Monday, November 8, 2010

The Art of Possibility: My introduction

This book was terribly hard for me to stick with at first.  I wondered why my mother liked it so much... I am now half way through the book and am enjoying it thoroughly. In the beginning I found it very hard to relate to the authors, you know when there is someone smart... and they have something to say... but you have nothing in common with them so you don’t want to listen?  That is how this book felt to me at first.  But then I found the key for me!
 Ben (The Author) is the conductor for the Boston Philharmonic orchestra.  Roz is a family therapist.  While I enjoy classical music I know I don’t appreciate it enough to have any kind of conversation with Ben about it and Roz... well sometimes I feel like its hard to talk with a therapist without them being a therapist.... so now you understand my initial back stepping from the book.
The key- The key for me came from a childhood memory when I was just 15.  My friend’s father is a graduate from Princeton and also a conductor.  I can’t say enough good things about this man.  We didn’t spend a lot of time together but when we did I always felt challenged... and I always felt like I was learning.  He taught me how to play chess.  I still don’t play that well... but now I understand the way the game works... and some of the different strategies because he took the time to play with me and explain a few things.  These things were simple, when to ¨castle¨, values of different pieces, sacrificing, trapping pieces etc.  He was very patient with me and a great teacher.... that is a weak area for me so I admired that very much in him.
His family would often watch movies together.  To preface this let me say that I think we can all agree that for some reason in our youth the idiosyncrasies (hopefully I am using this word right) of our parents embarrassed us.  For instance.... I felt like my dad loved telling terribly corny jokes, spoke loud, often tried to be the center of attention, and hocked loogies in the morning as he went to work.  Don’t take that wrong... he has great qualities as well... it took me awhile to appreciate them.
Well, my friend’s father always paused movies to explain what was going on.  I don’t know why but I always loved the ¨embarrassing¨ things my friends parents did... maybe it’s because it made me feel more ¨normal¨  So he would pause the movie... explain the plot... compare it to historical stories, explain the emotions the person might be feeling.... and sometimes even ask us what we thought was happening.  Some of you might be annoyed just at the thought of a movie being paused 10-20 times (sometimes at very dramatic points) but I loved it!  For me one of the negative sides of movies and television is the lack of human interaction... he found a way to overcome that and still enjoy the entertainment and I really liked that.... And like I said... I always felt like I was learning and being challenged.
Another example of him being a teacher was one day over a game of chess he taught me a lesson that has never left my mind.... and I know it is because of the way he taught me.  Let me give you some back story to this.
I was raised in a home where ¨swear words¨ were never uttered.  Sometimes I would swear by saying what I had heard other kids say and I was quickly chastened.  My parents took it beyond swear words to not allow even course language... to the point where saying ¨this sucks¨ or calling someone a ¨butt head¨ could really get you in trouble.  (This is not me complaining about my childhood..... :D  I had a good one)
One day while walking home from Jr. High I decided it was ¨time for me to start swearing¨ and then I rationalized to my friend ¨who decided these words are bad?  They are just words right? ¨ Wrong....  oh how addictive those words can be... am I right? :)  I started swearing to the point that what I was saying made no sense at all... I was a terrible influence to my friends and got many of them to swear with me.... haha.... laughable to me now... but.... probably wasn’t that funny... ha...
Ok so onto ¨the lesson¨ from my friend’s father over a game of chess.  We were just past the opening when he asked me ¨Oak... why do you use swear words? ¨¨ Boy did that catch me off guard!  I really had no reason for him although I probably made one up.  Then he told me ¨You know Oak, I really don’t like you using that kind of language around my son.  It is offensive to me and I don’t want him to grow up to be someone who uses that kind of language.¨ ¨Why?  They’re just words¨ and you know what? He took the time to answer my question of ¨Why? ¨ In a way that like I said... I have never forgotten.  He told me that using that kind of language shows a lack of education. (And at that time I thought I was the smartest person in the world) ¨What do you mean?¨ He told me that often people use swear words in places they don’t belong because they don’t know what words actually go there to describe a feeling or experience.  He gave me an example and replaced swear words with what I call his ¨Princeton words¨ and man was that impressive to me.  Like I said... I am still guilty of letting some foul language leave my mouth... but I can rarely do it without thinking about that day... which gives me a desire to learn the right words to express myself properly.

So there is a brief overview of why this guy means so much to me… and as soon as I changed the voice of ¨Ben the conductor¨ to the voice of ¨Bryce the conductor¨ I have had a much easier time reading the book.... is that crazy???

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Alchemist: Pgs 104-167 (the end)

Ok, so there are a few more pages in this section of the review than normal, so we'll see how it goes.  I have had something I have wanted to talk about for the whole book ... because there are so many parts where it applies so I want to make sure I fit it in here.  Towards the end of page 105 the chief tans confront Santiago and ask him: "Why would the desert reveal such things to a stranger, when it knows that we have been here for generations?"

