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A Shepherd's Tale: Navigating Life, Inspired by 'The Alchemist'

Eight years ago, I picked up a book that would leave a lasting impression on me. It was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and as I delved into its pages, I found myself captivated by the story and somewhat envious of the main character. The narrative I remembered was simple: a shepherd meets a wise king who guides him towards his destiny.


In my twenties, I yearned for that kind of guidance, to encounter a mentor who possessed all the answers and could tell me what to do to live my most fulfilling and purposeful life. Little did I know that this book would take on new meaning for me in the years to come.


As I prepared for Mindfulness Month, and exploring the question of "What Is My Dharma?" I decided to revisit The Alchemist. My curiosity was piqued once again, particularly about the secret knowledge the boy gleaned from his guide. This time around, I discovered something different.


Let me frame the story of The Alchemist for you:


In the southern region of Spain, there lived a young boy who chose to become a shepherd because he craved adventure. As a shepherd, he cherished his simple life, spending his days wandering with his sheep, forming a deep connection with them, and even adopting their sleep schedule. He was diligent in caring for his flock, always keenly aware of his surroundings, even identifying signs of water through the types of plants he encountered. At night, he slept under the expansive sky, with only a jacket, a book, and his sheep for company.


This shepherd had a recurring dream, one that portrayed a scene of him discovering treasure buried in the desert. Intrigued by the repetition of this dream, he remained open to finding answers. It was during this time that guides appeared, one of whom took the form of a cloaked king.


Yet, the guidance the king offered wasn't as direct as I had initially remembered. Instead, it was rather vague, but profoundly encouraging. 


He said:


"Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen in their lives."


He continued:


"To realize one's destiny is a person's only real obligation," 

And shared my favorite line: 


"When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." 


The king went on to explain that the universe communicates with us through omens. These signs are everywhere and we just need to learn to see them and read them.


As I reflect on this story, I can't help but notice the shepherd's daily practice. He wasn’t caught up with computer work, not constantly checking his phone or snacking on Costco muffins (as I have been lately). He walked, he remained open and aware of his environment, he paid attention to signs and to his dreams. He had a consistent practice that supported his open awareness. 


I now feel deeply committed to living out my dharma and aligning my entire life with that realization. Reading this text again feels like the inspiration I needed to fully devote myself to practice. I am ready to discard habits that distract me from my embodied experience and limit my connection to my path. 


When I look back on moments in my life when I felt deeply connected and open, I realize that certain habits were consistently present. For me, they include sitting in meditation, incorporating cardio through running and swimming, maintaining a regular yoga practice, consuming plenty of vegetables and less meat and sugar, tending fires, and sleeping outdoors. And coincidentally, I have sheep that I get to care for.




I wholeheartedly embrace what the King conveyed to the shepherd and carry it close to my heart. It feels incredibly important right now, as I embark on this journey of rediscovering my dharma.

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