May 03, 2006
Bibliotherapy is simply gaining some insight and perspective through reading. After all, it is through information that we gather the raw material to change, that is we take knowledge into our "form," and then we potentially can use that knowledge to change our "form" i.e. to transform ourselves. Obviously, this is not what happens all the time, or better to say, the changes are not always the kind that we find congenial or helpful
Well that's the purpose of bibliotherapy, where a specific kind of reading is suggested in the hope that it might be better food for transformation, better nutrition for the mind and the soul as it were. In that spirit, then, I am going from time to time speak about some reading that I consider superior nutrition. The possibilities are vast, but let's start with a simple, short book that many of you might enjoy called The Alchemist, by the Brazilian writer, thinker, Paulo Coelho. Published originally in 1988, it has been translated into many languages and sold over 20 million copies.
The theme of the book is simple and classic; it is a tale of a person on a quest for meaning in his life, in this instance a young Spanish man who is a shepherd when he is introduced to us at the beginning of the novel and then moves through a series of transformations until he achieves his quest, fulfills his dream. The meat of the tale is of course in how he does this, what he has to overcome to achieve it, and most importantly, what he comes to know about himself and the world in the process. It has elements of the fantastical, the mythical, even the magical. This might turn some readers off, but if you are willing to use the basic "willing suspension of disbelief" then you will be rewarded. Obviously the story is an allegory, a tale told to make some important points about our life and living. All the other elements are subordinate to that goal, but it is done well enough to also provide a fair deal of suspense and entertainment.
The main character, the young Santiago, was originally slated to be a priest, but he left those studies because he had a desire in his soul to see more of the world and so he bought sheep and was a successful shepherd, following the grazing fields and the sun wherever his sheep would lead him. This was fine, but something was missing, something left him unfulfilled, but he didn't quite know what that was. Then, he met a strange and fascinating old man in a town near the sea in southern Spain, who told him about the inner desires of each person to fulfill his or her personal quest or "Personal Legend," as it is called in the book. He convinces Santiago of the truth of this by a little magical razzle-dazzle and leaves him to decide for himself what might be true about what was said.
The story opens up a basic question about our own desires for meaning and the degree to which we are available to follow our dreams. There are many obstacles in the way and I will speak more about them as we follow up on this book in my next column. Let me know what you think.
Frank Mosca Ph.D. is a marital counselor, life coach, and teacher with a practice in Hampton Bays and Garden City. His views can be seen at frankmosca.com.