Becoming Wise

Paulo Coelho

The Pilgrimage of ‘Who Am I?’

Last Updated

March 25, 2019

“Who am I?” Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho reframes the practice of pilgrimage as a journey into this mysterious question. “We have every single day this possibility, this chance of discovering something new,” he says.


Image of Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho is the author of many books including The Pilgrimage, Veronika Decides to Die, and The Alchemist.


[music: “Sun Will Set” by Zoë Keating]

Krista Tippett, host: I’ve had hundreds of big conversations, and my conversation partners share wisdom I carry with me wherever I go. I love how the Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho reframes the practice of pilgrimage as a journey into the tricky question, “Who am I?”

This is Becoming Wise. I’m Krista Tippett.

Ms. Tippett: It seems to me that, really, just a core theme that runs through all your writing is life itself as a pilgrimage, writing as a pilgrimage for you, but also reading as a step on a path to pilgrimage for modern people. So interesting.

Paulo Coelho: Absolutely. I also do believe that we have this possibility of doing a pilgrimage every single day — because a pilgrimage implies — in meeting different people, in talking to strangers, in paying attention to the omens — basically being open to life. We leave our home to go to work, to go to school, and we have every single day this possibility, this chance of discovering something new. So the pilgrimage is not for the privileged one who can go to Spain and to France and walk this 500 miles but to people who are open to life. A pilgrimage, at the end of the day, is basically — get rid of things that you are used [to] and try something new.

Ms. Tippett: It’s lovely. I have to say, something that has intrigued me in my life of conversation — and I think it seems like a paradox — that when someone is able to be most particular, articulate about their life, that in those moments, what they say can be most universally heard and felt. It seems to me that this paradox is very central to your life of writing and the reach of your writing. You’ve said that the driving question behind all of your writing is, “Who am I? Who is Paulo Coelho?”

Mr. Coelho: Yes, which is a very tricky question. Right?

Every morning, I find myself a different person. I’m always a mystery to myself. If I knew in the first hours of the morning what I’m going to do, what is going to happen, what attitude or decision should I take — I think my life would be deadly boring because, well, what makes life interesting is the unknown. It is the risks that we take every single moment of our day, of a single day.

So, to be totally honest, I don’t know who I am. And I don’t think people ever will know who they are. We have to be humble enough to learn to live with this mysterious question, “Who am I?” I am someone who is in this pilgrimage from the moment that I was born to the day that will come that I’m going to die. This is something that I can’t avoid. So what I have to do is to honor this pilgrimage through life.

[music: “Sun Will Set” by Zoë Keating]

Ms. Tippett: Paulo Coelho’s beloved novels include The Pilgrimage and The Alchemist.

Becoming Wise is produced by Marie Sambilay, Lily Percy, and Chris Heagle at On Being Studios, which is located on Dakota land. Our theme music is provided and composed by Zoë Keating.

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