(l) Cultural identity

Coelho describes (Coelho, 2011) that he always experienced a rebirth of his own identity when he travelled. Through the new experiences of his travels, such as not knowing the language, walking new streets, using a new currency, he learnt that:

you discover that your old ‘I’, along with everything you ever learned, is absolutely no use at all in the face of the new challenges, and you begin to realise that, buried deep in your unconscious mind, there is someone much more interesting and adventurous and more open to the world and to new experiences. (p. 11)

Coelho describes his idea of a constructed identity that is redefined and reborn through travelling and through external challenges that need to be addressed through change, particularly when one travels in foreign or new cultures. Besides recreating one’s identity through constant external changes, Coelho describes that he enjoys being in his home country, hearing his mother tongue, drinking acai juice and looking at Copacobana beach (Coelho, 2011, p. 19). This description of being and feeling at home forms part of Coelho’s cultural identity. Being sure of one’s cultural identity contributes to holistic wellness. That does not mean that a cultural identity is not dynamic and does not change. In Coelho’s eyes, a cultural identity is heterogeneous, consisting of multiple aspects, adapting to new situations, helping to recreate one’s self in the context of holistic wellness.

After having described the concept of self-direction in “Aleph”, the life task of work and leisure will be addressed.

Work and Leisure

In the first chapter, the author describes that his spiritual routine with which he fills parts of his daily routine “has become routine and pointless” (Coelho, 2011, p. 3). He explains that while he travelled the Road to Santiago he had found his destiny (Coelho, 2011, p. 10) which was to become a writer. He describes in “Aleph” that since he discovered his destiny, “I have done everything that my work demanded of me” (Coelho, 2011, p. 10): He travelled, he developed himself and his work professionally (Coelho, 2011, p. 90). Coelho sees travelling, therefore, as part of his work (and an opportunity to provide a sense of accomplishment, according to Myers et al. (2000) and as a part of leisure time (creative work with social engagement (Myers et al., 2000). Generally, Coelho does not distinguish between work and leisure and rather combines the two concepts on his journeys. He travels through Russia to promote his books, develop personally and take care of himself. Work is important in terms of his meaningfulness, but not in terms of the differentiation of work and leisure. The concepts are integrated and are valuable to Coelho, as long as they increase meaningfulness and therefore holistic well-being.


In “Aleph” (Coelho, 2011), friendship is related to all social interactions as well as social connectedness (as defined by Myers et al. (2000)), which is experienced on an individual and on a collective level.

In the beginning of the book, Coelho asks himself: “Why can I not be like my friends?” implying that his friends are different. He feels urged to develop, to explore the world and grow spirituality, while implying that his friends are different, not wanting to develop (Coelho, 2011, p. 14). This implicit description of his friends shows on the one hand Coelho’s longing to be like them - stagnated and content with themselves - and his difference on the other hand - forward-moving, never content and chased by his urge to develop.

Friendship is not an important issue in “Aleph”, although Coelho mentions that his agent, Monica, is at the same time is his “best friend” (Coelho, 2011, p. 22). She has been his agent since she was 20 and believed in Coelho’s work from the start. She was committed to fighting for the impossible and is therefore described by Coelho as a warrior (Coelho, 2011, pp. 23-24) with courage, willpower and commitment. Besides Monica, Coelho refers to the friends that he has together with his wife. They meet their friends Herve and Veronique for dinner (Coelho, 2011, pp. 16-18). Coelho realises that his universe has become self-limited to “a few friends locally” and that he never engaged in deep human relations, living a life free from human contact during the past years (Coelho, 2011, p. 28). Friendships are not very important to Coelho; however, he has “friends” all around the world. In Moscow, he meets his “best friend in Russia, an industrialist” during his party. Although the friendship is not described in depth, he listens to his friend’s advice to take Hilal on the trip: “If you believe in the words you write, allow the people around you to grow with you” (Coelho, 2011, p. 60). The Russian friend becomes a key player, reminding Coelho of his social responsibility, the social dimension of spiritual growth and his responsibility as a famous writer (Coelho, 2011, p. 60). The advice of his friend has an influence on the entire trip, contributing to Coelho’s authenticity as a writer and his holistic wellness.

