Layla’s Mixed Sorts

January 30, 2009

Quotes from “The Zahir”, by Paulo Coelho

Filed under: Books,Life — laylanajia @ 12:30 am

It has been perhaps 3 years ever since I’ve read a book for entertainment, though I have been ever since I was 10. But because I grew up in a family that constantly stresses on education and career, and due to the time I spend online, I suddenly stopped and switched to reading management books and business articles rather than stories.

Now that I remembered and realized what I’ve been missing out for the last couple of years, I returned to read, starting with ‘The Zahir’, by Paolo Coelho. I am categorizing this post not only under ‘books’, but also under ‘Life’, because that’s what novels are all about. They teach you inspiring lessons about life, and sometimes you have no idea what you will learn, you just free your mind and allow the book to choose for you, selecting random deep and stimulating lessons about history, love, and life.

‘The Zahir’, which means ‘The obvious’ in Arabic, tells of a bestselling novelist’s search for his missing wife, Esther, whom he loves so dearly and whom helped him become the celebrity he is. He is confused about the possible reasons of her disappearance and is devastated by the thought that perhaps she simply just chose to leave him, without a word of explanation. In order to search for her, he realizes he must first search and find his own self, and that’s what the story is all about: his journey in understanding his own self and the true meaning of life, freedom, and love.

I’m writing this post to highlight and share my favorite parts of the book, none of which will be revealing the story itself, but rather listing and quoting some lines and stories that I have enjoyed the most that were aroused through conversations between the characters, bringing up some historical events that occurred centuries ago, and talking about lessons learned in love and life:

“The Zahir, in Arabic, means visible, present, incapable of going unnoticed. It is someone or something which, once we have come into contact with them or it, gradually occupies our every thought, until we can think of nothing else. This can be considered either a state of holiness or madness”.

– During one conversation, the main character was asked how come he doesn’t plan to approach his wife if he could finally know her whereabouts, his answer was a metaphorical riddle: “Two Firemen go into a small forest to put out a small fire, afterwards when they emerge and go over to a stream, the face of one is all smeared with black, while the other mans face is completely clean. Question, who washes his face?” 

The answer is: the man whose face is completely clean. Because after they complete their task, they will both look at the other’s face and each will assume that his own is probably like the other. I.e: When he used to look at his wife’s face, he saw it clean and saw himself reflected in it, thus never realized he wasn’t working on his marriage and was absorbing her life and energy. He on the other hand, when his wife looked at him, she saw his face and felt ugly and diminished, in order to see her again, he should find him self, pure himself so his face can be as clean as hers.”

– Referring to a painful past: “I don’t regret the painful times; I bear my scars as if they were medals”. 

– While discussing the real definition of freedom: “Freedom is not the absence of commitments, it’s rather the freedom to choose and being able to commit to what is best for you”.

– When the main character was interviewed with questions about what he feels towards the critics who criticize his books, his answer was: “Ever heard about Jante’s 10 commandments? During 1933, in the small town of Jante, existed ten commandments that told people of Jante how they should behave, summing them up, they were the following: ‘You are nobody, never even dare to think that you know more than we do, you are of no importance, you can do nothing right, your work is in no significance, but as long as u never challenge us, you will live a happy life. Always take what we say seriously and never laugh at our opinions’.

“i.e if you’re a nobody, if your work has no significance and impact, it deserves to be praised, but if you are a success, then you’re defying the law and deserve to be punished.”

– During a conversation about sex: “Before all religions, Why was sex first forbidden, and when?

Why: because of food! When: Thousands of years ago, when tribes were constantly on the move, men could make love to as much woman as they wanted, and ofcourse, have children by them. Accordingly, the tribe would get larger, thus their need for food grew larger as well. In order to survive, they would kill first the children and then the woman, since they are the weakest. The tribe would end up with only men and no women, and without woman men cannot continue to perpetuate the species. Then someone, seeing what was happening in a neighboring tribe, decided to avoid the same thing happening in his. He invented a story according to which the gods forbade men to make love indiscriminately with any of the women in a tribe. They could only make love with one or, at most, two.”

 – Sometimes you hear someone use the expression “I want to find my Ariadne’s thread”, when referring to feeling lost and losing grip on life, wanting to find their way back in control of life. “Ariadne’ thread: a story of a Greek hero, Theseus, who goes into a labyrinth (a maze) in order to slay a monster. His beloved, Ariadne, gives him one end of a thread so he can unroll it as he goes and thus be able to find his way out again.”

– When conversing about love: “The idea that love is what leads to happiness is a modern invention dating from the end seventeenth century. Ever since then, people were taught to believe that love should last forever, and that marriage is the best way in which to exercise that love. In the past, there was less optimism about the longevity of passion. Romeo and Juliet isn’t a happy story, it’s a tragedy. In the last few decades, expectations about marriage as the road to personal fulfillment have grown considerable, as have disappointments and dissatisfaction.”

