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Reading Now: CONFESSIONS OF A PILGRIM

1.

Listen to your heart.
It knows all things,
because it came
from the Soul of the World,
and it will one day return there.  
- Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist


Paulo Coelho is one of the most favorite author to many for many reasons. I fell in love instantly with The Alchemist, arguably his best and most inspirational novel. Brazilian author, magus and mystic, Paulo Coelho is one of the most widely read authors of contemporary time. Renowned for his novel, The Alchemist, he has sold more than 85 millions books worldwide and has been translated into 63 languages.

With over a million and a half copies sold around the world,  The Alchemist has already established itself as a modern classic, universally admired. Coelho is no stranger to Islam and Sufi Path. In an interview with Syrian Forward Magazine's issue of April 2009  he said: "Indeed, Sufism has inspired me a lot throughout my life and I refer to this tradition in some of my books such as The Alchemist and more recently The Zahir. Rumi is of course the first figure that springs to mind. His teachings and visions are incredibly subtle and clear."

The Alchemist for many good reasons will feel and read like a Sufi Fable where the main character is an young shepherd from Andalusian Spain who follow his heart and it's dreams as he journeys to the markets of Tangiers and across the Egyptian desert to a fateful encounter with the alchemist. The book is full of metaphors, symbolic characters and wisdom of the Path. 

Here are some of the favorite quotes from The Alchemist:

Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure. You’ve got to find the treasure, so that everything you have learned along the way can make sense.

In his pursuit of the dream, he was being constantly subjected to tests of his persistence and courage. So he could not be hasty, nor impatient. If he pushed forward impulsively, he would fail to see the signs and omens left by God along his path.

This is what we call love. When you are loved, you can do anything in creation. When you are loved, there's no need at all to understand what's happening, because everything happens within you.

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.

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.

Recently I am reading Confessions of a Pilgrim which is a book where Coelho is interviewed by award winning journalist and writer Juan Arias. In the book Coelho shares his inspiring life journey and first-hand accounts of many of his experiences including: being confined to a mental institution as a young man simply because he was an artist, his encounters with black magic and drugs, vision of his own death, the nature of writing and the spiritual quest. As I was reading the interview, there are many places which I found very profound and mind opening. He also speaks from a place of realization and from the heart of someone who is living the life as a passionate mystic. 


2.
Born on the same day of the same month (24 August), only many years later of his literary idol, Jorge Louis Borges, Paulo Coelho  (born 1947) is passionate about writing. He was always a non-conformist, a seeker after the new leading him to try everything that appeared along the way. When, in the fever of '68, the guerrila and hippy movements took hold, the future writer fell in love with Marx, Engels and Che Guevara. He was involved in all progressive movements and was part of the the Peace and Love generation.

It was then that Coelho began to experience his crisis of faith and went off in search of new spiritual experiences, resorting to drugs, hallucinogens, sects and magic, traveling all over Latin America. In the book Confessions of a Pilgrim Coelho talks much of such experiences.


3.
Omens are an alphabet you develp
to talk to the world's soul 

One of the secret of Paulo Coelho's writing is his personal faith in Symbol or Metaphors and Omens. He is personally very sensitive to Signs and respects Omens. When asked by the interviewer on What is an Omen, Coelho said:

Omens are a language, it's the alphabet we develop to speak to the world's soul, or the universe's or God's, whatever name you want to give it. Like any alphabet, it is individual, you only learn it by making mistakes, and that keeps you from globalizing the spiritual quest. .. You start in darkness, not knowing what you'll find, although wanting to find clues to meet up with yourself, with your destiny. And these clues come to us by way of richer alphabet, which allows us to intuit what we should or should not do. 

What happens is that at the beginning we hardly believe in anything, at a second stage we think we're mistaken, at the third, everything seems to be an omen, and then, only at the end, when an omen crosses our path over and over again without being sought out, you realize you're facing a language that goes beyond reality. 