This is an eternal principle contained in this book that can be applied to every day life in many different ways.  You see most of the people that Santiago meets throughout this book are older and set in their own ways.  They are not willing to learn or to be guided.  This principle is taught in the bible by Jesus in Matthew 9:14-17; Mark 2: 18-22; Luke 5: 33-39 and also another version in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas (saying 47)  The read something like this in the King James Version of the bible:

And he spake also a parable unto them; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.
– Luke 5:36-39

 Bottles in the old days were actually sack type things made from animal skin.  When they were new... new wine was put into them and it fermented which expanded the sacks and stretched them.  So putting new wine that would ferment again into the "old bottles" or sacks would possibly burst the sacks.  This is very similar to the other parable where new cloth is put onto old cloth.  The new cloth had not yet shrunk... so if combined with old cloth which had already shrunk and would budge no more... when washed... they would pull away from each other and rip.  Here is my own.... take new clay from the ground which is moist and it can be molded easily.... leave it exposed to the elements long enough it becomes brittle and un mold able.  Santiago is moist clay in the hands of the omens which allows him to become as great as he is.  It is the reason he is continuously talked to by the omens.  Now, age does not necessarily matter when it comes to these things... being mold able is truly just a matter of being humble... which is a secret to completing your personal legend and finding your treasure.

I love historical fictions.  At least I think that is the right genre.  Essentially what I am talking about is when something that really happened is inserted into a completely fictional book.  On page 107 the Chieftans talk about Joseph of Egypt and his dreams and page 158 talks about Jesus Christ and the amazing faith of the Centurion.  The story of Joseph is very important to Christians, Jews, and Muslims and you can read more about it in the late chapters of Genesis Chapters 30 and beyond.  You can read about the Centurion in Matthew 8 and Luke 7.

Santiago's faith in the omens is tested on page 108 when he is told that if the omen doesn't come true at least a little bit, he will be put to death.  This is crucial for him because if he doesn't believe in the omens he should run.  But if he does believe in them, they can make him a rich man. (Which they eventually do, paying him 50 Gold pieces for the death of the 500 soldiers)

The Alchemist is a very wise man.  Santiago is continuously looking to him for this easy answer.... an amazing secret.  page 115 the Alchemist tells him: "You already know all you need to know.  I am only going to point you in the direction of your treasure."  It is so true.  Now that Santiago is open to the teachings of the omens his possibilities are endless.  I also like that the Alchemist is a rule breaker... you can read about that on the same page. :)  And he uses scripture to justify his rule breaking.  I told my brother that if you're gonna be very good at being bad you better know the scriptures well... cause it makes you that much worse when you can "justify" it. (even though it's really rationalization not justification.)

I love the picture that the Alchemist can paint for Santiago as if he knows everything about the rest of his life.  How Fatima expects him to find his treasure and how year after year things will gradually get worse if he doesn't continue to search out his personal legend.  He has committed himself.  He has been given a greater knowledge and now much more is expected of him. (around pg 120)

I love the way Fatima talks about love on page 122... it is definitely worth a second glance. "Don't say anything,"  "One is loved because one is loved.  No reason is needed for loving."

Throughout the book we learn alot about balance.  On page 125 the Alchemist explains why many have gone in search of their personal legends and treasure and failed.  It is the distraction of the treasure.  You see the treasure isn't just the gold... it is also the knowledge that comes along with the personal legend.  That is an underlying theme throughout the book... that the knowledge and experience and love is the actual treasure... and once you have that... you can have all the gold you want....because you are one of the richest people on the planet... "richest people" .... the alchemist shows that he can actually turn anything into gold on page 154 at the Coptic monastery.

Another great message we learn from this book (pg 127) is that our hearts came from the soul of the world... and that's why they know everything... because they are connected to it.  But just because our hearts know everything does not mean our brains do.  See... I think there is a definite parallel here between heart and spirit and soul of the world and God.  Our spirits are a part of God and are destined for greatness.  We are here to figure out how to understand them.  I'm sure many of you have heard before that we are not physical beings here on earth to have "spiritual experiences"  We are spiritual beings here on earth to have physical experiences.

"Listen to your heart.  It knows all things, because it came from the Soul of the World, and it will one day return there."  (pg 127)

The Heart:

Starting on page 127-128 Santiago really starts understanding his heart.  He is having a hard time though because thoughts of immediate gratification and staying with Fatima are starting to cloud his vision of his personal legend.  He also starts to understand fear more and starts to fear progressing in fear of losing all that he already has.  "My heart is a TRAITOR!"  I love that line!  :D  "My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer,"  "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."  WOW!!!!

pg 131 "Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turn out, indeed, to be a threatening place."  This reminds me of a story I heard of a man who is trying to decide where to move.  He stops on 3 corners of the same city and gets 3 different stories.  One woman tells the man that the city is dangerous, full of crime, and a terrible place to live.  The next person says that there are far better places to live and that she would move if she had the chance.  And the 3rd person says that it is the most wonderful place she has ever been, the people are friendly, the streets are nice, the schools are good... etc.   It's a story about perspective.  And really the lesson was that we can be as happy as we like if we look for the good in things and live in love rather than living in fear.... or some form of it.

Lessons in life are often if not always repeated.  If life confronts us with a problem and we avoid it.... we will continue to have that problem until we overcome it.  and sometimes even after we overcome it life will throw it at us again just to make sure we have really overcame.  The Alchemist teaches that to Santiago on page 132 " What you still need to know is this: before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way.  It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we've learned as we've moved toward that dream.  That's the point at which most people give up.  It's the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, one 'dies of thirst just when the palm trees have appeared on the horizon.' "

That quote is followed by two more great ones "Every search begins with beginner's luck. And every search ends with the victor's being severely tested."  "...the darkest hour of the night comes just before the dawn."

