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Posts Tagged ‘paulo coelho’

So I finish my last piece on the enigmatic way the universe sometimes reveals a glimpse behind the curtain of reality, hinting, by means of syncronicity, at perhaps more revelations to come. Yet my expectations are tempered by the knowledge that the way always closes before I can get to it, and I know all too well the impossibility of interpreting the signs. So I end on a note of resigned ignorance, and with the implied question: what now? And the day after, in the Charity Shop, I pick up a novel called The Zahir by Paulo Coelho and, reading it, the answer jumps right out of the context, but pertinent I feel to my own enquiry, and it says:

“All you have to do is pay attention; the lessons arrive when you are ready, and if you can read the signs you will learn everything you need to know to take the next step.”

But while this sounds like it should mean something, and I’m sure it does, the crux of the matter is knowing how to read those signs. Another problem is seeing the signs in the first place, because that involves living in a world where you believe magic is still possible, and for that you have to be at least partly insane.

Well, at least I’m okay with that.

Meanwhile I sense my world hanging by a thread as I always do at this time of year. It’s something to do with the fading of the light and the thought of the long winter to come. A problem with my gas boiler returns – one I thought I’d fixed some weeks ago and celebrated as a triumph of genius over calamity. The mobile phone I thought I’d fixed in similar vein suddenly manifests fresh issues, shooting at my confidence in my technical ability – and telling me if I don’t have that I  don’t have anything. And then the Mazda, my most treasured possession, symbol of a past personal rejuvenation of sorts yields more signs of its vulnerability to the outrages of fate and old age.

These are the normal every day trials faced by everyone, but to one attempting a retreat into the semi-contemplative life, each fresh manifestation is resented with a passion that should tell me more about the state of my affairs than it apparently does.

Instead Ego gamely tries to plug the gaps, make the fixes, maintain control, and all the while another part of me steps back and observes, neutral in the inkling that my life is about to take a tailspin, more systems flashing malfunction than can be dealt with. And that I feel it, that I fear the tailspin tells me much about the shoddy state of my psyche, and that I risk a plunge more fearsome than any I have known before.

But this is Ego again.

And I have the signs at least, so avoiding that tailspin is just a matter of knowing how to read them.

Or am just too eager to retreat into the nether regions of the dream life? and the world with all its stone throwing, is simply telling me: don’t go!

 

 

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the alchymist = jospeh wright 1795

In Paulo Coelho’s best-selling story, the Alchemist – as near as I can remember it – a humble shepherd boy falls asleep under a tree on a Spanish hillside and dreams of a pot of gold buried in Egypt. (Spoiler alert) The dream has such a numinous feel to it, the boy is compelled to set out on a life-changing quest to find the gold. The story recounts the boy’s adventures, describes the characters he meets and what each encounter teaches him. After many hardships, he reaches his goal and starts to dig, but finds nothing. In despair he relates his story to a stranger. The stranger laughs at the boy’s foolishness and tells of a dream he had about a similar treasure lying buried under a tree on a Spanish hillside, and compliments himself on not being stupid enough to waste his entire life in setting out to look for it. Enlightened, the boy returns home.

You can take many things from this story – and for such a short book, as with all of Coelho’s work there’s a lot in it. But for me the gold is not the point – or rather recognising the gold for what it truly is – that is the point. The story tells of our compulsion to make a quest out of life. We are seeking something – satisfaction, happiness, self-justification – but seeking it always in material terms. In our consumer society this materiality all too often boils down to money – a literal gold – in the belief that the more material goods we can buy, the happier we will be. We all know this is wrong, yet altering our misguided perceptions is very difficult, since we seem preprogrammed into accepting the former view as the more sensible one. No matter how hard our higher will struggles to elevate us from the mud of the material mire, there is a default condition in which we prefer to wallow in it.

In the material world, having no money is a cause of great deprivation, unnecessary suffering and unhappiness, but having a fortune is no guarantee of happiness either. Money (gold) might buy us a more comfortable life, one free from hunger and curable disease, but it cannot make us a better human being. In the mediaeval alchemists’ quest, the esoteric texts relate the seemingly foolish attempt to transform worthless base metals into gold. But the Master Alchemist, Hermes the Thrice Great, source of all Hermetic wisdom, warns that this is a dangerous path, one that leads only to madness, because it’s not that kind of gold we should be thinking of. I look at the world today and imagine Hermes shaking his head in dismay.

