My Favorite Quotes From “Aleph” By Paulo Coelho

I enjoy reading Paulo Coelho’s novels.  They are always inspirational.  Or simply put – food for the soul.  To be frank, I enjoy reading some of his earlier works better than his recent ones.  Hence my expectation for “Aleph” was not that high.  This book surprises me on several fronts.  First, it is quite a page turner, which is not usually the case of Paulo Coelho’s books.  Second, it seems genuine, pouring out from author’s personal experience.  After some research (and to my horror as you will find out in just a bit), while “Aleph” may not have accounted for all that has happened, what is written is 100% bibliography based on a true story.  Hence, depending on your moral compass, it could be inspirational for some, troubling for others.

The center theme of “Aleph” can easily be related by many.  Routines wear us down.  Great losses in life too may dip us into an emotional abyss.  We may find faith and then lose it along the way.  Or regrets in our past and worries in our future too can weigh us down.  How then can we get out of this?  A pilgrimage, as suggested by the author, may have the answer we need.

In “Aleph”, the 59 years old Paulo Coelho has taken a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway to meet his readers across Russia.  During his journey, a 21 years old Turkish girl Hilal has insisted to travel with Paulo and his team of editor, distributor, and translator.  Coelho (who is married) and Hilal became physically, emotionally, and spiritually close that even with my rather liberate mindset, I was finding it a bit uncomfortable to read.  But it is what it is.  Two people performed rituals together in an intimate setting.  And if you buy into the concept of reincarnation, that two lifetimes ago, Coelho and Hilal were lovers, that past and present are one, I suppose it is OK to be that close.  A bit confusing if you are an outsider.  But say for a moment that reincarnation does exist and we do happen to meet with the same people through time and space, perhaps what Coelho and Hilal have done is beautiful.  It is certainly romantic to read.  I love you like a river, said him to her.  That is probably the most artistic thing a married man can say to his admirer (and lover from another lifetime).

There are quite a few quotes that are memorable, that I can relate and would like to share with you.

1. It’s what you do in the present that will redeem the past and thereby change the future.

2. When faced by any loss, there’s no point in trying to recover what has been, it’s best to take advantage of the large space that opens up before us and fill it with something new.

3. People never leave, we are always here in our past and future lives.

I think the first quote is self-explanatory.  What we do at present matters the most.  The next two are to help us coping with losses.

4. Although sometimes, we need to be strangers to ourselves.  Then the hidden light in our soul will illuminate what we need to see.

What it means, I suppose, is that in order to rediscover ourselves, we need to look pass what has become so familiar.  Examine our lives in the eyes of a stranger in a detached manner.

5. Now each morning, when your mind is still empty, devote a little time to the Divine … Inhale deeply and ask for all the blessings in the air to enter your body and fill every cell.  Then exhale slowly, projecting happiness and peace around you.  Repeat this ten times.  You’ll be helping to heal yourself and contributing to healing the world as well.

I have not tried the above method.  It may work out better than screaming out loud into the mirror every morning and say: This is going to be a great day!

6. Walking is doing wonders for body and soul.  I’m completely focused on the present moment, for that is where all signs, parallel worlds and miracles are to be found.  Time really doesn’t exist.

When I was young, I used to walk a lot, in great distance.  My mother used to call me Walkman.  I agree with Paulo that walking does wonders for our bodies and souls.  Ideas do hit me.  But I have yet to encounter lovers from my past incarnations that way.

7. Don’t be intimidated by other people’s opinions.  Only mediocrity is sure of itself, so take risks and do what you really want to do.

8. Anyone who knows God cannot describe Him. Anyone who can describe God does not know Him.

Both quotes are again self-explanatory.  But it does take some time to fully internalize.

9. Love is beyond time, or, rather, love is both time and space, but all focused on one single constantly evolving point – the Aleph.

That, is the Aleph.  You may need to read the book in order to understand what he says.

10. We can never wound the soul, just as we can never wound God, but we become imprisoned by our memories, and that makes our lives wretched, even when we have everything we need in order to be happy.

On face level, this quote can be useful to most.  But after reading the book, I think that the author may refer to memories of our past lives.  I am not ready to believe in reincarnation (as yet).  Having said that, we should be reminded that we have everything we need to be happy.  And those things are within our reach.

11. Is it possible to deviate from the path God has made?  Yes, but it’s always a mistake.  Is it possible to avoid pain?  Yes, but you’ll never learn anything.  Is it possible to know something without ever having experienced it?  Yes, but it will never truly be part of you.