There is a great lesson in this book that I learned before reading it, but it was nice to have it confirmed.  It is on page 133 and 134.  There are these thieves who find the philosophers stone and the elixer of life.  They ask what they are and so the Alchemist tells them exactly what they are.  In the thieves minds... no one would admit to having such great things if they even existed, they think that the Alchemist is trying to trick them into taking something that isn't really valuable so they leave it to show they are smarter than him.  :D!!!!  anyway... then the Alchemist gives the great explanation: "When you possess great treasures within you, and try to tell others of them, seldom are you believed."

"Your eyes show the strength of your soul" (pg 136)

Page 137 "And then there were the others, who were interested only in gold.  They never found the secret.  They forgot that lead, copper, and iron have their own personal Legends to fulfill.  And anyone who interferes with the personal Legend of another thing never will discover his own."  I 100% believe this :)  Let me just give one example that is my own opinion.... it is a Christian view.... so sorry for any readers who aren't... just bare with me.  I am gonna really simplify it ok? :)  So In Christianity we learn that in order to return to heaven we must be baptized (water), confirmed (receive the holy spirit, ... baptized by fire... etc), and live our lives trying to emulate Christ and follow his teachings.  The Earth we live on has the same mission but in a more literal sense.  It was baptized by water with the flood.  It will be baptized by fire during the 2nd coming.  And it spends it's life revolving around the sun. (Like we must center our lives on "The Son" of God)

The conversation that Santiago has with the desert, the wind, and the sun are really much to symbolic for me to try to give them one single meaning.  But I will say this about it.  This is Santiago's true treasure.  You see the treasure was always back in Andalusia.  His father helps him buy his flock with Spanish coins he found one day which are a part of that actual treasure.  The omens could have told him just to dig there... but he had to find his true treasure which was Alchemy.... which was connecting to the soul of the world... understanding things as they really are and understanding that all things are and were created by the same hand.

I love that the alchemist continues to tell Santiago "I only invoked what you already knew."  Another great lesson is when the Monk tries to say he has been paid too much for his generosity and the alchemist says "Don't say that again.  Life might be listening, and give you less the next time."  Pg 155

Another thing I love from the Alchemist's mouth... that seems illogical but also makes sens is this:  "Everything that happens once can never happen again.  But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time."  I love that :)!

When Santiago finally reaches the pyramids he dispels a lie that he heard earlier.  "the boy could see now that he couldn't do so if he placed stone upon stone for the rest of his life"  This was the lie that they pyramids werent that great and that anyone could build one in their own back yard. :)

In the end... Santiago is true to his promises and pays the gypsy woman.... and starts to see some of the good in gypsies.
He does not forget his love.
And he finally puts it all together when he says "You old sorcerer, you knew the whole story. You even left a bit of gold at the monastery so I could get back to this church.  The monk laughed when he saw me come back in tatters.  Couldn't you have saved me from that?"  "No" said a voice in the wind  haha... then he says weren't those pyramids beautiful?.

So, I hope you have enjoyed this book as much as I have and learned form it great lessons.  I would love to hear about them if you want to send me a message :)  You can also send me an email at  The next book will be "The art of possibility" by Rosamund Zander and Benjamin Zander ... my mom recommended it.. I have never read it before... hopefully it is good!

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Alchemist: pgs:71-104 The desert and the oasis

Every time I see the word desert (sand) I think of dessert (sweets) the way you can tell the difference is that dessert (sweets) has more S's in it... and you always want more dessert!

Anyway... onto the reading. 

First lesson about the desert is that disobedience=death.  Funny how this applies to all aspects of life.  One of the hardest things to learn is obedience.  But the leader of the caravan seems to be a wise leader.  He doesn't force the people to believe as he does... just to follow him because he is experienced... he allows them to "swear to whatever god" they believe in.

On page 72 Santiago teaches us "The closer one gets to realizing his Personal Legend, the more that Personal Legend becomes his true reason for being, thought the boy."  I think this is true for all of us.  We may not go through life each day wondering "what is the meaning of life?"  But I am sure at one point or another every person has wondered it.  This is teaching us that once we discover what that meaning is.... it becomes a part of us.... it becomes everything we live for.

I love how deep the author can take us into the characters sometimes and I think he does that by making us look deep within ourselves.  Because he talks about the boy thinking things... and I think to myself.... "I have felt that same way.  Whenever he saw the sea, or a fire, he fell silent, impressed by their elemental force."  That really is the best way to describe it.... I can look into a campfire in silence for a long time.... even in the presence of my peers... a lot longer than if we were all just looking at some other object in the middle of us.

Santiago is wise because he chooses to learn from each life experience.  "I've learned things from the sheep, and I've learned things from the crystal, he though.  I can learn something from the desert, too.  It seems old and wise."  Sometimes I wonder why something is happening or why I am doing something or learning something, sometimes it doesn't make any sense.  But then when that learning suddenly becomes useful.... it all makes sense.  Everything happens for a reason.... I am not saying that everything is fate.... I am saying that if omens are followed .... You can see the way they build on each other.

