The author and his commitment

By Paulo Coelho

On the 29th of May 2002, hours before writing the last sentence of my book ‘Eleven Minutes’, I went to the Grotto at Lourdes in France to fill up a few bottles of holy water from the fountain there. When I entered the cathedral grounds, a man of about 70 years old came up to me and said: “You know you look like Paulo Coelho?” I answered him that that was who I really was.

The man gave me a hug and introduced his wife and grand-daughter. He told me how important my books were in his life, ending with the phrase: “They make me dream.”

I had already heard that said several times, and it has always made me glad. At that moment, however, it scared me a bit, because I knew that “Eleven minutes” touches on a delicate, strong, shocking question: the journey of a Brazilian prostitute in search of her soul. I walked over to the fountain, filled the bottles, returned, asked the man where he lived (in the north of France, near Belgium) and wrote down his name.

Right there and then I decided to dedicate the book to that man, Maurice Gravelines. I hold an obligation towards him, his wife, grand-daughter, and myself: to talk about what bothers me, not about what everyone would like to hear.

Some books make us dream, others show us reality, but none can elude what is most important for an author: honesty to what he writes. Writing about sex was for me a challenge I had faced since my youth, when the hippie revolution devised a whole lot of new modes of behavior in this respect, sometimes stretching the limits of common sense. After those crazy years we went through a conservative period because of the advent of mortal diseases, and marked by that persistent question: “but is sex really all that important?”

We live in a world of standard behavior: standards of beauty, quality, intelligence, efficiency. We believe there is a model for everything and we also think that we will be safe if we follow that model.

And for that very reason we set a “sex standard,” which in fact consists of a series of lies: vaginal orgasm, virility above all else, better to pretend than to leave the partner disappointed, and so on. A direct consequence of this type of attitude is that millions of people are left frustrated, unhappy and guilty. And this has caused all sorts of aberrations such as pedophilia, incest or rape. Why we behave like this with something that’s so important?

In the same way that an author never knows the course that his books are going to take – and that is why he lets the text take off in unexpected directions – we too have to live our contradictions, above all in areas as sensitive as sex and love. The man who wants to follow a standard the whole time will be obliged to think today what he thought yesterday and always wear a tie to match his socks. Can you think of anything more boring?

The society that today approaches sexual behavior with a “standard,” without respecting individual differences, should try to remember one of the most beautiful poems on the human condition, the hymn to Isis discovered by Nag Hammadi, which scholars claim was written between the 3rd and 4th centuries of our age:

Because I am the first and the last
I am the venerated and the scorned
I am the whore and the saint
I am the wife and the virgin
I am the mother and the daughter
I am the arms of my mother
I am the sterile one, and my children are many
I am the well-wed and the spinster
I am the one who gave the light and the one who never gave birth
I am the wife and the husband
And it was my man who bore me in his belly
I am the mother of my father
I am the sister of my husband
And he is my rejected son
Respect me always
Because I am the scandalous and the discreet.

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Comments

  1. Savita Vega says:

    First, I want to say, I think the “commitment” you have to your readers, as you conceive of it – the commitment to talk about what matters most to you, not just what everyone else would like to hear – this is something very special, incredibly beautiful. In fact, I would suspect this has a great deal to do with your “success” as a writer -this determination to be true to yourself, rather then try to guess what the public wants. From that investment, that personal interest or sometimes obsession, is born the fire of passion: the light that shines through in your work as a guiding beacon to all who read, or at least to all who open those pages with an open mind and an open heart.

    I wonder what it would be like if in personal relationships – in marriage, for example – we made similar commitments: If instead of vowing to “honor and obey” our partner, we pledged to remain true to ourselves. If instead of vowing to “take the other for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health,” suppose we vowed to continue to fight for what we believe in, to continue to strive toward the realization of our wildest innermost dreams, to continue to seek to grow and evolve and forever stretch our wings…. What might that be like, I wonder.

    So often we see people who have grown bitter after years of marriage. Despite their commitment, despite the fact that they remained “faithful,” they seem miserable and often openly profess to be so. Their marriage becomes, over time, not a source of joy and inspiration but a locus of complaint, an excuse for everything that has even gone wrong in their lives. These are people who, somewhere along the way, ceased to live. They may be surviving, but they are no longer “alive” – they are petrified, shells of their former selves, empty of all passion and drive, living someone else's idea of what their life and their marriage was “supposed to” become.

