Paulo Coelho

Stories & Reflections

Twenty years later: On the banks of Lake Baikal II

Author: Paulo Coelho

It’s five o’clock in the afternoon and I am watching the water flowing past. I follow the little stream until it runs into one of the prettiest places on earth: Lake Baikal in Siberia. “A river never passes the same place twice,” says the philosopher. “Life is like a river,” says another philosopher, which leads us to the conclusion that this is the closest metaphor to the meaning of life.

But today I have just discovered something different: there is a river inside the river, one that shows the path to follow, the soul of the waters beside me in this small village where we can still see a well where the inhabitants come to fetch water. How long has it been since I last saw a real well, one that gives a whole village water to drink?

I contemplate the river again, try to be like it, and see the lessons that it is teaching me now:

A] We are always experiencing the first time. While we pass from our source (birth) to our destination (death), the landscapes will always be new to us. We must face all these novelties with joy rather than fear – because it is useless to fear what cannot be avoided. A river never stops flowing.

B] In a valley we walk more slowly. When everything around us becomes easier, the waters are calm; we grow broader, more expansive, more generous.

C] Our banks are always fertile. Vegetation only grows where there is water. Whoever comes into contact with us needs to understand that we are here to give those who are thirsty something to drink.

D] Stones have to be avoided. Of course, water is stronger than granite, but that requires a lot of time. It is no use letting yourself be dominated by stronger obstacles, or trying to fight them – that is just a waste of energy. The best thing is to understand where the exit lies, and move in that direction.

E] Depressions call for patience. All of a sudden the river runs into a kind of hole and stops flowing as joyfully as before. At such moments the only way out is to rely on the help of time. When the right moment arrives, the depression fills up and the water can move ahead. Instead of an ugly, lifeless hole, now there is a lake that others can look on with happiness.

F] We are unique. We are born in a place that was meant for us and that will always keep us supplied with enough water so that when faced with depressions we may have the necessary patience or strength to move forward. We start our course in a gentle, fragile way, when even a simple leaf can stop our progress. However, as we respect the mystery of the source that generated us and trust in its eternal wisdom, little by little we gain all that is needed to follow our path.

G] Although we are unique, soon we shall be many. As we travel on, the waters from other sources join us, because that is the best path to follow. So we are no longer just one, but many – and there comes a moment when we feel lost. Nevertheless, as the Bible says, “all the rivers flow to the sea”. It is impossible to remain in our solitude, however romantic that may seem. When we accept the inevitable encounter with other sources, we end up understanding that this makes us far stronger and we get round obstacles or fill in depressions much more easily and in far less time.

H] We are a means of transportation. Of leaves, boats, ideas. May our waters be ever generous, may we always carry forward all the things or persons that need our help.

I] We are a source of inspiration. And so, let us leave the final words to the Brazilian poet Manuel Bandeira:

“Be like a river that flows
Silent in the middle of the night
Not fearing the dark of the night,
Reflecting any star that is in the sky.
And if the sky fills with clouds,
Clouds are water, like the river, so
Reflect them too with no regret In the silent depth.”


The next text (and last one for this pilgrimage) will be posted on the 10th of June.

P.S: Dear reader,

During this journey, that is filling my soul with very interesting experiences, one of the most magical moments comes every night when I read the comments posted on this blog. Even though I can’t answer all of you, I want you to know that it’s very important to me to know that I’m not alone on this path. Thank you so much for your support and for the words and ideas that are now engraved on my heart.

Paulo Coelho

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