Maktub- It is written

Not this kind of 6th sense.
I think a book could be written on the subject of Maktub.... well... I bet there have been hundreds of books written on the subject.  "...intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected, and we are abler to know everything, because it's all written there."  This reminds me of a weird theory I used to have about the way things work ...and being able to see without eyes... or ears.... anyway... I tried writing out an explanation of it... but it made little sense in just one paragraph.... so I deleted it :D  Essentially it is knowing things with a 6th sense.

We all have a different way of learning.  For the Englishman it was books... and for Santiago it was life experience.  Santiago told the man the things he learned from the caravan... and the Englishman told Santiago how much his books were like the Caravan.  I love when they gain a respect for one another and the Englishman says "I'd better pay more attention to the caravan" and Santiago says "And I'd better read your books"  And yet in the end it seems like Santiago is the only one who gains true understanding.  As the Englishman tells him the secrets from all the books he has read Santiago is able to understand him because he is able to relate it to his life.  But when Santiago tries to convey some things to the Englishman.... that the secrets of life are found in simplicity.... the Englishman just brushes him off and ignores him.... pridefully thinking that if things were so simple he would have figured them out long ago.

"I learned that the world has a soul, and that whoever understands that soul can also understand the language of things.  I learned that many alchemists realized their Personal Legends, and wound up discovering the Soul of the World, the Philosopher's Stone, and the Elixir of life."
"But, above all, I learned that these things are all so simple that they could be written on the surface of an emerald."

"His should must be too primitive to understand those things" thought the Englishman.  It's funny.... we have so much trust in books and in information.  I believe discoveries should be recorded and documented so that we can learn and progress.... but when we get so advanced we can't forget where the ideas originated and how they apply to life.  Doing that completely removes the foundation of understanding and causes us to say that we believe merely because it was something that a book taught us rather than something we had truly learned.

In Alchemy there is a "Master Work" it consists of 2 parts. 

1 Liquid- The elixir of life, cures illness and cures old age, the fountain of youth?
2 Solid- The philosopher's stone, the thing that can turn lead or anything to gold

The Englishman speaks or recites things with such wisdom that he doesn't even really understand what he is saying.  He says that Alchemists "....spent so much time close to the fire that they gave up the vanities of the world.  They discovered that the purification of the metals had led to a purification of themselves."  So right there he is saying that the Alchemists eventually give up the vanities of the world (even though they start by searching how to turn everything to gold) and they achieve their master work through purification of themselves.  Santiago is wise by saying this can be done by anyone who will follow the omens.... but the Englishman just thinks he doesn't understand.

Santiago has a chat with the camel driver and the camel driver teaches him something.  It has probably taken him most of his life to realize this but now that he has, it has become something he lives by and that is to "live in the present"  he says when he is eating he thinks about eating and when he is marching he thinks about marching.  "If I have to fight, it will be just as good a day to die as any other." (pg 85)  While I somewhat agree with this I don't fully support it.  To focus only on the present is to forget the "Personal Legend" which is the place you are aiming for in the future.  Learn from the past, live in the present, but live for the future.  To have a lack of concern for the future would take away any guilt or remorse for any present actions.  While this may be a great mindset for a soldier or a camel driver it is no mindset for someone set on greatness who seeks their Personal Legend.  It's about balance and perspective.... to be too extreme always causes unhappiness in the end.  In respect of only living for the future we learn from a book or play "The music man" they say it best: "Live only for tomorrow, and you will have a lot of empty yesterdays today."  I love when Santiago says "Some day this morning would just be a memory."

A Favorite quote of mine from the Alchemist: "Maybe God created the desert so that man could appreciate the trees."  (pg 87)

There is a part on page 87 where the Alchemist explains that he does not no why but that God's "secrets" "have to be transmitted this way (by word of mouth) because they were made up from the pure life, and this kind of life cannot be captured in pictures or words."  I love when things in books parallel things from the scriptures.  Sometimes prophets were commanded not to write some things because they were to be shown and known by only the people who first show proper faith.  I think this is later shown when the Englishman begs the Alchemist for his secret and all he says is "try it" because the Englishman was not ready for the greater knowledge.

The closer Santiago gets to his Personal Legend the harder it gets.  He no longer has "beginners luck" and the Soul of the World wants to test him now rather than encourage him.  It doesn't want to discourage him... but just like a bird must eventually leave the nest and learn to fly.... So must Santiago learn to press forward himself.  I had a wise man tell me once that "everything works out in the end..... As long as you don't force the ending"  Santiago conveys something similar on page 89 "... 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"