    So, anyway, I just wonder what it would be like if we re-wrote the marriage vows to focus not so much on our pledge of faithfulness to the other, but as a pledge to remain ever true to ourselves. Certainly the marriages that would evolve from such commitments would be highly challenging, but isn't that what life is supposed to be? A challenge? Not a challenge in a negative sense, but a challenge such as in fencing or any similar sport: the element that keeps the individual on his toes, that provokes a keen awareness of everything that moves, that sends ripples of electricity through the very air we breathe. Without challenge, there is no life; only existence, still and quiet and eventually monotonous.

    Thanks, Paulo, for the insights your words bring on a daily basis. I really very much enjoy your blog.

    Sincerely,
    Savita

  2. Jessica says:

    this is not the ‘Jessica’ who has given 2 comments above…but this comment is for that ‘Jessica’…my namesake…in case u happen to read this comment Jessica…I just wanted you to know that your comment on Paulo’s words has freaked me out completely…It is exactly what I would have written..n both the comments.

    I would like to get in touch with you…u can contact me at blessjess27@gmail.com

  3. S evita says:

    love is lying on the floor in your p.j’s sharing a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows in front a fire.Yammy!

  4. viviana says:

    El momento, el corazón el compromiso…ummmm!!! Parece toda una declaración de amor tu blog, hay algo que te esta atormentando… o no! quiero opinar de los tres temas que estas proponiendo en tu blog y elijo el compromiso para opinar sobre los tres nada es fácil en la vida…pero tampoco es imposible! Claro que existen momentos para bien o para mal pero es precisamente ahí en ese instante es donde mas libres nos sentimos sea para bien o para mal no hay diferencia es el momento donde mas fiel a uno mismo somos es el punto justo donde aprendemos es que gracias a esa inflexión tenemos el contacto con quien verdaderamente somos un momento de inflexión mío fue cuando decidí que si aceptaba a un dios también aceptaba a un diablo y que estoy dispuesta a perdonarlo el ya no es parte de mi batalla es parte de mi aprendizaje con el aprendo y con dios me guió….el corazón tiene un sin fin de descripciones , para mi es solo el motor que pone en funcionamiento el torrente sanguíneo que hace disparar por cada uno de nuestros poros nuestra luz interior cuanto mas le exigimos mas luz irradiamos pero ojo! Todo depende de nuestro maestro, el cerebro. El compromiso, que tema! Yo solo me siento comprometida conmigo misma respeto y admiro cuando las personas se atreven a ser individuales y únicos…por que en realidad eso es lo que somos solo así me puedo brindar a los demás .retroceder nunca! Rendirse jamás, no lo olvides la admiración ya la tenes así que cualquier decisión que tomes siempre va ser la correcta. Para mi un guerrero nuca abandona o se cae solo se desliza y se toma vacaciones para que fluya su alma

  5. Nelson D'Silva says:

    Thank you dear Paul from Austria.

    On this day, my birthday, I humbly ask all of you to keep me in your prayers (I do).

    Love to all,
    Nelson

  6. Bhuwan says:

    Love You Paulo!………….

  7. Nelson D'Silva says:

    I wanted to share a story –

    Priya married Hitesh this day. At the end of the wedding party,
    Priya’s mother gave her a newly opened bank saving passbook.
    With Rs.1000 deposit amount.
    Mother: ‘Priya, take this passbook. Keep it as a record of your marriage life. When there’s something happy and memorable happened in your new life, put some money in. Write down what it’s about next to the line. The more memorable the event is, the more money you can put in. I’ve done the first one for you today. Do the others with Hitesh.When you look back after years, you can know how much happiness you’ve had.’
    Priya shared this with Hitesh when getting home. They both thought it was a great idea and were anxious to know when the second deposit can be made.
    This was what they did after certain time:
    – 7 Feb: Rs.100, first birthday celebration for Hitesh after marriage
    – 1 Mar: Rs.300, salary raise for Priya
    – 20 Mar: Rs.200, vacation trip to Bali
    – 15 Apr: Rs.2000, Priya got pregnant
    – 1 Jun: Rs.1000, Hitesh got promoted ….. and so on…
    However, after years, they started fighting and arguing for trivial things. They didn’t talk much. They regretted that they had married the most nasty people in the world…. no more love…Kind of typical nowadays, huh?
    One day Priya talked to her Mother:
    ‘Mom, we can’t stand it anymore. We agree to divorce. I can’t imagine how I decided to marry this guy!!!’
    Mother: ‘Sure, girl, that’s no big deal. Just do whatever you want if you really can’t stand it. But before that, do one thing first. Remember the saving passbook I gave you on your wedding day? Take out all money and spend it first. You shouldn’t keep any record of such a poor marriage.’
    Priya thought it was true. So she went to the bank, waiting at the queue and planning to cancel the account.
    While she was waiting, she took a look at the passbook record. She looked, and looked, and looked. Then the memory of all the previous joy and happiness just came up her mind. Her eyes were then filled with tears. She left and went home.
    When she was home, she handed the passbook to Hitesh, asked him to spend the money before getting divorce.
    The next day, Hitesh gave the passbook back to Priya. She found a new deposit of Rs.5000. And a line next to the record: ‘This is the day I notice how much I’ve loved you thru out all these years. How much happiness you’ve brought me.’
    They hugged and cried, putting the passbook back to the safe.
    Do you know how much money they had saved when they retired? I did not ask. I believe the money did not matter any more after they had gone thru all the good years in their life.
    “When you fall, in any way,
    Don’t see the place where you fell, Instead see the place from where you slipped.
    Life is about correcting mistakes

