Paulo Coehlo is certifiably mad. He reflects on how he came to wear this label in the interview below, noting that his multiple stays at mental institutions have steeled his character. Coehlo is also madly successful; The Alchemist holds the Guinness World Record for most translated book by a living author. Like most writers, Coehlo embodies a range of complexities—in various interviews, he is alternately masculine and feminine, omniscient sage and petulant brat—which probably explains why he is such a polarizing figure among the literati. There is an endearing quality to Coehlo’s brand of tortured intellectual artist cooky-ness, and I find myself drawn to the kind of dichotomy that he houses. Plus, I find that the paths traveled by my two favorite tête-à-tête topics—love and spirituality—converge rather nicely in the works of the Brazilian author. Like Marianne Williamson, Coehlo uses literature to nudge you, dear reader, towards awakening the divine that lies dormant in the recesses of your being. His books are an exploration of the universality of the human experience, a valiant attempt to expose the threads that bind you to God—in a polytheistic sense—and therefore to others. Reading Coehlo’s work is akin to meditating in the sense that it requires you to disengage from the busyness of daily existence that threatens to entrap you in minutiae, and re-engage with a vastness that, in the words of Max Ehrmann, reminds you that “you are a child of the Universe, no less than the moon and the stars...And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should.”
Excerpt of author’s note in By the River Piedra, I Sat Down and Wept
by Paulo Coehlo
Rarely do we realize that we are in the midst of the extraordinary. Miracles occur all around us, signs from God show us the way, angels plead to be heard, but we pay little attention to them because we have been taught that we must follow certain formulas and rules if we are to find God. We do not recognize that God is wherever we allow Him/Her to enter.
Traditional religious practices are important; they allow us to share with others the communal experience of adoration and prayer. But we must never forget that the spiritual experience is above all a practical experience of love. And with love, there are no rules. Some may try to control their emotions and develop strategies for their behavior; others may turn to reading books of advice from “experts” on relationships—but this is all folly. The heart decides and what it decides is all that really matters.
All of us have had this experience. At some point, we have each said through our tears, “I’m suffering for a love that’s not worth it.” We suffer because we feel we are giving more than we receive. We suffer because our love is going unrecognized. We suffer because we are unable to impose our own rules.
But ultimately there is no good reason for our suffering, for in every love lies the seed of our growth. The more we love, the closer we come to spiritual experience. Those who are truly enlightened, those whose souls are illuminated by love, have been able to overcome all inhibitions and preconceptions of their era. They have been able to sing, laugh, and to pray out loud; they have danced and shared what Saint Paul called “the madness of saintliness.” They have been joyful—because those who love conquer the world and have no fear of loss. True love is an act of total surrender.
Sooner or later, we have to overcome our fears, because the spiritual path can only be traveled through the daily experience of love.
Thomas Merton once said that the spiritual life is essentially to love. One doesn’t love in order to do what it good or to help or to protect someone. If we act that way, we are perceiving the other as a simple object, and we are seeing ourselves as wise and generous persons. This has nothing to do with love. To love is to be in communion with the other and to discover in that other the spark of God.
An interview with Brazilian spiritual fiction writer, Paulo Coelho
(SOURCE: Life Positive)
Q: What basic philosophy do you try to express in your books?
My inner questions and doubts when facing the present moment. I see philosophy as something alive, something that changes according to our inner needs. But if I were to synthesize my work, I would say: live your Personal Legend, pay the price of your dreams, read the omens, awaken your feminine side, and dare to be different.
Q: How would you categorize your books?
Two of them are nonfiction (The Pilgrimage and The Valkyries). The rest are based on my various life experiences—but in a metaphorical and symbolic language. I believe that any artiste (or person) has only to share something that he has already experienced, regardless of whether the experience was in the symbolic realm or in the so-called ‘reality’.
Q: When did you start writing?
