Stories & Reflections
By Paulo Coelho
In 1986, I went for the first and only time on the pilgrimage known as the Way to Santiago, an experience I described in my first book. We had just finished walking up a small hill, a village appeared on the horizon, and it was then that my guide, whom I shall call Petrus (although that was not his name), said to me:
– Look around and let your eyes settle on some point; then concentrate on what I shall say.
I chose the cross of a church I could see in the distance. Petrus began:
– Man must never stop dreaming; dreams nourish the soul, just as food nourishes the body. Often in our existences, we see our dreams come undone and our desires frustrated, but we must continue to dream, otherwise our soul dies. Much blood has flowed on the field which lies before you, and some of the cruelest battles of the Reconquista were fought here. It does not matter who was right, or who had the truth: the important thing is that both sides were engaged in Good Combat.
“Good Combat is that which is fought because our heart demands it. In heroic times, the times of the wandering knights, that was easy, there was much land to conquer and much to be done. Nowadays, however, the world has changed , and Good Combat has been transported to the battlefields within ourselves.
“Good Combat is that which is fought in the name of our dreams. When they explode inside us with all their might – in youth – we have plenty of courage, but haven’t yet learned to fight.
“After much effort, we eventually learn to fight, and by then no longer have the same courage to enter combat. Because of this, we turn against and fight our own selves, and become our own worst enemy. We say our dreams were childish, difficult to carry out, or the fruit of our ignorance of life’s realities. We kill our dreams because we are afraid of engaging in Good Combat.
“The first symptom that we are killing our dreams is the lack of time. The busiest people I have met in my lifetime always had time for everything. Those who did nothing were always tired, couldn’t cope with the little work they had to do, and complained that the days were too short: in reality, they were scared to engage in Good Combat.
“The second symptom of the death of our dreams are our certainties. Because we do not wish to accept life as a great adventure to be lived, we start to see ourselves as wise, just and correct in the little we demand of our existence. We look beyond the battlements of our everyday lives, hear the sound of clashing lances, smell the sweat and gunpowder, the great falls and warriors’ thirsty glare of victory. But we never notice the joy, the immense Joy dwelling in the hearts of those who fight, because they do not care about victory nor defeat, the important thing is to engage in Good Combat.
“Finally, the third symptom of the death of our dreams is Peace. Life becomes a Sunday afternoon, with no great demands, certainly nothing greater than we are willing to give. And so we think we are mature, having left behind childish fantasies, and having achieved personal and professional success. But in truth, in our innermost heart, we know that what happened was that we renounced the fight for our dreams, ceased to engage in Good Combat.
“When we renounce our dreams and find peace, we encounter a short period of tranquility. But the dead dreams start to rot inside us, and infest every part of our lives.
“We start to become cruel to those around us, and in the end we turn this cruelty upon ourselves. Illnesses and psychoses emerge. That which we sought to avoid in combat – deception and defeat – becomes the only legacy of our cowardice. And one fine day, the dead, rotten dreams make the air difficult to breathe and we begin to long for death, which delivers us from our certainties, from our preoccupations, and from that terrible Sunday afternoon peace.”
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