This is probably one of my favorite quotes.  We shall always seek to experience, accept the pain as it comes, and follow God’s will.

Last but not the least, there is one quote to share.  I agree wholeheartedly.

12. Like the children we will never ever cease to be.

The Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coelho – A Dark Piece Of Work That Inspires, Not Entertains

Paulo Coelho's New Novel

I have read almost all of Paulo Coelho‘s English translated novels (except “Like the Flowing River”).  “Winner”, to me, is by far his darkest piece of work.  Still inspirational, like all his previous works.  But it delivers blow after blow to the readers and make us think: What have we been doing to our lives?

The story centers around a Russian millionaire who believes in killing is acceptable if for a good course, his ex-wife, and her current husband who is a fashion magnate.  Upfront, at the preface, Paulo Coelho has already warned the readers that “this is not a thriller, but a stark portrait of where we are now.”  To read “Winner” as a thriller is certainly not the right way.  This novel – more so than others – has a concocted tone of sharing facts and insights mixed with his personal opinions (which can at times be eye-opening), long dialogues from one character or multiple characters that sound like coming from the same person (which is least of my favorite although they can be inspirational), parables and inspirational quotes (which I love), and story development.  I admit that at times, the tone is not as cohesive as I wish to be.  However, if indeed not reading “Winner” as a thriller, there are tons of inspirational messages and truth to chew onto.

Paulo Coelho, in his new book, shares details of the fashion and filming industries and the associated celebrity businesses.  Some are rather repulsive to read, especially when he illustrates how much we are into vanity these days.  Such as “A diamond is the supreme manifestation of human vanity” accompanied with pages of write-up on the diamond industry – from the violence it causes to a piece of jewelery we wear.  Most observations are not new to us.  Just that we don’t often articulate them that way.  Like film scripts to him are mostly man loves woman, man loses woman, and man gets woman back.  If the script is anything but, make sure there is enough violence or special effect to make up for it.  And his list of 46 random items on what ‘being normal’ means also got me thinking on how we accept the our environment or behavior as normal, in which if you think deeper, you may question why.  Such as criticizing anyone who tries to be different, swearing in heavy traffic, or studying at an university for years only finds that you’re unemployable at the end of it, and more.

These are just warm up items.  There are harder messages he delivers.  In the old days, we make pilgrimages to be close to something spiritual that is unattainable and mysterious that can bring blessings.   These days, people visit pop concerts more than religious meetings and we worship celebrities in different ways.  He also talks about the celebrity syndrome some may have – abandoning what we believe in for fame, ego, and money.  We are suffocated by lies, encouraged to put our faith in science instead of spiritual values, and we feed our souls with what society tells us are important.  As a result, we are unable to give up all these for true happiness – that is family, nature, and love.

You really could feel a bit depressed by self-reflecting on what he says.  Fortunately, there are interesting observations he shares as well as what we could do better.  For example, the author mentioned that there are four forces that guide us to purify our souls: love, death, power, and time.  In short, we must love because we are loved by God while conscious of death, struggle to grow but not trapped by the power gained.   And our soul is bounded by the web of time with all opportunities as well as limitations.  On our current environmental crisis, he highlights that we are not saving the planet, but rather, saving ourselves from not being destroyed by the planet.  Because the planet is stronger than us.  He also raises my doubt on our “fittest survives” mentality in our day-to-day life when we, human beings, need care and protection especially from young as compared to other species (and hence, I gather, we shall continue to do so in our daily life).

The author also touches onto the topic of workaholic that I enjoy reading as I am a firm believer of the need of work life balance.  First he says all workaholics think they are happy doing what they are doing.  And it is not something society wants to fix because it helps human progression in the expense of the obvious.  Total power – as you advance in career – means total slavery.  You find it harder to let go as you gain power and you can’t even do the simple things in life.  To combat it, use work as a source of happiness but not compulsion.  I guess what he says (and what I practice) is by all means, be happy with work but know when to let go and enjoy the simple things in life.  Seek for true happiness in family, nature, and love – something work does not provide you with.

There is one parable that I very much enjoy reading, got me into thinking.  This is what I have internalized: One day a sea gull saw a mouse on the ground.  Not able to communicate as they spoke in different languages, the sea gull took pity on the creature that has lost its wings.  So the sea gull took the mouse onto its back, took flight to the sky thinking that the mouse must have been missing what it was like flying in the air.  The mouse had a time of its life and when it was brought back to the ground, as it saw the sea gull took off and disappeared, the mouse began to feel sad, not to be able to experienced that form of freedom again.  As days went by, the mouse looked into this miracle thinking that it was just a dream instead.

