A day at the mill

By Paulo Coelho

At the moment my life is a symphony made up of three different movements: “many people,” “some people,” and “hardly anybody.” Each of these movements lasts about four months a year; they often come together during the same month, but they never get mixed up.

“Many people” are those moments when I am in touch with the public, editors and journalists. “Some people” happens when I go to Brazil, meet my old friends, walk along Copacabana beach, attend the occasional social event, but as a rule I stay at home.

But today I just want to dwell a little on the “hardly anybody” movement. Night has already descended on this small town of 200 people in the Pyrenees whose name I would rather keep a secret and where I recently bought an old mill transformed into a house. I wake up every morning to the roosters crowing, have my breakfast and go out for a walk among the cows and lambs and through the fields of wheat and hay. I contemplate the mountains and – unlike the “many people” movement – never try to think who I am. I have no answers, no questions, I live entirely for the present moment, in the understanding that the year has four seasons (yes, it may seem so obvious, but sometimes we forget that), and I transform myself like the landscape all around me.

At this moment I have no great interest in what is going on in Iraq, or Syria, or Afghanistan: like any other person who lives in the countryside, the most important news is the weather. Everyone who lives in this small village knows if it is going to rain, turn cold, or be very windy, because all that has a direct effect on their lives, their plans, their crops. I pass a farmer tending his field, we exchange a “good morning,” discuss the weather forecast and then go about what we were doing – he at his plough, I on my long walk.

I head back home, check the mail-box, the local newspaper informs me that there is a dance in the next village, a lecture in a bar in Tarbes – the big city with all of its 40,000 inhabitants (the firemen had been called out because a garbage bin had caught on fire during the night). The topic that is mobilizing the region involves a group accused of cutting down the plane trees that had caused the death of a young man riding his motorbike on a country road; this piece of news fills a whole page and several days of reporting about the “secret command” that is bent on revenging the death of the young biker by destroying the trees.

I lie down beside the brook that runs through my mill.

I rise and go to practice kyudo, the form of meditation with the bow and arrow that occupies me for an hour. It’s already lunchtime: I have a light meal and then notice a strange object in one of the rooms of the old building, with a screen and a keyboard, all connected – wonder of wonders – with a super-speed DSL line. I know that as soon as I press a button on that machine, the world will come to me.

I resist as long as I am able but then the moment is reached when my finger touches the “on” button and here I go again connected to the world, newspaper columns, books, interviews requests (I decided no to give more than 3 interviews a year),the news from Iraq and Afghanistan, requests, the message that the airline ticket will be arriving tomorrow, decisions to put off, and decisions to take.

For a few hours I work, because that is what I chose to do, because that is my personal legend, because a warrior of the light is aware of his duties and responsibilities. But in the “hardly anybody” movement, everything that appears on the computer screen is very distant, just as the mill seems to be a dream when I am in the “many people” or “some people” movements.

The sun starts to hide itself away, the button is turned to “off”, the world goes back to being just fields, the scent of the herbs, the mooing of the cows and the shepherd’s voice bringing his flock home to the shed at the side of the mill.

I wonder how I can move about in two such different worlds in the space of a single day: the answer escapes me, yet I know this brings me great pleasure and it makes me happy while I write down these lines.

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  1. eleonora says:

    Mi chiedo come posso muoversi in due mondi cosí¬ diversi nello spazio di un solo giorno: la risposta mi sfugge, ma so che questo mi porta grande piacere e mi rende felice, mentre scrivo queste righe.Emozione.

  2. Mirjam says:

    What a wonderfull life!!!

    I wish everyone could appriciate his or her life the way you do it.

    Best wishes to everyone for the new year!!!

    Love Mirjam

  3. THELMA says:

    My dear-est Paul from Austria, Thank you for your kind words. Sometimes, although we know that reality is much more different, we are …. mesmerized by ‘sweet words’ that lead us to …. dreaming!
    Well I could be a piano-teacher, since I did my Diploma, but no I would not allow… reality and money to take the place of my ….dream. It would mean …betrayal to my ….illusions! ;]
    Of course, I would not mind living in ..freezing Vienna as long as …the ..warmth of my happy?? heart would have melt all the ice around!!

  4. Nicole says:

    That sounds like a beautiful place.
    We have this quietness from time to time here in Hungary.
    Mainly now in the winter season.
    I totally enjoy it.
    Standing outside in the middle of the night, let the dogs run and gaze at the stars and hear NOTHING.

