I read the Alchemist for the first time around 1996, almost a decade after it was originally published. Like many books I’ve read long ago I had forgotten most of it. It was a chance encounter seeing it featured as a book to digitally borrow from my library app and I listened to it during a recent flight. I had forgotten how profound the book is so decided to re-read it and highlight my favorite parts as add my thoughts.
This book really affects me but not for the reasons it would appeal to most. I studied in Spain and from the moment I set foot in that country I was fascinated by its history studying in the ancient town of Toledo it was like I was actually living in history. I walked the Calle de Pescado everyday and that street was even mentioned in Don Quixote. I would climb the tower looking over the medieval city on a warm summer night and it was as though I could feel the Moorish invaders coming to take over the town from the south.
Not many people know the history of Spain but the Moors crossed over the straight of Gibraltar and conquered the vast majority of Spain. It is for this reason that the Spanish people primarily have black eyes and hair. They also often have Moorish last names such as a girl I dated with the last name Lopez Terradas Alanis. Alanis is a Moorish name.
It was from my time in Toledo that I would visit different places and take time to just try to “feel” the history of the place. Europe is so very ancient and we just don’t have that type of history in the USA so perhaps that is why history in Europe fascinates me so much.
Spain left its mark on me. Coming to California I visit the old Spanish missions and when I look over the ocean I imagine the conquistador ships passing by and I think of the natives who, from a virgin land must not have know what these ships were. Large vessels such as the Spanish ships would be as strange to them as a spacecraft landing in my backyard.
So when I read the Alchemist, which takes place in Spain and Africa I really identify with the story. No, that isn’t the right word. I ‘feel’ the story and it reaches into my soul.
I also set foot in Africa – Tangier – although I really hated that city because as it is mentioned in the Alchemist, port cities really are full of thieves. We were taken advantage of by our tour guide who demanded much more money than what we had agreed and were also dragged to a carpet shop which we couldn’t leave until we bought something.
Now, let’s get to my favorite entries.
They climb the mountain to see the castle, and they wind up thinking that the past was better than what we have now.
I am guilty of this. I romanticize history seeing only the knights, the banners, the old taverns. However, I am getting better in thinking that this was not the life for most people. I recently read Montaillou: Cathars and Catholics in a French Village and wrote a post about it here. It really illustrated what normal life was like in the village and although it wasn’t glamorous I longed for a simple life with no notifications, e-mails or honking cars. Again, I romanticized it which I shouldn’t have done as people couldn’t bathe much, there were diseases and always the threat of invasion.
The boy could see in his father’s gaze a desire to be able, himself, to travel the world – a desire that was still alive, despite his father’s having hard to bury it, over dozens of years, under the burden of struggling for water to drink, food to eat, and the same place to sleep every night of his life.
Adults are good at hiding this. Everyone gets caught up in a current and before they know it they have a mortgage, a family and responsibilities. The windows of opportunities that were available after graduation start to close one by one. They forget their dreams but looking around them and seeing this is what pretty much everyone does they believe this is just how life is.
I couldn’t have found God in the seminary, he thought, as he looked at the sunrise.
I too enjoy a good sunset evidenced by my collection of sunset pictures here. When watching a sunset I feel at peace but also aware that another day in my life has come to an end. The feeling you get when watching the sun go down connects you with the earth, with nature and makes you realize you’re lucky to be alive. The pressures and stress of life just melt away.
It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.
So many people feel as though they do not control their own lives and when things get hectic some people say to “Let Jesus take the wheel.” For me, I take the wheel and make changes. My life has changed so much since I was in school based upon my decisions. I’ll expound upon this as there is another quote about currents and how they take you to unexpected places when you make a decision.
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 Personal Legend.
That force is life taking hold. The responsibilities pile up and people feel trapped. It is hard to cut the cord once you become entrenched with family, a house, good friendships and a decent paying job. The last time I was completely free was just after college and I’m glad I took the opportunity to go overseas. That decision has changed my life dramatically.
In the long run, what people think about shepherds and bakers becomes more important for them than their own Personal Legends.
People are always concerned about what others think. This is what drives them to buy fancy cars or show off their wealth in some form or another. It is only by gaining confidence in yourself that one can free themselves from the opinions of others. When you have a lot of confidence it doesn’t matter what others think and they begin to admire you.
“A practice of infidels,” he said to himself. As a child in church, he had always looked at the image of Saint Santiago Matamoros on his white horse, his sword unsheathed, and figures such as these kneeling at his feet. The boy felt ill and terribly alone. The infidels had an evil look about them.
I’m having a hard time finding the name origin as it is buried in some Spanish tome but if I remember correctly his name was actually something like San Xago de Matamoros which later became Santiago for ease of pronunciation. What most don’t realize is that he is known for killing Moors or Muslims who invaded Spain. Today we see the name Santiago everywhere but the meaning has been lost, especially in the English speaking world.
There had been a time when he thought that his sheep could teach him everything he needed to know about the world.