I think, we often fail to acknowledge the little miracles in life.  I can relate to that parable.

To round up this book summary without giving out the plot, there is one constant theme that appears as I read the book.  It is the voice of the Devil.  In our daily lives, we have encountered many decision points.  And at each juncture, there is a little voice in our head to help us decide.  Is that the voice of the Angel?  Or indeed the voice of the Devil that conditions us in believing that all that we do is for the better even if it comes with a price, knowing something is wrong but yet we create justifications, and failing to see through the obvious or normalcy when everyone is doing it.

You won’t like it when you read “The Winner Stands Alone”.  But you will certainly benefit from it and may become or wanting to become a better person.  That’s what an inspiration book, not a thriller, is for – for “Winner” does not entertain.  Be warned.

PS. Finished this book on a plane heading to Barcelona.

Paulo Coelho – Brida – Witchcraft, Bridging the Visible and the Invisible

OK.  Seldom do I need to finish reading a book, write a review, and return it to the library before midnight.  This is going to be an interesting experience.  Usually after I arrive at the last page of a book, I would revisit all the pages I noted that are pivoting to the development of the story for completeness’s sake.  Speed blogging at its best without compromise!

It is interesting that only in year 2008 the English translation of “Brida” is published.  The original version (written in Portuguese I presume) was published in 1990 sandwiched between Paulo Coelho’s two classics “The Alchemist” (1988) and “The Valkyries” (1991).  “Brida” lacks the inspirational impact these two classics have and it also lacks an engaging storyline as compares to some of his recent works, in my opinion.

His recent work “The Witch Of Portobello” (2006) paints the journey of the witch Athena loosely based upon Jung’s four stages of individual progression: Persona, Shadow, Soul, and Wise Old Man or Great Mother.  As for “Brida”, the author takes a deeper look into witchcraft – the four ways a woman can communicate with the Universe through reincarnation: the virgin, the saint, the martyr, and the witch.

To bridge the visible and the invisible is magic.  And how do some manage to get there?  According to the book, there are two traditions: the Sun (for wizards) and the Moon (for witches).  Strange concept, isn’t it?  There are more to it.  Paulo Coelho links the nine gifts that these two traditions took care with St. Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians.  For those who are familiar with the Bible, these nine gifts should not be foreign to you: the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, healing, the working of miracles, prophecy, the discerning of the spirits, speaking in tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.

The book has some strange linkages to the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and the Catholics.  You may know that at one point in time, witches were burned by the Christians.  In fact, the rituals – described by the author in a separate warning note as the practices of the Tradition of the Moon for centuries – are somewhat related to the hardship that the witchcraft has lived through.  From within the story, Catharism (a Christian religious sect with dualistic and gnostic elements) is mentioned and because there is a linkage to historical events, it makes me wonder how much is factual.  Perhaps, some people do able to alter their state of consciousness and observe auras.  Looking at today’s world, there are people who claim to be able to do that.  There are even machines that can take pictures of our auras.

Bizarre surreal tradition of witchcraft and to some extend wizardry aside, “Brida” is loaded with fragmented inspirational messages.  Check this out.  How many of are you (like me) constantly trying to find a right path in life – be it as love, career, or anything in general?  Sometimes we set off down a path because we don’t believe in it.  And it is so easy to prove that it isn’t the right one.  But when things start to happen and the path does reveal itself to us, what do we do?  We become afraid of carrying on.  So true.  And why do we experience disappointment, defeat, and despair at times?  Well, according to the author, they are the tools God uses to show us the way and to encourage us to have the courage to make mistakes, to risk failure and disillusion, and basically prompting us to keep searching, keep looking.

Some of the concepts – though are not new to me – do make me stop and think.  If I want to find out about something, what shall I do?  Plunge straight in!  I know it is so obvious but more often than not, I avoid taking the plunge and instead, procrastinate just for another day, and another.  How about doubts that I have, doubts that get constantly generated off my head?  Maybe I doubt if I am good enough to do this or that.  Maybe I doubt if this or that will happen.  According to the author, the moment we stop doubting is the moment we stop moving forward.  And I often think that – in contrary to the book – changing on the outside is easier than changing on the inside.  Come to think of it, I don’t think the way I am perceived externally have changed much over the years (still the shirt and tie at work and blue jeans after all).  But I have changed the way I perceive the world and the people around me from within much over the same period.  My favorite message?  Finding one important thing in life doesn’t mean that I have to give up all the other important things.

So true.

