It should come as no surprise to anyone that knows me, that I love books and that I love to read. I believe that reading is one of the most fundamental things that we can do to improve and to enjoy our lives. Jim Rohn said, “Miss a meal if you have to, but never miss a book.” I have heard that reading for even 15 minutes per day can greatly enhance your quality of life, and can lead to better overall wellbeing. Within the pages of books are adventure, mystery, evolution, peace, love, and so much for us to think about as far as life goes. Gosh, so many of us are “surviving” the pandemic because we have books to entertain us, or to help us forget the outside world for a bit. See this week’s YouTube video here: https://youtu.be/4FazAe1f7eM
As nerds do, I read all kinds of books, on different topics, and so, I often get the question, “What is your favorite book?” That is an extremely difficult question for me, partially because there are so many different genres. Can I really put an Agatha Christie over Sherlock Holmes, or mythology over science fiction? Sometimes I have been in the mood for something more fluffy and easy to get through. And what about my beloved Harry Potter books, what can compare to the years of my life that I devoted to waiting for the next book, reading all night, and crying at the loss of some my beloved characters? Where would I put new authors like Tomi Adeyemi and Elizabeth Acevedo whose books remind me of the magic while also allowing a space where I can see myself in the characters? No, picking one book as a favorite is a cruel question to ask a book lover.
I also believe that some books came into my world for a particular season; so while they were a favorite at one point, at this present moment, and in this chapter of my life, there are other books that are filling the space of favorite. I sometimes read numerous different books at once, some books I have to be in the mood for, and some books I have to read them slowly to let the words roll over my mind like honey. I may buy books, and they might sit on my shelf until it is their time. In this stage of my life, I also have stopped trying to read books that bore me. There are so many other interesting books, that if I can’t get into it after several chapters and attempts, I send it on its way to find a new home.
I confess that I love the feel of physical books, but I also like the convenience of digital books as well. Reading can really open your eyes to the amazing, the extraordinary, and the miraculous. George R.R. Martin said, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.” Please do yourself a favor and read something. If you are having a hard time getting back to reading a real book, a phenomenon that I experienced after law school—I think reading all the legal books made me get to a place where I just wanted things to get to the point—this made it almost impossible for me to enjoy a good book. I had to start with something that did not require heavy brainwork, something light and fun, and then I pick up from there. (It was Harry Potter lol). I also had to remind myself of the value of reading, and that it is a truly worthwhile hobby. There is also something really delicious about reading a book, and finding a glorious sentence or quote; It might be one that stays with you, and comes to life at the right moment, in the right situation. If you are having trouble getting back into reading, start with something small and fun, and see if that gets your gears going.
Getting back to the question of my favorite books, like I said, that is very difficult for numerous reasons. I do have books that crack my top five, and their pages are worn with love. These are books that I will never loan out, but I will happily send you a copy. One of these books for me is “The Alchemist,” written by one of my favorite authors Paulo Coelho. I like the style of his writing, and the way in which it feels that there is always a much bigger message looming below an easy to read, and easy to follow story. I have read many books by Paulo Coelho and some of my other favorites are: Manuscript found in Accra, Warrior of Light, The Pilgrimage, The Valkyries, Aleph, and Brida.
The Alchemist is my favorite book by Paulo, and it is one of those books that found me when I needed it, and then it stayed for other moments when I would need to be reminded of its lessons again and again. I have read this book more than once; I have also listened to the audiobook numerous times, and in each time that I have read it or listened to it, I have seen something that I missed before, gained new insight, or some new reminders and I come away from the book feeling refreshed and inspired. I am sure that there are many reviews of the book, but this is not so much a review as a tribute to what I consider a classic and essential work. There are others who have said, they did not get much from the book, or they cannot see why people like it so much (This book spent over 400 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list), but alas, I think some things should be experienced for yourself so that you can decide. Make a hot cup of tea, sit somewhere comfy, and prepare for a desert adventure.
In short, and without ruining it for you, The Alchemist follows the story of a shepherd boy named Santiago who is living in the south of Spain. After a series of prophetic dreams, he embarks on a great adventure to find and fulfill, his “Personal Legend.” That is to find your own personal destiny and to fulfill it. This journey leads Santiago from his home in Spain all the way to the Great Pyramids in Egypt and back again. T.S Elliot said, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
What happens on the journey transforms Santiago’s life, opens his eyes to love, and yes, there is a bit of personal alchemy. Santiago overcomes many obstacles and meets many unforgettable characters, but what he gained in life experience and insight was priceless, not just for him, but also for anyone who reads the story. He also ends up learning a great deal of wisdom from an actual alchemist. What is an alchemist anyway? Well naturally, someone who practices alchemy. Hahaha. Alchemists are people who, “who transform or create something through a seemingly magical process.” In its simplest definition, alchemy was, “the medieval forerunner of chemistry, based on the supposed transformation of matter. It was concerned particularly with attempts to convert base metals into gold or to find a universal elixir.” Many people understood alchemy to be more than converting lead to gold; they saw it as the process of self-transformation. If you did read Harry Potter, you may have heard mention of “Nicholas Flamel.” He was a real person, and many thought he discovered the philosopher’s stone and therefore gained immortality. That’s a conversation for another day.
We are all on our own personal journey, and every day people ask the questions, “What is my purpose?” and “What is the meaning of life?” I don’t have the answers to those questions, but I heard a quote recently that really resonated with me. It said, “The meaning of life is to give life meaning.” Anais Nin also said, “There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”
I think that is a commendable goal. In the Alchemist are also some of the best quotes on finding ways to enjoy the journey of our life, on realizing that nothing is wasted in our experience, and that we are constantly looking for ways to fulfill our personal legend. “To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation.”
To me, this book becomes a manual, guiding anyone who has a dream in their heart on not giving up, but instead realizing that there are signposts, and people, and something bigger than all of us conspiring to help us realize those dreams; “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the Alchemist.
· “When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”
· “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
· “The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.”
· “Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.”
· “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”
· “There is only one way to learn. It is through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey.”
· “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.”
· “Before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved toward that dream. That’s the point at which most people give up. It’s the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, one ‘dies of thirst just when the palm trees have appeared on the horizon.”
I guess the point of this week’s message is simply to remind you that you are amazing, that you do have purpose, and that you will be supported at each step of your journey. Life is always waiting to surprise us with good things, even in moments when it does not feel that way. Failure and the fear of suffering can prevent us from taking the steps that we need to move forward with our lives. If you have something that you want, and you let fear hold you back from that, you will never know how amazing it could have been.
I always say that if you want to get to the beautiful island of Tahiti and experience paradise, then you may have to get on a plane or a boat to get there. You may have a long trip ahead of you. You may worry that something bad may happen along the way, and yes, something bad could happen. Alternatively, you could arrive safely, and experience the joys of Tahiti. Life is similar. What you want might require you to move outside of your comfort zone and take a risk.
Elizabeth Gilbert has two quotes that I love from her book, “Big Magic.” “Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.” And also this one: “The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.” Here I am hoping that you find your treasures, your jewels, and that you fulfill your personal legend.
The Alchemist also says, “We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.”
This is a precious moment, and you a precious part of this world and this life. Please make the most of it. Read some good books, give your heart to the things that make you come alive, and give meaning to your life. In that way, when the day comes for you to depart from this realm—and no one makes it out alive—everyone will know that you did all that you came here to do. May the stars shine brightly over your week, and may it be a lovely week indeed.