I’m a big fan of a little book by Paulo Coelho called the Alchemist. Many book snobs would like to say Paulo’s writing is simplistic, but I quite like his understated style and as with a good song, why complicate things with too many words!
Paulo believes we all have a personal calling, a special role to fulfil on the earthly plane. When we follow our personal ‘legend’ our actions are filled with enthusiasm for we are fighting the good fight.
But he also states that many forsake their dream. They accept the ordinary, the dull ache of not following their true calling. Later in life many look back with a sense of regret. The small flame of their dream still burns inside them, but they lacked the courage to believe their own inner calling.
When I recently re-acquainted myself with an ebook version of The Alchemist, I found an updated introduction where Paulo discusses the four obstacles that stop people following their dreams. I would like to discuss these four obstacles.
1) NOT BELIEVING OUR DREAM IS POSSIBLE
Have you ever asked a child what they want to do when they grow up? With beaming eyes they will state with conviction, “I want to be an astronaut”, “I want to be a doctor”, “I want to be a famous pop singer!”
As a young child, they still see the world as an expansive place, a universe open to their grandest dreams. As they grow older, parents, class and colour can crush their calling. We are told to take the ‘safe’ option, the option ‘within our means’!
2) LOVE — FEELING A DUTY TOWARDS OTHERS
Surprisingly, Love can sometimes hold us back from our dreams!
As children, our duty and respect towards our parents, can sometimes mean we accept their dreams for us, and forsake our own.
As life continues and most find a partner, the yoke tightens, with many forsaking their own inner desires to please their partners and/or devote their lives to their children. Of course for some, this may well be their dream, to raise a family. But for many, their may be a sense of regret, a sense of obligation.
Paulo believes love should never be a reason to abandon our dreams. And that by following our dreams, we are actually helping those around us. They share our joy and enthusiasm, they see the possibility to fulfil their own personal calling!
3) FEAR OF DEFEAT
If we do summon up the courage to follow our inner voice, it is often shadowed with the constant murmurings of hesitation, from both our own fears and those around us.
It is hard to follow a aspiration, when all those around you tell you it will fail. It can make every little stumble along the way seem more substantial than they really are.
Paulo states that following one’s calling will not remove one from challenges and difficulties. This is all part of the journey.
He says we have a choice, we can take up the good fight and live with enthusiasm, believing in our end goal.
Or we can accept the dull ache of letting our dream rot in our gut. Of waking late in life with a bitter feeling of having squandered our gifts. Not having the faith to try, to believe, to be happy, a shining light to others.
4) NOT FEELING DESERVING OF OUR DREAM
An interesting paradox can happen when one achieves their dream. Nagging doubts can undermine one’s happiness. ‘You don’t deserve this, you will always be poor, black, old, ugly, stupid!
We have all heard of the rockstar, actor, successful sportsperson, with the world at their doorstep, who seems to sabotage their success and good fortune with the nulling effects of drugs and alcohol!
They have made it in the eyes of the world, fame and fortune! But the nagging voice of failure still echoes in the chambers of their heart. They don’t feel worthy, surrounded by sniggering cowards, unwilling to fulfil their own noble vocation, whispering defeatist beliefs!
Paulo believes this is the most dangerous of obstacles, because society instils an almost virtuous belief that to renounce one’s own dreams is good for the sake of the group.
Einstein said the most important decision one will ever make is whether they believe they live in a friendly or a hostile universe! This determines our mindset, will the universe help us, or will it beat us down? Or is it really just our thoughts that manifest this reality?
A PERSONAL JOURNEY
I remember reading another book by Paulo Coelho, about his pilgrimage along the ancient Way of St James. I was fascinated by the myth and history of this mysterious path. Particularly the fact that many who did the camino experience a ‘spiritual awakening’.
I decided I too would walk the Camino, and document my journey in film. As a commitment to my new found purpose, I decided I would not cut my hair until I had completed the journey. Like pilgrims of old, who would burn their clothes at Finisterre, I decided I would not ‘rebirth’ and shed my locks, until I had reached ‘the ends of the earth’ by foot.
