I was talking with my friend Jack yesterday. He's in his 20s, from Pittsburgh, and is an actor. He's been in several short films and is getting ready for work on his first feature. When I saw him, he told me that he had just started reading my new book, The Oasis Within. I was pleased. Then, I was especially happy to hear him say, "It's really great. I'm just in chapter three and I've already come across a bunch of things that I need, insights I can use right away."
I was very glad to hear that. I told Jack that one of the main characters in the book, a seventy-year old Egyptian man named Ali, had taught me more than any other mentor in my life. The fact that he's fictional doesn't seem to detract at all from his wisdom and effectiveness as a teacher. Over and over, what he says just knocks me out. It will be the perspective, or image, or insight I've needed in order to make sense of something in my life, or to take the next step forward.
Jack surprised me by saying something else I had not expected, despite hearing it before. He commented, "In some ways, what I've read so far reminds me of The Alchemist." That's of course the classic little book by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho that's sold over 50 million copies. So, it's good to hear someone make a comparison. Actually, when I had just written The Oasis Within and the next bigger novel that follows it, I was still trying to figure out what was going on with this unexpected, exotic movie in my head and this stuff that I was writing down in transcribing it all. I sent what I had to a former philosophy student of mine who is a highly acclaimed thriller novelist (not many people have each of their books praised to the highest by New York Times reviewers) and I anxiously awaited his reaction. He wrote me, "This is The Alchemist Meets Harry Potter Meets Indiana Jones." I was excited and hoped he was right. But he also said that what I was writing was different. He surmised that the books seem to contain all the wisdom we need for living a good life, even a great life. That comment resonated deeply. The characters in the books were teaching me, guiding me, giving me just what I had for so long needed. I had to wait until I was entering my seventh decade of life to learn all this stuff at the level Ali was teaching me. But it's never too late. And the truly exciting thing is that I get to pass it on now to people who are much younger, like Jack, and perhaps even younger still.
I've read The Alchemist three times - once when it first came out, a second time when my former student compared The Oasis Within to it, to make sure I wasn't unconsciously channeling or copying it, and a third time recently, to make double sure how it and my book are related and are distinct. The books are actually very different in lots of ways. But there are indeed points where they touch. I've come to appreciate one theme in The Alchemist that I didn't realize was also in my book until I read Paulo's famous text for the third time: In our lives, things often look worse before they get better. Right before something great is going to happen, something bad can intrude, as if to test or challenge us. The question is: How do we react? So if you're in a difficult time now, the good news is that it's often a doorway, or portal, to something great. Knowing that can help you to keep the attitude and the spirit that may be needed to make it happen.
Yesterday, Jack and I talked about one of the philosophical ideas revealed early on in The Oasis, the principle of the two powers: Almost everything in this world has two powers, a power to harm and a power to help. It's often up to us which of those powers comes into play. Even bad things have two powers. Of course they can hurt us. But they can often also help us, depending on how we use them, and what we do with them. Growth requires struggle. As Ali himself says to describe his own practice and attitude, "We can't control the day, but only what we make of the day. And we'll always make the best of whatever comes our way."
If you have a chance to snag one of the early copies of The Oasis Within, and have the time to begin reading soon, like Jack, I'd love to hear how it resonates in your life. You can contact me here, in a comment, or through the Contact page at www.TomVMorris.com, or using my email address, also on the Contact page. I'd love to learn from you what you're learning from the desert as described in the book.