The Fifties (1997-2006)
Stage 5 is characterised by a “new openness to others and an ability to keep in tension the paradoxes and polarities of faith and life” (Hughes, 1997, p. 1). This openness in Coelho is described by Arias (2001) who emphasises him to be a man of extremes, who is straightforward, passionate and accustomed to “the good fight”, insecurity (Arias, 2001) and openness to new ideas and concepts.
Elifson and Stone (1985, p. 31) mention that during Stage 5 symbols integrate multiple conceptual and affective meanings, creating an experienced richness and depth. Coelho integrated these multiple meanings, for example, in “Veronica decides to die” (Coelho, 2000). In this story, he combined autobiographical experiences from his times in the mental hospital with fictitious characteristics (Coelho, 2000). He integrated his life experiences into fantastic elements and thereby reconciled with his own life history and the conflicts with his parents. With this book, Coelho managed to introduce himself into reflexive adult thinking and explored his mental hospital experiences from various and multiple perspectives. By reflecting on his personal experiences with his parents’ and the hospital’s authority and his desire to live his dream, Coelho reconciled opposites and contradictions (Fowler & Dell, 2004), referring to the electroshock experiences and his relationships in the mental hospital. He reunified the contradictions of the “Stockholm syndrome”, which he experienced throughout his young adult life and his split feelings towards his parents, without leaning towards one or the other side, which is mentioned as usual for this stage (Fowler, 1981). Although Coelho had promised his parents not to talk about the mental hospital experiences, he opened up about his experiences publicly after his mother’s death and thereby became a catalyst of the experiences of the reader (Arias, 2001). Coelho highlighted in various interviews that he did not feel bitter towards his parents and that he had forgiven them for the suffering (Arias, 2001, p. 43). He reframed the experience as a real, deeply rooted learning curve and grew through it. Coelho (2010) reconsidered the socio-cultural concepts of madness and insanity, life and death, love and hatred. The book’s protagonist, Veronica, who is Coelho, developed a new understanding of these concepts and experienced them on a deeper level. Both Veronica and Coelho dealt through the writing with conscious and unconscious complexities, increased awareness of dependence (e.g. on the parents and the doctors) and independence (running away from the hospital and the decision for life and not for a suicidal death), as well as the topics of identity, the individual and society (Yunus, 2014). In summary, the reader learns how important it is to be aware of the miracle of life, to enjoy life every day to the full and to embrace challenges and tackle them without fear (Coelho, 2000).
During Stage 5, individuals are able to see their personal limitations and their belief systems and can recognise symbols and meanings beyond their own faith traditions (Fowler, 1981). Through the protagonist Veronica, Coelho (2000) reflected individual and societal limitations and reflected that life is particularly enjoyable when a person frees her/himself from familial and societal restrictions and family bonds. Veronika expresses Coelho’s success story to “return” to life and mental sanity and resilience after his traumatic experience in the mental hospital.
Coelho (2007) explores spirituality, metal health issues and a person’s life fulfilment in “The wanderer”. Spirituality and the relationship with God is addressed as a key issue and syncretism and mixed doctrines with different perspectives are taken from Christianity, Judaism, Taoism and Islam to bring spirituality and transcendence into the life of the readers (Latzel, 2007). Coelho’s ability to reconcile religious and spiritual traditions was criticised by practitioners of pastoral care and practical psychology, since it dealt with the leitmotif of spirituality and individuality, the question of the individual relationship with God, the individual’s responsibility for success in life and God’s support.
In Stage 5, the desire increases to explore and find new ways to define the relationship to the self and to God (Fowler, 1987). The individual is not bound to the social or religious group or the self, but rather refers to the interconnectedness, the interrelatedness and the complexities of the world, things within the world and beyond (Fowler, 2001). Coelho (2007) integrated various religious attempts to define and include God as a higher force in the life of humans. He ignored the differences of religious insights while highlighting the communalities across religious and spiritual concepts founded in his Christian belief, which he defined as his chosen belief system (Arias, 2001), after having processed his experiences of being an “atheist” (Sect. 3.4), a “satanist” (Sect. 3.5), and after having returned to Christianity (Sect. 3.6). During his fifties, Coelho was able to mindfully recognise his individual and spiritual limitations and recognised the symbols and meanings beyond his own faith traditions (Fowler, 1981). He reconnected to his childhood belief while striving for change and transformation. He did not get stuck between his religion and new opposing concepts, which is emphasised as typical for this stage (Burnell, 2013), but rather integrated these concepts directly. This ability might be based on the fact that Coelho had experienced various extremes and lived through different belief systems earlier in his life. After having lived through them, he was able to integrate them without any problems.