It is fascinating how things transpired. Everything seemed to fall into place. I ended a relationship, so had no feeling of duty to another. I got a short term well paying contract, which provided the funds. And there I was, overweight and with no physical preparation, on the French/Spanish border, not really knowing what the hell I hoped to achieve!
When I first tried talking to camera, I found it a daunting experience. I really didn’t know what I was doing and felt very self conscious. I had never spoken Spanish, so my attempts at naming towns and events along the way were utterly cringeworthy! But I battled on, through rain, mud and blisters, determined to reach Santiago.
I started to feel a sense of achievement. ‘Damn it, I was living my dream!’ I was producing my own documentary. Doing something I had wanted to do for the two years prior. With no funding, no support, and at the start…. no idea!
None of this mattered. I was there, I was doing it, and it so happened that the universe conspired to help me. I met healers, poets and sages. I met lovers, allies and scoundrels!
When you take that first step, your fears subside. You realise you can handle it. You realise you are on YOUR path, and you feel an amazing sense of expansion and joy. Your heart and soul sings the song of the universe
I remember the moment, the day, I became comfortable in front of the camera. It was on Cruz de Ferro, where I talked about the ritual of carrying stones up the mountain and placing them on a Cairn. And in this process, exorcising problems from one’s life.
The camera had become my confidante and I shared with it my thoughts, without fear of recrimination. The all knowing eye of the lens, like HAL in 2001:Space Odyssey. It didn’t judge me, it listened, and in the knowing silence, I found the answers I seeked on my pilgrimage, from deep within.
I have studied psychology, and this day reminded me of Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. The idea that we can reach the pinnacle of our potential and self actualise.
I felt a great sense of joy and contentment as I crossed the threshold of the highest point of the Mountain. Was I in the euphoria of a ‘peak experience?’ A state Maslow believed self actualising people can reach, whereby they feel at one with the universe! Was I living my personal calling, on the road to my full potential?
I dropped into a community where a following had formed around one individual and his vision of the knights of old, guardians of pilgrims. An attractive young women approached me and told me I was the most beautiful man she had ever seen. I found this unusual, but my mood was tranquil, so I just thanked her for her courage and honesty and continued on my merry way.
Any lowly thoughts of taking sexual advantage of this situation were far from my mind! No women has ever said such things to me before. What was it about that moment, how I looked, that made this women go out of her comfort zone and make such a bold and brave statement to a stranger?
And I think it was because I was buzzing with life. I was ALIVE! I was living with enthusiasm, a true sign I was following my personal calling.
I can’t really watch my camino film now. I find it embarrassing to see me baring my soul to camera. But what I find fascinating is the number of people who love the film. That my little journey to document my own search for spiritual meaning resonates with so many others.
THE TRAITS OF SELF-ACTUALISING INDIVIDUALS
Maslow studied the lives of those he believed to be self-actualised and found these individuals shared common traits:
*EFFICIENT PERCEPTION OF REALITY — Being able to cut through the bullshit!
*COMFORTABLE ACCEPTANCE OF SELF/OTHERS/NATURE — Accepting the short comings of the human condition
*SPONTANEITY — engaged in the moment, willing to change course.
*TASK CENTERING — Focused on tasks or problems outside of themselves
*AUTONOMY — resourceful and independent, free from a reliance on others
*CONTINUED FRESHNESS OF APPRECIATION — To keep the eyes of a child, an innocence of vision
*FELLOWSHIP WITH HUMANITY — Having a deep identification with others
*PROFOUND INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS — Having deep loving bonds
*COMFORT IN SOLITUDE — To value time alone and be comfortable with it
*NON HOSTILE SENSE OF HUMOUR — To be able to laugh at themselves, a playful humour that doesn’t aim to hurt others
*PEAK EXPERIENCES — Special moments where one feels ecstasy, harmony and deep meaning. At one with the universe; stronger, calmer.
To have seen esoteric literature, psychological theory and an ecstatic experience all meld into one on the road to Santiago was a memorable experience.
Do you follow your personal calling?
Do you have strategies to help you become self-actualising?
Tell me about your own experiences below?