So suddenly Santiago is romantic.  I know we could say he was romantic before.... because he thought so much about the girl with the raven hair (the merchant’s daughter) but suddenly this girl from the desert has made him forget her.  He used to say that he saw many women but none that were ever better than the merchants daughter... and now suddenly "time stood still" (pg 92) when he sees this girl from the desert.  I won't lie to you... this part in the book used to bother me... I think it's cause I couldn't understand it.  I was so connected to that merchants daughter and not giving up on that first love.... that I looked at the girl from the desert... I dunno... when I first read this book I pictured her like a refugee.... very homely for some reason.... she is a different girl now that I read the book again :)  I guess that’s cause I'm a different person now too.  The boy instantly describes it as love.  And he knows it is love because it is confirmed to him by the unspoken language.  "What the boy felt at that moment was that he was in the presence of the only woman in his life."  The book tells us that she recognizes the same.  I guess this part is still a little hard for me... because I don't believe in love at first sight or that every person has a "twin soul" or soul mate.  But nonetheless Santiago is committed he seals it by saying "Maktub" 

One thing that I do believe in.... (since I told you I don't believe in love at first sight) is something that he brings up on page 94 "...remembering that one day in Tarifa the levanter had brought to him the perfume of that woman, and realizing that he had loved her before he even knew she existed.  He knew that his love for her would enable him to discover every treasure in the world." 

We realize very quickly how important Fatima (the desert girl) is to Santiago because he says that she is more important than his treasure.  Now if she had let him believe that.... then I would not have liked Fatima.... she may be more important in the end... but that does not mean that she Trumps the treasure.  Fatima shows her wisdom... (Something I missed the first time I read) when she says:

"I have been waiting for you here at this oasis for a long time.  I have forgotten about my past, about my traditions, and the way in which men of the desert expect women to behave.  Ever since I was a child, I have dreamed that the desert would bring me a wonderful present.  Now, my present has arrive, and it's you."
"You have told me about your dreams, about the old king and your treasure.  And you've told me about omens.  So now, I fear nothing, because it was those omens that brought you to me.  And I am a part of your dream, a part of your Personal Legend, as you call it."
"That's why I want you to continue toward your goal.  If you have to wait until the war is over, then wait.  But if you have to go before them, go on in pursuit of your dream.  The dunes are changed by the wind, but the desert never changes.  That’s the way it will be with our love for each other."
"If I am really part of your dream, you'll come back one day."

Fatima doesn't completely do away with her upbringing though... she keeps some strength from it... saying that she is a woman from the desert and as such is accustomed to a man leaving without knowing if he will return.  "I'm a desert woman, and I'm proud of that.  I want my husband to wander as free as the wind that shapes the dunes.  And, if I have to, I will accept the fact that he has become a part of the clouds, and the animals, and the water of the desert."

It's easy for me to point out the parts of the book that are meaningful to me... it is harder to explain why they are so meaningful to me.  I guess some of it I will just leave for the reader’s interpretation.  My reviewing this book is not just to reveal things about myself... its also me just trying to say "don't miss out on this part!"

Santiago says "everything makes sense when you're in love"  I go back and forth on this idea.  Sometimes people do the dumbest things "for love" but then you have to wonder whether or not it is really love, or lust, or infatuation.  Maybe when you really love someone and someone really loves you back.... the world does make sense.  I know that is something that takes up a lot of my mind every day.... maybe when you know who you love and know who loves you... you have more time to make sense of the world.....  Who knows?  I'll let you know if I ever get there. :D

Last but not least the man who throws the sticks.  I actually really like this guy.  I usually really dislike fortune tellers and palm readers because they are a lot like the gypsy woman at the start of the book.  She just wouldn't stop about "how hard" it was to do what she does.  But the guy who throws the sticks says this "When people consult me, it's not that I'm reading the future; I am guessing at the future. The future belongs to God, and it is only he who reveals it, under extraordinary circumstances.  How do I guess at the future?  Based on the omens of the present.  The secret is here in the present.  If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it.  And, if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better."  Anyway... he says more... but what I am getting at is that when I listen to the man who throws the sticks it sounds like truth just pours out of him.  And if I had to choose between him and the gypsy woman.. I would choose him every time.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Alchemist: pgs:33-71 Tangier, Morocco and the crystal merchant

Ok, so Tangier is one of my favorite parts of the book because Santiago overcomes a momumental obstacle.  He says he is a stranger in a strange land, and he has gone from being a shepherd with money and sheep to a man with no home and no job and no money all in one day.  He is not normally the type to cry he says he was even too embarassed to cry in front of his sheep, but here in the lowest point in his life thus far he cries. "He wept because God was unfair, and because this was the way God repaid those who believed in their dreams." (pg. 39) While that is not true and we find out later that not even Santiago believes that... it rings true for a lot of people.  The next paragraph I think is full of very common self pity... a lie that man people tell themselves and it is eventually what ends up damning them from progressing through life happily a life full of apathy.

"When I had my sheep, I was happy, and I made those around me happy.  People saw me coming and welcomed me, he thought.  But now I'm sad and alone.  I'm going to become bitter and distrustful of people because one person betrayed me.  I'm going to hate those who have found their treasure because I never found mine.  And I'm going to hold on to what little I have, because I'm too insignificant to conquer the world." (pg.39)

Luckily Santiago had something solid to hold onto... something he could not deny.  It was that Melchezedek actually knew more about him than he had ever told anyone... and there was something about him that made it impossible for him to deny his "Personal Legend"

When Santiago first set out to find his treasure he thought it would be a walk in the park.  He thought that the only hard thing he would have to do was sell his sheep and then use the money to go and get his treasure.  If he was to feel sorry for himself and say "haven't I already given up enough?" then he would never progress and never find his treasure.  Instead he takes responsibility for his actions, he picks himself up, he continues to look for the omens and they end up leading him in the right direction.  We see Santiago's naïveté to how hard his journey will be when he tells the crystal merchant that he'll work for an entire day if the merchant will give him the money to reach Egypt. (pg. 47) He quickly finds out that it's not just that easy he was told it would take him a year to save up.  It makes me think of how a city can be torn down in a day but can not be built in a day.

