Like the Flowing River: Thoughts and Reflections

BOOK: Like the Flowing River: Thoughts and Reflections
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Like the Flowing River: Thoughts and Reflections
 
Paulo Coelho

Translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa

Be like the flowing river,

Silent in the night.

Be not afraid of the dark.

If there are stars in the sky, reflect them back.

If there are clouds in the sky,

Remember, clouds, like the river, are water,

So, gladly reflect them too,

In your own tranquil depths.

Manuel Bandeira

Table of Contents

Cover Page

Title Page

Epigraph

Preface

A Day at the Mill

Prepared for Battle, But With a Few Doubts

The Way of the Bow

The Story of the Pencil

How to Climb Mountains

The Importance of a Degree

In a Bar in Tokyo

The Importance of Looking

Genghis Khan and His Falcon

Looking at Other People’s Gardens

Pandora’s Box

How One Thing Can Contain Everything

The Music Coming from the Chapel

The Devil’s Pool

The Solitary Piece of Coal

The Dead Man Wore Pyjamas

Manuel Is an Important and Necessary Man

Manuel Is a Free Man

Manuel Goes to Paradise

In Melbourne

The Pianist in the Shopping Mall

On My Way to the Chicago Book Fair

Of Poles and Rules

The Piece of Bread That Fell Wrong Side Up

Of Books and Libraries

Prague, 1981

For the Woman Who Is All Women

A Visitor Arrives from Morocco

My Funeral

Restoring the Web

These Are My Friends

How Do We Survive?

Marked Out to Die

The Moment of Dawn

A January Day in 2005

A Man L ying on the Ground

The Missing Brick

Raj Tells Me a Story

The Other Side of the Tower of Babel

Before a Lecture

On Elegance

Nhá Chica of Baependi

Rebuilding the House

The Prayer That I Forgot

Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro

Living Your Own Legend

The Man Who Followed His Dreams

The Importance of the Cat in Meditation

I Can’t Get In

Statutes for the New Millennium

Destroying and Rebuilding

The Warrior and Faith

In Miami Harbour

Acting on Impulse

Transitory Glory

Charity Under Threat

On Witches and Forgiveness

On Rhythm and the Road

Travelling Differently

A Fairy Tale

Brazil’s Greatest Writer

The Meeting That Did Not Take Place

The Smiling Couple (London, 1977)

The Second Chance

The Australian and the Newspaper Ad

The Tears of the Desert

Rome: Isabella Returns from Nepal

The Art of the Sword

In the Blue Mountains

The Taste of Success

The Tea Ceremony

The Cloud and the Sand Dune

Norma and the Good Things

Jordan, the Dead Sea, 21 June 2003

In San Diego Harbour, California

The Art of Withdrawal

In the Midst of War

The Soldier in the Forest

In a Town in Germany

Meeting in the Dentsu Gallery

Reflections on 11 September 2001

God’s Signs

Alone on the Road

The Funny Thing About Human Beings

An Around-the-World Trip After Death

Who Would Like This Twenty-Dollar Bill?

The Two Jewels

Self-Deception

The Art of Trying

The Dangers Besetting the Spiritual Search

My Father-in-law, Christiano Oiticica

Thank You, President Bush

The Intelligent Clerk

The Third Passion

The Catholic and the Muslim

Evil Wants Good to Prevail

The Law of Jante

The Old Lady in Copacabana

Remaining Open to Love

Believing in the Impossible

The Storm Approaches

Some Final Prayers

More about Paulo Coelho

 

Author Biography: Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho The Witch of Portobello

Heron Ryan, 44, journalist

 

Life is a journey

Feeling inspired?

Also by Paulo Coelho

Copyright

About the Publisher

Preface

W
hen I was fifteen, I said to my mother: ‘I’ve discovered my vocation. I want to be a writer.’

‘My dear,’ she replied sadly, ‘your father is an engineer. He’s a logical, reasonable man with a very clear vision of the world. Do you actually know what it means to be a writer?’

‘Being someone who writes books.’

‘Your Uncle Haroldo, who is a doctor, also writes books, and has even published some. If you study engineering, you can always write in your spare time.’

‘No, Mama. I want to be a writer, not an engineer who writes books.’

‘But have you ever met a writer? Have you ever seen a writer?’

‘Never. Only in photographs.’

‘So how can you possibly want to be a writer if you don’t really know what it means?’

In order to answer my mother’s question, I decided to do some research. This is what I learned about what being a writer meant in the early 1960s:

(a) A writer always wears glasses and never combs his hair. Half the time he feels angry about everything and the other half depressed. He spends most of his life in bars, arguing with other dishevelled, bespectacled writers. He says very ‘deep’ things. He always has amazing ideas for the plot of his next novel, and hates the one he has just published.

(b) A writer has a duty and an obligation never to be understood by his own generation; convinced, as he is, that he has been born into an age of mediocrity, he believes that being understood would mean losing his chance of ever being considered a genius. A writer revises and rewrites each sentence many times. The vocabulary of the average man is made up of 3,000 words; a real writer never uses any of these, because there are another 189,000 in the dictionary, and he is not the average man.

(c) Only other writers can understand what a writer is trying to say. Even so, he secretly hates all other writers, because they are always jockeying for the same vacancies left by the history of literature over the centuries. And so the writer and his peers compete for the prize of ‘most complicated book’: the one who wins will be the one who has succeeded in being the most difficult to read.