The quest for gold leads us on, always looking for the next thing, imagining our treasure to be out there somewhere, hidden from view yet ultimately discoverable if we can only apply ourselves in the right way. But in fact, as in Coelho’s story of the shepherd boy , we already possess the thing we’re seeking, though it can take us a long time on the dusty trail of life before we wise up. In alchemy, the process is one of sublimation. We take the base metal and we apply heat, we melt the base, loosen its impurities and let them rise. We tend the fire for years and years, and we watch as the base metal undergoes a cyclical process of purification and transformation. But the substance glowing in the alchemists alembic, has to be seen as a metaphor. What the alchemists were talking about was in fact the human spirit. We are the base metal. What we are seeking is the transformation of ourselves. Alchemy was, and still, is a spiritual quest.

I’ve been thinking about this recently as I write, and wondering as I do from time to time, why I write and for whom, and what it is I’m seeking from doing it. Sometimes I forget, you see, that I’m not actually doing it for anybody, or for anything, that I’m just doing it. I know the treasure lies inside myself, yet there are times – such as now – when I refuse to see it and wind up stretched out, face down in the mud. I’ve read books on Zen, studied Daoism and Buddhism, also the various alchemical traditions as well as European Romanticism. I’ve felt the glow of an inner peace, courtesy of the practice of meditation, Qigong and Tai Chi. And such things have each at times opened the door on a very special and self contained room, within myself, and what I’ve glimpsed in there I’ve tried to describe in my writings. But like the alchemists’ quest, it’s a circular path, not a linear one; there’s a rhythm to the openings and closings of that door. When it closes on me, the practice has already fallen into disarray. The fire has gone out. I become twitchy, irritable, plagued by aches and pains, jumping at shadows, doubting everything I thought I once knew and held to be true.

It takes a while to pull myself together, rekindle the flames, strip myself bare of all the false trappings of the material world, clothe myself once more in the homespun cloth of that purer sense of being. But without that first spark of an autonomous inner will, all else is useless. Attempts at firming up a routine of meditation, qigong, or even high minded reading, fall apart at the first hurdle. The fire splutters and is extinguished by the most trivial of occurrences – a blocked drain, the washing machine making a funny noise, a toilet cistern that won’t stop filling up, a car that fails its MOT. At such times life’s little snags take on the proportions of epic disasters, disruptive of our lives and insulting to the very core of our being. Indeed, once we enter this frame of mind, this mentality of siege, the universe obliges by providing one assault after the other.

It surfaces in my writing too, especially the blogging, when I find myself checking the stats, counting the likes and the visits after each entry, to see what effect I’m having on the world. But this is pointless. The effect I have, or rather the lack of it, is irrelevant. I took the decision, long ago, that I wrote simply because I write, and that to self-publish online is merely the completion of a contract with the inner daemon who would have me write in the first place. I have also told myself that whoever reads my writings thereafter, simply reads them and takes from them what they will. I write then, primarily, for myself, to stir and sift my way through the soup of what it is I think I think. Beyond that there is no purpose, no goal, and to find the place where I can take pleasure in that alone, is finally to come home to myself.

In material terms, we are none of us anybody, and we are none of us going anywhere. That the universe appears infinite can only be accommodated by the assumption that it is also nothing, that the reason it seems to occupy so much space, is that it occupies no space whatsoever. As human beings I think we begin from that position of nothingness, but we are born with an innate fear of it, not realising that only through its acceptance do we finally sublimate the spiritual gold of the alchemist in our hearts, through which our true, infinite worth might be glimpsed, at least in so far as any mortal being is capable, locked in the illusion of time and space, as we all are.

In the quest to find our own alchemical gold, we should each start out with the insight that, like Paulo’s shepherd boy, we’re probably already sitting on it. Whether we recognise it or not is down purely to the way we view the world, and sometimes it takes a long journey to alter our focus sufficiently to realise the power within us, and to return home. Nobody else can do this for us. It is the supreme paradox, that we are each of us nothing, but also everything at the same time.

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