Mini-Retreat: Day Three

Do you come to this third day of our mini-retreat with great trepidation or great joy?  Or with a feeling in-between?

May I just say that I admire that you’re reading this (not because of me, but because of the content), and that by daring to ask these questions of yourself, you’re growing and learning.  As my friend Maezen might say, “You’re already there.  You just don’t know it.”

Today, I want to talk about the truths in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist.  There is a slight twist in the book, which I don’t want to give away, so I’ll speak of these truths generally.  Do read the book.  It will haunt you (in a good way) for days.

The Alchemist is about a young shepherd who goes to seek his treasure.  Along the way, he gets waylaid multiple times—to his extreme frustration.  At each turning point, he has to choose—to go forward or to go back.  In the end, one of the greatest truths of all time bursts forth, off the page and into your lap, and you, through him, realize the great fundamental truth of anyone’s life.  [This is the part I can’t give away entirely.]

In the beginning, a wise old man tells the boy a story about a shopkeeper who sent his son to learn the secret of happiness from the wisest man in the world.

“Rather than finding a saintly man, though, our hero, on entering the main room of the castle, saw a hive of activity: tradesmen came and went, people were conversing in the corners, a small orchestra was playing soft music, and there was a table covered with platters of the most delicious food in that part of the world.  The wise man conversed with everyone, and the boy had to wait for two hours before it was his turn to be given the man’s attention.

“The wise man listened attentively to the boy’s explanation of why he had come, but told him that he didn’t have time just then to explain the secret of happiness.  He suggested that the boy look around the palace and return in two hours.

“‘Meanwhile, I want to ask you to do something,’” said the wise man, handing the boy a teaspoon that held two drops of oil.  ‘As you wander around, carry this spoon with you without allowing the oil to spill.’

“The boy began climbing and descending the many stairways of the palace, keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon.  After two hours, he returned to the room where the wise man was.

“‘Well,’ asked the wise man, ‘did you see the Persian tapestries that are hanging in my dining hall?  Did you see the garden that it took the master gardener ten years to create?  Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?’

“The boy was embarrassed, and confessed that he had observed nothing.  His only concern had been not to spill the oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.

“‘Then go back and observe the marvels of my world,’ said the wise man.  ‘You cannot trust a man if you don’t know his house.’

“Relieved, the boy picked up the spoon and returned to his exploration of the palace, this time observing all of the works of art on the ceilings and the walls.  He saw the gardens, the mountains all around him, the beauty of the flowers, and the taste with which everything had been selected.  Upon returning to the wise man, he related in detail everything he had seen.

“‘But where are the drops of oil I entrusted to you?’ asked the wise man.

“Looking down at the spoon he held, the boy saw that the oil was gone.

“‘Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you,’ said the wisest of wise men. ‘The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon.’”

Each of us has daily responsibilities, but we must stop and smell the roses, using a well-worn and familiar cliché.

In the course of finding our Personal Legend (what we were set on earth to do), we will find that the world around us conspires to help us.  We might find doors opening, people to lead us, events happening…to aid our way.  This tells us that we are on the right track.  At the moment of greatest discovery, we can expect to go through great difficulty, because it is then we will be tested, and we’ll have to remember everything we ever learned, in the course of our journey.

In other words, it’s about the journey, not the “goal.”  It’s about living life, not just “getting there.”

I’ll add something else.  I believe there are many ways to our dreams, although some paths are harder than others.  An example: I believe that, although I love my husband very much, I could have been happy with another man.  I just happened to find Dan first.  [The same goes for Dan.  He could have been just as happy with another woman.]  I would have had a vastly different life with this other man, and my relationship would have led me down a dissimilar path.  But it wouldn’t have been wrong or right.  It simply would have been unique to us.

The same is true for your path.  You’ll find that your greatest sorrows and burdens were vehicles to make you stronger, teach you something.  You wouldn’t be the same person today without them.  [Usually, you can only say this on the “other” side of pain.]

Our protagonist, the shepherd boy meets a camel driver on his journey.  The camel driver offers up some words of wisdom: “…People need not fear the unknown if they are capable of achieving what they need and want.  We are afraid of losing what we have, whether it’s our life or our possessions and property.  But this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand.

Later, the boy meets an alchemist who tells him to listen to his heart.

The boy says, “You mean I should listen, even if it’s treasonous?”

“‘Treason is a blow that comes unexpectedly.  If you know your heart well, it will never be able to do that to you.  Because you’ll know its dreams and wishes, and will know how to deal with them.’

“‘You will never be able to escape from your heart.  So it’s better to listen to what it has to say.  That way, you’ll never have to fear an unanticipated blow.’

“The boy continued to listen to his heart as they crossed the desert.  He came to understand its dodges and tricks, and to accept it as it was.  He lost his fear, and forgot about his need to go back to the oasis, because, one afternoon, his heart told him that it was happy.  ‘Even though I complain sometimes,’ it said, ‘it’s because I’m the heart of a person, and people’s hearts are that way.  People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel that they don’t deserve them, or that they’ll be unable to achieve them.  We, their hearts, become fearful just thinking of loved ones who go away forever, or of moments that could have been good but weren’t, or of treasures that might have been found but were forever hidden in the sands.  Because, when these things happen, we suffer terribly.’

“‘My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer,’ the boy told the alchemist one night as they looked up at the moonless sky.

“‘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 encounter with God and with eternity.’

“‘Every second of the search is an encounter with God,’ the boy told his heart.  ‘When I have been truly searching for my treasure, every day has been luminous, because I’ve known that every hour was a part of the dream that I would find it.  When I have been truly searching for my treasure, I’ve discovered things along the way that I never would have seen had I not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible for a shepherd to achieve.’”

Are you listening to your heart?  Is your heart afraid?  Can you reassure it?

Sit a moment.  Ask your heart what it wants.  Allow it to speak, then listen.  As you’re doing your chores and errands today, cajole it into answering the questions, “What is it that you desire?  What is your passion?”

Some day, hopefully soon, you’ll hear an almost inaudible whisper coming from the center of your breast, “I want to….”

Listen with all your might.

[And on a radically different note, my interview at KARE 11 yesterday went well.  If you’d like to view, go to my Media Page.]

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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