The Alchemist Wisdom: Importance of Balance and Middle Way

The following story is borrowed from the fantastic book of Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist to illustrate the importance of balance.

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A merchant sent his son to learn the Secret of Happiness from the wisest of men. The young man wandered through the desert for forty days until he reached a beautiful castle at the top of a mountain. There lived the sage that the young man was looking for.

However, instead of finding a holy man, our hero entered a room and saw a great deal of activity; merchants coming and going, people chatting in the corners, a small orchestra playing sweet melodies, and there was a table laden with the most delectable dishes of that part of the world.

The wise man talked to everybody, and the young man had to wait for two hours until it was time for his audience.

The Sage listened attentively to the reason for the boy’s visit, but told him that at that moment he did not have the time to explain to him the Secret of Happiness.

He suggested that the young man take a stroll around his palace and come back in two hours’ time.

“However, I want to ask you a favor,” he added, handling the boy a teaspoon, in which he poured two drops of oil. “While you walk, carry this spoon and don’t let the oil spill.”

The young man began to climb up and down the palace staircases, always keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. At the end of two hours he returned to the presence of the wise man.

“So,” asked the sage, “did you see the Persian tapestries hanging in my dining room? Did you see the garden that the Master of Gardeners took ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?”

Embarrassed, the young man confessed that he had seen nothing. His only concern was not to spill the drops of oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.

So, go back and see the wonders of my world,” said the wise man. “You can’t trust a man if you don’t know his house.”

Now more at ease, the young man took the spoon and strolled again through the palace, this time paying attention to all the works of art that hung from the ceiling and walls.
He saw the gardens, the mountains all around the palace, the delicacy of the flowers, the taste with which each work of art was placed in its niche. Returning to the sage, he reported in detail all that he had seen.

“But where are the two drops of oil that I entrusted to you?” asked the sage.

Looking down at the spoon, the young man realized that he had spilled the oil.

“Well, that is the only advice I have to give you,” said the sage of sages.
The Secret of Happiness lies in looking at all the wonders of the world and never forgetting the two drops of oil in the spoon.”

———

It is very important for us to have a balanced lifestyle.

As we all know, the world is going through an especially difficult time financially at the moment. This is, in part, due to people’s greed.

People have been seduced by material things, things they cannot afford, and so they have bought them on credit. They have been given mortgages they can never repay. They are living a life on borrowed money.

We are bombarded everyday with advertisements telling us we need this or that to make our lives complete. It seems our culture implicitly values desires, and we evaluate the worth of people by what they own.

Corporations, hungry for profit, tell us that ladies need this cream to look young, men need to use this razor to look handsome, children need these toys to be happy, families need to drive around in a big gas-guzzling SUV—we are constantly barraged by new products.

There appears to be a new smartphone, TV or electronic gadget released every week. Greed seems to be considered a virtue and not something to avoid.

A balanced life is one whereby we ensure that our income exceeds our expenditures. This is not an easy task to undertake as we look around and see that everyone has an iPhone or iPad, and that includes our peers, friends and family.

The pressure is on us to conform, but we have to resist this pressure. It isn’t easy and takes a lot of discipline, but it is doable.

The trick is not to be led along by our desires. We have to look at the things we need to get by and the things that are just a luxury.

Stoicism and Buddhism would not say you shouldn’t have luxuries, but it would say that we need to prevent ourselves from getting attached to them.

There is no suffering in products, but there is suffering in our attachment to these products.

Obviously, we need food, clothes and a roof over our heads—these are our basic needs—but we must think carefully about other things that set off our desires.

If you need the latest smartphone and have the money to cover it, then go ahead.

However, if you cannot cover the cost and need to pay for it on credit, I would say leave it until you have saved enough money. I always feel happier when I have saved for something; the product then seems to mean more to me.

So check your desires, and don’t let peer pressure or multibillion-dollar companies make you overspend. Live a balanced life because you will feel a lot happier and less stressed by acting in this way—no matter what the advertisers tell you.

To keep our desires in check, you must meditate and self enquire.  In essence, you must start living from the present moment. This requires concentration, awareness and mindfulness skills.

Theory, debates, reading, listening, talking, arguing and knowledge will only get you so far. 

You must “walk the talk”.

If in doubt, remember the priceless wisdom.

“Meditate on the breath (mindfulness meditation to build concentration and awareness skills) and then self-enquire (the teachings of Ramana Maharshi) until you are free of all psychological sufferings and ego. (aka enlightenment)

Do this everyday and trust in the process that eventually your mind will be healed.

Why?

Because all good things require training and patience.

Know that as long as you do the work, the results will eventually follow.”

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