Santiago made the mistake of instantly trusting his new "friend" with his money.  This is something that didn't make much sense to me because literally that boy had Santiagos entire life savings in the palm of his hands.  And Santiago is too worried about offending a new person in a new land to ask for it back.  Well just like the rest of us he got a little distracted looking at all the new things in a new land (a sword to be exact) and he lost track of his new friend and lost everything.  But he can't say he wasn't warned... the boy told him "Tangier is not like the rest of Africa.  This is a port, and every port has its theives." (pg.37)  In about a week I am headed to South America by boat (if I can find one to take me) and I have already been warned numerous times about the port cities.  We'll see if I can do any better than Santiago did.

I love how Santiago is such a quick learner and yet he just learns a little bit at a time.  He asks the Urim & Thummim if he will find his treasure and he gets no answer because ultimately that is up to him.  He does however get a very important answer that the king is still with him and on his side.... and ultimately that is what he needs to hear to press forward.

On page 44 Santiago learns a most important lesson.... and it's actually something he already knew... but he didn't know that he knew :)  "If I can learn to understand this language without words, I can learn to understand the world."   He already knew this from the way he communicated with his sheep, he knew that he was connected to them, he felt that "All things are one" but didn't know how to verbalize it.  Lucky for Santiago he met the king.

The Crystal Merchant

Ok, so here is my take on the crystal merchant.... as I go through life I see people who are in a similar situation to me or possibly they have chosen a path that I almost chose but decided not to.  Sometimes it can be a scary thing to see yourself in someone elses situation.  The crystal merchant is a perfect example of someone who settles for mediocracy rather than striving for greatness and achieving their personal legend.  I heard a funny saying about being mediocre it goes something like this:

"Beware the loli-pop of mediocracy... for once you lick it.... you will suck the rest of your life" 

You see santiago is still a little down from losing everything and so he wants to return to his comfort zone.  Like all of us know the easy thing to do is to  "go home"  for him to go back to being a shepherd because he is good at it.... he knows how to do it.... and afterall he was pretty happy doing it.  For some.... like the crystal merchant... it is enough to be "pretty happy" but true joy comes from achieving that personal legend.  I'll try to show you some of the ways I came to these conclusions.

Santiago eventually has enough money to return home and buy double the amount of sheep, plus he knows a new language(arabic) so he will be able to do business with more people... and so he says he can return home a "winner"  Afterall... that's pretty good to be able to double your flock in just one year right?  But Santiago has already learned this lesson.  It's the lesson from the baker... does he care about people thinking he is a "winner" or does he care about finding his treasure.

The crystal merchant... just like the baker... opened up his shop so that "some day" he would be able to accomplish the thing that he truly desired... which was to go to Mecca.  He lied to himself every year telling himself that he needed to sae just a little more money before he could leave and make his journey.  Life would send him omens to show him that it wasn't money that mattered.  He said himself that yes he did see rich people on their way to Mecca but that he also saw people far poorer than he making the journey as well.  But rather than listening to the omens, packing his things, and going.... he decided to stay at his shop... and make a little more money.  Later the shop keeper teaches us that "every blessing ignored is a curse"  well in the following years a neighboring city grew larger than Tangier and the crystal merchant lost his opportunity to sell all that he had and go on the journey.

So, life sends another omen to the crystle merchant.  That omen is Santiago.  Santiago helps the merchant sell more crystal than he has sold in quite some time.  Then when Santiago suggests a little change (selling tea in crystal glasses) the merchant once again is overcome by the fear of change.  He shows us that he is happy with mediocracy by telling Santiago all the reasons why expanding the shop is a bad idea.  None of the reasons are good one though... "I'm already used to the way things are" "That's really risky...we could lose money on things breaking" Luckily Santiago applies a previous life lesson and teaches the merchant that it was risky for him to take his sheep out every day.... but that's what he did... because risk... and loss... is just the price of doing business.  So finally the merchant caves in.... decides to finally follow an omen... and says one of my favorite lines "sometimes there's just  no way to hold back the river" (pg 59)

Santiago makes more money for the merchant than he could ever imagine.  It's decision making time.... it's funny that neither person believes in themselves but they both believe in the other person.  Santiago assumes that the merchant will go to Mecca now that he has enough money... but he himself says he's going back to be a shepherd.  While the merchant still overcome with the fear of not having anything to live for after Mecca decides to live in fear and stay at the shop.... but tells Santiago that he knows he isn't returning home....