Go back to “Brida”, the book has devoted much of its content in the sexual union between a man and a woman.  In its own words, “when male knowledge joins with female transformation, then the real magical union is created, and its name is Wisdom”.  For the conservative minds, the idea of experiencing communion with God by opening all the five senses during sexual union could be hard to accept.  To that end, instead of hearing my interpretation, here is an excerpt.

“Because anyone who comes into contact with sex knows that they’re dealing with something which only happens in all its intensity when they lose control.  When we’re in bed with someone, we’re giving permission to that person not only to commune with our body, but with our whole being.  The pure forces of life are in communication with each other, independently of us, and then we cannot hide who we are.” – Paulo Coelho, Brida, 128.

So, is “Brida” a must-read?  I think if you are new to Paulo Coelho, you may wish to start with some of his other classics.  For the fans, I guess we just have to read it right?  I am not sure why Cynthia loves “Brida” better than “The Witch Of Portobello” …

Wait, “Brida” is also a book about a love so strong but yet cannot be possessed.  Could it be …

To end this entry, let me share with you two memorable quotes from the book.

Nothing in the world is ever completely wrong … even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

And by an English poet William Blake.

What is now proved was once only imagin’d.

PS. I made it before midnight!  Time now is 11.20pm and I am heading to the library to return the book.

The Witch Of Portobello – It’s Still A Paulo Coelho Fiction

If you are new to Paulo Coelho – a Brazilian writer who has sold more than 85 millions books worldwide in 63 languages – I would certainly recommend “The Alchemist” and the trilogy “By the River Piedra I sat Down and Wept”, “Veronika Decides to Die”, and “The Devil and Miss Prym”. I think those are classic especially “The Alchemist”. The trilogy has a similar theme and is the most emotional piece of work involving the love of two people. There after, I would recommend “The Valkyries” – yet another classic that reminds me of “The Alchemist” – and “Eleven Minutes”, one of his best selling novels. If you are a Christian or you are open to an old story from the Bible, “The Fifth Mountain” is a great read. In there, Paulo Coelho has brought the story of Elijah alive. There are other works by Paulo Coelho that I have also read but I am not going to list them here for now.

“The Witch Of Portobello” is an interesting piece of work. Right from the beginning of the story, the protagonist Athena who was adopted by the wealthy Lebanese Christians and later migrated to the Western world was dead. And the remaining story attempts to reconstruct Athena’s life through the stories told by the people around her. This includes Athena’s mother, her teacher, her student, a journalist who was obsessed with Athena and researching on the topic of Vampirism (as an afterthought, I think this journalist is Paulo Coelho himself as he did write a less famous book called “Practical Manual of Vampirism”), and more. It is interesting because when you stitch up the versions of the story from different people, you see different facets of that subject. However, if you trim away all the emotional elements, the core of the story remains unchanged: it is an account of Athena’s journey into learning the various aspects of life, finally saw her special ability manifest, and how she surrendered herself to the Goddess and became a controversial spiritual leader in London. And of course, from the storytelling point of view, the question remains: how did Athena die?

The entire journey of Athena, in my opinion, is loosely based upon Jung’s four stages of individual progression: Persona, Shadow, Soul, and Wise Old Man or Great Mother (note: this is mentioned in the book from the perspective of a historian). Persona is the mask we use everyday, a self-centered view of the world around us. There comes the Shadow stage when we attempt to free ourselves from our Persona and start to look inwards. We may realize our weaknesses, our dark side, and some of us may regress back to the Persona stage. After realizing what we are lack of, we are open to the knowledge around us – the Soul stage. We improve ourselves despite the fact that we may not be unaccustomed to what we learn. Some of us may be able to channel all these knowledge into a solid center and become the Wise Old Men or Great Mothers – saints, tamers of spirit, or prophets. This four stages of individual progression is what Athena’s journey about.

I do enjoy reading “The Witch Of Portobello” and I read from his blog sites that many readers find the book inspiring and life-changing. As shown in the quote below, Paulo Coelho does not teach us directly via his books and he learns from his students (by the way, one of the popular theme of his books is to explore the feminine side of divinity). You can check out his “The Experiment Witch” project. I still recommend you all to read “The Witch Of Portobello”, perhaps after you have read some of his greater books if you have not already done so.

The witch of portobello knows all. But the best way of knowing the meaning of life is by learning from one’s student. A teacher can only make us aware of our capabilities but finding the right path is up to the student. There are many ways to achieve happiness by being close to the Mother.

Related Site: Paulo Coelho’s Blog Site