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Happy Wednesday, everyone! There’s so much to be happy about today! Happy First Day of Spring, Happy Purim, and Happy International Day of Happiness! If ever there was a good day to start working towards your dream, today would be that day. For months now, I’ve seen The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho on the shelf at my favorite bookstore, picked it up to buy, but put it down in exchange for something else. Yesterday I finally bought it, today I finished reading it, and it feels like no coincidence that it happened on such a happy day!
To say that The Alchemist immediately became my favorite book would be an understatement. It’s really tempting to ask myself why, after almost buying this book countless times in the past, I haven’t gotten it sooner. But, strange as it sounds, I don’t think I was ready.
I didn’t have good reasons for wanting to read it, anyways. The cover was pretty and the name sounded mystical. That’s essentially all I’ve known about this book for years now, but it was enough to catch my attention. Every. Single. Time.
Don’t worry, I won’t give any spoilers! The Alchemist is the story of an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who has a dream of treasure in a far off land. To quote the inner cover of the book,
“No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles in his path.”Paulo Coelho,The Alchemist
It’s a classic tale of self-discovery that combines teachings from all three Abrahamic traditions with the Hermetic wisdom from the Emerald Tablets. The three central themes in the book are the Personal Journey, the Oneness of Creation, and Fate vs Free Will, and we’ll look at each of these themes in this post.
The Alchemist is a parable; it’s loaded with wisdom and morals down to the letter. It’s tempting to wish I’d read the book sooner, but I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that yesterday and today were the absolute perfect times for the book to have entered my life.
The Right Time
As I’ve said in other posts on Ambiguous Spaces, I was raised in a Christian house. At around 10 or 11 years old I had abandoned religion, and through my early teenage years, I openly condemned it in favor of secular philosophy. After that, I didn’t really think about religion all that much. But college is tough and a place for experimenting, and soon enough I found myself in the world of New Age spirituality, which got me interested in religion again.
I started learning about Buddhism, which brought me to Hinduism, which I studied for a long time and still like to visit. Then I learned about Sikhism, and then the Bahá’í Faith. I started exploring Judaism, learned there were 613 commandments to follow and quickly left to read about Islam instead. Islam’s tortuous Hell brought me to Hellenic Polytheism since their vision of the afterlife was so different. Hellenic Polytheism directed me towards Hermeticism, then Sufism, then Kabbalah. Now, I’m back at the root of my roots, trying again to learn about Judaism. I read about all of these paths over the course of a year and a half and can tell you a little bit about each one.
To be honest, it wasn’t until I started blogging that I really started to feel the kind of faith in G-d I had as a little kid! And I have no doubt that G-d kept me from reading The Alchemist until after leading me to explore so many different kinds of faith.
That’s not to say that the lessons in The Alchemist can’t be understood without first exploring so many religions. You don’t need any religious experience to understand the lessons in The Alchemist. But if I would have started reading the book before now I don’t think it would have impressed me so much. It would have been like lighting a match without having any kindling on hand to start a fire.
The Alchemist and The Personal Journey
The first theme introduced in The Alchemist is Personal Journey. Paulo Coelho puts it best when he describes it in the book:
“It’s what you have always wanted to accomplish. 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… It’s a force that appears to be negative, but actually shows you how to realize your destiny. It prepares your spirit and you will, because 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.”
The Personal Journey is about following your heart. But, even before that, it’s about learning how to recognize what is even is that our hearts want! We can’t go chasing a dream if we don’t know what the dream is, after all. And part of following our hearts is learning to follow omens!
There are omens everywhere, if you just stop to notice them.
For example, I used to work at a fast food restaurant. On the first day that I started researching one of the religions I mentioned earlier, I got an omen that the religion wasn’t for me, but I ignored the omen. What was it? Well, some way, somehow someone defecated in the middle of the floor in the restaurant without being seen! To this day I don’t know how the mystery pooper did it. It was right in front of where I was standing, while I was stirring the food in the buffet to keep it evenly heated.
I thought to myself “hmm, maybe this is a sign,” convinced a co-worker to clean the mess, and later that day I went back to learning about that religion. Now, I wanna be clear that the sign was an omen that this particular religion wasn’t good for me, not that the religion wasn’t good at all. And the more I looked into it, the more bad omens I got and ignored.
Omens are sent to help us. I didn’t start believing in omens until recently, but now that I’ve been following them there’s no turning back.
“God has a prepared path for us to follow. We just have to read the omens he has left for us.”
The Oneness of Creation
Believing in omens sounds superstitious if you don’t understand the unity of everything. See, if G-d is infinite and limitless, that means that nothing can exist outside of G-d and that everything is G-d because everything comes from G-d in some way or another.
This idea is a non-dualistic understanding of G-d and the Universe. Sort of like “As above, so below,” this is the idea that we aren’t separate from the Divine. It can be found in the mystic teachings of most of the spiritual paths I’ve looked into, and it’s a life-changer.
Being able to see Divinity in everything really has a way of changing how you interact with the world. In The Alchemist this is called the “Soul of the World.” Following your Personal Legend will lead you to realize the connectedness of all things. Regardless of whether or not you’re religious, following your Personal Legend will help you to be better, you’ll end up helping others to be better, and they’ll help others, too.
This is why alchemy exists,” the boy said. “So that everyone will search for his treasure, find it, and then want to be better than he was in his former life. Lead will play its role until the world has no further need for lead; and then lead will have to turn itself into gold.
That’s what alchemists do. They show that, when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.
We all come from the same source, we’ll all one day return to the same source, and until then, that source will be using omens to try and help guide us along our paths. But it’s up to us to listen.
Fate vs Free Will
So if everything is all a part of the same thing, how are we supposed to believe in free will? I won’t get too much into it here, but quantum physics tells us that things can exist in multiple possible realities! So if you’re approaching a crossroads that you haven’t yet seen, there’s a future where you choose the left road, there’s a future where you choose the right road, and there’s a future where you turn around. There’s a future for every possibility!
This means that it’s totally possible for fate and free will to co-exist! Free will is what happens when we make our own decisions about our future; fate happens when we just let life happen to us.
“People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”
It’s like life is a multiple choice test, but there’s more than one right answer. But how do we find the right answer? Well, we look deep in our hearts to discover what our Personal Journey is, and then we listen to the omens we get along the way! But remember, the choices are our own to make.
Have you read The Alchemist? Let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to like and subscribe!