Dr. Stacee’s Review of ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho

Pocket

The AlchemistThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A hero’s journey for our time, this book resonates as the ultimate coming of age story. It held me spellbound and because I couldn’t put it down, I actually elected to read it while running on the treadmill instead of going with an easily digestible episode of Dr. Who or a Mexican soap opera.

That’s commitment for me. Treadmill reading isn’t easy.

Even the book’s publication story is compelling: In its first launch, it was not a commercial success. The author’s commitment to the book and his conviction that this is truly something that readers want and need was part of what attracted me to it; for this is the living spirit of the hero in his book.

The story is of Santiago, a sheepherder boy who notes the herd/follower mentality of his sheep; which is a worthwhile allegory for a human experience in its pre-awakened state. He realizes one day of his sheep, “They trust me, and they’ve forgotten how to rely on their own instincts….” This is Santiago’s burgeoning awareness that there’s something to which he’s instinctually being called to do.

Following a dream of buried treasure in Egypt, Santiago experiences a journey of transformation as he encounters people whose lives we see all around us: the sage Melchizedek whose message Santiago almost misses in becoming too irritated to listen, the shopkeeper who has a dream of going to Mecca that he’ll never fulfill (the person who doesn’t take risks to break free), the Englishman who’s become so invested in pursuing the intellectual qualities of spiritual alchemy that he misses the opportunity to truly transform (the academic who lacks real wisdom).

Santiago experiences plenty of hard knocks. Rather than turning around and going home, which many would do, or going down a road of self-pity and convincing himself that this is all there is for his story, Santiago chooses to learn from the experiences: “…he realized that he had to choose between thinking of himself as a the poor victim…and an adventurer.”

Santiago’s is the story for all of us in our choosing of perception, our commitment to a path that we know is right even if people around us don’t understand it or say it’s wrong.

The book’s theme: “…when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” becomes Santiago’s living experience as he undertakes the journey. He does so humbly, learning through the experiences and slowly undergoing an alchemy of the soul.

This book did it for me.

View all my reviews

Our Relationship with March? It’s…Complicated

Pocket

That reaction we have that’s deeply personal, offended, angry at the weather? In our irrational networks of emotions, we’re reliving every single instant of betrayal we’ve faced in life. Memory networks just know how betrayal feels. In the moment when we’re experiencing it, the weather feels somehow personal.

Pocket

March, for much of the U.S. that isn’t Hawaii or South Florida, is a season of dramatic changes. It’s the roller coaster ride between balmy early spring and deep winter cold snaps. In many ways, the dramatic shifts are the story of human emotion. One moment we’re feeling good…make that great! Our disposition is as sunny as that early spring day that requires only a light jacket. Suddenly, the clouds appear. Our mental picture darkens. We’re back in our internal state of darkness and rain, possibly even feeling icy.

The ultimate trickster, March is the Loki of seasons, lulling us into feeling safe and confident that spring is here, then betraying us. We all know about betrayal, whether it was a boss who gave a rosy outlook about our job’s future and then laid us off the next month, a love interest who left us, a friend or sibling who shared a secret of ours. Some of us have deep rooted stories of betrayal that began in childhood and that continue to disrupt our lives today.

How We Recognize Betrayal

Rationally, we understand that Arctic disturbances don’t equate with the anguish and devastation to our lives that interpersonal betrayal represent. We humans don’t always exist in rational spaces though, do we?

We’re not completely rational because it’s not our makeup and we wouldn’t want it to be. We’re designed to experience feelings and memories. Only…in this case, it’s our memories of an emotional reaction getting triggered by something that’s unrelated. We rationally understand that the weather isn’t truly betraying us; but our memories of betrayal are triggered in the moment, causing momentary anguish.

Our brains evolved to make associations, and emotions guide us to respond accordingly. Remember that whole fight or flight thing folks learned about in Psychology 101 or for from know-it-all sister who took the course? That’s what this is.

If I love you, my mental picture of you comes with a lot of warm fuzzy feelings that can remind me of other warm fuzzy feelings which I associate with safety, tenderness, and a sense of freedom. If I then read a poem, or see a beautiful vista on a hike, or witness my neighbor’s tabby affectionately grooming the other cat (they don’t do this because those cats hate each other; but work with me, here), it may make me think of you. You represent an expression of my love, and I therefore associate other loving things with you. If I’m really attuned, I might call you and tell you how the poem, hike, or kitty love made me think of you.

Betrayal works in the same way.

Each time we’re betrayed, we feel it deeply. It shakes our trust in not only betrayers, but in situations that resemble those in which we were betrayed previously. If you were betrayed in a prior relationship, you probably entered your current one with more caution. Alternatively, you may avoid relationships all together due to past experiences of betrayal that result in present day fear of being betrayed again.

Why We Take March Personally

With its fickle patterns and untrustworthy ways, March is the ultimate betrayer. We develop a lot of reactive emotions to stories like these:

Texas gardener Janice was delighted to see her redbud trees and mountain laurels explode into color. She’d done everything right to protect her trees through the winter and had waited patiently for the reward of spring. That grape soda fragrance of mountain laurel trees was intoxicating, and she smiled as she sipped her Hill Country wine while gazing into her backyard. Then a deep freeze set in and kill all of the beautiful blossoms.