As a teenager. But then, my mother told me that it was impossible to make a living out of writing in Brazil. I believed her, and tried to do something else. Nothing that I did, however, gave me joy. So, I dropped college and started to travel—as a hippie. When I returned to Brazil, I created an underground magazine. I was then invited to write lyrics for songs, and later, journalism. I made a living out of writing, although I did not write a book till I was 38. Why? Because I believe there are two things that keep you away from your dream: to think that it is impossible, and to realize that it is possible (in this second case, you fear losing the meaning of your life.)
Q: What inspired you?
My turning point was my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. It was then that I, who had dedicated most of my life to penetrate the ‘secrets’ of the universe, realized that there are no secrets. Life is and will always be a mystery. We have to follow the omens, and pay attention to others. Life is a constant miracle, and this miracle manifests itself in encounters with other people. After the pilgrimage, I simplified my spiritual search a lot, and instead of searching for answers, I started to understand that life itself is an answer.
Q: In your book, The Valkyries, the protagonist is Paulo Coelho. Is this book autobiographical?
It is autobiographical, and everything stated there is true. To complement the question above, I used to think of guardian angels as something too ‘simple’, too ‘naïve’, till I realized that innocence is one of the best roads to God.
Q: Have you ever seen an angel? What are angels really?
Yes, I’ve seen angels. They are what everybody knows: messengers of God. Sparks of the Divine Light. But they use the most unusual ways to talk to us—through other people, for example.
Q: In The Valkyries, you have called yourself a wizard. Are you, in reality, a practitioner of magic?
Everybody is a magus-another important lesson from The Road to Santiago. The thing is: nobody accepts that she/he has gifts and powers. In magic, there are two traditions: the moon and the sun. The first is accumulation of knowledge and the second is revelation. In my youth, I used to practice traditional rituals, till I realized that I—and everybody—know everything. It is just an act of will to open ourselves to the Soul of the World.
Q: You wrote that you even dabbled in black magic. What brought you out of it?
It is written in the book: I was dealing with forces that I was not familiar with, and with total irresponsibility. But God is merciful, and gave me a tough lesson.
Q: What has been the driving force in your life?
Knowing that everybody has a purpose. We know when we are closer to our goal by listening to our heart. So, my driving force is to fulfill my destiny.
Q: Does an author cultivate writing, or is he divinely gifted?
You need discipline and inspiration, rigor and mercy, earth and heaven. You need to have a clear goal, but you also need to allow yourself to be guided to get there.
Q: Where are we really heading as a civilization?
We are at a crossroads. Since spirituality is going to play an important role during the next century, we have two choices: either we go towards fundamentalism or towards tolerance. I am preaching tolerance, but this is a long fight, and it depends how people behave here and now.
Q: In Veronica Decides to Die, you have portrayed a young girl who tries to commit suicide...
No, it’s not a book about suicide. It is about the necessity to accept our differences, instead of trying to fulfill other people’s destiny (like the destiny that our parents choose for us, for example). When, as a young man, I insisted on being a writer, my family sent me to a mental institution—not only once, but three times. Veronica is based on this experience. We must stop following the ‘Manual of Good Behavior’, this non-written book that guides our life, and dare a little bit more. Veronica is bored, because she realizes that today is the same as yesterday, and it will be the same tomorrow.
By the way, talking about my experience in the asylum: there are some battles that kill you, and some that make you stronger. For me, it was the latter. I never saw myself as a victim of circumstances, but as an adventurer who must, from time to time, cross troubled waters.
Q: What role does a writer play in the society?
The same as a gardener or a taxi driver: do your job with love and enthusiasm, and people will be affected for the better.
Q: Your books portray a lot of sensitivity. Sometimes even pathos. A trend not often seen in many of today’s New Age books, Which focus more on a feel-good, rose-tinted worldview. What makes you different?
I don’t want to judge other people’s books. My books only portray my experience, not my wisdom. First, because I am not wise—as I said earlier, everybody knows everything or nobody knows anything, because God is democratic. Second, because experience is all you have and must share. This is our reason to be here: to share. A book can act as a catalyst, making people understand that they are not alone. Several authors made me understand that, and I felt relieved during some critical moments in my life. A book can be a good companion. But it is up to each one of us to learn from our own experiences. (source/full text)
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