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Home arrow Psychology arrow The Life and Creative Works of Paulo Coelho : A Psychobiography from a Positive Psychology Perspective
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Schultz’s Prototypical Scenes in “Aleph”

Examples of prototypical scenes (Schultz, 2005b, p. 49) are provided in Table 8.4 to identify in-depth information on Coelho’s journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway in 2006. This information provides an in-depth understanding of Coelho’s journey and contributes to an improved, in-depth understanding of his life.

The exploration of examples of the prototypical scenes (Schultz, 2005b, p. 49; Table 8.4) supports the further in-depth analysis and interpretation of “Aleph” (Coelho, 2011) in terms of the theories.

Life Tasks in “Aleph”

The life tasks described by Myers et al. (2000) are analysed, discussed and interpreted with regard to “Aleph” (Coelho, 2011).

Spirituality

This creative work is based on the expression of spiritual self-doubts of the author and his wish for spiritual transformation to overcome stagnation and depression. Spirituality and spiritual development are, therefore, core issues of the book and refer to the five dimensions of spirituality (Mosak & Dreikurs, 2000; Sect. 4.5.1.1).

The book offers (a) a description of God - responding to the question: Do I believe in God and if yes, how do I communicate with God and how do I build up a relationship? The author, Coelho, meets his master, J. for a talk, a ritual and a prayer in his house in France. In the first chapter, J. prays, describing God’s representation in the voices of the animals, the sound of trees, the water, the birds. God is felt as a supreme power and knowledge, justice and omniscience, which expresses itself in the natural aspects described above (Coelho, 2011, pp. 3-4). However, Coelho experiences a personal crisis in which he feels that he cannot connect to God anymore (Coelho, 2011, p. 4). He remembers that he got to know “God’s plan” and his destiny by travelling the Road to Santiago and concludes that he had learnt his most important lessons during his travels (Coelho, 2011, p. 10).

At the beginning of his journey in Moscow, Coelho experiences God’s presence for the first time since his doubts and crises: He is able to see God’s presence in the “small gestures that bring us closer to God, as long as I am able to give each gesture the value it deserves.” (Coelho, 2011, p. 47). Coelho then experiences a great revelation when he looks deep into Hilal’s eyes. Through Hilal’s eyes, he connects to the “Aleph”, to God: “I am in the Aleph, the point in which everything is in the same place in the same time” (Coelho, 2011, p. 70). Through Hilal eyes (being a symbol of the soul), Coelho emphasises the place of his own soul and of all other souls (Coelho, 2011, p. 71), which represents the place of God. God’s place is without time and space limitations: It is in nature, in animals, human beings, in the soul and in oneself. God is almighty and everywhere.

Table 8.4 Examples of Schultz’s prototypical scenes in “Aleph’

William Todd Schultz: Keys to identifying “prototypical scenes”

Description of key of prototypical scenes

Vividness, specificity, emotional intensity

Several vivid and emotionally intense key situations are described in the text. One of these intense situations is described when Coelho participates in aikido with Yao, his translator. Coelho (2011, pp. 141— 148) describes his aikido fight and his experiences of fighting with his translator. These experiences are intermingled with his thoughts about Hilal, the young woman that travels with him on the train. This chapter is positioned right in the centre of the book and indicates the plot with regard to Coelho’s inner fight for emotional awareness and for inner peace. Coelho practises aikido and remembers the “path of peace” while his thoughts distract him from the training. Emotionally intense, he describes his fight with Yao in the outside world while he at the same time switches to his fight with Hilal in his inner world (Coelho, 2011, p. 142): “Yao and I make the traditional bow, and our eyes change. We are now ready for combat. And in my imagination, she, too, bows her head as to say: ‘Yes, I am ready, hold me, grab my hair.’” This chapter indicates Coelho’s experience of the importance of the path of peace, with is reached through a non-violent approach in aikido and through love at the same time. The descriptions of this situation are emotionally laden and the characters, thoughts and actions are colourfully described.

