How to do what I want

By Paulo Coelho

When he died, Juan found himself in an exquisite place, surrounded by all the comfort and beauty he had always dreamed of. A man dressed in white spoke to him:
 
‘You can have anything you want, any food, any pleasure, any diversion,’ he said.
 
Delighted, Juan did everything he had dreamed of doing while alive. Then, after many years of pleasure, he again searched out the man in white.
 
‘I’ve done everything I wanted to do. Now I need a job, so that I can feel useful,’ he said.
 
‘I’m sorry,’ replied the man in white. ‘But that is the one thing I can’t give you; there is no work here.’
 
‘How awful!’ said Juan angrily. ‘That means I’ll spend all eternity bored to death! I wish I was in Hell!’
 
The man in white came over to him and said softly:
 
‘And where exactly do you think you are, sir?’

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Blaming others

By Paulo Coelho

We have all at one time or another heard our mother say of us: ‘My child did this or that on some impulse, but, deep down, he’s a very good person.’
 
It is one thing to live one’s life blaming ourselves for thoughtless actions that led us astray; guilt doesn’t get us anywhere and it can even remove any stimulus to improve. It is quite another thing, however, to forgive ourselves for everything; that way we will never be able to set ourselves on the right path again.
 
There is also common sense, and we should judge the results of our actions and not the intentions behind them. Deep down, everyone is good, but that’s irrelevant.
 
Jesus said: ‘By their fruits ye shall know them.’
 
An old Arab proverb says: ‘God judges a tree by its fruits, not by its roots.’

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The four forces

By Paulo Coelho

Father Alan Jones says that in order to build our soul we need the Four Invisible Forces: love, death, power and time.
 
We must love because we are loved by God. We must have an awareness of death in order to understand life fully.
 
We must struggle in order to grow, but without becoming entrapped by the power that is gained through that struggle, because we know that power is worthless.
 
Finally, we must accept that our soul, although eternal, is at this moment caught in the web of time, with all its opportunities and limitations. We must therefore behave as if time existed and do everything we can to value each second.
 
These Four Forces cannot be treated as problems to be solved because they are beyond our control. We must accept them and let them teach us what we need to learn.

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St Augustine and logic

By Paulo Coelho

God speaks to us through signs. It is a highly individual language which requires us to have faith and discipline if we are fully to absorb it.
 
This is how St Augustine was converted. He had spent years searching in various philosophies for an answer to the meaning of life. One evening, in the garden of his house in Milan, he was reflecting on the utter failure of his search when he heard the sing-song voice of a child saying: ‘Pick it up and read it! Pick it up and read it!’
 
Although he had always been ruled by logic, he decided, on an impulse, to open the first book that came to hand. It was the Bible, and he read part of an epistle by St Paul, which contained all the answers he was looking for.
 
From then on, Augustine’s logic made room for faith, and he became one of the Church’s greatest theologians.

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The bicycle race

By Paulo Coelho

Life is a great bicycle race, whose goal is the fulfilment of one’s Personal Legend.
 
We all set off together, sharing our friendship and enthusiasm. But as the race progresses, that initial happiness fades before some very real challenges: tiredness, boredom, doubts about our own abilities.
 
We notice that a few friends have given up – they are still cycling, but only because they cannot stop in the middle of the road; there are a lot of them, pedalling dutifully along beside the support vehicle, talking amongst themselves.
 
We finally leave them behind, and then we come face to face with loneliness, unfamiliar bends in the road, mechanical problems with the bike. And after a while, we start to ask ourselves if it’s really worth all the effort.
 
Yes, it is. It’s just a question of not giving up.

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Reflecting on what one has learned

By Paulo Coelho

Rabbi Elisha ben Abuyah used to say:
 
‘Those who are open to life’s lessons and who do not live on a diet of prejudices are like a blank sheet of paper on which God writes his words in divine ink.
 
Those who view the world through cynical, prejudiced eyes are like a sheet of paper that has already been filled and on which there is no room for any new words.
 
Do not concern yourself with what you know or what you do not know. Do not think about the past or the future, merely allow God’s hands to write the surprises of the present on each new day.’

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The Lesson of the Butterfly

By Paulo Coelho

A man spent hours watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. It managed to make a small hole, but its body was too large to get through it. After a long struggle, it appeared to be exhausted and remained absolutely still.
 
The man decided to help the butterfly and, with a pair of scissors, he cut open the cocoon, thus releasing the butterfly. However, the butterfly’s body was very small and wrinkled and its wings were all crumpled.
 
The man continued to watch, hoping that, at any moment, the butterfly would open its wings and fly away. Nothing happened; in fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its brief life dragging around its shrunken body and shrivelled wings, incapable of flight.
 
What the man – out of kindness and his eagerness to help – had failed to understand was that the tight cocoon and the efforts that the butterfly had to make in order to squeeze out of that tiny hole were Nature’s way of training the butterfly and of strengthening its wings.
 