    Hubby recently said “It’s good to have 3 seasons” “Huh? We have 4″ “Oh”.
    Crazy Mexicans can’t count ;)

    It’s the trees fault that a man got killed? That’s pretty insane,…

    OK, I’m envious for DSL, I admit that ;)

    Just be glad you can wander the various worlds. Not many can :)
    They are too caught up with their Lives and Duties.

  5. Me retire hace mas de 20 años, entiendo lo que explicas, yo valoro la libertad condicionada solo por el amor, no pago ningun precio por una vida que no sea la que tome hace ya mucho tiempo.
    Reconozco que aprendi pronto a pasar de lo que no se sontenia con un simple saludo, una sonrisa, un instante en el cruce.
    No permito la cercania de nadie que no sepa guardar una distancia prudente con mi intimidad.
    Agradezco ser amada con tanta sabiduria, que al mundo solo lo visito hoy por hoy en Internet , cuya forma es facil, y apropiada en la mayoria de los casos
    Mi vida privada es solo mia , y de lo facil que resulta vivirla creo que no le puede interesar a nadie.
    Mi vida no tiene aspectos morbosos para ser valorada por caroñeros de vidas agenas.
    Me gusta mucho la literatura , en cuyas páginas el autor se nos da de la manera mas digna posible y lo demas es su vida y por ello jamas pondria en peligro eso tan preciado de tenerte sin la penosa carga de que tengas que soportarme en toda mi humanidad.
    Si tengo algo que mostrar lo hago en mi oficio.

  6. I live in a world of hardly any people, yet i long for the innate peace that nature can bring. I’ve read, and understood many books, but know that only the truest understanding can bring the most needed contentment.

    My resolution for 2009 is to find this inner peace again. Not that it’s lost, only buried, under regret’s, and fear.

    I know that inner peace is only moments away for the millions of humans that inhabit this world. Yet, sadly they are encouraged to look to profit and material wealth, rather than basic need. Yes the world needs money and obviously that is always going to be a massive motivating factor. But what all governments avoid, is that all we really need is to be happy. And Actually that doesn’t take that much ! XXXXXXX

  7. wendylei says:

    lovely and peaceful day sum in lines~~
    Its the last day of the year in my country now,after nearly two years of avoiding,I reach those special documents today,and separate them quitely,after all its a pretty fruitful year,memories brings up again by those papers and washes through my whole self,I am content~~

  8. Liina L. says:

    I thought that I have read this story before, and I was right. It’s in Your ‘Like the Flowing River’ book which contains the short stories, notes from a certain period of Your life. Good reflection. At times we have to come back to the “old” things, to see them in a different light, to arise new matters by them.

    I need to ask a question: if You reflect back and read the stories, which You have written down years ago, do You feel the same feelings what You felt back then while You were writing them. Obviously You may see the situation in a different way, or the plot, maybe critisize it in Your own mind, maybe be proud of it – but do the feelings from the past emerge back to you? (And if they do, are they changed, or do they ‘feel’ exactly the same as in past?)

    I have this with music. At different times I listen to different styles of music made by different people. Whenever I cast the music I had been listening to, aside, new will be chosen. But whenever I find some old song(s), and replay it (either in my computer, in my MP3 player), I will feel the same feelings I did back then when (at that period of time) I listened to it. Those feelings let my past memories emerge and I see glimpses of them. In other words, if I listen to some ‘good old song’, I will relive (and refeel) the memories connected with that music. It’s like the music records my memories, and stores it up in another code – the code of music. And later when I listen to the music, I feel the old feelings and remember the memories. Does that make any sence?

    So: music is one of the passions of my life, but to You, that must be writing Your books (even if it’s partly a duty to you, You started to write because it was Your dream, your passion, your call for life). So I thought of asking this question.

    Do the stories, which You have written in the past, emerge the old feelings You had back then when You wrote them(the way music does to me)?

  9. Marie-Christine says:

    The “many people movement” (public, journalists, editors) appeals to me. Good one for a “shift in consciousness movement”.

  10. Brigit says:

    My heart resonates strongly with what you’ve described. I live in a small rural village – a school with around 25-30 children and a village hall. A couple of days ago (my birthday) I felt extremely grateful, being able to live where I live and healthy enough to do what has to be done to be able to live here. I’ve left a couple of photos on my blog. It is a bitter sweet existence. Work is scarce, so I currently work 7 days a week. At times only 4 or 5 hours a day, at other times 9 hours a day. I work with the general public -“many people.” Another part of my work involves “some people” and my time at home on a daily basis is one of “hardly anybody.” Over the Christmas break, I’ve been able to enjoy more of that time. I’ve enjoyed, the company of my daughter, the smell of gum trees, the sun on my skin, the sweating of mowing the grass, dozens of butterflies, and watching the dairy cows, on their daily aternoon march to be milked. I’ve visited the general store 6 kilometers away and caught up on local news, with a touch of gossip, and I love every minute of this “hardly anybody” existence.