 – More about Love: “Love is untamed force, when we try to control it, it destroys us, when we try to imprison it, it enslaves us. When we try to understand it, it leaves us feeling lost and confused.”

 – When talking about new beginnings: “…that is why it is so important to let certain things go. To release them. To cut loose. People need to understand that no one is playing with marked cards; sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. Don’t expect to get anything back, don’t expect recognition for your efforts, don’t expect your genius to be discovered or your love to be understood. Complete the circle. Not out of bride, inability to arrogance, but simply because whatever it is no longer fits in your life. Close the door, change the record, clean the house, get rid of the dust. Stop being who you were and become who you are.”

 – Examples of famous epileptics: “ancient people believed that it was caused by demons invading a person’s body, then much more later they related them to some disfunction of the brain.”

 1) “During Feb 1431, Joan of Arc’s case was in hearing bells, the heroine of the 100 years war, who at the age of seventeen was made commander of the French troops because she heard voices that could tell her the best strategy for defeating the English. She was burned at the age of 19, accused of witchcraft.”

 2) “Sometimes people suspect that Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland in order to describe his own experiences of epilepsy. The story at the beginning of the book when Alice falls down a black hole, in an experience familiar to most epileptics. During her journey through Wonderland, Alice often sees things flying and she herself feels very light- another very precise description of the effects of an epileptic attack.”

 This about sums up the parts I enjoyed, if you’re still reading this post, and if you have read the book, please do comment and share your favorite parts, even if you haven’t read it, please do share your thoughts! 


December 16, 2008

Looking Back, and Looking Forward

Filed under: Life — laylanajia @ 5:13 pm


Once again, the end of the year is fast approaching. It’s the time we all look back and hindsight, always looking forward to making the best of what we have accomplished, and to embarking the next new chapter.

 Each year, people make New Year’s Resolutions for change, I am not one of those people who gives much emphasis on changing myself to keep in time with the changing of the calendar year, I usually try to set goals and better myself constantly and my time measurement is always based on how much time should that goal take. But like many others, I like the physiological feeling that the new year always arouses, hoping that the past year skilled us enough to do better this time, hoping that our accomplishments will lead us to meet our ambitions, trusting that we wont fall into the same mistakes we have made, and most of all, realizing the importance of how a single small decision we make, can be the reason of the whole year outcome.

 For the first time, I cannot help but truly dread the coming New Year. The past year showed me that life is not really about reaching my goals, but more about the decisions I make along the way, particularly the little decisions, because the big ones usually take care of themselves and are caused by the little ones.

 So… big decisions, like my career, remain in my home country or live somewhere new again, small decisions like friends, trust, or getting into a relationship. These decisions should be easy to make since I know what is it that I want, but why does it feel like these decisions are so hard to make, as if the end of a life time is soon approaching and I should be very careful and quickly decide before another lifetime begins.

 This year was more of an experimental stage where I was laying down a foundation to which to build upon in 2009, that’s why the coming year excites me yet scares me. I invested huge energy for an expensive degree, a lot of courses in skills I lacked, a lot of leadership opportunities, competitions, a lot of guts fighting hard to focus and succeed, personally and academically: all of that should now have prepared me to stand strong and face what ever is going to come across me: For example I have always wanted to be able to know my dominant strengths and thus figure out what career path I can truly belong to, now that I finally know, I am supposed to implement it in the real world. A lot of money was invested in me, now I have to be able to make triple that amount and pay back the people who believed in me and supported me.

 This year I have also invested a lot of emotion and time to get over things I never saw coming, that’s what scares me the most, those things that happen to us out of the blue while you are out there busy tying to reach your goals and accomplish something, and those things just jump their way in the middle of it, turning everything upside down, and now you have to work even harder to stay focused and try to stand up to those unexpected interruptions, not ignoring that they happened and not choosing the easy way out, but you try to put all the broken pieces back together. Now how can we make sure to stay that focused, make decisions and avoid any emotional surprises that come unexpected and distract us from reaching our goals, from someone steeling your hard work and putting it under their name for instance, or from a professor who wants to fail you because someone you know  plagiarized their work and you didn’t want to be a snitch, or from someone that you find out that they acted like your friend just because they are interested to share your private life behind your back with everybody, or from a friend that you find out one day that she lied about you to your loved one, knowing you will probably never get the chance to even know or have a say about it, or worse of all, avoid surprises that have resulted from decisions YOU have done hastily, that is indeed the worse of all.

