The Soul of the World is on our side; ready to help us find our dreams. So writes Paulo Coelho in The Alchemist. It’s an old book with a timely message. It recently came across my path as a good omen. That I had never heard of the book is an indictment that I need to read more imaginative literature, feeding my right brain.
The Alchemist is an international bestseller, one of the most popular books in the twentieth century—65 million copies sold, translated into over 50 languages. It is a book that touches something deep in every person: the desire to discover one’s purpose in life. To this end, Coelho tells a mythic epic tale of spiritual pilgrimage: a humble shepherd boy named Santiago travels from his home in Spain to the Egyptian pyramids in search of treasure. Along the way he learns about the nature of reality and what it takes to achieve one’s destiny.
The lessons one derives from Santiago’s story are going to be unique to every person who hears it, as his story will come to you at your moment of need on your own journey. I maybe late to the party, the 65,000,001st person to have read the book, but its mythic wisdom was as fresh to me as to the first person who read the book twenty-five years ago. The Alchemist invites us to live out our dreams, to embrace the uncertainty of life, and to rise to meet our own unique destiny. Here are a dozen of my takeaways:
1. You are a unique gift to the world; a cosmic calling awaits you if you pursue it.
2. Your calling, “personal legend,” or mission on earth is a spiritual pilgrimage.
3. Pursue your calling at all costs; to ignore it to put it to a slow death.
4. Embrace the adventure and avoid playing the victim.
5. The pilgrimage is the classroom.
6. True seekers will be assisted in their pilgrimage by the Soul of the World.
7. Look for omens along the way to guide you and listen to your heart (intuition).
8. Your love relationship should augment not hinder your pilgrimage.
9. Along the way your resolve will be tested.
10. We are stuck most by our fear of failure. To avoid this live in the present.
11. Perseverance is essential: setbacks are not failure, quitting is.
12. The Soul of the World is made of love.
My New York New Copernican interlocutors reminded me that this pilgrimage is best understood as a “we” than a “me.” This is captured in a Zulu phrase, Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (“A person is a person through other persons.”). As the Kenyan-born philosopher John Mbiti put it in African Religions and Philosophy: “I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am.” We do best on our spiritual pilgrimage in search for our cosmic calling when surrounded by like-minded friends. This is not a casual narcissistic stroll but a life of consciously aligning ourselves with Love that is at the root of all reality.
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