Stories & Reflections
By Paulo Coelho
Of trees and towns
In the Mojave desert one often comes across the notorious ghost towns: constructed near gold mines, they were abandoned once all the gold had been extracted from the earth. They played their part and it made no sense to continue to inhabit them.
When we walk through a forest, we also see trees which – once they have played their part, fall down. But, unlike the ghost towns, what has happened? They have opened up space for light to penetrate, fertilize the soil, and their trunks are covered with new vegetation.
Our old age will depend on the way in which we live. We can end up like a ghost town. Or like a generous tree, which continues to be important, even after it has fallen to the ground.
The meaning of truth
In the name of truth, the human race has committed its worst crimes. Men and women were burned. The culture of whole civilizations destroyed. Those who sought a different path were marginalized.
One of them was crucified, in the name of truth. But – before dying – he left behind a great definition of Truth.
It is not that which gives us certainties.
It is not that which gives us profundity.
It is not that which makes us do better than others.
It is not that which keeps us in the prison of prejudices.
Truth is that which gives us freedom. “Know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” said Jesus.
About the rhythm and the Road
– There was something missing in your lecture about the Road to Santiago – a pilgrim told me as soon as we left the House of Galicia in Madrid, where I had just attended conference.
There was much missing, since my intention had merely been to share some of my experiences. Nevertheless, I invited her for a coffee, curious to learn what she considered an important omission.
And Begoña – that was her name – told me:
– I have noticed that the majority of pilgrims, whether on the Road to Santiago, or on the paths of life, always try to follow the rhythms of others.
“At the beginning of my pilgrimage, I tried to stay with my group. It was tiring and demanded of my body more than I could give, I was always tense, and in the end had trouble with a tendon in my left foot. Unable to walk for two days, I understood that I would only reach Santiago if I obeyed my own personal rhythm.
“I took longer than the others, and had to walk alone for long stretches, but it was only by respecting my own rhythm that I managed to complete the journey. Since then I have applied this to everything I must do in life: to respect my own tempo.”
All turns to dust
The feasts in Valíªncia, Spain, have a curious ritual whose origins lie in the ancient community of carpenters.
During the entire year, craftsmen and artists construct giant sculptures in wood. On the week of the feast, they take these sculptures to the main square. People pass, comment, marvel and are moved by such creativity. Then, on St. Joseph’s day all these works of art – except one – are burned on a giant bonfire, watched by thousands of onlookers.
– Why so much work for nothing? – asked an Englishwoman beside me, as flames licked the sky.
– You too will come to an end one day – replied a Spanish woman. – Can you imagine if, at that moment, an angel asked God: “why so much work for nothing?”
Begging for alms
Part of the training to become a Zen Buddhist monk consists of a practice known as takuhatsu – a pilgrimage to beg. As well as helping the monasteries which live off donations and forcing the disciple to be humble, this practice has another meaning: to purify the town he lives in.
This is because – according to Zen philosophy – the giver, the beggar and the alms themselves are part of an important chain of equilibrium.
He who begs does so because he is in need; but he who gives, acts in this way because he too is in need.
The alms serve as a link between these two necessities, and the town’s environment improves, since all were able to carry out actions which needed to take place.
Acting on impulse
Father Zeca, of the Church of Resurrection in Copacabana, tells that he was once in a bus, when suddenly he heard a voice telling him he must stand and preach the word of Christ there and then.
Zeca began talking to the voice: “I will look ridiculous, this is no place for a sermon”, he said. But something inside him insisted he must speak: “I am shy, please don’t ask this of me,” he implored.
The inner impulse persisted.
Then he remembered his vow – to give himself up to Christ’s will. He stood – terribly ashamed – and began speaking about the gospels. Everyone listened in silence. He looked at each of the passengers, and only one or two turned away. He said everything he felt, finished his sermon, and sat down again.
To this day he does not know what task he was fulfilling that day. But he is absolutely certain he was fulfilling a task.
I must live my favors
I must live all the favors God has given me today. A favor cannot be saved. There is no bank where one can deposit favors received, to be used in accordance with our will. If I do not make the most of these blessings, I shall lose them forever.
God knows that we are artists of life. One day he gives us a chisel for sculptures, another brushes and canvas, another a quill to write with. But we will never succeed in using chisels on canvas, or quills on sculptures. Each day has its own miracle. I must accept the blessings of today, to create that which is mine; if I do this with objectivity and without guilt, tomorrow I shall receive more.
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