The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
When I first read The Alchemist, I cried when I came across the sentence “It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”
I don’t remember exactly when that was, but I was clearly lost, without a dream. Because of the emotion it triggered I knew in my heart that The Alchemist was a powerful book.
To me it was more than just a fable about following one’s Dreams; it felt like a “how to” guide or manual to life even if back then most of the concepts flew above my head.
What I did know was that if Paulo Coelho kept repeating “When you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it,” this idea had to be important.
As I started to open my mind to the possibility that life had a purpose and I started my own quest into finding that purpose in my life, I kept finding books and teachers, including Wayne Dyer and Deepak Chopra, that all repeated this same concept of Intention and manifestation.
These days, I am almost more influenced by the story of the authors than the content of their books. I was reading Paulo’s biography to decide if I wanted to read The Pilgrimage and I got hooked on the story of his fight to become a writer.
I now know that ignoring one’s Calling is detrimental for one’s own well being so I picked up The Alchemist again to see what I might learn now that I have a more open mind.
This time, reading The Alchemist with all the knowledge I have acquired I am even more blown away by the power of story. The simple story has the potential to awaken every type of reader.
The Alchemist will engage with those that believe in the power of recurring dreams; those that are looking for a life purpose; those that believe in signs, omens, signals and guides; as well as those that are simply starting to wake up to the idea that there is more to their life.
Here the hero, Santiago, goes looking for treasure that was in his backyard all along. On this journey he experiences many of the insights, such as coincidences, that are also found in The Celestine Prophecy.
In the Alchemist, Synchronicity and coincidences are collectively called the principle of favourability, or beginners luck. Indeed, the Englishman in the book has encountered so many coincidences on his journey that he discusses the idea of writing an encyclopaedia just about the words luck and coincidence.
At one point Santiago makes the choice to decide whether he will be the victim of the theft that left him with nothing, or the adventurer that he had set out to be. Such tests are part of making sure that the life lessons are learned along the way, which Campbell called the Road of Trials.
Towards the end of the book, the alchemist says to Santiago: “Before every dream is realised, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way. It does not do this because it is evil, but so that in addition to realising our dreams we can master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved toward that dream.”
Perhaps more poignantly for me at least when I recall The Riddle of the Tax, the alchemist adds “That’s the point at which most people give up.”Santiago remembers a proverb that states it is the darkest hour of the night that comes before the dawn.
Interestingly, Campbell says tests usually come in threes, which is echoed when the alchemist gives a fourth bit of gold to the monk for safe keeping in case Santiago needs it, saying: “Everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time.”
In Portia Nelson’s Autobiography in Five Short Chapters, it is not until the fourth time the event can occur that the person learns the lessons and takes steps to avoid it.
Our hero learns about the myth of freedom, the power of detachment, the importance of asking objective questions, and the idea of what it means to live in the present. Throughout the book he engages with the Soul of the World that most spiritual authors call consciousness.
Santiago also learns that true love, the kind that comes from meeting one’s twin soul, does not involve abandoning one’s destiny. In fact it is following one’s path towards one’s destiny that this true love, in his case Fatima rather than the merchant’s daughter is found.
“You must understand that love never keeps a man from pursuing his destiny. If he abandons that pursuit, it’s because it was not true love,” says the alchemist to Santiago.
For me the idea that we have a purpose, a path and a destiny is clear but it was not always so. For a while my life started to take a road that made me start to take the victim’s view; the route of blame; and the path that seems to have no choice.
But Paulo hits the nail on the head when Melchizedeck first appears in the book as an old man and says to Santiago: “[The world’s greatest lie is] that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what is happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate.”
The Alchemist is all about awakening the reader to their purpose in life and how to take responsibility for and re-gain control over one’s dreams. “Everyone, when they are young, knows what their destiny is…..To realise one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation.”