Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and in Kabbalah, the esoteric branch of Judaism, it relates to the origin of the universe, that one number that contains all others. In a short story named “The Aleph” by Jorge Luis Borges, it is explained as a point that contains everything. Everything. A point where, when you manage to look or enter into, you connect to the global knowledge stream of the universe, to the World Soul, where you see and hear everything and everywhere at once; a place where you just know. I always knew that you can find that point for example by gazing into another person’s eyes. Then, when you forget about your breath, and you start to drift away, you literally use the eyes as doorways into the other person’s soul.
Funny enough that I should find that exact process in Paulo Coelho’s recently published book called The Aleph. And it is an astonishingly open look into his soul! Reading through it is a bit like diving into his eyes and getting to know him better. Of course, it is a novel and it is more than likely polished at a few places, but still, what shines through and what is the underlying thread of the novel, is an honest account of a person, who has seemingly everything, still feels as if somehow, something is wrong, and sets out on a long, two months trip, in order to process his inner situation.
How can this be true for someone who was written literary history, sold over 140 million books, is often called the most influential currently living author? How can someone, who has succeeded, where only a few succeed, has all his basic needs taken care off (and then some) still feel as if something is just not right?
Paulo didn’t have an easy early life and hasn’t always been successful, also not in the monetary sense of it. When he set out to make it as a writer, his first book didn’t really sell well and it was only later and thanks to the perseverance of his agent Monica, that with The Alchemist he experienced sort of a sudden, global breakthrough, where in a relatively short period of time a lot of money was available and all the perks that come with international fame and success.
People recognized him wherever he traveled to, he made real money, went from staying in pensions to staying at the best hotels, from taking a cab to being picked up by a driver, from flying commercial to owning his own plane, got himself the toys that money can buy – but having a good run can be difficult. And I don’t mean that sarcastically. It is exciting for a while and it gives a great sense of security. But once you have everything and paid everything you needed to, it becomes just another thing one has achieved and for a restless soul, who is never satisfied and always wants something better and for whom the grass might always be greener somewhere else, this can create a world of boredom. A boredom that is seemingly active and busy on the surface, but on the bottom of which is a frustrating routine that eats up all joy. With that kind of frustration one encounters Paulo at the beginning of The Aleph in a conversation with his guide in the spiritual tradition, of which he had been a part of for almost 30 years. The title of this first chapter perfectly corresponds with its content and only at the end of the book one understands that really the whole novel is about that problem. The first chapter is called “King of My Kingdom” and as J., Paulo’s guide explains, it is exactly his own kingdom that Paulo had lost and that was the reason why he felt so frustrated.
Imagine, you are king! You have achieved and have everything you ever dreamed of, wanted or needed. And then you notice that despite everything you have and everything you have learned over many years and through many struggles, the realities of the physical world as experienced lead to frustration more often than you want to accept that. And none of the magical rituals you have practiced gets you out of it, you end up more days unsatisfied than satisfied.
It is the same dissatisfaction for everybody. Doesn’t matter whether one is rich or poor, highly successful or still a student. That dissatisfaction comes from a deep place inside oneself and there is just one way to work it out: getting back onto your path, from which one has deviated once routine took over. And that is exactly, what J. suggest Paulo to do. The novel then is really about the personal experiences and encounters during that trip, which has taken place in the real world, visiting several countries before traveling on the Trans-Siberian train. He encountered his own reincarnations and reconnected with that woman he had loved and betrayed hundreds of years ago. And just as a clairvoyant at the beginning of the book had told him, that reconnection was key for his own reawakening and redemption.
Paulo Coelho could probably really be seen as the proverbial coagulated king, who has conquered his own imperfections during this journey he took. It is magical and encouraging that he struggled like everybody else with frustration and dissatisfaction, fear and inner conflict and then set out to resolve it. And that, in my opinion is the key: to claim your own kingdom, you need to get moving!
Some of the experiences described might be a bit “out there” and simply not everybody’s cup of tea. Magical things, as I have heard the other day, actually can only happen to those who believe in magic. But The Aleph of Paulo Coelho is definitely a wonderful narrative and mystic-magical inspiration. If it is your first book of Coelho, I’d recommend to read The Alchemist before or afterwards.