“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.” – The Alchemist
The wildly popular novel, The Alchemist, is, without a doubt, one of my favorite books. It checks the boxes for adventure, wanderlust, treasure and more. While the book itself is an easy read, the story within contains themes that, while simple, force me to sit and ponder. Never will I ever read this book too many times. The Alchemist forces each reader to question their purpose; something that ebbs, flows and requires frequent reflection.
The Alchemist, is a story of a boy on a quest to understand his purpose. It is saturated with spiritual themes such as omens, religious pilgrimage and faith in the unknown. One of its greater themes is the idea that all things communicate. Paulo Coelho, the author, describes this as the language of the world. As with any other language, one can exist in a state anywhere from fluency to ignorance. Fluency, however, requires a distinct awareness of the world around you and the role you play.
The protagonist, Santiago, unintentionally begins to learn the language of the world when he attends to his flock. As a shepherd, he grows into a state of comfort where he fully understands his sheep and they understand him. This unspoken communication is the first glimpse into the language of the world. But the language of the world is much more than a simple understanding between a shepherd and his sheep.
Throughout his journey into the unknown, Santiago begins to understand the world. He learns with everything he does, whether trekking for weeks in the desert or while cleaning crystal in a shop. Santiago develops a kinship with life because he learns to face his trials with courage, embracing the experience of it all. The experience, insignificant or adventurous, is the teacher and by listening to the world, he begins to understand it.
Coelho argues that courage is a spiritual quality. When asked in an interview how one becomes fluent in the language of the world, he replies firmly, “By daring. If you don’t fear the unknown, the unknown will be kind to you.” He goes further, explaining in the book that, “... when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” These words may feel hollow, it all sounds rather fanciful, perhaps a little too happy. In order to understand what Coelho means by this, it helps to understand that within the pages of The Alchemist, Santiago is constantly challenged as he seeks to understand the world. During his quest, Santiago is robbed on multiple occasions, caught in a tribal war, taken hostage and led astray. But the Santiago’s story is fiction, understanding Coelho’s point of view on destiny and purpose is reinforced by his own experience with the book.
Upon completing The Alchemist in 1988, Coelho was allowed a short run of copies. The publisher reportedly told Coelho, “This title will never sell more than 900 copies.” Because of this, he was allowed to keep the rights to the novel. Later on, a second publisher approved the book for print and with time the book began to sell. In 1993, the book was released in English for the first time, this allowed the book to be translated into even more languages. Whoever found the book would quickly pass it along to a friend; this book sold because the people who read it were passionate about its contents. Years later, Coelho’s book has stayed on the top of bestseller lists, tens of millions of copies sold.
The idea that the universe conspires to help you achieve your goals, to understand the world, does not refer to success without resistance. Rather, it speaks to the lessons we must learn, however difficult, to achieve our personal legend. This is the meaning of daring, of seeking courage as a spiritual quality and of the revival many people feel in nature.
Fluency in the language of the world can be religious or not, but it is always a spiritual experience. It is something you achieve when you find a sense of flow. I find this to be most true when I am working towards a goal I am passionate about and when I take a moment to breathe with no agenda. Everything in between, all the noise, removes me from my oneness with God (fluency), but seeking to engage in life, whatever that means for you personally, is where you will hear and begin to understand the language of the world.