‘At a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.” The Alchemist
Recently the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala, was interviewed by the New York Times and asked to name her favourite author. Her answer? Paulo Coelho. When asked the name of the last truly great book she had read, Malala said, ‘The Alchemist’. She went on to explain that she liked The Alchemist because ‘it is hopeful and inspiring. It tells the story of a boy who embarks on a journey to find a treasure, but as he goes along, he learns from every part of his journey and every person he meets. In the end, he finds his treasure in a very interesting place. His story tells you that you should believe in yourself and continue your journey.’
Paulo Coelho receives a lot of flak, despite, or perhaps because of, the popular success of his books. It’s fashionable to despise both the author and his writing, and an astonishing number of those who do, have not actually read any of his work. Perhaps it is because despite its beauty, Coelho’s writing is not always perceived as ‘literary’, in the sense that many of his stories are told in an allegorical manner. More likely it is because his work is defined as New Age, a term that has been used and misused so often it has become a cliché. Over time the spirit of scientific rationalism has permeated all of society and in the process has defined what is orthodox and what is heretical. Now it has become fashionable to sneer at what is immeasurable or illogical, to dismiss it as New Age, light weight, wacky. . . and in so doing we disregard its potential to provide us with another kind of knowledge. As Coelho wrote in The Alchemist, ‘When you possess great treasures within you, and try to tell others of them, seldom are you believed.’ Continue reading →
‘We are called upon to do something new, to confront a no man’s land, to push into a forest where there are no well-worn paths and from which no one has returned to guide us. This is what the existentialists call the anxiety of nothingness. To live into the future means to leap into the unknown, and this requires a degree of courage for which there is no immediate precedent and which few people realize.’
The Courage to Create is not a new book but it is most certainly an extraordinary one. It was first published in 1975 though some of the chapters were developed from lectures given up to twenty years earlier. Rollo May, who died in 1994, was an American existential psychotherapist and an author of a number of books, such as Man’s Search for Himself and The Cry for Myth. In the prologue to The Courage to Create, May mentions his initial reluctance to publish this collection of lectures because they felt to him, incomplete. When he finally agreed to publish them it was because he realized that ‘this ‘unfinished’ quality is ‘part of the creative process itself’.
In this far ranging exploration of creativity, May identifies courage as the most essential ingredient of the creative act. What is courage? he asks in the title chapter. He then goes on to explore what it is not in order to bring our focus towards what it might be. No, it is not the opposite of despair nor the absence of despair but rather ‘the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair’. Courage, he says, ‘requires centeredness within our own being’. It is not rashness or bravado and neither is it a virtue or a personal value, but rather it is ‘the foundation that underlies and gives reality to all other virtues and personal values.’ May goes on to explain that the ‘word courage comes from the same stem as the French word coeur, meaning heart’. Continue reading →
‘The worst realities of our age are manufactured realities. It is therefore our task, as creative participants in the universe, to redream our world. The fact of possessing imagination means that everything can be redreamed. Each reality can have its alternative possibilities. Human beings are blessed with the necessity of transformation.’
Collections of essays by authors are generally intriguing, providing an insight into the mind of the author, their perspective on the world and of course, their perspective on writing. A Way of Being Free by Booker prize winning novelist, Ben Okri is one of my favourites and one that I refer back to whenever I am in need of soul nourishment. It’s a collection of twelve essays, of which my favourites are ‘The Joys of Storytelling’, ‘The Human Race is Not Yet Free’ and ‘While the World Sleeps. Together, the essays explore inspiration, creativity, religion and the power of storytelling in a beautifully lyrical way.
‘Beware of the storytellers who are not fully conscious of the importance of their gifts, and who are irresponsible in the application of their art: they could unwittingly help along the psychic destruction of their people.’