For the past few years, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist has been sitting somewhere near the top of my reading list. While I haven’t actively avoided it, there has always been some reason to never get around to it. Not long ago, the Brethren at The Masonic Roundtable hosted a podcast to discuss the book, which was the perfect excuse to finally sit down and read it. I’m glad that I did.
If you’ve never read The Alchemist, just as they said on TMR, I’m going to say three things about it up front.
- If you’re going to read the book, don’t approach it as though it’s just another story. Treat it as though it were an allegory, and consider the symbolism along the way.
- If you’re not going to read the book, I would encourage you to read the book.
- When you’re through with all ~90 pages, give The Masonic Roundtable’s podcast a listen. They did a good job exploring a lot of the themes in the story that have Masonic parallels.
Regarding that last point, because The Masonic Roundtable covered the book so well, I don’t want to press out into the same territory that they did. My interest lies in covering the things that stood out to me which either they didn’t address or they only lightly touched upon — just a few quotes, really.
Preamble — Mr. Coehlo broaches the subject of alchemy broadly, so it should be easily approachable by any reader. Even still, I think I was fortunate in that I have been reading a good deal on alchemy and its parallels to Freemasonry lately. I feel that it gave me a basic grounding in some of what the book was going to discuss. It certainly isn’t something that needs to be researched ahead of time, but it made me much more comfortable approaching the subject.
The first thing that really struck me during my reading of the book was the following quote:
“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”
I think that it’s very easy to lose sight of dreams — especially in this day and age where we’re never short on distractions. It reminds me of a quote by Marcus Aurelius:
“Stop whatever you’re doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do this anymore?”
— Meditations, Book 10, Section 29
Due to whatever circumstances, we often get so caught up in our day-to-day lives that we lose sight of our dreams. Or maybe our priorities shift. Regardless, our dreams are our dreams, and every once and a while, we should refocus on them. It’s acceptable to have competing priorities or to place dreams on the back-burner, but they should never be so distant that we forget. The Alchemist does a great job, in my opinion, of driving that point home. We should never let dreams get lost in the noise. Strip away the unimportant things that clutter our lives and that crowd-out the opportunities we have to better ourselves.
As an extension of that concept, I believe that the book does well at illustrating that, some times, our lives do take unexpected detours. Those instances that look like setbacks can often be used as moments to learn from — even when we’re unaware that we’re learning a lesson. This was the main point I was trying to make when I wrote From Ruin. There’s always something to learn.
Some times, you have to polish and sell crystal.
Another simple line from the book that had an impact on me:
“Everything in life has its price.”
It’s such a basic concept — so basic, in fact, that a lot of us don’t even consider it. One of the steepest forms of payment that we freely give, in my opinion, is time. We treat time as though we have a limitless supply, but we have a finite amount. Once it’s paid, we can never get it back.
Are we spending it wisely?
I’ve been very guilty of this in the past. Over the last couple of years, though, I’ve made a concerted effort to be more mindful of how I manage my time. It’s the Twenty-Four-Inch Gauge. It’s the concept of memento mori.
If you’re interested in improving in this area, take a look at how Bro. Benjamin Franklin scheduled his typical day. While his daily routine might not be right for you, you can always use it as a loose guide to begin building more structure into your life.
Remember — everything in life has its price.
The final quote I wanted to touch on was:
“Sometimes, there’s just no way to hold back the river.”
This line isn’t telling us that we should be ready to concede defeat. We were purpose-built to solve problems and to be fighters; absolute concession is never an option when we’re capable of learning and reasoning. But, the point that is being made is that sometimes, things are out of our hands. Call it fate. We should recognize when something is bigger than we are. There are occasions where the best course of action is to run with the current. You may not always be able to change your immediate circumstances, but you can adapt to them. Don’t fret or spend your time worrying, because some things can’t be changed or impressed upon.
For the life of me, I can’t remember where I first heard this quote, but I did hear it recently:
If you are depressed, you are living in the past.
If you are anxious, you are living in the future.
If you are at peace, you are living in the present.
Those are Laozi’s words, and I believe that they’re very fitting.
Pursue your dreams or those things that give you fulfillment. Time is precious. Live in the present.