Sometimes, a little extra effort is precisely what prepares us for the next obstacle to be faced. Anyone who refuses to make that effort, or gets the wrong sort of help, is left unprepared to fight the next battle and never manages to fly off to their destiny.
 
(Adapted from a story sent in by Sonaira D’Avila)

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The toad and the hot water

By Paulo Coelho

Various biological studies have shown that if a toad is placed in a container along with water from his own pond, he will remain there, utterly still, while the water is heated, even when the water reaches boiling point. The toad does not react to the gradual increase in temperature and dies when the water boils.
 
Fat and happy.
 
On the other hand, if a toad is thrown into that container when the water is already boiling, he will jump straight out again, scalded, but alive!
 
Sometimes we behave like the boiled toads. We do not notice changes. We think that everything is fine and that anything bad in our lives will simply go away – that it’s just a matter of time. We are close to death, but still we sit, unchanging and apathetic, while the water around us gets hotter by the minute. We end up dying, fat and happy, without having noticed the changes going on around us.
 
Boiled toads do not understand that, as well as being efficient (doing things right), they need to be effective (doing the right things). And for this to happen, there must be continual growth, with room for dialogue and clear communication, room to share and to plan and to build an adult relationship. The biggest challenge lies in having the humility to respect someone else’s views.
 
There are, however, boiled toads who still believe that the most important thing is obedience, not competence: those who can, lead, but those with any sense, obey. And where does this leave real life? It is far better to emerge from a situation slightly scalded, but still alive and ready to act.

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The drunken disciple

By Paulo Coelho

A Zen master had hundreds of disciples. They all prayed when they were supposed to pray, except for one, who spent all his time drunk.
 
The master grew older. Some of the more virtuous students began talking about who would be the new leader of the group, the one to whom the important secrets of the Tradition would be passed on.
 
On the eve of his death, however, the master summoned the drunken student and passed on the secrets to him.
 
The other disciples were in uproar.
 
‘It’s shameful!’ they proclaimed loudly in the streets. ‘We have been sacrificing ourselves for the wrong master, one who has failed to see our qualities.’
 
Hearing the hubbub outside, the dying master remarked:
 
‘I needed to pass on those secrets to a man I knew well. All my students are terribly virtuous and only show their good qualities. That is dangerous, for virtue often serves to hide vanity, pride and intolerance. That is why I chose the one student I knew really well, the one whose faults I could see most clearly.’

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The undesirable visitors

By Paulo Coelho

‘We have no doors in our monastery,’ Shanti said to the visitor.
 
‘And what do you do about thieves?’
 
‘We have nothing of value inside. If we had, we would have given it to those in need.’
 
‘And what about troublesome people who come to disturb your peace?’
 
‘We ignore them, and eventually they go away,’ said Shanti.
 
‘Is that all? And does it work?’
 
Shanti did not reply. The visitor repeated his question a few times, but seeing that he got no response, he decided to leave.
 
‘You see how well it works,’ said Shanti to himself, smiling.

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Forgiving one’s enemies

By Paulo Coelho

An abbot met his favourite student and enquired after his spiritual progress. The student replied that he was managing to devote every moment of his day to God.
 
‘Now all you need to do is to forgive your enemies.’
 
The young man was shocked:
 
‘But I don’t need to! I’m not angry with my enemies!’
 
‘Do you think God is angry with you?’
 
‘Of course not!’
 
‘And yet you still ask Him for His forgiveness, don’t you? Do the same with your enemies, even if you don’t hate them. By forgiving someone, you are washing and perfuming your own soul.’

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Mojud and the inexplicable life

By Paulo Coelho

Mojud was a civil servant in a government department in a small town in the interior. He had no prospect of ever getting a better job, the country was going through a major economic crisis, and he had resigned himself to spending the rest of his life working eight hours a day and trying to enjoy himself in the evenings and at weekends, watching television.
 
One afternoon, Mojud saw two cockerels fighting. Feeling sorry for the creatures, he strode into the middle of the square to separate them, not realising that he was interrupting a cockfight. The angry spectators attacked Mojud. One of them threatened to kill him because his cockerel had looked set to win, and he would have won a fortune in stake money.
 
Mojud was afraid and decided to leave town. People were surprised when he did not turn up for work, but since there were several other candidates for the post, they soon forgot all about the former civil servant.
 
After travelling for three days, Mojud met a fisherman.
 
‘Where are you going?’ asked the fisherman.
 
‘I don’t know.’
 
Touched by Mojud’s situation, the fisherman took him home with him. After a night of talking, he discovered that Mojud knew how to read and so he proposed a deal: he would teach the new arrival to fish in exchange for lessons in reading and writing.
 
Mojud learned how to fish. With the money he earned by selling the fish, he bought books with which to teach the fisherman to read. By reading, Mojud learned things he had never known.
 
For example, one of the books was about joinery, and Mojud decided to set up a small workshop.
 
He and the fisherman bought tools and went on to make tables, chairs, shelves and fishing tackle.
 
