“There is only one way to learn,” the alchemist answered. “It’s through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey. You need to learn only one thing more.”
The boy wanted to know what that was, but the alchemist was searching the horizon, looking for the falcon.
“Why are you called the alchemist?”
“Because that’s what I am.”
“And what went wrong when other alchemists tried to make gold and were unable to do so?”
“They were looking only for gold,” his companion answered. “They were seeking the
treasure of their destiny, without wanting actually to live out the destiny.”
from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Humans are naturally drawn to stories. Before Science came into the picture, the way we understand the world is through stories, such as creation myths to explain how the world comes about. We even pass on values through stories, such as Aesop’s Fables. I suspect the world’s greatest religions will not have such reach if the stories of the founders themselves were not as gripping. (The life of Jesus is often said to be the greatest story ever told).
And the world’s most beloved stories – fiction or otherwise – aren’t just simple moral fables, but tales of epic human struggle against tremendous odds, and the best can be said to contain the entire of humanity’s existence and purpose in this world. I believe we are drawn to such stories because they all point towards a yearning to taste, like those protagonists in the epics, the very meaning of what it means to live. We all may claim to want stability and peaceful lives, but each and everyone of us want challenges. Our souls cannot grow without being tested. Our souls cannot grow without suffering.
Even though we all seek happiness, because we are all unique, happiness – or the fulfilment of the soul – will naturally mean a different thing to each one of us. And that meaning is often contained in the goals and ambitions we have. Nowadays many self-help books teach people to set clear goals and ambitions for themselves – “I want to be a millionaire by the age of 30″ or ‘I want to visit every country on Earth at least once in my life”. The authors of these books ask the reader to envision themselves five years from now. Or where do they see themselves at the end of their lives. And then work towards that vision.
While I certain do see the benefits of having a focussed mind, I think these books have missed the point about what the soul wants. It doesn’t just want the happy ending. More than the happy ending perhaps, is the story – the pages in between “Once upon a time” and “The End” that the soul craves for. And happy endings aren’t always guaranteed – at least not how we think it should be. Throughout the centuries, the people we celebrate don’t always succeed at the end, but we celebrate them nonetheless, because of the stories their lives tell, the happy ending being that their spirit never die even though they themselves may have perished in their quest.
Simply put, our souls want to live their stories. And they have very different standards from what we think are important. The soul’s definition of victory isn’t measured in worldly terms, but whether its yearnings have been fulfilled.
And we all have different stories we want to tell of ourselves. Not everyone wants to save the world, fight for a good cause, be materially successful, or be known for their talents. Nor do people want physically leave the comforts of our homes – and Rumi’s quote is meant to be taken metaphorically anyway. An old couple may never have journeyed beyond the boundaries of their hometown, but the story of their enduring love for each other, how they saw each other through poverty and life-threatening illness for example, would have transversed the same emotional landscape that Odysseus walked (or sailed) through on his epic journey home. But the fact that such a story exists is because they made a point to make it their story that they are proud to share with others.
Because at the end of the day, we all want our lives to count for something. And to achieve that, they have to be filled with stories. Our stories.
So rather that asking yourself, “What do I want to be?”, perhaps it makes better sense to ask,”What’s my story?” And then start writing it… with your actions.