Coelho (2007) defined God as part of the person’s soul, consisting of a feminine and a masculine side, combining intuition, logic, mystery and imagination (Arias, 2001). Coelho integrated and unified concepts that are classified as opposites (e.g. the different religious traditions), which is typical at this stage (Fowler, 1986), to overcome previous boundaries and limitations (Straughn, 2010).
Coelho integrated opposing images of God: “Gott gibt es zweimal” (English “God exists twice”) - God is what the Jesuit priests teach (and what made him lose his “childhood faith” (Arias, 2001, p. 106)) and God is a daily life experience within each and every individual (as is taught in mysticism). He created God by reciting mantras, practising yoga, meditating and including Indian cosmogony and Oriental spirituality into his life (Arias, 2001, p. 108). Through multiple experiences he became an initiate to the spiritual quest and self-transformed (Arias, 2001, p. 108).
In “The wanderer” (Coelho, 2007), Coelho explored the concepts of God, the soul and life’s purpose in multi-layered ways and defined God from different perspectives as a universal God, the God of love, an individualised God, God in nature or God as part of a person’s soul (Coelho, 2007).
Founded in his Christian belief, he integrated magical and mystic thoughts (Arias, 2001), practised I-Ching (Morais, 2009) and believed in the oracle of the mystic cosmic ways (Anthony & Moog, 2002).
At this stage, individuals are often frustrated by the vision of a transformed world that stays untransformed in the real world and loneliness and hopelessness increase (Fowler, 1984). Since Coelho discovered that “Coelho fever” had spreads across social, economic and cultural classes regardless of sex, race, culture or age (Morais, 2009), he realised his impact on masses of individuals and saw his influence on the world’s transformation across cultures and religions, based on his open interreligious and spiritual visions and mindset (Straughn, 2010). Through his integrative attitude he overcame his own cultural and social boundaries, as is usual during Stage 5 (Straughn, 2010). As described as typical by Fowler (1984), Coelho increased his loyalty across communities, through openness and acceptance of various transitions, references to a symbolic and mythical reality, a humble awareness, understanding of multi-layered complexity and the strength to see and uphold opposite tensions (Fowler, 1984). At this stage Coelho (2007) defined God as faith, which is the foundation for creativity, writing and an intercultural and interreligious dialogue and exchange.
Concepts of spirituality, faith and love were explored in several of his books, such as “The wanderer” (Coelho, 2007), Eleven minutes” (Coelho, 2003c), “The warrior of the light” (Coelho, 2003a) and “The zahir” (Coelho, 2005, published in English version). At the same time, Coelho recognised the boundaries of certain socio-cultural and socio-historical concepts in his books, for example in “Veronika decides to die” (Coelho, 2000) and “The witch of Portobello” (Coelho, 2006). He described rituals to overcome the normal conscious state, to connect to God and to use meditation practices and religious rituals as tools to respond to the spiritual quest (Coelho, 2006, 2007) by exploring new boundaries. In “The witch of Portobello” (Coelho,
2007) he introduced the witch as a person who does not comply with societal norms, a person that integrates faith in terms of Stages 4 and 5 (Fowler, 1981).
During his fifth decade, Coelho lived in various contexts, such as Brazil, France and Switzerland (Morais, 2009; Coelho, 2010b). He expanded his national boundaries, learnt to speak French and English fluently (Coelho, 2010b) and changed cultural, gender and age-related perspectives while putting himself into the shoes of his characters in his texts.
In “Like a flowing river” (Coelho, 2010) Coelho wrote about new limitations and boundaries such as the use of new technologies, the internet, nature and archery, which he took up as a challenge. Coelho (2006) was fascinated by the new, by things that connected people through thoughts and actions that increased self-awareness, self-worth, positivity, meaningfulness in life and the worldview “Sic transit gloria mindui” - all earthly glory is transient (Coelho, 2006, p. 159). This concept unified all differences into one quest to understand what is the unconscious and underlying meaning and purpose of life. He once more described the challenges to overcome his own limitations and boundaries through sitting still, being quiet and listening to inner voices. In 2006 Coelho emphasised how he addressed his own and personal challenges to experience the most important things in life, which one found not on the surface of actions, but rather in silence and deep thoughts (Coelho, 2006).