The Zahir

zahir“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 of madness.”
– Faubourg Saint-Peres – Encyclopaedia of the Fantastic
This idea of the Zahir is one that Paulo Coelho explores deeply in his novel of the same name.  In this tale of journeys and obsession, the main character’s wife, Esther, suddenly disappears one day leaving him wondering why or where to.  For him, she becomes the Zahir that he cannot get out of his mind.  She occupies his thoughts constantly and drives him to a point where he must decide whether she will become holiness or madness for him.
Who or what is our Zahir?  Is it something or someone that is real and tangible or is it an ideal that we have assigned?  As we are all in search of some deeper meaning in our lives, we can easily become attached to that which appears to manifest what we thought we have been seeking.  But does it really?  Is it merely a temporarily satisfactory substitute for what we are really longing for?
These are questions that we have to ask ourselves on a regular basis.  It is our human propensity to become attached to things that fill a provisional need, but as we get older and wiser, we come to realize that we have settled for less than what was meant for us.  Upon this awakening, we are faced with the task of continuing to settle or starting the intentional work of detaching.  Neither is easy, but holding on to a false reality is ultimately more tasking and saps meaning from our lives.
As Coelho says in The Zahir:

“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 pride, inability or 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.”

            – Paulo Coelho – The Zahir


Chances are, there is something or someone who “no longer fits in your life.”  Do you have the strength and courage to let go?  I know you do, but do you know it?  As Coelho says, you don’t have to do it out of pride or arrogance, but for your own well-being – and likely theirs.  You can hold on to the representation of the ideal until it drives you to madness, or you can embrace the ideal itself until it leads you to holiness.  It’s your choice.
In the end, our only job is to stop being who we were and become who we are.

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