Today, people think that the propaganda sources of the news or various talking heads can teach them everything they need to know about the world. Everyone always thinks they know everything already. What I’ve learned is that you must keep traveling, must keep reading to really learn. I feel as though I learn the most when I read old books without the taint of current thinking. By reading old books and passages I can get a sense of how they really thought instead of seeing it through the lens of a historian who puts his or her own spin on it. I want to hear directly from the source of someone who lived in the time period I’m reading about.
When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.
This has been my life. It was from the simple decision to study in Spain that lead me to study again in France and Mexico. It was also from this decision that I decided to find a job overseas which lead to a trip and later moving to Vietnam. Then a friend in Vietnam moved to California and here I find myself with a Japanese wife. I would have never imagined this outcome from that decision to study in Spain. The current was strong in my case and has carried me very far from my origins indeed.
We are afraid of losing what we have, whether it’s our life or our possessions and property. But this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand.
The richer you become the greater fear you have in making major life changes. It is easy to do so when you have little, you can just up and go. I’ve seen throughout my life that as people pile on possessions they become weighted down unable to move under the pressure of all those material things.
“I’m alive,” he said to the boy, as they ate a bunch of dates one night, with non fires and no moon. “When I’m eating that’s all I think about. If I’m on the march, I just concentrate on marching. If I have to fight, it will be just as good a day to die as any other.
Because I don’t live in either my past or my future. I’m interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man.
This could come straight from a book on mindfulness or from Buddhism. The mind always wants to race from one thought to the next which creates a disorderly mind. Best to concentrate on the present moment, no past, no future, just be in the moment. “Life is to be savored” as the Panda’s say in World of Warcraft. Enjoy living it and not thinking about so many things.
Actually, it wasn’t that those things, in themselves, revealed anything at all; it was just that people, looking at what was occurring around them, could find a means of penetration to the Soul of the World.
“If good things are coming, they will be a pleasant surprise,” said the seer. “If bad things are, and you know in advance, you will suffer greatly before they even occur.”
This is so very true. One example is the Fighter’s Cup I participate in which is a karate tournament. The actual fighting is tough but sometimes it seems thinking about it is even worse. The fight lasts two minutes but the anxiety caused by thinking about it can drag on for months in advance. Thus our karate motto “Don’t talk about it, don’t think about it, just sweat.”
And that happiness could be found in a grain of sand from the desert, as the alchemist had said. Because a grain of sand is a moment of creation, and the universe has taken millions of years to create it.
When we sit and contemplate nature, the trees, the ocean or even a grain of sand it is an absolute miracle that there is something in this universe rather than nothing. I read a book entitled “Why Does The World Exist” by Jim Holt and it speaks about this very thing. Where there was nothing, suddenly there was something and this something is everything we see including us. All of creation should put us in awe. We look at the stars on a warm summer night and are in awe. We wonder what is out there? Well, we’re standing on something we call Earth which is a part of it all. We are made of stardust and so we are apart of it as well. However, life and society have their demands and we forget just how amazing everything we see actually is.
Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place.
How we think about the world determines how it actually is. It is all in the perception. Living overseas I wondered why it was that some students had a terrible time while others had a great time. Some of it is due to environment but even in a bad environment your mentality determines what type of experience you will have. For example, living in Toledo was wonderful yet some managed to have a bad time and want to go home. Living in a ghetto in France wasn’t very nice yet many of us had a ball. It is all in attitude and perception.
So if you remain fearful of the world and think of it as dangerous, the danger is all you will see. For me, I don’t think driving around Saigon at 3:00 AM on my motorbike would be very pleasant but I loved doing this. The streets were empty, the town quiet and I was smart enough to not get into any danger and appreciate the beauty. I wouldn’t recommend doing this in some parts of Oakland however. 😉
“Your eyes show the strength of your soul,” answered the alchemist.
The eyes have been called a “window to the soul.” With a bit of practice you can always tell what a person is thinking, or if they are lying by looking them right in the eye. There are so many tells and it is easy to see. You can also see sincerity, love, and passion very easily in the eyes.
And they found the Philosopher’s Stone, because they understood that when something evolves, everything around that thing evolves as well.
I’ve found this to be true. I previously mentioned that mindset determines your experience. Well, it seems the world does physically change whether your perception is positive or negative about something. Some call this the Law of Attraction and I find it generally holds true. We’re connected to this universe in ways we don’t and cannot begin to understand.
Remember what I told you: the world is only the visible aspect of God.
There is so much we cannot pick up with our five senses. Some speak of a sixth or even seventh sense. There is something there which we do not perceive but sometimes can catch a flicker of when in quiet meditation, or at the moment of sleep or waking when you turn the brain off and just be still.
The wind has many names. In that part of the world, it was called the sirocco, because it brought moisture from the oceans to the east. In the distant land the boy came from, they called it the levanter, because they believed that it brought with it the sands of the desert, and the screams of the Moorish wars.
I can imagine this very clearly. I felt it on the breeze during those warm summer nights up in the tower overlooking the city of Toledo. I felt the history, I felt the long dead spirits whispering in that wind. I’d love to stand in a field in Andalusia and just take it all in.
The wind began to blow again. It was the levanter, the wind that came from Africa. It didn’t bring with it the smell of the desert, nor the threat of Moorish invasion.