  8. Nelson D'Silva says:

    Those are beautiful thoughts Savita, thank you. I have been married now for eleven years (for a moment I paused, thinking of Eleven Minutes, I liked the book) and I feel truly blessed to have a partner who understands me, and I can say which conviction that I understand my partner (most men will find me crazy, understand women – impossible).

    There have been ups and downs, but together we have braved it and learnt from each other. We have our arguments and disagreements, but at the end of the day, we never go to bed carrying a grudge in our hearts.

    It helps to have hobbies like reading, music and sports that we share in common.

    Instead of fencing, we dance a lot together, keeps us both on our toes.

    Love,
    Nelson

  9. Patrick says:

    I’m pretty sure that I’m the first male voice to comment on Paulo Cuehla’s blog concerning the subject matter of his latestt book. An indicator that eevn in an opn minded forum such as this, there are many men who may be holding back and not expressing there personal take on a very challenging subject. I’m sure I won’t be the last … come on gentlemen …

    Sex is definately sacred. — no doubt. It has definaely been trivialized — can’t argue that. Horrible acts of violence have been perpetrated on women and men under the twisted guise of sexual perversity, power, what ever you want to call it — for sure. And for centuries — even millinia. The so called sexual revolution was just a cooling off period of heated concepts and immature approaches that didn’t have a solid value system at its core; therefore leading to more trouble, no real solutions to a very old problem. That’s all been written about by those who are still recoveru=ing from the sixties abd seventies. I’m not posing an argument against anything that has been stated so far. I just want everyone who has contributed to this discussion, or who is thinking about doing so in the future to realize that this subject is probably the most personal of all that I have read in this blog, and this is an incredibly personl forum. There is no room for B.S. in this reply box.

    And having said that, I am once again amazed at how quickly — and kindly — Mr Coeuhla gets to the heart of this difficult discussion. These thoughts are usually left in the safe offices of psychologists aroound the world. I’ll tred lightly here — out of respect for myself and others involved.

    I don’t know how my individual experiences could truly contribute to this exchange. I’m sure I could relay any number of personal circumstances in order to pass around the globe another’s tribulations, or triumphs on this matter. But I won’t. There is something far more important to be said here. It is going to sound so simple (maybe even trivial, or meaningless after some of the horrible things that I just read — things that we read about and hear about everyday, and yet we still sit there thinking “how could that possibly happen?”). And this is what I’m going to say …

    Make it stop. Just make it stop happening. Make these things — these sexual pervertions that have been allowed to continue for thousands of years (sometimes even sanctioned by entire cultures and laws!) — make these things stop happening.

    I see that there are incredibly influential people who have global appeal and the resources to back their appeal up trying to lend their hand in these matters — this blog is a direct result of a seriously influential person trying to help the world cope with these matters. But these unhealthy (for lack of a more obvious and grotesque descriptive — gentle tredding here) acts need to be dealt with on a “grass roots” level also. Education, intervention, woman to man, man to man, woman to woman — what ever it takes. Bring all the lawyers in the world into the mix. It can;t hurt, right? But ultimately. it is very important that we all deal with OUR SELVES in this healing process first and than the world at large.

    No child should ever deal with sexual deviance. So when we fix the adults, the children are automatically spared. Maybe not so simple afterall, but absolutely vital. We can dis-agree over god and marriege, god and war, god and no god at all. We can dis-agree all day long, but there is no dis-agreement over how children should be treated. Their sanctity. Their safety. Their innocents, when it is spared, is the key to the eden that most people who participate in this forum are hoping for.