On the one hand, friendship in the book “Aleph” is not a primary and explicit topic. On the other hand, friendship is one of the main, implicitly referred to topics: Hilal travels to Moscow to meet Coelho, holding an article in her hand in which a man lights a fire and tells his friend: “Look at the fire and think of our friendship; and that will keep you warm” (Coelho, 2011, p. 45). This story deals with the importance and impact of friendship, and the strong value of “light(ing) the fire of friendship” (Coelho, 2011, p. 46). Hilal represents friendship in “Aleph” as an important life task.

At the end of the book, Coelho mentions one more friend who is important to him: he emphasises that his publisher cannot accompany him to meet President Putin, but that he has a journalist friend who has permission to join him to meet Putin (Coelho, 2011, 297). Again, there is a friend at his side to keep him company.

In the description of previous life experiences, Coelho refers to the friendship he has felt for the woman he tortures. The parents of the women remind Coelho in his previous life of his friendship with her: “You played together and grew up together and only grew apart when you chose to enter the priesthood” (Coelho, 2011, p. 188). Although Coelho self-reflects on his friendship with her, he does not change his decision to have her burnt at the stake. He does not defend the friendship. However, a development in Coelho is described from a person who lets his friend be tortured and killed in a previous lifetime, to a more caring person in this lifetime. A value shift is shown from holding onto power (as the torturing priest) to a caring friend in this life. This shift indicates the shift from depression about his faults of the previous life towards healing through reconstructing the relationships and recreating holistic wellness in the context of social relationships.


Love is important in “Aleph”, referring to a committed, lasting, intimate relationship with another person (Coelho 2011), as described by Myers et al. (2000).

Coelho describes his deep love for his wife Cristina (see also Sect. Family, e.g. Coelho, 2011, p. 229) and empathically discusses love with Yao who suffers from his loss of his beloved wife (Coelho, 2011, p. 89). Finally, Coelho experiences love with Hilal and different viewpoints on love are explored and discussed (Coelho, 2011, p. 234). He differentiates between different forms of love, such as the love for Jesus (Coelho, 2011, p. 222), the love he experiences as a man for a woman, the love for his wife (Coelho, 2011, p. 229) and the love he feels for Hilal: “I love you like a flowing river.” Love is present and “healthy love relationships” (Myers et al., 2000, p. 257) have a positive impact on Coelho.

In “Aleph”, Coelho shows his (a) ability to be intimate, trusting, and selfdisclosing with another person, by describing his loving relationship with his wife, Cristina. Although he travels alone, he shares all the important information with her over the huge distance, which highlights their intimate relationships “since 30 years and in previous lives” (Coelho, 2011, p. 87, p. 90, p. 106). He feels her presence several times during the journey (e.g. Coelho, 2011, p. 288) and Hilal listens to his stories about her. Coelho’s relationship with her is trusting, intimate and without secrets while they are exploring life and the world together (Coelho, 2011, p. 232).

During the journey itself, Coelho develops the ability to be intimate, trusting and self-disclosing with Hilal, which leads to the plot of the story in which they return to the Aleph to live through the previous life (Coelho, 2011, pp. 293-296). The development shows an increase in trust and intimacy throughout the journey (Coelho, 2011, pp. 155-157), opening up about their feelings und Coelho’s love for his wife (Coelho, 2011, pp. 233-235).