  11. cherie says:

    Everyone needs there own “Mill” to escape to. It can be as simple and brief as sitting on a bench in a park or a rock overlooking the sea for a few minutes.
    It’s good to be able to have shut down time to spend alone and be able to choose when to return the realities and stresses of work and day to day life.
    I often think I am living it two separate lives. I try to balance them but long for more time at “The Mill”

  12. Adina says:

    We need a secretary, to take care of “many people”. But who is able to that, the way we do it and to really care about it?

    Well, I choosed in my past to offer to myself the luxury of spending 5 whole years within church stuff. It was a very good choise. After I eat and drink as much knowledge, inner experiences as I could, “my call” told to my heart: “now the outside world needs you, you know what to do. Go to them and wait untill some sould need you. Meanwhile, enjoy My creation and my plannet.” This was my feeling I tried to “translated” in common words.

    AT NIGHT is another answer.

    Night is even better to take a walk outside (if is not too cold). Stars. Only heart can be heard. (Perfect for me).

    The truth is we want to do too much and we need help from others (family, friends, employees, students). We must delegate jobs and focus on what really matters: the soul.

    Good night!

  13. Pepper says:

    How beautiful Paulo! Thank you for sharing and making me smile as I am enjoying my hardly anyone time! Pepper

  14. I want to spend more time in the “hardly anyone” movement. The Pyrenees sound lovely.

  15. THELMA says:

    2nd Movement of Mozart’s Sonate.
    I used to live in ‘Sacre Coeur, Studentinnenheim in Vienna,with the pianist, in ….Ancient Times!

  16. THELMA says:

    It seems that the time spend at the Mill it is the Adagio or Adante, middle movement! Peaceful, romantic, nostalgic but with the ….window to the World – the Internet- open.
    I remember as a child going in Summer to Platres, a famous tourist resort on Troodos mountain. My grand-father used to rent a big house for his four children with wives, husbands and us, the children. It was a three months’ continuous feast. Under the pine trees, playing near the brook, singing, hiding in the cellar, breathing the fresh air and feeling so full of energy and being so spoilt. Growing older we, children, started preferring staying in the ‘town’ because we wanted to be near our … platonic sweet-hearts, going to the open-cinema [something like ‘CINEMA PARADISO’] or to the beach!
    After so many years reading your story, dear Paulo Coelho, made me feel ‘nostalgic’ and I wish I could be a … child again without any worries,duties, television, news-papers, wars, economical crisis, taxes or …accountants [dear-est Paul from Austria!!]. Just for a …day.

  17. Alexandra says:

    Thanks for sharing your nice experiences and your thoughts.Lovely.Is good to have choise,to be able to change landscape.I love country side,but after some time might be very boring.I live in city,and visit my cousin and grandmother at times,is different,you right,they talk about weather,crop,or gossip,esspecially womem,but I understand them,is pretty boring,the need some enterteinment.I was also to some”auction”,in the village.A farse.Nobody paid more than some penny,people gathered nice dressed as for going to church.Was very funny…I cant tell the boredom when was raining.Nothing to do.I was watching cats playing,and long for being on road towards home….Now I would like to be there for a while,after all is something different,a “chalenge”.

  18. Gaby says:

    Despite the place and time … we just resist, persist and will never desist … happy 2009’s perception

    My english it´s not right,so, do you have a blog in spañish?

  19. Savita Vega says:

    Reading this almost brings tears to my eyes, you have so beautifully and precisely captured a certain aspect of my own reality that I struggle to comprehend and even sometimes to express, though seldom successfully. I too live in a very remote place – not remote for those who live here, of course, but very far removed from the hustle and bustle and major concerns of the larger world.

    As you say, the most important item of news is always the weather, the topic that begins and/or ends almost every conversation: How cold will it get tomorrow? Do we need to cover the pipes? Will it rain tonight, before the hay lying in the fields can be bailed? And most important of all, to many of us, myself included – tornados have three times hit my place – will the cool front that is on its way be packing tornados?

