Don’t use pain killers. Feel it out. Life’s too short to be numb. And phantom-limb dreams hurt the most.
Whether we like it or not, there’s only one way out of the closet. (I think they call it “door.”)
So…what do you want?
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*All quotes from The Alchemist, unless otherwise noted.