    We are all responsible for that innocence. There is no propper standard created as yet (of course there are many great laws fighting for the innocent child, but there are just as many still in dispute, incredibly divisive issues are involved here). WE have to create these standards and resolve these disputes — in our lifetimes would be a wonderfully fulfilling short term goal.

    Repitition is allowed here — I’m continually astounded by the importance, the beauty of this blog. Maybe to the point where I expound on issues that seem very obvious. Also, I never blogged anywhere before. I don’t think I’ve ever actually written the word “blog” as a verb before. This is all sooooo new to me. I’m obviously deeply compelled by what I;ve read from all of you here. Thank you, And I hope you can bare with my initial clumsiness in this need I’ve developed over the last week to “join in”. This need will more than likely grow into a powerful gift to the world. Thank you all.

    Eternally grateful to you Mr. Coehla for creating this wonderous place where I am learning by the minute how to actually contribute to a better world — something that I have been working toward for years. I’ve always known how to dream. But Jung made sense to me when he wrote about taking your dreams and injecting them into your everyday routine for a healthier way of life — a more fit psyche. Those concepts need constant work in order to be applied. And this forum — your words — are incredible tools in this process.

    Peace and Love

  10. cdc says:

    before I went to bed, I saw my socks didn’t match. No one said anything.

  11. Cecilie says:

    I feel so honoured to be able to communicate with such a man, Paulo Coelho. You help me bring forth what is within me, you are my wisard. Thank you so much. After reading the Elleven minutes, i felt so confident in my own wishes in making love. Thank you for bringing forth the message of the heart, a terrible unscecurity has taken over the the natural ways of the heart, and you are one of the legends to bring love forth in this world. I Love u so. Love from norway

  12. Luz says:

    I believe the sexual revolution, the time of free and uninhibited sex, removed the sacred from the sexual act.
    I lived through this time period and believe that I lost sight of what is truly important between partners. Sex is for pleasure but should not be trivialized. It is a true union and must be honored as such. My 21 year old son struggles with his views of women due to media and music and his desire to have something meaningful with another.
    He wants to revere women but so many times the woman wants to be objectified. Sex and love will always be the stuff of books, movies, etc. There really is no one standard.

  13. THELMA says:

    My dear Paulo Coelho, I liked the ‘honesty’ of the writer as you put it: To open your soul and reveal your innermost feelings and thoughts. To dare and be brave enough, so much as that you let others put their ‘fingers in the wounds of the nails’ and smell the fragrance of the Rose, your heart.
    In everyone of us there is the whole Universe! There are a million aspects of ‘us’ and a million possibilities to become reality or just stay hibernated until the ..next circle.
    Love,
    Thelma

  14. luce says:

    Dear Paulo,

    It is so true: “….like tie and socks to match…” so suffocating real thing.

    Dear Savita Vega,

    you reminded me that I walked with stick of icecream and had it always with me…instead of pencil!

    While reading book I was so taken with it and I lived again emotions of my childhood love.

    Love
    Luce

  15. Ninni says:

    Individual differences in sexual behavior should be respected as long as it doesn´t hurt…..individuals. In heart, soul and body.

    The problem is – that it often does.

    (which gives birth to “standards” as a solution – in the borderline i believe)

    Sooooo….What is the cause and what is the symptom in this?

    In my opinion sex is very often used as a tuel to create “control” – a “weapon” and a “drug” that is used and abused – by both men and woman. For different reasons. And for other reasons – than Sex. Underneath. The need to dominate can be strong. The need to be “loved” and “accepted” – no matter what – can be strong. The need for money is also one factor. The need to release tension and stress (fear, aggression, frustration) – is another. These factors influences us as individuals and our sexual behavior and how it manifest itself. It is personal. With a personal responsibility. With or without.

    I see less and less tabus in my own society in this matter. And the doors and windows – towards the…..individual choices in sex (sharing the same desires)….are more open and openminded – than ever.

    But. The sexual problems increases. Why?

    One girl told me that 4 men (relatives) waited outside her door when she was on her way to school….pulled her in their car….and after raping her…. they put sherds of glass in her vagina…..then left her….broken and bleeding. Destroyed.

    Sex or Domination ?