Interpenetration

The book contains various interpenetrations. One example is the scene that recurs within the book: Coelho is close to Hilal and his thoughts and activities with her are interrupted through his transpersonal experiences into a former incarnation. This interpenetration occurs for the first time when Coelho looks into Hilal’s eyes (Coelho, 2011, p. 78). He looks into her eyes, is carried away by his thoughts and experiences himself in another dimension, in a previous life. The interpenetration happens again on the train. Hilal plays the violin for Coelho and he is transferred to the door that leads to the previous life. However, this time, he is not transferred into another life, but into narrations from the Bible that he recalls (Coelho, 2011, pp. 114-116). The interpenetration with regard to the exploration of different realities and lives is in some instances introduced through the “ring of fire” exercise. This exercise (Coelho, 2011, p. 154) is a ritual that interpenetrates the present reality to take Coelho into a former life reality. It symbolises the transmission from one reality to another. On other occasions, Coelho drifts into the previous life world through the embrace of Hilal (Coelho, 2011, p. 181). The transmissions into the former lives leak into different contexts, as described by Schultz (2005d), and display activity or creative products; in one instance, the interpenetration leads to a letter written in Cordoba in 1492 (Coelho, 2011, pp. 158-162).

Another interpenetration is described when Coelho and Hilal are in the orthodox church in Novosibirsk where Coelho asks Hilal to forgive him. Closing her eyes, Hilal gets into contact with the spirit who dictates prayers and ends in a creative act of praying the “prayer of forgiveness” (Coelho, 2011, pp. 169-171).

Table 8.4 (continued)

William Todd Schultz: Keys to identifying “prototypical scenes”

Description of key of prototypical scenes

Finally, another example of an interpenetration occurs when Coelho talks about the ring of fire exercise, which he tries to do on his own (Coelho, 2011, p. 271). Coelho gets into contact with a French writer he has been in the nineteenth century in France and quotes a piece from what he wrote at that time. Again, the interpenetration between present and past lives ends in an act of creativity and a memoir.

The frequent interpenetrations in this book force the reader to switch between times and realities and thus constructs the idea of an integrated reality that is built on past, present and future realities at the same time. Coelho reflects in his interpenetrative way on writing his idea of synchronicity (Coelho, 2011, p. 17) and his concept of time: “As I said on the train, everything that happened in the past or will happen in the future is also happening in the present” (Coelho, 2011, p. 223).

Developmental crisis

This autobiographical account refers to several developmental crises within the author, which are all related to his faith development, his spiritual growth and his doubts about the meaningfulness in his life and his spiritual path. Coelho emphasises in the first chapter while he talks to his master, J.: “’I’m filled with doubt, especially about my faith,’ I say. ‘Good. It’s doubt that drives a man onward.’” (Coelho, 2011, p. 5). The doubts expressed here introduce Coelho’s inner conflict and his identity crisis, which finally leads him to his journey through Russia. He describes his crisis in the form of the Chinese bamboo, which grows underneath the earth and after 5 years shoots up to a height of 25 metres (Coelho, 2011, p. 22). Coelho feels he is in a crisis and about to shoot up into the air (which is represented through the pilgrimage). After having travelled many weeks to promote his books in several countries, he still experiences an identity crises and feels engulfed by the threat of depression (Coelho, 2011, p. 33).

The topic of the identity crisis is re-narrated several times during the journey. Coelho finds himself in conflict about being a master of RAM, the feeling of having reached the end of his spiritual development, and the quest for meaningfulness in life, which all occur in his present life. At the same time, he feels guilty about his actions in a previous life (Coelho, 2011, p. 57, p. 229). This guilt influences his present Life, first unconsciously, but later consciously.

However, Coelho also refers to an identity crisis that is evoked by travelling and through new experiences of a journey when a person evolves who is “much more interesting and adventurous and more open to the world and to new experiences” (Coelho, 2011, p. 11). He re-emphasises the topic of identity crisis and the reconstruction of identity throughout the journey “... we are constantly destroying and rebuilding ourselves and who were are” (Coelho, 2011, p. 177) and thereby defines identity as a dynamic and constructed phenomenon.

(continued)

Table 8.4 (continued)

William Todd Schultz: Keys to identifying “prototypical scenes”

Description of key of prototypical scenes

Family conflict

In “Aleph” (Coelho, 2011) Coelho does not refer to any kind of family conflict; however, he describes his personal inner conflict of feeling seduced by Hilal and being a faithful husband to his wife, Cristina, who is in Brazil. His wife gives him the freedom to travel on his own to have outstanding experiences (Coelho, 2011, p. 43). Several times, Hilal tries to seduce Coelho (e.g. Coelho, 2011, p. 260), but he comes to the conclusion that he cannot let himself be seduced by Hilal, guided by “my feelings of guilt” (Coelho, 2011, p. 229) and he realises that he and Hilal should transform their pain and desire into acts of creativity, into music and writing (Coelho, 2011, p. 260). With this decision, Coelho reduces the chances of family conflict, by making decisions in favour of his wife and his marriage. He confirms that his wife is the one he has loved for many centuries and for future lives to come and that he is faithful to her (Coelho, 2011, p. 87, p. 229, p. 233).

