PQ Book Club: The Journey to Self-Discovery in “The Pilgrimage”

“The great human adventure…is the adventure of traveling toward the unknown,” Paulo Coelho writes at the start of The Pilgrimage. He is about to embark on the Strange Road to Santiago in search of his sacred sword. Ultimately, he knows that even if he does not find his sword, the pilgrimage will enable him to find himself, because at the heart of The Pilgrimage is the belief that in every journey lies the difficult and beautiful discovery of oneself.

The Great Human Quest

The novel deals with two major themes: growth and transformation. Both are essential and inevitable in any journey, particularly one that occurs in nature, as you are confronted with parts of yourself that are usually hidden. Petrus, Paulo’s guide, tells him: “When you travel, you experience…the act of rebirth.” The great human quest is a commonly explored motif throughout life and literature—it is Don Quixote dreaming the impossible dream, fighting the impossible fight, it is a student participating in a wilderness therapy program in Hawaii. Religious or not, people every day embark on sacred paths or roads-less-traveled, in search of something.

In Paulo’s case, he is in search of his sword, though he does not truly know why, and it takes him many lessons to discover the purpose. “When you are moving toward an objective,” Petrus says, “it is very important to pay attention to the road. It is the road that teaches us the best way to get there, and the road enriches us as we walk its length.” Paulo learns that the accumulation of his experiences along the road are what make the sword the meaningful object that it is. So how does the path become meaningful and fulfilling?

What helps Paulo answer these questions are a series of therapeutic exercises that create a union between the natural world and the deep interior world within ourselves. These exercises bring empowerment, revelation and self-discovery, extremely similar to the experience that wilderness therapy programs in Hawaii provide.

Exercises to Inspire Personal Transformation

Let us step together, for a moment, into the unknown, with examples of two exercises that inspire personal transformation.

1. The Seed Exercise, in which one imagines themselves as a seed blossoming into a large, strong tree. Visualizing his growth from seed to tree, Paulo “discovered that although the earth and my sleep were full of comfort, the life ‘up there’ was much more beautiful.”

2. The Speed Exercise advises one to walk for 20 minutes at half the speed you normally walk. Repeat for seven days. “Changing the way you do routine things allows a new person to grow inside of you.”

Fighting the Good Fight

A powerful piece of wisdom in The Pilgrimage is the motto: Fighting the Good Fight. The Good Fight means being generous with ourselves. It means fighting against anything that causes “pain”—feelings of defeat, indecision, or fear. It means, never stop dreaming. It is not the dreams of sleep we must hold onto, but the ones that bring us as close as we can to enthusiasm and love. Those are the dreams you must cherish. That is the fight you must fight. The Pilgrimage is one journey in many, and one book that will bring students at Pacific Quest insight into their own personal journey with wilderness therapy. (What was there before …how to believe in the extraordinary experience of life and of themselves.)

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