    When I go to the grocery story in town – the only grocer for twenty miles in any direction – everyone greets me and speak to me, everyone from the lady who works in the vegetable department and always remembers my daughter’s birthday to the store manager who knows which brand of coffee I like, to the checkout clerk who always asks how my dad is doing these days. They do this, not because I am anyone important – on the contrary, I am virtually a stranger to them although I have lived here almost three years now, and grew up here as a child (twenty years away is enough to earn the classification “stranger” – they speak to me and greet me because they do this with most everyone. There is no such thing as annonymity in a town of this size. Everyone knows everyone, and any unfamiliar face sticks out like a radish in a cabbage patch. And in such cases especially, much weight is given to family lineage. It is not at all uncommon to be asked by a complete stranger, “I don’t recognize your name – Who are you parents? Where do you live exactly?” When I first moved here, I took offense at such questions. In the city, such information is none of anyone’s business unless, for some reason, it is offered voluntarily. In the city, I would never give out my address, much less directions, to strangers. Here it is a prerequisite to establishing any form of communication. I find myself, all the time, telling people, “Oh, I live out behind the [community name ommitted] post office, right across from the Brown’s old place. My front gate faces where the old house used be before it burned down… Yea, on top of the hill, where the two ponds are. Yep, that’s the place – the night light you see back in there, peeping above the pines, that’s me.”

    It is strange living in a place where you know that everyone you see knows who you are, even if you don’t yet know who they all are. You see – in the city, the stranger is the norm. Only seldom in the city to we run into the familiar face. Most people we meet are “strangers.” Here, it is the opposite. Everyone is familiar, everyone is known to everyone – though they may not all necessarily be “friends,” they do know one another’s faces and names. So, when a stranger does appear, they stick out like a neon sign. Everyone whispers, “There’s that stranger again. This is the third time I’ve seen her. She must be living here somewhere. Who is she?” You introduce yourself to people, but they don’t speak – don’t really speak – until they know your lineage, who your parents and grandparents are, until they can solidly place you within the framework of the familiar. And if you aren’t from around here and thus have no family ties here, you can live here for decades and still be viewed, essentially, as an “outsider.” Altogether, it is a very clannish social environment, very closed to entry from the outside, but, once you do manage to enter into the heart of it, there is virtually no escaping, as you have become “one of them.”

    I have been here only for three years, and so, I am still on the very fringes of that society – most people still eye me with a certain degree of suspicion. Which is fine with me, because the most important thing here, the most precious thing to me is the solitude I find in living here – a kind of solitude that I could never find in any city. Here, the forest, the wild creatures, the landscape itself are my constant companions, as well as my spiritual guides. I learn from the land, as it pushes me and encourages me to grow.

    Then, as you say, Paulo, there is this other world that opens up and invites me to enter into it the moment I switch on my computer. For me, it is a matter of balance between the two. Too much of the headline news, or even too much of communicating only in this mode, where I never see peoples’ faces, would drive me to insanity just as surely as might the solitude if never it were to be broken, if never I were to communicate in any way with what I call the “outside world.”

    Love to all!

  20. Nancy says:

    Your story brings images of a windmill, green fields, wooden fences, cows and sheeps grazing in their pasture, and a farmer. Yes, change is good for us! Sounds like a great place.

  21. luce says:

    Dear Paulo,
    I am back in “on” world after seven days in “off” world.
    I enjoyed deeply that “hardly anybody” world, passed Christmas day with two persons ( 60 and 85 years old )and two books for company (Khalil Gibran’s book of poetry and Susan Fletcher’s “Oystercatchers”)in tiny village in Italy, no computer, TV turned off, newspaper kiosk too far to go. Sound of fire from open fireplace and drizzling rain on the window….
    I wish you joy !
    With love

  22. çigarra says:

    Paulo, these days living in this way are good…
    I discovered and I understood that DISTANCE NOT EXISTS and I repeat THE DINTANCES NOT EXIST! Internet, phone, postal services…
    The distance is a limit of our mind, maybe it is fear…
    Thanks to your time you spend for us.

  23. yuzhu,chen says:

    Far away from city ,Far away many people,Far away some people,go to a village where nobody know me,this is my dream.

  24. Marie-Christine says:

    So, when you are in the “Hardly people movement”, would you say that you are in the “Meunier tu dors, ton moulin, ton moulin va trop vite”‘s type?
    Interesting the comments about the news. It is the same all around the world the “Mrs Smith’s dogs got lost and the big rescuing plan.”

  25. Marie-Christine says:

    I thought everybody realised that there were four seasons in a year…unless…for example, When I lived in the desert, I really missed that because there were really only two and the one I missed the most – autumn – was not included. With the seasons, you shed a few layers here and there and it helps you to transform yourself… a bit like a snake sssss…
    Living in big city and living in a small village are a “different symphony” all together too. The sounds and the rythms are different – slower pace or faster pace.”Many people movement” and “hardly any people movement.”

  26. Anni Buerkl says:

    I love those lines – being a writer myself, I feel similar movements. Good to know there are others feeling similar!
    Greetings all the way from Vienna, Austria