Many years passed. The two men continued to fish and they spent their time on the river observing nature. They both continued to study, and the many books they read revealed to them the human soul. They both continued to work in the joinery, and the physical work made them healthy and strong.
 
Mojud loved talking to the customers. Since he was now a wise, cultivated, healthy man, people came to him for advice. The whole town began to make progress because everyone saw in Mojud someone who could find effective solutions to the region’s problems.
 
The young men in the town formed a study group with Mojud and the fisherman, and then told everyone that they were the disciples of two wise men. One day, one of the young men asked Mojud:
 
‘Did you give up everything in order to devote yourself to the search for knowledge?’
 
‘No,’ said Mojud, ‘I ran away from the town where I lived because I was afraid of being murdered.’
 
Nevertheless, the disciples learned important things and passed them on to others. A famous biographer was summoned to write the lives of the Two Wise Men, as they were now known. Mojud and the fisherman told him the facts.
 
‘But none of that reflects your wisdom,’ said the biographer.
 
‘No, you’re right,’ replied Mojud, ‘but the fact is that nothing very special happened in our lives.’
 
The biographer wrote for five months. When the book was published, it became a huge best-seller. It was the marvellous and exciting story of two men who go in search of knowledge, give up everything they are doing, do battle against adversity and encounter obscure and secret teachers.
 
‘That’s not what it was like at all,’ said Mojud, when he read the biography.
 
‘Saints must lead exciting lives,’ replied the biographer. ‘A story must teach something, and reality never teaches anything.’
 
Mojud gave up trying to argue with him. He knew that reality teaches a man everything he needs to know, but there was no point in trying to explain.
 
‘Let the fools live with their fantasies,’ he said to the fisherman.
 
And they continued to read, write and fish, to work in the joinery, to teach their disciples and to do good. They both promised, however, never to read any more lives of saints, because the people who write such books do not understand one very simple truth: everything that an ordinary man does in his life brings him closer to God.
 
(Inspired by a Sufi story.)

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Enjoying God’s gifts

By Paulo Coelho

I must enjoy all the gifts that God gives me today. These gifts cannot be saved up. There is no bank in which we can place the gifts we receive from God in order to use them when we wish. If I do not make use of these blessings, I will lose them for ever.
 
God knows that we are all artists of life. One day, he gives us a chisel to make a sculpture, the next, brushes and a canvas, another day, he gives us a pen to write with. But we cannot use a chisel to paint a canvas or a pen to make a sculpture. Each day has its own miracle. I must accept today’s blessings in order to create what I have; if I do this with detachment and without guilt, tomorrow I will receive more.

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Moses parts the waters

By Paulo Coelho

‘Sometimes people get so used to what they see in films that they end up forgetting the real story,’ says a friend, as we stand together looking out over Miami harbour. ‘Do you remember The Ten Commandments?’

Of course I do. At one point, Moses – Charlton Heston – lifts up his rod, the waters part and the children of Israel cross over.

‘In the Bible it’s different,’ says my friend. ‘There, God says to Moses: "Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward." And only afterwards does he tell Moses to lift up his rod, and then the Red Sea parts.

It is only courage on the path itself that makes the path appear.’

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Asking for alms

By Paulo Coelho

Part of the training of a Zen Buddhist monk is a practice known as takuhatsu – the begging pilgrimage. As well as helping the monasteries, which depend for their existence on donations, and teaching the student humility, this practice has another purpose too, that of purifying the town in which the monk lives.

This is because, according to Zen philosophy, the giver, the beggar and the alms money itself all form part of an important chain of equilibrium.

The person doing the begging does so because he is needy, but the person doing the giving also does so out of need.

The alms money serves as a link between these two needs, and the atmosphere in the town improves, since everyone is able to act in a way in which he or she needed to act.

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Judging my brother

By Paulo Coelho

One of the monks at Sceta committed a grave fault, and the wisest hermit was summoned to judge him.
 
The hermit refused, but when the other monks insisted, he answered their call. He arrived carrying on his back a bucket with a hole in it, out of which sand was spilling.
 
‘I came to judge my brother,’ said the hermit to the monastery superior. ‘My sins are spilling out behind me like the sand from this bucket, but since I don’t look back and don’t notice my own sins, I was summoned to judge my brother!’
 
The monks immediately gave up any idea of punishment.

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Work in the fields

By Paulo Coelho

A boy crossed the desert and finally arrived at the monastery of Sceta, near Alexandria. There he asked and was given permission to attend one of the abbot’s talks.

That afternoon, the abbot spoke of the importance of their work in the fields.

At the end of the talk, the boy said to one of the monks:

‘I was really shocked. I expected to hear an enlightened sermon on sin and virtue, but the abbot talked only about tomatoes and irrigation and things like that. Where I come from we all believe that God is mercy and that all we have to do is pray.’

The monk smiled and said:

‘Here we believe that God has done His part and now it is up to us to continue the process.’

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