Thrownness

Coelho describes one situation that violates his status quo. After his book-signing session in Irkutsk, the publisher, the author, Yao and Hilal have a party with the readers. Hilal is dancing with a young man and Coelho starts commenting on her situation in front of the man. He tells him that Hilal is “free as a bird” (Coelho, 2011, p. 213), and that “she hasn’t yet met anyone who will treat her with the love and respect she deserves” (Coelho, 2011, p. 214). With this statement, Coelho shows his disrespect for Hilal’s love for him. Yao tells Coelho that he used the young man for his own purpose, that he himself was motivated by pride and that he did not care about the others in this situation, but just about himself. Coelho agrees with Yao’s criticism of his behaviour in public towards Hilal and her love and concludes for himself: “Spiritual growth doesn’t always arrive hand-in-hand with wisdom” (Coelho, 2011, p, 214). The taken-for-granted spiritually conscious behaviour of the author does not evolve in this situation. It rather describes Coelho as a human being who strives for spiritual development, but who has not arrived at gaining in-depth wisdom to treat others respectfully. The author who usually seems to be evolved in terms of his self-reflections and spiritual growth, is at this point reduced to a normal human being who is driven by human feelings. The behaviour described seems to be unfamiliar for Coelho; however, it seems familiar to the reader because he describes a very common way of interaction, which becomes extraordinary in the context described, relating to Coelho as a person.

Source: Adapted from Schultz (2005b, p. 50)

However, Coelho creates Yao, as an antagonist to Coelho’s view of God: Coelho believes in God, while Yao has lost his faith in God since he lost his beloved wife (Coelho, 2011, p. 86). Yao does not believe in God’s grace; however, he believes in soul travel and the concept of reincarnation, in which Coelho also believes.

During the interview situation, Coelho is asked, “What does God mean to you?” and he responds: “Anyone who knows God cannot describe him. Anyone who can describe God does not know him” (Coelho, 2011, pp. 120-121). He is surprised about his wise response when he refers to the Christian belief that an image of God should not be created. He highlights that he is not on “automatic-pilot response” that would have led him to respond: “When God spoke to Moses he said: ‘“I am”, so God is, therefore, neither the subject nor the predicate, he’s the verb, the action.’” This statement shows that Coelho has a complex and multiple image of God.

In “Aleph”, (b) the choice of practice of religion - responding to the question of how one practices spirituality and how spirituality fits into the concepts and practices of religion, is addressed as follows: In chapter 1, J. and Coelho practise their religion and faith through praying (Coelho, 2011, pp. 3-4) and through conducting rituals, such as the ritual at the oak tree. However, Coelho doubts the meaningfulness of the ritual. J. explains to him that by conducting the rituals “you get in touch with something deep in your soul, in the oldest part of yourself, the part closest to the origin of everything” (Coelho, 2011, p. 7). However, Coelho’s doubts remain, and before he leaves for his journey, he goes to the chapel in Barbazan-Debat where he prays to “Our Lady”, to be guided and to recognise the signs on his way (Coelho,

2011, p. 21).

When Coelho retires to his room in the train, he describes how he places his saints on his table in his room. He always takes his saints with him and places them next to his bed, to spend his night “blessed by angels” (Coelho, 2011, pp. 70-71). Coelho strongly believes that spirituality is practised through prayer and God can only be felt when a person prays or when listening to music coming from a divine source (Coelho, 2011, p. 137).

Later, the protagonist learns about (c) the conceptualisation of humankind’s place in the universe - responding to the question, how do I see humankind and its relation to God and the universe?

Although the writer is in a personal and spiritual crisis in chapter 1, he still believes in a spiritual parallel world that exists (Coelho, 2011, p. 5). J teaches Coelho that humankind usually believes that time teaches humans to grow closer to God; however, according to J. that is not true: A person has to do something to build a close relationship with God and keep it alive (Coelho, 2011, p. 6). God is experienced in the “now”, in the present moment: “The present moment, though, is outside of time, it’s Eternity” (Coelho, 2011, p. 8). God can consequently only be kept alive by overcoming routine. According to Coelho (2011, pp. 66-67), humans relate to God in different ways, for example by through looking at a sleeping child or by travelling. Coelho communicates with God and with his soul while travelling. Humankind needs to develop in the light of God and the “soul needs to continue growing and developing in order for the world to carry one and for us all to meet once again” (Coelho, 2011, p. 95). That means that each individual’s development can help to develop the world’s soul and the relationship of the individual and humankind to God.