I love that the merchants words catch Santiago off guard.  He tells him that he's not returning home... and Santiago thinks to himself... "I'm not?"  which is great because its causes him to weigh things out in his mind.  Andalusia and the sheep will always be there waiting for him.... but if he retuns to them now he will live with "what if" in his head for the rest of his life.  He chooses to stick to finding his personal legend... he goes and speaks to a caravan that would bring crystal to his shop (everything happens for a reason) and it is with a caravan that he will leave Tangier towards Al-Fayoum.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Alchemist: pgs:1-33 Andalusia and Tarifa

AAAAh!  What a great book!  I had to tell myself to stop and write a summary of what I had read or else I would never stop reading.  I don't know if this is how everyone reacts to this book but I feel an instant connection with the main character "Santiago" and I have a hard time putting the book down.

Santiago starts out in a seminary until the age of 16 because that's what his parents want and that's what will bring pride to the family.  Santiago expresses his true desire, to see the world!  So his father gives him enough money to buy a flock.  When we come into the book two years later he has 60 sheep.  He knows each one of them by name and knows their likes, dislikes, and attitudes.  They have become his family and he has a true connection to them.

There is a point in the book where the merchants daughter is surprised that Santiago can read (because he is a shepherd)  I think there are many times when I have had this same prejudice.  I look at a person and think I istantly know so much about them because of the job they have chosen, or spouse, or car, or any number of things.  But the truth of the matter was that Santiago loved traveling... he felt like it was his way of getting to know God and living the life he truly desired, and his sheep made that possible.  Santiago says to the girl:

"Well usually I learn more from my sheep than from books" (pg.5)

My mother probably hates that I love this quote.  First of all she is a librarian with her masters degree in library science so for her books and education are really high on the priority list.  This is where I connect with santiago.  I feel that I learn so much from life experience at a rate which is so much faster than I could ever learn in a classroom.  I feel like a sponge, I soak up the things around me.  The same is true of me when I am in a classroom, it's just that it seems like formal education keeps requiring that my sponge soak up the same thing over and over and over again.  Now I know there is something to be said for repetition and routine and I will say that I do think a lot of good comes from books and that reading from them is a "true principle"... something God wants us to do.  In D&C 88:118 He says " ye out of the best books words of wisdom.  Seek learning even by study and faith."  I feel like education has been dumbed down far too much just so that "everyone can succeed".  That's a whole other subject though!  I'll try not to get sidetracked!

Santiago has the merchants daughter in his minds eye.  He probably doesn't let a day go by without thinking about her.  Like he says, he has seen beautiful places and beautiful girls, but she holds a special place in his heart.  It's funny that she does, because he thinks that he is probably nothing special to her.  I wonder how many times in life this is true, when we don't even know how fond someone is of us.

In life there is a coutenfeit for everything.  I think that the author is trying to show us this with the Gypsy woman and the King Melchezedek.  You see, the gypsy woman is self interested seeking gain she is a person of the world.  While the King Melchezedek is a man of God who only desires what is best for Santiago.  You have to take a step back to see this because it could appear otherwise since Melchezedek takes 6 sheep from Santiago (including the one that gives the most wool)  This is not because he needs the sheep or the money... he is a KING!  He has everything he needs, it is because he needs to see that Santiago is willing to sacrifice part of what he has in order to obtain what he wants.  You can see this principle every day when a church asks you to pay tithing or diezmo in spanish which is one tenth of gain.  Does God need money?  No, but he needs to know that we do not value money above Him.  Santiago thinks to himself "Here I am between my flock and my treasure." (pg. 27)

Santiago thinks he has gotten off easy by not having to pay the gypsy woman until Melchezedek reveals how "gypsies are experts at getting people to do that"  (pg. 25)  The funny thing is that santiago was raised his whole life knowing that gypsies are tricksters and yet he still falls for their tricks.  Oh how I am guilty of that! 

Melchezedek says:

"If you start out by promising what you don't even have yet, you'll lose your desire to work toward getting it."(pg. 25)

There are so many great lessons that Melchezedek teaches:

Talking about Santiago's new book he says it is good but also "irritating"  he explains that it is irritating because like many other books "It describes people's inability to choose their own Personal Legends.  And it ends up saying that everyone believes the world's greatest lie"  He goes on to explain that the worlds greatest lie is that we are controlled by fate and that whatever happens is what was supposed to happen.

William Ernest Henley says it best when he says:
"I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul."

Melchezedek goes on to say that when we are young we know what our personal legend is.
"At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible.  They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives.  But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their Personal Legend."

Call that "mysterious force" whatever you want... the devil, the other, demons, or just the mysterious force.  But there comes a time in our life where we stop believing that we can do what we want to do and be who we want to be without harming others.  There is a french man named Rémi Gaillard who lost his job at a bookstore and so he decided to start living by his life's motto which is "C'est en faisant n'importe quoi qu'on devient n'importe qui" in translation: "It's by doing whatever that you become whoever".  He is now famous for using his skills to be a prankster, you can see him on youtube, he is hillarious.  But I think that just like him, there are things that happen to us in life that offer us an opportunity to change.  It is our decision whether or not we are going to pursue the new path/oppotunity or not.  Melchezedek tells us that "To realize one's destiny is a persons only real obligation." "And when you really want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it."  Some people call that principle "the secret" some say it's God blessing us.  There are hundreds of explanations, and I think that there is more than one right answer... but that those right answers are all based in what I would call "the real right answer" but I'll talk about that later.  Last note on that and "the univers" I love the way it is said that "there is a force wanting you to realize your personal legend, so it whets your apetite."