After his extreme experiences with life followed by serious personal crisis with faith, at one point he gave up on religion and became an atheist. He was convinced that Catholicism was the worst thing in the world, just another sect. That's why he had to make such a long journey before coming back to it. Coleho returned back to his Catholicism and he confess that its not because Catholicism is better than other religions, but because it was in his cultural roots, in his blood. He says, he could have chosen Islam or Buddhism or nothing. He felt he needed something more than atheism in his life and he chose Catholicism as a way of communing with mystery. When asked about accepting Dogma in religion, I think he provide a brilliant answer which holds much food for thought:

A discussion of dogma could go on for a long while. You accept dogma because you want to accept it, not because it's imposed on you. When I was a boy I said, without an ounce of understanding, the same as everyone else: that Maria has conceived without sin etc. Later, I learned about right-wing theology, liberation theology, all of them. They are forms that change and evolve. But I'm fifty and the dogmas are centuries old. According to Jung, dogmas that are so absurd in appearance constitute the clearest, most magical and most inspired manifestation of human thinking, because they are beyond conscious thought.

These days, no matter how absurd it may appear, I accept dogma freely into my heart. Not because it's imposed, not because I feel forced into it, as in the past, but because I try to be humble before mystery. Deep down, all religions have their dogmas, which are paradigms of the most profound, arcane mystery. To me that seems beautiful, because there's no reason that something I don't understand rationally should not be true. Mystery exists.

Coelho says, I believe men can be divided into those who look for spiritual peace and warrior of light, who as saint Paul said, love constant struggle without resting on their laurels. The warrior of light is like the bullfighter who can't imagine living life without being in he ring as much as possible. ... I think life ends the moment you stop struggling and say, 'I've arrived.' That would be something I neither love nor look for. I've felt that way two or three times in my life, that is happy, immobile, at the end of a road. But it didn't last long because the good Lord very soon gave me a kick and put me back in motion.

Coelho likes the parable of Pilgrim and Pilgrimage for seeker and life journey. When asked how does he describe himself, he said:

As a pilgrim who travels an endless path. Like the pilgrim who knows of the existence of a treasure, who sees that treasure guided by omens, like the shepherd in The Alchemist. For him, it  is important to arrive at the treasure, but when he gets there he sees he is no longer the same, he's changed, he's become someone else. It is the path and the search that forge and change you. I keep searching. 

4.
Lovers can't sleep when they feel
the privacy of the Beloved all around them

Every mystic love deciphering the Signs in the Mysteries of the Unknown. They observe the universe full  of omens. For the Muslims, every word of the Quran is called Signs (Ayah) and the whole Universe is likened as a grand Quran, an Open Book which is again immersed with innumerable Signs. Reading each Ayah of the Quran has its own reward, so it is for the grand Quran, the Creation itself and able to read its Signs are rewarding. Reading of the Signs is a sacred connection to the Maker of the Signs. Work of a seeker is to polish the inner heart so that the real eyes within may open. And with the opening of the eye of certainty one may recognize the Signs.

Every sign in the world is metaphor for the Beloved.

Every thing on the universe is stamped with the Signature of the Grand Alchemist.

Shaykh Rumi said, "Lovers can't sleep when they feel the privacy of the Beloved all around them. Someone who's thirsty may sleep for a while, but he or she will have dream of water, a full jar beside a creek, or the spiritual water you get from another person. All night, listen to the Conversation."

As one travel the Path of Life with deep reverence for Signs and for the One Who Send the Signs along the Path, poetry of life starts to open itself. You read one line and your heart leaps because 'yes!' you now understand a little more and go further and again a little more understanding arrives of what the Grand Alchemist have written on the Emerald Tablet. Thus the Journey is guided. Ihdinaas sirat al mustaqeem, guide us on the straight path.


Ya Ayyuhal lazina Aamanu! 
La tuhillu sha'aairaLlah.

O you who securely believe!
Do not violate the symbols of Allah.
- Q 5:2


# Further:
. Inspiring Quotes from The Alchemist
. Manual of the Warrior of Light (pdf)
. Paulo Coelho speaks to Forward: What's it like to be the Alchemist?
. Sufi Wisdom via Paulo Coelho's Official Blog
. More Sufi Inspirations via Coelho's Blog

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