After having travelled on the train for some time, Coelho realises that humankind is strongly related to God and in touch with the divine energy. Humans are “creators and created, but we are all puppets in God’s hand” (Coelho, 2011, p. 131), whose focus is sometimes distracted by daily routines (Coelho, 2011, p. 123).

In the chapter “Tea leaves” (Coelho, 2011, pp. 172-180), Coelho introduces the concept of the “shaman” to whom he will soon be introduced by Yao. Shamans are seen as individuals with special powers and visions (Coelho, 2011, p. 173). Being placed between human beings and the universe, they converse with God. Their function is to interlink the human and the spiritual world and support people in connecting with the whole (Coelho, 2011, p. 173). Humankind needs translators to connect to God.

The topic of (d) a consideration of the nature of immortality - responding to the question of what the soul is and if and how it might live on after death, as well as how humans try to overcome mortality, is addressed in Chapter 1. Coelho and J. talk about reincarnation and past life experiences in which they believe. They have both undergone past life experiences and are aware that individuals have to deal with unresolved aspects of past lives during their lifetimes (Coelho, 2011, p. 7).

After having experienced the “Aleph” for the first time, Coelho and Hilal realise that they have met before, in a previous life. Both of them believe in reincarnation and see the experience of the Aleph as proof. Hilal states: “‘I knew it’, she says. ‘I knew I had met you before. I knew it the first time I saw your photograph’” (Coelho, 2011, p. 81). However, Coelho explains later that the Aleph, which is described as a divine energy, is experienced differently by human beings (Coelho, 2011, p. 104). Both Coelho and Hilal represent the concept of the immortality of the soul. This is supported by Coelho’s statement that (Coelho, 2011, pp. 126-127), death is “just a door into another dimension”. He uses the metaphor of a train that contains many carriages: People of different times and spaces are all travelling on the train, only they are in different carriages. Coelho explains that humans cross the bridges to other carriages to speak to the dead who are in other carriages, for example, in dreams or extraordinary situations (Coelho, 2011, p. 127).

Finally, the book refers to (e) the contemplation of the presence and nature of the meaning of life - responding to the question of how meaning in life is created. One example of the creation of meaning in life is found on page 14 in “Aleph”: Coelho believes that his emotional dissatisfaction is caused by God to compel him to recognise the need for change and visions (Coelho, 2011, p. 14). The meaning of life is seen in constant development potential, in change and recreation in life (Coelho, 2011, p. 14). Part of the meaning of life is therefore to learn to be humble, and to “accept that our heart knows why we are here” (Coelho, 2011, p. 21). The meaning, therefore, is based in the bond between God and the individual’s soul and it can only be understood in the second before the end of a person’s life (Coelho, 2011, p. 21). The underlying issue of every human’s life, however, is to follow the path “that has no beginning and has no end” (Coelho, 2011, p. 22), the path of eternal development. Life is about leaving the comfort zone of life and to “go in search of our kingdom” to deal with challenges, waiting, finding what a person sought or to be found by the same thing that a person sought (Coelho, 2011, p. 48). Following the path is - in other words - described as finding God in the interior and exterior world, in those two dimensions. For Coelho, the challenge is, however, to find God in other human beings, which is a major source of meaning in life (Coelho, 2011, p. 28).

Coelho asks the question himself: “What is the meaning in life?” and responds to it just a few lines later: “To live is to experience things, not to wonder about the meaning of life” (Coelho, 2011, p. 66). The meaning of life is therefore to be in the present moment, the ability to love and to experience a connection to the universal power (Coelho, 2011, pp. 232-235). However, the meaning of life is in an even broader sense related particularly to feeling that “I am alive” and to the experience of emotions and the connection of the physical, the spiritual and soul (Coelho, 2011, p. 296).

Coelho creates wellness through developing spiritually, through changing and recreating himself as a spiritual person. He feels depressed and stagnated at first and creates holistic wellness after he has reached another personal level of spiritual development.

Self-Direction

In “Aleph” the topics of the 12 sub-tasks of the life tasks of self-direction are referred to, as defined by Myers and Sweeney (2008). These are analysed and interpreted in the following section.

 
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