(d) A writer understands about things with alarming names, like semiotics, epistemology, neoconcretism. When he wants to shock someone, he says things like: ‘Einstein is a fool’, or ‘Tolstoy was the clown of the bourgeoisie.’ Everyone is scandalized, but they nevertheless go and tell other people that the theory of relativity is bunk, and that Tolstoy was a defender of the Russian aristocracy.

(e) When trying to seduce a woman, a writer says: ‘I’m a
writer’, and scribbles a poem on a napkin. It always works.

(f) Given his vast culture, a writer can always get work as a literary critic. In that role, he can show his generosity by writing about his friends’ books. Half of any such reviews are made up of quotations from foreign authors and the other half of analyses of sentences, always using expressions such as ‘the epistemological cut’, or ‘an integrated bi-dimensional vision of life’. Anyone reading the review will say: ‘What a cultivated person’, but he won’t buy the book because he’ll be afraid he might not know how to continue reading when the epistemological cut appears.

(g) When invited to say what he is reading at the moment, a writer always mentions a book no one has ever heard of.

(h) There is only one book that arouses the unanimous admiration of the writer and his peers:
Ulysses
by James Joyce. No writer will ever speak ill of this book, but when someone asks him what it’s about, he can’t quite explain, making one doubt that he has actually read it.

Armed with all this information, I went back to my mother and explained exactly what a writer was. She was somewhat surprised.

‘It would be easier to be an engineer,’ she said. ‘Besides, you don’t wear glasses.’

However, I did already have the untidy hair, a packet of Gauloises in my pocket, the script of a play under my arm (
The Limits of Resistance
, which, to my delight, a critic
described as ‘the maddest thing I’ve ever seen on stage’); I was also studying Hegel and was determined, somehow or other, to read
Ulysses.
Then a rock singer turned up and asked me to write words for his songs, and I withdrew from the search for immortality and set myself once more on the same path as ordinary people.

This path took me to many places and caused me to change countries more often than I changed shoes, as Bertolt Brecht used to say. The pages that follow contain accounts of some of my own experiences, stories other people have told me, and thoughts I’ve had while travelling down particular stretches of the river of my life.

These stories and articles have all been published in various newspapers around the world and have been collected together at the request of my readers.

 
A Day at the Mill

A
t the moment, my life is a symphony composed of three distinct movements: ‘a lot of people’, ‘a few people’, and ‘almost no one’. Each of them lasts about four months of the year; and although there is often a little of each during one particular month, they never get confused.

‘A lot of people’ is when I’m in touch with the public, with publishers and journalists. ‘A few people’ happens when I go back to Brazil, meet up with old friends, stroll along Copacabana beach, go to the occasional social event, but mostly stay at home.

What I want to do today, though, is to talk a little about the ‘almost no one’ movement. Right now, night has fallen on the two hundred inhabitants of this Pyrenean village, whose name I prefer to keep secret and where, a short while ago, I bought a converted mill. I wake every morning at cock-crow, have breakfast, and go out for a walk amongst the cows and the sheep and the fields of maize and hay. I look at the mountains and – unlike during the ‘a lot of people’ movement – I never think about who I am. I have no questions and no answers; I live entirely in the present moment, knowing that the year has four seasons
(yes, I know this may seem obvious, but we do sometimes forget), and I transform myself just as the countryside does around me.

At the moment, I’m not much interested in what’s going on in Iraq or in Afghanistan: like anyone else living in the country, the most important news is the weather forecast. Everyone who lives in the small village knows whether it’s going to rain, whether it will be cold or very windy, since this directly affects their lives, their plans, their harvests. I see a farmer working in his field. We wish each other ‘Good morning’, discuss the likely weather, and then go on with what we were doing – he with his ploughing, me with my long walk.

I come back, look in the letter-box, and there’s the local newspaper: a dance in the neighbouring village; a lecture in a bar in Tarbes – the nearest big city with its forty thousand inhabitants; last night, the fire brigade was called out because a litter bin was set on fire. The subject agitating the region at the moment is a group thought to be responsible for cutting down a line of plane trees along a country road because they blame the trees for the death of a motorcyclist. This news takes up a whole page, and there are several days’ worth of articles about the ‘secret cell’ that wants to avenge the boy’s death by destroying the trees.

I lie down by the stream that runs past the mill. I look up at the cloudless sky in this terrifying summer, during which the heatwave has killed five thousand in France alone. I get up and go and practise kyudo, a form of meditation through archery, and this takes up another hour of my day. It’s lunchtime now; I have a light meal and then,
in one of the other rooms in the old building, I suddenly notice a strange object, with a screen and a keyboard, connected – marvel of marvels – by a high-speed line, also known as a DSL. I know that the moment I press a button on that machine, the world will come to meet me.

I resist as long as I can, but the moment arrives, my finger presses the on-switch, and here I am again connected with the world: Brazilian newspapers, books, interviews to be given, news about Iraq, about Afghanistan, requests, a note that my plane ticket will arrive tomorrow, decisions to be postponed, decisions to be taken.

I work for several hours, because that is my choice, because that is my personal legend, because a warrior of light knows that he has duties and responsibilities. But during the ‘almost no one’ movement, everything on the computer screen seems very far away, just as this mill seems like a dream when I’m caught up in the other movements – ‘a lot of people’ and ‘a few people’.

The sun is setting. I switch the computer off again, and the world goes back to being the countryside, the smell of grass, the lowing of cattle, the voice of the shepherd bringing his sheep back to the pen beside the mill.

I ask myself how I can exist in two such different worlds in one day. I have no answer, but I know that it gives me a great deal of pleasure, and that I am happy while I write these lines.

BOOK: Like the Flowing River: Thoughts and Reflections
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