More lessons from Melchezedek:

"In  the long run, what people think about shepherds and bakers becomes more important for them than their own Personal Legends."

For anyone who has read to this point this makes perfect sense, but if not let me explain.  The baker in the book wants to see the world just like Santiago.  He also knows that the quickest way to see the world is to become a shepherd and do it while you work.  But the baker cares more about what others think of him than he cares about realizing his dreams and seeing the world.  "Bakers are more important people than shepherds.  Bakers have homes, while shepherds sleep out in the open.  Parents would rather see their children mary bakers than shepherds."  This is so true!  Don't marry a dreamer parents will tell you, mary a man with an education, a good job, and with his head on his shoulders rather than in the clouds.  Well to each his or her own right?  I won't give out marriage advice :) I'm no expert!  But this makes santiago think of the merchants daughter.... and that there is probably a baker in her town that she could marry.... and we know that a woman can make a man do crazy things.  Lucky for us Santiago tells us that his sheep mean more to him than the girl because they depend on him.... they are his family afterall!  I guess what I got from this part and some other parts is that we need to choose what we love and go after that.  Matthew 6:21 says "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."  The baker has learned to ignore his heart and go about his daily business to take care of his "needs".  While santiago listens to his heart, listens to the omens, and gives up the things he loves to find his "true need" which is that treasure he is seeking.

Another lesson from Melchezedek is kind of an expansion on him saying that "the universe conspires" to help you achieve your dreams.  He talks about a man who is about to give up on his dreams of finding an emerald after 5 years of hard work and no luck... so Melchezedek turns into a stone... falls on that guys foot which causes him to get mad and throw the stone which cracks open a stone with a giant beautiful emerald.  We need to be persistant and determined.  Lucky for that guy he had some help.... but I think far too often people do all the work and give up right before they hit the payload and someone comes behind them and hits it first try.  Don't get me started on the feelings that causes for both parties.  The bottom line is don't give up no matter how much time and effort it takes.  If it is your hearts true desire you can achieve it or be content with giving your life to trying.

"...when each day is the same as the next, it's because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises." (pg. 27)

My parents tried to teach me about gratitude my whole life.  And I think it took someone being ungrateful towards me to really open my eyes to the importance of gratitude.  Some say feeling greatful for something and not expressing it is like wrapping a gift and not giving it.  Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.   JFK said: "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation isnot to utter words, but to live by them."  Thank you loses meaning quickly if our actions speak otherwise.

The initial reaction I had as a reader towards Melchezedek was that I was kind of mad because he gave the same advice that the gypsy did which was that the treasure was near the pyramids in Egypt.  Later on I felt much better about Santiago paying him because really he recieves so much for his sacrifice initially and also great advice for the rest of his journey.  Initially he is given a Urim & Thummim which in this book is are a black and white stone that will help him make decisions.  But I think the most valuable thing he recieved from Melchezedek was the learning of how to understand, recognize, and follow omens.  And right after Melchezedek had taught him this thing a butterfly appears which Santiago's grandfather had taught him was a "good omen" thus cementing this new teaching into his head and making him want to follow his dreams.

So Santiago sets out to follow his dreams and search for the treasure.  A treasure by the way that we have no idea what kind of treasure this is.  He stands on a tall castle wall in Tarifa and looks over to Africa.  My friend told me he wants to do that someday... I think I do too :)  I think that as Santiago looked over to Africa he was playing out the many different situations in his head, so he would be ready for anything.  I feel like I do this a lot and Santiago shows us that he does this on pg. 17 when he is planning on telling stories he has read to the merchants daughter and passing them off as his own.  He says she'll never know the difference because she can't read.  Clever boy!

There is a paragraph on page 15 that really connects me to Santiago.  I am currently out and about traveling and making new friends each day.  Santiago says that travel is appealingto him because:  "he always made new friends, and he didn't need to spend all of his time with them. When someone sees the same people every day, as had happened with him at the seminary, they wind up becoming a part of that person's life.  And then they want the person to change.  If someone isn't what others want them to be, the others become angy.  Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own."  That speaks for itself I think.  Its the reason I moved to California right after my mission, it's the reason I'm not a police officer, and finding how to cope with it may be one of the banes of my existence.

Anyway... the start of the book is just power packed with great life lessons and there's so many things that I like like about it that I didn't even touch on. ( Hard to believe with how long this summary is huh?)  What a great beginning and keep reading because it just keeps on getting better!

Time to start reading

So, I go through phases with reading.  When I am reading... I love it!  Usually I'll read 2 or 3 books and then get busy and stop reading.  I want to start reading again and have something to help me stick with it.  So far I have really enjoyed blogging about my travels.  Now I am going to blog about what I am reading and what I think about it.  I don't know exactly how it is going to work.. whether I'll read one book at a time or more.  But I am going to start with a book by Paulo Coelho.  I have read it before.  It means a lot to me and a lot to some good friends as well.  I'll post what pages I read that day... how i felt about it... maybe some similar experiences.. who knows?  Anyway.... feel free to read along and share your comments... I'd love it.