 Bad things happen when we are not prepared, and we become suddenly involved. Our performance gets affected and we have to come up with a way to stay focused. That’s why it’s the little decisions that scare me, they are the one that lead the emotional surprises and interruptions. Some people are so good in acting spontaneously, so good in believing whatever makes them sleep at night, they are good in starting over, believing that the faster they try and get involved in something new, the faster they will reach whatever they seek, and thus will make them feel better about themselves, secure and confident. I however, choose to take my time, understand and accept, and look back at my past and understand why every outcome came out the way it did. Taking responsibility of the past decisions we have made will allow us to be able to look forward and assure a better outcome. Life is anything but easy, and its anything but slow, its moving so fast I worry one day I will realize that Im not young anymore and I don’t have time to do everything I wanted to do, all because I wasted my youth on making wrong decisions I never payed attention to learn from any of them.

 And now, 14 days before the New Year begins. I have a feeling 2009 will be a special year for me, I hope. I have spent the last 3 months doing almost nothing but exploring and finding myself, I now have set up and acted upon my priorities, and I’m waiting for the law of attraction to play its trick. I sure hope I receive good news before 2008 ends, 2008 owes me ‘atleast’ that much! 😛

November 17, 2008

Saying Thank You

Filed under: Life — laylanajia @ 12:29 am



Today something happened that just warmed my heart. I received a letter from someone saying Thank you.

Last June I was in New York for a school trip. On our last day there after we packed to drive to our next destination, Boston, we had only 45 minuets to stop at a restaurant to have a meal before our 8 hour road trip. My friend and I decided to order food and eat on the bench outside in front the restaurant and enjoy the views of New York. Later, an old lady passed by and looked like she was pondering whether to join us and rest on the bench where we were sitting. I felt her hesitence so I invited her to join us by all means. We chatted with her for a while and learned that she was travelling around the US with her family and grandsons. A bit later the lady takes off, and then my friend leaves to the bus after we heard the bus driver calling announcing that we will be taking off in few minutes. I decided to sit there for few minutes more and enjoy my thoughts and more of the view, then I got up and grabbed my bag from the bench, only to realize that there was a big fat black wallet under it. I took it and chuckled to myself thinking “Maryam”, my friend, “and her things always everywhere!!”

We got in the bus, few minuets later it took off, and few minuets more we entered the highway that will take us to Boston. I decide to wait for a while and not tell my friend that she forgot her wallet behind, in order to tease her and watch her freaking out when she finds out that she lost it. I wait for 30 minutes but I decide to tell her already. While approaching her, ‘’I’’ freak out when I see her grabbing her ‘big fat black’ wallet form her purse to put in the money she just pulled out from her pocket.

That’s when it hit me, the wallet must be for the old lady! I take out the wallet and open it to look for her ID. Inside the wallet there was a SCARY number of 100 US Dollar bills, 2 passports, and 5-6 credit cards with a different name on each.

Feeling just horrible and sick, I walk my way through the front of the bus to talk to the bus driver to tell him what I’ve done. He explains to me that its impossible to drive back because we’re already on the highway. I try calling the credit cards companies to tell them that if the lady calls to cancel them, then please inform her that we found her wallet.

We decide to call the cops and stop the bus to wait for them to arrive, which took an hour. A policeman finally arrives and takes all my information and actually teasingly tells me that I should have just taken the wallet because it will be impossible to find the lady, since she’s not American. I knew that was ridiculous and just impossible and insisted I talk to another police officer whom I could trust to give the wallet to and for him to deliver it.

We wait for another hour for another police officer to arrive, he seemed more trustworthy and serious about his job than the one before him. I give it to him hoping and praying he will fix what I’ve done.

Today, 5 months later, I receive a letter from the old lady saying thank you. She took my contact information from the police officer who took both my Canadian residence information as well as my home county Jordanian residence details. She turned out to be Dutch living in Belgium and was only in the US for a vacation. Before their trip she convinced her family and grandsons to keep all their money with her in order to make sure they’re all kept in one safe place, since ‘she never lost anything in her life’. She found out that she lost her wallet later that night when they reached their hotel; she fainted and was hospitalized for few days, which made it harder for the police to find her.

I felt so good to receive her note. Now I know she DID receive back her belongings, thankfully it just took the police 5 days to find her. Im sure those days were torture for her and her family, and especially her. She never believed she will ever find her wallet, especially that it happened in New York and because she wasn’t even a resident in America. 

Sometimes doing the right thing is what matters, it feels good inside and its fulfilling enough. But I still thought her gesture was beautiful, quoting her words, she wrote: “ I lived long long years and Ive seen so much evil in people, what you have done makes me see the world as beautiful as Ive seen it when I was young”.

She just made my day and made me happy. Life is about those small moments of happiness, the rest of our life is just pursuits to happiness.

Oh… did I mention she also attached a 200$ cheque as gratitude and offered me a paid invitation to Belgium any time? 😉

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