Coelho describes in several situations (b) the ability to receive as well as express affection with significant others, such as his wife and Hilal (Coelho, 2011, pp. 231235). He gives to and receives love from his wife, after he struggled in the first few years of their relationship (Coelho, 2011, p. 232). At the same time, Coelho expresses his love for Hilal, who asks him the favour to tell her that he loves her (Coelho, 2011, p. 233). He respects her wish and tells her in a two-page-long explanation how he loves her (Coelho, 2011):

I love you like a river that creates the right conditions for trees and bushes and flowers to flourish along its banks. (...) I love you because we are all born in the same place, at the same source, which keeps us provided with a constant supply of water. (...). I receive your love and I give you mine. Not the love of a man for a woman, not the love of a father for a child, not the love of God for his creatures, but a love with no name and no explanation, like a river that can not explain why it follows a particular course, but simply flows onwards. A love that asks for nothing and gives nothing in return; it is simply there. I will never be yours and you will never be mine; nevertheless, I can honestly say: I love you, I love you, I love you. (pp. 234-235)

Coelho expresses his love and affection for Hilal in terms of a love without a name, a kind of universal, divine and platonic love. The lengthly explanation of love shows Coelho’s affectionate and emotional expression towards Hilal, but even more towards life, nature, God and the world. The giving and the receiving of this universal love contribute to Coelho’s life and is an expression of his holistic wellness approach.

In several situations, Coelho cares about Hilal, referring to the (c) the capacity to experience or convey non-possessive caring that respects the uniqueness of another. This happens, for example, when Coelho tells the other travellers on the train to be kind to Hilal (Coelho, 2011, p. 130). However, the source of his care that respects Hilal’s uniqueness is not clear: Is this care born out of a deep empathetic care for the other or is she and the care for her just a means to heal himself? It might be care for Hilal, but is it in any way also a means of self-care to heal himself? The same question appears during the situation in which Hilal dances with a young man at a party (Coelho, 2011, p. 214). After a confrontational talk between Coelho and this man, Yao gives Coelho feedback about his disrespectful, possessive and non-caring behaviour, which seems to hide his real, deep care for her. Coelho shows aspects of care and aspects of non-care towards Hilal and others; he still needs to develop nonpossessive care.

With regard to (d) the presence of enduring, stable intimate relationships in one’s life and (e) concern for the nurturance and growth of others, Coelho highlights: “Love is always stronger” (Coelho, 2011, p. 115). In the context of love, there is forgiveness, nurturance and growth. However, Coelho only starts caring for the nurturance and growth of Hilal after his Russian friend advises him to live by what he writes (Coelho, 2011, p. 60). This shows that the writer Coelho and the person Coelho carry two hearts within themselves: that which he writes and that which he lives. He rather seems to care about himself than for the nurturance and growth of others. It is unclear how this behaviour pattern affects Coelho’s holistic wellness, but it can be assumed that becoming aware of this individualistic behaviour pattern does not necessarily contribute to his holistic wellness. He might feel more well if he were to live up better to his ideal to care more about others than about himself.

In “Aleph”, Coelho does not write about (f) satisfaction with one’s sexual life or the perception that one’s needs for physical touch and closeness are being met, or both. However, he dedicates a huge part of one chapter to describing his sexual desire for Hilal and his fantasies attached to it (Coelho, 2011, pp. 142-147). He tells her that he loves and desires her (Coelho, 2011, p. 152). He thereby indirectly expresses his need for physical touch and closeness with Hilal. The only time his need for closeness is referred to explicitly is when he spends time with Hilal in bed, embracing her to practise the “ring of fire” to transcend into a previous life (Coelho, 2011, p. 181). Coelho highlights that he needs the embrace as a gesture of humanity, “which means far more as the meeting of two bodies” (Coelho, 2011, p. 181). He thereby prioritises and values the meeting of souls more than sexual interaction. The embrace relates for Coelho to closeness, “feeling home”, a sign of relaxation, protection and understanding (Coelho, 2011, p. 181). The narration leaves a gap with regard to sexual satisfaction, which is left open, probably because it is supposed to be fulfilled with his wife, Cristina.

With regard to holistic wellness, many of the life tasks are emphasised and addressed in the creative work. They are described in a developing way, providing the impression that Coelho’s holistic wellness increases throughout the journey.

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