Words That Sustain Me: The Alchemist

“There is only one way to learn,” the alchemist answered. “It’s through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey.”

-The Alchemist

The book that we feature for the month of October is, “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. This wonderful little book is just one hundred and seventy pages long but what a spiritually powerful book it is. It is my other book club collaborator Dan’s pick. When he said he’d like to feature The Alchemist, and that it was his favorite book, I was excited to get an opportunity to read it. Now I know why this is his favorite book.

The Alchemist is thirty five years old, and I received the twenty fifth anniversary edition. I was delighted to discover that this edition was illustrated. Throughout the book there are black and white drawings of scenes that are part of the story it tells.

I did not know what to expect when I began to read this book and was initially drawn in by the main character named Santiago’s interest in the raven haired merchant’s daughter. I thought, oh! It’s a love story. It is, and so much more. The story that’s told in The Alchemist brought to mind so many different aspects of my own life story.

We’re all going through what we’re going to get to where we’re going. I used to say I was not sure what the final destination might be, but I intended to arrive in full effect when I got there. Now I know where we’re all headed. The steps we take in this lifetime are steps in a journey that will last an eternity. Though we will transition from one form into another, the journey will continue. The Alchemist made me recall many of the lessons life has taught me and this is what connected me to this book’s timeless tale.

What is more important? The journey or the destination? When I was young and thought I knew everything but knew nothing at all I believed the destination was more important. I think that society teaches us that arriving at the destination is more important.

Maybe the destination is owning your own home or a new expensive vehicle or having a beautiful life partner. I remember when I believed that having a new expensive vehicle and a lovely girlfriend along with lots of money would make me happy. I was wrong, I wasn’t happier I just had more problems.

Now that I understand that I know next to nothing and have twenty five years of wisdom gained by experiencing life on Texas death row I realize that the journey is what matters most.

It is through the journey that we learn the lessons that life wants to teach us. Through the troubles that we go through we learn our most profound lessons. Have ever noticed that when you have a painful experience that cost you a lot you never forget that lesson? And when it cost you very little you don’t remember! I know that’s how it is for me.

That is what the alchemist was sharing with the shepherd boy named Santiago when he said there’s only 1 way to learn. Through action. Through experience. By having life knock you off your feet and getting back up and continuing to press forward having learned from the pain and heartache.

It is an absolute truth that the most important lessons that I’ve learned in my half century of life are the ones that have cost me the most. This is how a soul can declare that a quarter century of life incarcerated in solitary confinement have taught him lessons he would have never learned anywhere else and thus has been a blessing to him.

In 2008, I began a spiritual journey that continues to this day. I was raised in a Christian home but had fallen away from the church. At that point in my life I did not want to hear about the God in the Bible or His son Jesus Christ. So I began to explore different spiritual paths, trying to find something that would work for me. Those experiences taught me the absolute truth about our purpose in life. The reason we’re all born into this existence is to become spiritually enlightened beings to find God and get to know Him.

When reading The Alchemist, that lesson was part of the journey the boy named Santiago was on. I immediately felt a bond, a kinship with this part of the story. I realized that my life’s story had so much in common with the shepherd boy in this book. I could identify with the absolute truths Santiago was taught by the Gypsy, the king and alchemist. One beautiful lesson was about everyone’s Personal Legend. For over thirty years I searched for the thing that was most important to me. Then lo and behold, there it was right before me. It is my spiritual connection with the Creator and learning His language to communicate with Him.

Another special part of this book was when the boy met the love of his life. I also believe that somewhere, somehow that special someone in the world awaits us all; including me! I have a special place in my heart and soul for a love story and was touched by the one in this book.

Another great aspect of this book was the stories that the author borrowed from the Bible. I really enjoyed that and would smile whenever I’d come to recognize a detail such as the origins of, “Urim and Thummim.” And the absolute truth about living in the present moment touched me deeply. My life on Texas death row requires me to live in the now more than most people in the world.

Life hurts. Life also will teach you everything you need to learn if you allow it to. Let us embrace the attitude that there will be troubles in everyone’s life that’s just the way things are. If we can find a way to learn from the troubles then the experience as worth it. For weeping may last for the night but joy comes in the morning! (Psalms 30:5)

I’m happy that we chose The Alchemist for this month’s book. It’s another jewel of a book filled with spiritual wisdom. I thank my brother Dan for choosing it. It’s another book worthy to be read by our book club!