˜Your eyes show the strength of your soul.’ “ The Alchemist
It’s hard to take sides on lines that are pregnant with such profundity. Should you be a spiritualist, you think you know exactly what these words mean. Should you be an intellectual, regardless of your religious/spiritual leanings, you know there is some sense to it all, even if not quite apparent. Should you be a rationalist of the die-hard kind, you would still find it hard to deny such a thing outright: Adjust your vision, tweak the soul to mean ˜character’ or some such, and there you see it!
This line and others of its kind (why does the word ˜bromide’ keep springing up!?) carry a strange effect.
When you really want something, the universe always conspires in your favour¦
Courage is the most essential to understanding the Language of the World¦
Don’t think about what you have left behind, everything is written on the Soul of the World, and there it will stay forever¦
These are taken from ˜The Alchemist’, a book under 200 pages, that made Paulo Coelho, its author, one of the most widely read storytellers in the world. The Alchemist is a story of a young Andalusian shepherd Santiago, who grazes his sheep while travelling through cities and pastures all through Spain. Until he has a recurring dream that sparks off his quest for a treasure he believes he would find at the Pyramids in Egypt.
There begins a story that makes Santiago realize, œI learn more from my sheep than from my books “ a metaphor to say experience counts more than bookish knowledge. Further on, he thinks to himself, œI couldn’t have found God in the seminary “ a note on finding one’s true calling. For, his father had wanted him to go to the seminary and become a priest, while he courageously decided to take a different, if seemingly lesser path of becoming a shepherd. He loved to travel, and as a shepherd, he would get to travel.
He believes in his dream for, ˜It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting’. This quest of Santiago’s takes the firm shape of ˜destiny’ when he encounters the king of Salem, Melchizedek – the name’s Biblical origin is non-coincidental. This old man steers the boy towards the idea of fulfilling his destiny, and the mystique begins to set in.
He wears a gold breastplate (all the indications of ancient Israelite religion and the Torah), from which he gives the boy two stones: Urim and Thummim, which stand for truth and revelation respectively, among other things. Which, Santiago is to use as omens that would guide him on his ˜path’ to his ˜destiny’.
When the old man says, œThe Soul of the World is nourished by people’s happiness. And also by unhappiness, envy, and jealousy. To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation. All things are one, Santiago feels the presence of wisdom. It’s hard at this point for the reader not to identify with Santiago and his search.
The next one clinches it, œAnd, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. It’s almost unbelievable that a certain Rhonda Byrne wrote an entire book on this one sentence (The Secret). And, laughed all the way to the bank. But, that’s not the point. That’s destiny.
That is not to say it feels suspicious. Anyone who has achieved anything valuable against all the struggles of the world, and against all personal limitations, knows this to be true. And that is why we are looking at The Alchemist. For, simple as it is, its lessons in personal leadership reaffirm our weakness for the ˜adult’ trait to choose practicality over dreams, however exciting they may be. If, in that process, we choose security over adventure, conventions over destiny, so be it.
This book questions that “ To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation, it says. And by and by, delights those who feel they have realized their destiny “ their true calling, true love, ideals, and robustly encourages those who are still looking out. Once you remove all other things that separate us as human beings, we find there are really only these two kinds of people in the world.
Well, Santiago sells his sheep and sets out to Egyptian pyramids to discover his treasure, having to cross the mighty desert. As he travels, he crosses the land of Arabs and learns his lessons through his loss of money at the hand of a thug, to recover which he works at the shop of a crystal merchant for a year. His diligence and willingness to take risk, always prodded on by well-timed omens, makes them both prosperous.
He moves on to get to the pyramids, setting off with a caravan, where he meets an Englishman, who is also on a quest to unearth the secrets of alchemy. As the boy’s quest fills the backdrop of the story, he becomes aware of the ˜Language of the Desert’ – of which omens are a constant reminder, and this language converses freely with the Language of the World, thriving at the heart of the Soul of the World. At what point does it get really cryptic, different from being purely metaphorical, is up to the reader’s discretion. After all, we are reminded of the old king’s words: All things are one.
And then, there’s love. Santiago’s caravan makes a stop at an oasis, where he falls in love with Fatima, a desert woman, who assures him that ˜One is loved because one is loved’, and that she understands the pull of his destiny, even if she has to wait for him to return: ˜You must understand that love never keeps a man from pursuing his destiny. If he abandons that pursuit, it’s because it wasn’t true love’¦ spoken with the calm of one who has realized her own destiny. Although, it appears all desert women have the destiny bit in common.
Breakthrough comes soon, in the form of The Alchemist: The man who holds the key to the secret of the fabled Philosopher’s stone and the Elixir of Life. He can turn lead into gold, turn himself into the wind. He is the fount of wisdom: 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.
At one point, battling the fear of risking everything in his life to achieve his destiny, he asks the Alchemist: Does a man’s heart always help him?
The Alchemist replies, œMostly just the hearts of those who are trying to realize their destinies. But they do help children, drunkards, and the elderly, too.
When the mystical meets the whacky¦ it’s interesting, suffice to say.
Redemption is round the corner when he says, œAnyone who interferes with the destiny of another thing will never discover his own. Except, perhaps, in the Reality of the World.
For, when he says, œIf 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, the goodness or the correctness of intentions is to be assumed, throughout the book. Keep it simple.
The tragedies and dangers the boy encounters are commonly due to thugs, warring tribes, men who are prepared to slice Santiago’s throat if his prediction is inaccurate, or if he fails to turn himself into the wind, also those who believe that arms once drawn must be put to use, and cannot be retracted lest they should lead to war. Destiny is a destination reserved for Santiago. These men are symbolic of troubles we face, sadly, the most believable of all characters in the book.
But, hope wins. Lead does transform into gold “ a metaphor for Santiago realizing his destiny by overpowering the ˜forces of nature’ with the emotion of ˜pure love’. He engages the sand, the wind, and the mighty Sun into a deep conversation and teaches them a thing or two about love. Thanks to which, he evolves, and surely, also discovers a treasure “ a chest full of gold and precious stones.
œThat’s what alchemists do. They show that, when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.
And then, he looks to returning to his love, Fatima.
œLove is the force that transforms and improves the Soul of the World.
Do I see the string of platitudes lined up page after page? I do. Do I hold this fact against the book’s ability to deliver lessons? I do not. There is much to learn here, rather, much to remind ourselves of, because, in the words of the Alchemist, we only need to invoke what we already know!