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Like The Flowing River - Paulo Coelho

Book review by Colin Whitby

paulobook.gifThe first time I read one of Paulo Coelho’s books was when I was travelling on the train from London to my home in Bristol. I arrived at Paddington in plenty of time (for a change) but also remembered that I had finished the book I was reading on the way into London that morning.

So I wandered into the station book store aimlessly looking for ‘something to read’. Surprisingly perhaps they had a spiritual section which always draws me to it, and there beaming ‘buy me’ messages to me was Paulo’s ‘The Alchemist’, now so popular it was in paperback and in a station book store.

I loved reading the Alchemist and would recommend it to anyone seeking higher understanding, however this introduction is to bring to your attention a new publication by Paulo entitled ‘Like the Flowing River’. This is perfect for those who like to dip in and read a few pages and then put the book down, or sit back and contemplate the message. I had many of these moments as there is much to consider, many thought-provoking messages and observations that had previously been published in various newspapers around the world.

One of these articles in particular has resonated with my wife Gill and myself, it’s all about rules and how they can impact our lives, especially when they are really not required.

Of Poles and Rules

In the autumn of 2003, I was strolling through the centre of Stockholm late one night when I saw a woman walking along using ski poles. My first reaction was to assume that she must have had an accident, but then I noticed that she was moving swiftly and rhythmically, just as if she were skiing, except, of course, that we were surrounded by asphalt. The obvious conclusion was: ‘The woman must be mad. How can she possibly pretend she’s skiing in the city?’ 

Back at the hotel, I mentioned it to my publisher. He said that if anyone was mad it was me. What I had seen was a form of exercise known as Nordic walking. According to him, it gave you a much more comprehensive workout because, as well as moving your legs, your arms, shoulders and back muscles were also used. 

When I go walking (which, along with archery, is my favourite pastime), my intention is to be able to reflect and think, to look at the marvellous things around me, and to talk to my wife as we walk. I found what my publisher said very interesting, but I thought no more about it. 

One day, I was in a sports shop, buying some archery equipment, when I saw some new poles for mountaineers. They were made of light aluminium and could be made shorter or longer like a telescopic photographic tripod. I remembered the Nordic walking – why not try it? I bought two pairs, one for me, and one for my wife. We adjusted the poles to a comfortable height and decided to use them the following day. 

It was an amazing discovery! We walked up a mountain and back down again, and we really did feel better and we got less tired. We walked twice the distance we usually cover in an hour. I remembered wanting to explore the dried-up bed of a stream, but having to give up because of the difficulties I had in walking over stones. With the poles, I thought, it would be much easier, and I was right. 

My wife went on the Internet and found that she was burning 46 per cent more calories than when doing normal walking. She got really excited about it, and Nordic walking became part of our daily lives. 

One evening, just for amusement, I decided to see what else I could find out about it on the Internet. I had a real shock. There were pages and pages, with federations, groups, discussions, models, and ….rules. 

I don’t know what made me open the page on rules; but as I read it, I grew increasingly dismayed. I was doing everything wrong! My poles should be adjusted to a longer length; I should be keeping to a certain rhythm and holding the pole at a particular angle; there was some very complicated movement of the shoulder, and a different way of using your elbow. In short, everything had to confirm to certain rigid, prescriptive techniques. 

I printed out all the pages. The next day – and the days that followed – I tried to do exactly what the experts were telling me to do. The walk became less interesting; I stopped noticing all the marvels around me, and hardly spoke to my wife at all – the only thing I could think about were the rules. After a week, I asked myself: why am I learning all this? 

My aim was not to do some sort of keep-fit exercise. I am sure that the people who started doing Nordic walking in the first place were merely thinking of the pleasure of walking, of improving their balance and moving their whole body. We knew intuitively what was the best length of pole for us, just as we could intuitively deduce that the closer we held the poles to out body, the better and easier the movement. But now, because of those rules, I had stopped concentrating on the things I loved and was more concerned about burning calories, moving my muscles, and using particular part of my spine. 

I decided to forget everything I had learned. Now we go walking with our poles, enjoying the world around us, and feeling our bodies being worked, moved and balanced. If I wanted to do a keep-fit work-out rather than a kind of walking meditation, I would go do a gym. For the moment, I am happy with my relaxed, instinctive Nordic walking, even if I’m not burning off that 46 per cent extra calories. 

I don’t know why we human beings are so obsessed with making rules about everything.

We bought our copy at Cygnus Books, a wonderful resource of inspirational books

Have a look at Paulo’s web site, there’s some lovely downloads and plenty of details about the author.