The great wisdom of life is that we can be masters of the things that try to enslave us
“There is nothing wrong with anxiety. Although we cannot control God’s time, it is part of the human condition to want to receive the thing we are waiting for as quickly as possible. Or to drive away whatever is causing fear. Anxiety was born in the very same moment as mankind. And since we will never be able to master it, we will have to learn to live with it – just as we have learned to live with storms."
1099. Jerusalem awaits the invasion of the crusaders who have surrounded the city’s gates. There, inside the ancient city’s walls, women and men of every age and faith have gathered to hear the wisdom of a mysterious man known only as the Copt.
As the wise man speaks of loyalty, fear, bravery and solitude, of love, sex, beauty and elegance, his words offer truth and guidance, and reveal the human values that have endured throughout time – then as now, his words reveal who we are, what we fear and what we hope for the future.
Excerpted from Manuscript Found in Accra by Paulo Coelho. Copyright © 2013 by Paulo Coelho. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
1. “In the cycle of nature there is no such thing as victory or defeat; there is only movement” [p. 16]. What do the cycles of the natural world teach us about the balance of difficult and rewarding moments in our lives? In what ways can personal experiences of setbacks, loss, and even the death of a loved one serve as an impetus to moving on to a new chapter of life?
2. “Defeat ends when we launch into another battle. Failure has no end; it is a lifetime choice” [p. 23]. Why are people often reluctant to accept or admit to defeat? How does it affect our ability and willingness to deal with life’s challenges? Is it possible to avoid risks and still live a full and meaningful life?
3. “Solitude is not the absence of company, but the moment when our soul is free to speak to us and help us decide what to do with our life” [p. 29]. Do the demands of everyday life (work, family, and other responsibilities) prevent people from examining insecurities or do these obligations, real and perceived, serve as an excuse for avoiding self-knowledge?
4. “In a desperate attempt to give meaning to life, many turn to religion, because a struggle in the name of a faith is always a justification for some grand action that could transform the world… And they become devout followers, then evangelists, and finally, fanatics” [p. 40]. Do the Crusades of the time exemplify this distortion of religion? What examples are there today of religion degenerating into fanaticism?
5. “We are afraid of change because we think that, after so much effort and sacrifice, we know our present world” [p. 47]. How does the appeal—and comfort—of the familiar affect the choices we make? How can we reconcile our belief in the value of perseverance with the imperative to embrace change?
6. “Beauty exists not in sameness but in difference” [p. 61]. Using your own examples, discuss how this definition of beauty applies to works of art, natural phenomena, and people commonly thought to be great beauties. The Copt also speaks about elegance [pp. 111–13]. What do the conversations about these seemingly superficial topics reveal about the different, perhaps surprising, elements that contribute to our spiritual life?
7. Why is the desire to give our lives meaning so strong? What role does the fear of death—the ultimate confrontation with the “Unwanted Visitor”—play?
8. What insights does the Copt offer into the nature of love between individuals? Does his assertion that “love is an act of faith, not an exchange” [p. 76] reflect your own experience? Does thinking of love this way make it easier to face disappointment or rejection?
9. “I will look at everything and everyone as if for the first time” [p. 84]. Have you ever put aside habitual thoughts and emotions and viewed familiar surroundings through fresh eyes? What did you discover?
10. The Copt tells his listeners, “See sex as a gift, a ritual of transformation… Fearlessly open the secret box of your fantasies” [pp. 95–96]. How does this point of view compare with teachings about sex in traditional religions and spiritual practices? How does it both augment and extend the Copt’s central message?
11. Do the discussions of work [pp. 117–21] and success [pp. 125–29] offer a new way of looking at your own situation? To what extent does talking about luck and comparing oneself with others influence people’s attitudes about their jobs? How would you answer the Copt’s questions about the rewards of work [p. 127]?
12. In what ways does the section on miracles [pp. 133–37] evoke the tone and style of prayer? What does it illustrate about the connection between beliefs and behavior? About accepting the mysteries as well as the realities of life?
13. Anxiety lays a claim on all of us at one time or another. What kinds of situations trigger your anxiety? Have you developed techniques to cope with it? Has faith played a role in helping you control anxiety? What would you add to the Copt’s suggestions for keeping anxiety at bay [pp. 145–46]?
14. What is the role of community in creating the strengths necessary for survival? Do the Copt’s explorations of friendship [p. 105], loyalty [pp. 159–62], and confronting enemies [pp. 175–80] shed light on the social and political divisions in the world today?
15. “The most destructive of weapons is not the spear or the siege cannon… The most terrible of weapons is the word, which can ruin a life without leaving a trace of blood, and whose wounds never heal” [p. 170]. Discuss how this applies both to individuals and to groups and nations.
16. “Our great goal in life is to love. The rest is silence” [p. 76]. How is this message woven into the teachings in the book?
17. There are vivid analogies and parables throughout Manuscript Found in Accra and the book concludes with allegoric stories from a rabbi, an imam, and a Christian priest. Why are analogies and parables so effective in making complex ideas accessible? The book also contains echoes of the Bible as well as familiar contemporary sayings. Why do you think Coelho draws on these sources in telling a tale set centuries ago?
18. The Alchemist, Aleph, and other books by Coelho have been widely translated and have become international best sellers. What makes his books appealing to readers of different cultures and religions? What does he capture about the universality of the human experience? How would you describe his view of the role of fate in our journeys through life? If you have read his other books, which one is your favorite and why? What influence has he had on your ideas and beliefs?