Father of two Daniel had traveled to Kansas City from his home in Rhode Island for business. He’d promised his daughter that he’d be home for her Friday night basketball game of the season. When a Saskatchewan Screamer so severe that the Weather Channel gave it a name (we’ll call it ‘Ophelia’ for our purposes) blew into Chicago, Daniel’s flight through O’Hare was cancelled until the following Sunday.

Who among us doesn’t feel rage at the unfairness to Janice and Daniel, helpless victims to the betrayal of March weather?

The Cycle of Our March Weather Response

That reaction we have that’s deeply personal, offended, angry at the weather? In our irrational networks of emotions, we’re reliving every single instant of betrayal we’ve faced in life. Memory networks just know how betrayal feels. In the moment when we’re experiencing it, the weather feels somehow personal. We may follow a cycle that goes something like this:

Phase 1- We get mad at ourselves for becoming upset about the weather.

Phase 2- We feel ashamed and sad because we don’t just shake it.

Phase 3- We make a concerted effort to not allow our moods to be affected by weather.

Phase 4- We see the weather report that another storm is on the heels of the one that just killed our plants or dumped a foot of snow on us.

Phase 5- We scream expletives or begin weeping uncontrollably. Anger has moved to a sense of helplessness.

Sounds like reactions to other forms of betrayal to me.

Whereas the perfect fix would be to spend March in a warmer clime, that’s not always the option. Obviously, weather passes. Blooms that are killed by freezes are sad; particularly for the gardeners who patiently tend the plants and trees on which they grow. Moms and dads make it home and make it up to their kids. Heavy snow is an inconvenience to everyone outside of the ski resorts and snow removal industry; but not usually much else.

Yet, a season for transition is upon us in March. Much is shifting and awakening as the longer days warm the earth and air. I’ll be tracking the spring from my home in New England, writing of things that the changing spirit of the season moves in me.

Hope April Fool’s Day doesn’t bring another blizzard like we had in ’97.

Thanks for reading my blog. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

 

 

 

Dr. Stacee’s Book Review: “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle

Pocket

Perhaps the best reason to read this book is that it just seems to make life easier, more peaceful, more loving. It gets me out of the drama of my own head and helps me appreciate the wonder that’s now. I can see myself heading into negative head spaces and stop myself. I’m a nicer, more radiant person as a result…lovable and loving.

Pocket

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's PurposeA New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It says a lot about the power of a book that I’m still talking about it weeks after I finished it. This is how much “A New Earth” influenced me as a counselor, an educator, a thinker, a writer, and at the end of the day, a gal who’s trying to live fully and in peace.

The message of recognizing and somehow transcending the attachment to an ego form, our false sense of ourselves as “I am,” is especially meaningful…particularly as Tolle helps us to see how this really keeps us kicking around in our misery. Because kicking around generally means kicking each other from these notions of me vs. not me, casting the person who is different in the role of Other, we perpetuate war and violence, famine and scarcity, and other human ills that reflect what he calls “collective dysfunction.”

What really works for me in A New Earth is the method for seeing myself as the chief architect in my own chaos, my own conflict. I get attached to a notion of who I am and how things are supposed to be. I ascribe a lot of meaning to this, get all up in my feelings with it, and am blown about in my own thoughts and mood. When I can instead take the time to re-center, to recognize that the suffering I’m undergoing in any moment is really something I can transcend and therefore transform…well, baby. Drop the mic.

Since I finished the book, I’ve noticed that I am more conscious of my own thoughts. I tend to operate less from what Tolle calls the “pain body,” the sense of myself as aggrieved, suffering, trapped, etc. Before I go there with getting irritated with someone’s behavior, feeling stressed with traffic or helpless in response to some terrible item in the news; I return to my deep, meditative breath, slow myself down, and ask myself “What is this really about? What really is bothering me?” With this, I glimpse peace…and as I continue to practice these efforts, the glimpses get longer and longer.

It doesn’t mean that I stop caring about things that are important, or that I numb to issues and events that reflect areas of life concern. Rather, I care differently. So instead of thinking of what I don’t have, what I am against, what bothers me; I find myself tuning into what I have and am therefore manifesting, what I am for, what inspires me. I notice the here and now, and really taste my food for example, and notice my body in the rhythm of weight lifting. It fills me with gratitude.

Because my main interest is in Otherness and the experience that being cast in the role of Other and therefore “less than” has on people who’ve faced bullying and ostracization, Tolle’s discussion on the topic was particularly notable. Lines like “It strengthens the sense of separation between yourself and the other, whose “otherness” has become magnified to such an extent that you can no longer feel your common humanity…” really demonstrate this as a phenomenon in which people try to feel superior by creating power over one another.

By contrast, “To love is to recognize yourself in another. The other’s “otherness” then stands revealed as an illusion pertaining to the purely human role” brings the reader to the reconciliation. This is really the promise of the book. It’s a path for transcending the pettiness, the hurt, the floods of feelings and self-righteousness that get in the way of our ability to care about people, to allow them to matter to us.

Perhaps the best reason to read this book is that it just seems to make life easier, more peaceful, more loving. It gets me out of the drama of my own head and helps me appreciate the wonder that’s now. I can see myself heading into negative head spaces and stop myself. I’m a nicer, more radiant person as a result…lovable and loving.

I read the book first thing in the morning for a couple of weeks. It worked well for me, setting the tone for the morning and helping the workday turn into something that was infinitely less stressful. I enjoyed being able to take a concept and chew on for the day…maybe doing some writing of my own as I applied the concepts in my life. I think it’s a great tool for healing, and for promoting healing for people around us.

I just love this book!

View all my reviews