    Another was leaving the pub with her fiance and his friend after a night out……She went to sleep in her apartment….and woke up….beeing raped by a man with a Scream-mask on his face……it turned out it was her fiances friend……

    When my daughter was 11 i was told to walk with her back and forth to school because there was a pedophile driving around the school…..(that wasn´t the message i wanted to give her)

    The male assistent who works with my son – has been thrue the policeregister – as a routin – in Sweden – to check all that works – with children…..and see if they have been charged for any….sexual crime.

    We live in a world full of standards. Yes. In all kinds of areas.

    Without an answer and solution.

    What´s L O V E got to do with it?

  16. Akua says:

    Dear Paulo, Thank you deeply for sharing your thoughts. On the eve of the end of my 38yr marriage, your article has stilled my thoughts and I feel peaceful at last. How beautiful authentic words are to the soul.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  17. Christina says:

    [si es que la palabra cabe] con que el tema es tratado, es muy probable que los prejuicios huyan… y dar paso a “eso” que el señor Gravelines enunció.

  18. Christina says:

    Tuve una especie de dejavu al leer este post. Quiza porque lei algo similar en las primeras páginas de “Once minutos” y porque en aquel entonces estaba tan empeñada en concentrarme como ahora. Tenía 15 años y ese libro fue uno de mis regalos de cumpleaños [de una amiga mía]. Sin importar la gente que había ahí, empecé a leerlo, lo que trajo consigo que mi mamá me pusiera cara de “no saldrás de tu cuarto en una semana si sigues así”, por lo que esperé pacientemente a que acabe la celebración para meterme en mi cama con la luz de la lampara encendida y devorarme el libro esa misma noche.
    A pesar de lo que decía esa página en particular acerca de la responsabilidad al escribirlo, el comentario del señor en cuestión a quien el libro es dedicado, y el tema mismo, este libro hace soñar tanto como los otros. Chocante sí, en un inicio, y una vez te habituas a la naturalidad [si es q]

  19. Alexandra says:

    Well.Paulo,I am fond of all your writings.The poem is wonderful,reminds me one of our national poet,Mihai Eminescu,”Venus and Venera”.Romantic antithesis.I love such things,and loved your book “Eleven minutes”.I laught at the beginning when the girl was walking with the pencil in hand hoping that the boy would ask her again…And every time poor girl was dissapointed,for she was innocent.You said prostitute,but I read she was told lies ,promised a good job.She was a good girl,an”innocente-prostitute”,she had not an dirty soul.

  20. Savita Vega says:

    First, I want to say, I think the “commitment” you have to your readers, as you conceive of it – the commitment to talk about what matters most to you, not just what everyone else would like to hear – this is something very special, incredibly beautiful. In fact, I would suspect this has a great deal to do with your “success” as a writer -this determination to be true to yourself, rather then try to guess what the public wants. From that investment, that personal interest or sometimes obsession, is born the fire of passion: the light that shines through in your work as a guiding beacon to all who read, or at least to all who open those pages with an open mind and an open heart.

    I wonder what it would be like if in personal relationships – in marriage, for example – we made similar commitments: If instead of vowing to “honor and obey” our partner, we pledged to remain true to ourselves. If instead of vowing to “take the other for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health,” suppose we vowed to continue to fight for what we believe in, to continue to strive toward the realization of our wildest innermost dreams, to continue to seek to grow and evolve and forever stretch our wings…. What might that be like, I wonder.

    So often we see people who have grown bitter after years of marriage. Despite their commitment, despite the fact that they remained “faithful,” they seem miserable and often openly profess to be so. Their marriage becomes, over time, not a source of joy and inspiration but a locus of complaint, an excuse for everything that has even gone wrong in their lives. These are people who, somewhere along the way, ceased to live. They may be surviving, but they are no longer “alive” – they are petrified, shells of their former selves, empty of all passion and drive, living someone else’s idea of what their life and their marriage was “supposed to” become.

    So, anyway, I just wonder what it would be like if we re-wrote the marriage vows to focus not so much on our pledge of faithfulness to the other, but as a pledge to remain ever true to ourselves. Certainly the marriages that would evolve from such commitments would be highly challenging, but isn’t that what life is supposed to be? A challenge? Not a challenge in a negative sense, but a challenge such as in fencing or any similar sport: the element that keeps the individual on his toes, that provokes a keen awareness of everything that moves, that sends ripples of electricity through the very air we breathe. Without challenge, there is no life; only existence, still and quiet and eventually monotonous.

    Thanks, Paulo, for the insights your words bring on a daily basis. I really very much enjoy your blog.

    Sincerely,
    Savita